September 25, 2017
Many of the authors I worked with over my career told me how upset they were with me when first seeing my edits, but once they realized my job was to help them make their writing better and more clear for the reader, they understood that nothing I said was personal to them–it was about improving their relationship with their reader.
So, what exactly should you expect from your editor? Here are some tips to help you.
- Look for an editor who maintains respect for your ability as a writer while directing revisions to your work.
- Determine if your editor can see the big picture (your general topic) of what your article or book is about while paying attention to the details in your sentences.
- Be clear yourself about why you’re writing your article or book. Ask yourself, “What is this about in general? What are the deeper themes I want to cover?” The point is you want some compelling reason for writing so your reader feels satisfied when done reading. Once you’re clear about the reason, keep your focus on it to avoid going off in other directions.
- Be sensitive to the fact that you know what you’re trying to say, but unless you make that clear in your writing, you’re expecting your reader to read your mind. Editors are the link between writers and readers. Your editor should always have the reader in mind when working with you to make your writing more clear and concise.
- Ask for clarification when you don’t understand your editor’s comment or suggestion.
- Watch that your editor helps you with both copy editing and content editing. Content editing is about clarity, understanding, organization. Copy editing is about grammar, punctuation, spelling. You need your editor to provide both.
- Remember that a good editor strives for balance between keeping your voice and style while ensuring your writing is clear and grammatically correct.
I told authors I worked with that they the only ones who can write what they write. No one else has their perspective of life based on their knowledge, experience, and observation.
My job as editor was to make sure they clearly communicate with their readers. My job as editor was not to change their voice into mine (which, unfortunately, sometimes editors try to do by rewording or reworking an author’s piece).
Your editor should challenge you to be clear and to rewrite in your own voice to achieve clarity for the reader. Happy writing!
August 24, 2017
Someone once said that writers are observers of life. If you’re stuck in your writing, perhaps you’ve forgotten to take the time to do just that–observe life. Here are some tips to help you improve your writing without actually writing.
- Become well-read. By that I mean read more than just your favorite genre or nonfiction subject. For example, I keep a small notebook handy when I read and jot down a new word or phrase or description that catches my eye so I can refer to it later.
- Expand your social life. When you talk with people, you can learn things you hadn’t considered before. Of course that means you not only talk, but you also listen. You need people in your writing, whether as experts to help you or characters to help your story, so why not include socializing as part of your writing research?
- Get physical. You’ve heard about the physical benefits of 30 minutes of exercise a day, but what do you do when you don’t like to exercise (like me)? My doctor told me to find my guilty pleasure and incorporate it into an exercise. I’m old enough to remember Elvis, Fabian, Annette, and Jerry Lee Lewis, and I like to turn on “Malt Shop” music on my satellite t.v., so I turn on the music and dance around the house. Thirty minutes is not enough time! The positive feelings abound, and I’m ready to write again when I’m done.
- Look at the world around you. I opened this post with the notion of writers being observers of life. Now I challenge you to do just that–observe life. What color is house next door to you? How many windows are covered with curtains or shades? Why is that, do you think? How many cars in the parking lot at the neighborhood church and how long after service do they stay? Does that mean the congregation socializes or the service runs long? What are the early morning sounds around you? Traffic or nature or pets or some combination? Well, you get the idea. Observing the world can help you write setting, time, decorations (inside and outside), etc.
- Sit back and do nothing but let your mind wander. If you’re like me, there are times you need to give yourself permission to sit back and just do nothing for a few minutes (not hours, mind you). Let your imagination run from thought to thought, from image to image, from feeling to feeling. As you do, you’ll reconnect with ideas and emotions you can incorporate into your writing.
I used to teach a class at the local college called “Become a Writer in 30 Minutes a Day” and challenge my students to find 30 minutes each day in their busy schedules for writing. We’d brainstorm ways to find time such as get up one-half hour earlier or go to bed one-half hour later or turn off television for a half-hour, etc. Then I’d ask them what they could do in the 30 minutes besides write that would count as writing. I’ve given you a good start in the bullets above. See what you can add to the list (then do at least one thing on your list every day). Happy writing!
August 17, 2017
Fiction writers (and readers) know fiction takes place in a made-up world and that world may or may not reflect the real one. Add that some fiction takes place in standalone work and some becomes part of a series. This makes the decision on whether to use real places or not even more complicated.
Here are some tips to help you decide when to use real places in your fiction.
- Consider legal implications. I am not a lawyer, so am not offering any legal advice or insights–only common sense. You wouldn’t want anyone saying something negative or libelous about your establishment or business, so don’t do that to anyone else.
- Think about how involved your character is with the establishment. If the character owns it, you might want to avoid using a real-life business since the character is so connected to it.
- Decide how important it is that your reader connect with the establishment. Readers recognize real-life business names and connect with them, but does the world in your fiction have to mirror the reader’s or simply be one he or she can envision?
- Determine location consistency. If you’re writing a series, this becomes very important. No one would appreciate Sherlock Holmes’ address changing from 221B Baker Street. Neither will your series reader appreciate your establishment moving from location to location between books.
- Be aware real establishments move or go out of business. Establishments can move or go out of business over time and books are in print a long time. Creating a fictional establishment keeps you in control of where things happen in your book or story.
Since you’re creating the world around your fiction story, you get to decide when to use real places and names. I hope these tips help you. Happy writing!
August 2, 2017
Adventure novel readers expect your protagonist is involved in action that’s risky with unseen danger or unexpected excitement. This action is connected to the antagonist, which may be human or not. As long as the antagonist is an adversary that provides conflict or puts your protagonist in such jeopardy that he/she has to take action, you’re headed the right way in your adventure novel.
Here are some tips to help you.
- Hold your reader’s interest by keeping things moving. Allow your reader to take a breath once in awhile, but stay mindful of the pace your novel keeps. You can’t have a fight or confrontation on every page, so consider changing the scene or having your character ponder a memory as tools to help slow things down when you need to.
- Create tension either between characters or within your main character. Think about why the protagonist and antagonist are on opposite sides or why the protagonist is fighting with his/her internal demons/doubts/issues, including ways the protagonist is like the antagonist and wants to change.
- Offer your reader some suspense. At some point your protagonist will face a threat or some type of jeopardy. If you’re writing a series, your reader fully expects your protagonist to survive, but doesn’t know how it will happen. You need to create suspense as you answer that survival question.
Keep these three ideas in mind as you write your adventure novel and you’ll have a good foundation for your book. There’s much more to it such as the scenes your action takes place in, the timeline of your story (hours versus weeks versus months versus years), and characters you develop, etc. Readers root for the protagonist, so plan your final scene carefully. Sometimes bad guys get away, sometimes they don’t. It’s up to you as author. Happy writing!
July 21, 2017
One of the best things about being a writer is the variety of choices you have in deciding what to write–articles, books, short stories, etc.
One of the hardest things about being a writer is writing a lead that entices the reader to consider reading your article, then keeps the reader reading past the first paragraph.
Two obvious ways to write leads are (1) offer an anecdote that makes the point of your article, and ( 2) use a quote that grabs your reader and highlights the focus of your article.
When you don’t have either of those options, use these steps to help you write a great lead.
- Imagine your reader and why he/she might be looking for in an article on the topic you’re writing.
- Ask the question, “What’s in it for me?” from the reader’s perspective.
- Answer the question by showing the reader in plain language what he/she will learn from reading your article.
- Keep a conversational approach in your writing. Remember that your reader is looking for information, but not necessarily a class or complete education on the subject.
- Respect the reader’s time by delivering meaningful information the reader can use.
You may find you have to write the first draft of your article before you can use the steps above to actually come up with the lead that will work for you. But that’s okay. You’ll know from the first draft what you can offer the reader, then you can write the lead to entice them and deliver what you promise. Happy writing!
June 13, 2017
One tool fiction writers use is foreshadowing (hinting to the reader about something that’s coming). If you use foreshadowing, you’re setting up an expectation with your reader and you absolutely need to meet that expectation before the end of your novel.
Here are some tips to help you make sure you create a good relationship with your reader so he/she trusts you’ll deliver what you promise in your foreshadowing.
- Make sure you’re working from a detailed outline that lays out these things: each character’s role, how each character affects the overall plot, and how each character ends up at the end of the novel.
- Be aware that you may decide to change your story as you write (one mystery author I know told me that one time the character she expected to be the killer simply wouldn’t do it, so she had to change the story). If you do change directions in your story, make sure you map out the change in your original detailed outline so you can see if the change makes sense with the rest of the story.
- Create a series of questions about your novel so you can critique it once it’s completed. Feel free to use these questions as a starting point: (1) Did the characters meet their goals or explain their failures? (2) Which destinies of which characters were left unanswered (if any)? (3) Which plot activities were not completed (things like a love attraction, a crime committed, etc.)? (4) How clearly did the plot and any subplots merge by the end of the story? (5) How well did things like dialogue, actions, etc. move the plot along (you don’t want to lead your reader down blind alleys or dead ends, which will only frustrate your reader and cause him/her to distrust you as an author)?
- Find a few readers you trust to read your manuscript and offer you honest feedback. Encourage them to share questions with you that they may have thought about during the reading. You, as author, know what you mean, know what you think, and know what you intend. Your reader, however, only has your written story to go by, so you’ll do yourself a big favor by learning about any holes in your story before you try to get it published.
I’ve written both fiction and nonfiction, and I think fiction is much harder to write because you’re creating the entire world the story lives in. You make a promise to your reader that your novel will be entertaining and worth his/her time to read. I hope these tips help you keep that promise. Happy writing!
May 25, 2017
Whether writing fiction or non-fiction, every good writer conducts research and one of the best research techniques is interviewing experts. But many experts are busy people, which often makes it hard to get interviews with them. Here are some tips to help.
- Create a list of primary resources. No one person is the only expert on a given topic, so consider creating a list of experts instead of focusing on just one or two.
- Create a list of secondary resources. Sometimes experts are reluctant to spend time with interviewers because the interviewer doesn’t appear to know much about the subject in the first place. Experts like to share, but don’t have time to offer in-depth education. Demonstrating you have background knowledge on the subject matter can go a long way in getting the interview.
- Let the expert know how you intend to use information from the interview. If you’ve sold an article, let the expert know which publication the article is for. If you’re still looking for a sale, let the expert know you’re approaching several publications and will let him or her know which one is publishing it when that’s determined. If you’re writing a book, offer to keep the expert posted on your progress.
- Show the expert your professionalism as a writer. Mention publications you’ve written for. Offer samples of your writing. Give references if asked. Experts don’t want to be misquoted. You can ease that concern by showing you’re a professional.
- Make sure the expert knows you selected him or her for the interview and why. Most experts really care about their subject matter and want it treated with respect. Your job is to make sure it is.
Getting an interview can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding in many ways. I hope these tips help. Happy writing!