Are You a Writer? A Storyteller? Or Both?

I’ve wanted to cover this for a while, but I’ve found it hard to articulate what the differences between the three are, how to marry the two if you are both, how to become a storyteller if you’re a writer, and how to become a writer if you’re a storyteller.

Confused yet?

Great! I was too. For a while.

Over the years, I’ve encountered a variety of authors. Many can write but can’t tell a story. Many others have the opposite problem, and while some can do both well, they still need help merging their talents into a cohesive book/story.

We’ll start with writers. This is an easy one.

You’re a writer if you can make a good sentence. Sentence structuring isn’t too hard once you’ve learned that most sentences are effective if the subject goes before the verb. That’s pretty much it, and all that’s really required of you. You can string together many good sentences until you have a full, 60-90k novel. But there’s something missing. Your characters may not resonate. You may lack tension in the necessary areas. Your dialogue may not reflect the personality of the characters whom you’re trying to depict. Your story points may be in all the wrong places. I encounter this sort of manuscript more often than anything else. Now, some writers may have other issues (we all do), such as unnecessary repetition (please don’t show and tell. There’s a time and place for both, but when you do both, that speaks to your lack of confidence in your own work. Please have more faith in yourself!). Some may like to use dramatic proclamations too often in dialogue so that it doesn’t feel realistic. But for the most part, a decent writer can write, but (in the context of this blog post) but they fail to effectively tell their story. They may have a few good plot points, or a decent subplot, but their manuscripts will be filled with, well, filler.

A good writing coach can help you, along with you committing to reading books. I love working with writers who can competently spell, use homonyms, and just generally write well. Adding those story elements in is something I love to help with. Brainstorming with my authors is one of my favorite things to do! There’s help for you yet! <3

Storytellers!

I like helping storytellers with the writing aspect, as I honestly believe that it’s easier to learn to write than it is to learn to tell a great story. Storytellers are bursting with fantastic ideas, and they have them all written on the page, the story moves along at a great pace, there’s tension, action, denouement, climaxes, and all sorts of exciting elements. What do storytellers tend to lack, when their primary talent is telling a story? And how can this be detrimental when writing a book is mostly about the craft of telling a story?

(Note: These are all my own personal observations. Others are free to disagree. I’m not necessarily right about this. This has been my experience only.)

Oh, it can be so detrimental. Because a storyteller is that author you speak with who has a thousand ideas, and you worry they may be either micro-dosing Adderall, or perhaps already on a steady diet of cocaine and Pixie Stix. These authors more often than not need extensive line edits, restructuring, as well as intense copyedits.

Natural storytellers (you know who you are) can run ideas by their editors, friends, family members, at an alarming speed. And most of the time, the problem is that they’re all good ideas, you just can’t tie everything together in a cohesive manner, so you shove all the action into the story, and often suffer from a lack of character attachments as well as reader attachment because everything moves so fast the reader doesn’t have time to catch their breath. This is where the editor comes in to tell you to put the cocaine down and take a deep breath. We help you to emotionally bond your reader to your story. You’ve got some great events, a great foundation for your protagonist and antagonist, you have a cool world surrounding them—but what are you missing? The small things. That’s what you’re missing. And those small things really are what can help a reader attach themselves to your story.

For example: the way your characters bond with one another or are repelled from one another. You may lack intense connections between the characters you want to endear the reader toward. Character reactions may not suit the characters themselves. Character development may happen too quickly and with no relapses back into their old ways. There are so many things that you are great at, as a storyteller. But filling in the blanks is what you need the most help with. Again, the small things. Body language. Meaningful statements from main characters. Meaningful gestures from main and side characters.

It’s great to be a natural storyteller. I love that. I’ve often found that storytellers are much more willing to learn the craft of writing, than writers are able to learn the craft of storytelling.

So How Do I Fix This Shit?

Come closer. Little closer.

READ! READ BOOKS!

That’s step one. Pay attention to what you’re reading. Whether you love it or hate it. Find the “why” behind that love or that hatred. Try to emulate the things you love about stories and try to firmly avoid the things that you hate.

Reading various opinions from random writers and editors won’t help you. Yeah, sorry. I’m just here to waste your time! Here’s why: You’re going to get so many different means of guidance from so many different “professionals” that you won’t know whom to trust. If you’re a natural writer or a natural storyteller, reading, and reading often, will help you to bridge the gaps between what you do well and what you do poorly, simply by taking in the words on the page, the events, how they’re tied together, and how they succeed or fail in impacting you as a reader.

BOTH

If you’re both—I love you. I love you. I love you. All I have to do, for the most part, is go through your work, tell you what needs help, you do it, and then we move on and everyone lives happily ever after. You still have weak points, but you’re willing to learn. You’re willing to grow. BLESS YOUR HEART YOU WRITER/STORYTELLER COMBOS! You make my life easy! Not fun, because I don’t get to tell you how much you suck and why, but you do make the workflow so much faster. But yeah, the excitement is lacking. Sorry. That doesn’t mean that you can’t cobble together something completely subpar and submit it to me to spice things up, though. I’ll still take it.

One Does Not Simply… Become Both.

It takes hard work and dedication. An open mind, and a willingness to hear out constructive criticism. Now that I’ve listed all of your weaknesses—forget about them for a while. Try to passively work on improving them. But mainly what you need to do is evolve in what you already excel at. If you’re a writer who can’t tell a story, keep working on your writing. But pick one aspect of storytelling and work on that as well. Write short stories that contain all of these: a main character with a motivation, something that gets in the way of that motivation, how the character overcomes that obstacle, how they change or regress because of that, and then wrap it up with a proportionate ending. End with a story question. Don’t wrap everything up in a nice bow. Challenge yourself to give the readers something to wonder about. They’ll want to read more of your shit. No cliffhangers (yeah, there’s a difference between a story question and a cliffhanger).

If you’re a storyteller who can’t write… READ BOOKS! See how other authors do it. Work on your worldbuilding on a smaller scale. Build characters, develop them, give them motivations and flaws, obstacles, etc. (Though, to be fair, most storytellers are great at coming up with obstacles). Play to your strengths, and if you need help, people like me are here to help guide you with your writing. That’s what I do. And I love to do that. I want to help you evolve your work, because you’ve spent a lot of time working hard on it. I want to work hard to help you obtain the story you’ve always envisioned. That’s what we’re here for.

I think that covers it. I don’t know. There’s a storm. I got distracted.

Happy writing!

And no, I don’t proofread my own blog posts because I’m off the clock. And just for Julie, I’ll make sure this one isn’t ONLY a cat picture.

Exposition: Not Even Once

We all do it. Exposition. Let us stop.

It’s not the easiest thing not to do, in any case.

If you’re writing your first draft, you may want to skip this post, but revisit it when you’re revising. At the same time, if you’re dedicated to writing a great first draft, please proceed! It’s never a bad idea to learn all that you can before starting any book or story.

First of all—what is exposition?

Well, in fiction, it would be a huge block of text, describing nothing more than information that’s relevant to the story, but in a way that is clearly intended as an explanation. In other words, it isn’t worked into the story. It doesn’t advance or enhance your story; it just sits there, that block of text, like a light poo floating atop the toilet water. You’ve cut your story up to maybe “creatively insert a flashback”, and the present story you are telling takes a backseat, for a time, for the past story you shouldn’t need to tell.

Exposition is clearest when the author inserts themselves into the story to tell the reader what is happening. And that is not something that should be necessary. Why? Because you’re painting a picture. You’re using your words to show. Not tell.

Let’s take an example here. Say you have a person who is terrified of storms because when they were a child, their father left them during a thunderstorm. There would be a preferred way to set this scene while still weaving that backstory into it, and then there would be the expository manner of dumping that information.

Exposition: James stood in the doorway as the rain pelted the pavement. Soon it would turn to hail. The sky was dark everywhere and James couldn’t bear to stay on the porch any longer. Instead, he went indoors. He sat on the couch as the thunder rolled overhead, and lightning flashed behind his living room curtains. Storms bothered James. To the point of panic. This panic stemmed from his childhood. HIs father had left him during a similar storm. He was only ten years old and James and his mother had to fend for themselves after that. The day his father left, a large thunderstorm rolled through town, and as James’ father slammed the door on his way out, a thunderclap struck simultaneously.

You might be thinking that that’s not so bad. It’s not, I suppose, except, well, I wrote it. But other than that, fine. But is there a better way to do this? To show the reader why James fears storms the way that he does? Perhaps.

Sneaking exposition into the current storyline:

James stood in the doorway. He watched the rain pelt the pavement beyond his front door. Soon, those quick and stinging droplets would turn to hail. The sky was dark and James couldn’t bear to stay on the porch any longer. Instead, he went indoors and sat on his couch as the thunder rolled overhead, and lightning flashed behind his living room curtains. He shook at each thunder clap. At each lightning strike. The storm weakened him. His heart pounded, and with each boom that rattled his house and worked through his body, James shook even more. He pictured the front door of his childhood home slamming in tandem with the thunder; his mother’s tears that flowed just like the rain as her husband and James’ father left their home for the last time. With each strobe of lightning, James saw his father’s back as the man retreated from James and his mother. They watched through the window, cradling one another. Neither James nor his mother spoke a single word.

The curtain of ongoing rain reminded him of his mother’s tears; of his own ten-year-old tears, mixing together.

James brought his knees to his chest and plugged his ears. He fought the urge to call his fiancé, to ask if she would come home that night. She’ll come back, he reassured himself. Another clap of thunder. James’ heart leapt and so did his body. He was on his feet, the area rug displaced by his sudden movements.

He went upstairs and climbed into bed. He pulled the comforter over his face and plugged his palms into his ears to block out the nature raving outside.

Storms were ruinous, but so were humans.

So, maybe that second one wasn’t so great, either, but you get the point. That time, the writer attempted to incorporate the main character’s fear of abandonment with the panic attacks he has any time there is a storm. This shows the readers a few things.

1. His past. Yes, I worked it into the current storyline because it was relevant at this point in the story. James is struggling with whether he needs to call his fiancé to verify that she’s not leaving him.

2. His present. This is a man with abandonment issues who is plagued with anxiety.

3. How he deals with the past and that anxiety (avoidance).

4. His self-awareness regarding his issues (he decides not to call his fiancé).

So, while the first example shows the reader James’ past while the current storyline takes a backseat, the second example is stronger because it tells the story James’ present and explains how the past contributed.

Maybe your main character had a traumatic childhood, too. Maybe that’s very important to the character’s development. It makes sense that you want to explain that trauma to the reader as soon as you can, but there are ways to sprinkle the pain of the character’s past in with the current storyline. Let’s take another example. Maybe Sandra’s mother used to beat her as a child. Sandra is now a grown woman working a lucrative job. She’s happy and successful, but she is mistrusting of people. You can show that mistrust in many ways, one of which would be for her to question the motives of coworkers who ask her to spend time with them outside of work. She could assume that they want something from her. Maybe Sandra doesn’t have many (or any) close friends. Maybe you have her decide to spend time with those coworkers. Perhaps alcohol is involved. Perhaps any time a coworker makes a sudden movement (non-threatening), Sandra flinches.

Now, a scenario like the one above doesn’t tell the reader exactly why Sandra acts the way that she does, but it certainly shows the reader that there’s a reason for Sandra’s behavior. Perhaps she sees a child with normal bruising from playing and she takes the child aside and frantically questions the child about how the bruising occurred. OK, now we’re closer. The reader can then assume that Sandra either has experienced such pain or is at the very best worried for children who do. If all else fails, once Sandra develops and learns to get close to someone (a friend or a romantic interest), she can disclose the story of her past to that friend in dialogue. This could still be a bit of an info-dump, so be careful not to have Sandra doing a monologue here. A few short sentences are all it really takes for the reader to understand the impact Sandra’s childhood has on her, and still has on her.

What if you want your character to be a reformed murderer? One who was never caught or tried for the murder (yeah, I know, Crime And Punishment, but not really). Well, that’s tougher, but it’s still highly possible to pull of without a massive chunk of your book or a section dedicated to directly explaining this situation to the reader. You might instead have the character faced with his/her own robbery or beating. Perhaps this causes the character to think something simple, like; I didn’t know what I was doing when I did it. I didn’t know. Or some other vague allusion to his or her past.

Perhaps the character gets a normal job, joins the working class. Reforms themselves. But every time the character looks in the mirror, they imagine small speckles of blood on their face, or on their hands (sure, this is a bit cliché. Still better than exposition/an info dump).

The reader pieces together what the issue most likely is. Slowly revealing these details as they become relevant in the current story is your best bet.

What not to do:

Under no circumstance should you have pages and pages of backstory that do not contribute to the present story. Always move the story forward. Always. If you have to go back a bit to do that for a sentence or two—that’s different than blatant, in-your-face exposition.

Avoid shit like this:

· Dreams- Look, no one wants to hear about a dream (yes, there are exceptions to this, but most writers abuse this tool and it ends up reading like a five-year-old prattling incessantly about something that never happened, and worse; embellishing something that never happened). No one wants to listen to a person drone on and on about something that isn’t real. Now, if your character has psychic dreams and some magical ability to alter the future, sure, go ahead, devote a half-page to that dream. Otherwise, it’s obnoxious.

· Flashbacks- Again, these can be viewed as occasional necessities, but don’t use them unless you’re certain that they’re, once again, moving the story forward. Ask yourself this: “What would I lose if I cut this shit out of my book?” Really think about it. Perhaps you forgot that later on, you mention and summarize the events in a much more concise manner, or the subject of the flashback never comes up again. The answer to that would be: “Nothing”. Then do it. Cut that shit out, man. Kill those darlings. Yeah, it’s hard. I have a special folder for all my bullshit that was totally irrelevant so that perhaps I can use it later in another, better form. I would suggest you keep a folder as well if you have a hard time letting go. But you want to think of your story as the most important thing. If a flashback contributes little or nothing to the story or fails to advance the plot: cut it.

· Things that will come into play later on but that you want the audience to know right now- They don’t need to know now. I’ve seen this done in series’ before. It’s absolutely ridiculous. Sure, that historical battle and the history of the two sides involved may matter in your sequel, or later on in the book, but if it doesn’t matter right now and it doesn’t push the story forward, leave it be. Save it for later. Cut and condense.

· Prophecies- Okay, so I’ll probably get ragged on for this because a ton of fantasy writers love to use this trope and while it’s a well-hated trope; it’s also well-loved. When you have a prophecy, you’re telling the reader the story arc instead of allowing them to discover it organically. It’s the epitome of telling instead of showing.

· Speaking directly to the reader– again, this can be done tastefully. There are many books that do this, and they do it well. A Clockwork Orange comes to mind. But if you’re just starting out and you want to use that sort of narrative; don’t. Try omniscient or first-person before you attempt a second-person narrative as it’s probably the most difficult. Now, of course, you can do whatever the hell you want, and if you’re dead set on this, go for it! Just keep in mind that it’s an exposition trap waiting to happen. Since your narrator has those little “asides” for the reader, it’s all too easy to use those as an opportunity to launch into a backstory or history that doesn’t move the story forward.

While it may be damn near impossible to avoid all forms of exposition, you can do your best to curtail the instances in which they appear in your drafts. That way, your editor can hopefully catch them and advise you on how to better place them. A developmental editor is perfect for this because they specialize in reorganizing and helping the author build their story where it’s needed.

I’ll repeat an earlier statement: If you ask yourself what the exposition contributes to the story and you find yourself grasping at straws to justify it—cut it. Let it go!

That’s all for today.

Happy writing!

-Mel

#manuscriptadvice #copyediting #creativewriting #creativewritinghelp #Firstdraft #Maincharacterdevelopment #manuscripterrors #freelanceediting

Clichés! Tropes! Tired Sentences! Oh my!

Ok, so this might be another short post, but I’ve had a series of manuscripts lately (some very well-written by very skilled writers) that either have tedious and repetitious depictions of character actions/ feelings or have a spatter-pattern of useless phrases. I suppose that this could serve as a companion post to the “what not to write in your manuscript” blog post (yeah, I’m lazy and didn’t capitalize, sue me). And it would also go well with “the most common mistakes” blog post and a nice double-shot of cheap whiskey.

Even the best writers among us use tired phrasing, or awful clichés. Any first draft is sure to be chalk-full of them.

Let’s get this out of the way—the most useless phrase in the English language to use in a manuscript is this one: Needless to say…Why is it the most useless phrase? Because ten out of ten fucking times, the author goes on to then say the thing that was “needless” to say in the first place!

Oh! There’s also: There were no words to describe how he/she felt. What’s wrong with that, you may be wondering. Well, other than it being a cliché, nothing when it’s left at that, but all too often, I then see the author go on to fucking describe the shit that’s supposedly indescribable.

Don’t do that.

Suddenly.Sure, it has its place, but please avoid this if possible. Same goes for all of a sudden. Or all of the sudden. That just reads as if the author is uneducated. Now, in dialogue, fine, use them. Not in the general narrative.

If you’re telling a linear story, there is absolutely no need to ever start a sentence with the word then. You can use it inside your sentences, but don’t start one with it. Your readers should be able to grasp the order of events within your story. They don’t need to be told that anything happens next because a story is built on events that cause things, reactions that spawn more event, etc. And then. Ok, here’s my issue with this: pick one or the other. This reads unintelligently. By the way, I’m guilty of having done all of these (save there were no words), which is probably why I edit.

A lot of us lean on clichés a bit too often. I’ve found that in children’s books, or in MG, phrases like “stopped in his/her/their tracks” or It’ll knock your socks off”, are a bit more acceptable. I would still recommend all authors to avoid these, but there’s a certain level of acceptance with children’s books because children are still learning, and so the repetition can be somewhat helpful to the slower, dumber kids (sorry if that’s offensive).

It can be comforting for them to read familiar phrases. If you’re writing YA, romance, or anything else, don’t use clichés. If you aren’t sure whether the phrase you’re using is a cliché, feel free to use the internet to find out! There are so many sites devoted explicitly to terminologies to avoid

.I’ve said this before, but another wonderful thing to avoid in any genre, but especially horror/suspense is any phrase that resembles the following: Her gut told her something wasn’t right.

You’re giving the plot away. Ok? The reader knows something isn’t right, that’s why they’re reading a fiction novel—for the conflicts and the resolutions and the new conflicts that sprout from said resolutions. You don’t need to tell the reader that something is off. Show them something is off; The overcast sky split apart and droves of bats—blood dripping from their fangs—entered the atmosphere. A nearby tornado ripped the only home our hero had ever known from the earth. So, horrible sentence, but that’s an example of showing the reader that shit is going down.

You don’t need to allude to your character’s gut instincts, OK? Be creative. You’re a creative person, that’s why you’re writing.

While words can become trite and overdone, so can certain plotlines or character actions/behaviors. I am well aware that I did not include all of these in the title, but I decided it was tangent time.

If you’re writing a romance novel and your couple does any of the following, go back to fucking drawing board:

· Felt electricity the moment they met/touched/spoke/made eye contact. Or if they love each other right away without knowing each other (AKA; love at first sight, or insta-love).

· Have graphic sexual relations in a book that is not erotica. I have seen this too many times to count. It’s absolutely insane. If your book isn’t erotica, you can write soft sex scenes, but don’t talk about penetration. It’s not that hard (pun intended because I am that big of a loser).

· Have a third person influencing them (mostly referring to another love interest/ love triangle). Unless you can make the love triangle, cube, or octagon original, don’t go there. Rely on outside sources to strain the relationship.

· Characters have no personality but somehow the other person makes them “whole”. This makes me gag.

· Stare longingly into each other’s eyes, any sort of “gazing” (or alternatively shifting a gaze, which is a fixed thing and cannot be shifted), stargazing, carriage rides, flower deliveries, beach-walking, all the old-fashioned stuff. Write unique characters and have them engage in activities that match up with their personalities and that help advance the plot. The aforementioned things are so overdone they put the way Trump eats his steaks to shame.

· “Nice guy who stalks a friend he’s in love with and ends up with her by being a white-knight”. This can just die.

· Characters who are “just” special. No. Give me a reason why they are special. They’re interesting, which is why you’re writing about them and not someone else. Especially in a romance setting.

· “I’d never met a man/woman like him/her”. Oh bullshit.

· Soulmates or couples that are somehow predestined to be together. Ugh.

Most of my gripes are about romance or YA. I’ll list the common YA tropes now:

· Teenagers are always smarter than adults. Ok, well, whatever. But can’t you have one competent adult in your story? Just to set it off from the millions of others exactly like it?

· One girl/boy saves the whole world from some dystopian tyrant/regime. While this has worked well in a few books, there were so many copycats and horrible dystopian YA books inspired by this, it’s become a trope. Don’t do it. I love sci-fi dystopia. I wrote one. Please, write them, but make them unique. I worked with a client who wrote one that was brilliant; like a cross between The Handmaid’s Tale and Children of Men. The tyrannical government was present (that’s almost a must, not even really a trope. It just must be), but the author did a wonderful job of not anointing one character as the savior of the entire human race. And it touched on some very important topics. Make your YA dystopian novel unique.

· Apocalyptic wasteland or maybe a maze without any backstory. This is ridiculous. I won’t name books, but there’s a huge best seller out there where it was clear the author gave absolutely no thought to the story questions behind his plot. And he milked that failure for even more money. Pissed me off severely. Backstory is necessary for the world-building and character development in such novels. If you leave it out, you’re going to either have a lot of pissed off readers, or apparently become a millionaire. So, I guess if you have no conscious, go for it!

· Harry Potter rip-offs. If you like to write fantasy; that’s awesome! Write your heart out but respect the world JK Rowling built and don’t mimic it, you asshole.

· Christ-like figures. I guess this would be the whole Neo-in-The Matrix-thing. Your character shouldn’t be “the one”, the savior, especially without reason. If you can effectively break this rule, more power to you, and I applaud you, but it’s rare that anyone can overcome the immense weight of this trope. Your readers’ eyes will roll as soon as they discover that this is your grand plot device. It’s just lazy. Unless there are additional, supporting elements and a rich backstory. Even then, tread with caution on this one.

Other shit I’m tired of seeing—villains who are evil for no reason. Villains who turn out to be the good guy for no reason. Characters who act like assholes, but we’re somehow supposed to like them. Weak main characters, lack of a well-thought-out plot, hand of god bullshit and cliffhangers when the author has either no intention to write a sequel or hasn’t started it yet.

I guess this turned into more of a “Super easy ways to piss off your editor/readers” post, but really, these things are all best avoided 95% of the time. I did, indeed pull that percentage out of my ass. I have worked on and helped develop some awesome stories that effectively broke some of these rules. I challenge you to do the same. All great writers can.

Happy writing!

-Mel

#manuscriptadvice #freelanceediting #manuscripterrors #creativewriting #grammaticalerrors #creativewritinghelp #Tropesincreativewriting

How to Convey Unspoken Dialogue in Your Fiction Novel!

This will be a short entry. I just want to rant about this for a moment. Yes, The Chicago Manual of Style has a sort of shitty recommendation for this. It basically says that you can “use quotes or not” depending on “the author’s preference”.

While I appreciate and admire the author’s preferences, if it’s between quotation marks or nothing…

Fuck. That.

I’m currently editing a book where the publisher has set the standard that when a character is reading or writing a text message, it’s displayed IN QUOTATION MARKS.

What. The. Fuck.

Ok, so my problem with this is that, well, quotation marks have always been used for dialogue (text that is spoken aloud). And I’ve read many books myself (and I also recommend my clients) to write internal thoughts in italics, unless that internal thought fits into the general narrative, in which case they should just not do anything. Right? Anyone with me on this one?

My theory here is that text messages should also be presented in italics. Why? Well, because this bullshit looks ridiculous;

“LOL I <3 you, boo”, the text read—for not only the content, but the way it’s presented.

OR:

LOL! I <3 you, boo! the text read.

That’s… overly congested and could be interpreted in so many ambiguous ways it’s not even cute.

So, what should we do instead? Oh, gee, I don’t know, maybe something that makes more sense visually speaking? Something like this:

LOL. I <3 you, boo! The text read. Ashley rolled her eyes.

Darren. We’ve been over this, she replied.

Looks much better.

Automatically, when the reader sees the quotation marks, they are going to think that the words are spoken aloud because that’s how it has always been. And when someone is reading or writing a text, that is filtered through their—you know—brain; it’s an internal thought more so than it’s something that should be stated aloud.

So, if you have a futuristic sci-fi novel and you depict your text messages through whatever system you’ve devised (pupillary implant or whatever), it shouldn’t be presented the same as spoken language. Because it’s not the same.

Get your shit together, Chicago.

Writers—if we adopt this trend independently of the guide, it will eventually work its way into standard practice. Do not write text messages in the same manner as dialogue. It looks like dogshit.

That’s all.

Happy writing!

P.S. I write how I wish to write when I’m not working. No, it’s probably not good for business when the editor doesn’t care about her own grammar. I do care. I care that it’s legible and that I get my point across. I spend all day nitpicking every comma in whatever book I’m editing, so I do tend to let loose on my blog. I even leave typos!

Books That Will Boost Your Skills as an Author!

Are you struggling with getting that tense scene just right? Or perhaps the basic building blocks of constructing an exceptional story simple elude you. Maybe you need a boost from someone who has been where you are—struggling as an author to get a foothold in the industry.

Well, I’ve read countless books on writing, and while it was very difficult to pick the best of the bunch, I’ve complied a list here for those authors who may need help with several aspects of their writing process.

This post is a little different. It won’t tell you how to make your characters awesome, or the climax of your book explosive (for lack of a better term. Or not. I just wanted to write that). I do have another blog post that may be of interest to you if you’re struggling with character development, and that one is: How to Avoid Writing a Terrible Main Character.

This post will be a bit boring compared to my others, but there are just so many wonderful books out there that can be helpful when it comes to a lost author who struggles when it comes to one (or even several) elements of the writing process. So I’m going to tell you what my personal bibles are when it comes to content editing and certain element of creative writing. I’ll also explain why they are my favorites, and for whom they may provide the most assistance.

If you have any questions, you can contact me.

I would love to discuss any of these books with you. I love talking about books. I might just ditch the creative writing blog and start writing about books, instead!

For the Perfectionists:

So, let’s start with those who are super picky when it comes to proper punctuation and word usage.

Do you commonly find yourself worrying about comma placement? Does that semicolon go there? What should I do with an em-dash? What should I do with an en-dash Do I write numbers out, or do I spell them? What about abbreviations? How do I write out years?

For you, my dear perfectionist, I would highly recommend The Chicago Manual of Style. It has everything you’ll ever need right there, in that massive, five-pound tome. The layout makes it easy to find exactly what you’re looking for, and I have about forty bookmarks in mine.

If you’re writing (or editing) fiction—this should be your go-to for any question you have regarding all those technical aspects of writing most authors don’t have the time to think about while they’re crafting an elaborate world with intriguing characters. But once that writer has finished their first draft, they may want to focus more on the technical aspects of their writing. Yes, it’s time-consuming, and many of us would rather pay a professional editor to complete this stage for us. However, I honestly believe that any writer—fiction, nonfiction, memoirs, autobiographies—can benefit from the vast information available in The Chicago Manual of Style.

Downsides:

Well, it’s huge. It’s heavy. There are a lot of pages to sift through. I’m insane and I’ve read it cover-to-cover. I would recommend that no author do this. Look up the table of contents for the problem you need solved, flip to that page, and you’re good to go!

Another downside is that, while it’s very informative and easy to digest—it’s expensive. I paid seventy dollars for mine last June (2017), and now I’ve learned that the 17th edition has been released; however, from the research I’ve done based on the new edition, there have been minimal changes made; for example: e-mail used to be the accepted way of writing out that term. Now, however, you’re allowed to skip the dash and simply write: email. Also, you’re now allowed to abbreviate USA as simply the US. The font has also changed to one that’s a bit easier on the eyes, but I would say that if you already own the 16h edition—keep it. I don’t personally believe there have been enough changes which would require you to purchase the 17th edition. Now, if you own neither, obviously it would be in your best interest to purchase the newest version. I bought my 16th edition at a bookstore. I’ve found the 17th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style for much less on Amazon (and yes, you can use Prime for the two-day shipping).

For Every Single Author:

I know, I’m supposed to appeal to certain groups here, but this book really is a huge asset to have in your “how to not be a shitty writer” arsenal.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White. There is another, earlier version floating around out there, however, that one only has one author: William Strunk Jr. It is nowhere near as comprehensive as the newer version. I guess E.B. White can be accredited with launching the book into the conversations of every writing circle in America.

The Elements of Style is fantastic. It lays out in the simplest possible terms (and provides examples) the best ways to write sentences, and the best way s to conserve your words. This book is a must for any author. I see no downsides to this one, so …

Upsides: The Elements of Style by Strunk and White is available on Amazon (the hard copy) for something like seven dollars. It’s a very short book, it’s an easy read, and you will flip through it every day for years. The Kindle version is likely cheaper, but I’m sure that many writers would agree that when it comes to needing a book as a reference point; it’s best to have the physical copy before you. This book, if you pay attention to its wisdom will improve your writing substantially. It goes into detail regarding how to achieve the most impact with your words, avoid ambiguity, say many things with few words—among many other droplets of wisdom. And that is absolutely invaluable.

Everyone: BUY THIS BOOK! And yes, I am yelling at you. You must own this. In fact, if you had to pick only one book from this list to purchase, it should be this one.

For Authors Who Struggle with Pacing and Flow:

OK. This is one I discovered entirely on accident, almost tossed out the window due to how “common sense” the first twenty or so pages were, but then quickly realized the benefits within and continued reading.

The book is called Scene and Structure and it’s written by Jack M. Bickham

At first, I thought to myself, Wow. This book is basically storytelling for dummies. But then I realized that we’re all that dummy on occasion. And while the book is loaded with what would seem like common sense to a content editor or a substantive editor (or, well, any editor, really), Bickham lays out the structure of a gripping story/novel in a very easy to understand manner. He explains how, when, and why to write the scenes that will make your book stand out from the crowd (which he maintains should be all of them, and so do I).

Do you have trouble pacing the climax of your novel? Are you unsure how long it should be in comparison to the build-up to said climax? How long should the sentences be in a tense scene? How should you show a character’s reaction after the major, life-changing event? Why shouldn’t you go on and on for pages about how your POV character feels about something? What’s the best way to show your readers the emotion, the impact, the action, the reactions, that conflicts have upon your characters? How should a chapter be constructed?

There are many questions that Bickham answers with ease, and there is one piece of advice from him that I want to bestow upon all of you who may struggle with writing scenes; make sure that every chapter has a conflict and that the conflict in that chapter moves the story forward. If there’s no conflict, the reader will lose interest.

It’s a phenomenal book that will help anyone who struggles with the quality/length of their scenes. Yes, the author does use his own work as reference points, which annoyed me at first, but then I realized that it was probably the best course of action for Mr. Bickham to take. After all, he didn’t have to struggle with copyright laws, and he is a somewhat decent writer. Hang in there through the beginning where it seems like the book is just an excuse to plug his own writing; it very well may be, but this book will help you to better pace your scenes, establish tension, create compelling sequel scenes and denouement from emotionally exhausting events.

The author does provide challenges to the author at the end of each chapter. Each one involves the writer coming up with a brand new story, which I think is amazing. Sure, you could use an old one, but what’s the fun in that?

With this one, I’m somewhat neutral. I think the upsides of this one far outweigh the downsides. Although I will say that even if you have the strength of Thor you will NOT be able to bend the spine of this book. Good fucking luck. This infuriated me, but I got over it because, hey, it’s what’s on the inside that counts, right?

For the First-Time Author:

I’ve got two recommendations for you.

1. On Writing by Stephen King

2. Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark

Now, it’s been well over a decade since I’ve read the second recommendation, but I’ve read On Writing more times than I can count. It’s wonderful. Sure, it’s one man’s account of his successful career, but who wouldn’t want to take advice from the Master of Horror himself?

On Writing isn’t only about the writing process in the technical aspect. King goes into a lot of detail about the nature of being a writer, and how that sort of draws a person toward a certain lifestyle. Especially a persistent writer. He reveals excerpts of his bad writing, complete with the advice written on to the hard copies by his teachers/friends/ editors. He documents his struggle in such a relatable way. There is so much advice in this book, but it’s about a lot more than that. I think this one should be required reading for every author.

There are no downsides to On Writing, only upsides😊

Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark is a book I picked up when I started my first novel probably eight years ago. This one is chock-full of advice which will help your writing not only be more orderly but hold more impact. There are workshops at the end of each chapter which I recommend you do because they will help evolve your writing abilities.

Upsides: If you internalize the advice and complete those exercises, your story/book will read much better than it would have had you never picked up this book.

Okay, guys. I’m almost done here. I don’t want to overwhelm with too many recommendations, though if you would like more (as previously mentioned), feel free to contact me!

For Editors:

Well, I’ve already mentioned the bible of all editors: The Chicago Manual of Style¸ but you’re also going to need other style guides if you intend to work on both fiction and nonfiction, short stories and articles, et cetera.

My favorite, so far is The Copyeditor’s Manual, 3rd Edition, by Amy Einsohn. This book has nearly everything you will need. If you have a question about how to insert a table into a document—this book will help you. It also covers all the basics like grammar and punctuation, as well as sentence structure. This one is a must have!

(Of course the MLA and APA are required as well).

That’s about all I’ve got for now. I would like to give credit to some honorable mentions here:

1. The Handbook of Good English by Edward D. Johnson

And

2. The New Oxford Guide to Writing by Thomas S. Kane.

That does it for today! Of course you all need dictionaries and a thesaurus. I didn’t think I should have to mention that, but, you never know.

Happy writing!

-Mel

#manuscriptadvice #creativewritinghelp #creativewriting #editor #Firstdraft #contentediting

Say More by Writing Less! (AKA; clean up your awkward phrasing and clunky sentences.)

Have you ever read your work and thought to yourself: This isn’t right? This reads terribly. The flow’s off and the sentences are bulky.

Well, there is a solution. Now, before you beat yourself up about having so many bulky sentences—let me tell you; all of us do it. Every writer on the planet writes terrible sentences.

I’m going to help you learn to spot a few of the most common errors that cause the dreaded clunky/bulky sentences and awkward phrasing.

A common habit I run into and must often correct/quell in many manuscripts is this: they make their points in the most wordy, clunky, roundabout way imaginable. This is something every writer needs to learn to avoid, and some word processors will help you—on occasion, to spot where you’ve done this.

Ever seen (in Microsoft Word) those little dots beneath a phrase that sort of resemble ellipses except the ellipses aren’t ellipses at all because the dots underline the length of an entire phrase? Those are there for a reason. That is Word trying to tell you, “Hey, asshole. Have you thought about condensing this long-winded sentence? Hover over me—I’ve got suggestions for you”. What you would do is then right-click over the dotted phrase and see what grand suggestions Word has for fixing the issue.

A word of caution (lol, get it? Word of caution while I’m writing about the Word program? I’m so funny): Word and Grammarly do not always get their flagging right. So if Word or Grammarly flags a phrase or a word, if you are positive the program is wrong—look it up online to confirm, then leave your statement alone.

I’ve already covered authors who choose to be ostentatious and show off their vast vocabulary, and I’ve also lightly touched on this topic in my grammar errors posts, so this post sort of ties into those, except this post is more centered around this idea:

“Cut every unneeded word.”

I discovered this quote many, many years ago when I was writing my first novel. I found the quote in Strunk and Whites’ The Elements of Style, which is a very easy, very helpful guide on writing well. Every writer should own this book. You can buy the paperback on Amazon for a whopping seven dollars, and it’s the best seven dollars you will ever spend if you are genuinely interested in improving your skills. Go buy it. Now.

Here are a few examples of redundant phrases you may not recognize yourself using:

1. It was a little bit cold outside.

You may not see anything wrong with this at first glance. Let me show you how I would fix it, and that might help you to spot the problem:

It was a little bit cold outside.

Here, I’ve suggested the writer remove ‘bit’ to help clean the sentence up. The word “little” and the word “bit” are so similar that using both adds nothing to the sentence. But, that’s not the best way to conserve words. Let’s try to make the statement even more concise:

It was a cold day.

There! Now that describes everything the first sentence does, removes the excessive word, and reduces the word count! Look at that!

These next few examples really chap my ass for some reason. They make me want to hurl my computer across the room. Here’s a comprehensive list of actual phrases I have read (and yes, likely written back in the day) and that are problematic for obvious reasons.

1. I nodded my head.

2. I squinted my eyes.

3. I shrugged my shoulders.

Here is how I would fix each of them:

1. I nodded.

2. I squinted.

3. I shrugged.

I’m sure most of you understand why I’ve suggested these cuts, but for those of you who may make these errors and see nothing wrong with them, I’ll quickly explain:

1. What else does a person “nod”?

2. What else does a person “squint”?

3. What else does a person “shrug”?

My point is that if you simply write I nodded, most readers are going to catch your drift immediately. Same with I squinted, and I shrugged. To add the body part into the mix is redundant for the purposes I’ve outlined here. If you find yourself writing such phrases—stop. Or go back through your manuscript and pick them out. Especially try to do all of this before you send this to your content editor, or your copy editor, and definitely before you send it to your proofreader.

Note: there are absolutely exceptions where such language is acceptable, especially if the voice of the narrator requires over-explanation, but to do that well, you must be a talented writer.

Oh, there’s more! When you edit fiction (and non-fiction, to be fair), you’re going to see all kinds of crazy shit that might make you want to tear your hair out. Personally, I love it. Especially these small errors I’m discussing in my blog. These are so easy to fix, that I usually only need to point out a few instances to the author and they will be able to spot other instances while they revise. Though I do try to edit all of them for the author. I don’t know how many other editors operate, but as a substantive editor, I feel I should be providing edits that are, well, substantive.

Let’s talk about gerunds!

I hate gerunds. I hate them passionately. Now, many publishers are fine with the use of gerunds these days, and I’m trying to ignore the ones that function within a manuscript. But oftentimes authors will use them excessively or incorrectly. Here is yet another list of redundancies via gerund usage:

1. I was running across the street.

2. She was eating her sandwich

3. Harold was packing the box.

So, as you can see, this is very common when the manuscript is written in the past-tense. I’ve seen in in the present tense as well, but past-tense is the most frequent offender. Here is how I would edit these to conserve word usage, and clean the sentences up:

1. I ran across the street.

2. She ate her sandwich.

3. Harold packed the box.

As you can see, in most cases, simply recalling the past-tense form of the verb can save your ass from a clunky sentence. Sure, Forrest Gump was running but he had an excuse for they way he abused the English language that you likely don’t have. Taking out the ‘was’ is necessary. You’re doing yourself a few favors by finding and eradicating similar instances: you’re saying bye-bye to the gerund, you’re conserving words, and you’re also giving your sentences a more “active” feel to them.

Yet another example that may pertain only to me and my personal issues (I am easily annoyed, and I nitpick like crazy) would be this:

1. I sat down next to Clara.

2. I stood up to meet her eyes.

3. I ran away from the officer.

Now you’re probably wondering what could possibly be wrong with these, right? Well, here’s what I would suggest:

1. I sat next to Clara. (If you’re sitting, chances are your ass isn’t magically floating upward, so yeah, the “down” would be implied.)

2. I stood to meet her eyes. (Well what do you know? Same here. Usually when you’re standing, the “up” is implied so you don’t need it in your writing).

3. I ran from the officer. (I don’t know, I’ll be honest: “away from” just rubs me the wrong way when you can accomplish the same meaning by taking the “away” out of the picture.)

In those instances, there’s always something that’s already implicit, so you wouldn’t need to add the extra words. As I said, this could just be me. But I’ve not yet had many disagree with my outrage over such phrasing.

Here’s a list of phrases I often see worded excessively, and how I would edit them:

1. They both looked at each other.

They looked at each other

2. I’ve never seen that glove before in my life.

I’ve never seen that glove. (Alternatively: I haven’t seen that glove before).

3. She was pretty angry

She was angry.

4. The carnival was actually very fun.

The carnival was fun!

5. The cat slowly stalked the mouse.

The cat stalked the mouse.

So, those are a few random examples for you. If you’ve never seen something, you probably don’t have to add “before” or “in my life” because the fact that you’ve “never” seen it, well, “never” means “not a single time, ever”, so anything after “never” becomes excessive.

#3 and #4 contain qualifiers. I hate qualifies. Take the qualifiers out of your sentences. How do they read? Has the meaning changed? If not, take them out and leave them out. I do understand that in some MG or even YA novels, the MC’s voice requires that they use qualifiers occasionally. That’s not what I’m talking about. There are always exceptions to every rule.

#5 contains an adverb. As a general rule, I advise most authors to just not use adverbs. If the cat is “stalking” the mouse, “stalking” means that his actions are slow and deliberate, so the adverb doesn’t modify the verb in this instance. Cut it. Now, let’s try this:

The cat warily stalked the rattlesnake.

That usage of adverbs is A-OK in my book because ‘warily’ modifies “stalked”. The reader should probably know that the cat wasn’t fearless and was being cautious due the fact that, well, it’s trying to get one-up on a fucking rattlesnake. It sure makes me feel better to know the cat’s wary of the damn thing.

So, what this post boils down to is: there are so many ways for you to conserve words. I’ve also read the advice: “Never use five words where two will suffice”, which is fantastic. I love that advice and I give it each of my clients. If you keep some of these in mind while you’re writing your manuscript, I promise it will read smoother than it would had you littered your book with them.

That’s all I’ve got for now, but I’m sure I’ll be back with a second post on this topic. I have a tendency to enjoy my complaints. Whoops! I meant: I love to complain.

Happy writing!

-Mel

#manuscriptadvice #creativewriting #Manuscriptadvice #filterwords #creativewritinghelp #wordusageerrors #firstdrafthelp #contentediting

Thinking of padding your word count? Yeah. Don’t.

Is your book too short? Were you perhaps shooting for 50,000 words and ended up with 30k? That sucks. We’ve all been there. You may want to ask me what the solution is, aside from padding the word count to add that extra 20K, but I’m not going to answer quite yet.

I’ve seen it before: authors padding their word counts through the usage of excessive words or passages do nothing to enhance their work but instead cause the reader to slog through pages of bullshit that essentially have no relevance to the story at hand.

Why does word count matter? Well, if you want your book to be classed as a novel and not a novelette or novella, you might need as many as 40k words in your book. A novelette should have anywhere between 7,500, and 17,000 words. A novella should have about 20k-40k, and a novel would have at least 50k words total.

Most authors think they have a full novel. They sit down to write the novel, they tidy it up, and at the end, they find out that—oh shit!—my book is only 30k words! That person then does some research and finds out that for their novella to transform into a novel, they’re going to need a higher word count.

But the word count isn’t what makes the novel. It’s the content and the quality of the writing that constitutes a novel. If you panic and start adding a bunch of shit that has nothing to do with your story, yeah, you might have a novel-length piece in your hands when you’re finished, but it won’t be a great novel, and your readers aren’t going to be fooled. They’ll simply flip through the worthless passages, chapters, and sentences or they’ll give up reading because, well, your book sucks!

So what to do when you’re shy of that 50k? Well, you’ve got a few options. My absolute favorite option would be this: you wrote a novella. Cool. Why does it have to be a novel? If you have everything you need within that piece of work, and it’s shorter than novel-length, what the hell do you care? You’ve told a (presumably) good story. You’ve spent the time to write it. Maybe you had 45k to begin with, but your content editor tore you a new one and she was right, so you had to go ahead and cut the shit that was worthless in the first place. Now you have a shorter, more concise, easier to read novella instead of an almost-novel. What’s so wrong with that? If your editor has approved the work and everything is in order—so what? Leave it! It’s fine as it is! There’s no need for you to freak out over word count and start adding words/scenes that don’t matter.

Don’t make your book unreadable simply for the sake of word count. It’s reckless and it will compromise the quality of the book. Say you send that shit back to your editor, after you’ve padded the word count. Well, the editor is going to tear you another new one and just tell you to cut that shit out, anyway. So just skip the middle man and don’t add anything. Leave your novella a novella, be proud of your accomplishment, and move on with your damn life. Maybe next time you’ll have enough content for a full novel. But you don’t today, so it really doesn’t matter.

Another option would be to, I don’t know, add scenes that enhance the story and further the plot. This will be tricky after the fact and may require a rewrite because when you add scenes and passages, you have to go back through your manuscript to ensure the other details are in line with the new, added details (they won’t be), and you’ll need to tweak your entire book so the newer scenes and subplots feel organic and make sense.

Why do I advise against the second option? Because it doesn’t always work out for the best. Oftentimes, it’s easy for the editor to discern what you’ve done, which means; those added scenes? Yeah, those don’t feel original; they stand out as additions and don’t blend into the current storyline. Such scenes and subplots often feel forced. If you’re a highly skilled writer with a ton of experience, you’ll be much more likely to pull this off, but if you’re a first-time author, I’d advise you to think long and hard before attempting this because it can (and most often will) screw with the balance and pacing of your book.

The worst option is to just go ahead and pad the shit out of your manuscript against the advice of your editor and see what happens. Let me save you the hassle. Here’s what happens: your book sucks, everyone hates it, you get horrible reviews and you never write again. Does that sound pleasant to you? It doesn’t sound pleasant to me.

My point here, after rambling for almost 1,000 words, is this: don’t worry about the word count. Don’t worry over whether you have a novel, or a novella. Just write your story to the best of your ability, find a great editor, and whatever the final word count—that’s what you’ve got. Accept it.

Don’t pad your word count unless you can make those added passages relevant to your story, and/or unless they move the storyline forward.

What a short and sweet post from yours truly, huh? I just needed to get it out of my system. Next post will follow shortly, and that one will be about cutting all the words you do not absolutely need out of your manuscript.

Happy writing!

-Mel

#creativewriting #contentediting #wordcount #manuscriptadvice #manuscripterrors

Avoiding Grammar and Word Usage Errors in your Manuscript

The years I have spent content editing have taught me that there are near-universal mistakes many authors (experienced or first-time; traditionally or self-published) tend to make. Regardless of experience, similar mistakes are made in their manuscripts.

I thought it might be helpful to some of you authors out there to have a list compiled of things that you should keep in mind while writing. A list of things you should absolutely avoid. While you are self-editing, please look for instances of these grammatical/ word usage errors in your own manuscripts. Replace/erase as many of them as you can.

Sure, this might fall more under the ‘copyediting’ category, but since I also copyedit, I try to keep an eye out for things like this.

So, what is the number one most common mistake I see?

Filter words! Oh boy. It’s so much fun to run across these in every single manuscript.

Look, you want your readers to be as close as possible to the perspectives of your characters. Your readers should feel as though they are viewing the world- which you have so painstakingly crafted- through the eyes of your characters. If you filter the experiences of your characters, your readers will not feel close to them.

Do I have examples of this? Only out the ass. Of course I do. I see and correct them every. Single. Day.

But let me first start by saying that there absolutely are exceptions to every single rule. In the case of filter words, there are times where their usage is acceptable. My main example of an exception would be if your character’s senses are in some way compromised.

If your character has all their wits about them and is not disabled- don’t write shit like this:

Harold started to see the leaves as they began to blow in the chaotic, constant wind.

Okay, where to start with shit like this? Well, first, assuming Harold isn’t mentally challenged or an otherwise unreliable narrator- what the fuck is wrong with him? How did he start to see shit that’s begun to blow around in ‘constant’ wind? Harold might need to see a fucking shrink. No. This isn’t what happened. Here is what happened:

The constant, chaotic wind blew the leaves through the air.

Now, that’s not a grade A sentence right there, but it sure does indicate that our friend Harold has his wits about him. And that he’s making direct observations that aren’t filtered through bullshit words that have no place in a regular human being’s thought process. Let’s stay with Harold. I don’t really want to, but let’s!

Harold heard the sirens in the distance. He felt his heart start beating faster. He knew they were coming for him.

Oh lord. Harold. Get your shit together. Here’s a better, closer, way to write the same thing:

Sirens blared in the distance. Harold’s heart pounded at the thought that those very sirens could be headed for him. After all- he had killed that goat.

So, again, not the greatest sentence in the world, but it’s arguably better. When the sentence is worded in a manner minus the filter words- the reader feels much closer to the action. Perhaps the reader will even feel what Harold is feeling. This helps to establish an emotional connection with the reader. When you properly engage the senses of your readers- you win. They experience the character’s world as the character experiences it. Non-filtered.

Other filter words are as follows:

He felt. He smelled. He realized. He knew. He saw.

You get the idea. Use direct descriptions instead of filtering your character’s experiences. Your reader will thank you for it.

What next? Oh! What about ellipses versus em-dashes?

Yeah, this is another one. It doesn’t really bother me much, however, because I understand what the author is trying to accomplish. This confusion usually occurs in dialogue. Take, for example this:

“I have to go, Gerald. The police. They’re coming for me. They’re going to arrest me and I’ll spend the rest of my life in jail with who knows what types of hooligans and riffraff and…”

“Dude, shut up. You’re stupid paranoid, okay? That goat was practically your property anyway, Harold. Let’s get our burgers and go.”

So, in this exchange (yeah, I hate Harold, too. I wasn’t particularly trying to make him likeable because I don’t care) Harold’s having a panic attack, and Harold’s friend interrupts said panic attack to attempt to calm him down. So where’s the issue?

The ellipses are the issue. Ellipses typically indicate that a character is either trailing off while speaking, or while thinking. Here would be a proper method of using them:

“I don’t think I could survive the prison life. Gang members assaulting me. I’m weak, I’m just not cut out for it. I…”

Here, Harold has trailed off. He’s lost his dialogue to his own train of thought. If you want to indicate that your character has been interrupted, instead, use an em-dash:

“I have to go, Gerald. The police. They’re coming for me. They’re going to arrest me and I’ll spend the rest of my life in jail with who knows what types of hooligans and riffraff and—”

There! That is what indicates an interruption in thought or in dialogue. The em-dash! I hope you all know how to use hyphens.

Oh, and if you have Word 2016- good fucking luck getting the em-dash into your text! I had to look it up online and figure out how to change my dash functions, but I got it. You will, too. I always say that you are more than welcome to e-mail me with questions, or general advice, but do NOT send me shit asking how to insert an em-dash in Word 2016. If you’re having trouble with that, it’s in god’s hands now. Good luck to you!

Next, let’s talk about excessive use of punctuation for the purpose of emphasis. Ugh. I hate this. I honestly hate exclamation points. I have fought many an author over their use of them. In dialogue, I don’t mind so much. But if you’re using exclamation points in your general narrative for the purpose of emphasis- stop. Stop it right now.

Your narrative should provide the tone, theme, and context needed for emphasis to be accomplished without adding exclamation points. If you fail to accomplish this, you may want to reconsider taking more writing classes, or reading more about the craft. You’re beyond my paygrade at that point.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen something like this:

“But, I can’t defecate in front of other people! How do you expect me to relieve myself?!”

Oh lord. The question mark/ exclamation point combo! How I love this. Look, the question mark on it’s own should be fine. The context and tone of the dialogue should reveal the exasperation of your character well enough that you should in no way need to abuse punctuation like that. However, if you must abuse punctuation and you must use the combination of an exclamation point and a question mark, please consider… the interrobang!

The interrobang is a lovely mixture of the two punctuation marks. It looks like this: ‽

I’ll enlarge it for you:

Here’s Harold’s dumb, whiny rant with the interrobang used in lieu of the question mark/exclamation point combo:

“But, I can’t defecate in front of other people! How do you expect me to relieve myself‽”

How cool is that‽

I still think it’s an abuse of punctuation, but I see it so rarely that when an author accurately uses one, I’m more proud than annoyed.

Here are a few other things that I see often:

*Tense switches. If you’re writing your story in the present tense, everything needs to happen in the present tense. Same for the past tense. Let’s check in with Harold:

Harold wandered aimlessly about the streets. He slips in a puddle and lands face-up, cursing the gods for allowing him such wretched luck.

Okay. I’ve had enough of Harold, too. Can you spot the issues here? If you can’t, then once again I would recommend that you read and write more often. I’ve been writing Harold’s story thus far in the past tense. Here is how that passage should have read:

Harold wandered aimlessly about the streets. He slipped and fell face-down into a puddle. He cursed the gods who allowed him such wretched luck.

This passage, while still rather shitty, is an example of using a consistent tense throughout. Consistency may just be the most important aspect of any manuscript. To succeed, you need to be consistent in so many things: narrative, tones, themes, plot, character arcs and development, dialogue, pacing and flow- among many others. Inconsistency will absolutely kill your story.

*Homonyms. There, there and their. Here and hear. Great and greet. Then and than. Too, two, and to. Basically, homonyms- or words that look like they may be homonyms- are a huge issue. You would think an established author would have these down. They don’t. You probably don’t either. You probably think you do, but you’ll slip up. And then you’ll hire someone like me to catch it for you. And I will. And I’ll bitch at you for it. (Not really. I’m honestly very nice and respectful of my clients. I just love my sarcasm in daily life).

*Head-hopping. This one is rather difficult for a lot of authors for some reason. This is why I always tell first-time authors that they may want to experiment with a bird’s-eye/ omniscient viewpoint. Even then, however, head-hopping can truly destroy an otherwise good story. If you are switching perspectives so often that the reader doesn’t know who they are with, or if they don’t get to spend enough time with any given character to gain an appreciation for/attachment to them, that’s obviously an issue. Try to stick with one character for at least a page. I’ve found this is the best advice for new authors. Use chapter breaks, also. They exist for a reason. Specifically if you are switching from one perspective to another.

*Harold and me vs. Harold and I.

This, oddly, is very, very common. For example:

The room wasn’t warm enough for Harold and I.

Well, that’s not right, is it? Why is it wrong? Because if you take Harold out of the equation, how would you say that? Would you say: The room wasn’t warm enough for I.?

No. You would say: The room wasn’t warm enough for me.

My advice (not to mention how I was taught to avoid the error) is to take the other person out of the equation all together. That way, you’ll know for sure whether it’s supposed to be Harold and I or Harold and me.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for now! I may add to the list the more I think on it. I’m sure there are many others. I’ll have to do a list for errors in content as well. Happy writing!

-Mel

#manuscripterrors #manuscriptadvice #grammaticalerrors #wordusageerrors #filterwords #contentediting #copyediting

My Freelance Content Editing Experience (so far).

I don’t know why I thought it was appropriate to write about this, and I have no idea whether you’ll find it interesting or not, but I figured I might as well document my experiences. I may also update this post as time goes on.

I’ve been content editing off and on for about six years now. I wanted to turn it into a full-time position for the past year or so, but was not allotted the opportunity to do so.

The experience of losing one’s job should be incredibly painful and terrifying. It should set one into panic mode instantaneously. It should cause terror in one’s heart over the uncertain nature even of tomorrow.

Well, not for me. Yes, I was nervous about income. But, as I shook my ex-boss’s hand and left that building for the last time, the main feeling I experienced was freedom. Opportunity. Relief.

Well, that opportunity came one day last June when I lost my full-time job!

I cancelled my subscriptions. I switched my car insurance plan to the cheapest shit imaginable, paid off what was left on my 2003 Monte Carlo, and I started placing ads EVERYWHERE. Even Craigslist.

I did NOT manage to get a single content editing job from Craigslist. I did, however, get a guy who wanted me to read and ‘edit’ his murder porn! Guess what I did? I read his murder porn and edited it! Then, way too late, I realized that this weirdo just wanted me to read his porn, so I blocked him. That was creepy. Did it put me off my mission? Nah. Creeps are a dime a dozen. Every woman (and most men) know that.

That fellow was the first to contact me.

Then, I got contacted for a ghostwriting gig which I am still trying to get going. The gentleman who e-mailed me five months ago sent me some semblance of an outline, but he has had major health issues and has been sporadically updating me since. Honestly, I would be shocked if this went anywhere. The two authors are very nice men, but it seems that they aren’t super invested in the idea. Fine. I’ll wait. Still.

Finally, two days after I lost my job – I got an offer. For actual money. A hundred bucks. For a 45,000 word manuscript. I did not want to take it. I knew the pay was beneath me, but I was attempting to establish a presence on a freelancing site. Shamefully, I took it.

I ended up practically ghostwriting the whole manuscript. This was the most in-depth content (and copy) edit I have ever done, and I was doing it for pennies.

I did get some great laughs from the book, however. I received so much entertainment from parsing that guy’s sentences, which were god-awful, and translating them to be legible. It was still tough work for even tougher pay. This was my choice, but of course I bitched about it at every opportunity. My entire family was convinced I was being scammed. I might have felt better had that been the case, after reading that manuscript.

FYI- typically, a content editor would make anywhere from forty to sixty dollars an hour doing what I did for one hundred dollars total. But I was desperate, he was desperate- it worked out in the end for the best, and I’ll tell you why:

The guy was in a tough spot financially and needed help. I couldn’t say no. I know what it is like to be broke and in need of help (the feeling was quite close to me at the moment), so the guy tugged at what was left of my heartstrings.

I managed to finish that piece in eight grueling days. BUT the author was very grateful, and he left me my first review as a content editor on that specific freelancing site. That opened the floodgates for me. I received about thirteen more jobs (of varying lengths) in the following two months. I made over $3,000 just on that site.

If it weren’t for that painful first job, I never would have gotten a second, or third, or fourth, and so on.

Things were looking up. Yes, I took low-paying jobs, but in the process, I was able to up my hourly rate to something a bit more reasonable, and I started getting more consistent work.

I have been able to be more selective when it comes to which manuscripts I accept. I won’t work for anything NEAR minimum wage because – while I may not be the best editor in the world – I do know my worth.

Luckily, I have had wonderful clients. All the authors I’ve found on that site have been grateful for my work and have left me great reviews. I’m trying to get more content editing work off that platform, however, because honestly, those sites are a race to the bottom.

I joined the EFA (Editorial Freelancer’s Association) which gave me the opportunity to get better-paying gigs.

I hate advertising myself, but I started a Facebook business page: https://www.facebook.com/holymellEdits/

And I’ve actually paid to promote it. No jobs from that yet. I’m giving it time. It’s a bare-bones site that I haven’t been able to put too much effort into (haha, much like this blog).

I’ve had to learn about Search Engine Optimization, invoices, bookkeeping, and other things I could not care less about in my daily life.

Being a freelancer means that you are your own business. I am still trying to adapt to this. I always knew I was destined for a string of shitty bosses. I never would have guessed that I, myself, would populate that list!

There are some awesome things about freelance content editing, and some kinda ‘meh’ things about it as well.

The positive aspects of working as a content editor remotely are as such:

· I get to help authors who are struggling with their manuscripts. I help them arrange their words so that they appeal more to readers. Each manuscript is a puzzle, and I have to help the author make all the pieces fit. I love this part. This is what I am the most passionate about.

· I can work from anywhere so long as there is a Wi-Fi connection. This might even be the best part. If I want to leave the country tomorrow (and I had the resources to do so), I could. I could take off and go to Brazil and work from there.

· I can choose the authors I work with. Just because someone approaches me does not mean that I have to take the job. I can say no to whomever I want to say no to. This is pretty awesome. There are some clients I’ve gotten bad vibes from right out of the gate, and it is so freeing to be able to tell them in the nicest way possible that there’s no way in hell I would want to work with them. Most people are absolutely fantastic, mind you. This sort of client is very rare.

· I can also choose the genres I am content editing. I don’t have to do westerns or shitty eBooks (this is a topic for another time. Not all eBooks are shitty, okay? Just the ones that are churned out for eighty bucks a pop and then the churners manipulate Amazon’s search engines by creating fake reviewers and linking the shitty books with books that are better or have been viewed more).

· I choose my hours. I choose when I work. It’s freedom, really. The freedom I’ve always dreamt about!

· No need for pants. Really. I can’t remember the last time I put on a proper pair of pants. It has been a while.

· I can drink as much coffee as I want. I can take breaks whenever I want to. This part requires some discipline.

So those are the positives about freelance content editing. What are the negatives? Well, here we go:

· Taxes! Quarterly taxes. Yeah. I’m a business. I need to file quarterly taxes. I did not know this for the first quarter of my freelancing career, unfortunately. Apparently, when you run your own business, you need to at least save 30% of your earnings for said taxes. Huh. Who would have thought?

· I don’t really get a day off. I’ve woken up in the middle of the night countless times to respond to e-mails or messages. Same goes for weekends and holidays. This doesn’t bother me so much, however. I like having open communication with my authors.

· Feast or famine. Yeah. I’ll either have eight jobs to juggle at a time, or two. Or even NONE sometimes. This is the worst. Those famine periods can be tough. I’ve thought of going back out into the real world to get a part-time job during these periods before. Ugh. But, nine times out of ten the famine ends, and then I’m swamped.

· I work from home, so now I’m sort of a recluse. I’m a socially anxious person. I admit it. This was a dream come true for the first three months. But cabin fever is a real thing, guys. You start to go mad. The mailman files a restraining order against you. You drive to the gas station every day and pay INSIDE so you can speak to someone. The self-checkout lanes you once loved now only speak to your misery, so you wait in line for human contact. Your significant other starts to resent you because you only talk about boring shit… but this can be remedied, and I am working on volunteering and networking. Still, it can absolutely suck.

· Not knowing when I’ll have my next source of income. This one can be quite the pain. Planning and making my finances stretch has been a lesson I’ve learned the hard way.

· Insurance! I have none! Good thing I’m not around all those icky sick people because I’ve become a hermit!

I’m happy. I’m doing something I love and I’m making money doing it. I’m not locked in another person’s box anymore. I’m not making someone else rich. Not that I’m making myself rich- not by a long shot, but I’m surviving.

I would recommend to anyone thinking of becoming a freelance editor that you NETWORK IN PERSON. Word of mouth will ultimately be how you gain business. Recommendations from previous clients. Get business cards. Make a website. Write a shitty blog that you don’t even want to proofread! Put your name and business out there.

Do not – DO NOT USE FREELANCE SITES.

Why not? I’m on one! I’ve made money there! Why would I suggest that you do anything different?

Well, they are not a reliable source of income, for one thing. For another, you can get kicked off/banned for something so innocent as applying to too many jobs without being awarded one, or for not obeying their ToS. You can’t rely on freelance sites forever. And, as mentioned before, they are a race to the bottom. People literally want to pay five dollars for an entire website to be built for them. From scratch. Yes, people take those jobs.

In some parts of the world, five American dollars is a ton of money. I am glad those people have the chance to make a decent living, so I don’t want to complain much about it. It sucks for me, yeah, but oh well. Someone out there who has a worse life than me has a chance at a better one because of this. That’s fine. I’ll sift through all the five-dollar jobs and take the thousand-dollar ones.

I really wish I had had the courage earlier in my life to move to full-time freelancing. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to wake up in the morning.

Another thing I love- I never know what will happen next, or who will contact me for help.

As much as I whine about people; I like them. I like learning about my clients. In fact, I prefer to foster friendships with them. This is not a business-savvy tactic, but it is mine. I don’t care if I’m too soft or ‘nice’ to be a business owner. I disagree with the notion that you can’t be a good person and still operate a successful business. It all depends on what your version of ‘success’ is. Let me tell you what my version of success is: doing what I love, from home, and never having to put on a proper pair of pants. I’m living the dream.

#freelanceediting #contentediting

Are you a writer who knows some big words?

Do you Know Some Big Words?

Do you possess, in your linguistic arsenal, a bountiful supply of ostentatious colloquialisms and a general amount of superior verbiage?

Awesome! Keep them out of your book!

I could write a whole other post about House of Leaves, which should be subtitled: ‘Look how smaaaaaaaaart I am!’ but I’ll leave that for another day. If I get around to it.

I’ve come across two manuscripts lately where the authors’ voices are lost amongst a forest of complex language. It’s almost as if the author is trying so hard to convince themselves and others that they are great writers, that they forget everything they’ve learned about the craft of writing, and decided to take the lazy way out.

You can’t convince your readers that you’re a good writer by using SAT vocabulary. Sure, a word here and there is absolutely acceptable and may even give your passage a boost. When it’s acceptable, it’s acceptable. When it’s not, it’s eye-roll inducing and cringe-worthy.

If you’ve filled your manuscript with overly-complicated sentences that are so full of those ‘big words’ that the story becomes secondary to your need to showcase what a great big intellectual you are, well, you should probably just go ahead and douse your manuscript in gasoline. In fact, I encourage it. If writing a manuscript using English words that are as obscure to the average reader as Sanskrit, here’s how you fix it:

  • Siphon gas from your car. Don’t bother to use a hose, just suck it right from the tap.
  • Keep said gasoline inside your cheeks like a squirrel prepared for hibernation.
  • Print out your manuscript. (This is the hard part. You may be inclined to swallow the gasoline while waiting for the manuscript to print. Don’t do that. Don’t hurt yourself.)
  • One manuscript is printed, purse your lips together like you’re about to give grandma a kiss on the cheek and spray the gasoline all over the manuscript.
  • Light that shit on fire and dance as it burns.

You get the idea. It’s worthless. Yeah. I’m sorry to have to tell you that. It is. You started a story with the intention of showing off instead of sharing an idea with any substance. Your readers aren’t going to fall for that shit. You’re going to have to start over. Throw the thesaurus on the fire and learn to express yourself simply. I’m not telling you to ditch your narrative voice; in fact, I’m telling you to remove the mask you’ve placed over it.

I’m in no way advocating over-simplifying your use of language. No. I’m not asking you to ‘dumb it down,’ or go the opposite direction and write at a third-grade reading level.

Each author has a distinct voice. In fact, I’ve recently worked on a manuscript where an author managed to still maintain his voice despite his usage of complicated language to express simple concepts. I did ask him to try to imagine what the average reader is expecting from him. I also advised that if, he doesn’t want angry readers to toss his book aside in frustration, (or even the patient ones who will give the benefit of the doubt to the author by looking up his vocabulary via Bing, Google, or a dictionary), that he use the first word that comes to mind. What I believe he might have been doing was actually using a thesaurus. And I can’t knock that practice. In fact, I encourage it!

But, when you’re using the thesaurus to locate the most possibly convoluted measure of expression for a single word, you’re masking your voice. This author happens to be very talented. I think that, for him, the issue was his confidence. He was masking his voice because he feared the results of fully utilizing it. Writing is a deeply personal endeavor, one where you’re practically baring your soul to strangers. And that can be scary.

I’ve always thought the most talented writers are those who can express many things in a small space. This should be the goal of any novice who may happen to read this odd blog post. Here’s another goal for you: always move your story forward. But that’s getting off track.

My point here, is that the average reader does not give a shit about your personal vocabulary and how advanced it might be. They aren’t reading your book to gauge how intelligent you are, or how many words you know. They are reading your book because they want to be told a story. They want to be told a good story.

So, what’s the next step following lighting your pretentious manuscript on fire and cheering as it burns?

Open a new Word (or Google, or whatever the hell you use) document, and start over. Tell your story. Tell it well, and the reader will automatically know that you are intelligent. There’s no better way to showcase your intellect than by putting together a riveting tale. There is no need to show off when you’re capable of telling a great story. Or at least a good story, where the reader doesn’t have to stop every few minutes to bang their head against a wall, or pick up a dictionary to figure out what your odd, five-word string of gibberish might actually mean.

Write what comes to you, edit it to be as simple to understand as possible, find a great editor to work with on the final product, then send your work out into the world. So long as you can tell a great story – readers will continue to look for book spines with your name on them.

Happy writing!

-Mel

#Manuscriptadvice #creativewritinghelp