The Legion Grows: Another Editor Reports for Duty

Red Pen of Doom.jpgMy back was against the wall. The grammar errors were all around me.

“I’m a developmental editor,” I said. “This grammar stuff is kicking me in the tender bits.”

“Fear not, Corey-the-human,” a voice sounded through the darkness. “The Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom is here.”

In a sick-ass flash of power and insight, Thomas, the mercenary copy editor, hacked the manuscript to shreds.

All was right in the world again.

In short, Thomas joined the Legion. Find out more about the mercenary proofreader and read his intro by clicking right here (the link will teleport you to the Human Legion website).

You can look forward to seeing our collaborative editing prowess on display in J.R. Handley’s next book in the Sleeping Legion series: Operation Breakout.

More of an update than an informative post today, but I have some how-to posts coming. I’ll be starting a new series tackling point of view, as this is the most common issue I seem to deal with in my editing work (also the item most people ask me about). Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

Copyright Info (final)

Writing a World Building Style Guide

Bible_and_Key_Divination.jpgToday, I wanted to talk about style guides. No, not the Chicago Manual of Style.  I’m talking about self-generated style guides that serve as a bible for your universe(s). I’ve been working with the Human Legion recently, and I’ve spent some time organizing world building notes spanning multiple authors. Different authors, writing different series, but in the same universe.

The solution, for me, was apparent — compile the notes and make a style guide to ensure consistency. This was easier said than done. Let’s talk about how to make one, what it can do, and potential information to keep within it.

A style guide, for those of you unfamiliar, is a tool to create consistency throughout a story, world, or universe. It is tremendously helpful to an editor, because it will show them invented words, character information, and world background. We’ve talked about World Builder’s Disease before, a style guide is a great place to dump the info filling your brain.

World Builder's Disease MemeIt should be noted, some of this information is only useful if you are writing within a large world or universe. Depending on the scope of your work, you may not need an elaborate style guide. It would be useful to create a short style guide for an editor. This becomes more essential if you have created words or are utilizing an odd stylistic device.

Before I jump into what to include, I wanted to mention how a style guide will save you time. When I first started working with the Legion, they had tons of reference documents. These documents were contained within multiple folders, spread out between authors. I’m talking about more than thirty folders, and many individual documents within.

This became a battle of navigation for me. How many arms and fingers does this alien race have?  A simple question, really. So, I would open up the shared folders, begin navigation, move from one author to another, search differently labeled folders, and maybe I would find the info…or maybe not.

Waiting for an Email

You might be saying, “Why not just contact the author?” Good point! Unless they are on a completely different timezone or work schedule. For me, the more time I spend working the manuscript and not on the phone, the faster things get done.

Usually, the info was there, I just couldn’t locate it quickly among the massive archive of folders. Plus, I have proclivity to over-organize. There is nothing wrong with organizing your files however you want. If it works for you as the writer, don’t change anything.  But as the editor, I needed a more intuitive and rapid way to find information.

While the writers and fans of the Human Legion have done an outstanding job of creating infopedias (Official Infopedia, Fan Wiki), much of the information within the style guide is secretive in nature. Hidden motivations, planet histories, and tasty spoilers. It’s intel the writers understand, but the readers don’t need to know about…not yet. As one of the editors, I needed to reference these notes to help steer the ship.

moon footprint.jpgSo began the first step: compiling all of these pertinent documents into a universal source. One that would contain all of the information hyperlinked. Now, if I need to know how many arms and fingers an alien has, I click Alien Species in the table of contents (hyperlinked), scroll the alphabetized list, click the species in question (again, hyperlinked), and viola.

Format. Much like a webpage with clickable links, if you can add navigation within the style guide, you win the prize. I use Word, which allows for linking within the document. This might seem excessive, but after compiling the needed information into a living document (i.e. it will keep growing) the word count was around 15k for the style guide.  If I relied on scrolling to navigate, it would take forever.

What should you put in the style guide?

A Refined List

Character Name List. A listing of character names, properly spelled, makes the gods of writing smile. Especially, when you have tons of characters. Non-human species seem to generate the most inconsistency — a standard helps.

Once a character name list has been generated, you can begin hyperlinking supporting documents (characters sheets, sketches, etc). This made life really easy for me.

Corey question: the character’s eye color has changed from blue to green…what is the correct color?  Answer: Table of Contents -> Character List -> Click Character (confirm spelling) -> read character sheet.

Technology List. Holy bologna, this is a massive list for the Legion (and one I need to update). Depending on your genre, you may have invented technology. If it’s military sci-fi, then the technology probably has corresponding acronyms. Some of it might be written as a proper noun, some of it might not be. Whatever you decide as the writer, there needs to be consistency. Listing how these should appear is a step in the right direction.

Science_and_Invention_Nov_1928_Cover_2.jpgLocation List. Sweet mothers milk, another sprawling list. If your story spans cities, continents, planets, or farther, it might be wise to start compiling these locations and linking supporting documents. There will always be the handful of readers who say, “Wait a minute! Isn’t Planet D’s sun too intense without the aid of an exoskeleton?” If the reader has sunk into your world well enough to notice things like this, you owe it to them to be consistent.

Invented Word List. My favorite!  Nothing will blow Word’s circuits like a ton of invented words being thrown into the mix. Invented words, within reason, are one of the spices that make a universe unique. Just be sure to list those words. It might be wise to mention if only one person, species, or planet uses these words too.

Acronym List. Holy alphabet soup, Batman! This will probably only be useful to those of you who are writing in certain genres. An alphabetical listing of acronyms, backronyms, and initialisms makes me want to river dance. It becomes ten times more important when you are inventing these.

alienSpecies List.  Have you unleashed new races and species on your manuscript? Cool. You might want to compile a list and start linking reference documents. Remember the question above about how many arms and fingers an alien would have? This list solves those problems before they begin.

Basic Grammar and Punctuation Section. This is more of an editing thing, but if you find yourself working collaboratively with someone from another country, you might want to flush out the differences. British and American styles differ. The goal, especially if you are collaborating on the same book, is to achieve consistency of style.

question-markThat’s it for today! I’m curious about what methods you all use to compile and organize your universe notes. Do they exist in a jumble of folders, or have you found a way to compile them intuitively? I’d love to talk about it and pick up some pointers. Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always — stay sharp!

Closing the Door & Opening it Back Up

door.jpgIt’s been a couple weeks (maybe more) since I’ve posted. Fear not, I still pull breath. I’ve had a supremely busy month. Stephen King talks about the need to close the door when you work. Well, I didn’t just close it; I bricked it up.

I don’t have a lot of options when it comes to leveraging time. So when a 100k novel came along that needed a structural edit, I had to break the schedule to make the deadline. Unfortunately, this blog was one source I had to slice away.

hourglassThis last month, I’ve been toiling away on that 100k novel. My contract didn’t stipulate a timeline. The understanding was it would need to be done around Christmas. The timeline got moved forward to the first week of December.

Editing takes time (especially structural editing), and this blog is what I had to sacrifice to find more of the precious stuff. The good news is I finished the structural edit, and am now breezing through the final copy editing phase. I plan to be finished early next week. Then time, those precious grains of sand, will stop slipping through my fingers so quickly. On a positive note, the author was thrilled with the results of the structural edit — I hope sales reflect his enthusiasm.

Side rant, have you ever wanted to move to a new state during the holidays? Yeah, me neither. Regardless, this seems to be the way of things. Or, maybe we won’t be moving until January…

moving boxes.jpgYes, the life of the military spouse is one of constant questions and inconsistency. I probably won’t know with 100 percent certainty until a week prior of the move date. This knowledge will preface an explosion of moving boxes, bubble wrap, and packing tape.

Let’s not even talk about having to dissolve my editing business and move it to new state to prevent being taxed by two states/cities at once…sigh

What about my own work? What of Wastelander? Well, the second I signed a contract to edit, my client took precedence. While normally I can divvy out the schedule, this was not one of those instances. I was barely able to finish the contract in time. With the heavy lifting of the structural edit out of the way, I now have the flexibility to write again (my books and this blog).

So, what’s happened since I’ve been out? Thor turned one, our families came to visit, my wife’s 12-hour shift rotation was extended, my friend MLS Weech prepared to get his book out into the world (Kirkus Review & Red City), I realized we’d be moving sooner than we thought, and I drank 27 gallons of coffee.

birthday bay.jpgAll said, it’s been a productive month, albeit a busy one. It’s also been a month where I have felt particularly isolated. I have lots of writers/bloggers to catch up on reading. There is a comfort in coming back here and seeing the cyber landscape remains basically unchanged.

I posted a while back about the schedule I would be keeping here on the QE page. Obviously, that didn’t work out. From now on, I’m just going to play it by clock. As this blog is often a reflection of my life, it can be assumed the future will be dotted by chaos explosions of activity followed by moments of eerie silence.

For those of you who were kind enough to email me, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your concern. I will be responding to those emails over the course of the next couple days. I’m excited to hear about what I’ve been missing out on in your lives.

All right, I’m all shared out. Future posts will be about writing, editing, and tomfoolery — promise.

nano.pngSpeaking of writing, how’d the NaNoWriMo go? Any of you manage to kick your word counts in the teeth? While this is always a chaotic month for those who partake, I do enjoy browsing the interwebs and seeing the mountains of ~50k books of varying quality and content. The sound of tables creaking as slush piles grow is echoing through the universe. Hopefully you let your book marinate a month or so, give it a rewrite, then edit it before you publish.

That’s it for today, I’ve got words to edit and coffee to drink. Now that I’m through the crucible of deadlines, look forward to more frequent posts. Truly, I’ve missed our collaboration. Until then, keep reading, keep writing, and as always — stay sharp!

Copyright Info (final)

Self-Editing: Fighting Emotion with Logic

locked.jpgYou’ve written your book.  The masterpiece has been marinating in a drawer (or buried on a hard drive) for weeks.  Somehow, you managed to not tear into it early, despite it whispering into your ear at night.  Let’s face it, you both needed some time and space from one another.

The time has come.  You unlock the drawer, or click the icon, and staring you in the face is months worth (maybe more) of semicoherent words. The manuscript gazes back at you with worried eyes.  It knows.  You are about to tear it to pieces.  Now the question becomes—will you tear yourself to pieces in the process?

Many people think writing a book is the hardest thing you can do.  Then an editor comes along and breaks your heart.  As an editor, telling a writer to cut something from the work is akin to telling them to sacrifice a cute little fuzzy kitten to the writing gods.  Much of this heartbreak would be avoided if writers would practice more thorough self-editing prior to submission to an editing service.

The goal of this post is to give you some basic guidelines to sharpen your self-editing chops.  Go grab the garden sheers and put on a rubber apron…this might get messy.

chainsaw

Print first—word process later. I believe in this concept so much I wrote an entire blog post about it (located here). Because it’s linked, I won’t go into this.  I do encourage you to give the post a glance if you haven’t seen it before.

Work big first, then get small.  We typically write our first draft in a hurry, tired, and running on three gallons of caffeine.  There are going to be large chunks of exposition and rambling.  They served their purpose.  The purpose was to help you continue writing and bridge gaps in the story.  Additionally, when we are writing the first draft we make assumptions about what is going to be important later on.  We tend to over describe certain items, places, and people.  Now that you know all the punchlines, it’s time to gauge their worth.

editing.JPGRoy Peter Clark in his book, Writing Tools, recommends that you, “Cut any passage that does not support your focus.  Cut the weakest quotations, anecdotes, and scenes to give greater power to the strongest.  Cut any passage you have written to satisfy a tough teacher or editor rather than the common reader” (p. 51).

It’s good advice, but it’s hard to follow.  The reason is emotion versus logic.

Here’s a real world example.  One of the people I edit for wrote a beautiful, page long description about a set of revolvers one his minor characters carries.  After reading it, I could picture every line and blemish on the them.  He told me he did extensive research to make them feel real, and it was truly great writing.  I bit my lip and recommended he cut it.

Why?  Well, it was placed in the middle of a heated interaction.  Everything was building, the action was coming, and boom—we interrupt this gunfight to bring you a dissertation on handguns in antiquity.  Worse even, the character wielding the pistols is only in the book for a handful of pages.

The takeaway here is this: no matter how slick the dialogue or description is, if it isn’t pushing the story forward, it’s got to go.  Your readers want to read your story, don’throw down roadblocks.

Redundant Meme

Get rid of all those redundancies.  I already wrote a post on redundant prose, so I won’t go into this too much.  The only additional piece of information I’ve found since then is an interesting rule.

This comes from Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, written by Renni Browne and Dave King.  The rule is  1+1=1/2.  They explain that, “When you try to accomplish the same effect twice, the weaker attempt is likely to undermine the power of the stronger one” (p. 178). It’s a great tip and something to look for when you are going through with the hatchet.

Syllables—check those big words.  If you really want to wear your reader down, use words with a ton of syllables.  Conspiratorially.  Automatically.  Conversationally.  Many of these big beasts tend to be adverbs, but not always.  Look for those five-dollar words and ask yourself, Will the average reader know what it means?  Will something shorter work in it’s place?  Am I using this for effect?

Regarding effect.  I’ve heard this rationale used before,  “My character is a smarty pants so he/she uses big words in a condescending sort of way.”  Cool!  I’m all for it.  Just know there is only so much the reader can take.  Also, if this is the only tool you use to enforce this character trait, the character can feel one-dimensional.

measure twice cut once.jpgMeasure twice, cut once. Anyone who has done construction, or is a DIY weekend warrior, has likely heard this advice.  The concept is simple.  Ensure you know where to cut before you drop the blade.  I encourage you to do the same when you are self-editing.

William Zinsser, in his book On Writing Well, offers a brilliant bit of advice he developed while teaching his students at Yale.  “I would put brackets around every component in a piece of writing that wasn’t doing useful work” (p. 15).

Writers who edit onscreen (using a word processor) have a tendency to prolong editing time because they are constantly doing the, backspace, rewrite, backspace, rewrite, tap dance.  A way to defeat this is to utilize the tool Zinsser is describing.

Print out the pages then read through them silently, and then aloud.  Go slowly through the words and decide what is doing work and what isn’t.  Be realistic.  Throw those words, phrases, and pieces of dialogue into brackets.  Once you are done, read the copy and omit the bracketed words.  Did it flow faster?  Was it smoother?

copy editing_2

[Editor’s Note]

This is a timely re-post for me as I recently reopened the first draft of my book up and started rewrites.  I can tell stepping away for more than a month (as painful as it was) has really opened my eyes to some major issues.  It’s a good feeling catching those mistakes now and knowing readers will never see them. I’m also glad to be back with Drake and playing in the wasteland.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for stopping by and reading.  As usual, I only scratched the surface.  Do you have advice or ideas you use during self-editing?  Please share them.  I’m always looking to toss more pencils into my writing toolbox.  Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

Copyright Info (final)

Writing Tools: Book, Blurb & Collage

Writing Tools Collage.jpg

A collection of phrases and quotes from the book, Writing Tools, written by Roy Peter Clark. A great tool for any writer looking to hone their craft.  High-res version of the image is right here.

 

Another book read, another set of shiny pencils to toss into the toolbox.   Writing Tools, written by Roy Peter Clark, is a book I would highly recommend.  The book provides you with, 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer (which is emblazoned on the cover).

writing tool book.jpgEach strategy is a chapter/section of its own, and I found them to be very easy to read and understand.  Clark uses examples from published works to emphasize points and support his writing.  The quotes I placed in the photo are some of the one-liners he provides at the opening of his chapters.

Additionally, this book offers some really interesting tools and tips to work through common issues writers face.  I have referenced his work in past blog posts—most notably his strategy for busting up clichés (located here).

Perhaps my favorite aspect of this book is the sheer amount of well-written content.  Many of the non-fiction writing books I own have twenty chapters or so.  Some of those books stretch out concepts to fill space (at least that’s how it feels to me sometimes).  This book is very concise with information because it tackles fifty topics.

Topics range wildly but are organized into four main parts.  Starting with the basics of grammar, punctuation, syntax, style, and usage, the author then begins to build on those basics.  Showing you how to achieve effects with these rules and make them work with you.  The idea is you need know the rules so you can manipulate them.  I love this kind of thinking.

[Editor’s Note]

This book continues to be a staple for me both as a writer and an editor.  When I work with clients, especially when they are working with a new manuscript, I like to address issues with potential solutions.  This book is handy because the material is condensed and easy to share.  I’ve used the contents within this book more than once during video and phone conversations with clients to help them understand why certain things they are doing go against the grain.  I’ve also used it to illustrate stylistic opportunities they could take advantage of to enhance their story.  It seems easier for folks to accept advice when the viewpoint is reinforced by other professionals.

question-markThat’s it for today.  If you are curious about some of the other writing books I have read you can check out a listing of them I made by clicking right here.  I’m constantly eating my greens, and I encourage you to do the same.  If you have a book recommendation, I would love to hear about it!  I’m always looking for more books to devour.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

Copyright Info (final)

Writing Description: Finding the Sweet Spot

A while ago (as this is a repost) I read an article by fellow WordPress maverick Raeanne G. Roy regarding the fine line we walk when deciding just how much description to provide the reader.  Her original post is located here.  I tossed my humble two cents into the comments box and went on with my day.

description meme.jpgThat evening I sat down at the appointed hour and began my own writing, and wouldn’t you know it, I couldn’t stop thinking about description.  Suddenly, the wasteland renegades I write about were sporting sweaters with patches and rips and buttons, but not just any buttons, buttons made of bone, but not just any bone, the bone from a forgotten slave from a forgotten land.  I realized it was happening —gave myself a quick facepalm—then beat on the backspace for a few minutes.

With this in mind, I decided it wouldn’t hurt if I tossed some information into the blogosphere regarding description.  Then I could watch it float away like wasteland confetti.  Coincidentally, this confetti is not made of colorful bits of plastic, but actually the brittle, delicate pages from an old book. Not just any book, the good book. That’s right! Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.  A first edition—the inside cover still faintly bearing the worn signature of…uh…erm…on with the blog!

As usual, I thought I would provide some examples from legit authors to steer us in the right direction.

Chuck Wendig provides some great (and often hilarious) nuggets of information regarding description in his book, The Kick-Ass Writer.  I earmarked this excerpt in particular:

“When Betty Crocker first started selling mixes, they were super-easy to make. Packet of powder, add water, and bake.  But they didn’t sell – in part because they were too easy.  It felt like a cheat.  So Crocker chose to leave out the egg – meaning, a housewife had to add an egg, an extra step.  And bam!  They sold like a sonofabitch.  The lesson is that your audience wants to work.  When they work, they feel invested. Hand them a pickaxe, a pith helmet.  Don’t give them all parts of the description – let them fill in details with their imagination.  Let them add the egg” (p. 95).

The Kick-Ass Writer

A collection of phrases and quotes from the book, The Kick-Ass Writer, written by Chuck Wendig.  I wrote a post about this book here

The takeaway here is to not spoon feed the reader description (unless that description is made out of Betty Crocker cupcake mix).

Stephen King in his book On Writing discusses description.  He states, “For me, good description usually consists of a few well-chosen details that will stand for everything else.  In most cases, these details will be the first ones that come to mind” (p. 175).  While this a small excerpt of a larger explanation, what King seems to be driving at is this:  when you sit down to write those first details you see in your minds eye are usually the strongest ones.

Those first sparks are the bones of your description, and often times, they can support the muscle and meat that make up the scene.  The mistake I tend to make is I worry those bones are too feeble. So the black revolver in the hand of anonymous bad guy #3, becomes a pearl handled, laser engraved, .44 caliber, black and silver hand-cannon with a laser sight duct taped to the barrel.  I shall resist!

So these two examples are basically saying, “take it easy with too much description,” but what exactly is too much description?  There are more than a few schools of thought out there.  Let’s talk about a couple.

80s montage.jpg

*cue montage music*

One is that you focus on describing people, places, and things that will reinforce the actions and emotions of your characters as they move through your story and shy away from stuff that is just, well, stuff.  The danger here is the reader can catch on.  If every building is a building, except for the one you spend a paragraph describing—they know something is about to go down in that building.  This can be a good and this can be bad.  It’s obviously an issue if you are trying to catch them off guard.  If your book is an 80s movie, sudden and uncharacteristic description of anything cues the montage music and lets the reader know the big boss battle is coming.

The other school of thought is you simply describe things instinctively.  Let your minds eye be the judge as to what is important at first.  When you come back through with the editing pen of fury (or doom), you can subtract or add.  By letting your creative side assign importance to the mundane you might stumble onto something more.

Example. The curtains were light blue.  Two pages later, when the protagonist pulls them open to look out the window, he realizes they are actually hospital linens.  Cool.  In my wasteland story, people re-purpose items all the time.  Maybe a doctor lived in the house, maybe there are meds stashed away behind the bookcase, maybe he’s down in the basement cutting someone to pieces while everyone is upstairs sleeping unaware?  This organic description while writing allows for the story to gain its own life outside of any rigid outline you have preordained.  As long as it doesn’t veer you too far off track, I think you’ll be all right.

different viewpoints.jpg

What do you see?

Lastly and most importantly, does the description enhance the reader’s understanding of the people and events happening in the story?  Delicious tidbits of description scattered throughout tell us a lot about the characters and world we are reading about, and saves us from beating people over the head with paragraphs of background information.  If one person observes a rifle of some kind, that tells us something about the person.  If another observes the same rifle, and concludes it’s a lightweight, 5.56, air-cooled, gas operated, magazine-fed assault rifle, with a rotating bolt, we can draw some pretty obvious conclusions about that character’s background without typing anything else.

Renni Browne and Dave King in their book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers explain:

“…if you allow your readers to get to know your characters gradually, each reader will interpret them in his or her own way, thus getting a deeper sense of who your characters are than you could ever convey in a summary.  Allowing your readers this sort of leeway in understanding your characters enables you to reach a wider audience – and reach it far more effectively – than would defining your characters before we get to know them or analyzing them afterward” (p. 26).

question markWell, I’ve scratched the surface with this post about description.  It’s a giant beast requiring many knives to bring down.  I would love to hear your two cents/insights regarding description and what you feel is vital to the story.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

Copyright Info (final)

A Setting Writing Checklist

A Refined ListMost writers I work with tend to blend outlines and instinctive writing together.  There are exceptions.  Some are renegade mavericks who wander into the jungle with a machete and hack away a path.  Others spend months plotting all the paths, sub-paths, and hidden passageways before they type a word.

Regardless of the method, when the sky parts and heavenly light blasts down on the freshly minted manuscript, most writers are going to need to address descriptive setting elements.  The method I employ is starting at the chapter and working my way in toward the sentence.  

I’ve talked about setting before in the past.  We’ve hammered the following topics:

glasses-icon.jpg

This image was created by Jess Tahbonemah and is the property of M.L.S. Weech.  Any use without his permission is prohibited. 

Let’s take a day and merge the concepts together into a step-by-step checklist. 

Step 1: Think big by addressing setting on the chapter level.  This is where the article I wrote on anchoring the reader might come in handy.  Make sure when the chapter opened you took a sentence or two to address when and where the character(s) are.  If you aren’t writing in 1st person, you might need to clue the reader into who is present.

There are methods you can employ which could preclude you from having to clue readers into who is present.  M.L.S. Weech, Robert Jordan, and many other authors utilize chapter icons.  These icons offer a visual cue to the reader as to who will be present in the chapter.  The glasses icon I added is one of Weech’s, and you can check out more of his Caught icons here.  While this method is a great tool, you’ll notice most authors who do this also anchor the reader in each chapter with their words.  It’s a double whammy! 

Smell the Napalm

Step 2: Isolate the character(s) in the chapter and determine from which POV the setting is being viewed from.  From what I’ve gathered, writers who pump out large, daily word counts struggle with this the most.  This is because they can sit down and write more than one chapter in a session.  Their mind latches onto a single way of thinking (POV), and despite the change in character, the setting description will bleed over.  This is perhaps the easiest way to bamboozle a reader. 

I can think of many times where I was reading a passage and assumed the description and setting information was coming from Character X.  It wasn’t until I got to a character name that I realized it was coming from Character Y.  It’s important to switch descriptive gears when we switch characters.  Mindful consistency is going to be key.  It is important to consider how the characters’ arcs will impact their view of their world at any given time.  Even the most optimistic character is going to look at a flower and want to stomp on it every now and then.

jetpack.jpgStep 3: Think scene by scene.  Within the chapter there can be multiple scenes.  These are typically indicated by a shift in place, action, or perspective.  The writer usually accomplishes this by pulling in or out with description.  Each one of these shifts is an opportunity to provide a couple sentences, or even a few words, to indicate setting and how the character perceives it.

Consider the article listed above about stitching transitions into setting.  This is especially useful when analyzing how your character moves scene to scene.  Your creations may walk, run, drive, jetpack, or teleport to different locations within the chapter.  Look to see if there will be value added by injecting setting details into those transitions.  

crystal ball.jpgStep 4: Go inside scenes and address paragraphs and sentences.  This is where the real work starts to happen.  This is also where self-study and understanding of your genre will come into play.  It’s the dreaded show versus tell, devil in the details tedium.  

As the writer, you likely have all the answers.  Try your best to think like the reader and look for areas where they will have questions.  These are some of the most common questions I ask writers: Where are they?  How did they get here?  What does this look like?  How does he/she feel about this?  

Be mindful of these “constants.”

Constant 1: Think about where you are in the book.  Setting information has a cumulative effect.  If you’ve done a solid job building up, setting can be less about “stuff” and more about how people view “stuff.”  In essence, setting can become more emotional and less physical.

Constant 2: Show versus tell is something that I tend to address at the scene level.  Again, I don’t advocate the use of one or the other universally.  The article I linked offers a tool to gauge intensity within a scene and this can help determine the amount of showing or telling you need to do.  It’s not foolproof, but it’s something to consider.

Types of Conflict

Constant 3: For areas of the book that are conflict driven, consider if the setting is running against the characters. More often than not, you want the setting to act as a barrier to character goals.  Sure, you can toss down a yellow brick road to help them find their way, but make sure it is loaded with poisonous flowers and wicked witches.

Constant 4: Look for those “ly” adverbs and decide whether they should live or die. I’m not in the business of adverb annihilation, but if the adverb is being used as a crutch where a few words of insightful information could have been added, it’s time to reappraise.

Constant 5: Make sure to inject sensory details throughout.  You can refer to the article I linked at the beginning for more info on this subject if you require it. 

question-markThat’s it for today!  I wanted to take a day to compile our examination of setting into a larger tool.  I hope you found some of this information useful.  For my own study, I’m curious about what elements of setting, if any, you struggle with.  In revision, is there a certain method you employ to address this?  Do you have a checklist of sorts?  I’d love to talk about it and advance my own knowledge.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp! 

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Redundant Prose: Weighing the Value

Redundant Meme

Redundancy in writing and storytelling is a powerful tool.  By redundancy, I am talking about repeating statements, thoughts, and descriptions.  Within character dialogue it can give sense of neurosis as is the case with Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell Tale Heart.  The repetitious statements and rhythm provided by the narrator are maddening, which is perfect because the narrator is a madman.  Unfortunately, like all tools, repetition can be used oddly leading to reader confusion and jarring prose.

So in regards to repetition, here are some examples and basic guidelines I’ve come across and employ.  None of these are set in stone, but they are something to consider.

Does redundancy enforce or detract from the personality of your character?  If your character is a straight shooter throughout the book, would he/she be redundant in how they speak or think?  The trap writers fall into is they shape a perfect ‘ah-ha’ line or two that uses redundancy, and because it looks good, they leave it in. They forget about how it impacts the readers view of the character.  When introduced earlier in a book, this could create a false sense of who the character is as readers grow to understand them.  If it’s done later in the book, it becomes jarring and unbelievable.

Arguing Meme.jpg

It makes sense that characters who are pretentious or neurotic would tend to have more repetition in their dialogue.  “As I have explained once, and will explain again, and will continue to explain,” or, “I couldn’t believe I had to take the subway.  The subway!  The disgusting subway packed with filthy vagrants.”

If this type of repetition fits your character—great.  If not, steer clear.  At the very least, use in moderation.

gordian knot.pngIs the redundancy used for emphasis or comparison? 

The book Write and Revise for Publication, written by Jack Smith, provides these examples:

“Life’s full of Gordian knots, but this one is especially difficult, ” and, “There are many mansions, but this one is much larger than the mansions most of us have in mind.  This ones takes up two city blocks” (p. 273).

The first example shows emphasis.  We know a Gordian knot is a beast to untie (unless you have a knife handy).  However, by adding, “…this one is especially difficult,” it takes it to the next level. The second example does a great job of showing comparison. The final line, “This one takes up two city blocks,” catches you nicely at the end.

These are examples of utilizing the tool with a purpose, and as long as it’s used in moderation it can leave a powerful impression on the reader.

redundant.jpgAre there redundancies in plot?  If so, do you really need them?  Sometimes in an effort to reinforce an important plot point, or provide foreshadowing, we tend to repeat information when it’s not needed.

I’m not sure they are going to catch it, I better mention one knife was missing from the knife block again— “The kitchen was ransacked.  Something was off about the wooden knife block on the counter.  Something was missing.”  And boom, you’ve opened everyone’s presents and Christmas isn’t until tomorrow.  Don’t open the presents for your reader.

Sometimes a particular piece of backstory or description is vital to the forward momentum of your story, and you may feel the need to touch on it more than once.  In the moment, do it.  Especially if it is going to propel you forward in the creative process of writing.  I would recommend making a notation of this repetition to refer to later during revisions.  Once you come back through on your second pass (hopefully after you have been away from the work for a while), read it again and see if it was necessary or if you are simply regurgitating what the reader would already know.

Mark Twain Read AloudWatch for redundancy in interior monologue.  The best piece of advice I’ve seen regarding this comes from Renni Browne and David King’s book, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.  They explain:

“Interior monologue is also prone to needless repetition, possibly because our thoughts tend to run in circles when we’re upset.  True, sometimes you can capture a character’s mood by showing his or her thoughts chasing their tails, but more often than not, repetition in interior monologue is like rambling, repetitive dialogue – authentic but tedious” (p. 180).

The best way I have found to sort this out is to read the copy aloud.  Sometimes when viewed on screen these interior rants look great, but speak them out loud and suddenly it feels disjointed and awkward.  Crisp dialogue should flow and drive the reader forward, not leave them re-reading.

chainsaw.pngLast tip: Grab the chainsaw and chop out those repeated words.  In your second pass, depending on your own writing style, you will probably notice a bunch of repeated words.  I know I do.  They aren’t there for effect, they were just your minds way to build bridges for the narrative to move forward.  As an editor, and a self-editor, I try to weed out those repeated words or sentences.  Or for the purposes of this blog, hack them with a chainsaw.

Repeated words or sentences cause my eyes to instinctively jump backward to where I saw the same words before.  This halts my forward progress and causes me to focus on writing mechanics instead of enjoying the story.  The best stories, in my opinion, cause you to forget you are reading.  Every time a reader gets jarred by one of these errant repeats, they are suddenly aware again this is just a story and that they are reading—the imagination station screeches to a halt.

question-markThanks for reading!  I appreciate you all stopping by and checking out my daily rantings.  I hope you found a couple nuggets of useful information.  Do you actively utilize repetition in your work?  Do you know of any authors/examples where it was done well (or badly)?  I’d love to expand my own understanding and talk about it!  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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The Curse of Knowledge

The Curse of Knowledge.jpgI recently had a friend contact me because an editor had given them feedback that mentioned, ‘the curse of knowledge’.  My friend mentioned it for two reasons: they weren’t entirely tracking on what it meant, and they knew I blog about writing and thought I could mention it in a post.

There’s a touch of irony in having an editor tell you to avoid the curse of knowledge.  It becomes even more ironic when they don’t explain exactly what it means.  I’ve seen a few explanations of the term, but to put it plainly, it’s when a writer makes assumptions about what their readers know and end up writing above their heads.

Here’s a non-fiction example.  When I was a journalist in the Navy, we were instructed to break down our writing to the grade school level.  This tailored our writing to a wider audience and made it more accessible to the average reader.

nps

The Naval Postgraduate School wasn’t a terrible place to be stationed. 

Then, later in my Navy career, I got stationed at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. The students at the school were senior officers from all branches of the military and from allied countries.  The focus was mostly on advanced science and technology projects.  I was told to step up the complexity of my writing because now the average audience was perceived to be more intelligent.

I remember being assigned a story about a professor and some students who were developing free electron laser technology to be used on ships.  The idea was to use directed energy to blast incoming rockets and projectiles out of the sky before they would reach a ship. The professor’s name was Bill Coulson, and I was super excited to talk about something that hearkened images of the planet Alderaan being destroyed.

When I sat down with Bill, I asked him to describe the scope of the project.  The explanation was interesting, but very confusing.  There were lots of technical terms and science jargon.  After he finished, I asked in the nicest way possible if he could explain some aspects of it again, but dumb it down for me. He obliged.

FEL_principle.png

At this point in time I didn’t know a lick about ‘the curse of knowledge,’ but in retrospect, this example really illustrates it well.  Bill, due to his technical experience and level of knowledge, glossed over some facts that would be essential to my story.  By glossing over, I do mean, used scientific jargon very few people truly understand.  I needed a way to write those bits of information in a way for the average reader to comprehend.  For me to do that, I needed to understand it myself.

complex description.jpgThis is an important concept to think of when you are writing.  I find that many times people who use lots of technical terms and jargon do so for two reasons: sometimes they don’t really understand what they are talking about themselves, and sometimes they are afraid to be seen as simpletons by peers.

Now, about that first conclusion.  When I ask someone to break something complex down and they can’t, I often wonder if they actually know what it is they are talking about.  In the example I offered, Bill had no trouble simplifying some very advanced engineering and physics concepts to their bare bones.  He truly understood the content; I just needed to filter and understand it myself.

In regards to being afraid to look like a simpleton, that’s something we just need to be able to get over unless we want to only appeal to the most pretentious readers (and those blow-hards are probably going to criticize your work no matter what).  When I interviewed Bill, I could have just nodded my head and dumped all of the content he gave me into the story in its raw state.  But that would have been a disservice to him because a story of this nature helps spread the word.  If no one understands the science, then it’s harder for him to get grants to pay for all of his cool toys.

Navy_laser_shoots_drone..jpgI‘m not saying my story helped change the world, but these lasers are on ships now…

[Side Note:  If you are still reading and are thinking, QE tell me how to build my own laser weaponhere is a cool pdf Bill put together that talks about the evolution of the tech. Good luck…

The curse of knowledge also manifests in a lack of detail.  Some writers make the assumption, because they are so close to the story, that everyone may know what it is they are describing.  Because of this, they strip the setting of detail and only offer a skeleton.  Steven Pinker, author of The Sense of Style, states that, “Many experiments have shown that readers understand and remember material far better when it is expressed in concrete language that allows them to form visual images…” (p. 72).

We want people to remember our story.  It’s often why it’s recommended to anchor the reader in setting early in chapters.  When people recall a story, they often recall it in chunks (our brain chunks information to help us remember it).  For them to remember a specific chunk/chapter, it’s vital for the storyteller to anchor them in each chapter and paint a brief picture.perception-quote

Whether you are bamboozling people with complex language, or stripping things down, the best way to cure the curse is to step outside of your own perception.  Put another way, it’s a fools errand to solely apply your own judgement as to what other people understand.  If you want to know what people think, you need to ask them.  This is why it’s of vital importance to pay special attention to your beta and alpha readers (your editor might be able to offer some insight too).

question markThat’s the breakdown of the concept.  I may do one future post on this that discusses some of the misconceptions and beliefs behind the curse.  Let me know if this is something any of you are interested in.  Have any of you fallen victim to the curse?  Have you read the work of someone afflicted with it?  I’d love to hear about.  I’m also very open to more solutions.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Update: What is QE Doing?

Photo for Human Legion.jpgI know it’s Wasteland Wednesday, but I wanted to take a day to share what I’m into these days.  I haven’t taken a day to talk about life for a while and Wednesday is as good a day as any.  Perhaps, in addition to wasteland updates, I will start offering some author/editor updates on Wednesday too.  As always, I’m tweaking this page as I go.

First off, some book updates.  My rewrites of Wastelander: The Drake Legacy will kick off here in two weeks or so.  I’m excited to get back into the mix, get the rewrites done, and start pushing the book out to my beta readers and my editor (yes, I pay an editor even though I’m an editor).

As for the novella, The Wastelander Survival Guide, it has been outlined completely and I have begun the first-draft.  However, I’m only getting about one hour a day (maybe two if I’m really lucky) of solid writing done toward that project right now.

The graphic novel idea is in its infancy.  The concept is to provide an origin story for Drake.  The current book starts thirty years after the fall of the United States.  So naturally, there is a lot of backstory I could condense into some graphic novels without repeating information from the main book.  This project is a lower priority, so I dedicate time to it when I can (mostly  when my wife has the day off and is spending some one-on-one time bonding with Thor).

As my digital artwork is slowly getting “better,” I am hoping to be able to dump a large amount of imagery on my artist for him to run with.  I know he can work faster when he has better blueprints to work from.  It’s rough, but I take a few minutes every day to practice and improve my artwork, or at least watch a video or two at Ctrl+Paint while I’m eating food (one of the best websites I’ve found that has free videos and content to improve your physical and digital art).  Here are some examples of things I have found on the internet for inspiration and digitally painted or sketched in Photoshop.

 

Also, obviously, I have been writing the content for the graphic novel.  This has been slow going as I have been reading a bunch of graphic novels to develop a style of writing to complement the imagery.  In the way of eating your greens (and really desserts too), graphic novels are perhaps one of the more enjoyable studies into writing mechanics I have embarked on.

The Editor

Now for some other projects I’m collaborating with as an editor (that the authors are okay with me mentioning).

M.L.S. Weech is currently busting through the rewrites of his new book, Caught.  We are old friends and have worked together on other projects as well (The Journals of Bob Drifter).  I know he is likely excited as he is closing down on the final stages on Caught.  For me, it’s really exciting to see how the book has improved with each pass he has made.  When he started, it was a great story.  Now, it’s even better.

Also on his horizon, we have been looking at his book, 1,200 (but that’s a book for him to introduce and talk about more when he is ready).  I’m also expecting to see a short story from him as he is collaborating as part of an anthology (good job bud). He wrote a post about that collaboration you can read about right here.

SleepingLegion_Book1_08.jpgI‘ve also just recently started collaborating with the Human Legion.  Tim C. Taylor and J.R. Handley are working on two separate military science fiction series over there (separate series, but in the same universe).  Currently, I’m working with J.R. and the Sleeping Legion series he is writing.  They were even nice enough to write a post about me and welcome me to their team.  (Thanks Tim!)

As I’ve just dipped my toes into that universe, I’ve been reading to familiarize myself with the content.  I’m about halfway through The Legion Awakes (Book 1 of the Sleeping Legion series), and I can say with confidence, if you like military science fiction, you are going to enjoy these books.

On the homefront, Thor keeps me on my toes and my atom splitting wife is on 12-hour rotational shifts.  Depending on what happens in the next few months, we could possibly be relocating to Virginia, Washington, Hawaii, Japan, California, or who knows where else.  While we are a Navy family, the Marines say, semper fidelis (always faithful).  I like to say, semper gumby (always flexible).  As such, I’m ready for every eventuality.

thor and me.jpgWith all this being said, I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you who find the time to stop by my page and give it a read.  I really love when we get to exchange some comments, and I’m always learning from all of you.

Given all the projects I’m currently working on, and the stay-at-home daddy daycare (which is highest on the priority list), I haven’t been able to comment on as many blogs as I would like.  I’m sorry for that.

When I find the time, I make every effort I can to browse and read all of your content.  Just know if you see a “like” from me, it isn’t a “spam like.”  I probably am reading your post on my phone while feeding Thor a bottle or juggling some other task.  Trying to write a comment of meaning on my iPhone is nigh impossible (my fingers are too big and clumsy).

Also, the days of me being able to reply to comments as they roll in have unfortunately come to an end.  Thor is only taking two naps instead of three, and that reduces my daily work time by about 1.5 hours.  I still am replying to all the comments I get on my posts, and I love getting them, but I am doing it all at once now.  So if your comment sits for a bit before I respond to it, just know I was likely managing some kind of diaper mishap or blistering my fingers on a style guide.

Did I mention semper gumby…

That’s the update!  Again, thanks for swinging in.  I’ll try to pepper in some of these author/editor updates from time-to-time so you don’t all think I’ve become some kind of cyborg blogging construct (not that I would divulge it if I was).  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

Copyright Info (final)

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