C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

Write and publish with love and fury.

A Quick Top Ten: Make revisions painless

Books in progress litter my desk. As I revise manuscripts, there are certain words I watch for. When I see them I ask, “Who cares and who needs it?”

Here are some of those watch words and cautions:

1. Sentences that begin with “And…” (It’s not that it’s wrong or bad, but it’s often not necessary.)

2. Sentences that begin with “And then…” Sentences are sequences and usually work without this tip to the reader.

3. He felt, she heard, he sensed, she saw… Just describe the scene. Not “She saw a crocodile rise from the swamp.” Instead, “A crocodile rose from the swamp.”

4. Was. This crops up a lot in most writers’ first drafts. “She was fighting,” becomes “she fought.”

Gerunds are passive and they are not our friends, especially when overused. I don’t use adverbs much, though I don’t ban them. It’s a novel, not a telegram. Besides, I’m suggesting crafty guidelines here, not edicts about what not to do.

5. Look out for: just, own, up, down, so, it. These are words that we add to sentences that sometimes fail to add meaning. 

Just surfaces a lot. We can often do without “just.” Or we might use only or merely. 

“He sat down in the chair,” becomes “He sat in the chair.”

“So, he murdered the butler,” becomes “He murdered the butler.”

“Their own boat,” becomes “Their boat.”

“It” often replaces the noun you should probably use. “It’s up to you,” could be, “This caper is up to you,” or “The fate of guinea pigs everywhere is up to you.” See how it’s better? I mean, see how specificity improves clarity?

6. Careful of exclamation points that hype excitement that does not exist.

7. Semi-colons have fallen so far out of use that they now stop readers cold. Punctuation should be visible, yet not visible. Punctuation marks are the life-preserver under your seat on the plane. You know it’s there, but you don’t want to pause a moment to think about why it’s there. 

8. Use dialogue tags besides “said” sparingly. Let what is said carry the weight of the message.

9. Empty pleasantries are death.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

“How are you?”

“Good.”

This trite exchange is what we do every day. In a book, it’s a waste of time. Also note that those four lines possess no conflict. A better way to go would be to answer “How are you?” with “You’re late.”

Or try, “He greeted her at the conference room door with an officious sneer and ushered to her seat without a word.” 

If the dialogue isn’t clever or funny, or if the exchange fails to reveal character or advance the plot, skip it and go to the action.

Don’t count on readers’ patience. Tell the story.

10. Everyone watches for run-on sentences. We break those up, of course. Also consider varying sentence length.

Sentence length is not something many readers will register consciously, but lots of short sentences together can feel stilted and staccato. (This device can be used to great effect in an action sequence or to make a point, however.) Many long sentences in a row tire the reader and can feel like a drone.

This problem is easier to recognize when you read your manuscript aloud. If you run out of breath before the end of a sentence, it might be too long. Or you need to do more cardio.

Me B&W~ Robert Chazz Chute hates to tell anyone what to do. Ever. He’s also a fan of the sentence fragment, so this isn’t about being the grammar police. It’s about helping writers and editors make books more readable. These are guidelines. The only rule is, if it plays, it plays.

FYI, the third book in the Hit Man Series is Hollywood Jesus, Rise of the Divine Assassin. This funny, gripping crime novel launches October 1, 2014. Early feedback says it’s the fastest pace to an adventure since you fell off your bike and got road rash when you were a kid.

HJ COVER FINAL LADY IN RED

The Omnibus will be launched at the same time.

PLAYBOOK COVER FINAL

 

Filed under: Editing, manuscript evaluation, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writing: Tics and traps to consider

We all have tics in our writing that show up as we revise our manuscripts. I think it was Elmore Leonard who said we shouldn’t use, “all hell broke loose,” and “suddenly.” I actually don’t see a problem with suddenly, but because Elmore Leonard didn’t like it, I’m too chicken to use it. I also think adverbs get a bad rap, though I use them sparingly.

Here are some more things that get repeated in manuscripts you should consider leaving out for a faster, easier and clearer read.

1. When you can say it in fewer words, do so. (General guideline. No, this doesn’t mean all novels should be reduced to their three-paragraph summaries. Yes, we’d all be better read, but it’s about the journey.)

2. When you can use a simpler word instead of an unfamiliar one, consider that. I use some Latin and unusual words in This Plague of Days, but all is explained and it all has a point.

3. The house across the street or right across the street? In Nova Scotia, we said “right across” often, which technically connotes “directly,” or “nearest.” But across the street will usually do. “Right over there,” becomes “Over there.” Nothing lost.

4. Eliminate gerunds where possible. This often accompanies a manuscript packed with “was.” “He was working on the plan”? Will “He worked on the plan,” serve your purpose with a more direct and muscular verb?

5. Felt. He felt this. He felt that. I’m not saying eliminate it completely. But showing is generally better than telling (though not always) and doing is better than feeling (often.) Feeling is passive. Demonstrate how he feels that his wife walked out and took the beloved dog he brought into the marriage.

6. Up and down. I go through my manuscripts looking for “up” because that’s my tic. He stood up? He stood is the same. And “she sat down in the purple chair”?  “She sat in the purple chair,” communicates the same thought, right?

7. Began. “He began to think about…” How about, “He thought about…”? Once you start thinking, you’re already into it, right?

8. Then. “She then lit the match. Then she lit the fuse and then it began to burn.” Things happen in sequence in the order you put it down  write. Then is often unnecessary.

9. And at the beginning of the sentence. It’s not that it’s wrong. Some of my old-school English teachers went hardcore on this point. It’s when it’s used too often, it becomes a placeholder that delays the action by three little letters. It’s often unnecessary.

10. So at the beginning of a sentence. It’s not wrong, but it’s a common tic. It’s often the writing equivalent of “um” in public speaking. “So, how are you doing?” versus, “How are you doing?” This can be a stylistic choice. In dialogue, maybe it’s a subtle cue to the reader that the speaker is attempting to appear casual or isn’t sure what to say.

BONUS

Look for opportunities to vary sentence length. It makes for an easier read. Run-on sentences intimidate, confuse and frustrate readers. 

~ Robert Chazz Chute is revising Season 3 of This Plague of Days. Season 3, and This Plague of Days, The Complete Series is scheduled for release June 15th, 2014.

Haven’t started Season 1 and Season 2, yet? There’s still time. Grab them here.

Filed under: Editing, writing tips, , , , , , , , , ,

When editing, search for remnants

A cross-genre flurry about  society's collapse under the crush of the Sutr Virus combined with a boy's love for odd words, Latin dictionaries and his father.

A cross-genre flurry about society’s collapse under the crush of the Sutr Virus combined with a boy’s love for odd words, Latin dictionaries and his father.

Here’s a secret about the first draft of This Plague of Days:

I started writing it in first person. For dramatic reasons (and other reasons I can’t reveal for fear of spoilers), I switched to third person, limited omniscient.

At the hub of this apocalyptic adventure is a young man who is on the autistic spectrum. We often see the world flu pandemic and the rise of the zombie horde through his eyes. However, to write the whole book that way would be too hard on the reader. Jaimie’s mind is not grounded in our reality. He sees significance in everything and is obsessed with dictionaries, English words and Latin phrases. To give the story a context of verisimilitude, I had to change how I told the story.

The change made for a better story but added more challenges.

Whatever writing choices you make as you revise and polish, remnants show up. Remnants appear in manuscripts when you make changes or corrections. When I edited other people’s manuscripts, I suggested changes for authors, but I also requested back up by proofreaders after my edit.

Corrections introduce new errors.

The manuscript is not done when the edit is done. This is good advice you would think unnecessary. Nevertheless, I was occasionally ignored by some authors and even a small press on that score. We all need a stellar proofing team and/or beta team to help scour the book.

You can always depend on remnants appearing. For instance, in This Plague of Days, the character of the looter named Bentley changed to Bently. This Plague of Days is huge, so I found several examples of the earlier incarnation when I searched for “Bentley.” “The Bentley”  turned up a couple of times, too.

An old man named Douglas Oliver is a major character. I found several remnants from the previous draft that labeled him “The Oliver.” That’s probably a switch from “the old man” to the character’s name.

Look for more corrections after you think you’re done.

Always look for spelling variations even if you haven’t changed the character name. The autistic kid is Jaimie Spencer, but once or twice I lapsed into “Jamie” or “Jaime”.

Search “stood” and “rose”. Consider if you really want the word “up” to follow those words.

Always enter “the the” in the search box. Our brains are trained to skip over that error.

Always enter two spaces in the search box just before you hit “compile”. You’ll find spaces in your manuscript that look like huge gaps in the text when the manuscript is converted into an ebook.

When you correct a typo, reread what you just corrected to make sure you haven’t subtracted one typo and added another.

It will be okay. Don’t get frustrated. The process is worth it.

After your masterpiece is published, alert readers will email you with helpful notes about typos you missed so you can correct them in the next edition. You’ll take solace in the fact that, without all your preparation, the typo onslaught and readers’ annoyance could have been much worse.

 

 

Filed under: Books, Editing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

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