Archive for April, 2010

Get Feedback: Tip #15

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

It’s time to enlist people to read your book and give you their comments. 

Writers know from experience that asking their nearest and dearest to be objective when reading anything they’ve written is an exercise in futility. Whether it’s your mother, your ex-spouse, or your boss, no one in your inner circle wants to rain on your parade. What they don’t realize is that the more brutally honest they are, the bigger the favor they are doing you. In either case, there is no way around offering them a first look at your work. Just remember to take it with a grain of salt when you get nothing from them but gushing praise without a trace of constructive criticism.

At the same time, to balance the feedback, also give your material to three or four people whom you respect as professionals, and whom you have reason to believe understand the process well enough to give you a candid reaction.

Re-read Your Work: Tip #14

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

After finishing your first run-through, repeat the process. You may find things you overlooked the last time around. Even if you found only one error before, there might be something similarly suspect yet lurking in the shadows. 

There is no mystery to this tip, not if you have already worked through the first thirteen. Take all the same suggestions you did with each previous one, and apply all of them again. The process will go much quicker this time, as you are more familiar with the material than ever, and can recognize a glitch from 40 yards away.

Now, sit back, and congratulate yourself for a job well done. You have gone as far as you feel you can for now.  But you are, in no way, finished with your task. It is time to bring in outside forces with, we hope, an objective eye.

Give it a Rest: Tip #13

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Read your material over and over again, leaving a day or, better yet, a week or more in between readings. Often, a sentence reads oh-so subtly different from the way you thought you had written it, even after a revision or two along the way.

So, your manuscript is now reading better than ever. All the inconsistencies, repeated words and phrases, uneven chronology, unclarified information, omitted data, and so forth has been edited in or out of the original, and good riddance. Now, you are ready to release your masterwork to the world. Right? Of course, wrong. Now is when you let it sit and rest. The longer interval of time you allow between you and your words, the more objective you will be when you take on that final reading—before hiring an editor. 

And aren’t you glad you did?! When you pick up your manuscript after letting it lie for a while, you will not necessarily find a litany of issues in need of resolution, but chances are you will find more than you expected.

One more time, you make your changes, and you breathe a sigh of relief.

Edit Your Edits: Tip #12

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Look out for new areas of weakness resulting from changes and modifications. Don’t let them get away from you.

Once you have reviewed each chapter, you should re-read the entire manuscript, beginning to end. Now is the best time to do that, not so much for inconsistencies anymore—although you may find a few stragglers—but for words or letters that you left in during the process of revision that you had meant to delete, or deleted that you had meant to leave in. For example: “The Los Angeles Dodgers is the best team in baseball,” when edited to “The Los Angeles Dodgers is one of the best teams in baseball,” requires more than the addition of “one of.” Since your intention was to change “the best” to “one of the best,” you have to remember, as well, to change the plural of “team” to “teams.” Sometimes, we forget to fix surrounding words to make them grammatically compatible with our revisions.

Review Your Work: Tip #11

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Consider each chapter individually. Make sure it contains everything you had planned to include. Look for correct chronology. You may find that one paragraph works better at the beginning or middle or end rather than where you originally set it in place. Words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and whole chapters are often shifted and re-shifted from place to place to improve the flow, consistency, and overall impact of your message. Some may be omitted entirely.

In the course of writing and rewriting, you will tend to assume certain pieces of information have been included—whether about a person, place, or a thing. A piece of detail, perhaps, or a description—a particular point that is important to the overall clarity of your story or theme. You were sure it was included somewhere in the text, but your search ends without a trace of it. Like so many writers, you had made a basic assumption. Because a specific element was already established inside your mind, you assumed that you had transmitted the thought to print. You hadn’t.

Such things don’t always pop out at you on the first read-through. By the second or third or fourth time around, however, you are more likely to start seeing all sorts of inconsistencies in your work. Why did you state something here that is in no way relevant until there? And didn’t you already state pretty much the same thing on the previous page that you are repeating here, as if for the first time?

Until you took on the task of the read-through, you were sure your words read perfectly as they were. Now you see thoughts that are repeated, only in difference words. And chronology that is back and forth and back again when you intended it to be linear. The more you read over a chapter, the more such errors stand out, waiting for you to pick them off, one by one, and delete them away forever.

Follow the Rules of Writing: Tip #10

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Make certain that each sentence conforms to current rules of grammar and style. Use Chicago Book of Style or another appropriate stylebook  for reference. Rules change over time, and your credibility as a writer depends on your remaining current.

A classic example is the ongoing battle of the commas, which is all about when and where to use them and when and where to not. Other such conflicts have been raging for some time, while new ones are constantly erupting. To illustrate: We have always been taught that a properly constructed sentence must have a subject and an object. Not anymore.

Writing right is not as clearly defined as it once seemed to be. The general trend seems to favor the loosening up of certain old constraints, while refusing to budge on others.

The kind of writing you do will dictate the type of authority you choose for reference. In general, while journalism generally adheres to one particular style, creative writing refers to another.

Determine the type of manuscript you are writing and the category of outlet you are targeting for submission. This will help you choose the best stylebook for your needs.

You can also access publishers’ guidelines by visiting them online. To be taken seriously, it is essential you comply with their requirements.

Substitute Outdated Language: Tip #9

Friday, April 9th, 2010

Stay away from worn-out phrases and slang expressions.

A major weakness of some writers, primarily those who are either stuck in the last century or for whom English is a second language, is their frequent use of words or expressions that are either awkward, too formal for contemporary tastes, or considered antiquated or passé. “Henceforth,” “forthwith,” and “moreover” immediately come to mind as being out of touch with today’s reader. “The cat’s meow,” “let’s neck,” “picture show,”  “shake a leg,” “dowse the light,” “crank up the sound,” “lip rouge,” and hundreds more slang expressions and words and phrases that were coined in the first half of the 20th century never rolled into the 21st. These are only a few of the more obvious ones.   

Chances are you would never start a sentence with “As one might come to expect …” or “It goes without saying … (but, there, you’ve said it, anyway), “In days of yore …” or even the all-time favorite, “Once upon a time …” But, if you are an older writer, or if you spoke another language for some time before learning English, you are advised to read voraciously and listen carefully to those around you speaking English in today’s society. In particular, you should become keenly aware of the latest phraseology and slang expressions that are changing our English language on a daily basis. With the constant infusion of new buzzwords and tech-speak into our everyday speech, even those of us born and bred in the U.S. are struggling to keep up.

English is a living language, and being watchful of what works and what no longer does is essential to the way you are perceived as a writer. In the end, your material will be richer for your having done your homework, and it will be significantly fresher and more engaging to your reader.

Avoid Using Clichés: Tip #8

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

A cliché is defined as an expression that has been used too liberally over time, and has lost its effectiveness. Ironically, the reason it has been used so frequently is that it does its job so expeditiously. Your goal as a writer with a keen imagination is to come up with a substitute for each of those worn-out expressions that manages to say the same thing, but in a fresh manner.

Some common expressions that you likely use without realizing they are clichés are: “Money can’t buy happiness,” “Love makes the world go round,” “It’s raining cats and dogs,” “Wishing doesn’t make it so,” “Time waits for no man,” “It’s always darkest before the dawn,” “Good as it gets,” “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” “Time will tell,” and “All’s fair in love and war,” “Love conquers all,” “Tall, dark, and handsome,” and “Every cloud has a silver lining” “As luck would have it,” and “Out of sight, out of mind.” And the list goes on into the thousands. A good rule of thumb when using one of these expressions is that if it sounds too familiar to make your point, avoid it like the plague. Oops. Did you notice that cliché I slipped in there? I do hope you caught it. While it is difficult to avoid their usage 100% of the time, it is possible and desirable to keep clichés to a minimum.

Empower Your Writing: Tip #7

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Empower your sentences by starting them with an action word.

Since the first few lines of writing is where your potential agent or publisher forms an opinion on the book you’ve submitted, you want them to read compellingly. Try using an action verb to open instead of positioning it somewhere in neutral. You will be amazed at how much energy it infuses into that all-important beginning.

A sentence beginning with a pronoun may read like this: “He stormed out the front door, dragging a large piece of luggage behind him, and ambled over to his van.” Substituting an action verb makes it read like this: “Storming out the front door dragging a large piece of luggage behind him, he ambled over to his van.”  It’s subtle, of course, but with the action verb at the beginning, the character and his intention are already in play. 

 Another example: “Mary awoke from a bad dream, sweating and shaking.” Shifting the verb to the beginning, it might read like this: “Sweating and shaking, Mary awoke from a bad dream.”

Third and last illustration: “The girl was running across the street when she slipped and fell.” Or: “Running across the street, the girl slipped and fell.”

Fewer Adjectives, Better Writing: Tip #6

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Keep adjectives to a minimum.

When used judiciously, adjectives can enhance the reading experience, but their overuse is legendary, and can be a tip-off to the writer’s inexperience. This is particular true when describing a person, place, or thing. Writers notoriously over-describe characters in their initial introduction.

An old man can be depicted as “gray-haired, hunched over, with fading blue eyes, heavily-veined hands, and a missing front tooth.” But Hemingway put his minimalist style to the test in his short story, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” in which he referred to an old man simply as “clean,” leaving you, the reader, to fill in the blanks from your own imagination. 

A place can be seen as “a stately, proud, 50-story glass and concrete edifice” or it can be “a towering monolith.”

An automobile might be portrayed as “a sporty, shiny, fire-engine red, diesel-fueled British-made compact convertible” or a “sleek, imported dream car.” Your choice.