Category Archives: writing advice

Shut Up! Times When It’s Imperative You DO NOT Share Happy Writing News

Writing is hard. Revising is hard. The submission cycle is downright depressing. Querying agents? It sucks away your soul, email by email.

That means that it’s especially hard to contain yourself when good news comes at last. It’s tempting to scream to the world–in reality and in all caps–that the story finally sold! That an agent wants your full manuscript! That a publisher wants your book!

DON’T. Take your hands off the keyboard. Step away from your phone. Maybe tell a few select people, but don’t you dare announce your good news in the early stages. Speaking out too soon shows that you’re unprofessional and unable to keep a secret. You may very well sabotage the deal you’re so happy about. Google is the biggest tattle-tale in the world, you know. Editors and agents will follow your social media and blog, and not in a creepy way, either. If they are taking the time to look you up, that’s a great thing. They want to know you! You’re establishing an important business relationship.

You want that relationship, too. So here are the moments when you need to sit on your hands.

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– A story acceptance
It’s awesome to get that initial acceptance email, but the deal isn’t real until there is a double-signed contract. That makes it legally binding. Even then, sometimes a publisher will ask you to refrain from public mention for a while; for example, this might happen if they are still sending out rejections for that particular issue. Respect that request.

– The contract is signed but the work hasn’t been published after months of wait OR you didn’t get paid when it was published OR your story was revised without your permission, etc.
Sometimes, even after a contract is signed, a deal might fall apart. Maybe the editor pulls a jerk move, or editors change and the new one doesn’t want your work, or the publication dies, or your reminders about payment get no reply. This puts you in a delicate position because you have a valid right to complain. Don’t do that in public as step one, though. You want to build your case. Query the editor, if you can. Query more than once over a period of time. Go onto password-protected writer forums and find out if there are other writers in the same position as you. You want allies! Maybe together, you can make yourselves heard, either through email or as a united front on social media. If you’re a member of SFWA, Griefcom is a valuable resource with professionals who will intercede on your behalf.

– An agent has rejected your manuscript OR requests a partial or full manuscript OR wants to call you
Querying agents is a long, difficult, demoralizing process, but it’s not one to be discussed in public. Why? Agents NEED to check you out online. You don’t want them to know they’re the 73rd agent you’ve queried, or that you’ve been querying this book for three years. More than likely, you’re querying a bunch of agents at the same time (as one should, unless you offered an exclusive; it would take forever to query one by one). You want all of those agents to think they are your top choice. You want to appear professional yet also personable. Throughout various stages of the publishing process, you need to be able to keep a secret. If you’re a blabbermouth, well, will they want to work with you?

You DO need a safe place to vent or celebrate through the querying process, though. Find a password-protected private place to do that. I used Agent Query back in the day, but there are various other writer forums or private Facebook groups where you can safely chronicle your journey.

– An agent offers representation
Again, this is a test of how you can keep a secret, but it’s also a show of respect for other agents who may be considering your work. You likely have queries out with multiple agencies. When you get an offer, don’t say ‘yes’ right away, no matter how tempting; ask for a period of time like a week or two so that you can send notice to other agents to give them a chance to respond. You suddenly look a lot more appealing once you have an offer on the table. Other agents will likely want to push your query/manuscript to the top of their pile so they can find out what the fuss is all about. You might get more requests for the full manuscript or other offers of rep.

Again, share this joy in a private setting online. Don’t liveblog it, or you’ll look tactless and rude to other agents. Again: until the contract is signed with an agent, it’s not a done deal. Don’t sabotage yourself.

– An editor makes an offer for your book
This is the most aggravating secret in the world, but you dare not say a thing until the proper time. And that proper time may be a long time coming. Contract negotiations may take months with a major publisher–maybe even six months or more. If you speak out before the deal is done, you will look very, very bad.

There’s an extra level of aggravation here, too. Even after the paperwork is signed, you still need to keep every mum for a little while longer. Most large-publisher book deals aren’t official-official until they are in Publishers’ Marketplace. Most writers don’t subscribe to that because it’s expensive, but a friend may scream the news to you online (that’s how I knew I could announce my first deal at long last–a friend told me on Twitter!) or your agent can give you the head’s up.

At that point, mash down the capslock and scream the news to the world. YOU HAVE A BOOK DEAL!!!!!!!!


Breath of EarthBeth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger series from Harper Voyager, which includes her Nebula-nominated novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE. Her newest novel is BREATH OF EARTH. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat. Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.

“Etymology Is Important,” She Ejaculated

I’m going to start off by telling a story from when I was 13 or 14 years old. I was with my mom and grandma in the car as we drove through the Central California countryside after a Sunday visit to my uncle’s church. As is often the case, then and now, I was reading a new book.

“Mom,” I asked, “What does ‘ejaculate’ mean?”

My Mom and Grandma shared a look in the front seat. “Beth, what are you reading?” There was a strange strain to her voice.

“This book called The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge.” I held up the cover so she could see it in the mirror.

Mom and Grandma glanced at each other again. “Read the line to me,” Mom asked.

etymology-littlewhitehorse“‘The coachman is getting down,’ ejaculated Maria.'”

Mom and Grandma both belted out nervous laughs. “Oh. Is it an old book?” she asked. I confirmed that it was a reprint of an old book, and I was informed I’d be told about other definitions for the word once we arrived home.

Yeah, that was a fun conversation. I was both mortified and amused. I had given them quite a fright with my choice of reading material on the way home from church! (I do recommend The Little White Horse–it’s a lovely gothic middle grade book, and apparently has gained new attention in recent years as it’s one of J.K. Rowling’s childhood favorites.)

Etymology is the history of a word, the how, when, and where of its use. I write historical fiction novels, and I find myself very aware of the words I choose. I cannot be 100% accurate to period, nor do I want to be. I will not have my characters ejaculate their speech, no matter how appropriate that word usage may have been in their time!

It’s all about balance. I want my books to be as easy to read as other current books–with contemporary concepts of paragraph size, dialogue tags, etcetera–while still keeping readers in a distant world.

I frequently check word etymologies as I write and revise. My usual go-to is the Online Etymology Dictionary; if that site doesn’t list the word, I usually resort to a Google search of “etymology [word].

There is also the dilemma of a word seeming contemporary, even though it’s not. This is referred to as “The Tiffany Problem”, named so because Tiffany is a legitimate medieval name but it looks too modern to readers of historical fiction and fantasy. For matters like that, it’s great to get feedback from other readers during early revision stages.

Sometimes, I consciously stay with an anachronistic word. For example, the word “kid” for “child” is a very recent development in the English language.

I also use the word “Reiki” to describe a form of magical healing, though Reiki as a modern practice didn’t start in Japan until the 1920s. On an additional note, my copyeditor for Breath of Earth suggested capitalizing Reiki–that’s what it said in their style guide–so I went with that in the final book. It gives it more gravitas in my 1906 setting.

Word choice does determine the tone. Within a sentence, a writer can establish the setting, time, and point of view. Be choosy. Be cautious. And be aware of what “ejaculate” means in various contexts.


Breath of EarthBeth Cato hails from Hanford, California, but currently writes and bakes cookies in a lair west of Phoenix, Arizona. She shares the household with a hockey-loving husband, a numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.

She’s the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER (a 2015 Locus Award finalist for First Novel) and THE CLOCKWORK CROWN (an RT Reviewers’ Choice Finalist) from Harper Voyager. Her novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE was a 2016 Nebula nominee. BREATH OF EARTH begins a new steampunk series set in an alternate history 1906 San Francisco.

Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.

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How to Begin: Five Ways to Start your Next Story

Happy New Year!  I hope you have fired up your New Year’s Resolutions, and harnessed them to some goals (remember: the difference between a dream and a goal is a plan).  If you’re hanging out with us, I’m guessing some of your goals have to do with writing.  Since this is the first Novelocity of the New Year, I’d like to help you get started.

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Often times, people get hung up right at the beginning of a new piece.  We know that, if we want to lure readers in and sell the work, the opening has to be fantastic.  This is true.  But when you first put keyboard to monitor, it doesn’t have to be brilliant–it just has to get done.  So, here are five ways to get in there and get writing!

  1. The opening doesn’t have to be perfect for you to keep writing. The ending of the story will suggest what the perfect beginning is.  Don’t get hung up on crafting a hook before you reach the end.  That’s what revision is for.

 

  1. Begin the story as close as possible to the moment when all Hell breaks loose: when the character or world faces the problem that starts the plot.

 

  1. Many authors begin with a lot of back story, character or setting description, or other elements the author needs, but the reader doesn’t. When does the *plot* begin?  Trim as much as possible before that.

 

  1. Can’t find your way in? Write 5 different ways to open the story:  character, conflict, setting or world-building, a different point of view, an image that evokes the dominant emotion or theme.  Dash them off quickly, with just a couple of sentences each, then see which one gets you excited to keep going.

 

5.  Overwhelmed by a big project or a fresh start?  Try setting a timer for 15 minutes, or a word goal of 100 words.  You can write 100 words. . .try it every day, you might soon be writing a thousand!

Wishing you a creative and successful new year!

Writers and Weltschmerz

On one of the on-line writers groups I frequent, someone opened a forum topic that ran something like this…Is Anyone Getting Any Writing Done? The question was an interesting one for me, because all writers have to, at times, write on…despite personal setbacks.

Now let me be clear…there are situations in which the writing CANNOT go on. There are times too bleak: sicknesses and household emergencies and financial struggles. There are times when we sit down and simply stare at the screen, unable to do anything. That’s inevitable. Real life tends to trump our writing at times. But this isn’t that. It’s not an inability to write brought on by health issues or finances or priorities.

This is Weltschmerz–the feeling of anxiety caused by the ills of the world. (Definition via Wikipedia)

Many of the writers I know have been suffering weltschmerz since the second week of November. It’s a frightening time for a lot of people, and with holidays on top of that, there’s simply so many stressors that it’s taking a toll on our creativity, grinding it down into the dust. We’re staring at our screens, wondering how we can go on writing our small bits of fiction when there’s so much out there in the world that’s slipping awry. How can we be creative when others are suffering? When they’re afraid? When we’re afraid?

For me, it was a matter of having commitments to fulfill. I’m posting a novel serially, which forces me to edit a bit each week. I have a monthly commitment to my Patreon Patrons on another serial. And I promised that I would have the first book of The Horn out in December.

(Gratuitous bit of book promotion…Oathbreaker is now available in ebook format!)

Those commitments kept me in my chair on days when I would rather have been endlessly refreshing Twitter. I had to get the work done. And when we’re dealing with contracts with publishers, that gives an outside push.

Even without that impetus, I know all my writer friends will eventually sit back down and start writing again.

Why? This is what we do. We write.

Writing is how we deal with the injustices in the world. It’s how we let others know about them. We have voices and we apply our words to let others know what’s happening.

We may be writing blog posts, tweets, letters to the editors, to our congressmen, to those men and women who control various aspects of those things that terrify us. We may drop a line to a serviceman or woman. We might write stories for a benefit anthology for survivors from Aleppo. We might write a wild story to brighten the evening of someone else who has weltschmerz and is seeking pure escape. It might be small. It might be big.
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In time we’ll step back into the fray with the weapons we use best…our words. Because this is what we are. We’re writers.

5 Things Writers can Learn from the Presidential Campaign

A campaign postcard for McKinley and Roosevelt for the election of 1900

A campaign postcard for McKinley and Roosevelt for the election of 1900

1. Dialog is key.  A scene is so much more engaging when two people are in it. Especially if those two people each have their own agenda, and each is trying hard to advance it.  Pay attention to body language, setting, their reactions to each other and reactions from those around them.  Also, dialog is a great way to build tension on a variety of levels.  A debate is a heck-of-a-lot more entertaining than a stump speech.

2.  Focus on your tribe.  It’s been said that all you need to be a successful author is a small, dedicated audience who want everything you write.  These are the folks who are going to share your work around, who will be eager to read the next thing, to cheer you on, even when things look rough.

3.  Nail the details.  Maybe you’re writing fantasy or science fiction or something nobody’s ever seen before.  Doesn’t matter. If you get down the details of place, time, character, they will create the image you need to build in the reader’s mind.  If you are working from any factual basis, like historical fiction or contemporary, getting the details wrong will blow the reader’s trust.  Make a few mistakes about the wrong things, and they’ll never let you forget it.

4.  Engage with your big ideas.  What is it you really want to say?  Are you saying it?  Are you working to your fullest to make the strongest work you can?

5.  Polls are important–but polls don’t know everything.  Yep, you’ve got to submit. You’ve got to get the work out there to be read, and sometimes it won’t stick.  The editor rejects it, the readers give it low reviews (or worse, no reviews), it comes out the same day as something else that distracts the world from your great work.  Take what you can from these experiences, but maintain faith that your work is worthy and that, even if you didn’t win today, if you keep working, you’ll get a chance to rise again.

Recipe Fiction: Let’s Fire the Formula

In another of my writing circles, once again the dreaded specter of “formula fiction” has been conjured.  The idea is that many genres–at least in commercial fiction, and (so the rumor goes) especially romance and fantasy (the target tends to move to a different genre based on whichever you are writing in)–are dominated by a formula which is required in order to sell.  And if a book sells well, that is usually taken as evidence that it was, indeed, written to formula.  It’s a tautology, but one you’ll often find repeated, whether in a derisive review or grumbled by less successful peers in the same genre. Of course that work succeeded–the author just relied on the formula!

Some people outside the genres will even sniff that the publishers demand the said formula, and that it’s laid out by page count:  kiss on page three, quest engagement in chapter two, or what have you.

First of all, if the publishers are requiring certain page counts and formulas, they haven’t informed the authors, much less provided us with a template for stamping out successful novels.  But wait, points out the nay-sayer, so many books in X genre are so similar!  That’s clear evidence that authors are just filling in the blanks.  Or is it?

I think part of the problem lies in the origins of this term “formula.”  Formula is associated with science, more precisely, with chemistry.  The idea is that you take certain items in very specific ratios, blended according to strict guidelines, and you will achieve a very specific result.  One third adventure, one third sexual tension, one third Strunk and White, voila! a bestseller.  Boy, if I could buy that formula, I’d use it.  The trouble is, it doesn’t exist.

In fiction, what we have are not formulas–rigid lists of pure chemicals to be compounded by following strict rules–what we have are recipes.  A recipe gives you a list of ingredients and the steps to follow–isn’t that the same as the dreaded formula?  Here’s the thing, recipes vary.  The same recipe produced by different cooks gets a different result because the cook knows they can add a little more spice, or bake for less time and create their own variation on what their diners enjoy.

Like cooks, authors have an audience to please.  Sure, we want to pursue our own artistic goals for our careers and for any given work, but writing is a collaboration between the author and the reader, who will receive and interpret the result.  Readers can be grouped in many different ways.  Some love fantasy no matter what, and some prefer contemporary or epic fantasy, fantasy about women or about dragons.

There are certain elements of story-telling that are more likely to appeal to a wider audience.  Adventure, love, character growth, a moment when much can be won or lost, the moment when a character is redeemed and the audience cheers.  That’s not a formula–it’s a list of ingredients, and each cook, each writer, can play with them to create their individual work.  A quick google search shows me 3.8 million recipes for chocolate cake, 3.8 million variations, some subtle and some vast, all resulting in a dessert that some people felt was tasty and worth sharing.  There are at least 3.8 million recipes for a fantasy novel as well.  Beginning with a basic set of ingredients, and an image of that desired result, the author creates their own recipe.

Rather than dismissing the work of an author or a complete genre as driven by formula, let’s think of them as being guided by a recipe–and if one author’s chocolate cake doesn’t please, there’s probably another one that will.  Or maybe you’re looking for lemon cake, or custard tart, or. . . okay, now I’m just making myself hungry.

The same basic ingredients combine to create a thousand different experiences–as if by magic.

 

The War of the Adverbs

We’re delighted to feature a guest post today from Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, author of the new book Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg. Take it away, Alvaro!

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Traveler of WorldsIt’s a pleasure to be on Novelocity—thanks so much for having me!

Given that this forum is intended for the discussion of books and their creation, I feel comfortable invoking a writer whose life—over the course of a career now spanning a staggering six decades!—has been largely dedicated to the creation of hundreds of books: Robert Silverberg. I had the pleasure of conducting interviews with Bob over the course of 2015, and we talked about all sorts of things. The edited, organized result of these candid conversations may be found in my just-published book, Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg.

Of course, despite the wide range of subjects we cover, writing was never far from Bob’s mind. We talked about many writers (within genre and without), the meaning of awards, the writing process itself (schedule, etc.), the difference between artistic writing and hack work, and even word usage and grammatical constructions.

In Chapter 6, specifically, Bob and I spend some time investigating the first and last lines of famous novels by Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Hardy and Graham Greene.

At one point in the conversation I ask Bob the following:

“AZA: I want to go back to the end of The Sun Also Rises for a moment, to this line:

The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me.” It seems that some writers are very sensitive to adverbs these days, in particular something like “suddenly.” The idea is that if you want to convey suddenness, you can do so by picking a better verb that does it for you, without then having to modify it. To be more elegant in the word choice and make the adverb unnecessary.”

I was curious what Bob thought of this dictum, which I often see given as advice to starting writers (avoid “suddenly” at all costs, etc.).

Here is his response:

“RS: I don’t see anything wrong with “suddenly.” I object to finding different ways to say, “he said.” But “suddenly”? Look, there’s some people who’ll tell you that you shouldn’t use adverbs at all. Or that you shouldn’t use adjectives at all. Whatever works.”

Whatever works. Those words have stayed with me.

Of course, an argument can be made that “suddenly,” and some of its adverbial brethren, are overused, and may indicate laziness on the part of the writer. But that doesn’t mean they may not sometimes be appropriate. They appear in many of the great works of literature, after all, and I don’t think that striking them out would visibly improve such works. They appear in science fiction classics, too.

Ever since I first heard of the admonition to avoid “suddenly,” there was a particular science fiction novel that kept whispering skepticism in my mind. Its opening paragraph contains what I consider one of the finest lines in all of science fiction:

“Yet, across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.”

This is H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. And it confronts us with that double adverbial offender, “slowly and surely.” Re-writing that sentence without that phrase is possible, sure, but I’m doubtful that it would make it better.

You may say, “Alvaro, ‘slowly and surely’ is not the same as ‘suddenly.’” True. But the word “suddenly” itself appears many times, too, in the same novel: for example in “Suddenly the monster vanished” or “Suddenly there was a flash of light,” and dozens of others.

Historical distance, then? Times change, and today’s readers may not enjoy Wells’ style in the same way the readers of his day might have. Over a century later, we may have become more sensitive to such word choices and repetitions, more canny and sophisticated as readers.

But modern writers like Joyce Carol Oates use “suddenly” quite freely, and I don’t think it’s harmed their careers any, or caused them to be considered poorer writers. Open a novel by Doris Lessing and you may find it strewn with suddenness! They still gave her the Nobel Prize for Literature. I’m reading The Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville right now, and the first “suddenly” explodes into being on page 8. Are we to take China Miéville to task for this?

So ultimately, I’m going to take refuge in “Whatever works.”

It’s a freeing thought.

Not “whatever goes,” but “whatever works.”

Our words as writers, whatever their taxonomy, need to work together to produce an overall effect. Maybe some writers feel that “suddenly” is more appropriate for a first-person narrative than one written from a third-person perspective; or that it should be used only under specific circumstances. Fine. But arguing that specific word choices should be avoided on principle, I think, unduly restricts us in our enjoyment of the English language, and in conveying its expressive wonders to our readers.

Bio:

Alvaro Zinos-AmaroAlvaro started publishing around 2008, and has had more than thirty stories appear in magazines like AnalogNatureGalaxy’s EdgeThe Journal of Unlikely EntomologyLackington’sMothership Zeta, Farrago’s Wainscot and Neon, as well as anthologies such as The Mammoth Book of the Adventures of MoriartyThe Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper TalesThe 2015 Young Explorer’s Adventure GuideCyber WorldThis Way to the End Times [edited by R. Silverberg], Humanity 2.0 and An Alphabet of Embers. Alvaro’s essays, reviews and interviews have appeared in The Los Angeles Review of BooksThe First LineAsimov’sStrange HorizonsClarkesworldSF SignalFoundation, The New York Review of Science Fiction and Intergalactic Medicine Show; he also edits the roundtable blog for Locus.

Find him at: his website, Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Linkedin, and Goodreads.

Why Does It Take So Long for the Next Book???

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One thing that readers often ask is why the gap between books is so long, and I thought I’d address some of the reasons for that here…

When an author is being published by a traditional publisher (like the members of Novelocity have been), there’s an awful lot that goes into the process, every step of which slows down publication. I’ll put some of these below:

  • The publisher has to find a place in their schedule for the book. Publishers don’t want to release too many books at once, and therefore they tend to spread them out throughout the year. That schedule can be set up as far as 18 months in advance, so Book X might be ready to go on January 1, but they don’t have room to schedule it until April 17…so that’s when it comes out.
  • The publishing process has a gazillion steps (edits, copyedits, proofs), and a delay at any of those levels can cause the above schedule to become problematic. I’ve known authors whose books, due to some issue—not necessarily the author’s doing—along the line has caused their book to miss its scheduled slot…and end up being shunted back 18 months. A small delay can turn into a huge one.
  • The publisher wants to wait on results before giving the green light to a later project. (My example would be my editors waiting for Dreaming Death to actually come out before greenlighting a sequel—which they did not do after all—but that would have meant at least 18 months between the book and its sequel.)

 

Of course, there can also be slow downs on the writers’ side. For example:

  • Some writers do not write quickly, no matter how much their publishers want them to finish that next book. In fact, you will see books scheduled that are pushed back several months for this very reason. *
  • Some writers have multiple projects going on, sometimes with multiple publishers. Necessary prioritization means that they may not be working on the book -you- want them to work on.
  • Some writers will have a series dropped by a publisher. This creates a whole new set of problems, as the writer has to figure out some way to get the rest of those books out there. There are a limited number of presses who will pick up an abandoned series (this is a complex problem), or the writer can self-publish the remaining books (far more common these days).

All of those reasons will cause slow downs. In most cases, authors probably wish things would go faster. I certainly do.

However, this also causes an issue for readers who want everything now…which in turn causes its own problems for the writers.

I’ve seen a lot of people say “I’ll wait until the whole series is out and buy it then so I can read it all.”

Unfortunately, this is really deadly for writers because the publishers are looking at initial sales of books when they determine whether to buy more from that writer. If people are waiting to buy the book until the whole series is out, then the publishers see that as a lack of interest in the series…and cancel it.

The publisher can’t know that people actually do intend to buy the book one day…and even if they did, the publishers won’t take that gamble unless the writer is someone super-famous (G.R.R.M., for example.) I’ve seen a lot of writers with good reviews and decent sales get cut mid-series because….well, they’re selling, but not -enough-.

So the slow pace of the industry might be frustrating, but it’s not the author’s doing. Hang in there with us! We need readers’ support…

…and their patience!

TL:DR version
To the publisher,
readers waiting to buy until the series is complete = lack of interest in the series
________________________

*It’s very hard to know why books are pushed back, but most authors who have social media presences are usually happy to explain that. Check their blog/webpage/social media if you want to know why.

The Revision Chronicles: Two Final Pitfalls

shearsAfter teaching a class in revision, these are the last things I like to remind everyone:

  • Don’t write your story by committee.
  • Do send it out!

Let’s look at those in a little more detail.

  • DON’T write a story by committee.

Despite all my invaluable revision tips, in the end, what makes your story idiosyncratically YOURS is important. It is good to listen to your critiquers, but you are the final say. Especially if you and your stories tend to be an outlier (if you have an unusual voice, or subject matter that doesn’t seem to be in vogue) then you may have voices telling you to change. It can be hard to determine when you need to listen to those voices, and when you have to listen to yourself. You often have to KNOW the rules before you can break them (IE, you need to know WHY you’re going against the grain, and understand when that’s the right choice.) As Daniel Tiger sings: Keep trying; you’ll get better!

  • And DO send your story out!

I don’t recommend revising a story or novel for years and years. I look back at my earlier work, and I think: I would write that differently now. But is that always a good thing? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Yes, I have some skills now I didn’t then. But on the flip side, my current obsessions are different than when I was writing ten years ago. I was chewing over different themes. Just because I wouldn’t write something now, doesn’t mean it wasn’t good to be written then, and sent out then. I encourage you to do the same.

Thanks for following along with the Revision Chronicles! Check back next month for a new topic!

Ten Tiny Tips to Improve your Fiction

      1. Suddenly, the author removed all occurrences of the word “suddenly.” Why?  Because once you have said it, nothing sudden can happen—the reader already knows it’s coming.

 

      2. “Well,” the author ejaculated, “I think fancy dialog tags are cool!” Er. . .dialog tags are meant to indicate who is speaking, and not to call attention to themselves.  “Said” and “asked” disappear into the text for a smoother read.  I’ll let you get away with a few words per manuscript that express something otherwise non-obvious about how the quote is being said, like “whisper” or “murmur.”  Otherwise, use action tags that show us the character as they speak.

 

      3. Eliminate words that slow the text. Like helping verbs, “seems,” “very,” “really,” and anything “beginning to” or “starting to.”  These rarely add anything to our experience of the scene.

 

      4. Use strong action verbs. Usually, we just say avoid be-verbs, which is still good advice. But what we mean is, look for a verb with a clear, direct impression for the reader of what’s actually happening.

 

      5. Don’t jump POV for no reason, especially to say things like “she never noticed the shadow in the corner of the room.” If she didn’t notice it, who did?  Every time this happens, the reader gets tugged in the wrong direction—away from the character.

 

      6. Begin as close as possible to the moment when all Hell breaks out. This goes for books, stories, scenes, chapters. Readers don’t need nearly as much scene-setting as we often think—and many of them have little patience for it.

 

      7. When you’re in a deep POV, you don’t need phrases like “she felt,” “they saw,” “we heard,” “he thought,” “I knew.” We are already inside the character’s head, this stuff just gets in the way (see point 3).

 

      8. Don’t dismember your characters.  “Her eyes flew around the room.”  Doesn’t that dry them out?  “He lifted up his hoary head.”  (and threw it across the clearing. . .)

 

      9. “Lay” is a transitive verb which requires an object: The hen lay an egg. It laid one yesterday, it has laid one every day this week.  “Lie” is an in-transitive verb:  I lie on the grass.  I lay there yesterday.  I have lain there every day this week.  Yeah, I know, the past tense forms look alike.  You’ll figure it out.

 

        10. And perhaps this is just for the fantasy writers. . . a rider, literal or metaphorical, takes up the reins. A member of the royal family reigns.  No, it’s not just for fantasy– I’ve seen this confused in a few non-fiction articles lately.