Friday, July 29, 2016

Department of Redundancy Department

A popular post from April 2010

by Annette Lyon

We all know that a rough draft is needs revisions. (That's why it's called rough, right?)

One area of revision that seems to elude many beginning writers is something that is quite easily fixed when it's pointed out to them.

So today, I'm talking about a few of those, most of which have some element of unneeded repetition (that alone is redundant).

Dead wood.
Watch for words that don't have a strong enough job and might as well be cut.

It's easy to slip in dead wood when you forget that your own voice can actually be a good thing, that there's no reason to create an elevated tone.

Elevated tones quite often slip into wordy and redundant passages that have more padding than substance because the writer thinks in the early stages that they sound cool. While the following example is made up, I see this kind of thing frequently:

They walked by foot until they came to a land known by the people living in the city of Bordon as Bordon City.

(Doesn't walking imply on foot? And why not have them simply walk to Bordon City? Because saying it's "known as the city of . . ." sounds cooler? Bleh.)

Cut that dead wood. Read aloud and mercilessly yank entire paragraphs if they're aren't pulling their weight. Rewrite so they're strong, they're purposeful, and they aren't repetitive.

Even a word or two can be redundant, like "the true fact" (facts by definition are true) or "the famous celebrity" (again, by definition, a celebrity IS famous). Those words are empty. Keep an eye out for small phrases like those that can slip through.

(Your delete key really can be your friend.)

The Um, Duh Factor
As with "walking on foot," avoid adding details that are obvious.

Seeing the sight,
(As opposed to what, seeing the taste? Also: he heard the sound and other variations.)

I noticed an open door to my left. The door was slightly ajar.
(We've already established that the door's as open.)

She nodded her head.
(I don't think there's anything else she can nod besides her head.)

He blinked his eyes.
(Unless he's some freak alien, eyes are the only thing he can blink. Just say he blinked.)

Repeated Sentence Structures . . . Especially Bad Ones
Be careful not to have the same sentence structure for too many sentences. Shake things up a bit. Intense passages do well with short, snappy sentences, while long ones will bog down the pace. On the flip side, when you're focused on an relationship or other emotional (but not anxious) moment, longer sentences can give a different feel. Experiment and play!

A commonly used structure is subject + action + object/preposition/other, such as:

Sam ate the apple on the porch.
Julie sat beside Sam.
Sam didn't share the apple with Julie.

Boring, no?

So shake it up. Vary the length of sentences, the order things are shared in.

NOTE: Try to keep events in chronological order so the reader can experience and feel them with the character. If you describe a character's reaction to an event before we learn of it, we can't sympathize.

For example, DON'T do this:

She gasped and screamed, feeling like her lungs were ready to burst when she saw the dead body.

Let us SEE the dead body first. Show it. Then we'll gasp and scream right along with your character. It's hard to evoke emotions in your reader when they don't know why they're supposed to feel a certain way.

One common (and horribly awkward) way of structuring a sentence is using a gerund phrase at the beginning. (Using an -ING verb phrase).

I won't say to NEVER use this structure, because it can work. But please, please, please, don't rely on it. Keep the use to a minimum and for a specific feel.

Here's what I mean:

Looking at the door, she reached for the knob. Opening the door, she saw who was on the other side. Smiling, she greeted the UPS man.

Why -ING openings don't usually work:
  • For starters, English doesn't sound natural like this. If your story doesn't sound natural to the reader, they'll put it down and find something else that does sound real.
  • It's easy to inadvertently describe two actions that you cannot do simultaneously. This pulls the reader right out because the structure implies that both are happening at the same time. ("Stepping out of the shower and grabbing her robe, she answered the door." Really? I bet the person on the other side got an eyeful.)
  • Finally, this structure simply looks amateurish. (What, you couldn't find a more powerful way of saying it? You had to rely on an -ING phrase? A hundred times?)

As usual, don't worry too much about these things in the drafting stage. Let your creative brain have fun in its sandbox. These are issues to address when playtime is over and the editor hat comes out of the drawer.

Your work really will outshine much of what's out there if you can avoid repeating yourself and saying the same thing more than once. Like being redundant Again and again. :-D

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The T Word (Taxes)

A popular post from May 2010

By Josi S. Kilpack

I am convinced that every blessing comes with a counterweight--some necessary evil you have to accept in order to have the good of that blessing. Kids = whining,  spouse = sharing the TV, losing weight = less pop tarts--you get the idea.

There are several counterweights to writing, and one of them is the taxes. When you publish a book you get paid directly, without taxes being withheld but you still have to pay them. You have to determine for yourself the best way to handle that, but I've recently been looking into this and thought I would share what I've learned.  I am not in any way or on any planet any kind of experet and I strongly suggest sitting down with an accountant and discussing this. I had read a lot of things, talked to a lot of people but it took a 10 minute conversation with a CPA who does this all time time for me to 'get it' and not feel overwhelmed. You know that they say, if you don't have time to do it right the first time, how will you have time to do it again.

1) Entity. One option is opening up a 'business' of some kind and running all your income and expenses through it. Many authors do this and have their royalties paid to the entity rather than themselves. For instance, I could open up an LLC (limited liability company) or an S-corp (some kind of corporation) in the name of Josi Kilpack INC. or Josi Kilpack Enterprises. This requires filing paperwork with the state, getting a business license and filing business taxes. Some people already own a business and can run expenses and taxes through that company and the company bank account--be sure that the perimeters of that business allow something like books to be sold. The perk I can see is that having an entity keeps it all very 'contained' and it has a professional look. However, it's not necessarily necessary.

2) Schedule E. A schedule E is attached to your personal tax return and is specifically for rental property income and royalties. Both are considered 'passive' income, meaning you don't get paid directly for labor, but you get paid 'passivly' due to ownership of some kind. Royalties are not taxed as untaxed income or self-employment income--which is nice. You also have a list of things you can expense (more on that later). You don't need an entity to use a Schedule E, basically royalties are treated like additional income. This, in my opinion, is a simpler option and it's what I do, it's prepared as part of my household tax filing.

3) Expenses. Regardless of which method you choose to account for your income, you also get to account for expenses that are 'ordinary and necessary' for your career as a writer. Ordinary and Necessary is determined by basically asking if the majority of other writers would have these same expenses. For instance, the majority of other writers buy ink and paper, have computer upgrades, incure postage expenses and buy books for research. Since most writers have those expenses, they are considered ordinary and necessary to your job as a writer. On the other hand, I might have my hair highlighted for an event, or buy thank you gifts for my beta-readers, these expenses are based on my preference, not on ordinary and necessary business practices, thus they are not expensible. You need to keep track of your expense receipts and you need to come up with some kind of report or spreadsheet that 'proves' these expenses. You only need the receipts if you get an audit, but you'll want them if that happens. I find the easiest way for me to keep this information organized is to get an expandable file with the months of the year. I stuff receipts into each month and then figure it out a the end of the year. Heather Moore gave me the idea of making notes on the receipts so I know what they are for. She also helped me realize that you can deduct half of a meal if you have it for business reasons such as traveling for an event or discussing book related issues with a colleague. I'm sure there are lots of rules I don't know; look into it, but keep track so you can minus those expenses from your royalties. I have only just started doing this and am kicking myself or the thousands of dollars I could have saved by simply keeping track. Grrrr.

4) Bank account. Regardless of how to handle the entity or no entity question, it's a very good idea to have a separate account for your writing income and expenses. It will make it much easier to track and prove if needed. This was my accountants very first question when I sat down with him. When I told him I did have a separate account he smiled and said, "You're off to the right start then."

5) Sales Tax. If you sell books you need to pay sales tax. It sounds overwhelming, doesn't it? But it's the law and it's not as hard as it seems. You don't have to have an entity to get a sales tax number, just go to your local tax office or google your state and 'sales tax number' for online instructions. It's a relatively simple process to get the number and then you'll pay your tax every quarter (usually, check the rules of your state). You'll need to keep track of the books you sell, of course, but once you start it's not that hard to do.

I'm sure I missed several things, so if you're aware of something please leave it in the comment section. The business side is not my favorite part of this career, but with a little education and organization it provides priceless peace of mind.

Monday, July 25, 2016

A Few Things I've Learned

A popular post from November 2009

by Annette Lyon

1) While writing is a solitary act, you can't be successful alone.
I must have friends who write, who "get" the writing side of who I am, who can cheer me on, who can sympathize with rejections, and more.

2) I need solid feedback.
That means the good as well as the bad. That also means developing a thick skin, something that took years. But I've reached the point where sometimes I panic if I can't get a certain people's critiques because I just know I might be missing something big they could point out to help me improve.

3) Enjoy the journey.
I must. Because the journey is filled with ups as well as downs. There are fantastic highs and glorious vistas. But hideous lows and gaping valleys separate them, and when you're breathing hot dust and feeling blistering sunburns, it's hard to remember that you might be nearing the top of a beautiful peak again very soon . . . and that you've already had several.

4) Look back at how far you've come.
I used to think I hadn't learned much or advanced very far in my skills. Then I attended a conference where I kept hearing questions from attendees that I thought were so elementary and obvious I couldn't figure out why anyone was asking them. Then it dawned on me: I hadn't known the answers to those same questions five years previous. Maybe I had learned something. And the same thing happened when I suddenly started winning awards and getting a few articles published. And then I could look at another person's work and be able to not only know what worked or didn't but why. Give yourself credit for where you've been and how far you've come.

5) Don't discredit what you do.
If writing is important to you, it's important. It's matters. No, you might not ever win a Nobel for literature. So what? If you are pursuing whatever goals you've set for yourself (whether that's journaling for an audience of one, doing freelance articles, publishing novels, or something else), work toward that. And don't let anyone tell you it's silly.

6) Writer's block is real, but there's always a way around it.
The block is really mental warfare with your inner creative child. It's fear. It's anxiety. It's a bunch of things. Learn what works for you. Usually you can trick yourself out of being afraid or psyche yourself into working around the block using various tools. Sometimes that tool is time.

7) Talent is born within you, but skill is developed.
You cannot teach someone to have raw talent. That is something that you're either born with or you're not. But that talent must be honed into a skill. Someone with a small amount of talent can still develop a great amount of skill if they have enough drive. But there are a handful of people who have zero in-born talent. Those people will never develop the skill. They can't "get" it no matter how hard someone tries to teach them and no matter how big their drive is to learn.

8) Time isn't found; it's made.
Everyone has 24 hours in their day. It also appears that everyone has a book in them, and if they "just had the time," they'd write it. Well, time doesn't drop into my lap. I make time. Those wannabe writers will never get their book written. While they're watching TV (or filling their day with whatever else), I'm writing.

9) Ideas are everywhere.
If you worry that you'll run out of places to find ideas, you aren't really a writer. Watch. Look listen. Ideas are everywhere.

10) I love what I do.
I'm a mom and a writer. There's nothing else I'd rather be.

More on Emotions

A popular post from May 2010

By Julie Wright

As I promised Curtis last week, I am going to cite a few examples of emotionally potent writing. As Curtis suggested, all opinions are subjective, but some opinions are more universally agreed upon than others.

My first example of good emotional writing is from Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. The scene where Katniss is awaiting the results of the reaping is a perfect example for emotions and for showing not telling. Katniss has done everything in her power to keep her sister Prim out of the games. Prim has only one entry, whereas Katniss has a whole bunch. So she experiences a visceral shock when she hears Prim's name called out. The chapter ends with Katniss hearing Prim's name. And the next chapter begins with Katniss's reaction. But it doesn't say anything abstract like shocked, stunned or surprised. It goes into a little backstory of the time Katniss fell ten feet out of a tree and her physical reaction to that fall, where her body went into a state of shock. She described how her body felt, from the muscles to her legs, to her stomach, to her mind. She used many of the five senses to describe that fall.

THEN she likened all that feeling to the feeling she now had with Prim's name and watching her sister step up, confused and frightened to take her place in the games that would surely kill her.

While reading that scene, the reader FEELS the same shock that Katniss feels. We are part of that story in every way. We are watching our little sisters (even those of us who don't have little sisters) walk to their deaths. We want to scream, we want to cry, we want to do exactly as Katniss did and yell out, "Take me instead!"

That is emotionally powerful writing. That is showing not telling. That is making the reader participate in the story, rather than merely observe the story.

Last week, a commenter made the observation that writers (especially new writers) assume that writing from the heart and infusing emotion means to say she was sad, he was angry and other abstract things like that. The commenter is absolutely right. Abstract emotion doesn't make the reader feel anything. There are ways to show emotion without resorting to telling, or worse, getting drippy with sentimentality.

It's hard to put everything there is to know about writing emotions in a blog but real fast a major thing to avoid is:

She sat on pins and needles waiting for the mail to come.

This is an attempt at showing she's nervous or anxious, but it fails. It's a cliche that is as abstract as saying she was nervous. Avoid cliches. Avoid the phrases like she loved him more than life itself or anything that even hints at dripping in sentimentality. That makes readers roll eyes and does not encourage them to keep reading to the next page.

Another example of good emotional writing is from Janette Rallison's How to Take the Ex Out of Ex Boyfriend. She opens the book talking about the social rankings in Cinderella's world and how even though Cinderella was with the prince, it doesn't mean that the courtiers and other ladies are glad to have her there. She isn't like them. She's a commoner and doesn't deserve to be with them. Then it gets brought back to the main character and how her dating this amazing guy and having him accept her doesn't mean his friends and their girlfriends will accept her.

The reason why this is good emotional writing is because everyone at some point or another feels like they don't fit in. The audience can relate to the situation of being out of their element and they immediately sympathize with the main character. You want your readers to feel the main character's emotion. In order to do that you need to:

*Create an experience that is relatable to the human condition.
*Maintain a character's motivation so the reader understands WHY the character makes the choices they make.
*Use the five senses.
*Be concrete; avoid the abstract.
*Include internal thoughts. I personally think this is important in helping readers understand and get inside the main character's head. Consider a time when you were having a conversation. Yes your dialogue reveals a lot of what you're feeling, but it can't reveal all. Because sometimes we don't say what we mean. And sometimes we feel things that we aren't willing to say out loud. How am I supposed to know if your character is furious at her boss, when her entire conversation shows me otherwise?

There is a lot more, but alas, I need to get back to my own writing. I wish you all great success with yours.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Becoming Emotionally Involved

A popular post from April 2010

By Julie Wright

Some people tell me they don’t read fiction because they get nothing out of it, but if they aren’t getting anything out of it, they aren’t reading the right books. I read for the emotional experience and there is lots of emotion to be found in fiction—at least . . . there is lots of emotion to be found in good fiction.

The emotion readers get from a book (and this absolutely goes for non-fiction as well) is what stays with them, and is the most important byproduct of your writing. It is what will keep them looking for your books. If your readers don't feel much of anything, that lack of emotion will make them forget you. They definitely won’t be looking for your next book, and they definitely won’t be recommending your book to anyone else. Ultimately readers have to care.

My good friend and mentor Jeff Savage, teaches that you should always come to the scene late and leave the scene early. So basically he’s saying you should come to the scene when there is some action going on. Action doesn’t necessarily mean a fight scene or a battle, action means your characters are doing something. Your opening scene needs to introduce characters and make us care about them. you do not want your readers thinking, "And why do I care about this?"

It's a good idea for writers to pay attention to the emotion they want the readers to feel. what do you want the reader to feel in the beginning? What do you want them to feel for each specific scene? what do you want them to feel when they shut your book at the very end?

My best advice to authors looking to infuse emotion into their writing is to write from the heart. Write what you are passionate about. If you aren’t passionate about your story, you end up with a manuscript that lacks emotion, or is dissatisfying because of unfulfilled emotion, or the wrong emotion. Write from the heart.

If you are madly in love with your hero, your reader will be too. If you really hate your antagonist, your reader will too. If you have a hard time shutting out the lights to go to bed after a night of writing because you know those monsters in your pages are looking for a way out, your reader will too.

Because the question you must ask yourself, as a writer, is: Why do I care? And if you find you don’t, your reader doesn’t either.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

My Current Method of Outlining

A popular post from May 2010

By  Josi S. Kilpack

I am a sloppy writer. I write, cut, paste, cut some more, go off on tangents, cut again, add characters, take out characters, add characters back in and then change my mind. At any given time my current WIP is an absolute mess. Unlike a lot of writers, I also edit as I go. If I know a plot element has changed it it like a rock in my shoe to keep writing without fixing it. I know many writers say that you can't edit and write at the same time. Not so for me, I can't write without editing and even though my WIP is a mess, and I know it's a mess, if there are specific elements screaming at me I go back and fix them, adjust the story from that point forward and eventually get back to writing new stuff. Now, I'm not recommending you do something like that--it's really quite neurotic--but the point is that it works for me. And I hope this post will be taken in that spirit--this is what is working for me right now in regard to outlining. Maybe it will work for you, or maybe parts of it will work. I will admit that I borrow this heavily from Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake method. If you're unfamiliar with the method of organizing, I suggest you read up on it in detail. It's very easy to follow and by far the best method I have ever used.

For my outline I start a new document with the title of my book abbreviated and the word snowflake. So, my current outline is BC snowflake.doc Which is then kept in my Blackberry Crumble folder in Word along with BC cuts.doc,  Blackberry Crumble book.doc, BC notes.doc etc. Once I'm staring at this blank page I do the following:

Step 1)  Summarize your book into one sentence (get ideas at the NY Times bestsellers list)  **This is a great way to remind yourself about the book. Instead of it being about "A seventeen year old girl who discovers a secret passageway to an unknown world full of dark creatures determined to take over satellite TV, hypnotize the world and cause them to kill one another after they steal all natural resources from the earth." You say "A teenage girl must protect earth's natural resources and in the process save the world."  That's probably not the best way to say it, but you get the idea. One sentence.

Step 2)  Expand your single sentence to a paragraph that explains story set up, main conflicts, and end. This will sound similar to a back cover but will probably give more details than a typical backcover would since it's purpose is not to market the book.

Step 3) Write out your character's stories (and I borrow these 100% from Randy Ingermanson). I'm a big believer in the fact that characterization makes up most of your plot--how people react and what they will do to protect those things or people most important to them is what drives a story forward. Therefore, knowing THEIR stories will help the plot fall into place. I have the following details I fill out for each of my important characters:

  • The character's name
  • A one-sentence summary of the character's storyline
  • The character's motivation (what does he/she want abstractly?)
  • The character's goal (what does he/she want concretely?)
  • The character's conflict (what prevents him/her from reaching this goal?)
  • The character's epiphany (what will he/she learn, how will he/she change?
  • A one-paragraph summary of the character's storyline

This is as far as I've gotten in the Snowflake Method because by the time I have written out my characters stories, I pretty much know what the overall story is. I might come back to this and adjust it later, or I might never look at it again because the story is rolling and I don't need this anymore. For me, this has become a good generator for ideas and plot. There's a chance that half way through the book I might scrap everything I've determined and take a whole new direction, but that's a good thing and I can still thank this process for having gotten me going in the first place.

I also find this type of exercise very helpful when I'm stuck on my story. I can spend my writing time developing my characters and their stories in hopes of getting an idea for my overall plot.

Happy Writing!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Why 50 Pages?

A popular post from May 2010

by Annette Lyon

"I want PEG to edit my entire novel."

When we hear that, of course we're excited. We love what we do, and we love helping writers. But instead of telling the client to send the whole puppy over, we usually request the first 50 pages, or sometimes only 30.

Clients' natural reaction is, "Um, why?"

After all, they're planning on using our services for the entire manuscript; why not send the whole thing at once?

For that matter, some people have even wondered if we're nuts based on a pure business perspective: Why in the world wouldn't we willingly take on 350 pages to edit (and charge for) and instead settle for 50?

So here's the scoop . . . and why it's in everyone's best interest that we generally function this way.

Case in point:
(This really happened recently, but it's also happened more times than I can count.)

PEG often gives free 10-page edits so the client can get an idea of whether we're a good fit. I did one such 10-page edit for a client, who then wanted their entire book edited.

GREAT! Right?

The client was instructed to send the next 50 pages. The client was confused. "I said I wanted you to edit the entire book."

The client pushed the issue, but Heather, our fantastic manager, held her ground and had me work on the next 50 pages.

I can honestly say those pages had some great potential. The writer had talent. But yes, it did need a pretty solid edit. There were several sections that needed smoothing out, clarifying, more showing details, and the like, but overall I thought it had some serious promise.

On the other hand, if I'd worked on the whole thing up front, all I would have done is repeat the same commentary and suggestions over and over again.

Almost like, "See the notes on pages 12, 29, 42, and 83. You're doing it again." That kind of redundant advice gets meaningless and wastes everyone's time.

Instead, we aim for the writer to learn how to write better by getting mini lessons through an edit of the first part of their work. Then they can learn how to fix many of the problems throughout the rest.

In the case above, I returned the 50 pages. The client soon e-mailed me back saying that a light bulb had basically gone off. They'd learned so much from the edit on those first pages that now they knew how to write better.

"I'm going to revise the rest before sending it back to you for editing."


That's exactly why we work this way.

If a writer can be taught how to make their work better simply by getting a detailed, 50-page edit, then they should have that opportunity. We'd hate to have them paying six times the amount to learn the lessons they could have figured out by page 38 of an edit.

After all, the very same beginner mistakes will almost certainly be made throughout the rest of the book. Why pay an editor to fix the same things over and over and over when you now have the ability to do it yourself?

Not only that, but when you're dealing with content edits, if the plot or other major elements have serious issues, there's really no point in editing too far: so much of the book will need to be rewritten that any edits on page 234 won't be relevant anymore.

It's not at all unusual for a writer to get their 50 pages done, go back to revisions, then send the full, revised version. Always, it's a step (or two or three) up from where it would have been had they sent the whole thing in first.

Here's another editing secret:
A single edit can take a book up one level, but it can't take coal and turn it into a diamond. The better a piece is before it reaches an editor's hands, the higher level it'll end up on the other side of the edit.

When an author in this situation rewrites and then sends in the rest of the book for editing, they've brought it to a higher level on their own. That then helps the editor to take the polished version and push it one step above that.

It's amazing to me how well writers learn from getting those initial 50 pages back. It's as if their writer toolbox is suddenly filled up with shiny, new tools. They're able to both see the flaws in their work more easily and know what to do about them.

In the end, not only does the writer get a much bigger bang for their buck this way, but their skill level for future writing goes up right along with the quality of the one piece they had edited.

Everyone wins.

Friday, July 1, 2016

No, Really Officer, It's for Research!

A popular post from May 2010

By Julie Wright

I watched a program on Google searches and what they indicate about the people doing the searches. One woman interviewed said, "People confess their darkest secrets to Google as they run searches for sexually transmitted diseases or porn, or ways to kill their neighbor's cat. They confess thoughts, addictions, and medical conditions that they wouldn't tell a random stranger, yet they are willing to confess it to a computer."

It got me thinking . . . what would my Google searches say about me?

Especially when I've searched for not just one sexually transmitted disease, but have Googled pretty much all of them, or when in my recent searches, I've Googled the words, "What does a meth overdose look like?"

This current book I'm writing has a respectable body count. People are dying in all sorts of diverse ways, but I swear I am not on drugs, an axe murderer, or a sociopath. My Google searches would lead people to believe otherwise.

At a writer's conference I spoke at a few weeks ago, I sat in on one of my friend's classes. She was talking about world building, and how even if you are setting your story in the world that we live in, you still need to world build. You still need to know if the spotted fawn is indigenous to upstate New York if you're planning on using them in your book in that location. She made the point that writing fiction doesn't mean you get to make EVERYTHING up. You do have to know certain things. You do have to do your research and get it right because someone in the world *will* know if the spotted fawn is indigenous to New York, and they will publicly denounce you if you get it wrong. The devil is in the details and as authors it means we must try to get every devilish detail right, even if it means my Google searches make me look like a psychopath.

If the police start thumping on my door, will they believe me when I tell them the search for how quickly various poisons kill a grown man was really just research?

You believe me, don't you?