Wednesday, July 31, 2013

7 Tips for Polishing Your Story

I finally finished reading Dwight V. Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer for the first time! I highly recommend this book, which was recommended to me by several people as a must-read for writers, with the caveat that the original copyright date is 1965. Since I am in the revising and editing stages of a manuscript, I thought I would summarize Swain’s tips for polishing a story (pp. 294-297).

1) clarity: make sure every sentence, phrase, pronoun clearly communicates to the reader. Make sure you don’t assume the reader knows everything you know.

2) clutter: avoid echo words, adverbs, lengthy descriptions, etc.

3) consistency: don’t contradict yourself. This is where a program like Scrivener or some type of organization system can help the writer avoid changing a character’s physical characteristics inadvertently, or having a dead person suddenly reappear. One of my favorite best-selling authors changes an antagonist’s eye color from gray to green in the middle of the book. Not a huge deal, but that eye color turns out to be important to a sub-plot!

4) sequence: Swain is a stickler for action happening in order. State what happens first, don’t change the sequential order of stimulus and reaction.

5) flow:  If the reader notices your bad writing technique, whether it is a lack of sentence variety or an incorrect choice of a homonym, you risk losing them.

6) impact: or timing. Rephrase and reword, experiment until you find the best way to make your statements come across.

7) idiosyncrasy: know yours, search for them, and get rid of bad habits. This can be anything from poor grammar choices to echo words. The “find” function in Word can help you hone in on your particular foibles.

These seven tips are by no means exhaustive, but provide a helpful list once you have that first draft written and your major revisions out of the way. What else would you add to Swain’s list?


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Waibel's World: How Authors Write- Ace Hansen with My Review

Reblog: Do you need to laugh today? Read this post and check out Julius Caesar and the Green Gas Mystery. Can't wait to read it. Waibel's World: How Authors Write- Ace Hansen

Updated to include my review:

Two days later I have finished Julius Ceasar Brown and the Green Gas Mystery. I could have read this in one sitting, it’s that good, but work and kids tend to interfere with my reading time. ;-) This book does not disappoint! Many times I found myself laughing at eleven-year-old Julius’s exploits as he tries to win the affections of the cute girl in his class, avoid the school bully and the Zombie Lady down the street, and solve the mystery of the world wide outbreak of smelly green farts to win a million dollar prize.

There are some serious elements in addition to the issue of bullying intertwined with the humor that are really well presented. Julius’s parents are divorced and the impact that has on him is very true to life as are the interactions Julius has with a stroke victim.

Maybe my funny bone is extra ticklish this week because I don’t normally like humor that involves mentioning bodily functions most people would rather pretend not to have, but I found this book to be both clever and hilarious. Julius is one of those wry, witty characters, constantly thwarted, bound to triumph in the end but maybe not in the way he envisions.

Boys should love this fast-paced story. The intended audience is 8-12, and based on initial opinions in my female-only household, I think it appeals more to the younger end of that range. If you need a good dose of juvenile humor, pick this one! 5 out of 5 stars!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Elements of Compelling Stories

A long time ago when I first started writing, I started with the kernel of an idea and began writing from chapter one to the end. Since my goal was purely to create a story for one particular reader, I wasn’t worried about following any rules, or impressing anyone beyond the ten-year-old who would eventually read it. Flash forward six years when I decided to polish the manuscript off for entry in a contest.  Suddenly I wanted not only to know what was wrong with my story, but how to fix it! I continue to troll the internet for online writing tips and have invested in a few books, most recently Dwight V. Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer.

Any book on fiction writing is going to have plenty of tips for the novice, but since I am in the middle of Swain’s book, I am going to touch on his 5 key story elements (pp. 131-135).

·         Character: someone (MC) the reader identifies with

·         Situation: the circumstance or problem the MC faces

·         Objective: what the MC wants

·         Opponent: who or what stands in the way

·         Disaster: some dreadful predicament toward the end

Swain then uses these elements to ensure you have a story going before you begin the work of writing by creating what we would call a two sentence elevator pitch based on these elements. This distillation of your story in a concise format forms a basic framework to build on while ensuring you have a conflict that will maintain reader’s interest.

Prior to reading Swain’s book, I had formed vague plot ideas containing most of these elements before writing my novels, and then written elevator pitches when the drafts were complete. Now I can see how turning that process around will help sharpen my plots before I write a single scene. (Duh!) Starting from this point can also help develop an outline of your plot from the early stages. I have grown to appreciate the advantages of being a plotter rather than a pantser. More work up front means less work in the end!
By no means do I consider myself past the novice stage of writing, so I am always interested to hear what sources or tips have helped other writers hone their craft. What books or websites have provided you with the most helpful writing advice?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Editing with Enthusiasm and Empowerment

Do you ever feel like sparks are flying from your fingertips? That’s my day yesterday. I worked twelve hours Saturday night, then on the drive home got lost in thoughts of my latest book, Queen of the Night. I just started the first edits and revisions a few days ago, and I am psyched! Thanks to Margie Lawson, I am tightening up my story and it almost feels like magic masked as hard, incredibly fun work. If you haven’t checked out her website, DO IT! You’ll thank me (really)! I am taking what I think was a pretty good work, and jumping up several levels in my writing by using her Deep Editing process to empower it.  I bought a very reasonably priced online lecture from her website a month or two ago, finished that class, and am about halfway through a second class. I still consider myself a neophyte in the world of writing, but this is the kind of experience that moves me up a rung or two in my definition of the ladder of successful writing. Best of all, I am enjoying *writing* this book as much as I’ve enjoyed any book I ever read! If you want to read a very rough draft query for Queen of the Night, click here and scroll down.

Loving the story is vital, I think, as an author. There aren’t any guarantees that a work will ever sell, no matter how good it is, but if *I* can’t get immersed in it, I can’t expect readers will. Whether it sells or not, I love writing this book and am learning a lot so I am counting it a success.

Do you have any enthusiastic stories to tell about your writing process/WIP?