Finally Finished That Novel by Dellani Oakes

So, you’ve finished that 460 novel. You sit proudly and pat the cover page tenderly, smoothing the white surface when much to your horror, you see a mistake! Cold sweat breaks out on your brow, fingers tremble, mouth suddenly goes dry. As your eye wanders down the page, more and more errors jump out at you! Fear grips your heart as you stumble from the desk, desperate for a calming cool drink. It’s a nightmare, but you can’t wake up. It’s real. Your brainchild, the fruit of your creative efforts, is flawed and it’s up to you to fix it.

This is a scenario each of us faces. Sometimes it’s as minor as a misplaced comma or a dangling modifier. Other times an entire scene, or even half the novel is so bad it has to be scraped and retooled. I started an historical novel about ten years ago, set it aside since it wasn’t going anywhere, picked it up a few years later and realized the reason it hadn’t gone anywhere was that it was garbage! No other word for it. After careful review, I threw away all but ten handwritten pages. Of those ten pages, perhaps parts of seven survive in the retooled version.

Several things were problematic that I didn’t realize until much later. First, and most important, the point of view and style were all wrong. Set in St. Augustine in the Florida territory in the late 1700s, it was told in first person by a young Spanish woman. I had chosen to do it like a diary (not really sure why) and it was far too limiting to my story.

Second, after doing some more research, I found that the time period would have to be moved from the 1780s to 1739 or I could not incorporate certain facets of the novel. It would have been grossly inaccurate.

Third, and most difficult, the man I had intended to be the bad guy simply wasn’t working. No matter what I did, even in the retooled version, he wouldn’t be villainous. The heroine refused to fall in love with anyone else. Even the good guy couldn’t be relied upon to behave. He became the villain, the villain became the hero, the heroine didn’t succumb to another man’s charms, and they all lived happily ever after. (Except for the villain, because he, of course, was dead.)

It got terribly out of hand. After lots of time and effort reading and re-reading, honing, changing, and fine tuning, it is a really solid piece of literature that I am proud to put my name on. A few years ago, when I started re-writing it, I wouldn’t have given ten cents for it. It was the catalyst that started me writing in earnest and made me realize I had stories inside me to tell. None of the rest are historical in nature because with that novel I learned something else important. You can’t do too much research if you want to be historically accurate. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’d rather spend my time bleeding profusely from multiple wounds that tracking down that evasive, all important fact.

Sci-fi is far easier for me to write. Once I have a believable setting, the rest is easy. Don’t ignore the laws of science, throw in some really good fight scenes, add a few interesting aliens and voila! Creating my own world is far easier than working within the confines of someone elses, but that old adage “write what you know,” is nonsense. What I know is boring! Who wants to know about raising kids, doing endless errands, making phone calls and taking out the garbage? No one.

Writing is the ultimate escapism. For that short span of time, things work out; the hero and heroine fall in love and live happily ever after. The bad guy gets his just desserts, the good guy wins, and there is always a happy ending. It’s far more interesting than washing the dirty dishes, cooking dinner or sorting laundry.

But I digress. Despite the thrill of putting words on paper, the hard part is making sure that everything is right. We can live with the small stuff like ending a sentence with a preposition. Frankly, it sounds odd if it’s correct. However, misplaced modifiers, sentence fragments and subject – verb agreement are very important. Even if a writer can’t name the errors, wrong is wrong.

One solution is to read and re-read your own work, honing and perfecting it. It’s easy to miss simple errors that way. Sometimes running off a hard copy helps, but it’s still difficult to catch it all. Better yet, get people who are gifted in grammar to help you. They might not be able to name the error, but they can spot one and can offer suggestions on how to correct it. If you can afford it, have an editor review it. Few of us can, so it’s up to us to read and re-read our own work until it is smooth and as error free as it can possibly be.

For goodness sake, don’t rely on the grammar check in Word! It’s garbage and will cause for more problems than it solves. I don’t care if it’s the primary word processing program used world wide, the grammar check is terrible. Spell check, on the other hand, is a godsend, but won’t help you if you simply type in the wrong word. I once finished typing out a test for my 11th grade class only to find that I had one very important little word wrong and the spell check hadn’t caught it. Instead of saying, “What is the theme of this story?” I had, “Shat is the theme of this story?” (For those of you who don’t know, that’s the past tense of the verb ‘to shit’. — 11th graders knew that!)

There is no easy way to get through the editing process. It is tedious and time consuming, but if it makes the difference between selling a book and having it gather dust, it’s well worth it.

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Self Editing for Fiction Writers, Chapter 7, Interior Monologue by B.Y. Rogers

One of the greatest gifts of literature is that it allows for the expression of unexpressed thoughts: interior monologue…allowing your readers to see what your character is thinking is a powerful, intimate way to establish that character’s personality.

Constant interruptions are just as annoying on the page as they are in life, and this writer (from an example in the book, which you need to purchase anyway) has interrupted her dialogue with interior monologue over and over again.

So how do you know you’ve gone too far with interior monologue? (See answer on page 118)

It is also possible to have too little interior monologue.

(A one page example of dialogue, between a husband and wife, without any interior dialogue, then:) But her (the character in the example) exhaustion and intimidation need to be present in the scene as well as in the context. She doesn’t stop feeling these things while she is on the phone with him. Because she’s too intimidated to confront him, the writer can’t show her feelings in dialogue. It would be difficult to work Nia’s specific feelings into emotionally weighted descriptions without breaking up the rhythm of the dialogue.

So what’s the right amount of interior monologue? (See answer on page 122)

(Throughout the book, there are several cartoons to emphasis a point. In this chapter, there is one that I found especially humorous. In the single panel, we see two women, sitting at a table, in a very sparse room. The caption reads exactly as follows: “So far all her dreams have not come true but she wants high romance and a baby while her husband want to be, and is, a very successful broker, who takes graduate courses at night and wants no baby and at the same time she has more or less recovered from being in love with the well-digger who dug her well, which is good since he is married with three children and is a drug addict and an alcoholic and he claims he’s dying, although there are no signs of this and she says once she finds an outlet for her unrequited love she will lose eighty-five pounds. I enjoyed that sentence.” (Get it?)

(Oh, here is a great one:) It’s rarely a good idea to have your characters mumble to themselves or speak under their breath.

How to handle your interior monologue depends almost entirely on your narrative distance. (I am still trying to wrap my mind around ‘narrative distance’. I will work on it more the second time I go through this book.)

Thinker attributions. Whenever you’re writing from a single point of view-as you will be ninety percent of the time-you can simply jettison thinker attributions.

Another technique for setting off interior monologue sharply is to write in the first person (often with italics) when you narrative is in third…Effective as this technique can be in letting readers into your character’s head, be careful not to use it too often=

Interior dialogue can easily become a gimmick, and if overused it can make your characters seem as if they have multiple-personality disorder.

Generations of hacks have used italics to punch up otherwise weak dialogue…frequent italics have come to signal weak writing. (In other words, don’t use italics.)

How do you set off your interior dialogue when you’re writing with narrative intimacy? (See answer on page 128)

(I failed to mention that this book is the 2nd Edition. I needed to clarify this so you understand the final paragraph.)

We have noticed since the first edition of this book came out that a lot of writers have taken our advice about showing and telling too much to heart. The result has sometimes been sterile writing, consisting mostly of bare-bones descriptions and skeletal dialogue. Yet fiction allow for marvelous richness and depth, and nowhere more so than through interior monologue. You have to be careful not to go overboard, but interior monologue gives you opportunity to invite your readers into your characters minds, sometimes with stunning effect.

Self Editing for Fiction Writers, Chapter 6, How It Sounds by B.Y. Rogers

Guilty! Guilty as charged. Don’t look now but those are my hands in the guillotine (Please Ma, blindfold me first!). And they deserve their grim fate for the sins they have committed. After reading the next chapter in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, I am in abject despair. I have so much to correct in my writing. Time to get on it.

Chapter 6 – See How It Sounds

The problem with dialogue is, more often than not, with the dialogue itself rather than with the mechanics.

There are some mechanical techniques you can use when self editing that will cure one of the most common reason for flat dialogue: formality. (Buy the book to find out!)

The simplest  way to make your dialogue less formal is to use more contractions. (This one crucified me to the wall. When I wrote The Sin of Certainty. I was not even thinking about this. I just wrote. Then, one of my proofreaders (thanks Bob) pointed out to me that I NEVER used a contraction. Not in the dialogue, not in the narrative. I hadn’t even thought of it, it never crossed my mind that I was writing so formally. It wasn’t intentional but it was there. There is another technique mentioned but again, you have to get the book.)

Check to make sure you aren’t trying to shoehorn information into the dialogue that doesn’t belong there. (I like this. Dialogue is a great way to sneak in hints about a character’s past or a setup for a future event, but only if that information is useful to the scene.)

You don’t want your characters to speak more fully formed thoughts than they normally would, just so you can get in some information to your readers.

Weed out fancy polysyllabic words.(Guilty, at least at one time. A friend of mine once told me to dumb down my narrative, that I was using too many words that most readers will not be familiar with. My retort was that most people have already dumbed down their vocabulary and they should read the dictionary and not be so lazy. He was right, but I still think people are lazy and like water, they take path of least resistance when it comes to vocabulary. (Yes, I know ‘dumbed’ is not a word.))

Have your characters misunderstand one another once in a while. (This one gave me pause. I think I unwittingly attempted this with Rose and Mayor Brower in The Sin of Certainty. When I revisit that book, after I am finished blogging on this self editing theme, I am going to work on that relationship because Rose’s misunderstanding of Mayor Brower’s past is a key element and I think I can improve it. Okay, I know I can improve it.)

Good dialogue isn’t an exact transcription of the way people talk but is more an artifice, a literary device that mimics real speech.

Bring your ear into play. (Buy the book. There is several pages about this concept and worth the cost of the book.)

(Okay, this next point is very challenging, to me at least, and I am as guilty as anyone. Because of this single point, I have much to do with my previous writing. I do not think that I have that much dialogue to correct but I know it is there. I took the lazy way out and didn’t even know I was being lazy.)

(The section begins with a passage from Huckleberry Finn.) Beginning novelists, even today are often tempted to write dialect-whether it be southern black or Bronx Italian or Locust Valley lockjaw-using a lot of trick spellings and lexical gimmicks. It is the easy way out. (I discussed this with my wife. This is the very reason she stopped reading Huckleberry Finn. It was way too difficult to understand the dialogue.)

When you use an unusual spelling, you are bound to draw the reader’s attention away from the dialogue and onto the means of getting it across.  (I think there is room, albeit extremely limited, for unusual spelling, but when it is as thick as Mark Twain’s depiction of southern black speech, when it makes the reader stop and decipher what is being said, then it is too much.)

So how do you get a character’s geographical or education or social background across? (For the answer, see page 110)

It takes courage to write like this, but it is worth the risk.

Explanations, -ly adverbs, oddball verbs of speech, trick spellings-these can’t really help your dialogue. They take the place of good dialogue rather than help create it.  Accept no substitutes.

Self Editing for Fiction Writers, Chapter 5, Dialogue Mechanics by B.Y. Rogers

I am positively giddy about this post. The next chapter in Self Editing for Fiction Writers is precisely what Matt Stover preached to me over two years ago and since then, I have had more than a few conversations about these principles, most result with negative results.  But I have held my ground on and will continue to do so. What follows is so important so if you want to learn to write, again, I beg you, get this book.

Again, my comments will be in parenthesis (and there will probably be many of them).

Chapter 5  Dialogue Mechanics

What is the first thing acquisition editors look for when they begin reading fiction submission? (Not going to tell you!)

Because it is such hard work, generations of writers have developed mechanical tricks to save them the trouble of writing dialogue that effectively conveys character and emotion…Not surprisingly, these are tricks to avoid if you want to you want your dialogue to read like the work of a professional instead of an amateur or a hack.  (My graphic artist suggested I take a look at writing.com, which I mentioned in my previous post. I looked at two short stories that were submitted for comments on that site. One was so terrible when it came to dialogue that I could not finish reading it. It was too painful. I suggested to both authors to get this book. They need it desperately!)

Imagine you are at a play. It’s the middle of the first act. You are really involved in the drama. Suddenly the playwright runs out on the stage and yells, “Do you see what is happening here? Do you see how her coldness is behind his infidelity?” (Great metaphor)

If your dialogue isn’t written well, if it needs the explanation to convey the emotion-then the explanation really won’t help. (AMEN!)

It’s showing and telling applied to dialogue.

Perhaps it’s a lack of confidence on the writer’s part, perhaps it’s simple laziness, or perhaps it’s a misguided attempt to break up the monotony of using the unadorned said all the time, but all too many fiction writers tend to pepper their dialogue with -ly’s. Which is a good reason to cut virtually one you write. Ly adverbs almost always catch the writer in the act of attributions that belong in the dialogue itself.

(Rennie Browne and Dave King make a reference to “Tom Swifties” , which made me laugh. What got me seriously interested in reading when I was in the 6th grade was the Tom Swift series, by Victor Appleton II. Ah, the memories!)

Don’t make speaker attributions as a way to slip in explanations to your dialogue (“he growled,” “she snapped”)

To use verbs like these last three for speaker attributions is to brand yourself as an amateur.

Verbs other than said tend to draw attention away from the dialogue.

Said, on the other hand, isn’t even read the way other verbs are read. It is, and should be, an almost purely mechanical device, more like a punctuation mark than a verb.  (BINGO! Think about this. When you read dialogue, do you really pay attention to the word said? We don’t, at least I do not, unless the author adds an attribution, which then makes me pause. Should not the speaker’s words in the dialogue tell me if the character is angry, sad, happy, clueless? If the writer builds the character correctly and develops the scene correctly, I will already know if the speaker is angry or not.)

(Here is something I did not know.) Decide how you are going to refer to a character and stick with it for at least the length of the scene. Don’t use “Hubert said,” on one page, “Mr. Winchester said,” on the next and “the old man said,” on the third. If you do, your reader will have to stop reading long enough to figure out that the old man is Hubert Winchester.

(Purchase the book and learn what “beats” are.)

If it’s clear from the dialogue who is speaking-you can dispense with speaker attributions altogether. (Again, build your characters correctly!)

(Learn the difference between dashes and ellipses.)

The truth is, only editors and reviewers really notice these things. (You may not think these principles are important but they will make the difference not only with getting your tome published but how many sales you make.)

“Mr (Robert) Ludlum has other peculiarities. For example, he hates the “he said” locution and avoids it as much as possible. Characters in The Bourne Ultimatum seldom say anything. Instead, they cry, interject, interrupt, muse, state, counter, conclude, mumble, whisper, (Mr. Ludlum is great on whispers), intone, roar, exclaim, fume, explode, mutter. There is one especially unforgettable tautology: “‘I repeat,’ repeated Alex.” The book may sell in the billions, but it is still junk. -Newgate Callendar, The New York Times Book Review

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Chapter 4, Proportion by B.Y. Rogers

(If you are wondering what ‘proportion’ has to do with writing, think of it this way. How much do I give to my readers in any scene? Do I give them too much or too little? Then ask yourself this: too much or too little of what? Information related to the plot? Did I take 5 pages to write something that should have been written in 3?  At least that is how I am defining proportion. Your mileage may vary.)

Proportion problems…arise from the same lack of confidence  that leads beginning writers to describe emotions they have already shown.

When you fill in all the details and leave nothing to your reader’s imagination, you’re patronizing them. (AMEN!)

Sometimes proportion problems arise when a writer is writing about his or her pet interests or hobbies. (This is why I mention taking too long to say what needs to be said. Taking 5 pages to show what you want to convey, instead of 3 pages, will bore your readers. There is a great example of this on page 68 of the book, oh, wait… sorry, you haven’t purchased your own copy yet have you?  Tsk, tsk.)

You didn’t read the whole paragraph did you?  (this is from the book. No I didn’t. I was bored by word 11. Again, get the book!)

Proportion problems can arise inadvertently, sometimes through cutting.

So how do you avoid proportion problems? In most cases it’s quite simple: PAY ATTENTION.

A warning: paying attention to your story does not mean ruthlessly cutting everything that doesn’t immediately advance your plot.

Is it really needed? Does it add? Should it be shorter/longer?

Bear in mind that most readers may not find such topics as interesting as you do.

Once you have trained yourself to see how changes in proportion affect your story, you can begin to use proportion to shape your readers’ response to your plot. (Read this post and pay attention to what you want from your readers)

The safest approach is to make sure the material you’re writing about helps advance either your plot or your narrator’s character.

Good Writing Is In The Eye Of The Beholder by Prudence Hayes

I will not deny that I don’t handle criticism well, especially in my writing.  Outwardly, I say ‘okay’, but inward there are flames galore and my heart is twisted in knots.  I have a few reviews on Amazon for my book and most are great. There is one, though, that has been chasing me ever since it was posted.  It’s like someone holding a chalkboard in their hands and following me throughout the day dragging their long nails across it.  I try and push it far back in my mind, but it has the strength to pop up and show its appearance at the most inopportune times.  Typically, it’s when I’m writing, which I then, throw my pen across the room and a downward spiral is kick started, during which I tell myself that I suck. Then, I have to talk myself off a ledge and push that bad review to the way back again.  I know; I’m a mess.

During my crisis negotiations with myself, I constantly say that good writing is in the eye of the beholder.  Just because this one person doesn’t like my writing doesn’t mean that it is horrible, it just means he doesn’t like my style.  There have been plenty of books that have been between my hands and I have had to place them right back on the shelf because I couldn’t get through them. We all have different ways in writing. If I wrote like you, I wouldn’t be me and my books would be yours not mine. 

There will be a day when a professional editor will read my books and they will probably have a field day.   I will try and take the constructive criticism in stride, even though I will be fuming inside.  I will take all the editing help that is thrown my way, commas and punctuation are a pain in my a**, but what I refuse to do is eliminate myself from my writing.  I don’t want to disappear in words that aren’t really mine and I don’t want those words to come out the way that they weren’t intended to by me. 

To some, it may be overly wordy and extensively adjective-infused writing and to others it is poetic and beautiful.

To some, it may be stark and bland and to others it is concise and to the point.  It all depends on the beholder of the book.  To each his own, I say to that bad reviewer.

Self Editing for Fiction Writers, Chapter 3, Point of View by B.Y. Rogers

I called Dave King a ‘Bitch’ in an email this last week. I do hope he knows I was jesting. I had emailed him (as well as Renni Browne) that I was blogging on their book. I wanted to do so out of courtesy and both Dave and a Ross Browne were kind enough to thank me. I do believe in good manners. (Then why did I call Dave a ‘Bitch?” Because he knows what he is doing. I wish I did. Think of man talk in Gran Torino.)

Finished the second draft of “The Thrashing of Charley Little”, my next short story, last night. Todd got my cover to me this week as well. Again, I am very impressed with Todd’s graphic talent. Now it is time to put on the editing hat and give my story a life of its own. In a way, it already as its own life, as it is a back story to The Sin of Certainty.

In the meantime, here is the next chapter of “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers”. IF you haven’t by now (what is wrong with you?), and you are or want to be a writer, you really should get this book. I AM SERIOUS ABOUT THIS!

Chapter 3  Point of View

The first person point of view has a number of advantages, the main one being that it gives your readers a great deal of intimacy with your viewpoint character.

What you gain in intimacy with the first person, you lose in perspective.

On the other end of the spectrum from the first person is the omniscient point of view. Instead of being written from inside the head of one of your characters, a scene in the omniscient point of view is not written from inside anyone’s head.

Note that with the omniscient voice what you gain in perspective you lose in intimacy.

If the first person invites intimacy and the omniscient narrator allows for perspective, the third person strikes balance between the two. (There is quite a bit of additional information on this topic in the book.)

Another factor that controls your narrative distance is how much you allow your viewpoint character’s emotion to color your description. (I am still trying to get my Pooh sized brain wrapped around ‘narrative distance’.)

So how much narrative distance is right for you? Broadly speaking the more intimate the point of view, the better.

The emotions have to go someplace and the language of your descriptions is a good place for them.

You want to engage your readers, not drive them to distraction.

Readers need time to settle into a given emotional state, so when you move quickly from one passion-charged head to another, you’re likely leave them behind. They’ll know what our various characters are feeling, but the won’t have time to feel like any of the characters.

When you make the point of view clear at the beginning of a scene, you get your readers involved right away and let them get used to inhabiting your viewpoint character’s head.

Linespaces prepare readers for a shift (in time, place or point of view), so the change in point of view won’t catch them by surprise. (I recently attempted to read a book where this skill was totally missing. It was a struggle to follow the story. The story seemed disconnected and halted almost on every page. I gave up and did not finish it.)

Point of view is a powerful tool. Master it.

(Amen)

Self Editing for Fiction Writers, Chapter 2, Characterization and Exposition by B.Y. Rogers

(Come on, get your own copy, will ya?)

Characterization and Exposition.

Before I start, a few comments. Of all the lessons I have been given along my writing path, the one about exposition was the most profitable. It makes so much sense to me. The trouble is, it is now getting me into trouble. My thinking is evolving to the point that I detest conversational exposition. My mind keeps seeing Jack Webb sternly stating “Just the facts, Ma’am”. (IF and when my wife reads this, I will be sleeping downstairs for awhile.)

Anyway, I cannot preach exposition enough. So pay attention. You will know when you have it right when you can quit your day job. I still do not have it right. Otherwise I would not be up at midnight writing.

My thoughts are in parenthesis.

(The chapter starts out with a few, very dull paragraphs about Eloise.) After reading the these paragraphs, you know something about-possibly something very important-about Eloise. But do you care? (I didn’t.)

In fact, the show and tell principles underlies many of the self-editing points we will talk about from now on. But there’s a second problem here: the writer introduces Eliose to h is readers all at once and in depth-stopping the story cold for an overview of her character. (Next time you are reading a book and you come up short, as if you have been jerked out of the story and back to your reality, stop and ask yourself why. Then take a look at what you have just read. Very telling.)

It is often a good idea to introduce a new character with enough physical description for your readers to picture him or her.As with describing your settings, all you need are a few concrete idiomatic details to jump start your readers imagination. (I tried to do this in my novel, only giving what is needed but nothing more. I want the character to become the readers character, not mine. Too much detail about physical appearance and the character is mine, not the readers.)

If your characters actually act in the way your summaries say they will, then the summaries are not needed. If they do not, then your summaries are misleading.

When you (completely) sum up your characters, you risk defining them to the point that they’re boxed in by the characterization with no room to grow.

Allow your readers to get to know your characters gradually, each read will interpret them in his or her own way, thus getting a deeper sens of who your characters are.

Delving into your characters past can be a good way for you to understand the character in the present. But though it may have been helpful for you to write a character’s history, it may not be necessary for your readers to read it. (I like this. In fact, I did not write out a history for any of my characters in The Sin of Certainty. After reading this point, I like it even more. My characters are still alive to me, growing and in a few cases, dying.)

Since you bring your present story to a halt whenever you start a flashback, it doesn’t take too many flashbacks to make your story jerky or hard to follow. (This is taught in Writing to Sell also. Good advice. I used one and only flashback in my novel. I could not find a way around it and the information was pivotal. In fact, without it, the reader will never learn the answer to the mystery. Let the reader learn about the character from the present, not the past.)

If you want to learn who someone is, watch what they say and do. If you want your readers to get a feel who your character really are, show them through dialogue and action. (This is true in life, in a movie, and in a book. And remember, action speaks louder than words.)

The information your readers need in order to follow and appreciate your plot…should be brought out as unobtrusively as possible.

Give your readers only as much background information or history, or characterization as they need at any give time. (I really like this.)

When your characters start talking solely for the sake of informing your readers, the exposition gets in the way of believable characterization. So be on the lookout for places where your dialogue is actually exposition in disguise.

Readers can best learn about your locations and background not through lengthy exposition but by seeing them in real life.

Self Editing for Fiction Writers, Introduction and Chapter 1, Show and Tell by B.Y. Rogers

Some time ago, I wrote aboutWriting to Sell” by Scott Meredith and how this book made a difference in how I write. I still think it is a great book. Last week I found another book while reading a blog by David Gaughran. David recommended a book titled “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. As I took a look at the book I figured I might as well see what it had to offer so I purchased it. It arrived Saturday. I read the first chapter today. I wish I would have had this book five years ago. I wish I would have had BOTH of these books five years ago. (For additional insights, check out Dave King’s website here.) As I read today, I decided I would blog about each chapter as I go through the book. I am going to list only the highlights, with a little comment as I go along. My comments will be in parenthesis. I am doing this primarily for my benefit, as this entire blog is primarily for my personal benefit. It’s not like I have 100M followers who are impatiently waiting to discover what I am thinking about tonight. But by blogging on this book, I hope to drill the principles a little deeper into my cranium. So, for the few of you who may accidentally stumble on to this post, here you go. Tonight I will be covering the introduction and the first chapter: Show and Tell. My apologies to Renni Browne and Dave King, who wrote “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. I will be paraphrasing at times, which means I may get something wrong. I hope I got the points you meant for me to get. If not, well you can always leave a comment and point me in the right direction. Or tell me to cease and desist. But I pray you do not.

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Introduction.Writing and editing are two different skills, and even strong writers can make poor editors. A word of warning: because writing and editing are two different skills, they require two different mind-sets. Don’t try to do both at once. The time to edit is not when you’re writing your first draft. But once the first draft is finished…use the principles in this book.Chapter 1  Show and Tell(Most of this chapter Matt Stover taught me in our brief email exchange two years ago. In the past, I have found that when I have tried to explain this concept to others, some just do not seem to understand. Perhaps that is my fault for not communicating properly. This chapter gives some wonderful examples and sage advice.) (after giving two examples of narrative, which I will leave for you to find out for yourself) It’s a matter of showing and telling…The first version is a secondhand report. The second is an immediate scene. What, exactly, makes a scene? For one thing it takes place in real time. Nowadays, literature is leaner and meaner and it’s often a good idea to give your readers just enough detail to jump start their imagination so they can picture the setting for themselves. (I try to do this with my characters as well. I am not too concerned what a person looks like as much as what they do or say. I want my reader to see Uncle Willy when they read about Charley. This brings the reader into the story, making it personal.) Scenes are usually harder to write than narrative. Many writers rely to heavily on narrative summaries to tell their stories. Readers today have become accustomed to seeing a story as a series of immediate scenes. Narrative summary no longer engages readers the way it once did. You want to draw your readers into the world you’ve created, make them feel a part of it, make them forget where they are. And you can’t do this effectively if you tell your readers about your world secondhand. You have to take them there. The first chapter is not the best place for narrative summary. (I learned this from Stephen King’s “The Stand”. From the first word on you are engaged in the story.) One of the easiest ways to look like an amateur is to use mechanics that direct attention to themselves and away from the story. You want your readers to be so wrapped up in your world that they’re not even aware that you, the writer, exist. To write exposition at length–describing your characters’ past or events that happened before the story began or any information your readers might need to understand your plot–is to engage your readers intellect. What you want to do is to engage their emotions. Narrative summary has its uses, the main one being to vary the rhythm and texture of your writing. Some plot developments are simply not important enough to justify scenes. (What I am doing is saving those scenes and publishing them as short stories, for free. If I end up with enough of them, I will publish them as a collection of back stories. I am willing to kill the little darlings but not bury them.) Telling your readers about your characters’ emotions is not the best way to get your readers involved. Far better to show why your characters feel they way they do….you do not want to give your readers information. You want to give them experiences. Resist the Urge to Explain. R.U.E. (Or you will rue the day you did.) More often than not, writers tell their readers things they already shown by dialogue and action. It is as if they’re repeating themselves to make sure their readers get the point. (When Matt Stover introduced me to “Writing to Sell”, this was my sin. He took me to task for this and rightfully so. My tome at the time was just over 121,000 words. Today it is just over 71,000. I have 42% excessive exposition. At least, that is how I look at it.) When you show rather than tell it, you treat your readers with respect. And that respect makes it easier to for you to draw them into the world you created. (Matt told me to trust my readers. I think this is crucial.)