Author Archives: J. Leigh

About J. Leigh

Author, photographer, awesome ninja. I only kill people in stories.

Help us help a friend!

All right, folks. We need your help.

Some of you may already know that David Farland has been a huge inspiration and wonderful teacher for both S.K. and me.  Well, last month, his son Ben was in a terrible accident which will likely run his family into over a million dollars in medical bills (they don’t have insurance). Because of the brain trauma and all the related injuries, he has been fighting for his life and there were times when the doctors weren’t sure if he would live.  He seems to have turned the corner and is doing better every day.  But the ordeal has been so hard for his family, and it’s far from over.

So, we would like to announce that, for the month of May,

all the money we make on the sales of our books will go to Ben’s cause.

DaLR is free, but that means that basically you can download the whole Lost Road Chronicles trilogy for under $10.  This fundraiser also applies to the paperbacks.

On S.K.’s side of things, Silesia: The Outworlder is free for Kindle right now, so you can get both available volumes of the Silesia Trilogy for just $2!!  (That’s a steal, folks!) As with the Lost Road Chronicles, this fundraiser also applies to the paperback versions.

We really want to make this a huge success for our friend and mentor and his family…and we can’t do that without you, our awesome readers. So if you would, please take just a second to tweet this post and share it on FB, Pinterest, and all your social media sites!  Better yet, gift the books to someone you think might enjoy them.  And even better, do all three!  🙂

Please help us help a friend!  Dave is just an incredible teacher and writer, and we really want to give back somehow for all that he’s done for us.

Learn more about Ben Wolverton’s case here:
http://www.helpwolverton.com/

Find the Lost Road Chronicles on Amazon here. And find the Silesia Trilogy on Amazon here.

Thanks, y’all!!!

Peace and love,

J. Leigh and S.K.

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Writerly Recipes — Lemon Ginger Tea

Well, it’s that time of year around here…for some reason the nasty bronchitis/cold/ick goes around in early spring down here, and I swear half the people I know are struggling through it right now.  Being sick is, generally speaking, a rather unpleasant sort of thing, and I try to avoid it as much as possible.  I’ve warded off this spring’s epidemic with my favorite tea.  Anything that can keep me writing and fighting is good in my book!  And this tea has the benefit of being insanely delicious.

So.  Here you are…Lemon Ginger Tea.  Are you ready for this?  It’s really, really complicated.

You need:

  • 1/2 Lemon
  • Ginger (fresh is best, but I’ve used powdered and even crystallized ginger before)
  • Honey (get local honey if you can!)
  • 1 cup Hot Water

Got that?  Now here are the uber-difficult instructions.  Squeeze the lemon into the hot water.  Grate in about a teaspoon of fresh ginger, or toss in a few shakes of powdered ginger, or add a chunk or two of crystallized ginger (or heck, add crystallized ginger AND fresh ginger!).  Add honey to taste.  I like about 2 teaspoons.  Stir.  Enjoy.

That’s all there is to it!  It’s incredibly powerful as an immune booster, because lemons have much more Vitamin C than oranges (and orange juice in cartons loses its Vitamin C due to denaturing in about a day after opening), and ginger is a huge help for respiratory and circulatory health.  And of course honey is just a super food all on its own.

Now grab that cup of tea and go cozy up with a good book to write or read!


J. Leigh’s Website Overhaul

I’m in the process of renovating my author website…Wordpress is making things so much easier for me!  *happy dance*  I didn’t really have time to keep the old site maintained, because I’m a terrible coder and it takes me hours to figure out how to do anything.  It should probably annoy me that I spent almost an entire day trying to figure out how to create a Lightbox gallery for my artwork on my old site, and now I can just create a page and click “Add Gallery” and voila!  Easy-peasy.  But it doesn’t annoy me.  Not much, anyway.

Anyway, pop on over and see how you like it!  I tried to keep the feel of the old website while streamlining it a bit.  And excuse the mess…it’s still coming along.


Vivid vs. Violet Verbiage — The Vivid

Now that we’ve cleared up the meaning of purple prose, I can talk a little bit about what makes great prose so beautifully vivid.

Please note that, for all I’m warning you to avoid the overly-ostentatious verbiage, I’m not recommending reducing your vocabulary to the grade-school level.  No, your writing should always bring some challenge to the reader — it should expand their horizons, imaginative, philosophical, and intellectual.

Now, what makes prose beautiful?  Quite simply, it is using good words well.  Besides all the things we’ve talked about elsewhere (rhythm, cadence, sound), it is fundamentally about using the right words at the right time.  For instance, both “foggy” and “murky” can describe an obscured environment, but they convey this sense in two totally different ways.  Foggy has a more pleasant connotation, whereas murky suggests latent evil and mystery.

Likewise, “gloomy” and “murky” both have dark connotations, but in different ways.  Gloomy has a feeling of something sad, repressed, weighted down, rather passively bringing people in that environment into the same sort of state.  Murky almost feels more actively evil…something that tries to entangle hapless travelers in confusion and danger.  (It is not for no reason that Tolkien called the dark, sinister version of the Greenwood “Mirkwood.”)

All right.  So, we know that we need to use the right word for the job, and to construct our sentences carefully, descriptively, and rhythmically.  But what else?  Is there anything else?

I’ve read some great fiction where the writers used clear, expressive prose.  Sentences flowed with no jarring rhythmical errors, scenes came to life with bright and lush description…. And that was fine.  I love those books.  They are beautiful, well-written, and have their own flair of poetry and lyrical merit.

Lately I’ve discovered something else, though — a new way to bring life to prose.  I first noticed it in Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races.  Some people may think she went overboard on her metaphorical prowess, but simply the fact of what she did made me completely reevaluate how I thought about “poetic” prose.

For instance, in The Raven Boys, she talks about how Ronan “dissolved what was left of his heart in electronic loops.”  This simple sentence is sheer. utter. genius.  Just look at how much she conveys, how vividly she conveys it, in so few words.  The dissolving suggests just how loud the music is playing.  Instead of telling us exactly that Ronan is listening to techno or electronica, she suggests it through “electronic loops.”  And the best part of all is that she says “what was left of his heart” instead of “his heart” which in just a few words clues the reader into a hugely important aspect of this kid’s character.

So what exactly did Stiefvater do?  She used fairly typical language — but in remarkably unexpected ways.  I remember in The Scorpio Races she talked about bicycles “bucking off” their riders, or how someone’s breath is “dark, the underside of the sea.”  For one thing, we don’t usually think of someone’s breath being “dark”…but what a vivid picture that paints!  And describing it as the “underside of the sea” links the character to the wild, mysterious, and deadly sea.  She employs a metaphor without ever using “like” or “as”, but in a way, the comparison is even stronger.

I have to credit Stiefvater for opening my eyes to a whole new way of understanding vivid language.  It invokes a fresh and almost…skewed…way of looking at reality, in the sense that you’re still examining reality, but not straight-on as most people do.  You look for connections that you never knew existed.  When you make a comparison or a metaphor, you avoid the old cliched tropes, the old standbys, the familiar similarities.  You look for the unexpected, the startling, the “why didn’t I ever think of that” connections — and I don’t mean you’re trying to shock or appall your reader.  You’re trying to delight by making them see the world in a new way.

For instance, say you wanted to describe your character running away as fast as possible.  You could say, “Anna bolted, fast as a rabbit.”  Yawn.  Everyone knows rabbits are fast.  Everyone knows that when you want to describe something as fast, you use a rabbit.  Booooring.  Well, what if you said, “Anna bolted, quick as fear.”  Huhhh???  Suddenly that invokes whole new vistas of meaning.  Not only is there the suggestion that Anna is running because she’s terrified, but it also makes you think about what fear is like, maybe in a way you’ve never thought of before.  In other words — you think about the thing being described as well as the thing used to make the description.

Sometimes even inverting a description can be a fun way to convey an idea.  For instance, going back to the fear idea, we all know how “fear runs like ice through her veins.”  But what if you read, “a chill inched through her veins like fear.”  Nice.  Or, similarly, “shame rushed like blood to my cheeks.”  We all know that blood does rush to your cheeks when you’re ashamed or embarrassed, but really, you don’t feel the blood so much as the shame.  It’s a quirky way of making you think twice about how you understand both shame and blushing.

Another way of spicing up the prose is to use a metaphor which itself contrasts two things that are either vastly different in character, or vastly different in degree.  For instance, in Prism I describe a conflict between two characters as being “like watching a fight between lions or gods.”  On the one hand, I suggest the rather raw, animal anger driving them — something not human, but in a sub-human way (though the lion image is intentionally used to convey something awesome and majestic, as well as terrifying).  But on the other hand, they are compared to gods, suggesting something so high above ordinary human experience that it’s almost incomprehensible — something also not human, but in that lofty, super-human sort of way.  In both cases, you get a sense of the utter foreignness of their conflict, but in two opposite ways.  They are both these things, and yet at the same time we know that they’re just two men.

Using language like this can really add another dimension to your prose.  It’s not necessary to do it all the time (and some readers might not like it), but when you do, using language in new and unexpected ways can really delight and tantalize your reader.

Notice that, even while the descriptions are unexpected, they don’t pull you out of the fictional world the way purple prose does.  I’d almost argue that it weaves you into the world of imagination tighter than ever.  The experience of reading a book like that — for me — is so…wildly alive that I don’t want to leave.  Especially if the descriptions really do a good job of matching the narrating character’s voice.  That’s hugely important — but the topic for another post.

Finally, notice that in these few examples I’ve given, no huge long multisyllabic words were used that required the venerable Oxford English Dictionary to decipher.  You can create beautiful, vivid, unbelievably poetic prose with ordinary (though not necessarily simple) words.  In a sense the most important skill it requires is not a vast vocabulary, but an ability to see the world in an excitingly fresh way.  Give it a shot.  I bet you’ll find that it makes you a better writer — even if you don’t use these metaphoric techniques often — simply because it broadens your vision and view of reality.


Vivid vs. Violet Verbiage — The Violet

As S.K. noted in her last blog post…it’s been a crazy end to the old year and an even crazier start to the new year for us around here.  Apologies for being MIA…

At any rate, today I want to talk about something I’ve said I want to talk about many times in the past — the habit of writing vivid prose.  Now, to approach this topic properly, we first need to distinguish vivid prose from amethystine cabochons of literary splendor.  Yes.  We want to know what makes prose purple, and what makes it perfect.

So, in this post, I will give a brief overview of purpleness in prose.  Next time I’ll talk about real ways to bring your prose to life.

Purple prose, in case you aren’t quite clear on the meaning, is the habit of emblazoning the folia of your illustrious manuscript with ostentatious expressions of literary genius.  I.e., it means overwriting everything.  It means looking up every adjective, every verb, every noun in the thesaurus and pinpointing the one that sounds the most snobbishly pretentious and erudite, on the assumption that it will make your prose more “sophisticated.”  It doesn’t.  It makes it sound ridiculous.

Besides, you run the risk of using a word that has entirely the wrong meaning for what you’re trying to convey — but because it’s listed as a synonym for the word you should have used, you assumed it has the same connotation.  It may not.  And someone who actually knows the meaning of the word is just going to laugh at you for being a rube.  Sorry, but it’s the cold hard truth.

Imagine that I wanted to describe a character as chubby.  So I look up “chubby” in the thesaurus and go through and…hmm, brawny is a great word!  Yes, it’s listed as a synonym with chubby under the word, “fleshy.”  So, without doing a double-check on my chosen word, I plop it into my sentence: “The brawny little woman with small round eyes…”  Um.  No.  That would not be the image I’m trying to convey.

Besides the risk of sounding like an idiot, purple prose can actually defeat the purpose of good writing.  I read a story once where the author used that word I used earlier — cabochon — to describe tears.  Okay, is cabochon a good word in a sense to describe a teardrop?  Maybe, in this way: a cabochon is a gemstone that has been polished into a smooth shape, rather than being faceted.  Okay, a teardrop isn’t exactly faceted, so, yeah.  Technically, you could describe a teardrop as a cabochon.  Now, does that make it good fiction writing?

No.

Why not?  Well, when you’re writing about a deep emotion, like grief or mourning, over-describing can actually work against you.  It puts up barriers between the reader and the character.  It makes the reader pay attention to the prose, rather than what the prose is saying.  So, instead of feeling the character’s grief, the reader sits back and wonders, “What the heck is a cabochon?”  NOT the effect you want.

Purple prose is notorious for distancing the reader from the story.  Using a great vocabulary is one thing.  Using inappropriately grandiose vocabulary is something else entirely.

One final note.  A writer might think purple prose makes them sound smart, but readers are actually quite adept at detecting pseudo-intellectual fluff.  They can smell purple prose a mile away.  If they get even the slightest whiff of a sense that you’re using words you don’t really understand just to make your prose sound loftier, you will not see the end of their ridicule.

Writers ye be warned.


Editing Focus 4: Syllabic Editing

Okay.  So.  Long overdue editing blog post: check.

This is the last Editing Focus blog post we’ll have for our Fall Blog Fest…so…hope you enjoy it!  It’s my personal favorite, as far as annoying things like editing are concerned.  😉

Syllabic editing isn’t something you’ll hear talked about a whole lot.  I first heard about it from the amazing writer/teacher/mentor Dave Farland, who has really taught me so much about the business and the…well, business…of writing.

So what is syllabic editing?  It sounds mystical and amazing, so what exactly does it involve?

Quite simply, it’s listening.  I’m not trying to be flippant.  Writing is an oral and an aural art.  Most of us, when we read, do at least some amount of subvocalization.  We listen to stories as we read them, even if we’re not reading them out loud.  But more than that, we notice things like rhythm and cadence and musicality — it’s just our nature.  Our brains are designed for that.  Just think about how most storytelling has been done throughout human history.  It was an oral art before it ever got written down.  Language is meant to be spoken.  And it’s meant to be beautiful.

When we look at syllabic editing, we’re actually focused on a couple of things.  One is flow, and one is conciseness and focus — on the level of the sentence, not on the level of the story.  I’ll look at the conciseness issue first.

Here we’re actually looking at the sentence and saying, “Am I conveying this idea as clearly as I can in as few words as I can?”  Now, this doesn’t mean we have to strip our style down to postmodern minimalism or anything, unless that is — God help you — your true style.  I’m also not saying you should excise every single adverb or adjective.  But it does mean you can get rid of useless words that tend to clutter up the stream, like little dams that choke up and bog down the story as you try to drift through it.

For instance, if you have two characters in conversation, you don’t need to say: “Bob smiled at Anna.”  You can just say, “Bob smiled,” unless it’s absolutely crucial to the story that the reader knows he’s smiling at Anna — for instance, if Bob has a phobia of smiling at people but for some reason smiles at Anna just now.  You see.  Cutting out those two words is a syllabic cut.  You’re trimming down the number of syllables so that what is conveyed is what is most important.

I think a lot of this kind of editing comes from accommodating editors/publishers who insist on a certain word count for submissions.  So, if Publisher Bob only accepts manuscripts up to 100K words and your masterpiece is 110K words, well, you need to find 10K useless words to scratch.  But even if you’re self-publishing, you should go through your manuscript with the same brutality….err…..care.  Set yourself a word limit and then find all the places where you can cut.

Limits are a lot like deadlines.  They can be incredibly powerful motivators.  And the best thing is, the tighter your manuscript is, the better it is.  Always.  Trust me.  You might make a macro cut — like excising a whole scene — that you later regret, but I’ve never come across a situation where I regretted cutting out “at Anna.”

Now, the other part of syllabic editing — and the part I think is the most interesting — is what gives that first part a positive quality, so that you’re “adding by subtracting,” as they say, and not just subtracting.  In other words, you want your prose not only to get from Point A to Point B in the most concise way possible (for your particular style/tone), but also to get there as effortlessly as possible.  And I mean effortless on the part of the reader.  A well-made movie doesn’t draw attention to itself on a mechanical level, but lets you simply live the story.  Likewise, a good novel should sweep the reader along without giving them any reason to stop and say, “Wait, why did he write that sentence like that?”

So, look.  The goal of syllabic editing is not to go from, “Bob wandered in meandering lines through the cool autumn mist with a slow, steady stride, drinking in the intoxicating scent of coming snow in the wind” to “Bob walked home through the mist.  It smelled like snow.”  Fewer syllables, yes.  Better writing?  No.  Now, “Bob wandering through the cool autumn mist, etc.” is not really good writing either.  It’s actually kind of awful.  But to correct it, you want to listen to the way the sounds fall on your inner ear, and go from there.  Test out your potential revisions.  Taste them.  Roll the syllables around on your tongue, and find the one that packs the biggest punch.

My Bob sentence above has a major problem.  It stutters and gasps and falls on its face.  My mental tongue trips over the syllables.  The words don’t sound right to me.  Reading them makes me wince and take out my mental red pen.  So how would I fix it?  Well, for one thing, watching out for prepositional phrases is usually a good place to start.  If you’ve got a sentence that strings together more than two prepositional phrases in a row, or maybe three at the most, you should look at restructuring the sentence.  “Should” pretty much meaning “must” in this scenario.

So.

Bob wandered in meandering lines…

Okay.  I don’t need to put the “meandering lines” bit in there.  It’s superfluous.  I already know he’s wandering, which suggests he’s not walking with a definite purpose.  So, SLASH. Continue reading


Editing Focus 3: Line Editing

Sorry this is late in appearing, everyone…that’s what this annoying little thing called…”LIFE”… will do to a person.  O.o

So, I’ve been working on beta reading S.K.’s awesome new book, The Lords of Askalon (can’t WAIT for all of you to be able to read it!).  Beta reading for me is mostly line-editing.  However, since I generally only have time to do a once-over, I usually try to work in syllabic editing and at least some consistency editing (did you really mean “north” here???:).  But most of what I’m doing is looking at the mechanics of the writing, and making sure that the prose is as tight and vibrant as possible.  I promised to share with you my tips and techniques, so that line-editing can be a little less of a headache for you.  Here you go.

First thing’s first: whenever you’re going to do a significant edit on your book, SAVE A COPY OF YOUR MANUSCRIPT.  You don’t want to experience the horror of slashing all of Chapter 9 and saving over your only file, only to realize…”Oh no!  I really wanted to recycle that one passage into another chapter.”  Save it as “MyAwesomestNovel_EDIT” or something.  Then when you’ve got it edited to perfection, save it (again) as “MyAwesomestNovel_FINAL” or whatever.  I’m obsessive about that.  Any time I make significant changes to my story, I save a revision document.

Scanning Edits

Okay, this isn’t really a step one, but it’s kind of a….macro-y sort of line-edit, so I’ll talk about it first.  One of the first things I’ll try to do when I start editing is It’s basically a sort of page-scan.  This means that I’m not actually reading so much as doing a sort of visual pattern search.

For instance, I’ll scan over all the dialogue on the page.  If I see too many modifiers, too many dialogue tags, I’ll start slashing them.  This is one of my personal banes — using too many adverbs (he said thinly/ flatly/ harshly/ sharply/ gently/ whatever-ly), or too many descriptive verbs (he snapped/ laughed/ demanded/ lamented).

My general rule — if I were to have a rule — would be to see no more than one or two of either of these things on a page, or per chunk of dialogue.  I prefer when action frames some of the lines of dialogue (He shrugged. “Who cares?”), rather than dialogue tags.  Then you can use context to identify the next speaker…except where you need to introduce a newcomer to the reader.  So:

Bob and Milo sat quietly for a while, constrained in uncomfortably close quarters.  Milo sighed and fidgeted.
“Where are we going?”
“I have no idea.  No. Idea.”
George glanced at them in the rearview of his Mini.  “Chill out, guys, we’re just going to grab some donuts!”

Now, that does the trick, right?  Right before the dialogue starts, we’re talking about Milo, so we can safely assume that he’s the first one to speak.  Then, Bob has to answer, because he’s the only other character we know.  But I can use an action frame to introduce George — and also to start solving the mystery of why Bob and Milo are feeling so uncomfortably constrained squashed.

So if I’m scanning the page and see several lines of dialogue that elaborate too much, I’ll start cutting.  I’m exceptionally brutal about this, because, as I said, it was the bane of my writerly existence for years.

ALSO.  Don’t be afraid of the word “said.”  It’s perfectly fine.  It doesn’t always need to modified, either.  I’d say…35% the time you don’t need anything modifying the dialogue.  25% of the time, just say said!  25% of the time you can use an action frame.  15% of the time you can use a colorful “speaking” verb, like “demand, snap, whisper” etc.  Anyway, different people have different preferences…just watch out for going overboard in any direction.  ALL of these are problematic:

“I went to the store today,” George said.
“That’s nice,” Bob said.
“I went to the store yesterday,” Milo said.

AND:

George frowned and slammed his hand on the door.  “I went to the store today!”
“That’s nice.”  Bob’s face lit with a malicious grin.
Milo squirmed, nervous.  “I went to the store yesterday.”

AND:

“I went to the store today,” George whined.
“That’s nice,” Bob sneered.
“I went to the store yesterday,” Milo announced.

But this is sort of better (if we can salvage this idiotic dialogue…):

George speared a glare at Bob. “I went to the store today.”
“That’s nice.”
“I went to the store yesterday,” Milo said.

You get the idea.

Also in the scanning edits, I watch for snippets or phrases that might tend to get repeated overly-repeated snippets or phrases.  This includes phrases like: shrugged, frowned, shook (his) head, sighed, grimaced, groaned, etc.

Generally I don’t want to see more than one character doing any of these things more than once in any particular scene…or at least make sure that you give some solid distance between instances.  If everyone’s constantly shaking their heads and nodding, I’m going to assume they are Bobbleheads.  And yes.  This is one that I have to be extra-careful about, because I do it a lot.  It’s especially hard if you write in fits and starts.  If you don’t make sure to reread your previous few pages before starting again, you risk repeating phrases that you didn’t remember using.

Also watch for consecutive sentences starting the same way.  If you’re scanning a paragraph and see: “He…   .  He…  .  He…”, then you have a problem.  Even worse would be: “He was… .  He was… . He was…”  AGH!  Death.  Try to avoid starting multiple sentences with the same word/grammatical structure.  It gets quite annoying.

So basically, this step is just my eye scanning over the pages, looking for things that are visually….disturbing.   You’d be surprised what you can catch this way, which you might not when you’re actually reading.

Continue reading


Preparing to Publish: Editing

As S.K. said in her last blog post, we’re celebrating the month of September with an in-depth look at the publication process.  Now, I’m going to assume that you have a finished manuscript.  Your story is complete.  Your characters are well-rounded and you’ve inflicted on them all necessary challenges and sufferings for growth and all that good stuff.  Your plot makes sense, has a good arc, interesting climax and satisfying denouement.  Now all you have to do is polish it up and get it ready for the press.

So that’s where we’re starting.  In this series, we’re not going to tell you how to write a novel or how to develop complex characters.  Maybe another time.  We’re just going to make sure the book you publish is the best it can be.  In this article, I’ll give an overview of the different stages of editing many writers like to follow, then in subsequent articles we’ll go more in depth about each stage and give practical h0w-to advice.

So, what are the main stages or types of editing?  I honestly don’t like calling them “stages” of editing, as if you have to follow them in order and do them only once.  Usually when I edit, I’ve got an eye on at least two of them.  Maybe we should call each of them an “editing focus.”  And they kind of range from macro to micro, so that’s the order I’ll present them.

Focus 1

This may or may not be a kind of “editing,” strictly speaking.  You know how I just said you’ve got a nice finished manuscript with good characters and plot arc and all that?  Well, the first thing you want to do is take a good long look at that manuscript.  You might even want to put it away for a week or longer before undertaking this step.  But the idea is, you look at all the elements of your story and say, “Is this the absolute best it can be?”  Is that character as interesting as possible?  Is that plot twist too predictable?  Is this character a cliche?  Is there enough detail in the world-building to make the setting come to life?  Is there too much, making the prose dull and boring?  Is that chapter 10 where Egbert finds the stray kitten really necessary to advance the plot, however attached I might be to the scene?

Focus 2

This is what is commonly called or thought of as “consistency editing,” and it’s pretty much the most macro-y of the macro edits, technically speaking.  In this focus, you will be rereading your manuscript from start to finish.  Basically, what you’re doing is watching for errors in consistency in your story telling.  This can be something as big as the story arc or as small as details like eye color.  You have no idea how easy these are to miss, and how annoying they are to readers.

Focus 3

The next focus is what you’ll hear editors refer to as “line editing.”  I’m kind of torn about whether this Focus should be next, or Focus 4.  Focus 4 is more of a stylistic edit, so I like to put it last because it doesn’t make sense to do stylistic edits on prose you’re about to slash from the manuscript.  However, line edits can catch mistakes introduced by Focus 4, so….maybe the best way to think about it is that you will probably end up doing two stages of line editing — one here, and one at the very end.  More on that later, though.

For now, all you need to know is that line editing is where you take a magnifying glass to your manuscript, line by line, and look for anything that can structurally weaken your story.  You’re looking for language misuse, grammar errors, punctuation errors, spelling errors, and even things like mixed metaphors or overused phrases.  I’ve got some tips to make line-editing less of a headache…those will come in a future post.

Focus 4

This focus is something I’ve heard called “syllabic editing.”  Here you’re going to be paying attention to the flow and sound of your story — how it strikes the reader’s mental ear.  Often times with syllabic editing you will be looking at tightening up your prose, cutting unnecessary words (hence, syllables).  But I like to think it has a poetic purpose too, not just smash and slash.  Sometimes you’ll end up adding words.  Sometimes you’ll cut and rewrite whole paragraphs…or even entire scenes…if they just don’t flow the right way, or convey the right tone.  A lot of times you will be looking at better ways to say something, if the original phrasing is too  bland or passive.

At this point, after running through all of these steps and doing a final line edit, you will be ready to prepare the actual manuscript file for the press.  We’ll be covering that whole process in future posts, too, so never fear.  In the next post, we’ll take a closer look at Focus 1.


How to make a YA book cover in 4 easy steps!

Okay guys, this is totally a spoof entry.  But after seeing about 10 YA PNR books in a row that looked like near-identical copies of each other, I decided to tell you how you, too, can create a bestselling YA book cover!

Step 1

Find a great background.   This should preferably be something gothic or haunting.  I chose this photo of my own that I snapped up in Maine a few winters ago.

Nice Background

Step 2

Find a nice photo of a girl wearing a prom dress.  The more risqué, flowy and colorful this is, the better.  And be careful about the model you choose — she has to look steamy, pouty, angsty, tragic, or terrified.  OR, as an alternative, you can choose a back-view photo of said girl.  Oh, more requirements.  She must be Caucasian, stick-skinny but well-endowed, with long hair that is preferably blowing in the wind.

Here is my girl, courtesy of eidress.com, situated nicely against my background.  Don’t worry about silly things like lighting or perspective.  That’s not all that important.

The requisite prom dress photo

Step 3

Now at this point, you can add a title and call it quits, OR, even better, you can add in a photo of a shirtless hunky young man, looking as angsty and pouty as the girl.  While the girl must be in a prom dress, the guy must look as tattered and scruffy as possible.  He should be posed behind the girl.

I found my young man at Shutterstock, hence the watermark I left visible to show where I got it.

Shirtless Hunk – check!

Step 4

Now all you have to do is select a title.  This should be a single word, and it should be edgy, angsty, unexpected, or obsolete.  Opening a thesaurus at random and selecting the most pompous word you can find on the page is a good trick.  Or choose from a list of women’s perfume names.  The title should be written in as dramatically flowy a font as possible, or something hard, cracked, edgy and unexpected.

I think Flux is a pretty fantastic word, so that’s my title.

Voila!

And there you have it!  😉

Hope you enjoyed this very tongue-in-cheek post.  (N.B. — NO.  No. No. No.  I am NOT writing a YA PNR titled Flux.  Just no.  Hence why I did not put my own name on this…..thing.;)


Understanding Character Voice

So, I had intended to write a follow-up post to the last one on scene-setting by S.K., but instead I’ve decided to write about Character Voice.  It’s something that’s been on my mind lately, and I think it’s one of those essential vocabulary terms for all writers to understand.

If you sit in a room with a bunch of writers, chances are one of them will eventually start tossing around words like voice, tone and mood. For beginning writers, all these concepts can seem a little fuzzy, not to mention a little scary.  What exactly do they mean?  How do you know if you’re doing it right?  Don’t panic.  It’s not nearly as intimidating as it sounds.

Though writers often talk about voice, tone and mood in the same conversation, don’t mistake these concepts for synonyms.  Tone and mood have more to do with the storytelling itself, whereas voice is a matter of characterization.  We might talk about a book’s mood being dark, gothic, atmospheric, or it’s tone being bubbly, sarcastic, or ironic. To put it briefly, mood describe the overall feel of the story, while tone is how the author approaches the story.  But I’ll come back to the question of mood and tone in a future post.

Character voice, on the other hand, has to do with the personality of the character, shining through how they see, understand, and discuss the world.

Think of ten of your friends.  They’re probably a lively, diverse bunch.  Now, think about the greeting you get when you reach their voicemail.  Some of them might use the automated robot response: “The number you are trying to reach is not available”, or some such.  But for your friends with personalized messages, do they all have their own robot response saying, “The number you are trying to reach…”?  No.  Probably not.  In fact, their messages are probably quite a good reflection of your friends’ personalities.  One of my friends has a very standard, serious, no frills message.  One of them has a great message that starts, “Congratulations!  You have failed to reach [friend’s name].”  I smile every time I hear it.  Another one offers the psychologically damaging message: “Hello? [five seconds]  How are you? [five seconds]  Sorry you missed me!  Please leave a message.”  Gee, thanks for making me feel like an idiot.

Okay, that’s great.  So what?  What does that have to do with character voice?  Well, everything.  If we, as writers, give all of our characters dialogue that sounds identical — and identically robotic and bland — then we have failed to give our characters a unique voice.  Voice is the principal way readers can identify a character’s personality.  It’s how, if we’re reading an untagged bit of dialogue, we can identify who is speaking simply by the way it is said.  Consider this example:

Joe glanced up in surprise as Ms. Mary Rhodes entered the coffee shop.  A fleeting sense of panic seized him, nudging him to hide behind his newspaper. He forced himself to be calm.  Mary might be the CEO of a multi-billion dollar corporation, while he was just the electrician, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t exchange a polite greeting.  He got up and crossed nervously over to the smartly-dressed woman, who turned to him in surprise.

“Hello.”

“Hello.”

“How are you doing today?”

“I’m all right, thank you.  How are you?”

“Very well.  Are you here for a cappuccino?”

“No, actually I drink espresso.”

“Really!  I never would have imagined that you would be an espresso drinker.”

Okay.  Pop quiz.  Who started the conversation?  Who is the espresso drinker?  Honestly, I don’t even know.  Two computers might be talking to each other for as interesting as that exchange was.  Now, what if the dialogue ran like this?

“Hey…uh, hello!”

“Oh.”  Pause.  “Good morning.”

“Nice day, huh?”

“It was.”

“Guess you’re here for a coffee, huh?  You drink them fancy cappadachinos or what you call them?”

“Actually, no.  I’m a bit of an espresso connoisseur myself.”

“No sh— I mean, never would have guessed that!  Hard core!”

All right.  So basically, we’ve had the same dialogue exchange here, and we still didn’t use any tags to mark the speakers.  But it should be fairly obvious who’s speaking.  We’ve already set up that Mary is the CEO of a highly successful corporation, and Joe is an electrician with low self-confidence. Now, unless we seriously wanted to shatter some reasonable expectations, we know that the nervous speaker who mispronounces the word cappuccino must be Joe, while the snobby, slightly catty speaker who uses words like connoisseur must be Mary.

That, in a nutshell, is what character voice is all about.

The concept becomes more interesting when we start talking about 1st person POV narrative, where character voice begins to usurp the place of author tone.  What 1st person POV does is put the reader directly inside the mind of the narrator, who is a character and not just an outside story-teller.  It’s basically me, as character, relating the world and the events of the plot as I see them, to you the reader.  Everyone has a unique personality (think about those voicemail greetings).  Some people are positive and outgoing.  Some are shy.  Some are gloomy.  The vocabulary and phrasing you use for the narrative must all reflect that personality in 1st POV.

For instance, if I have Joe, the gloomy, broken-down, pessimistic electrician as my narrator, would this bit of description feel authentic?

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