Writing Tips

Editing Tip: Using Windows Narrator to Help Proofread

Everyone knows there is no replacement for a good human proofreader or an army of them. The human brain plays tricks on the eyes, translating typos into real words or skimming over errors to fit the context. A single set of eyes on a project means errors will be missed.

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You can’t rely on technology fully, either. While Word, Grammarly, and other products are becoming more proficient at finding errors and typos, they still might miss properly spelled words used incorrectly. It’s true that these programs are beginning to notice if you’ve used there instead of their, but they might not notice if you’ve used Brain instead of Brian.

The reality is, nothing beats hiring a living proofreader. That isn’t always possible for everyone, though. Because I know firsthand that reality, I also know that relying on friends and family may not be an option, either. I did have Book One proofread by a friend who missed many, many errors. I missed many as well.

What else can you do?

A few months back, it was mentioned to me that hearing your book read to you is very helpful in finding errors. It was suggested that if I couldn’t afford to have someone read, Windows Narrator worked pretty well. I thought it was a good idea but didn’t use the advice at the time.

Recently, one of my co-workers accidently turned Narrator on my work computer. Maybe it was a kick in the pants from the Muses because I suddenly realized I should try using Narrator to help edit.

I recently used it on a small project, and it really does make a difference. The current version of Windows 10 is a male voice. It reminds me of Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Not only does Narrator read your work back, but it reads one line at a time. This not only lets you hear what’s being read but also to follow along. It gives you the opportunity to move slowly and watch for words like there and their, which still sound the same.

Is it the same as hiring a proofreader? No. Does it help those without a budget? Yes. I tested it on book one and it can read some of the made-up names (some of them it pronounces incorrectly, but that’s okay.) If it can’t read a word, it spells it out. Anything that helps is worth using, and I hope this tip helps others.

Thank you for reading! If you have anything to add, please leave a comment.

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Darkness Falling: Soldiers and Slaves Updated

A new version of Darkness Falling: Soldiers and Slaves is now available on Amazon. After receiving feedback through reviews that there were some typos and formatting errors, I re-edited the book and updated both the Kindle and paperback versions.

I also reworked the cover to be a darker. You can see the difference below.

 

Now that I’ve done this with Book One, I’m going to go ahead and do the same for Book Two. I haven’t received any feedback on Book Two yet, but I figure it’s just for good measure.

The nice thing about being an indie author is that we can take feedback and use it to improve our books. An example of this is how Andy Weir, author of The Martian, listened to the feedback of his readers and improved the story by making the science realistic. Because of that, he was able to reach his target audience, and eventually the world. If he had just said, “Yeah, well, this is just science fiction, so what if the chemistry is a little off? Most people won’t know,” things could have turned out very different.

Even if we do not achieve that type of success in our own writing, we can all use constructive feedback and turn it into a positive result. The goal is to always be improving. None of us are masters at our craft.

Thank you for reading and if you have anything to add, please feel free to in the comments.

Darkness Falling: Soldiers and Slaves

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Health and Wellness, Writing News, Writing Tips

Writing Break

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Every once in a while my brain needs a break.

Writer’s block is one thing but then there is the stress of editing, rewriting, and publishing. The process is both exciting and anticlimactic. It’s also overwhelming.

For the past month after releasing Book Two I’ve been pushing through. Over the past few days it’s all caught up with me and I’m taking a writing break.

There’s a lot of advice out there to write every day. While this is good advice to get you into the habit of writing, it isn’t always the best advice for creating. Being a creative person means we need to recharge our batteries. There is a delicate balance to art and the rest of life, and when one or the other is overwhelming, it’s time to step back.

Recharging can be different for everyone. Taking a break to absorb inspiration and energy for writing is a personal thing. Visiting family or friends, spending time in meditation, watching movies, reading books, going into nature – there are many ways to recharge. The main thing is not feeling guilty for needing a break. Self-care means you will be working at your best.

That’s why I’ve been taking a break for the past few days. My brain is tired. If I don’t recharge I won’t be functioning at my best. If I’m not functioning at my best it will only cause frustration and further distress. It’s a cycle.

Next week is the one year anniversary of my publishing journey and this blog. Thank you all for following along. If you have anything to add about taking a break, please feel free in the comments.

Writing Tips

Writing Tip: Realistic Dialogue

 

Last week I talked about the rules of dialogue based on some issues I’ve seen in self-published works recently. Following the rules makes it easier for readers to follow along with conversations between characters. Today I want to talk about an equally important topic of creating conversations that sound realistic.

Writing dialogue is different than writing narration, and it also changes depending on if you’re writing in first or third person. It comes down to remembering that in your writing you will have different voices, just like people have different voices. The narrator has one voice and each of the characters have their own voices. This may sound complicated but it comes down to our good friend characterization.

Creating the Narrative Voice

The narrative voice is often the first voice created while writing, (not always but often.) Through the narrative voice you can set the tone, atmosphere, and pacing of the story.  When in the third person the narrator is detached, reporting on what happens even when viewing it from within the head of the point of view character, whether that character is the protagonist or another character.

In first person it’s a little bit different because your narrator is also a character in the story, and that should be reflected through similarities between the narration and the character’s dialogue.

Another question to consider is that if your characters have an accent or dialect, will your narration have the same accent or dialect? Will the narrative include slang or be more literary? The answers to these questions will help to build the narrative voice.

One of the main aspects of the narrative voice is to remember it is the voice of the storyteller. When we tell stories verbally, we have a different cadence to our pattern of speaking than when we are in conversation. In most cases, the narration will follow the technical rules of writing. There may be some variance when writing in a
perceived accent or dialect as to whether or not the narration uses slang. For the most part, however; the narration will have a different rhythm to dialogue.

Creating Character Voicesspeech-bubble-1426773_640

When your character speaks, it should be a direct result of their characterization. Each character will have their own unique perspective on a conversation and that will tie directly into their background, motivation, personality, and role in the story. How characters respond to the world will directly influence there contribution in conversation.

Consider whether a character is talkative and bubbly, or if they are reserved, shy, or sever. The amount a character speaks and their word choices will reflect their personality beyond their mood.

For example, a talkative character might say something like; “Oh my gosh, you won’t believe what happened at the store! I was in the freezer section looking for pizzas and there was a lady with a rainbow wig looking at the peas. It was the strangest thing.”

If we take the same story for a quiet character it might go more like this; “I saw a lady with a rainbow wig at the store today.”

From these examples you can see how the same information can be delivered in different voices. Word choice and punctuation make major changes to the delivery and tone.

You also want to consider what your character knows about the plot, and what is hidden when they speak. Are they keeping secrets or are they straightforward? Dialogue is a great tool for misdirection if used properly, to keep your reader (and characters) guessing.

The age of your character will also be important to how they speak. A child will have a different cadence than an adult. The word choices of a teenager will be different than those of an elder.

Consider the time period of your novel and words that may or my not have been used. Only a few small changes to the word choice can change the tone of dialogue completely.

Consider the following example:

“I cannot go to school today, mother. I am feeling under the weather.”

Now look at it again:

“I can’t go to school, mom. I think I’m sick.”

It’s the same line, but by changing the word choice it has a completely different tone, attitude, and indication of character and place in history. Word choice will sometimes come down to research if you’re writing a historical novel or even writing characters outside of your age group. In the last fifty years a lot of different slang has come and gone.

Similar to creating a narrative voice, you want to ask yourself about accents, dialects and slang the character would use. It is important to note that over use of accents can make it difficult to read. Using accents to “flavor” the writing is a good thing, but you don’t want it to overpower the story.

Eliminate Stiffness in Conversations

Poorly written dialogue can feel stiff and unrealistic. It is reminiscent of actors on a stage who do not fully know their lines. Knowing your characters is only the first step to relieving stiffness in their dialogue. There are a few other things to try to find your problem areas.

Research the way people talk to each other. That means you need to really listen to other people. Family, friends, and co-workers are just the beginning. Movies and television are helpful, too. You can also watch YouTube videos or live streaming to hear people talking in real time without being scripted.

Read. Read. Read. That’s right, pick up other books and read them. Pay attention to the dialogue. Learning from other writers is something we should all be doing. You may also start to notice when you’re reading poorly written dialogue, and that’s a good thing. Being able to spot problems will help you with your own writing.

Say the lines out loud. Yes, this can be embarrassing, but if you hear the words, you will be able to hear the problems. This doesn’t need to be done in public.

Plan your dialogue in advance. We all do this in real life. You have imaginary conversations with that co-worker who chews really loudly at their desk. Maybe you have something to reveal but are nervous, so you practice in front of the mirror. Planning out your dialogue while you do other things will make it easier to write once you sit down with your pen or at your keyboard.

Remember that dialogue should be written as people speak, not as writers write. Very few people speak with perfect grammar. If everyone in your story sounds like a text book, the dialogue will be unrealistic.

To recap

  • Creating different voices in your story is part of characterization
  • Your narrator is also a character, even they aren’t a physical character, with its own voice
  • Your character’s age and personality will dictate how they speak
  • Research, Read, Rehears your dialogue
  • People do not speak with perfect grammar, and neither should your characters

That’s all for today. I hope this is helpful and if you have any more tips please feel free to leave them in the comments.

Writing Tips

Writing Tip: Rules of Dialogue

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I read a lot of indie books. A lot. I read more than I review here on the blog. That’s because I read books that I don’t finish and I don’t finish them because of major problems in the writing, storytelling, and technicalities. I also am often reading multiple books at a time these days, because reading is addicting and I love overwhelming myself.

One of the issues I often come across in my reading is that a lot of writers struggle with dialogue. You may think this is a basic topic, and it is for many writers.  For others it is a major problem. That’s why I decided to do a two part series about writing dialogue.

This first part will be about the rules of dialogue and the second part will be about making your dialogue feel realistic instead of forced.

Dialogue Rule #1:

Every Time Someone Speaks, Begin a New Paragraph

This is the most most common issue I see with dialogue on a regular basis. Paragraphs run on and on, containing the dialogue of not only one but also two or three people. This is incorrect. It shows that not only does the author not understand a basic rule for writing, but they also don’t have anyone around them who knows.

Why do we break to a new paragraph for dialogue?

Paragraphs are self-contained ideas. Even when multiple paragraphs are about the same general idea, we break it into paragraphs to punctuate specific pieces of that idea. Take this blog post for example, it’s all about dialogue but it isn’t one long paragraph. Breaking ideas into digestable chunks helps readers process and understand the information.

Dialogue is just like a paragraph. Each speaker has their own ideas. They punctuate a conversation with their own points of view. This also helps the reader keep track of who is speaking to prevent confusion.

Now, the paragraph does not need to start with quotation marks. You can put a dialogue tag at the beginning or end of the paragraph, or even leave them off altogether.

Examples:

Loretta smiled wickedly and said, “I don’t always smile before I speak, but when I do, I use a comma.”

“It makes me nervous when you talk shop with me,” George said.

“That’s because you’re not a writer.”

“Or maybe it’s because you act like a weirdo.” George grinned sheepishly.

In this example you can see that each person gets their own paragraph to speak, even though their lines are only one sentence long. Whether or not you end your paragraph after a person speaks will depend on the dialogue tag.

Dialogue Rule #2

Punctuation is Important and Determined by Speaking vs. Action

Punctuation for dialogue has some pretty specific rules. First and foremost is that dialogue should be indicated with the use of quotation marks. These go around the actual words the character is speaking. Most people understand this from my observation.

 

Now for the tricky part. When it comes to your dialogue tags, you can signify action tags vs. speaking tags with either a period or a comma. What does that mean?

“You can’t laugh and speak at the same time.”

“You can’t sigh and speak at the same time.”

“You can’t speak by waving.”

“You can’t speak by smiling.”

Etc.

Okay, well, people laugh and wave and smile while speaking all the time. There is a way through punctuation to indicate whether the person is speaking or acting while speaking. If the person is speaking, you end the line in quotation marks with a comma. If the person is going to act while speaking you use a period.

Let’s look at our example again.

Loretta smiled wickedly and said, “I don’t always smile before I speak, but when I do, I use a comma.”

“It makes me nervous when you talk shop with me,” George said.

“That’s because you’re not a writer.”

“Or maybe it’s because you act like a weirdo.” George grinned sheepishly.

Note how when I ended with George said, the dialogue ended in a comma. When George grinned, however;  I skipped mentioning the word said and went straight for his action directly after speaking.

Alternately, when Loretta smiled at the beginning, I also used the word said, which means there needs to be a comma. If I had skipped saying the word said, it would look like this:

Loretta smiled wickedly. “I don’t always smile….”

Note that in this instance her action ends with a period before she speaks. This indicates that she acted, and then spoke. She did not speak with her smile.

When it comes to asking a question in dialogue, the proper punctuation is always a question mark within the dialogue tag. What you do after the dialogue tag is the same rule of speaking vs. action.

“Do you want to learn about dialogue or not?” she asked.

“Are you going to punch me if I say no?” He ducked just in case.

Asking is considered speaking, just like said. Therefore, any improper nouns following a question mark within quotation marks is lower case. If the tag following a question mark within quotation marks is an action, the improper noun is then upper case. This does not apply to character names, because they should all be capitalized every single time. (And you knew that, right?)

Dialogue Rule #3

The Hotly Debated Tagging Issue

Dialogue tags are the indicators of who is speaking. Tags can either be of the speaking or action variety as discussed above. There is a hotly debated issue whether or not dialogue tags should extend farther beyond said and asked.

On the one side is the opinion (or rule) that professional writers do not bog their readers down with descriptive dialogue tags. Sighed, groaned, moaned, sobbed, growled, hissed, snarled, laughed, yelled, cursed, demanded, commanded, and on and on are not necessary to the tone of the dialogue. This should be done by the tone of the scene and punctuation. Also, those things are not “speaking,” but actions. You cannot laugh and speak at the same time, as they say.

This side of the argument insists that using these other tags is a sure sign of an amature writer. Said is all you really need. (Asked is even redundant if you have a question mark. Yelled is redundant if you have an exclamation point.)

This is not considered boring because the idea is that said is not a word so much as a form of punctuation. Loretta said indicates the speaker but the reader glazes over the word said, and it’s more like making your dialogue the way it would be in a play.

Loretta: I don’t always smile before I speak.

On the other side of the argument is that people do make noises while they speak. The inflection and tone in your voice can be hissing, growling, and nervous laughter as you’re speaking. Action tags can set the tone of dialogue.

Sarcasm, nervousness, excitement, anger and many other emotions play out. Tagging dialogue with indications of these can help the reader understand the character’s emotions and intentions.

How do I feel about this? Well, I’m kind of in the middle. I get where the “only said” people are coming from. I also get the “emotions should be included” set. I lean more toward including emotions, but also try to use them when I feel it is necessary.

I do not think it’s a sign of being unprofessional to use a tag other than said. I think it’s a style choice, especially for indie authors. I’ve read books from both camps and have never had issue with either type of tagging.

To wrap it up remember:

  1. Dialogue begins a new paragraph and each speaker gets their own paragraph.
  2. Remember to use a period instead of a comma for an action tag.
  3. Some people take offence at tags other than said in dialogue.

That’s all for this week! Next week I’ll talk about making your dialogue sound like people are talking instead of making them sound like robots repeating programmed words.

Until then, have a great week! If you have any other tips feel free to leave them int he comments.

Writing Tips

Types of Editing

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Editing.

That’s always a fun word. A lot of times, editing is seen as fixing errors. This is true, but that is only one part of editing. It is through proper editing that storytelling should be strengthened.

Too many errors in spelling and grammar and can ruin a story, but they are only one piece of the puzzle. Good editing also focuses on the content of a story. Writing can be perfectly clear of typos and formatting errors, yet still be diminished by poor storytelling. If a story is drowning in contrivances, caricatures, plot holes, repetition, info dumps, clichés, and pacing the story will suffer just as much from problems in these areas than if it were full of mistakes

Understanding that proofreading and content editing are two different things will help you grow as a writer. Both are important and both require practice. I consider myself a good content editor, but I hate proofreading. I miss things. Being good at both content editing and proofreading is a goal.

Proofreading

A lot of times we see people (including myself) say things like “with more editing the errors can be cleaned up.” I think because of this, many people come to believe that editing is proofreading and nothing more. This way of thinking and talking about editing does a disservice to a lot of people who are publishing their books.

Proofreading is a skill. It’s a difficult job to read thousands of words and clean up all of the typos. Similar to math, not everyone is good at proofreading and some people have a natural aptitude. Practice is always key but some people will always be better at finding mistakes.

How do you practice proofreading? Watching what others write for errors is one way. Picking up errors, whether you point them out or not, will help you. Another way to proofread is to change your format. If you always work on the computer, print out a chapter and read it on paper. Change the margins and look at small chunks at a time. It takes time and effort.

Studying language also helps your proofreading. Learning the rules for commas, dialogue, paragraphs, sentences, and other punctuation will strengthen your writing. If you feel shaky in any of these areas there are many resources online to help you.

Content Editing

Editing content is where you look at the story itself and try to make it better. It requires you to look at your work from different angles. One type of content editing is the commonly talked about word count. Using as few words as possible to tell your story helps with the pacing.

Pacing is a key element to storytelling and is what helps your reader follow along with the narrative and stay interested. With the wrong pacing your story moves either too fast or too slow. The reader either feels they are being dragged along without having a chance to catch their breath, or they are drowning in muck as they try to push through to the end.

Cutting is another type of content editing. Content editors are the ones who rip your heart out of your chest with phrases like “this scene needs to be cut” and “this character servers no purpose to the plot.” Cutting also helps with pacing. Bogging your reader down with too much, repetitive, or irrelevant information leaves the reader feeling bored and confused with the direction of a story.

A content editor should also be able to point out a contrivance or a caricature; both of which make stories unbelievable and result in a loss of emotional investment. Stories require emotional investment to be enjoyable. If a reader can’t feel emotionally and intellectually attached to the characters and their situations, they give up and stop reading

Suggesting changes to these types of situations are not meant to be hurtful, but are to help the author create the best story they can.

Hiring an Editor

For financial reasons, I do not hire an editor. This is my choice and, good or bad, I understand the consequences.

If (or when) I ever hire an editor, it will be important to interview editors the same way I would interview a potential employee for a company. Asking what type of editing they offer is key. Will there be content editing or just proofreading? This is important knowledge before giving someone your money.

You may think you’ve hired an excellent editor, but they only proofread. Alternately, your editor may help you with content but (like me) not be the best at proofreading. If they only do one type of editing, it’s good to know that in advance. If you only need one type, this might not be an issue. If you need both, then that might mean more cost to you, and you might want an editor that does both. Finding out if they recommend someone else to do the proofreading or content editing is also important, or you may need to find another editor on your own.

I would also want to see other works by an editor before I hired them. If I pick up a book and read it only to find it’s a mess, that’s a bad sign. If an editor won’t tell you what they’ve worked on, then that’s also a bad sign.

Beta Readers

Beta readers are an excellent tool for helping you gauge where your story is at, but they can also be a pitfall. They are not editors and should not be treated as such. Sometimes a beta reader might offer to proofread. Perhaps they enjoy doing this, but it should never be an expected service.

The point of the beta reader is to give you a general idea of audience response. If the only person you give your work to is your Aunt Mildred and she loves everything you do, this is not really a beta reader. It can be hard to find people who will read and give you the feedback you need. I have very nice beta readers and they give me good audience style feedback, but ultimately they do not give me in depth feedback that I would get from another writer or editor, even when I ask them direct questions.

This is why you can’t rely on beta readers to know, for a fact, that your story is well edited. The only way is to find readers who are also writers or editors, too, or people who take beta reading seriously rather than just doing it as a favor.

Creative Partner

A creative partner is another writer that reads your work and you read their work. You give each other feedback. Having a solid creative partner is a good way to gauge your writing through constructive criticism, which can include pointing out errors or problems with the content. You still need to be aware that not every writer is good at both. Knowing your creative partner’s strengths and weaknesses is just as important as when you hire an editor.

I didn’t have a creative partner for Darkness Falling, but having a creative partner is something I wouldn’t shy away from. It is important to find the right person or people to ensure collaboration is beneficial for everyone in the group.

You Can Always Fix Things 

One of the bonuses to being self-published is that you can always go back and fix things when you do receive feedback. For example, I’ve received some feedback that Book One has typos and I’m doing another round of proofreading to find them.

Even professionally published works have errors at times, but traditional publishing means rounds of books are printed with errors and they cannot be changed. This is one perk to being self-published over going the more traditional route.

As self-published authors we all need to strive to make our product the best it can be, because we already face stigma. Being aware of your own pitfalls is a good first step to improving your work. With that in mind keep writing, keep practicing, and don’t give up!

Thank you for reading and if you have anything to add please do so in the comments!

Fun and Games, Short Story

Super Silly Editing Challenge: The Results

Two weeks ago I posted the Super Silly Editing Challenge. The story was written using only random sentence generators, and the point was to find sense in nonsense. Sadly, there were no participants to showcase this week. I still would like to see what other people come up with, and if anyone ever does, let me know!

And now the results of Sense in Nonsense.

The chill night air is oily from the afternoon street fair. A fire eater is seen bathing in the fountain. John runs by, clucking his tongue at such an unsanitary sight. The glamorous effect of the performer is broken by his disregard of the law.

“The police will arrest him for such a display,” the lovely secretary says.

Passion or serendipity has presented itself.

John is discouraged by the lawlessness and says, “Three times last week I saw a suspicious worm shake hands with an unsavory character.”

“You must be joking!” The lovely secretary is drawn into conversation.

“Let me sit by you and we can talk. I prefer it to sitting over here.”

“What is wrong with that seat?” the lovely secretary asks, looking at the seat curiously.

Taking advantage of her distraction, he sits beside her. The lovely secretary is surprised but doesn’t challenge him.

John makes and attempt at small-talk. “I would like very much to see pictures of you.”

The lovely secretary dodges the request with a smile. “You have very large nostrils for such a small gentleman.”

Her observations makes John feel like a fool. “How could I garner your attraction?”

“I am rather discriminating when it comes to love.”

John feels regret having asked, but has another trick up his sleeve. He can sense there is still a chance to win her favor!

“I have a large septic boil on my back.”

The lovely secretary fidgets at the revelation.

“Would you burst it for me please?” A wide smile stretches John’s face.

The disgusting request is granted. The lovely secretary squeeze’s John’s boil with unexpected strength. She strains against the abscess. A wash of  liquid begins to leak through. John’s boil explodes with a puss the color of custard and leaks down his back in a wide stream.

She recoils in horror. Even compliments cannot change what she has witnessed, and any attraction she felt evaporates.

John pulls away from the lovely secretary and regains his focus. “I needed your help this tonight.”

“Any cheerful memories we may have shared have been spoiled,” she confesses.

“Then I do not see why I should thank you for your help.”

“How do you think that makes me feel? Your confusing behavior is not enough to form an attraction!” the lovely secretary says, but knows he will not understand.

“Your unhappiness confuses me. Why can’t you at least pretend you love me?”

“I do not reciprocate your feelings, and any chance of doing so is fast evaporating,” the lovely secretary sighs.

John’s anger thunders through his mind. “I was an idiot to talk with you.”

“I was equally stupid to help you.”

The truth deflates John’s ego. “All of my hope is gone.”

“If you don’t want to lose an opportunity, John, then be grateful when people help you.”

-FIN-

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Is it the best story ever? No! But it was fun to challenge myself this way. Perhaps I will hold another Super Silly Editing Challenge in the future.

In other news, we are only one week away from launch day of Darkness Falling: Shadow of the Seeker! I will not be posting a character analysis this week due to having a lot to do before the 18th. I am working on a couple at the moment, however; and hope to be posting them on a regular basis soon!

Thank you for reading and feel free to leave a comment or critique. See you next week!