Musings

One Year. Two Books. Many, Many Words.

July 25th is the one year anniversary of my blog.

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I remember the very first day. I tried to find a theme that would fit the idea that Darkness Falling is a dystopian novel. I wasn’t sure what to call it, so I just called it Weekly Writing News and Updates. I figured that I could at least write one blog a week. I didn’t want to overwhelm myself.

It all began by writing my posts each week into the endless void of the internet. I was talking but was anyone listening? There are many voices and singaling yourself out among them is not an easy task. Despite knowing that I was talking to myself, I continued to write my posts and link them to Twitter and Facebook.

The journey of writing is often a solitary one. This is something I know very well, and I do well in solitude. The point of writing, however; is to reach others. Little by little, I started to take note of readers coming back. Posts were being liked. Comments were being left. Those are small things, but they are powerful. All writers and artists understand the positive effect of a little feedback and how motivating it can be.

This year was not only monumental for my little blog. When this all began, having a book published was only a dream. The excitement of eBooks and being an indie author was new to me and I was unsure of what to expect.

Over the course of twelve months I have published two books. The story is one that I’ve been telling to myself for almost twenty years. To finally have those words available, read, and responded to by readers is a dream come true.

I’ve written short stories and excerpts. I’m making plans for more projects, new words to share with the world. Book Three of my trilogy is in the first stages of rewriting. Friends are being made in a writing community I never knew existed. I’m discovering wonderful books by writers just like me, all of them dreaming to have their words read.

In the year to come I hope to finish book three, continue my blog, and begin new projects. This first year has been better than I imagined and I hope to continue to have the opportunity to share my stories, tips, and crazy ranting about storytelling in popular media.

Thank you so much to everyone who has supported me on this journey. Whether through a simple comment or hitting the like button, or to purchasing and reading Darkness Falling, and to leave feedback, all of it has been important to my publishing journey.  It’s an honor to have you read my words and be part of your busy schedules.

 

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Writing Tips

Editing Tips: Cutting Unnecessary Words

At the end of your rough draft, you always secretly hope it’s perfect. There will be no typos, no run on sentences, and every last word will be pure genius. This is usually not the case and you have a seemingly daunting task editing.

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Writer at work, wear safety gear.

One key to polishing a manuscript is cutting out excess words that are unnecessary to the story. Just like cutting scenes or characters, you should always be asking “will this make sense without ____?”

I will admit that I’m a rather wordy writer, but not the worst. These are some tips I try to follow to make cutting words easier.

Described and Dangerous

Adjectives are wonderful things for creating immersion. We want the reader to feel the silky texture of a blouse, taste the bitter sweetness of the lemonade, and see the beautiful cerulean of the sky. It’s so much fun to play with adjectives, but too many it can make
your readers feel like they’re trudging through mud.

The beautifully dark, succulent aroma of the chocolate cake baking in the big hot oven filled her soul with nostalgic longing.

It’s pretty, but full of unnecessary words. There’s a rule that you should only be using one to two adjectives per description. Readers are smart and know that the sky is blue. It’s not a terrible rule and I would say following it helps. There are exceptions, such as if
the sky in your world is actually green, or it’s an elf but he has three arms and six legs. (Enchanting accidents are the worst.) Even then, try to break it up into a paragraph rather than a single sentence.

The succulent aroma of baking chocolate cake filled her soul with nostalgic longing.

The revised sentence works because most people know what a baking cake smells like. Their own experiences fill in the blanks.

Find and Seek

Unnecessary words can take many forms. There are specific words I try to watch out for, but sometimes as writers we latch onto words we like. I’m guilty of this and try my best to remain aware. “Exactly” is one of my go-to words, especially in dialogue. “Realize” is another big one for me.

I realize I need to cut the number of times my characters realize things.

You can figure out which words you may be overusing by paying attention while you edit, but not always. Sometimes we’re blind and need another person to notice. If you don’t have another person, a strategy I use is when I the same word more than once on the same
page, I use the Find feature to see how often I use it.  You’ll be surprised what you learn this way.

 

Have/Had

I will never tell you to never use a word, but this combination often raises red flags with me. There are times when no other words will work. Have and had are two words that are really easy to overuse but are often avoidable.

One of the big issues with have/had is that they go together in the past tense.  You can have too many of them in the same sentence.

She would have had to have known what was coming to avoid it.

Yikes! If I read a sentence like this, I cringe. You can say this in other ways and cut words.

She would have avoided it if she knew it was coming.

You still use the word have, yes, but look how many excessive words were cut.

And Then

This is a word combination that I keep on my radar. It reminds me of that scene in that movie Dude, Where’s My Car? It was a silly movie, but little did you know one scene gave us writing advice.

This could be you. Scary, right?

Sequential events are expected in storytelling. They should be linked by action rather than made into a list. Sometimes lists are fine, but mostly they should be avoided.

The hero swung his sword and then cut off the Dark Lord’s arm, and then he cheered in triumph.

It’s not very exciting to describe your action this way. Egg, milk, butter, chop off Dark Lord’s arm, tea, yogurt.Not only will removing those words lower your word count, they will make the scene better as a whole.

The hero swung his sword, cutting of the Dark Lord’s arm. He cheered, triumphant.

Sure, now it’s two sentences but that’s okay.  It’s still fewer words than before and that’s your goal.

The

Now I’m sure you’re looking at me like I’m crazy. How can you possible use The less often? It’s one of the most used words in English. This isn’t about cutting so much as placement.

The sun rose on a clear morning. The man woke up, refreshed from a good night’s sleep. He went down stairs to eat breakfast. The coffee was already percolating in the pot. The mug he favored was clean in the dish washer and the day was looking good so far.

This is not a great scene to begin with, but it’s also made worse by being full of The sentences. Too many sentences in a row that begin with The (or any word like He or She) is boring. Starting too many paragraphs with The is also boring. Similar to And Then, it takes away from your action and pacing. That doesn’t mean you should never use The to start a sentence, just be careful.

It was a clear morning and the man awoke, refreshed. He went downstairs to find his coffee percolating and his favorite mug freshly washed. The day was looking good so far.

All Fun and Games Until Someone Loses an “I”

Recently on Twitter I’ve discovered One Line Games such as #2bitTues, #1lineWed, #FP, and #FictFri. These revolve around finding lines in your manuscript based on specific themes and tweeting them for others to read. It’s a lot of fun but also a great editing tool.

Twitter’s 140 character limit is excellent for helping you cut excess words. There’s a line you’re dying to share, but it’s too long. If you can chop out a few words  and it still makes sense, you know you had too many words.

You don’t need to have Twitter or even tweet your lines to play this game with yourself. If a sentence feels too long, it probably is and you should see if it works another way.

Cutting words as an important part of editing and I hope this post has made it feel a little easier. If you have tips you’d like to share, feel free to do so in the comments.

If you’d like to join any of those twitter games I mentioned, follow @AngDonofrio@RWAKissofDeath@FridayPhrases, and @Gracie_DeLunac on twitter!

Writing Tips

Theme: The Golden Threads

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When I was 17 and began writing Darkness Falling, I had a very basic academic idea of themes in writing. I knew books were supposed to have them and they were a message in the story, but it was hazy and thinking about it gave me anxiety. I’ve always been one of those people that doesn’t like asking for help. I didn’t go up to any of my teachers or professors and admit that I was fuzzy on that whole “theme” idea. I was smart; I could figure it out for myself.

Flash forward to today. I do understand what theme is, but I can’t say I figured it out by myself. My teacher has been every book I’ve ever read, and therefore every author. I wouldn’t recommend learning the hard way.

The Soul of a Book

Have you ever had someone ask you: “what is your book about?” Of course you have! A theme is the answer to that question, but it’s also only part of the answer. While your book may focus on an astronaut that finds a planet inhabited by space dragons, the theme is the deeper message you’re trying to get across to the reader. Trying to summarize both in a couple of sentences so that they sound interesting can be daunting.

Most of us don’t want to turn into that snooty sounding know-it-all in a tweed jacket we’ve seen on TV.  “My book is about the internal struggle of the intellectual mind versus the existential crisis of the soul in a society of ever-increasing technological usage” sounds like some heavy textbook you use to prop up a table. I’m starting to glaze over and I know that’s just an example.  At the same time saying “It’s a science fiction adventure with lots of explosions and gadgets and space dragons” might make people think you’ve weird.

Themes run below the surface. They are the message that you’re trying to get across to the reader without jamming it down their throat. Instead you stuff it inside a sweet coating of dragons, wizards, swords, robots, explosions, love stories, and boogie-men lurking in the dark. That makes it much easier for a reader to digest. Figuring out how to explain both simply is a key to getting people to read.

Why are you writing this book?

On Jane the Virgin recently, she was hit with this question by her professor. “Why are you writing this book? Is it to entertain bored housewives or do you want to say something?” Jane’s answer was “Both!” That’s a really good answer. You want to entertain your audience, but you also want the book to mean something to them.

Themes aren’t always our jumping off point for a new story. Often we begin with an inspiration, a character, a scene detached form everything. Sometimes themes are born naturally as you write. Other times you’re going to already have an agenda before you even start typing or scribbling. You don’t always have to know what your theme is but you should start to understand it as you go, and once you’ve figured it out it makes writing so much easier because you can build and focus on that theme.

If you can’t figure out what your theme is, then simply asking yourself “why am I writing this?” Maybe you are just writing it for entertainment, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s always good to know that’s your goal. Then again, maybe you think you are writing for entertainment but will begin to see the themes floating below the surfaces in flashes of gold like koi in a pond.

Multiple Themes

Themes are like characters. There is often more than one, especially in a novel versus a short story. They interact with each other. Sometimes, they can antagonize each other. There are primary themes and secondary themes; a whole cast of meaning that you patiently weave into the larger pattern of the story.

Learning how themes interact with each other not only makes you a better writer, but will make your book all the more meaningful to your readers. Your characters will have firmer ground to stand on, and your world will feel more realistic.

I always used to answer “Freedom” as a theme to Darkness Falling. Well, yes, that is true but not the way I once believed. There are multiple themes in the book, but the primary theme is balance. The funny thing is balance and equality was the main reason I decided to write Darkness Falling to begin with and never realized it was a theme. Once I started writing again in July I figured it out very quickly, and it made rewriting so much easier.

What are some of your favorite themes? Let me know and thank you for reading!

Musings

Breadcrumb Storytelling: The Walking Dead S6ep12

This post is about The Walking Dead on March 6th, 2016. It’s not a synopsis but there are spoilers. You’ve been warned!

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There are spoilers in the trees.

Storytelling isn’t something The Walking Dead always accomplishes with grace. Trying to get characters from point A to point B with long marches through the woods, coming up with confusing plans to resolve problems, the Glenn Miracles (one more and he can be sainted,) and often a lot of exposition with no action.

Last night’s episode finally showcased how this season has been setting up some really good storytelling. We were once more poked with the moral ambiguity stick, sprinkled with Polaroid photos. Ah, memories. We watched Carol at odds with herself, questioning her beliefs and quietly grieving over Sam. (She has now lost four children in the course of the show.) We witness Abraham’s inability to let someone down gently and learned why dingle-berries are brown. We were shown Morgan building something. Is it a cage? Is he going to lock Rick in a cage? We also were reminded that Tara is living in the land of déjà vu with this mission. Maybe Rick’s middle name is Brian.

What really happened in this episode is that we witnessed the breadcrumbs of information leading us strategically into the best type of storytelling: Actions not Words. Show vs. Tell.

Earlier in the season we watched Daryl deal with three people who escaped from Negan. Nothing is really explained and only tidbits are given through their dialogue. This leads us to believe they are from Negan’s settlement, and that it’s bad news because necessities have to be earned, which includes medical help.

Later we run across the bikers on the road, nicely dispatched with a rocket. That may be a bit unrealistic but it was fun. The bikers make it clear that Negan takes what Negan wants unless it gets exploded. Rick and Company feel at ease, however; because gobs of goonies are all over the highway with none to carry word back to this Negan character.

Last week we met the people of Hilltop and learn about the classic “protection scam.” You give me half, and I don’t kill you in exchange. It seems fair except for “half” being a relative term in the current economic climate. Rick and Maggie set up the same deal with a twist, “Give us half and we’ll kill Negan.” It’s a win/lose situation because our heroes get some food but the Hilltop people are still going to be under the thumb of an unstable leader.

Finally we come to last night and the hasty plan of underestimating your enemies. The capture of Maggie and Carol puts us in a spot to consider the whole sequence from a new perspective. What do the people of Hilltop really know about the Saviors? How many settlements are really under the protection of Negan? Think about the compound. This was a military base, not a settlement. With the addition of the extra forces in the woods, I’m guessing there’s more to the Negan Network.

All of this underlying information was given to us in a roundabout way. The characters involved are only divulging what they know, and clearly they don’t know everything. That is why the buildup to Negan has been good storytelling. Everyone is in the dark, and bit by bit they are turning on the light.

This is the type of storytelling that excites people. Hopefully the show can continue to keep things interesting going forward.

Thank you for reading and if you have anything to add or share, please feel free to comment!

Writing Tips

Asking Why to Prevent Plot Holes

Writing a story is basically describing a series of events in chronological order. Whether or not your story is fiction or non-fiction, you are taking your readers along the path your characters have walked.

Plot holes happen when the author hasn’t asked these very important questions: “Why did that happen?” and “Why did that happen this way?” and “Why did they say that?”

It may seem obvious, but it is an easy enough mistake to make. If the holes are big enough, readers will not only find them but loudly point them out.

Every work has at least one place where the audience finds a reason to object to the plot, no matter how famous or how successful. Sometimes, the plot holes aren’t real holes but just misunderstanding or lack of information for the audience.

“Why didn’t Gandalf just as the eagles to fly Frodo to Mount Doom?”

“Who was the architect of the Death Star? How did they miss such a vital flaw in the design?”

These are just two examples of famous works with questions raised by the audience. There are answers to these questions, some of which are human error and arrogance in Star Wars, and others are far more complex for The Lord of the Rings. Even so, when readers raise these questions it means that the “why” wasn’t adequately explained or obvious.

When you’ve completed your first draft and you return for your first edit and rewrite, this is the time to really begin asking these questions. Understanding the why will not only help to build your plot but also help you get to know your characters.

If you have two people traveling from point a. to point b, by car, and it is a mere 20 miles (32 kilometers) away, it shouldn’t take them from dawn until dusk. Why would it take that long? Did they stop for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Did they have to run a few errands?

This requires a revision. If you must have your first scene at dawn and your second scene at dusk, then remove the distance that is being traveled. Perhaps you could add in another scene that takes place in between.  In the end, it may require changing your timeline.

If the evil villain is attempting to capture the hero, why did he wait three days to begin pursuit? Were his black robes at the cleaners? Did his army all have a case of the flu? Making changes will make the story better.

Not all holes will be so glaringly obvious. Take time to read and, if you’re able, have others read your work as well. Sometimes it’s easier for someone else to point out the places that make sense to the writer. After all, we already know why.

Are there any plot holes you’ve seen that drive you crazy?

As always, thanks for reading.

By way of announcement I’ve finished the first revision of Book One and I’m starting the final edit this week!

Writing Tips

Revising: Why I Cut My Prologue

Prologues can be fun. They are tiny gateways at the beginning of a story used to introduce themes or characters who may not appear immediately. A good prologue can be wonderful foreshadowing. You can tell secrets to your reader that your characters might not be aware of, or you can pose specific questions for your reader before the main plot begins.

Prologues can also be clunky chunks of words that serve to confuse and annoy if done improperly. A prologue must serve the same purpose as any other scene in the book; it must build upon the story or build upon your characters.

When I began my revision I decided to cut my prologue. It’s 1300 words better served somewhere else.

Does it serve the story? 

Yes and no. My prologue takes place thousands of years in the past from where the novel begins. Although the events that take place are important to the story, the significance behind them is not readily revealed. I decided that a slow discovery of these events by both the characters and the reader will be far more intriguing than dropping it in their lap on page one.

Does it build on the characters?

No, not specifically. The characters in the prologue themselves have development throughout the series despite being dead. I’m not talking about flashbacks, either. These characters are historical figures in my world. Their actions effect everyone in the story in one way or another, but again, that is a slow process and better discovered over time.

Drop the prologue, get right to the point.

In the end, I decided it was better to leave out the prologue and start right at the beginning of the present day. That doesn’t mean I’m fully discarding my prologue. In fact, I’m considering revising it into a short story instead. There are other ways I could use it as well. I may eventually write more books on the history and future of my world. Just because something is cut doesn’t mean it has to be destroyed.

Have you ever had to cut something you originally thought your story couldn’t live without? Let me know!

As always, thank you for reading.