No Holds Barred—Inside an Editor's Mind

April 11, 2012

First Readers

Filed under: Uncategorized — whisperspublishing @ 11:37 pm

Do you have a first reader? Or two first readers? I’ve heard and seen many references to these folks in the world of writing. I edit, and I write romance. I also have a first reader or two–that first guy or gal that comes to mind after you write The End–who I send most of my stuff to for a quick read/look over before it goes to my editor. Sometimes, I’ll just get a “hey, this looks great!” Other times, there are things I’ve missed that need to be looked at. This isn’t usually a heavy editing process. It’s just a quick read through to see how the manuscript is working. Sometimes, it’s not, and you can scrap it or start over.

So, do you have a trusted reader or two you choose over the rest of your beta readers or friends when you have a manuscript that needs to be seen before it goes to editing or an editor? I think this can be invaluable. Find your first reader, and be willing to be one for someone else. I have learned much from writing by doing this for other writers, and it’s fun!

~Lisa

March 21, 2012

What’s the Backstory?

Filed under: A Reader's Expectations,An Editor's Expectations,Common Errors,Plotting — whisperspublishing @ 10:11 am

Ever started a book and quit a few pages in? Can you remember why?

Often, it’s a result of too much backstory. It is best to begin a book in the middle of the action, rather than after a long explanation of what is going on. Years ago, authors gave tons of backstory, and it was accepted or expected, but writing has changed. As times have gotten faster, so has the way fiction is written. Readers want to be hooked early on. You can always add tidbits of backstory through dialogue, inner thoughts, brief narration, and action as you go along.

If you find yourself with long, clunky paragraphs in the beginning of your book where no one is speaking, thinkingImage (in first person italics in present tense) or acting, you might have a case of too much backstory bogging your plot and book down.

~Lisa

March 16, 2012

Stereotypes

Stereotypes. If there was a murder committed in a locked room, with no signs of outside entry, then we know the butler did it. If the stranger comes to town wearing black, we know he’s up to no good. If the old man with the big belly and white whiskers chuckles, it’s because he’s just granted a special wish to the little boy in the wheelchair.

Our ideas of what characters are have changed with the times. Now, if he’s the strong, silent type, we know he’s the one who’s going to save us all. If another character looks like Santa Claus, we’re going to find out he has pieces of his landlady all over his cellar. And if she’s curvy, has a sultry voice, and wiggles when she walks, she’s the new schoolmarm.

Over time, writers have tried to get away from the normal stereotypes to keep the readers guessing, and we’re now at the point where we have altogether new molds we fit our characters into. How do we get away from any stereotyping at all?

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The trend I’ve noticed lately is toward normalcy. Our heroes look like the guy next door, except maybe his hair is messy. Our heroines show signs of ordinary behavior, like envy, insecurity, and a wish to be kind. Is this our new stereotype?

How do we come up with new characters while we avoid pouring them into gelatin molds?

There is something to stereotypes, I believe. They’re comfortable and familiar. Change a few details here and there, and they’re just as interesting as the archetypes. I’d get a big kick out of reading a contemporary mystery and finding out the butler did it. I doubt I’d suspect him until all is revealed at the climax.

–Jesse

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March 14, 2012

Verisimilitude

Filed under: Uncategorized — whisperspublishing @ 9:36 am

That’s a big word that basically means “truthiness”–to quote Stephen Colbert–or the quality of having the appearance of reality. For fiction writers, verisimilitude is really important. To achieve verisimilitude in writing, there must be some research that is done on topics a writer isn’t familiar with. That’s a given, but making the appearance of reality a goal in our writing eases the pressure on us a bit. So, how can we make verisimilitude work for us as writers?

We can accept that we will make mistakes when it comes to writing about topics we know little of. It’s a relief to know that our work needs to ring true or have the appearance of reality; we don’t have to get it all 100% correct. I have written a series that required hours of research since it was something I was interested in but didn’t know much about. I put in the time, and then I tried not to worry about it. So what if I had one or two mistakes? Only the most discerning readers would know, and if the story was good, they would likely forgive me. Those readers who were reading for the story would be satisfied, and I knew I had done my best.

So, the next time you’re conflicted about taking on a story that requires some research, remember, it’s the “truthiness” that counts as long as the story is well written. 

~Lisa

March 9, 2012

Author Intrusion

There are times I feel I know way too much about an author’s life and interests.

We’re told to write what we know, so much of our experiences inevitably show up in our writing. When is it time to rein it all in?

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When I write, I try to become all my characters, until they begin to take shape and show discrete personalities. In this way, I have an easier time avoiding writing myself instead of my character. If my traits, quirks, and nervous tics are spread out among all the characters, they get diluted and I don’t feel I’m writing about myself.

By the time the story is finished, or at least at rough draft level, I don’t want to recognize myself in any situation or character. It should be a world I don’t live in. If I can see myself anywhere in the story, I go back and rewrite. It might be modesty or it might be a very realistic attitude, but I just don’t find my life so interesting that I would believe anyone else would want to read about it. Keeping this in mind, I can better guess what would appeal to a reader, and what would make my story worth reading.

Author intrusion is something that’s spotted right away by a reader, but sometimes is hard to see from the author. For example, if the author is wild about racing, there might be a race car driver in the story. This is fine, and can add exciting details to the story, but only if the author can keep from going on too long and too deeply about it. If the story is a romance and the heroine doesn’t spend much time at the race track, then the racing shouldn’t be the main event. If the heroine is a teacher, should we spend 95% of the book in the classroom? If the author has a shoe fetish, how long can the character’s shoes be described without the plot being forgotten?

Once we get a clear image of the characters, there’s no need to keep going on about physical descriptions. We might be interested in what the character’s job is, but we don’t want to follow him to work every day.

The rule of thumb is if it doesn’t move the plot along, consider deleting it.

–Jesse

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February 29, 2012

For the Love of Writing…

Filed under: Uncategorized — whisperspublishing @ 2:32 pm
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What do most writers who either live off of their royalties or use them for a decent portion of their incomes have in common? Is it even possible to do this? I think… yes, perhaps more than ever with e-books and the publishing revolution underway.
Though these writers might have other attributes, these are a few I have gleaned over the past year of reading and thinking about their secrets to success.

1. They write… every day.
Even if it’s only for an hour because something came up that prevented more, they get words down on paper every day. Sound tough? It is, but it’s mainly about discipline and seeing the end game—being able to rely more on royalties and writing as income. Nora Roberts writes eight hours a day. Stephen King writes at least five, for example. If you have a day job, this can be tougher, but do you have thirty minutes you can write each night? Is there a television show you can skip seeing to get in more writing time? I suspect most of us can do thirty minutes a day at least, and that’s a start.

2. They never give up.
Whether it’s Stephen King or another author, stories abound of rejection after rejection. Did it stop these writers? No. They kept writing, revising, and querying until their work stuck. So, don’t give up, even if the going gets really tough. If you keep writing and studying the craft, you can make it.

3. They have a huge backlist of books.
Successful authors usually have more than one or two books. If you take a look at James Patterson, Stephen King, P.D. James, Nora Roberts, or any other number of authors who have made it big, you’ll notice they have a huge backlist, i.e., tons of books that were published a while back but that readers can still purchase. Just take a look on Amazon and you’ll see what I mean. Building a backlist takes time, but it’s crucial.

4. They are always working on the next project.
This one sort of goes along with writing every day. Basically, authors who make it don’t dwell on yesterday or sit on their laurels. Once one novel, novella, or story is done or sold, they start the next one. In fact, some of them have several projects going at once.They know that if you want to make money writing, you must have many products to sell–to give readers options. It’s sort of like going into a store. If there are only a few things on the shelf, you might turn around and walk out. Many choices will up the odds that you buy something as Dean Wesley Smith, a bestselling and prolific author argues. Many of these authors set a goal for how many publications they plan to have in a year as well.

5. They are having fun doing what they love.
This one might be the most important. If you’re not having fun writing, you’re doing it wrong. If writing isn’t fun, you’ll quit. So, what can you do to recapture the fun of doing what you love if you’ve lost it? Do you need to obsess less and just write more? Have you gotten too bogged down in being perfect? Fun ensures that you’ll look forward to writing every day, and that leads to all the rest.

So, what are you doing to up your odds of living off your writing or at least using your royalties to make life a lot more comfortable– if either of these is one of your goals?

~Lisa

February 24, 2012

Mysterious Characters

Whether or not you prepare an outline of your story before you begin writing it, you’ll probably think of details to add about your characters before you finish. As your characters begin to flesh out, they seem to come alive and take on real personalities. Does that mean you have to go back to the start and give your reader every detail when you introduce that character?

You don’t want to have inexplicable surprises showing up late in the story. On the other hand, you don’t want to bombard your readers with every little thing about every character. A good way to find this balance is to keep an aura of mystery about the characters. It doesn’t have to be major. Just a hint of a past we don’t know about, or a secret smile in certain scenes, that won’t be fully explained until later in the story.

It not only intrigues the reader, but it leaves you room for a little experimenting later. This works especially well in serial novels, where we have much more time to get to know them. Besides, what’s not to like about a dark, mysterious stranger?

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–Jesse

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February 22, 2012

Paint Your Heroes…

Filed under: Uncategorized — whisperspublishing @ 12:19 am

I read a description of the hero in a new novel coming out from a popular romance novelist this week. This was at the first meeting of hero and heroine after many years. It went something like this:

He was older than she remembered. And he was really, very handsome.

My jaw dropped, and I shook my head in disbelief. Really? Is this what readers expect to read in their romance novels or novellas? I think not.

What a terrible, trite description. How could you or I do better? When I’m writing my heroes, heroines, or any characters, I try to think about what is memorable about their looks and features. My aim is to paint a picture with words as the saying goes. Give readers something to touch, see, and feel that goes beyond handsome, ugly, pretty, blah, blah, blah.

Can you see this hero? Do you know what his face would feel like under your fingertips? Can you imagine his scent, skin tone and more?

He pivoted with a lithe, animal grace, and she gasped at the craggy, pink scar running across his forehead. Eyes the color of dusk snapped, and his full lips trembled with rage.

I’d rather be able to see my heroes, and maybe touch them, too. Leave some details to the imagination, but tell readers enough to make them remember your characters.

~Lisa

February 17, 2012

Don’t Disappoint Your Readers

Have you ever been disappointed by an author who, in an attempt to keep you guessing throughout his mystery, leaves out key information or introduces characters and plot twists at the last minute? A story whose character goes through a complete metamorphosis so that we can later believe he’s the culprit?

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Like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, the author might introduce an entirely new character just before the climax, and the reader is cheated out of forming opinions and conclusions. This can be seen as lazy writing by most. There are ways to write your character such that the reader doesn’t know everything, but just enough to get to know this character.

I don’t wish to imply no secrets are good secrets. My favorite characters have an aura of mystery surrounding them, but when they do an about face in personality, or prove to have something in their lives which would be impossible to keep hidden, I begin to suspect the writing skills of the author. How much can we expect a reader to believe?

When writing background on a character whose intentions and/or activities must be kept from the reader for as long as possible, a good way to handle it is by creating a diversion for the reader. This could be by introducing another character who might look like the possible guilty party. It could be a series of events that might explain things about the truly guilty character which would leave a reader in doubt as to his motives. This shadow of doubt can enhance the story’s mysteriousness nicely, and will also prevent contradicting what was written earlier in the story.

The characters you create can have any sort of personality you wish to give them, and they can be involved in activities you decide upon. All readers ask is that you make us believe.

–Jesse

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February 15, 2012

Inside Your Head

Filed under: Uncategorized — whisperspublishing @ 8:30 am
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Sometimes inner dialogue or the thoughts of a character as we are in his or her point of view works well. It can help writers avoid telling and put readers closer to the story.

So, how do you get inside a character’s head–technically?

Telling: She knew he was lying to her.

Inner Thoughts: He’s lying to me.

Telling: She felt angry.

Inner Thoughts: I’m so mad right now.

Notice that no filter words are needed there in the inner thoughts (remember that from last week… filter words?). You don’t have to add she thought or she wondered if…

The inner thought works fine on its own. Readers will figure out what you, the author, are doing and that these are the thoughts of the main character in first person point of view.

Things to remember when you use inner thoughts/inner dialogue:

1. Put inner thoughts in the present tense.
2. Use first person point of view in inner thoughts (me, I).
3. Use italics.

That’s it! Just changing much of the telling and boring narration to inner thoughts can put readers closer to your characters. It gets them inside the story and inside the heroine’s or hero’s head. Along with plenty of good action and snappy dialogue, it’s a winning recipe for a writer!

~Lisa

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