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Posts Tagged ‘editing’

Feedback Fun (Pt 2)

Posted by Dave on May 16, 2010

Okay, I’m back, with apologies to you, the reader. 

For the last few weeks, I’ve been elbow-deep in editing, polishing up the query letter, and putting together a list of agents.  Final count for Jaben’s Rift is 109,137 words, a drop of 16,158 words, or almost 13%.  Some of it hurt, but I think JR is better for it. I did end up dropping the prologue that I posted in my last entry.  Although I liked it, it really wasn’t serving a purpose that I couldn’t accomplish in the main text of the book.  Just another example of “killing the darlings” (see the April 4th post).  Now the book jumps right into Jason’s dilemma from the get go.  We’ll see how that works out.

But now, the editing is done, and the initial volley of queries has been fired off.  Two have already come back as rejections, but c’est la vie, right?  Most agents will reject over ninety percent of what is sent to them.  I just appreciate the prompt response from the agents, even if it was a rejection.  Some never reply at all if they don’t like your work, so you hang in limbo, sometimes for weeks.  Hopefully, I’ll land in that lucky ten percent before I go through my whole list.  If not, maybe I’ll do better on the next one.  Either way, I’m not going to stop writing.

Now, back to the feedback thing.  In part one, I addressed the writer’s side of feedback.  Now I’d like to look at the reviewer’s side. 

The most difficult material to review honestly is that of a friend or family member.  There’s no problem if the writing is truly good, but what if it’s not?  How do you tell someone you care about that their material isn’t the best you’ve ever read?  On the one hand, you want to help them improve and reach their goals, but on the other hand, what if your honesty hurts their feelings?  Only you know how they will respond to complete honesty.  If you don’t think they’ll appreciate total candor, and they insist you tell them what you think of their stuff, let me offer this.  Find something, anything, that you do like about the material and emphasize that, while trying to minimize critical comments.  They’ll hear enough of those from other sources.  Also, even if you think you’re the next Jeff Foxworthy or Sinbad, don’t make jokes about your friend’s or relative’s writing ambitions, especially when you’re both with other people, even if you are just kidding around with them.  They may laugh with you, but only they know how important their writing is to them.  Innocent jokes can sometimes hurt worse than blunt honesty.

Now, if you’re a writer, let me gently suggest that you not ask relatives or friends to review your work unless you are completely willing to accept constructive criticism without taking it personally or letting it affect your relationships.  Editors, agents, and online or in-person critique groups will give you the feedback you need to improve your work, and you can get mad at them if you want without jeopardizing friendships or family relations.  And as I mentioned in the first part of Feedback Fun, the feedback you get from family or friends, unless they’re also in the writing biz, may not be the most accurate or insightful, even if they’re really trying to help. 

Although we all love our own writing, we’re hardly the best judges of whether or not it’s publishable, and the people who care about us don’t really want to tell us our material needs some work (and sometimes that’s being polite).  Do you really want to put people you care about in the uncomfortable position of having to break that news to you in case it’s not good enough yet?  And be honest with yourself.  How will you feel if your significant other tells you your story isn’t that good?  Hmm?  Unless you’re sure you’d be okay with it, hold off and let them have some of the first copies once it’s published.  Then you can joke about your less-than-perfect first drafts over a congratulatory toast.

Enough for today.  Have a good one.
Dave

 There are three kinds of people in the world: Those who can do math, and those who can’t.

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One down…

Posted by Dave on April 4, 2010

Happy April, everyone, and Happy Easter. I hope your Easter Sunday is going (or went) wonderfully, and I hope you pulled more April Fool’s pranks than you fell for. Due to schedules and weather, I only made it to the track one time this past week again. But, I did make three and a half miles this time. That’s a half mile more than last week. I might try to get there this afternoon, but I’ve got to mow the lawn for the first time in 2010 first. I’ll see how I feel after that.
My son and I planted a tree in the front yard yesterday in honor of Arbor Day. He got it from his elementary school. We’ll see if it survives the treatment of a rambunctious fourth grader and his definitely-not-a-green-thumb father.
I finished the first edit of Jaben’s Rift Friday night. From a starting word count of 125,295, I trimmed 7,178 words, bringing the new word count down to 118,117. Not bad considering I was focusing mainly on the little stuff I mentioned in my last post. It’s a really good feeling, getting through the first edit. I know there’s more polishing to be done, but each time through is a step closer (hopefully) toward publication.
Now it’s time to go back through the manuscript again and “kill the darlings.” (No, not my children!) When a writer kills the darlings, it means they go back and get rid of all of those witty little phrases, passages, and such that they were so proud of when they wrote them, but that really don’t add anything to the story. I mean, they seemed like a good idea at the time, but when you read the story, they don’t really do anything except make the author feel clever.
I did find at least one place where I think I need to do a little rearranging on the manuscript. I realized that, at least in this first book, I had a tendency to bring up a question for the reader to ponder, but then I turn right around and answer it too soon. I need to move some stuff around so that my readers have time to wonder what’s going on before I let them know.
Another thing I noticed is that my writing toward the end of the book took a lot less editing for the little things than the first half. I mentioned in my first post that it took me six years to write the first half and a year to write the second half. During that time I was also studying the craft of writing and reading as many books as I could on the subject. I was pleased to see that it looked like at least a small percentage of what I read sank in. We’ll see how the editing goes on the next one once I get to that point.
Okay, just about time to eat Easter dinner. Have a great week!

Dave

My doctor thinks I may have a split personality, but we don’t think so.

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Sighing and Nodding

Posted by Dave on March 27, 2010

I hit the track for the first time in 2010 this past Tuesday.  The weather didn’t really allow it any other day (for which I sent a “Thank You” card to the local weatherman).  Ouch.  Between walking and jogging, I managed to make it three miles.  It wasn’t as bad as I was afraid it would be the next day, but I was still walking a little slower than usual.  This week looks like better weather, so I’ll be able to go more than once.  My running goal is five miles with no walking by the end of the summer.  My weight goal is 200 with a starting weight of 230.  We’ll see.

Our brief respite is almost over.  We had a couple of weeks after the kids’ basketball season ended, but now it’s time for baseball and softball to gear up.  Plus, my daughter is also going to be playing volleyball in a summer league at the same time, and she’s on the school track team as well.  I’ll have to really stay on my own case to keep the writing on pace.  I love to write, but one of my favorite things to do is watch my kids in their games or school functions (plays, singing, talent shows, etc…).  I’ll have to make it work somehow.  To paraphrase Tony Little, “I can DO it!”

Writing update:

Well, I’m almost halfway through the first edit of Jaben’s Rift.  I say first edit because I will definitely be going through it again.  This first time through is looking for basic stuff like words or phrases that aren’t needed, or are redundant.  I was surprised at how many unnecessary “he said,” or “to her,” there were, or simply phrases that restated something said previously, or that weren’t needed at all.  Just looking for things like that, I’ve been able to trim almost 4,000 words off the manuscript, and I’m not quite halfway through it.

Here’s a breakdown of a paragraph from my first draft, and how I changed it:

“The sun had already begun its climb into the clear morning sky as Jason and Reyga walked out the door to begin their journey.  Stepping out into the yard, the first thing Jason noticed was the multitude of various odors filling the air.  Noting the direction of the breeze, Jason looked upwind.  What he saw caused his steps to slow until he finally came to a complete stop in amazement.  He had seen plenty of backyard gardens before, some quite impressive, but this was surely the king of all gardens, if there were such a thing.”

At first glance, it doesn’t look all that bad, but there are some things that could definitely use a few tweaks.  So, here’s what I changed, and why.

  • “The sun had already begun its climb…”  This is a little wordy.  I changed it to, “The sun was climbing…”
  • “…to begin their journey.”  Not needed.  I’ve already established at the end of the previous chapter that they’re going to start their journey this morning, so this is redundant.
  • “Stepping out into the yard, the first…”  Not needed.  If he stepped outside, it’s a given that he’s stepping into the yard.
  • “…various odors…”  I dropped various.  If there’s a multitude of odors, they have to be varied or he wouldn’t notice that there’s a multitude.  They’d all smell the same.
  • “Noting the direction of the breeze…”  Again, not needed.  For him to know which way upwind was, it’s a given he’d have to figure out which way the breeze was blowing.
  • “What he saw caused his steps to slow until…”  Wordy and not really needed.  If his steps slow, we can infer that whatever it is he’s looking at is the reason.
  • “…in amazement.”  Same as the last phrase.  I ended up combining this sentence and the previous one instead.
  • “…some quite impressive…”  Not bad, but again, not really needed.

After the first edit, the new paragraph reads like this:

“The sun was climbing into the clear morning sky as Jason and Reyga walked out the door.  The first thing Jason noticed as he stepped outside was the multitude of odors filling the air.  He looked upwind, and then slowed until he finally came to a complete stop.  He had seen plenty of backyard gardens before, but this was surely the king of all gardens, if there were such a thing.”

See how much unnecessary stuff was in there the first time?  The new version, while perhaps still not perfect, is cleaner and more concise without really losing anything from the original.  It’s just that now, instead of assuming the readers need every little thing explained to them, they’re given credit for enough intelligence to figure out some things on their own.  Remember, never insult your reader’s intelligence.  Plus, the original paragraph was ninety-six words.  The revised version is seventy-one.  That’s a reduction of twenty-six percent.  Obviously, we can’t to do that with every paragraph, but if you’re a beginning writer like me, you might be surprised at what you can get rid of without hurting your story.  And if you’re not a writer, the next time you read a book (especially if it seems to be dragging), see if you can spot places where the author is using extra words and/or phrases that really don’t need to be there.  These can bog a story down if there are too many of them.

Another thing I noticed is that my characters tended to sigh and nod a lot.  Now, this isn’t all that different from what we do in real life (just think about how many times you nod in the course of a conversation), but if a writer puts every single nod into the text, it can get distracting.  Same thing goes with sighing, or taking a deep breath, or being silent for a moment, etc…  While we want our dialogue and associated actions to be believable, there is such a thing as too much detail.  (And, by cutting out all of the deep sighs, I’m conserving oxygen, hehe.)

Finally, there are the “he said,” “to him,” and other little tags that we put into our dialogue, a lot of which aren’t needed.  This is especially true if there are only two characters in the scene.  Here’s a quick and dirty example:

“Hi, Jenny,” Bill said as he walked up to her.
“Hi, Bill,” Jenny said.  “How’s it going?”
“Oh, it’s okay,” he said.  “How about you?”
“I’m good,” she said.
“So, how’s your mom doing?” he asked her.
“She’s doing great,” she told him.  “Thanks for asking.”

This could just as easily have been written:

“Hi, Jenny,” Bill said as he walked up to her.
“Hi, Bill.  How’s it going?”
“Oh, it’s okay.  How about you?”
“I’m good.”.
“So, how’s your mom doing?”
“She’s doing great.  Thanks for asking.”

Okay, so it’s not the greatest example, but do you see how, even when the tags are left off, you still know who’s talking?  Removing unneeded tags also speeds up the dialogue instead of bogging it down.  Read the second section, and then go back and read the first section again.  See the difference?  Now if this were to turn into a long discussion, you would want to add some sort of tag every so often, either dialogue tag or motion element, so that the reader doesn’t lose track of who’s speaking.  But for sections like this, a lot of those tags can be tossed out the window.

Enough for today. Have a good one!
Dave

Every day, every moment, is another step on the journey. Are your steps taking you in the direction you want to go?

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Let the carnage begin

Posted by Dave on March 21, 2010

Okay, the time has come to pull Jaben’s Rift back out of cyber mothballs.  It’s been sitting (with me trying very hard not to think about it) for almost four weeks.  Now it’s time to start snipping, chopping, shredding, ripping, and whatever else it takes in order to turn it into something readable.  I’ll be trimming away the fat, working on dialogue, getting rid of excessive adverbs, and dropping things that don’t add to the story.  The official starting word count (including chapter titles) is 125,295 words.  My target range is 90,000 to 110,000, which means trimming away about 20% of what I’ve written. Oh, the pain!  Too dramatic?

It’s really amazing, though, what you can get rid of or move.  On JR, I tended to edit as I went.  I remember one section that I went over a couple of years ago, that I dropped from 1,100 words to 300.  Looking back, I realize I had fallen into a trap that catches a lot of writers (especially new writers, such as yours truly), that of the dreaded info dump. 

An info dump, sometimes called a data dump, happens when a writer is so eager to make sure the reader understands the story and main character that they throw every detail of the character and his or her motivation into one long section of prose right at the beginning.  The problem is that’s not how we get to know people in real life.  In fact, part of the fun of a relationship is the time it takes to learn about the other person.  It’s that way in books too.  Dump everything about the character out at the beginning, and there’s nothing left for the reader to anticipate learning about them, no questions for which the reader can anticipate answers. 

So, for any prospective fiction writers out there, take a little time giving out the information about your characters and the situations they’re in.  Give us just enough to get us interested, and then dole it out in little bits and pieces, in either dialogue, or memories, or inner thoughts, whatever.  Don’t dump it all on your reader at once, no matter how tempting it may be.

******

We interrupt our normally scheduled blog for the following quick rant. 

Attention Google!  I am so tired of running a search on your engine and clicking on a link only to have it take me to some other page full of “related links.”  Then I have to click on the “back” button and click on the first link again in order to get to the page I wanted to go to in the first place.  Oh, it only happens once in a while, but it’s still annoying!  Instead of hijacking my web surfing, how about you just put the link to your “page o’ links” on the search results and let me make my own decision, thank you very much. 

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.

******

Alright, since I’ll be using my time to edit Jaben’s Rift, the next novel will be placed on hold for now.  Once I have JR ready, a synopsis written, and my query ready, I’ll get back on the second one.  It’s almost 16,500 words now.  Better than last week, but still a little off the pace.  Once JR is edited and the best I can make it, I’ll need to hit this next one even harder.

Hope your weekend was a great one,

Dave

Dreams that are never dreamed can never come true.

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