A question I often get from potential new clients is, “Can’t you just do one review of my manuscript so it can get done faster?” So, with this post, I thought I’d touch on why it’s rarely ever a good idea to rush the editing process for time’s sake.
With the digital age, the pace of our culture has definitely increased—seemingly light years in only the past decade or so. Take a look around you on any given day and you’ll see that most of us feel an almost constant need for speed and activity. In just the past week or so while sitting at a stop light, I’ve twice seen cars just sit there when the light turned green because the drivers were so focused on their phones.
This post, though, is not about debating the right or wrong of how much we’ve allowed the pace of our own lives to increase. Rather, it’s specifically about resisting this pull when it comes to something you hold dear to your heart: the book manuscript you’ve completed.
How to Solve the Appositive Problem
In the first part of this post, we looked at some basics of grammar, including the use of the appositive and how lengthy appositives can interrupt the reader’s flow. Near the end of Part 1, we looked at three examples of this:
Jason, the team leader ever since he’d landed the multimillion-dollar contract and higher-ups subsequently took note, demanded that the next meeting would be at 9:30 two days from now.
The broad, a vivacious brunette with pale blue eyes that seemed to look through anyone who dared stare too long in her direction, sauntered her way into the hotel lobby as though she owned the joint.
Rex, a German shepherd who had seen his share of combat operations in the Middle East during the battalion’s last deployment, didn’t come home the dog he’d been when they’d left all those months ago.
Once more, there’s not really anything wrong with any of these sentences in the most technical sense of grammatically sound writing. But it almost feels as though we’re reading a book in between each sentence’s subject and predicate, doesn’t it?
Avoid Long Phrases Separating Subject from Predicate
Subject … Predicate … Appositive …
For those of you who are already cringing at the thought of an entire article focused on Grammar 101, take a deep breath and relax. This isn’t about grammar so much as good writing that allows readers to more easily engage, and thus enjoy, what you’ve crafted as an author of fiction or nonfiction.
With that out of the way, let’s glance at the basics we need to keep in mind. The subject of a sentence tells us who or what the sentence is about. The predicate tells us something about the subject—what the subject is or does.
Easy enough so far, right? You put a subject (noun) and predicate (verb) together, and you have yourself a sentence.
Make Sure Your Characters Don’t Sound Too Formal
A common area of concern I hear from novelists relates to the dialogue in their stories. Mostly, these authors want to make sure that when their characters talk, it sounds smooth and natural. Thus, they often spend a great deal of time crafting carefully written dialogue—and many times actually weaken the novel in the process.
What do I mean by this? Take a look at the following passage:
“Where are you going today, Jimmy?” Polly asked.
“Oh, I am going to go see the new elephants at the zoo with my daughter,” Jimmy said.
“That sounds like it will be a lot of fun, so I hope that you will have a nice time with her.”
“Yes, I think it will be a really great outing with her, thanks.”
Learn the Land of Fiction by Reading Every Day
I’ll start this post with one of my favorite quotes on the craft of fiction:
“If you don’t have the time to read,
you don’t have the time (or tools) to write.”
–Stephen King, On Writing
This quote came in King’s section on his two great commandments for every writer: read a lot and write a lot. The writing part makes sense, of course: regular writing will improve your skills as a storyteller. However, too many novelists seem to think that the second of King’s commandments is more of a suggestion, and they rarely spend any serious amount of time reading novel-length fiction.
The big problem with this? These novelists’ stories usually fall prey to some of the most common issues we editors find in manuscripts. For example: Continue reading
Congratulations! So What Are Your Next Steps?
If you’ve finished writing a novel, then you know the great feeling that comes with typing THE END, making sure the file is saved (and hopefully backed up at least a couple other places), and pushing back from your desk with a smile.
You did the work and you finished it, so I hope you took a moment to celebrate with those closest to you. But then what? What should you do next with your story?
Whether you hope to publish traditionally or to self-publish (or somewhere in between), here are some ideas to keep in mind once you’ve completed a novel:
Don’t Let Your Readers Lose Their Way in Your Story
In the past few months of reviewing and editing novel manuscripts, I wrote “You’ve got to set the setting” so many times that I actually started to feel like Lucy in A Charlie Brown Christmas:
“No, no, no! Listen, all of you! You’ve got to take direction, you’ve got to have discipline, you’ve got to have respect for your director!”
So, after flagging this issue in several authors’ manuscripts in recent times, I figured I should take a look at yet another common pitfall I come across in my daily work as a fiction editor: neglecting to set the setting.
In its most basic sense, the setting of a story scene is the environment the characters inhabit. The setting for a particular scene can include the more obvious markers: time of day, date, season, geographical location, etc. But it can also include items often forgotten but equally or even more important: which characters are on stage right now, the emotional atmosphere of the scene, key pieces of clothing the characters are wearing, the direction the wind is blowing, the constellations visible in the night sky, and the list could go on and on depending on the specific story.
Avoid Passive Sentences for More Engaging Stories
If you’re a serious novelist, then you’ve likely heard the maxim, “Write active sentences and avoid the passive.” It’s a popular recommendation from editors for one simple reason: It’s true.
Let’s take a look at a few examples of passive sentences:
The dolphins were watched by the kids in the stands.
The house was painted and let to dry by the newlyweds.
The ball was hit by Joe into left field in his last at-bat.
From a grammatical standpoint, these sentences are okay. Yet from a reader’s standpoint, they’re, well … weak. When it comes to crafting stories, weaker sentences equate to less engaging writing, and that means disengaged readers who will be more apt to put a novel down if they run into enough snags like these.
To see the weakness of each of the examples above, now take a look at the sentences revised in the active voice:
Avoid This Subtle Way of Telling Instead of Showing
If you’ve read even a little about the craft of writing fiction, or had an editor like me review your story, then you’ve no doubt had someone tell you, “Get rid of those adverbs! They only weaken your story!” But we all learned how to use adverbs in grammar class at some level, right?
So are they really that evil?
Short answer: Yes.
Adverbs—technically “manner adverbs” as we’re discussing them here—tell how someone acts or speaks, usually –ly words like “deftly” and “powerfully.” For example, “Jim deftly sidestepped the linebacker and ran for a touchdown” or “The speaker powerfully made his point known.”
Get Your Story Written, Then Think Revision
Not long ago, I was helping our youngest daughter with a writing assignment about medieval knights, and she told me she couldn’t think of an adjective to modify a certain noun. She offered a few ideas and then just sat there, stuck. I could only say to her what I encourage novelists with: “Just write what comes to mind and get it down on paper. You can always go back and revise it when you are done.”
So I figured I’d run with that notion and offer a few thoughts to those of you who are working on novels, but finding yourselves constantly wanting to self-edit during the writing process. On the whole, most novelists will tell you that self-editing during composition is a self-defeating endeavor that eventually brings writers to a halting screech—and often sends them in the direction of the kitchen for their favorite comfort food.
Why should you just write your story from start to finish without worrying about fixing this, that, and the other? Mainly, it’s because you want the passion and inspiration for your story to find its way out of your heart and imagination and onto the written page with little to no interruption of your creative flow. The STORY is the key; it’s why you’re dedicating a certain amount of your time and energy each day (hopefully) to an endeavor that might seem pointless to others who don’t hear the muse that writers do.