It will probably come as no surprise that editors enjoy the written word, which means that most of us wordsmiths not only work with words as a profession, but we also have our noses in books each day for the pure joy of reading. To wit, just the other night, I was re-reading an old trade paperback comic book (X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga) because I think it’s a great story overall, with super artwork to boot.
Anyway, at one point I came across some dialogue that is common enough in comic books because they are such a visual medium, and it reminded me of an issue that I come across all too often in my work as an editor: dialogue that doesn’t sound realistic because it’s so full of backstory and/or information dumps.
Again, in comic books I expect this to some degree because the writers have limited space with captions and word/thought balloons, but I have to admit that it still bugged me a little because it just sounded so unrealistic. When I see it in a novel I’m working on, I flag it and let the writer know that such dialogue will not ring true in a reader’s ears and will feel like a hiccup or speed bump even amidst well-written prose.
Here’s an example: Continue reading
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.”
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.”