January 31, 2011
With the ever shortening attention span of readers, tightening prose in order to get rid of unnecessary words becomes a necessity. Readers want their story delivered quickly and effectively, and rambling prose should be kept to a minimum, if not avoided altogether.
So how can you tighten your prose? Here are some tips I‘ve picked up:
Writing and editing are two different creatures. Writing is a creative process, and trying to edit while you write may stifle your creativity.
Hearing your written words spoken aloud can unveil grammatical errors or awkward phrasing, things you might not be able to pick out by reading alone.
- Take Time Off Between Finishing Your Draft and Editing
I’ve heard authors say they’ll give themselves 2-6 weeks after finishing a manuscript before they go back to edit it. At first I thought this was insane. Why not edit as soon as you finish, while the story is fresh in your mind? But after taking this advice, I now realize why so many authors give it. Taking time off allows you to view your story more objectively. Going back into it with fresh eyes, you are much more likely to spot ineffective writing that needs to be altered or tightened up.
Don’t use a fancy, complicated word if an easier word will do just as well. No one will be impressed by your command of the English language. Your readers want to immerse themselves in a good story, and having to bust out the thesaurus every ten minutes is bound to detract from that.
- Don’t Go Crazy with Description
Yes, you have to set the scene, but you don’t necessarily have to do it all at once. Use only as much description as is necessary for this part of the scene. You can sprinkle the rest in slowly, interspersing it with action and dialogue.
Instead of modifying your verbs with adverbs (-ly and –ing words), choose stronger verbs. Instead of “walked angrily”, why not say “stomped”? Instead of “spoke loudly”, why not “shouted”? This is my personal weakness; I’m the adverb queen. I try not to worry about it during my first draft, but I know I’m going to want to edit a lot of these out of the manuscript before I can consider it complete.
Do you have any tips for tightening your prose?
For a good primer on editing, take a look at the “Fat-Free Writing or How to Eliminate Wordiness in 10 Easy Steps” Workshop given by Darlene Buchholz and Annie Oortman at RWA’s 2010 Conference (it’s available for download from RWA).
January 28, 2011
As I prepare to finish my latest manuscript, which will come in at about 90,000 words, I’m pondering where to go from here. I have an UF that’s been kicking around in my head, in various incarnations, for over a year now. I want to write it. I really, really do. But the prospect of facing another 90,000 words is more than daunting right now.
I’ve heard it said by some authors that they benefit creatively from varying the length of their writing projects. They will write one or two full length novels, followed by a novella. In this day and age of e-publishers, we are no longer constricted by strict word count guidelines. It’s now easier to write a novella that might actually get read by someone other than you and your family.
So what are some of the pros and cons of writing the occasional novella? Here’s what I came up with:
- Gives you recuperation time between big projects. Less word count equals less conflict, and let’s face it, dreaming up conflict can be exhausting.
- If you’re the sort of person who’s refreshed by new ideas, writing novellas might allow you refill that creative well.
- You can complete a novella much faster than a novel.
- If you haven’t written a novella before, you might find it as difficult to write as a novel. Novellas need the same level of worldbuilding and plotting as regular length novels, but you have less word count in which to do so.
- If you’re looking for that NY publishing contract, you probably won’t get it with a novella. Novellas can be part of print anthologies, but these are usually reserved to authors who are already NY published.
- The total payout potential is less with a novella than with a novel.
So I’m wondering, how many of you vary your writing projects, interspacing novels with novellas? If you do, do you find it beneficial? Does it refill that creative well?
January 26, 2011
Chemistry is something that’s hard to describe, but you know it when you see it. If there’s a deep and genuine sexual attraction between two people, you can actually feel it, like some invisible cord pulling them together. It’s the chemistry that creates those compelling characters we absolutely cannot wait to see get together.
I can’t think of a television screen couple who (in my opinion) demonstrates more genuine chemistry than Booth and Brennan from Bones. When they look at each other there’s a glint in their eyes, or something in the way they twist their heads in opposition to each other, that just makes you feel the chemistry between the two of them. The two of them are totally in sync. So, when writing, how do we create that sort of chemistry between our main characters?
- Make Them Respect Each Other
Whether they initially do or not, at some point the characters will come to admire and respect each other. They will come to treat each other as equals. When the Bones series first starts, Booth and Brennan don’t have a tremendous amount of respect for each other. But he witnesses her intelligence and her powers of deduction, and she observes his bravery and strength. They begin to admire and respect each other, to seek each other out for advice and support. There’s nothing sexier than that.
- Give them Similar World Views
There can (and should) be a lot of conflict between your love interests, but they should have similar world views on the issues that really matter to them. Their goals may be in opposition, but maybe they are both acting with similar interests at heart. In Bones, Booth is a believer in true love while Brennan thinks it’s nothing more than chemical attraction that fades over time. But whether they acknowledge it or not, they both believe in the power of love when it comes to friends and family, to the people who support them.
Of course there must be a base physical attraction. They recognize things about each other, on a surface level, that are arousing. She notices how strong and muscled he is, how full and firm his lips are. He notices the curves of her body, the way her hair bounces as she walks.
- Something About Their Relationship is Special
They are able to communicate with each other in a way they cannot with anyone else. They share inside jokes. There’s something about their relationship that cannot be mirrored in another relationship. Otherwise, why would they choose this person over all others?
Do you have a favorite read where the author expertly creates intense chemistry between the two main characters? If so, please do share.
January 24, 2011
I’ve heard of authors who tweak their story as they write it, taking the time to get every word down just right so that by the time they write “The End”, they’re pretty much done. If you’re one of those writers, I envy you. I don’t do that. Instead I spew out my first draft and hope to hell I can fix it when I get to the dreaded “E” stage (that dirty word: Editing).
For those of you like me, I’m talking today about what we can do to get that first draft into publish-worthy format. (For extra help, check out the Workshop “The Art of Layering: From First Draft to Final Manuscript” given by Renee Ryan at RWA’s 2009 conference). Here are a few of the things I automatically do when revising a manuscript:
It’s hard for me to properly portray what a character is feeling in my first draft. I’ll do my best but I always know it’s going to fall a bit flat. This is an automatic fix when I’m revising that first draft. I’ll add some actions and sentences meant to strengthen the emotion, and will change weaker words to those that automatically portray more emotion (“walked” will become “stomped” or “stalked”; “looked” will become “glared” or “gazed”).
We’ve all heard about using the 5 senses in writing. This helps bring the world to life and makes your reader feel like they are in the middle of the story. I’m bad about writing the sense of smell into my first draft, and I know it. So once my first draft is done, I’ll do a ‘5-sense’ check for each scene, layering in use of the senses where needed.
With every scene, there are always things going on beneath the surface. It’s those layers of subtext that add depth and richness to the story. This is something you can’t always get down on the first draft. Maybe the hero and heroine will argue over something minor, but subconsciously there is another issue at heart. Or the heroine leads the hero to believe she thinks he’s a major asshole, when what she really thinks is he’s a danger to her heart. Or an object is used as a metaphor for one of the characters or the relationship.
My first drafts look something like this:
She looked over at him.
He cocked a brow.
Nothing wrong with those sentences, but that tends to be most of what they do throughout the entire novel. Once I’ve finished that first draft, I go back in and revise these movements. By then I’ve got a better idea of the characters’ internal motivations for each scene, so I can add movement that mirrors that internal motivation, even if it’s in opposition to what they say.
What are some of the things you do to complete your manuscript once you’ve finished the rough draft? Or if you work your story as you go along, please tell me, how do you do it?
January 23, 2011
Posted by Rosalie Lario under General  Comments
I’ve been nominated for the Stylish Blogger Award by the fabulous Ciara Knight!
Thanks so much, Ciara!
Now, per the award guidelines, I’ll share 7 little factoids about myself:
1. I’m a dark hot chocolate fanatic!
2. My husband and I have been married for four years, but together for 16. We met when I was 17, so for those who say you can’t meet your true love in high school, I say you’re wrong.
3. I love to read, but my books need to have a happy ending. It’s why I write romance. I don’t like to be depressed. (Sorry Nicholas Sparks)
4. My favorite activity besides reading and writing is snorkeling. Yes, I know it’s wimpy, but I love to see what lives under the ocean and the thought of scuba-diving terrifies me, so snorkeling it is.
5. While I love living near the ocean, I dream of living in NYC part-time. It’s such a dynamic city.
6. I’ve never seen a ghost, but I would like to. At least I think I would.
7. I keep telling myself I’m over vampires, but then I read another story with a yummy vamp and fall in love all over again.
January 21, 2011
The other day I listened to a workshop featuring Jayne Anne Krentz (for those of you who are curious, it was “Secrets of the Best-Selling Sisterhood” by Jayne Ann Krentz and Susan Elizabeth Phillips from RWA’s 2009 conference). She had a lot of interesting advice for authors trying to sell their first book. Some of them were common sense and others really gave me food for thought. I thought I’d share them today because I’d love to hear your thoughts on them:
Know where your manuscript belongs in the marketplace. Is it paranormal romance, historical romance, urban fantasy? All the better if you have similar novels to compare it to. The editor or agent will want to know right away what the novel is like and where they would position it in the store.
When submitting an initial proposal to an agent or editor, your synopsis should be a one-page pitch that reads like back cover blurb. Your main intent with the proposal is to sell the agent or editor on reading your entire manuscript. You don’t want to bore them by writing every single detail of your novel into a 10-page synopsis (though you may need that for later purposes). But right now your goal is to engender interest in your full manuscript.
A partial submission generally consists of the first three chapters (or the first 50 pages). Make sure that partial submission ends on a hook and makes the editor or agent want to read more.
- If you are querying publishers, look for the assistant editor. An assistant editor’s career is made by the writers she discovers, so she will be hungry and more likely to actually look at your manuscript. Senior editors are extremely busy and therefore far more likely to take a look at an unpublished writer if recommended by an assistant editor or an agent.
- Don’t be afraid to query editors as well as agents. Sometimes an editor is easier to sell than an agent. So query widely.
I have to admit, all this advice makes sense, but I was a bit surprised to hear the bit on querying editors as well as agents. I’ve gotten the advice not to query editors because if you do and then wind up getting an agent, the agent will not be able to help you if you are rejected by the editor.
After thinking about it, there are actually several ways this could go:
(a) You query only agents and hope you can find one. But what if you don’t? Should you at this point start querying editors?
(b) You query both agents and editors and end up landing an agent who helps you get your manuscript up to snuff. But what if the editors reject your earlier manuscript? Will the agent have the ability to call up the editor and say, “This has been revised; I think you should take a look at it because you might just love it.”
As you can probably tell, I’m a bit torn on which way to go with this one.
So what do you think? Do you agree with the above tips? What about the advice to query editors as well as agents?
January 19, 2011
Let’s face it: in this day of action movies, readers have a shorter attention span than they used to. The days of long, winding narrative are over. So what can we writers do to give us the best possible chance of keeping the reader engaged from the beginning to the end of our story?
Readers need to be hooked at the beginning and end of every chapter. This is what stops them from putting the book down once they’ve reached a convenient stopping place.
Making your novel fast-paced will keep your reader hooked, but you need to have the occasional moment of relief or your reader will become used to the constant high tension and may grow bored. I remember hearing once that the best way to do this is not to slow things down, per se, but to switch from one type of tension to another. From emotional tension to plot tension, or vice versa.
Shorter chapters can trick the reader into feeling like the book is a faster read. How many of you come to the end of a chapter, count the pages in the next chapter, and decide it’s short enough that you’ll read just one more chapter? I know I do. The trick is to have a hook at the beginning and end, so your reader really, really wants to read the next chapter. If you can successfully do this, before they know it they’ve finished the entire book.
- Keep Your Paragraphs Short Too
Readers love white space. It makes the book seem more manageable. Even if the paragraph could be longer, consider having no more than three or four sentences per paragraph. If you have a big chunk of narrative that could be written in one paragraph, break it into several. This creates the white space a reader instinctively looks for.
This is really a subset of the point above. Dialogue creates the white space a reader looks for, plus it’s fun to read the interplay between your characters.
What do you as a reader instinctively look for when considering whether or not to buy a novel? Do you scan it for dialogue or white space? Do you read the back cover blurb and/or the first few pages? (I do all of the above.)
January 17, 2011
It’s no secret that love scenes in romance novels have gotten hotter over the years. When it comes to your hero and heroine, many readers want to know it all. Today I’m examining, why write sex scenes at all? From an author’s perspective, what is it about the sex scene that makes it such an integral part of many romance novels?
Here are just a few reasons why an author might want to write a sex scene:
Sex is the ultimate intimate act, so by having your characters engage in sex you are revealing much about their characters. Is the man focused and giving, or is he self-involved? Does the woman view the act of sex as a stepping-stone to a more intimate relationship, or is it just good sex? Do the two characters greatly desire each other, or might they have ulterior motives for their actions? What sort of insecurities about themselves do the characters have?
Writing a sex scene isn’t just about describing the mechanics of what’s going on. Pretty much everyone (at least everyone who reads a romance) knows what happens when two people have sex. Reading a clinical description of it would get pretty boring. What a reader wants to know about, and an author wants to show, is the emotion behind the actions. How do the hero and heroine feel about each other? What emotional bond is forming between them as a result of their lovemaking?
- To Change the Characters’ Relationship
Having sex changes the relationship between two people. It just does. Either it will make things easier for them, or more difficult. So an author who wants to take the characters in a certain direction can use sex as the impetus for that. Maybe they are engaged to others but realize they cannot be apart, or maybe they have an antagonistic relationship, and the sex makes it worse. There should be some measurable difference in their relationship after they’ve engaged in the act.
- Demonstrate a Character’s Play for Dominance or Control
This is especially useful when writing historical romance, where there is an obvious difference in the level of power between a man and woman. Maybe the man is determined to prove his control over the woman, or perhaps the woman seduces a wealthy, titled man to force an offer of marriage. There are a lot of reasons besides love or lust that might cause one character to want to engage in sex with another.
A sex scene is ultimately an action scene. Just as with a fight, you are describing action between two characters. A sex scene can be used to speed up your pacing.
- Because People in Love Have Sex
If a romance is a true-to-life depiction of two people falling in love, sex will be a natural part of that.
If you write for pure entertainment purposes, maybe the scene is thrown in there for titillation, and there’s nothing wrong with that!
For you authors, why do you include sex scenes in your novels, or if you don’t, why not?
For more about writing sex scenes, check out Sex Scene Viagra presented by Elizabeth Hoyt during RWA’s 2009 conference, where I picked up much of what I discussed today.
January 14, 2011
Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a very structured person. I like to plot out my story, character sketches and GMC ahead of time. So for me it’s very important to keep some measure of how much writing I do. Those of you who are super-creative and gag at the thought of plotting ahead of time will probably run away from this post, and that’s okay. We all have our methods.
There are many different ways in which a writer can keep track of how much they write a day, some of them being:
- Word Count
- Page Count
I, being an obsessive weirdo, keep track of all of these. Below is part of my Excel spreadsheet:
WORD COUNT SPREADSHEET – DEMON CHARMED – JANUARY 2011
|Goal = 1,600 Words per Day = 8 Pages
||Beg. Word Count / Page Count
||End. Word Count / Page Count
||Total Words/Pages for Day
At the top of my spreadsheet I record the manuscript name, month and my daily writing goals. The goals are there to slap me in the face every time I think I’ve done enough writing for the day. No matter what I ‘feel’ like, I know I haven’t done enough if I haven’t met my goal. If I don’t meet my goal for the day, I know I’ll have to make it up sometime within the next week.
I start out every writing day with the beginning word and page count. At the end of the day I insert my ending word and page count, then record the total number of words and pages done that day. I also like to know how long it takes me to get there, so I’ll monitor and record my time as I write.
So how about you? Do you have a method for keeping track of your writing? I’m curious if anyone is using a method other than word count, page count or time. (Maybe you write a certain number of scenes per day?)
January 12, 2011
Whether you’re writing children’s fantasy or erotic romance, suspense is a necessary element of your novel. Suspense is that state of mental uncertainty that causes anxiety in your reader. They might wonder what will happen next, or they might even know what will happen (such as romance’s HEA) but not how. It’s that state of suspense that keeps the reader reading.
Following are a few tips on writing suspense into your romances:
Well-written heroes and heroines will have internal conflict above and beyond what gets them involved with each other. This is what brings your characters to life, what makes them 3-dimensional. Reveal the internal conflict slowly throughout the novel in order to maintain suspense.
Things should go from bad to worse for your MCs. If they take one step forward, they should take two steps back. It’s this constant tug that creates tension and keeps readers enthralled.
There should be clues in your writing that foreshadow things to come. This is especially effective if your clues are not too obvious. Consider including a few ‘false’ clues to throw your readers off.
- Conflict over Complications
Complications are things that happen by fate, such as a freak thunderstorm. You can include complications in your story, but the real page-turning suspense comes from conflict between your characters.
For a good primer on writing suspense (where I got much of this information), check out “From the Basement to the Penthouse: The ABC’s of Building Suspense”, a workshop given by Sharon Sala during RWA’s 2009 Conference.
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