Author Archives: Lauren

Welcome the Cranky Old Man!

Do you remember when you were growing up, the old man who always yelled at everybody to stay off his lawn? He appeared for maybe thirty seconds, threatened to call the police, and disappeared again.

Welcome him to Writing Snippets, please! The old cranky man as you’ve never seen him before!

*Wild applause*

Chinish peered through the crack in the curtains, waiting. The animals were playing in the street, kicking their ridiculous toys around. A little further. Just a little further. One darted after the ball, trying to catch it before it flipped past the end of the wall and into his yard.

The ball rebounded from the curb and skittered along the low wall to where his property dipped down below street level.

He sucked in a breath in anticipation of the feast.

The ball bounded through the gap. The animal hesitated, looking back at its companions, then gingerly made its way down into the yard. Chinish struck as soon as the child was within range, an arrow into the soul that sucked, sucked, sucked, pulling all that energetic power. This one had more power than most, and a new thought occurred to Chinish. His eyes widened.

The child started, turned toward the house instinctively for a moment, its eyes frozen wide. When no one appeared in the doorway it worked its way through weeds to where the ball had come to rest and Chinish threw the door open. “Get out of my yard, you filthy animal!”

The child was close now, close enough to see the patterns in the wide eyes. So close that the flow between them was visible.

The child’s fear was sweet, increasing the flow of power. Chinish sucked it all down, careful not to reach too far or take too much. Oh, sweet. Like a draught of cold spring water after a long walk in the desert. It filled him, chilling him from the inside out until he thought he might shatter.

The child stood, terrified, then grabbed its ball and scurried through the weeds to the street.

Chinish kept the contact, let the power soak into him. He felt the child’s exhaustion, heard through the link the complaint of a headache. I’m going home.

Chinish smiled and kept the contact. Tonight, after all memory of the incident had passed, the child would die peacefully in his sleep. Chinish had never emptied one completely before, fearing repercussions from those who might be able to sense his interference on this plane. But maybe, just perhaps the surge of power as the soul left the body would be enough to open the portal again, to send him home.

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Edit 7 (Line edit)

The line edit is the only point where I feel I can legitimately turn the book over to another editor, even though I don’t. The line edit looks for missing words, doubled words, various typos and overused constructions.

I change the font, both size and color, so that it looks different on the screen. I catch a lot of typos that way simply because my brain assumes if it LOOKS different then it IS different. I catch more when reading on paper, but I hate to print out a copy of the book until I think it’s finished.

This is also my “backward” edit, where I start from the end and read backward one sentence at a time.

This is where I look for words like “that,” “of,” or gerunds (words ending in ING) linked to a verb. If “that” can be replaced with another word, it’s often being used wrong. Do I have too many adverbs (as unlikely as that may seem)? I also look for any passive voice. Use of the word “was” is not the only form of passive voice.

I look for any of the following linked to or used as a verb: Could, should, may, might, must, have, has, had, shall, will, would, can, is, are, was, were, be, being, and been. I mark all of these in my document and go through them to verify if it really needs to be there. Sometimes passive voice is the best way to get my point across (for example if something really did happen in the past) but often I use it as a crutch.

Words used incorrectly, such as than and then, or their, they’re and their. I know the difference, but sometimes my brain…no, let’s not malign the brain. Sometimes my <i>fingers</i> get confused.

I also have various phrases that I know I use way too much, such as the word “breathed” used as a dialogue tag. I use the word “amused” a lot, and a few others. I keep a cumulative list in my editing file.

So the line edit is the catch-all. All the major problems should have been fixed previously, although once in a while I find something at this stage and the book has to go back to one of the other edits.

If I find major plot problems in edit 7 the book has to go back to the plot edit. If I find description problems in edit 6, it has to go back to the description edit. These are major issues, not little stuff, and usually in a case like this I cheat and skip the other edits for everything but the pieces that have been massively changed. If it can be easily solved without another edit, I just take care of it.

I want it to be right.

In essence, I spend one to two months writing and four to six months editing. While I’m editing I’m writing the next one…or two…or three…

Right now I’m so far behind, I’ll never catch up. ūüôā

Summary:

Edit 1 Plot edit / Triage edit
Edit 2 Voice
Edit 3 Emotion
Edit 4 Description
Edit 5 Full read-through
Edit 6 Auditory
Edit 7 Line Edit

Once all edits are done, it’s time for the next step–query or self-publish.


Edit 6 (auditory)

This is where I just go straight through the book, looking (actually listening) for anything that stands out. Words, characters, plotlines. Does everything fit? If it stands out to me, it will probably stand out to my readers.

As part of the earlier edits I usually convert the draft to PDF, and here I do it again. This time I read and listen. If you have adobe reader, Ctrl shift Y turns on the reader and Crtl shift B activates it (for Windows). Then I can just lay back and listen, taking notes at anything that sounds wrong.

Being able to listen to my words also gives me a chance to catch things I usually don’t in print, like rhymes or alliterations, repeated words or repeated phrases.

Another thing I look for is places where the description or emotion is insufficient (since those are my weaknesses). I can find this out loud far more easily than I can just reading the words.

I don’t usually find a lot wrong–details, things I need to check like timelines (which moons are in which phases, do the characters speak of things they can’t know yet, etc) and blocking. If one character is involved in a conversation and a moment later he wasn’t present that should have been caught previously, but sometimes I still find such things even at this stage.

Writing this editing series has been interesting on a number of levels, because it’s forced me to actually quantify the editing process and write it down. It’s been a loose structure, but I’ve never written it down this way.

This could technically be combined with edit five, but since I do them separately I split them out. Aside from that, seven seemed like a good number. ūüôā


Edit 5 (Which doesn’t have a name)

Edit five is really pretty quick, because by this time I’m deep into another project and have no interest in finishing.

In the fifth edit I’m doing a broad over-view to make sure things fit. Are the issues creating a problem with flow? Does a particular scene work? Why did I put that description there, and would it be better in another place? Did I use the same description more than once? (Which I have done, oops) Are there any sections where I get bored, and want to go do something else?

This is the place where I work on fight scenes, to make sure they read quickly so that the readers don’t get bogged down in details. It’s basically a read-through, stopping at anything that catches my attention.

Then I send the book out to the beta readers again, if I want to overwhelm them. Then on to edit six.

I usually have this process going for a couple books at a time, so one (or five!) might be in Traige stage while another is in stage five and two are in the emotion-description edit stages. I try not to have more than one in each of those two categories, because otherwise nothing else gets accomplished.


Edit 4 (description)

I don’t do description. My novels have been described as “place holders in a shadow world” because there is little or no description. Shapes, colors, scents, sounds, all have to be added after the fact.

The descriptive edit consists of colors, textures, smells, sounds, movement, and even size. Does a character look up or down at another? Are her fingers small? What color are the leaves on the trees?

Trying to fit all the senses in, after the fact, is more difficult to me than the emotion edit. It’s just an artifact of how I see the world.

I like reading books with a solid physical presence, so I try to put those things in my novels. This edit and the emotion edit take the most time.

I’m afraid I have a desire to appeal to everyone, so I want those who like description to be drawn in by the description, and those who like characters to be drawn in by the characters. There’s something for everyone here.

I just need to make sure there’s not too much, but that hasn’t been a problem to this point. If anything, my readers want more than I’m giving them.

I’m much better in this sense than I used to be, but it’s still a continuous struggle.


Edit 3 (Emotion)

I have a very difficult time putting emotion into my novels. To me, their emotions are obvious from their actions, but my readers (almost unanimously) say that they need some indicator of what these people are feeling.

Honestly, if an ex husband comes back with the stated intention of taking custody of their son, I think the woman’s emotions can pretty well be assumed. But apparently not.

So the third edit I do is emotion. At this point I have to put in the little actions, words, descriptions, that will tell my readers what I already feel is obvious.

Makes it difficult, and some might say that if I think it’s unnecessary I should skip it. Since I like the books better when this edit is done, I continue to do it.

This is another step of character development, and unfortunately many of my books are set in a world where visible emotion is frowned on. In many cases what I do is create physical tells for each character. So a character might pick at her skirt when she’s angry and fiddle with her hair when she’s being sarcastic, or whatever. If I can create distinct “tells” for each character they start to pop off the page, just a little.

I go through the book as many times as necessary, trying to put at least three emotion words or sentences on each page. Doesn’t always work that way, but I try.

Then it’s time for the other hard edit, even worse. Description.


Edit 2 (voice)

Edit two is the voice edit, and although part of this gets taken care of in the first edit (mostly on accident) I still need to tweak things. This is usually a short edit for me, making sure the characters are consistent and recognizable.

I need to make sure that each of them is distinct, even if only to myself. I have a bad habit of transferring traits, which leads to using the name of the stolen character in places where they do not belong. So I know that if I use the wrong name for a character they’re blending and I need to fix it.

One thing I have difficulty with, particularly in first drafts, is differentiating the ages of various characters. Some act too old, some act too young, and I have to keep in mind that the way the other characters treat them is going to make a difference in how my readers judge ages.

It doesn’t help that I can’t name those ages outright because days and years are different lengths on different worlds. This leads to my readers saying “What? He isn’t acting 13!” when the character is actually physically 17 or some such thing. So the actions have to stand in for statements to tell my readers what age they’re dealing with.

Again, this is one where I have to trust myself. Do I like (or hate) the characters? Are they distinct enough that I can read straight through without getting stuck on some odd little quirk? Am I trying to figure out who is speaking?

If everything’s good it’s time for the description and emotion edits. These two are the hardest for me.


Edit 1 (Triage)

Ava posted last week about words I use as a crutch, words I have to check to make sure they are actually needed. ¬†It reminded me that I’ve never posted here about my editing process. ¬†So, without further ado…

What I call the triage edit is the biggest one for me. I’m a pantser, so I write from beginning to end without any kind of outline. This leads to plot holes, characters that slip in and then slip out again, as well as a multitude of other problems. Things that happen in real life, but they’re “not acceptable” in writing.

For me this is the best way, even though it leads to more work after the fact. I like the fact that my stories are unpredictable, that the story develops as if these things are actually happening rather than that sense of deliberate construction that I get with many books.

The triage edit is the post-writing surgery phase, or the storyline edit. I read through the story, complete, once. I usually also hand it off to a reader at this point, if someone is available, because I literally can’t see many of the problems.

I am getting better at that, but I’m not there yet.

After I’ve got the plot straightened out (or at least unknotted and the pieces welded together correctly) it’s time to go back, fix the broken characters, put in missing scenes (I seldom have to take scenes out because the writing is so organic) or move them around.

Here’s where I have to decide on the final “shape” of the book. Could one character’s POV be removed or transferred to another more central character? Would a prologue be helpful? Did I start the book in the right place, does it need more or less backstory?

What about the conclusion? Is it satisfying? Does the climax follow the three-act crescendo, or is there a gap in the middle? These are all things we’re used to in the books we read, and although we don’t miss it in real life readers notice if it’s missing.

When I’m done with this I read through it again.

I have to trust myself on this piece–I can tell that something’s wrong, or something’s missing, but not always what. I can see it in other people’s writing, but not my own. If I feel something’s wrong, I’m right. So if necessary I pass it off to another reader.

Once I feel comfortable reading it all the way through, it’s time for Edit 2.


Call it Instinct

Most authors don’t think about poetry when they’re writing, but they’re well aware of the flow of words, how the words will sound and the rhythm behind them. A battle scene uses smaller, focused words. A love scene (usually) uses softer, smoother words.

For most people the rhythm of language is instinctive. We use it all the time in conversation, in e-mails, in other forms of writing, but for some reason when we sit down to write we think that we need something different.

We don’t. Think of the last argument you had. Did you stop to think about how to make the words flow? I doubt it. And yet the argument moved without a hitch. If you have an argument between characters it’s going to flow in a similar way, with similar words and emotions.

I doubt that you took time to elucidate the abstract considerations of the debate or describe the color of the walls. Um…no. So in writing an argument, description comes far down the list–unless the argument is about the color of the paint, your characters are not going to notice. Nor will your readers, if the scene is constructed properly.

When I think of a battle, I’m thinking lunge, thrust, crunch, dart. Single syllable words that make the reader move faster through my prose. Short, punchy sentences because the scene is moving fast in my head.

In an emotional scene I don’t necessarily want the words to flow faster–I want to give my readers time to absorb what is happening, to experience it. So I choose words and structure sentences that will create a setting and a mood–far more setting and mood than I would use in the battle scene.

People in a battle are going to be paying more attention to their footing and avoiding that sword than to the color of the sky or the fact that their father is missing. Those are considerations for after the action.

You really don’t want people getting lost in your lyrical prose while a sword is swinging toward your MC’s head. You also don’t want your readers speeding through an emotional goodbye scene.

Pacing, rhythm and flow are mostly about scene logic–they should be instinctive. Just like a conversation, if we choose the correct words and structure we’ll end up with a scene that flows and leads readers through to the next, without drawing attention to the fact that it was carefully constructed to do so.


Technological Dystopia

Can I just say I love this life? ¬†There’s so much to see, so much to do, that my short attention span (call it ADHD if you wish) is seldom a hindrance. ¬†I can flip from writing (which takes up most of my time) to laundry or dig into research on spinal meningitis. ¬†I can fly with dragons over a distant mountain range and then decide to swim in the deep ocean–all without leaving my home.

The internet is part of this, although I think that even without technology I’d be scatterbrained. ¬†Technology just makes it easier to flip from one topic to another. ¬†And we are surrounded by technology. ¬†Cell phones, internet, cars, even kitchen blenders use tiny pieces that are constantly broadcasting the details of our lives.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if someone could read all those details, from what you had for breakfast to the kind of laundry detergent you use?

In reality, “they” can. ¬†“They” can track what kind of detergent you buy, where you go in your GPS equipped car and how much gas you buy. ¬†“They” can find out who you called and the exact location of that call. ¬†“They” know how much water you use and control your electricity. ¬†“They” control what we watch on TV, what movies are available, and the price of gas.

Do we already live in a form of dystopia?

A modern, technological dystopia would be a little different than the dystopia of earlier ages. ¬†Based on the world around us we already know that it is possible for people to know every detail of our lives. ¬†We accept this. ¬†We understand and accept that “they” can control those details. ¬†We seldom question it.

In our theoretical dystopia, a law is passed (for our protection) which limits the amount of salt used in a day.  The dystopian government (Lets call them the Harks) know that you have 3 people in your house.  They know how often you go out to eat. They know how long it should take for you to use the box of salt you just purchased.  If you use it too quickly, the salt police may show up at your door.

The Harks also know that you’re having a dinner party, since you put it out on social media, and they know who is invited. ¬†They have a good idea what you’re making (ingredients list, you know) and the computer power to put all this information together. ¬†They know that the recipe you’re using (downloaded from the internet) uses more salt than would be allowed for that number of people.

Yourself and all your guests vanish, leaving the food untouched on the table.  Neighbors wonder about alien abductions and go on with their lives.

It is not that far from collecting information to using it.  From using it to abusing it.   Each of these theoretical (dystopian) societies got to a point where someone was capable of using technology for control and chose to act on it.  Each technological step makes that kind of control both simpler and more likely.

That is a world I choose not to live in, so I’ll stockpile salt against the evil Harks world domination schemes. ¬†I’ll put my (lack of) holiday plans out on Facebook and let the world know where I am by GPS.

I’ll celebrate a society where we are still free this 4th of July.