As a reader, do you prefer the characters steer the story, or are you an action fiend, hungry for the plot? Do you really want to get to know the people in the story, do you want to root for them and feel their pain and their excitement, or do you just want the action—conflict, problem, conflict, problem?
As a writer, you should take a cue from your preferences as a reader. If you prefer to read plot-driven stories, then you may not want to sit down and try to write a family saga that is generations deep. And likewise, if you really love those books that dive into their characters’ lives, into every nook and cranny of their thoughts and feelings, you may not want to pick up your pen (or sit down at your keyboard) and try to crank out the next action-packed thriller.
Why this advice? Because we do learn to write—at least in part—by reading. We get familiar with styles and formulas and narrative flows, and character-driven stories flow differently than plot-driven stories do. There is an advantage to writing what you know. It feels … not effortless, of course … but it feels comfortable when you’re writing in your wheelhouse. Continue reading
As writers, we like words, don’t we? We like the way they sound. We like stringing them together in long, elaborate sentences. We work hard to make our words say what we mean.
Sometimes, we work too hard. Sometimes, we just need to say what we mean and get out of our own way–and out of the way of the words themselves.
Today’s lesson has to do with cutting the fat and streamlining your writing in a way that enables the reader’s eyes to keep moving. You don’t want your readers to get bogged down in mucky, wordy sentences. Let’s give them some solid ground.
Consider the following fat sentences and the revisions I recommend:
ORIGINAL: I came up with the idea the second I noticed Megan hesitating. REVISION: I came up with the idea when Megan hesitated. OR The second that Megan hesitated, I came up with the idea. [Editor’s note: if you leave “that” out of the second option, it reads a little bit like there are two Megans.]
ORIGINAL: When I walked in the room, I noticed Sam looking at me. REVISION: When I walked in the room, Sam looked at me.
ORIGINAL: At the very top of the mountain, I noticed a blinking white light. REVISION: At the very top of the mountain is a blinking white light. OR I saw a blinking white light at the top of the mountain.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m an editor who writes, which I think helps me identify with my clients and their writing process and concerns. I’ve been on that side of the fence (working on my fifth novel now), and I know what kind of work it takes to complete a whole book.
I also know what it feels like to get writer’s block, to have no clue what should come next, to feel painted into a corner I can’t escape.
Some writers say there’s no such thing as writer’s block. They don’t acknowledge it. They don’t suffer from it. Yay for them, if that’s true. However, I recently suffered from it, so I thought I’d offer you four methods to combat writer’s block whenever you experience it (if you ever do).
- Keep writing. Stay with the same character, continue the scene. Just stay there and keep writing. You will write yourself out of it. Maybe what you write won’t work. Maybe you’ll have to rewrite the whole scene. But just keep writing because if you do, you’ll find your way.
- Switch POVs and/or scenes. If you’ve gotten into a corner with a character and you don’t know where they should go from where you left them, or you don’t like where you left them but you don’t know how to fix that, switch scenes. Leave that trouble spot alone for a bit and write a new chapter focusing on a different scene—a different character if possible. By the time you finish that new scene, you’ll likely know what to do to fix the one that was giving you fits.
- Outline. I’ve been outlining more and more lately, and it’s been helpful. I know some people don’t like it, but when you’re stuck, that black-and-white, methodical, organizational process can help you break out of that jail cell you feel trapped inside. Look at it objectively and just map out what comes next.
- Play the “what-if” game. This can be fun. Brainstorm a bunch of different options for your character. They don’t have to make sense. They don’t have to fit the story.
For example, Continue reading
As a freelance editor, I search for jobs on various platforms where people post RFPs (requests for proposals) for editorial work they need done. I filter the jobs I review, but even with my filters, I skim at least 100 job descriptions/RFPs each day. When I come across a job that sounds interesting (i.e., when it has a good, descriptive headline), I stop scrolling and read the description.
The following are examples of bad RFPs (but unfortunately, also very common ones):
- I need my book edited.
- I need an editor for my fiction novel. [Editor’s note: a novel is ALWAYS fiction.]
- I’m looking for a great editor that can help me with my novel.
- I am looking for someone to edit and check for grammatical errors.
Do you think any of those descriptions help me figure out (a) what kind of work the book actually needs and (b) if I’m a good fit for the job? If you said, “Nope, Sharon, I don’t think they do,” you’d be 100% correct. They don’t.
So, in an effort to make everybody’s life a little easier, I’m going to share with you what I (and I assume other editors) would love to see in a job description. Ready? Please take notes. Please share this. We must stop the madness that is “Edit my book.” (I saw that job description today.)
Here are the elements that your job description/RFP should include: Continue reading
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m an editor and a writer. I self-published one of my novels in 2014 (see the “My Book” tab), and I have another that’s in the revision stages and one that I’m currently writing. I think working on both sides of the editorial fence—writing and editing—enables me to really relate to a writer’s struggles and help them bring their work up to the level they envisioned when they began writing it. I also think it helps me offer tips, which is what I want to do with this post. (Stay with me–the following story sets up the writing tip.)