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Monday, January 28, 2013

Editing...Editing...Editing--Part 1: Content

Picture Credit: http://revisionfairy.com/
Editing is work. I don't know anyone who doesn't get tired of it--but that doesn't mean you should let yourself off easy.

I heard someone say once that if you aren't completely sick of your story then you haven't edited it enough. That still makes me laugh because there is some truth behind it. BUT editing can be rewarding and exciting. Yes, that's right--I used happy words.

Think about it! You have a story that at its core is wonderful and a best-seller. Unfortunately, that amazing story is buried under layers of problems that drag it down. Editing is the way you clean your story up to let its potential shine through. This is where you can see your story evolve for the better.

There are two types of editing--and you must do both. Content editing is taking a look at the plot, the characters, and the way the story moves. Line editing is looking at your syntax, grammar, and punctuation.

You will want to do the content editing before the line editing. If you notice a typo while you are working on content editing, fix it. But don't spend significant time trying to make everything perfect because you still might be making changes to some of the scenes.

#1 Outline

The first step in content editing is to outline your book. This will give you an overview of what your book is. If you are the type that outline your book before you begin and follow it rigidly then you already have your outline done. Other people don't like to outline because they like to wait and see where the story takes them. That's fine while you are writing, but doing an outline now that you are editing will still be helpful. I fall somewhere in the middle. I start with an outline and a story plan, but I don't stick to it rigidly. So at this point, I re-do my outline.

I recommend using Dan Wells' outlining system because it has made a large difference in my writing, but use whatever outlining method works for you. I previously did a three-part blog that lays out Dan Wells' system, and it can be viewed here.

At least some of you are thinking to yourselves that outlining a story after you are done is backwards, but it really isn't. A good outline isn't just a list of things that happen in the story. It shows how the plots and sub-plots are intertwined. It should also show you if you have holes in your plot. Do you have all the major plot movements, or could adding a scene make it flow better? Are the character's major decisions in the book driven by your need to push the story along? Or do the characters act in a way consistent with who they are?

#2 Characterization

Once you have reviewed your new outline and have gained all you can get from it, scan through your book looking at one character at a time. For main characters that means scanning through the whole thing. If you have five main characters that are present for most of the story, plan on scanning through the whole thing five times. For small characters you will only have to look at the spots where they appear. Use this time to pay special attention to how your characters act, the way they process thoughts, their motives, and their habits. Look for any abrupt change.

Does one character fly into a rage when someone steals his parking spot but then react with patience one chapter later when someone rear-ends him? Does another character suffer from a severe injury in one paragraph but then act like nothing happened a few sentences later? Characters can--and usually should--change in some way as the story progresses, but change happens a little at a time.

#3-6 Balanced Writing

The next process is something I learned from my editor, Clint Johnson. It involves more time than the previous two steps but is well-worth your pains. There are 4 parts to it, so I'll be dividing it into steps 3-6. As it will take more time to discuss, I'm closing my blog for now and will continue discussing content editing in Part 2.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Triple-Duty Writing

Picture Credit: http://despair.com/demotivators.html
Joking aside, triple-duty writing is an important writing technique that I learned from Clint Johnson. For more information about him or to get his help in editing your book, visit his website here.

The idea is that there are three parts in every book:
  1. Characterization- This is NOT a description of what a character looks like. That is closer to scenery than characterization. Real characterization is developing a character's personality and development.
  2. Setting Scene 
  3. Advancing Plot
If a line in the book is not doing any of these three things, then it should be taken out completely. It is not needed for the story.

Any place in your book where you are doing just one of these three things is progressing the story in a boring way. Think about it. A paragraph that is nothing but a long description about a character's personality is boring. The same is true about a long description about what the scenery looks like or how nice of a day it is. As far as advancing the plot, think of a cold turn-by-turn narration during a high-speed chase rather than concentrating on what the characters are saying, thinking, or doing.

Okay, so we've established that using any one of the three parts of a story will lead to boredom. What if you use two? The answer is that it will be much better! It will be engaging--but never gripping. To really let your story shine, probe every paragraph, and even every sentence, to see which of the three things is being accomplished. If there is one that is being left out, see if you can add it.

How? Point of view! The plot should force reaction from the characters, which in turn drives the plot further. Everything the character thinks, sees, or understands should be so strictly through his or her eyes that the story would be different if you substituted one character for another. The scene (whether it's placed in a garden or a haunted house) should elicit response from the character. What does he or she notice? WHY? Why does it matter? What does it reveal about the character?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Signs and Symptoms of Internal Bleeding

Picture Credit: http://cheezburger.com/2496274176

This one is a little more serious than others of my Random Research postings, but it wasn't until I was writing a scene that I realized I knew less about internal bleeding than I thought.

Don't get me wrong, I took biology classes in college--and I've seen my share of "ER" television shows--so I thought I knew at least some about this topic. But when it came time to describe what a character was going through, I realized I was a little rusty.

Thank heavens for Medicinenet and EMS World! In no time, I read up on the signs and symptoms of internal bleeding. Of course, it matters where in the body a person is bleeding. I specifically looked at the chest and abdominal cavities, but look at the links I provided above for more information.

Depending on the severity, internal bleeding in the abdominal cavity can be accompanied by:

  • Bruising
  • Pain
  • Weakness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Shock
  • Decreased Blood Pressure
  • Vomit that is either bright red or the color of coffee grounds
  • Bowel movements that are bloody or black and tarry

Depending on the severity, internal bleeding in the chest can be accompanied by:

  • Bruising
  • Pain
  • Rib Fractures
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Rapid Breathing
  • Skin that is pale, cool, clammy, and blue
  • Rapid Heartbeat
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Altered Mental Status
  • Over-expansion of the chest wall
  • Drop in pulse

I don't know about you, but these lists sure make me feel lucky that the worst internal bleeding I've ever had to complain about are a few bruises when I occasionally do something stupid!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Point of View and Narration: Who saw what?

Picture Credit: http://awinlanguage.blogspot.com/
Before you begin writing, take a good look at your planned point of view. Who has the most to loose in the story?  Which character is the most interesting?

Remember, the main character is generally near the same age as your intended audience. But that doesn't mean he or she must be the same age as the audience. Think of "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee. Scout Finch is only 6 years old at the beginning of the book, yet Lee is masterful in making the book all the more appealing because of Scout's young age. If you choose to have a character that is significantly different in age from your intended audience, stop and think about your reason for doing so. As long as there is a compelling reason, go for it. Just be careful to keep from alienating your audience through actions or speech that they can't appreciate.

Many books today have multiple viewpoint characters and switch from one character's head to another's. That's fine, just make sure you switch at a chapter break or at a scene break. Also, make sure that their points of view are different enough that the reader won't get them confused. There should be a definite reason for each viewpoint character. And be careful of having too many. Unless you've got some real experience using different points of view, two is plenty and three is pushing it.

Once you pick your viewpoint character, your next decision will be how the story should be narrated. As a general rule, use the same narration voice for all viewpoint characters.

  • First Person- This narration voice is growing increasingly common for young adult books. It is used when a character is telling about himself or herself. First person can be useful in gaining empathy for the character because the readers spend all their time inside the character's brain. It can also be easier to help the reader understand motives because the character's thoughts are shown. There is also room here for twists as the reader tries to learn how reliable the character's view of the world is. However, I believe there should be a clear reason as to why first person must be used. If narrating in first person doesn't add to the story, I'd strongly recommend considering third person. Also, keep in mind that the reader must be privy to everything the character knows, and confined to what the character knows. The character can not have a secret from the reader when the reader has access to his or her thoughts. On the same lines, the reader can't find out about anything that the character doesn't know. Think of it as camera placement in a movie. If the audience is confined to what the character sees, then they can not know about the serial killer who is creeping up from behind.

  • Second Person- Basically speaking, don't use this one. This narration voice involves talking to "you" or telling about "you." It gives me a headache to think about trying to compose a story in this narrative voice. If for some reason your story absolutely requires this narration, then proceed with extreme caution. Otherwise, don't consider it.

  • Third Person- This narration voice is still the most widely used, although it is becoming less frequent in young adult than it used to be. A third person voice is one that tells about "he," "she," and "they." This voice is expected to be honest about what is happening (compared to first person, which can be skewed to whatever psychotic interpretation the character has). A third person voice can be omniscient or limited.
    • A completely omniscient narration will know every detail about every character's inner-most feelings. Unfortunately, this tends to draw readers further outside the characters to the point that they don't connect well. Also, frequent switching from details about one character's thoughts to another's is confusing.
    • One way to limit the voice is to make the third person a fly on the wall who observes every action, but doesn't know intimate details about any one character. The downside is that it can be very easy to turn the story into a list of dry facts--no actual emotion is known.
    • More commonly, a limited third person voice is one that knows everything about only one character. This technique has a similar feel as first person because there is a specific main character who the story follows and the reader is privy to his or her thoughts (though not in the same degree as first person). One additional benefit is that the camera can zoom up close in intense parts to show every thing that goes through the character's head and then zoom back out to show what is going on around the character (but only to the extent that he or she can be aware of it).