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Monday, February 25, 2013

Horse Colors

Picture Credit: http://www.aspca.org/fight-animal-cruelty/
Yes, we are once again going to talk horses for this blog on the random research that I've done.

As I mentioned in my last blog about horses, I had to do significant research due to my main character's familiarity with horses. I find this research interesting. Any followers who are very familiar with horses will not learn anything new in this blog. But I do welcome any comments from your experience.

Horses are classified by their breed and their color and/or markings. In fact, many horse owners are just as concerned about the way the horse looks as they are the actual breed. If the temperament and condition of two horses is similar, color and markings can sway the decision if one looks better than the other. This is NOT to say owners of race or rodeo horses care more what they look like than performance, but less-serious owners at least take it into consideration.

Read more about horse colors, patterns, and genetics here.

There are 4 base colors of horses, with all other colors and patterns being a combination of the colors:
  • Bay
  • Black
  • Brown
  • Chestnut

White is technically not a color--it is the absence of other colors. When we look at how these colors manifest themselves on the horse, we are left with 15 different categories of horse colors:
  • Bay- These horses range from golden brown, to reddish brown, to a deep (almost purple) brown. They always have dark points, which are commonly black, but may be slightly lighter in light bays.
  • Black
  • Brown- These horses can be anywhere from light brown to almost completely black. Their soft parts (muzzle, eyebrows, and around the flanks, quarters, and girth are red or golden brown). The color on these soft parts may be the only distinguishing features between a brown and a black horse.
  • Buckskin- These horses vary in shade from pale cream to a deep rich gold color, and their coats may change color during the seasons. Their manes and tails are either black or very dark brown.
  • Champagne- The champagne pigment dilutes the horse's color received from it's other genes. What would otherwise be red coats are diluted to gold, and black pigment is changed to brown or taupe. These horses are frequently mis-classified as one of the other colors.
  • Chestnut-These horses are red, and vary from honey-gold, to an orange color, to copper, chocolate, and nearly black.
  • Cream/Cremello/Perlino/Smoky Cream- These are actually four different color classifications, but the color description is the same. It would take more than a layman to determine the difference. These horses can vary in color from a pale, off-white to a pale gold color. Their eyes are blue or pink.
  • Dominant White- These horses are white, but may have markings of other colors on their coats. Unlike the cream, cremello, perlino, and smoky cream horses, these have brown eyes.
  • Dun- The pigment in each hair of these horse's coats is concentrated to just one side of the hair. The legs of these horses tend to be darker because the pigment is better distributed, but their bodies have a diluted look to them. They can be shades of red or black.
  • Grey- These horses have a mixture of white and colored hairs over a dark skin.
  • Palomino- These horses are a golden color with ivory manes and tails.
  • Pearl (Barlink)- These colors are recessive. With one pearl gene, the horse will be lightened to an apricot color. If both genes are pearl, the horse will have white hair, pink skin, and blue or green eyes.
  • Silver- Most silver horses have diluted black coats and almost-silver tails and manes. However, the horse may be a bluish-grey color.
  • Sorrel- These horses are a light red color with a flaxen colored mane and tail.

Now that we've established the colors of horses, I'll go into the coat patterns in my next blog.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Editing...Editing...Editing--Part 4: Line Editing

Picture Credit: http://bigthink.com/ideafeed/
This is Part 4 of a 4-part blog series about editing your work. In this blog we'll cover line editing.

In Part 1 we discussed the first steps of content editing, which should be done before line editing.

In Part 2 we began a discussion on balanced writing, a content editing process I learned from my editor Clint Johnson.

In Part 3 we finished the discussion on balanced writing, and in doing so completed the discussion on content editing.

Now you are ready to begin line editing! I won't pretend this is the most exciting thing to do in the world. It's not. But it needs to be done. And just think, after all the work you've put into your book, you are almost ready to send it out!

#1 Search for "Was"

At some point you have probably heard to never use "was." It is not true that "was" is of the devil and should be banished--good luck writing a novel without using it. The problem is it tends to be overused. Another thing you might hear is that if you use "was," then you are using passive writing.

  • "Was" CAN be a symptom of passive writing (The ball was thrown to Sally by Fred). 
  • GENERALLY active writing is better (Fred threw the ball to Sally). 
    • One notable reason a passive sentence may be desirable is when you want the emphasis to go to the object being acted on (in this case, the ball) instead of the character performing the action (in this case, Fred).

But remember, not all passive writing uses "was" and not all uses of "was" indicate passive writing.

Another complaint with "was" is that it is boring. The idea is that you don't want writing such as the following:

  • Sally was tall. Her eyes were blue. She was pretty. But she was shy and self-conscious.

Boring, right? That doesn't mean it can NEVER be used, but be very careful with it. If you want to throw in a "was" statement like that for emphasis at a certain point, go for it. But generally you can give those ideas without making such bland statements.

Another time you will find yourself legitimately using "was" is appropriate to use to indicate time frame:

  • Sally was already standing when Fred walked into the room. 

If you changed the sentence around to avoid "was," you'd change the meaning:
  • Sally stood before Fred walked into the room.

Suddenly makes the fact that Sally stood up somehow connected to Fred.

With that lengthy explanation of what you are looking for, search your document (preferably using the search toolbar to avoid extra reading) for uses of "was" and make sure you really want to use that word.

#2 Search for "That"

"That" is a perfectly respectable word, but as with "was" it can be overused. Do you really need it every time you use it?

#3 Search for any Other Problem Words

Get to know yourself. Do you mix up "then" and "than"? What about "to" and "too"? Do you ever refer to people as "that" instead of "who"? Learn what your specific weaknesses are and search for the problem words you have.

#4 Read it!

Print your manuscript off and just read it out loud. You have already spent so much time staring at a computer screen that it's time for you to see it in a different format. It's amazing what you'll notice by just changing the format and reading. When you find mistakes, mark them and move on. You want to keep the flow of reading, so plan on coming back to them when you're done. My favorite thing to do is to load my manuscript on my Kindle to read at this point. Then I don't have to pay to print it out, I can easily make notations, and I spend so much time reading "real" books on my Kindle that it feels like a book to me when I do that. Pick a way that works for you, but dedicate enough time to reading it that you don't spend too long on this step--otherwise you'll loose a sense of the flow that you are going for.

After you have finished your first reading, go back to the computer and make whatever changes need to be made. Then print it out again (or at least print out the pages that you have changed).

#5 This Time Go Slow

Read through the manuscript again out loud. Go SLOW. Consider every sentence and paragraph. Is there a less-confusing way to say it? Do you have pet phrases that you repeat too often? Can readers clearly see who every pronoun (he or she) is referring to? Are there any unintended puns ("I fell into the river," he said dryly.)?

This reading will probably take 2-3 times longer than the reading in step 4, but you'll catch a ton more mistakes. After you're done, go back to the computer and fix the problems again.

#6 Read Looking for Adjectives and Adverbs

Once again, you are going to need to re-print your manuscript for this step--you are beginning to see one reason I love my Kindle by now.

An adjective is any word describing a noun (person, place, thing, or idea). An adverb describes a verb (action).

Look for and evaluate all of your adjectives and adverbs to see if any can be left out without changing the meaning. Most of these extra words were probably dumped when you did your content editing, but they have a way of sneaking into these final stages. If the adjective/adverb is necessary, is there a less-cliche way of saying it? How distinctive is it? Do you use the same ones repeatedly? Do you ever need comas separating a list of them (This is ALWAYS a warning sign)? Can you get rid of some of them by strengthening the word they are describing ("whisper" instead of "speak softly")?

Go back to the computer and make any changes you found to make.

#7 Read Backwards

No, I'm not joking. Print out your manuscript again and read it one sentence at a time starting with the last sentence of the book. When you become involved in the story, you will miss things because you are so certain that it's right that your brain inserts words that are not on the page.

One time I had my editor and a friend who was reading my manuscript for me both point out a sentence that didn't make sense to them. I read and re-read the sentence but couldn't see what they didn't like about it. Finally, I changed it completely. A second friend, who was slower with the changes she recommended, pointed out the same sentence. I finally asked why she didn't like the sentence and she read it out loud to me. I left out a very-necessary "had"! All those times reading it, and I did not see it.

Reading backwards will help because the sentences will each stand on their own. It is the best way to do deep evaluations on your grammar, punctuation, and syntax. This is probably the least-fun editing round you'll do, but remind yourself that you're almost done.

Once again, go back to the computer and fix whatever changes you found.

#8 Last Reading!

Re-print your manuscript and read it again just for pleasure. As much as you can, pretend that you are not thoroughly sick of reading it. Pretend it is a new book on your shelf and this is the first time you've read it. Again, you will want to read it out loud. You have made changes as you've gone through, and this time you have to go back to making sure you still have the flow.

If you have an electronic devise that will read to you (like a Kindle), I recommend having it read while you follow along. 

#9 Give the Manuscript to Editors

Your editors may be family and friends. Great! Or you may have a professional editor that you use. Fantastic! Whatever your technique, pass your work along before you try your luck with an agent or attempt to self-publish. No matter how thorough you are, you will have missed things that other readers will catch.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Editing...Editing...Editing--Part 3: Setting and Thoughts

Picture Credit: http://www.sparklebox.co.uk/thumbs916-920/
This is Part 3 of a 4-Part blog series on editing.

In Part 1 of this blog series, I covered the types of editing and the first two steps in content editing.

In Part 2 I covered steps 3-4 of content editing. They also constitute the first half of the Balanced Writing Process. This is a system I learned from my editor Clint Johnson. View his website here.

In this blog I will continue the Balanced Writing Process. As a reminder, last time we started with the following paragraph:
  • Johnny cut through the beautiful park on his way home from school, thinking about how happy he was to have earned a perfect report card. Those grades would mean a scholarship! Just when he thought he'd never go to college. No more need to worry about being stuck in the same dead-end, low-paying jobs he watched his parents slave away in. The sun shone down on him and all the flowers were in bloom. He smiled at the world.

After we removed everything except the action (and dialogue if there had been any) in step #3, it turned into:
  • Johnny cut through the park. He smiled.

Then in step #4 we evaluated and improved the remaining actions to try to capture a better idea of the point we wanted to make in the original paragraph. It turned into:
  • Johnny cut through the park, gripping his report card. He sucked in a breath and looked down at it. He smiled. He saw a janitor sweeping up trash. Johnny watched him and stooped to pick up garbage. Then he squeezed the report card tighter and walked on. He tipped his head back and smiled.

#5 Add Setting

Think of setting as salt (or any other seasoning for that matter). A little bit can enrich the story, but too much ruins it. We don't want thick layers of setting. We want to sprinkle it in with purpose. Any time a piece of setting is mentioned, it should directly point to something about what the character is experiencing. Ten people could walk through a field and they would all see different specifics. What specific thing does the main character notice? Why? What does it tell about them?

Look back at the paragraph we have been working on. Evaluate how we can tell more about what Johnny is thinking by using the setting. At this point we are going to still avoid adding any specific thoughts he may have. Adding setting turns the paragraph into something like this:
  • Johnny cut through the park, gripping his report card. He sucked in a breath and looked down at the row of A's on it for the twentieth time. The smile on his lips widened. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a janitor sweeping up discarded cans, magazines, and other litter. He stooped to pick up a scrap of paper at his feet to drop it into the nearest metal trash can. Then Johnny squeezed the report card until his hand shook and walked on. He tipped his head back and smiled at the sun.

From the original paragraph to this one the specifics brought out in the setting have changed. That will happen as you look at what you need to convey as much thought as possible. 

Go back through the chapter you have been editing using this process and sprinkle in setting. Remember, you can spend an entire volume on explaining every minute detail in just one scene--but it would be very boring. Readers want setting that helps move the story--not setting that gets in the story's way.

#6 Add Thoughts

Now we get to add thoughts back in. A thought is anything that another character can't observe. It doesn't have to be internal dialogue. If we have done an effective job with the actions, dialogue, and setting, we will not have to make bland statements that "Johnny was happy." If the reader can't figure that much out then take another look at the previous steps. You only need to add the thoughts to fill in the blanks. When we do that with the paragraph we have been working on together, we get:
  • Johnny cut through the park, gripping his report card. He sucked in a breath and looked down at the row of A's on it for the twentieth time. The grin on his lips widened. Now he'd be sure to get the scholarship. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a janitor sweeping up discarded cans, magazines, and other litter. That would never be him. He wouldn't be trapped like his parents were in their own dead-end jobs. Johnny stooped to pick up a scrap of paper at his feet to drop it into the nearest metal trash can. He squeezed the report card until his hand shook and tipped his head back to smile at the sun. Then he walked on. College was waiting. 

That's it. There's no question that it takes time to do this process--especially when you have a whole book. But look at the progress we've made by comparing our finished product to the original paragraph (shown at the top of this blog). You might be arguing that you write better than the original paragraph that I typed up as an example. Great! Try using the Balance Writing Process on just one chapter in your book and compare the before and after of your own work. 

As I'm sure you noticed, a few things changed as we went along. I did what I could in each step to smooth out the writing. The major addition was the janitor. To be correct, the people who clean parks are called grounds maintenance workers, but I thought it was more likely that Johnny would call the worker a janitor. In the original paragraph I didn't plan on there being a worker around--but I didn't exclude that as a possibility, either. Quite frankly, when I typed the original paragraph I didn't have any idea where it would end up. I added the grounds maintenance worker as a tool to help show the progression of Johnny's thoughts.

This is all still content editing. Don't get so caught up in the specifics on the page that you stop considering other ways to portray it. And I wouldn't begin to say that the way I changed the original paragraph is the only--or even the best--way to mold it. I'd be happy to hear from you if you take the paragraph through the steps above on your own and come up with something different. It'd be fun to look at what you do with it.

Once you have finished these 6 steps, you are ready to move on to line editing. We'll discuss that more in Part 4.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Editing...Editing...Editing--Part 2: Balanced Writing

Picture Credit: http://manbicep.com/2011/11/19/
This blog begins with step 3 of content editing. View the first two steps in Part 1.

Also, I don't want to take undue credit for the technique I use. I learned it from my editor extraordinaire--Clint Johnson. He teaches classes, speaks at conferences, and helps authors polish their work for a very reasonable charge. Click here to visit his website.

The Balanced Writing Process is making the actions/dialogue, setting, and character thoughts all work together in appropriate amounts. We do this by tearing apart and then re-building one chapter at a time. This step is probably going to be your most time-intensive step, but give it a try with just one chapter. You'll be amazed at the difference it will make.

#3 Cut Back to Action/Dialogue

First, copy your first chapter to a new document. DO NOT work straight from your original manuscript for this one! Make a note of how long the chapter is. You can look at how many pages or how many words--just get a rough idea. Now delete everything that is not either detailing a specific, visible action or spoken dialogue. Cut paragraphs apart or out completely. Cut pieces of your sentences out. Let's try it here together:
  • Johnny cut through the beautiful park on his way home from school, thinking about how happy he was to have earned a perfect report card. Those grades would mean a scholarship! Just when he thought he'd never go to college. No more need to worry about being stuck in the same dead-end, low-paying jobs he watched his parents slave away in. The sun shone down on him and all the flowers were in bloom. He smiled at the world.

The passage turns into:
  • Johnny cut through the park. He smiled.

Once you have cut away all of your hard work, the next thing you need to do is take a deep breath; because if you're anything like I was when I first started using this technique on my writing, your beautiful work just turned into unrecognizable hash. The good news is, that means your work will be all better for using this!

Take a moment to look at what percentage of your chapter was specific action or dialogue. For commercial fiction, actions and dialogue should take up 60 -70% of your chapter. If you write in the literary genre, then it is commonly lower, but don't go too much lower. In the above example, action takes up just under 10% of the prose. That is too low no matter what genre you're writing.

#4 Evaluate and Improve Action/Dialogue

So now we evaluate where the holes are. At the same time, take a good look at your dialogue--it should still be around at this step. You should have deleted your tags (he said) but aside from that, how believable is it? How moving? Do the characters who are talking each have a definite agenda? Are they interacting in a compelling way? Are the characters different enough that you can tell who is talking even before you add the tags (this doesn't mean that you won't add tags back in, but they should be identifiable)? If not, revise your dialogue.

For practice, let's look back at our example:
  • Johnny cut through the park. He smiled.

In the cut we made, we lost all sense of why Johnny is happy and what the main conflict is. We need to find a way to portray these through his direct actions. This is done by adding specific details about what he is doing that lead the reader to understand. Like this:
  • Johnny cut through the park, gripping his report card. He sucked in a breath and looked down at it. He smiled. He saw a janitor sweeping up trash. Johnny watched him and stooped to pick up garbage. Then he squeezed the report card tighter and walked on. He tipped his head back and smiled.

By giving Johnny a few actions that explain what he is thinking and feeling, we have increased the percentage of action from under 10% to 68% of the original length. Notice that it still does not read like a polished paragraph. THAT IS OKAY. We're not done yet. Our next step will be to add setting, but both that and the final step in this Balanced Writing Process will take place in Part 3.