Tag Archives: writing

12 Years to Get to the Trash Can

7 Jul

I’ve gotten some amazing, useful feedback from the test readers who’ve returned their comments so far. I can’t wait to get the rest and to start rewriting Acephalous Book 1 (which very well could become a longer, single book that’s not part of a series).

Some items I plan on changing include:

-POV shift from 3rd person limited to 3rd person omniscient. Though I value the challenge the former POV presents to an author–successfully presenting all of the characters in a rich and emotionally arresting way without getting into the inner thoughts of most of them–I feel like I’m missing out on opportunities to better link my readers to the characters’ emotions, fears, and motivations, to add history and detail to a scene without narrating or telling.

-Structure/Order of Events. I’m looking to get to the action sooner than the current version does, and to reel people in with the mystery and intrigue of Breena’s situation by making the dreams she experiences carry more weight.

-Character Behaviors. The characters are still hollow at this point, as is usually the case in any initial shell of a story. They aren’t fully independent, separate, complete people in the world of dreams or reality. They each have the beginnings of uniqueness, but undermine their own existences by contradicting their thoughts with their actions, cultivating dislike through unrealistic dialogue, or failing to display their importance to the story. The goal is for each character to sound like a real person, their own person, rather than sound like different variations of me as the author.

To accomplish all of this (and, doubtless, the many more decisions I’ll make as more feedback comes in), I plan on performing a total re-write of the test-read version. I’m going to work page-by-page to recreate each with fresh words. The plot will stay essentially the same, as will the basis of the current characters, but by rewriting in one stretch of time, I will have a more homogeneous text. As it is, I can still tell which sections I wrote as a high school student and which sections come from master’s degree me. It doesn’t mesh.

I’ve worked for a long time to get the story to a coherent shell to share with others for input. It’s a tricky stage where it’s complete enough to call a story, but too rough to call publishable. This version is a husk of what it could be, and it’s always hard to let people read something that I know is not finished. I always pray those reading realize it’s still just a draft, that I wasn’t passing it around as a sneak peek of the completed story. (Read: Yes, you’ll still need to buy the real one to find out what happens even if you test-read it.) The text that will go on sale by the end of next year won’t much resemble the one they read, and I’m thankful. Even Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” For me, while I’m much more proud of the story than what I put in the toilet, and while I wouldn’t store the book alongside your manure fertilizer, it is a first draft of sorts. It took 12 years and who knows how many full overhauls to get to the state where I handed it out for critique, but, in terms of publication readiness, the 2015-2016 version of Acephalous is the first draft. It’s the first draft I’ve had printed and bound; it’s the first draft I’ve let people see; it’s the first draft to be acceptable enough to consider moving forward.

Rewriting is the stage where many aspiring writers quit. We get through the feat of finishing something as huge as a novel and realize that, even though there’s a finished story with a beginning, middle, and end, it’s not acceptable in its current state. It would be easy to stare at the piles of commentary and say, “There’s still so much left to do…” and never say anything else about the project. It can feel overwhelming to think about how many little (and major) things need to change, but authors press on because the satisfaction of creating a viable beginning, middle, and end isn’t enough once people have read it. Viable doesn’t mean finished once someone points out what’s lacking. Personally, I’m thrilled to rewrite and leave the opinions of Mr. Hemingway in the dust.

 

Pro-Tip: Naming Characters

2 May

Whether you’re the type to go for allegory, obscurity, trends, or historical accuracy, naming your characters can take daunting research. It’s a fun job, don’t get me wrong, but it helps to have thorough tools to get the job done.

Baby name websites are a good start. Just Google “baby names” and you’ll find a number of sites that’ll do the trick. They usually include origin and meaning of the name. In addition, many rank the names based on popularity. So, if you want to reflect the times, you can choose a popular name. If you want uncommon names, you know what to avoid. However, these lists, in my experience, are exclusively for given names. And that makes sense. People aren’t looking at lists of surnames for their children. They get those automatically.

Writers, though, we get saddled with having to choose it all. These decisions, if you’re one to put a lot of emphasis on names reflecting personality like me, are foundational ones to make. (It’s totally fine to arbitrarily choose a name based on aesthetic preference alone, too.)

The website Behind the Name is the most thorough list of surnames I’ve found. It includes many geographical areas making naming by ethnicity or nationality is easy. It provides the meaning of each name listed, and it is detailed about noting any variations in spelling or language where applicable.

I’ve gotten a lot of use out of Behind the Name today while working on the second installment of Acephalous. New characters, new names. Comment below if you’ve got your own favorite naming sites to add to the conversation!

Happy writing.

Amanda Marsico

Author, Editor, Red Ink Enthusiast™

Chugging Along

22 Apr

I got my copyright!

The goal is to have Humans In My House, a chapter book for readers ages 7 to 11, for sale by the end of the year. Now, I’m working on securing an illustrator for my little black cat character.

Join me on Facebook for more updates, discussion, and writing resources.

 

To Plan or Not To Plan

19 Apr

Are you a “watch the weather forecast and pick your outfit accordingly” kind of writer, or a “put something on and hope you don’t sweat or freeze” kind of writer?

In life, I’m a weather watcher. In writing, I’m a forecast gambler.

A lot of authors will swear by their various methods of planning–storyboards, character charts, webs, lists, outlines, the list goes on. Planners are the ones paying attention to the forecast of their story–deciding on the mood, action, tension, and characters ahead of time. And, lots of authors swear by the process of writing to discover. They throw on whatever they want to wear at the time, maybe bringing along a plan B outfit just in case, but allow the climate of the story to shift on its own, and then adjusting the characters to be appropriately dressed after the fact.

With the former, authors benefit from economy of time. Planning, if you are the type who works well with such structure, means that very little writing time is wasted on things that don’t make it to the final copy. Characters are fleshed out before they even enter the story, plot has definite direction, and the motivation and drama of the story is decided, meaning you already know what characters want, why they want it, and what happens when they try to get it. These are great things to know in advance. I wish it was easy for me to write in this manner, to sit down and say, “Today, I’m going to make this happen.” Unfortunately, it’s hard for me to answer any questions about my characters or plot before getting to a moment in the story where a certain question must be answered.

The latter is my preferred method because I write first drafts off of train of thought. Authors don’t necessarily know where the story is going when it starts, which can be liberating. In addition, having no plan releases an author from the feeling that preconceived ideas about the story must be adhered to. It’s hard to let go of a plan you’ve spent a lot of effort on, even when it’s not working. If it’s not the first book in a series, there’s some direction left over from the books before it, but as a stand-alone plot, very few factors are decided. To dive right in rather than to plan means that characters truly drive the story, and they grow with the plot. Nothing is decided until it has to be, and nothing is permanent. I think this is a good way to prevent myself from writing what I would do rather than what the character would do. This method may produce more loose ends to revisit, but as long as you can keep track of following through on those connections, you can be assured that actions true to the characters are taking place.

Leave your thoughts on the planning process in the comments below!

 

 

Pro-Tip: Testing

14 Apr

Every novel goes through a test-phase. If it doesn’t, well, I think it should.

A test run of your manuscript means that you’ve pried your hands away from the keyboard, clamped down on your desire to continue editing and rearranging, and actually allowed others to read it.

I know it’s tough. You’ll want positive feedback, but the negative will be more useful.

This necessary step in the revision process affords you some time away from the text. When you come back, you’ll read with fresh eyes and new opinions. While it’s nail-bitingly nerve wracking to give something that you consider unfinished to others for the sole purpose of judging it, the feedback you’ll receive will be that last push you need to move toward completing the project. Finally.

Personally, this stage, which I’m about to embark upon myself, is exciting because I’ll get to hear from outsiders, both within and without my target audience, and who know nothing about the story, whether it’s as slow, redundant, cliche, or lame as I worry it is in certain parts. I’ll learn whether my jokes hit the right note, if my characters are relatable, and if I’ve classified the genre and age range correctly.

Help your test readers out by giving them a reader’s note along with the manuscript. Include your log-line and jacket summary. If they know what you intend to get across with the story, they’ll be able to tell you if you did or didn’t accomplish that. If they don’t know your intentions, they’ll find their own meaning along the way and assume you did a nice job. Include a bulleted list of concerns you have–things you want them to consider and report back on specifically. Include your prospective genre and age range to make sure you’re on target regarding content complexity and appropriateness. And DEFINITELY include a big thank you. Your friends and family have just agreed to do for free what editors charge enough to make a living doing.

And remember that no matter what kind of feedback you fear getting ahead of time, you will get to edit again because nothing in a manuscript is permanent.

Happy writing, happier re-writing!

 

Pro-Tip: Parallelism in Lists

10 Mar

One of the most common mistakes I see when editing is the use of a list where the tense does not match before and after the comma (,) or colon (:).

The easiest way to decide whether you’ve been consistent in each part of your list is to read your sentence all the way through using only one item out of the list as the completion of the sentence. Each item in the list should create a complete sentence with the phrase that sets up the list independent of the other items given.

Ex: In the study, researchers found that children who went to school hungry: lacked focus, felt fatigued, struggled with following instructions, and acted out more frequently than children not experiencing hunger.

Notice in the example that the phrase leading in the list is in PAST TENSE. This means that all verbs used in list items must also be in PAST TENSE.

To verify the consistency of tense, you can choose any one list item read it as a complete sentence.

Ex: In the study, researchers found that children who went to school hungry struggled with following instructions.

Each list item should complete the sentence correctly in this way.

The same goes for lists set up with commas.

Ex: It’s easy to walk into the grocery store and leave with a box of cake mix, three tubs of icing, and fifty granola bars, but not the milk I went for.

Using just one item from the list, it’s still a sentence because it’s conjugated properly all the way through. And, finally, to check your sentence one last time, you should be able to remove the entire list–that’s everything after the first comma and before the last comma, and still have a complete sentence (subject and verb phrase). The example below displays both concepts.

Ex: It’s easy to walk into the grocery store and leave with a box of cake mix, but not the milk I went for.

That’s all for today. Thanks for reading. Leave any questions in the comments section!

 

Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast™

 

 

 

 

Drained.

29 Feb

It’s the author’s task to adopt each life, event, and feeling in the story as his or her own in order to write evocative, realistic, and compelling prose.

Some days, the task is a fun escape from the rain outside, the dishes in the sink, and the reruns seen so frequently they’re quotable. Sometimes, it can feel like too much to take on–the problems of a character on top of the stresses of daily reality, no matter how mundane.

In either instance, it can be hard to focus, whether that’s because there are chores and errands on the brain or because putting yourself through a fictional trauma feels too real. But, at least in the case of the latter, that’s how you know you’re doing a good job.

Writing is emotionally exhausting, but that level of psychological and emotive design is how you bring a reader into your created world as a participant, not just an observer. It’s easy for me to say, “Power through; it’s worth the effort.” It’s not always easy for me to take my own advice, though it’s true advice. There are times when my writing ruins my mood for the rest of the day. As awful as it might sound, those are the days I know I wrote something really important, or at least true to the human experience.

On those days, I take a lot of breaks and read books I really love. Oddly, becoming a participant in other stories doesn’t feel nearly as taxing, even when they are equally as serious, emotional, or tense as what I’m writing. This is perhaps because becoming emotionally invested in a story of someone else’s creation provides the mental escape of writing one’s own fiction minus the heightened sense of scrutiny, attachment, and truth that accompanies authorship.

With this in mind, I’d like to know what YOU do when the story starts to weigh on you as if it wasn’t fiction. Join the conversation in the comments below, or visit my Facebook page.

As always, thank you for reading. Happy (or maybe not-so-happy) writing!

Amanda Marsico–Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast™

Acephalous, An Update

5 Feb

It’s cold and rainy here. It has been most of the week. But, that kind of weather is perfect for hot drinks and long projects. I’ve decided to pursue publication of my first novel. This isn’t the children’s book I mentioned a few weeks ago, but the first manuscript I ever completed–a YA novel called Acephalous. I started writing it in high school and, over the years, it has taken on many new forms, getting better every time. It’s now in its third edited draft of the completed version. I plan to send it for copyrighting at the end of this edit (unless I find something glaring along the way that I have to overhaul. A realistic possibility, as I’m never satisfied).

What I’ve learned is that it is sometimes necessary to step away from projects for a long time in order to realize their worth. I always thought the story was pretty decent. I even shared clips of it here when I was planning on publishing after the second draft. But, after spending so much time with it, I lost confidence. I thought it needed a total rewrite, that there was too much of my younger, untrained, high school writer self left in it. I got overwhelmed. An edited draft two and a fresh draft three sat on my shelf for a couple of years, third printing better than the second, but still unedited.

Now that I’ve come back to it, I realize it’s really not bad. Sure, there are parts I’ve changed, and the time away allowed me to see them, but the time also allowed me to see what was great in the novel and what was innate in my writing abilities–things from my younger, untrained self that really work and don’t need to be educated away. I’d have to say that writing is never more “you” than it is before you’ve been trained in theory, style, and genre. After that, “youness” gets hushed by correctness and propriety. So, this latest version is a balancing act between my original voice as an author, as a teen, and the technical sensibilities of an academic, an adult. What should be thrown away, and what should be added to achieve a properly formed plot? All while being my own, not what any professor encouraged (or ordered) me to be. It’s a line by line choice that I’m fully equipped to make thanks to my education. After all, you have to learn the rules in order to artfully and purposefully ignore them.

Pro-Tip: After You’re Finished Writing

4 Feb

So you’re done writing a piece. What next? Have you edited yet?

That’s the first step, and it’s a step that will be repeated as your own edits and the suggestions of professional editors or test readers begin to reshape the text. Editors will help you look at content AND the technical side of writing. Hiring a professional is a great second step in moving toward publication. Notice I say second step. This is because you should be editing your own work at least twice before paying anyone else to do it. You will spend a lot of money on an editor if she or he is paid to scrutinize a novel that is still at a first draft stage. There will be many flaws pointed out, and the story will not be publication ready when you get it back from the editor. That editor will need to read it again after you have fixed the issues mentioned.

If your novel is at that point where the content doesn’t need scrutinizing, a proofreader is the appropriate professional to seek. Proofreaders will find the mechanical and technical flaws without trying to do anything to the story or characters you’ve so clearly fleshed out–that’s for the developmental and line editors to worry with, and you’re past that stage.

With any hired writing service, you don’t HAVE to take the advice given, and you are not required to change something in your writing if the suggestions for improving it don’t fit with your purposeful intentions (and by purposeful, I mean YOU did it on purpose and IT has a purpose for being that way, that an end-goal will be reached because of that choice). However, we are paid to look for inconsistencies, errors, and inadequacies, so if a problem is found, chances are your purposeful choice did not convey as such. A purposeful choice to style your writing in one way is different than a blatant mistake, even if it does go against the grammar norm, but it should be written clearly enough to appear deliberate. If you can justify your choice to break the prescriptive rules of how writing “should be,” then that’s the first step in purposeful writing. The next step is clarity. This is because clear writing doesn’t need justification from its author. It is obvious. Editors and proofreaders get to ask the author why something was written in a certain way. Readers of the final publication usually don’t get to talk to the author. Your text IS your chance to make your meaning and reasoning clear. In writing, the author has a one-sided conversation with the reader where all information is given up front; the author must anticipate the opposition and the skeptics to ensure that any weak point that might cause a gap in understanding is patched up preemptively. This includes verifying that all purposeful rule-breaking actually seems purposeful (in both senses as discussed earlier).

Is it time to submit for publication yet? Maybe so. Whether you’ve hired one editor or five, please keep in mind that a publishing company will assign its own editor to your story if/when the manuscript is accepted. Getting it in tip top shape before submitting is the best idea. You want to be taken seriously. However, there needs to be a place in your process where you say, “This is good enough for now.” (Read the article at the link for more on this.) See what the publishers actually say before trying to change parts you still doubt, and see what they say rather than assuming you know what they want out of your genre in the first place. Most authors get many rejections, which are basically free critiques on how to get better. So, maybe before you spend any more money on editors and proofers, try submitting to a few places and see what they say. Then adjust the manuscript accordingly.

Most importantly, though, remember that it is YOUR text (at least until it is accepted and rights are purchased by a publishing company), and you’re never going to have a hired panel of professional problem-finders that 100% agree with the way you wrote something in its original form. Professional editors and proofreaders are all writers first, even if our careers are to help others with their writing. It’s likely you’ll find 100+ ways to say the same thing if you continue to seek out other writers’ opinions because writing is based on the individual’s aesthetic. But opinions have no power unless you adopt them as your own.

In a nutshell–There are artful ways to break the rules, and you ultimately have to go with your gut and your authentic intentions. If your intentions can’t co-exist with the recommended edits, make sure they are justifiable choices. If you can’t find a reason why you did something in a certain way, it’s probably better to change it. If there’s a purpose, a reasonable explanation for breaking the rules, you’re probably safe. But remember, clear and precise writing, even when it breaks conventional rules, should not need explaining. Your choices need to appear as choices and not mistakes, so make sure the unique “rule-breaking” areas are carefully crafted.

 

Happy editing!

Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast™

Pro-Tip: Punctuation Quick Fix

4 Jan

Hello, Lovelies! Happy New Year.

Today, I’m giving you a quick list of the top five punctuation mistakes I see most frequently while editing for clients. Now, you can watch for these errors and correct them yourself BEFORE you have to pay someone to find them. Visit the links for full discussions on each topic and examples of execution.

In no particular order:

1-Comma Splice and Missing Comma: Thinking of a comma splice as an extra or unnecessary comma without its accompanying conjunction will suffice for this quick lesson. For a full discussion on the comma splice, see Self-Editing Tip #2. To spot a comma splice, ask yourself if your sentence is actually comprised of two (or more) complete sentences linked by a comma. If yes, is there a conjunction after the comma? If no, it’s a comma splice. To fix it, your options are to add a conjunction after the comma, to change the comma to a semi-colon, or to replace the comma with a period and capitalize as necessary to form to complete and independent sentences. Similarly, a missing comma is identifiable by asking if there are: three (or more) items in a list or series, two (or more) complete sentences connected by a conjunction, or a complete sentence preceded or followed by a dependent clause. Each of these requires a comma between list/series items, independent clauses/complete sentences, and dependent and independent clauses respectively.

2-Uneeded Apostrophes: I see a lot of apostrophes used to make words plural. This is incorrect. The pluralize a word, like going from one apple to many, simply add “s.” Apostrophes are used to show ownership. They precede “s” in possessive nouns and pronouns. In the occasional instance that a plural noun shows ownership over a plural object, the apostrophe comes AFTER “s.”

3 & 4-Incorrect Placement of Quotation Marks & Paragraph Formatting of Dialogue: If you follow the link, you’ll find a full discussion on the purpose of quotation marks and how to (and not to) use them. For this tip, though, I want to assume you already know the basics and focus on where the marks belong in a sentence when there are other punctuation marks in the vicinity. Quotation marks go OUTSIDE of periods and commas at the end of a sentence of dialogue (“Sentence here,” the author said.). Quotation marks precede and follow the word or inner punctuation WITHOUT a space (“Sentence.”). Quotation marks are not necessary at the beginning and ending of EVERY sentence by the same character speaker. Place one at the beginning of a character’s dialogue and one at the end where the character is completely done speaking. 4-The next piece of text, whether narration, description, or another character speaking, will begin on a new line as a new paragraph. (“Sentence of first character is long. There are multiple sentences. You see that there only needs to be a quotation mark at the final end of that character’s speaking. After I’m done here, I will start a new paragraph–new line, indent.”)

5- Hyphens: Knowing the difference between a compound word (one word made of two parts that are, on their own, also words) and two words that we conveniently slap together linked by a hyphen is important. Some words are correct–or at least accepted–written with OR without the hyphen (anti- or anti). Some are not (weekend, not to be confused with weakened, please). In addition, some words have different meanings depending on their usage or lack of a hyphen (makeup, make up, and make-up, the former as a noun for cosmetics, middle as a verb for catching up on something or resolving and issue, and the latter used as an adjective for something being completed after the fact). In most cases spell check functions will either allow any variation because it does not have precise enough understanding of sentence and word meaning. On occasion, these programs will encourage you to correct to the wrong punctuation. Watch out.

Thanks for reading. Happy writing!

Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast™

 

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