Lane Diamond

Author, Editor, Publisher, Coach

Tag: Editing and Writing (page 2 of 6)

As I prepare to wrap up the year, I look forward to a more engaged 2013.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and have a very Happy New Year!

All in all, I’d have to say that 2012 has been an exciting year. It’s certainly been a busy one. Whew!

Those of you who follow my blog (Thank you!) know all too well that I’ve given it short shrift in recent months. I’m not the kind of person who thinks I should be sending you a new blog post every day. Bluch! Who has time to read them? Especially of you’re like me, and subscribe to about 200 of them. So I try to pick my spots, and provide 3 or 4 decent posts a month. Usually. Yeah, the last few months haven’t been so good.

My only real excuse is that I’ve been working insane hours trying to keep up with an insane editing schedule for all those insane authors at Evolved Publishing. (Just kidding! They’re terrific.) Seriously, though, the pace of things at EP this year far exceeded our expectations, which, I must say, certainly beats the alternative. 😀

My business partner D.T. Conklin and I had hoped to have 10 good authors and 20 quality books in EP by the end of 2012. Well, we ended up with 14 and 35, respectively. It’s been a grind, and we experienced a few growing pains — which, in retrospect, seems perfectly natural — yet even with those few challenges, it was just plain exciting! And 2013 promises to be a good year, as we continue to build our catalog of quality authors and books.

2013 will also be exciting for me because we’re making some changes to our management team, which will free up some time for me not only to do all I must do as a publisher, but to write my own books, too. Man, I can’t tell you how excited I am to get back into the writing routine! To say it’s been driving me bonkers that I haven’t been writing would be one of the year’s great understatements.

As part of that, I expect to be more engaged at this here sad excuse for a blog. 🙁 I doubt it will happen in January, but by February, I should be well settled into my new routine. If not, I’m gonna… I’m gonna… well, I’m gonna go truly bonkers.

Next up is the sequel to Forgive Me, Alex (BTW, it’s on sale this week. Save $2.), which I’m calling The Devil’s Bane. Some of my favorite characters (and I hope yours) will be making a return appearance: Tony Hooper, Frank Willow, Diana Gregario, Linda Monroe, Ben Komura, and yes… that despicable Mitchell Norton. Mwoohaha! My hope — nay, my intention — is to publish it on May 21st. A lot will have to go right for that to happen, but I am an eternal optimist. (After all, I’m the guy who assumed my girlfriend quit smoking cigarettes when I started finding cigar butts lying around the house. 😛 )

Will it all happen according to plan? I sure hope so. I mean… err… ahem… yes, it will happen!

In the new year, be happy, be healthy, be safe. Thanks again.

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A High Commandment of Effective Writing: Show; Don’t Tell

From the Editor’s Desk:

I’ve been posting articles about how to write better for some time now. Many of them go back to my old freelance editing days, and many of them, I’m afraid, have been lost in the shuffle.

Well, I think it’s time to blow the dust off a few of them, and to make it simple for you to visit (or perhaps re-visit) what I hope you’ll find to be helpful articles.

Let us start with one of the primary commandments of effective writing: Show; Don’t Tell. I’ll link here 3 posts from long ago that might help you grab readers, to provide a more satisfying visual experience.

Remember: Stronger writing makes for stronger reading.

Under the Heading of SHOW, DON’T TELL: Readers Can’t See What Something Is “Not,” They Can Only See What Something “Is”

Under the Heading of SHOW, DON’T TELL: Make Your Characters Blind, Deaf and Dumb

Under the Heading of SHOW, DON’T TELL: With Words as Paint and the Page as Canvas, Paint Us a Picture

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Characters Must Live and Breathe on the Page

From the Editor’s Desk:

I’ve said on many occasions that what brings me to an author time and again is his ability to create characters I just can’t wait to see again. Indeed, I’ll revisit a great book every few years precisely for that reason — because I miss my peeps.

So what is it that makes a certain character, or cast of characters, special? Well, that’s a tough one, and a huge part of the reason we call writing an art and not a science.

The shortest answer, I suppose, is that the character must be “real.” I know… impossible for a fictional character. So let me rephrase: the character must be so well drawn as to appear to be real. We readers have to be able to easily imagine the character jumping off the page and joining us here on planet reality.

Yet that is not such a simple thing. What makes us “real?” Is it our eye color? Our hair color? Our height? Nah. I must say that, as a reader, I rarely care about those kinds of details. Indeed, I often (almost always) prefer to paint my own visual image of what a great character looks like. There are exceptions, of course. For example, imagine A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving, without an explanation of Owen’s physical characteristics. Impossible. Would we appreciate The Hobbit if J.R.R. Tolkien hadn’t bothered to describe them in exquisite detail? Of course not.

Yet those are the exceptions. In most modern-day stories, whether it be YA or Mystery or Horror or Thrillers or Literary, the characters’ physical descriptions will not carry that much weight. What’s even worse is when authors think that by providing those details, they’re meeting their obligation to provide full, rich, real characters. Not so.

Characters come alive on the page when we get to know them intimately, when we can see inside their hearts, their minds. When we know their souls.

Furthermore, the way they interact with one another always tells us a lot about characters, just as such activities tell us a lot about people in real life. We hear often of actors, when a particular film or show works well, that they have that certain something we call “chemistry.” As an author, you want your key interactive characters to have chemistry.

The final key is that you gradually build out your characters, giving us glimpes inside them, via their actions and words as the story unfolds. Don’t just slip in a little narrative telling us a character is intelligent, for example. Blah. Show us through that character’s actions; lead us to the obvious conclusion about her intelligence.

Is another character shy? Show him cowering in a corner at a party, examining a painting on the wall, determined not to face the crowded room. Is another character witty? Don’t just tell us that. Dull. Put some of her wit on display, cracking wise at a social gathering, evoking laughter from those around her.

If your characters live, we will relate to them as readers. We will love them, or hate them, or fear for them, or be happy for them. If your characters are flat and uninspiring, you’re in big trouble.

Allow me to put on my grumpy editor’s snarl: If all you can tell us about a character is that she has red hair and green eyes, then please dig a little deeper into yourself, and then deeper into your character. If all your character’s dialogue is an endless string of cliches we’ve heard a bazillion times, then please pick up a book about how to write great dialogue. If, every mind-numbing time your characters interact, they begin with, “Hey, how you doing?”, then please focus all your energy on your day job. You’re going to need it.

I know. This writing thing is hard. Damn it!

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Twitterview of Author Lane Diamond as Conducted by Novel Publicity

I spent an hour Saturday afternoon answering questions for a Twitterview with Novel Publicity. And here it is:

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The Problem with First-Person Narratives – Beware the I-Bombs!

As both a reader and an editor, I see more and more first-person narratives these days. It likely has something to do with the old guard – the “gatekeepers” – not influencing as many books, as the indie publishing revolution continues.

Once upon a time, while shopping my manuscript for Forgive Me, Alex around to agents, I encountered a number of agent websites on which they stated flat-out, “No first-person narratives accepted.” Such blanket “rules” frustrated the dickens out of me – right up there with “No prologues” and “No present tense narratives.” Still, in order to satisfy the gods of literature, I set about making my novel a third-person, past tense narrative, as instructed by the literati.

Then, about 100 pages into my manuscript, it occurred to me that much of it was flat, without emotional depth—lacking the impact, the punch in the gut I’d hoped to create. The answer? Simple: Change it to a first-person narrative, and just don’t submit to those agents who posted their dismissive warnings.

However, that decision spawned quite the learning experience, and it has particularly jumped out at me as I’ve been editing more first-person narratives. Indeed, the literary agents’ frustration over such pieces, the thing that clearly caused them to throw their hands up and surrender, and to apply those blanket rules, grew clear as air to me.

Let us call them “I-Bombs.”

Almost every first-person narrative to cross my desk has languished beneath a series of I-bombs: I did this. I went there. I thought this. I felt that. I heard another thing, and I did that other thing. I, I, I, I, I, I, I….

Yikes. Medic!

“I wanted to tell you this story in which I was the star, but…. Enough about me. What do you think about me?”

Yeah, that’s how those stories read: narcissism on parade. When I encounter 45 “I” on the first page, it goes right to the REJECT pile – whether I’m wearing my editor’s hat or my reader’s hat.

You may be asking at this point, “How do I write a first-person narrative and not use ‘I’?” The answer is simple enough: you don’t. The issue is the frequency with which you use “I.” Just as third-person narratives contain a bunch of “he” and “she,” first-person narratives necessarily contain a bunch of “I.” Precisely because of this, you must be vigilant to justify every single “I,” and to seek viable alternatives whenever possible.

Perhaps because we’re more likely to become the character-narrator in a first-person narrative, our minds get stuck in “I”-mode, and we revert to telling how everything affects “I,” rather than showing the story, allowing it to unfold in a series of scenes focused not on “I,” but on the people, places and events surrounding “I.” When you write, “I remember when John said he wanted to kill me,” you’re telling the reader of the character’s experience, rather than allowing the reader to experience it right along with the character-narrator. That shared experience between character and reader is the essence of a great read.

Most first-person narratives, laden with I-bomb after I-bomb, devolve into a telling, boring, look-at-me-world bit of torture that causes many readers to scramble.

My advice? Make your default approach a third-person narrative, and change it only if you decide it just doesn’t work, that it must be a first-person narrative.

Then, remember the primary commandment of effective writing: Show, Don’t Tell. And please, beware the I-bombs.

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Added May 2014: The Problem with First-Person Narratives – Beware the I-Bombs! (Part 2 – Practical Examples).

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Idle Ramblings of a Bad Boy

Why am I a bad boy? Err… well… I haven’t blogged in over two weeks. WHAT?!?!?!?!?!?

I know. Sorry. (Hangs head in shame.)

One of the things that happens when you wear so many hats – publisher, editor, editor, editor, editor, editor, author/writer 

– is that the last item on the list tends to go begging. That’s okay; we all have our responsibilities to juggle, and I don’t mean to complain about mine (well, maybe just a little), I just want to explain why I’ve been such a bad boy.

Is this the part where I get spanked? Is it?

In other news (actually, it’s kind of the same news), we’ve added 3 more authors to the Evolved Publishing team in the past week, and I’ve taken on even more… wait for it… editing! And publishing! I know, I know. Now where did I put that cognac?

Truly, though, it’s an exciting time, one that we’ve worked hard to reach. While I struggle to find the time to work on my own next novel, and even though something as seemingly simple as keeping up with this blog and the one at Evolved Publishing has become a strain, I remain optimistic and just plain stoked about the future.

That light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter and bigger, so bear with me. I’ll offer up a little more content here at Lane Diamond Central one of these days.

No… seriously. I WILL TOO!

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The Power of Monologue in Fiction, or “Hey, I Like Talking to My Self”

In a fiction narrative, monologue (often referred to as silent dialogue) can be a great way to get inside a character’s head, and without sharing his thoughts with the other characters in the scene. That’s the key difference between monologue and dialogue: the former is a secret for the readers only, kept from the other characters, whereas the latter is a regular part of the obvious character interactions.

Monologue, like its first cousin dialogue, provides an intimacy for readers that straight narrative simply can’t achieve. I think many writers fail to take full advantage of this tool. I also believe some writers use this tool as if they’re attempting to remove a tangled wire from a kitten’s paw with a sledgehammer.

Like all tools in the Writer’s Toolbox, we must use monologue sparingly, and only where it perfectly suits the task at hand.

As a simple example, a character is in a crowded room, full of old ladies and wee children, where polite discourse is not just expected, but demanded. Then he… oh… drops that sledgehammer (don’t ask; I’m trying to make a point here) on his toe. He wants to curse up a storm at that point, but he grunts and swallows his words, because he has a responsibility to those old ladies and toddlers. Shit! Yep, that simple one-word bit of monologue works quite well, thank you.

Some scenes lend themselves to monologue better than others. In my novel, Forgive Me, Alex, as an example, I have three or four scenes that beg for monologue, those oh-crap-what-do-I-do-now moments where the character must remain silent. I use monologue several times within those scenes. During the rest of the book, monologue appears only occasionally, and only in small clusters, often a single word or sentence.

Allow me to provide an example from my novel of where a single short line of monologue works perfectly:

Oh, that grin. For seventeen years it has taunted me, punished me for my indecision, my incompetence. I missed my chance to kill him in 1978, to remove his damned head—simple, as if cutting a sheet of paper. It would have been a fitting end for a monster.

Why did I let him live?

Like whispers in a storm, those memories only tease at me now, here at this obscene and maddening event. I’m trying not to relive every moment of 1978. Every time I do, I feel as if swimming in quicksand, anchored by my constant companions—sorrow and guilt. I’m too damned tired; can’t shake the confusion, the dread. I fear surrendering to fear.

If you examine that line of monologue above, and how I proceeded into the next paragraph, you’ll see that had I made it simple narrative (a couple different ways to do so), I’d have lost some of the power of that moment.

So take advantage of this great writer’s tool… but take it easy. If you overdo it, you’ll sap the mechanism of its power.

Three things to remember about monologue in your manuscript:

1) Italicize the text, including related punctuation, and don’t use quotation marks to signify monologue.

2) Set up the mechanism early in the book (just once or twice), alerting the reader to the fact that italicized segments represent monologue, and then let it do its own heavy lifting. E.g. Holy crap, I thought, she can’t be serious. I realize this is redundant structure, but again, it’s only to set up the mechanism the first time; at least, that’s my preference.

3) Monologue, like dialogue, occurs in the moment. People talk to their selves in Present Tense, so don’t fall into the trap of writing monologue as if it were straight narrative. Use Past Tense only if the character would do so when talking to his self.

Gosh, I sure hope writers find this article helpful.

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The Proper Use of the Word “Like”

The word “like” is quite possibly the most misused and abused word in the English language. Who amongst us hasn’t heard a teenager toss out a gem like this when speaking?

“Like, have you guys like seen that like totally like amazing movie about like gladiators?”

So what, right? Teenagers have always done their own thing. Where’s the harm?

It’s the old slippery slope argument. When people have heard it used improperly 50 times, 130 times, 42,649 times, they lose track of what’s proper and what’s improper. In the stories that I read online, writers use the word “like” improperly in half or more of the instances. Indeed, I’ve been told by a couple of authors that the like the way “like” sounds better than the proper alternative. Oh boy.

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The following example is not an aberration; it has become the norm: “I stood over him like I was eight feet tall.”

The author uses the word “like” improperly here. The sentence should read: “I stood over him as if I were eight feet tall.”

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Another recent example: “It’s not like I had any choice in the matter.”

The proper version: “It’s not as though I had any choice in the matter.”

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The simple rule is this: “Like” governs nouns and pronouns. When modifying verbs, adverbs, adjectives, etc, replace “like” with “as,” “as if,” or “as though.” If you can’t replace the word “like” in your text with “such as” or “similar to,” you’ve probably used it improperly.

I’ve read more than one article in which the author (specifically an editor or agent) said that the improper use of “like” is one of the first tip-offs that she’s dealing with an amateur, and therefore less likely to be interested.

Two Exceptions:

A)     Narrative dialect or colloquialisms

  1. If you’re using a first-person narrative, for example, you may ascribe to the character-narrator certain colloquialisms and speech mannerisms.
  2. Caution: Be consistent. If the character uses “like” instead of “as if,” he must do so always.

B)     Dialogue

  1. Your character’s speech may not be terribly concise and proper. For example, a teenage character may well blurt out the kind of sentence I highlighted at the start of this blog entry. Once again, if you choose to ascribe such mannerisms to a character, be consistent throughout your piece.

So, like search your document for like every instance of that like nasty word, and like make sure you have it right before like submitting your piece for like publication, like it’s your job or something.

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Every Author Struggles to Find His Voice in the Beginning, and To Keep It Fresh Throughout His Career

John Anthony Allen, an Editor at Evolved Publishing, has offered an interesting article on the development of “voice.”

As authors, we tackle this difficult discovery early in our careers, and we work to keep it fresh and dynamic as our careers progress. In fact, a good editor will help your voice grow as an author. Just be careful to keep it YOUR voice, comfortable and natural to you.

As readers, we seek out authors whose voices we find appealing, and our tastes might well change over time. Mine sure did. What I enjoyed reading 30 years ago doesn’t always appeal to me now, and much of what I read now, and LOVE, I would have scoffed at 30 years ago.

Stop over and check it out: God Bless You, Mr. Prokofiev — and join the conversation there. How has your voice changed over the years?

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Lane Diamond is once again hanging his “Freelance Editor” shingle.

Yep, because I love working 24 hours per day, I’m once again making room for a select few clients for my freelance editing service. Now that our initial blast of releases is complete for Evolved Publishing, my shingle, which has been down for several months, will hang once again.

My primary interest is in authors still needing some developmental assistance to bring their books to a level at which they are marketable. Frankly, I find this the most rewarding process – good for my heart and soul. There’s just no better feeling than helping writers get to that point where they can legitimately pursue their dreams of becoming published authors.

For more, just click on my EDITING SERVICE page.

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