Lane Diamond

Author, Editor, Publisher, Coach

Tag: Freelance Editor (page 1 of 3)

The Problem with First-Person Narratives – Beware the I-Bombs! (Part 2 – Practical Examples)

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

This post is a follow-up to one I did some time ago: The Problem with First-Person Narratives – Beware the I-Bombs! If you haven’t read that one yet, this would be a good time to do so.

I’ll not repeat what I said in that post. Rather, I shall move right on the some practical before and after samples, identifying both the problem and at least one potential fix. I’ve used actual examples from pieces I’ve edited/reviewed/read, so as always, I shall not mention any writers’ names, so as to protect the not-so-innocent.

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BAD: When I was young, I pointed out the inconsistencies as if I caught him cheating at cards, which he also did quite often.

Notes: The new opening below is a simple turn of phrase to not make it appear all about “I” at every moment. The second key change was making it not about “I” catching the cheating, but about “he” doing the cheating. Focus on the characters and actions around “I,” making it about them as much as possible, relying on the fact that we’re in the POV of “I,” and trusting the reader to react as “I” would want them to react.

BETTER: As a youngster, I pointed out the inconsistencies, as if he’d been cheating at cards or something—which he did quite often.

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BAD: I used to think I could make a living as a skier, but then I realized that I was wrong.

Notes: This option, with its 4 “I” in just 20 words, is all telling and rather… well, dull. The second option takes us deeper inside the character’s true motivations, and concludes with a striking self-admonition (and commentary) in the form of monologue.

BETTER: I’d imagined skiing bringing me wealth and fame. Yeah, money and girls—a life to make most folks bristle with envy, at least the guys. I’m such an idiot!

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BAD: I hear a sound from behind the garage, and I wonder what it might be. Maybe I should investigate.

Notes: Blah! Ick! Phooey! Where to begin? 1) It’s all telling; nothing actually happens. 2) Yeah? Well, we wonder too, so please give us something. What kind of sound? A prowler? A dog? An alien invasion? 3) The narrator suggests doing something, but again… nothing actually happens. Seriously, haven’t you always wanted to read a book in which nothing actually happens? No? Shocker! In fact, elsewhere in the story, the author suggests (again weakly) that the character is fearful of a stalker. Okay… so…? It’s time to engage the reader.

BETTER: I spin around as a loud crash echoes from behind the garage. It seems those tottering, beat-up old garbage cans are still good for something. I waste not a second in bolting for the back door, zipping inside the house and throwing the deadbolt firmly into place. Next stop: the phone and a 9-1-1 call.

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BAD: I thought I’d be able to figure out how I got here in the first place, but I still couldn’t believe I was lost.

Notes: “But enough about me. What do you think about me?” That’s how these I-Bombs often feel, as if it’s just all about “me” and nothing else matters. Also, this violates almost every rule of Show vs. Tell, failing to bring the reader into the moment. Remember those 3 words: “in the moment.” The best fiction brings a reader in and allows her to experience the story right along with the characters, as it happens. Ah yes, 3 more important words: “as it happens.” In this particular scene, the author attempted—and failed—to paint the character’s fear at being so completely lost. She simply didn’t paint the scene for us at all.

BETTER: How did I get here? For that matter, where the devil was here? What a ridiculous situation, to be so utterly lost. I glanced around again, mindful of the knot growing in my stomach—churning, rumbling, threatening to seek escape at any moment. I spun around and… nope, no toilets out here. Well this is just great!

Another Note: I’m a huge fan of the writer’s directive to “make every word count.” However, you must create the story for the reader. This is a classic case of under-writing. As an author, you can’t keep critical secrets. It’s not enough that you see the image in your mind; the reader must see the image in her mind. So share!

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BAD: I thought I might make her understand. I thought I could appeal to her feminine wiles. I thought I’d probably get lucky, in the end. I guess I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did.

Notes: At this point, it seems as though I shouldn’t have to say anything. You should be jumping all over this and in your best Arnold Horshack voice (for you fellow old-timers out there), yelling, “Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! I know it, Mr. Kotter.” Nonetheless….

First, if you’re writing a first-person narrative, make it a point to use the Find function in MS Word, and type in “[space]I[space]”, and check the box that says “Highlight all items found in:”. This will highlight with a black box every instance of “I” in your manuscript. In time, you’ll want to do the same for variations: I’ll, I’m, I’d. Then, with the selections highlighted, scroll down and look for instances where those black boxes appear like a swarm of flies. Yep… time to revise.

In the case of the example above, the word “I” appears 10 times in 38 words. Umm… no. Just no.

BETTER: She’d come around in time. After all, how could she resist my manly charms, my smooth moves, my irresistible… well, me?

She didn’t respond at all. She just turned around without a word, and left.

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BAD: I saw smoke rising over the downtown district.

Notes: This is the simplest of all remedies, and it falls smack under the heading of “Show, Don’t Tell.” The first-person narrator, the character, is telling the story, so if he conveys some action, we know it’s because he saw/heard/felt it, etc. So just paint the picture for us.

BETTER: Smoke rose over the downtown district.

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I hope those examples will help guide you in trying to eliminate your own I-Bombs. Of course, my alternatives above are just a single example, in each case, of how you might fix the problem. Ultimately, your own style and voice will dictate the fix, and that’s fine. Just fix it! No carpet-I-Bombing allowed. 🙂

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What Does a Writing Coach Do?

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

Every writing coach is the same, and each one is different. Wait… huh? Yep, all writing coaches seek to dig deep into a writer’s needs, to help them reach the point where they’re producing professional-grade material that’s worthy of a broad reading audience. However, each coach may have a unique mix of specialties and focus.

And so, as an author (or one who aspires to be an author), you should always analyze what your coach/editor has to offer, engage in a candid discussion BEFORE committing money, and perhaps get a sample analysis/edit of your writing. If a coach/editor balks at providing one, run. Run fast.

I’ve seen writing coaches advertise that they focus on content: plot, characterization, setting, etc, but that they don’t spend too much time on the “technical” aspects of writing, such as grammnar, strength of prose, structure, and so on. To me, that’s like saying to the new marine recruits at boot camp, “Okay, this is a gun. You use it to kill the enemy. Let’s move on.” …and then not showing them how the gun functions, how to break it down and clean it to keep it in good working order, and how to reassemble it.

My opinion: There are a million decent storytellers out there, but there are precious few “writers.”

Thus, my approach to coaching is to say that it makes no sense to try to separate the trees from the forest. Of course content is important, but if you can’t write professionally, yours will be just another amateur book. (I know… I’m such a hardass!)

Seriously, though, my approach has always been that if I can’t help you become the best writer/author you can be, then there’s really no sense in us working together. It’s not all about the money. If I can’t stand up and shout to the world, when you’re done and your book is available, “Hey, everyone, go buy this book, because it’s awesome!” …then we (meaning you and I together) haven’t done our job.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

However, unlike as in the image above, you’re not a kid. You’re a professional (or soon will be), and you deserve the appropriate respect and consideration.

Want a touchy-feely-please-tell-me-how-wonderful-I-am support system? Yeah… I’m not your guy. Want someone who will tell it like it is, and work tirelessly to address every issue that affects your career? Then maybe I’m your guy. Don’t get me wrong: I try to keep it as upbeat and positive as I can, because I think that’s important, but not if it ever interferes with the end goal. Hey, I know we creative types can be a bit… er… touchy. *smiling* But sometimes, a little tough love is the best kind.

So what is my focus as a writing coach?

CONTENT: Yes, of course I address the essential elements of plot, characterization, setting, a proper climax, etc. However – and this often surprises people – it may not be the first thing we address. Let’s face it: if readers can’t find the forest through the trees, because the trees themselves (your prose) are impossible to navigate, then the forest (your story) becomes irrelevant. Thus, we may need to address at least some of that before we get too far into content.

GRAMMAR: Look, professionals know the rules, so if you’re going to be a pro, we need to address even this mundane stuff. Don’t break into a cold sweat about this. The truth is that if you have a good teacher, one who’s focused on your specific needs, you’ll learn it more easily than you think.

ESSENTIAL STRUCTURE: It’s not just which words you use to tell your story, but how you choose to place those words that will determine how well readers respond. Use structure to ramp-up the tension. It’s often critical to choose just that right place to break a sentence, or a paragraph, or a chapter. I’ve been told by readers that this is a particular strength of mine, and I’d like it to be a strength of yours by the time we’re done.

STYLE: This will be uniquely yours, as it is with every writer, and a Writing Coach’s job is to teach you how to enhance your writing while remaining true to who you are. We all grow, and learn, and progress… but we remain who we are. That’s important, yet you must be ready to grow as a writer, willing to say on occasion, “Well, that’s not the me I want to be. I want to be this me.”

PRIMARY COMMANDMENTS OF EFFECTIVE WRITING: The first two of these you’ve no doubt heard countless times before; the third, maybe not (since it is, I believe, a Lane Diamond construct): 1) Show, Don’t Tell; 2) Make Every Word Count; 3) Keep It Strong and Direct. What do each of those things really mean? Well, we’ll certainly talk about that if we work together.

CONVERT YOUR BAD HABITS INTO GOOD HABITS: All writers bring some mix of bad habits to their work. Those can vary greatly from one writer to the next, yet certain bad habits are more universal than others. Here are just some of those: 1) SOBs (State-of-being Verbs); 2) Passive Voice; 3) Infinite Verb Phrases (An Act without an Actor); 4) Wordiness; 5) Excessive Proper Nouns; 6) Awkward Dialogue Tags; 7) I-Bombs. There’s more, of course, and we’ll tackle each issue as we encounter it.

So what is your next step?

If you think you’ll benefit from working with a coach, and you think, based on what you just read, that I may be able to help you, send me an email at Lane@LaneDiamond.com. Please put “Writing Coach Needed” in the Subject line.

I’ll arrange to to have a one-on-one talk with you (no charge), and I’ll look at your work to give you an idea of where our focus would need to be (no charge), and we’ll talk about the ultimate cost, of course, should we decide to move forward. I’ll be selective, and I typically only work with one student at a time, but even if I can’t help you right this minute, I may be able to get you on the calendar in the near term.

Here’s to your writing dreams becoming a reality!

I Didn’t Disappear – I’ve Just Been Editing, Editing, Editing

Yep, I’ve been a busy editor, indeed, with no time for writing (including this blog… yeesh!).

In the last couple of weeks, Evolved Publishing has released the following books, all of which I had a hand in editing:

If you like contemporary romance, you’re going to love Secret Storm by Amelia James. This is a companion piece to her first novel, Tell Me You Want Me.

If you’re a fan of YA Paranormal Romance, or movies like X-Men, you’re going to love Forbidden Life (Forbidden #3) by Kimberly Kinrade, which is the final installment in the Forbidden Trilogy.

If you have kids 6-9 years old, they’re going to love this chapter book, The Three Lost Kids & The Death of the Sugar Fairy by Kimberly Kinrade, a Halloween adventure sure to make reading fun for the kids.

Introduce your kids 3-6 years old to the joy of reading with this picture book, Tommy Goes Trick-or-Treating (A Bird Brain Book) by Emlyn Chand, with full color illustrations by the talented Noelle Giffin. This Halloween adventure, featuring Tommy the Woodpecker, and his pal Michael the Racoon, is sure to be great fun for the little ones.

Last but not least, Evolved Publishing has put out its 2nd anthology, resulting from its 2nd Short Story Contest. Evolution: Vol. 2 (A Short Story Collection) contains 10 terrific stories from 10 talented authors, and is sure to offer a little something for everyone (multiple genres and styles).

I hope you’ll check these books out. I’m quite proud of them, and I’m sure you’ll love them.

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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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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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2 Books I Edited Are Up for Awards – LEXIE WORLD, and WANTED: DEAD OR UNDEAD

I recently announced that my novel, Forgive Me, Alex, is a semi-finalist in the Kindle Book Review’s Best Indie Books of 2012, in the Mystery/Thriller category.

Well, one of the nicest aspects of editing the work of fellow authors is being able to bask in the glow of their success, too. They did the heaviest lifting, of course, as authors always do, but as editor, I got to play my own small part.

One of the books for which I had the pleasure of doing the final edit/polish is also a semi-finalist, in the YA category: Wanted: Dead or Undead by Angela Scott.

“Wanted: Dead or Undead” – Semi-Finalist in the YA category, Kindle Book Review’s Best Indie Books of 2012

And if that’s not enough, another of the books I edited, Lexie World by Kimberly Kinrade, is a finalist in the 2012 Global Ebook Awards, in the Children Literature Fiction category.

2012 Global Ebook Awards – Finalist in Children Literature Fiction category – “Lexie World” by Kimberly Kinrade

I have to say: All in all, I’m having a pretty good week.

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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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Podcaster Timothy C. Ward Interviews Lane Diamond and D.T. Conklin of Evolved Publishing – Part 2

This is the second in a 2-part interview series by podcaster and aspiring author Timothy C. Ward, who was kind enough to sit down and talk to us about our business, about our authors and books, about why we do what we do.

I think this one is a little more about me as author and editor, and about my novel, Forgive Me, Alex.

We sure appreciate Tim’s taking the time give us this opportunity, and I hope you’ll stop by and enjoy our conversation.

AudioTim 26: Lane Diamond, Author of Forgive Me, Alex

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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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