Author, Editor, Publisher, Coach

Tag: Editing and Writing (Page 4 of 5)

Quality Counts when Publishing eBooks

I’ve been sampling some indie-published eBooks lately, and I must say that most writers are not helping the long, sad reputation held by self-published authors.  Only the rare exception is edited and polished to a fine sheen.

No, I don’t think readers expect to see absolute perfection, which is, in any event, largely subjective.  Even legacy publishers put out the occasional sloppy piece.  The difference is that their sloppiness represents perhaps 10% of releases, whereas self-publishers offer sloppiness at the rate of about 99%.  Big difference.

Spelling errors, bad grammar, punctuation errors, a bucketful of adverbs, POV issues and structural errors—all on the first 2 pages?  Come on.  How are they going to succeed in the long run when presenting that to readers?

I’m fascinated by the manner in which indie publishers respond to these kinds of posts.  Most of them get angry, or feel offended, or both.  Yet they’re often just one step away from an excellent book: professional editing.  I’m not trying to insult, I’m trying to help.  I promise.

Too many indie authors choose to forgo this expense, offering any number of excuses—though it’s invariably about money.  They fear they won’t recoup their investment.  Let’s be honest: that’s possible.  They enjoy no guarantee of success, no assurance they’ll sell enough copies of their book, at a high enough royalty, to recoup those costs.  Yet without solid editing, their chances of success decrease dramatically.  We return to the old “chicken and egg” argument.  Q1: How can I afford editing until I’ve sold a lot of books? Q2: How can I sell a lot of books if I don’t have them professionally edited?

If they stop for a moment to extend the logic, to consider their business model, they’ll come time and time again to Q2—and to its clearly implied answer.

When they publish their own work, they’re no longer JUST an author; they’re now a publisher.  And publishing, like any business, requires a little up-front investment in order to do it right.  They can minimize these costs, if creative (heck, just look at the Evolved Publishing model), but they cannot eliminate them—at least, not without dooming their business to failure before they’ve even left the starting blocks.

Many indie publishers are languishing with poor sales, finding the spigot turned off as soon as their family and friends stop buying.  Why?  Because only their family and friends will support them no matter what… even if the work is substandard.

They simply must have a well-edited manuscript, and an attractive, professional cover, and some kind of coherent marketing plan, preferably with the help of others working on their behalf.

When will I get tired of this preaching?  When the world of indie publishers has converted.  Let me have an, “Amen!”

Look, I say this not just as a publisher of eBooks, or as an editor of eBooks, or as an author of eBooks—I say this as a READER of eBooks.  I’ve been sampling works to purchase and download to my Kindle, but I’m picky.  If I’m going to spend my hard-earned money on a book, whatever the price, I expect a professional product.

One look at how few indie authors are actually making a living at it makes one thing clear: I’m not alone in that requirement.

Please, Dear Aspiring Author, do not shoot yourself in the foot.  Be a professional.  Do it right.  And reap the rewards.

‘Til next time, and as always, remember: To write well, you must work hard.  To succeed in this tough gig, you mustn’t be lazy (or discouraged).


Favorite Authors

A recent blog post explaining why some of my favorite books were… well, some of my favorite books—“Compelling Characters – Great Books Are All About the People”—started me thinking about my favorite authors.  This is particularly important to me as I prepare to launch my debut novel, Forgive Me, Alex.  After all, I hope to have the same impact on my readers that my favorite authors have had on me.

What brings me back to an author time and again?  The simplest answer, of course, is that I so enjoyed one of his books, I naturally assumed his next book would offer an equally pleasant experience.  (That’s usually the case, but not always.)  Something in the author’s work grabs me, but what that is, precisely, varies greatly from one author to another.

For some, it’s the rapid-fire, grab-your-socks-and-hold-on pace of the story.  In some such cases, it needn’t even be well written—and often isn’t.  Sometimes, it’s nice just to escape in a quick, simple story, the kind you can read in a night without sacrificing any sleep time.  I don’t often read these anymore, but every once in a while, it’s just what the doctor ordered.

However, authors who engage in this approach—fast story, lousy writing—take a big gamble.  I’ve abandoned a few authors, even after reading several of their books, and even after considering them amongst my favorite authors, because they’ve clearly adopted this attitude: “Hey, you bought my last 8 books, so of course you’ll buy this next one, even if it is a sloppy mess my eighth-grade kid could have written.”  The moment that attitude, the author’s utter disrespect for me as a reader and book buyer, becomes evident, I’m gone.

I’ve realized that I’m much more likely to forgive a plain vanilla plot if both the characters and the writing itself compel me forward.  On the flipside, I’m unlikely to forgive weak, unrealized characters and lazy, sloppy writing, no matter how fast the plot zips along.

Let’s face it: every story has been told, most of them a thousand times.  So what makes a book stand out?  First is a unique set of characters—like meeting new and interesting people.  Second is a unique setting, perhaps an exotic location you’ve always dreamed of, or an idyllic one that reminds you of your best days, real or imagined.  Third is the author’s unique voice, a style that captures your attention early and holds on throughout—might be seamless and almost unnoticeable, or might be thrilling, offering you plenty of those man-I-wish-I’d-written-that moments.

There seems to be an attitude these days, ensconced in the world of self-published eBooks, that the story is all that matters, that good writing is not that important.  Good heavens!  I like a good story as much as the next guy, of course, but I have to be able to see past the words to actually find the story.  If it’s terrible, sloppy writing, that will not happen.

Look, Dear Aspiring Writer, your every word needn’t be something channeled through the spirit of William Shakespeare.  Really.  But please… don’t give me paragraph after paragraph with the following averages: 3 lines per paragraph, with 5 sentences, 5 words per sentence, 0.6 verbs per sentence.  I had the hiccups for 4 hours once, and guess what?  I didn’t like it.  I don’t want to feel as if I’m experiencing that again when I read your book.

Take a chance.  Offer readers something that 5 million self-published authors aren’t already giving them.  First, offer them considerate, strong, well written prose.  Be a writer!  Second, bring your characters to life; let them breathe and speak, sing and dance, suffer and rejoice, love and hate on the page.

If you provide those two elements, and use them to support a good story—even one that’s been told a thousand times—you’ll have a much better chance of long-term success.  Do not sacrifice quality on the altar of quantity, because if you have 12 bad books out there, that will just be 12 bad books that I won’t buy.  And I’m not alone in that.

‘Til next time, and as always, remember: To write well, you must work hard.  To succeed in this tough gig, you mustn’t be lazy (or discouraged).


Compelling Characters – Great Books Are All About the People

Think of your favorite novels.  What did you love most about them?  Sure, they offered a fun and interesting story, but I’ll bet that, in many of those books, you were compelled most by the people you met on your journey—the characters.

We’re not just readers; we’re people.  We relate to other people… even if they’re fictional.  The real trick to effective writing is to make us suspend our disbelief long enough to consider that maybe, just maybe, your characters are real people too.

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee – If you love this book as much as I do, then you also love Atticus Finch and Scout.  You see what they see.  You feel what they feel.  Personally, I imagined myself seated in a rocker on Atticus’s front porch, as we spoke of the law, of politics, of our mutual hope that Scout would know a better world someday.  Perhaps because I knew so little of my own father, I imagined what life might be like if Atticus were my dad.  Such is the power of great characterization.

The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck – I can still feel the dust of Oklahoma layered over me.  I can still smell my traveling mates, the Joad family and Casy, as it had been several days since we last had the opportunity to take a decent bath.  I can still taste the mush, made only slightly better by the one spoon of sugar Ma allowed each of us.  I can’t see Tom in that coal-black cave of vines, but I can hear him breathing.  “I swar, I even spoke Okey fer awhile, like they done.”  I loved the Joad family—Ma, Tom, Rose of Sharon, and the whole gang.  I starved with them.  I cried with them.  I hoped against all odds with them.  Such is the power of great characterization.

The Stand, by Stephen King – This story offers a character-rich environment—easily a dozen characters to whom you can open your heart.  How could you possibly not like Nick, Stu, Glen, Frances, and of course, Mother Abigail.  You can even sink your teeth into a number of bad guys.  It’s an imaginative story, to be sure, but the characters kept me going for all 1,153 pages (complete & uncut edition).  I feared with them.  I cared with them.  I sacrificed with them.  Such is the power of great characterization.

A Soldier of the Great War, by Mark Helprin – As I read the story, I truly learned to love Alessandro Giuliani, the protagonist.  If I could have chosen my own grandfather, I might have chosen Alessandro.  I so missed him ten years after first reading the book that I had to read it again.  It didn’t matter that I knew the story; I needed to visit the old man I loved.  Eight years later, I visited him for a third time.  Soon, we’ll be meeting again.  Such is the power of great characterization.

A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving – How effectively did John Irving bring Owen Meany to life?  Despite the fact that the story itself often antagonized me, the reader, by virtue of politics with which I often disagreed, I still couldn’t put the book down.  Owen Meany is one of the most compelling and unique people I’ve ever met.  Yes, I met him, and he was just as amazing as I imagined he would be.  Such is the power of great characterization.

These are only a few examples, varied in genres and styles, of novels that succeeded wildly not just because the authors told good stories, but because they brought to life great characters.  They gave to us people who breathed, walked and talked on the page.  They came to life and, in doing so, became a part of our lives.

What makes for great characterization?  I can tell you what it’s not: he has blue eyes; she has red hair; she’s short with tiny feet and freckles; he has an aristocratic nose and wavy blonde hair.  Are those details bad?  Not necessarily. Are those details good?  Not necessarily.

As a reader, I don’t like a lot of physical description.  I always develop, when the author allows me to, my own mental image of the characters.  I knew what Jack Ryan, from Tom Clancy’s novels, looked like long before Alec Baldwin or Harrison Ford played the character in movies.  I knew what Nick, from Stephen King’s The Stand, looked like long before they released the TV movie.  Rob Lowe as Nick?  Sorry, but I don’t think so.  Have you ever had that same reaction to an actor?  Have you ever said, “No, no, no; he doesn’t look anything like that character?”

I liked Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch.  I did not like Matt Damon as Jason Bourne.  I liked Robert Urich as Spenser.  I did not like Stacy Keach as Mike Hammer.  I liked Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump.

You may feel different about each of those actors and characters, and that’s my point.  For you, that female lead may be a short redhead with green eyes, a bit chubby, with freckles and an unfortunate birthmark.  For me, she may be a long-legged blonde with blue eyes, a disarming smile, and a figure that takes my breath away.  (Yeesh, I’m such a guy.)  The freedom to exercise our imaginations draws us into a story, drives us to know your characters better.

Dear Author, please give us, your loyal readers, a little freedom.

What do readers really want in a character?  We want to see her with our own eyes, hear her with our own ears, feel what she feels.  We don’t want you to tell us that she’s afraid; we want you to show us the hair standing up on the back of her neck.  We want to see her shiver, and see the goosebumps rise on her arms.  We want to hear and feel her anguish over a lost love.  We want to know her heart, her soul, her attitudes and desires—as if she were a good friend.

Such is the power of great characterization.

‘Til next time, and as always, remember: To write well, you must work hard.  To succeed in this tough gig, you mustn’t be lazy (or discouraged).


Flash Fiction

Let me first say that I’m not a fan of flash fiction, particularly the 55-word variety.  In my experience, 9 out of 10 pieces are not worth the reading, even if it does take only a few seconds.  People don’t tell stories; they write anecdotes, ask questions, set up a possible story.

Yet I entered a flash fiction contest.  Go figure.

I found Austin Briggs’ contest on Twitter, liked what he was doing (Hey, I love any opportunity for a writer to make money!), and decided to both spread the good word and enter my own piece.

He provided this prompt: “Eccentric Woman.”

His essential guidelines were clear: 55-words max (includes the title), must contain a setting and at least one character, and must present a conflict and resolution.

Those are ambitious guidelines for a 55-word piece, and that’s ultimately why I decided to participate (my entry, Sipping, took 2nd place in July).  Did all entries adhere to those guidelines?  Did all the winners?  Hmmm….  As I said before, flash fiction so rarely gives us a story.

Nonetheless, Austin is doing a good thing for writers.  If you like flash fiction, and you’d like an opportunity to make a little money in a contest, please check it out.  You’ll find the July results here: Austin Briggs’ Flash Fiction Contest.

‘Til next time, and as always, remember: To write well, you must work hard.  To succeed in this tough gig, you mustn’t be lazy (or discouraged).



Okay, be honest.  When you saw the title of this post, you thought, “Ah geez, do I even want to read that?”

Unless you’re a word geek, you hate grammar—as a subject; as a list of rules you must learn, and to which you must adhere; as an 80-lb ball and chain tied around your ankle and preventing you from sprinting to the finish line.

Yet language is little more than a recognizable set of rules by which we communicate.  No rules?  No language.

Can we ever break the rules?  Of course, but be careful.  Pick your spots, make sure they lend your prose a nice punch, and keep them to a minimum.

You’ll find the rest of this discussion here: When Is Good Grammar Required?

‘Til next time, and as always, remember: To write well, you must work hard.  To succeed in this tough gig, you mustn’t be lazy (or discouraged).


Writers Need To Make a Living Too

A recent online article by C. Hope Clark, Are we speaking for free, too?, prompted me to dust off a piece I wrote long ago at I’ve decided to reprise it here, since I have a primarily new audience.

What’s a writer?

I once installed a new kitchen sink and garbage disposal in my condo. That doesn’t make me a plumber. I once built some shelves for my closet. That doesn’t make me a carpenter. I once watched a meteor shower streak through the night sky. That doesn’t make me an astronomer.

Writers are professionals. Professionals are paid for their work. Hence, writers are paid for their work.

Everyone else is an “aspiring writer,” or a hobbyist.

As an example, if you write short fiction and you’ve looked around at print markets for your work, you’ve no doubt discovered that more outlets don’t pay than do pay. Sure, they may offer “2 free contributor copies.” Oh goodie! Now I can eat something besides PB&J sandwiches and macaroni & cheese. Oh wait! Never mind.

Just in case that’s not bad enough, you might subsequently have this conversation:

MAGAZINE EDITOR: I discovered that you posted your story on a website where people have access to it.

ME: That’s right. It’s an interactive writer’s site. We review each other’s material and offer some constructive feedback, perhaps a little encouragement. We can all use more of that.

EDITOR: Sure, but people can read your story there.

ME: Yes, this story has had 138 views as of this morning, primarily by other writers, no doubt.

EDITOR: See, that’s what we consider “previously published,” and we expect “First-Time” rights.

ME: But it’s 138 people.

EDITOR: That doesn’t matter.

ME: 138. That’s 138 people in the whole world. How many of those do you suppose are part of your 1,200 subscribers?

EDITOR: That’s not the point. We pay for first-time rights.

ME: Really? What do you pay?

EDITOR: We pay 2 free contributor copies.

ME: Oh goodie! Now I can pay the rent this month!

(Pregnant pause)

Imagine calling a plumber to install your new water heater:

YOU: I’d like you to remove the old water heater, install my new one in the same spot, and dispose of the old one.

PLUMBER: Okay, that will require three hours of labor, which costs $270. Additionally, there’s a $50 fee for disposing of your old water heater.

YOU: Well, I don’t actually offer money for plumbing services, but I will pay “2 free written references.” Man, that’s gonna look good on your resume!

(Pregnant pause)

Yeah, how’s that new water heater working out?

It’s amazing how many magazine editors think we writers should feel “honored” that they want to publish our material… absolutely free. Yep, we should be thrilled that their 1,200 readers (Oh joy!), or 800 readers (How wonderful!), or 300 readers (Are you kidding me?) are going to read our story.

Let’s close out that first conversation:

EDITOR: You know, this would be a good job if it weren’t for you damned writers!

Yeah, it’s so nice to be loved and respected.

I’ll give you a little hint, Dear Writer: You create this problem for yourself… every time you agree to work for free. The sooner we all stop doing that, the sooner we’ll get paid for our work. You have the power. We have the power, and it’s time for a little peaceful revolution.

‘Til next time, and as always, remember: To write well, you must work hard. To succeed in this tough gig, you mustn’t be lazy (or discouraged).

Wordiness Is Not a Style – Part 3

This article continues two earlier posts: Wordiness Is Not a Style – Part 1, and Wordiness Is Not a Style – Part 2.  If you haven’t yet read those preliminary articles, please do so before continuing here.

Okay, so here’s the part a few people have been anxiously awaiting: practical examples.

Triggers: Specific Phrases that Often Lead to Wordiness

These seven items are some of the most common Wordiness Triggers I see when I edit.

  1. There were / There was
    1. Bad: There were stars shining….
    2. Good: Stars shined….
  2. Gave a/an
    1. Bad: John gave a short laugh….
    2. Good: John laughed….
  3. It was [blank] that
    1. Bad: It was the dog that ate it….
    2. Good: The dog ate it….
  4. There was a [blank] that
    1. Bad: There was a cat that scratched….
    2. Good: A cat scratched….
  5. Found himself / To find himself / Found that
    1. Bad: He found himself lying in a ditch….
    2. Good: He lay in a ditch….
    3. Bad: He awoke to find himself soaked in sweat….
    4. Good: He awoke soaked in sweat….
    5. Bad: He found that he’d been sleeping….
    6. Good: He’d been sleeping….
  6. In what they were / Of what they were
    1. Bad: The humor in what they were singing was….
    2. Good: The humor of their song was….
  7. I’ve got / He’s got / They’ve got / Etc
    1. Bad: I’ve got a terrible headache….
    2. Good: I have a terrible headache….


Now, let’s review a series of specific examples from pieces I’ve edited or reviewed.  As always, I shall keep confidential the authors’ names and story titles to protect the not-so-innocent.  

BAD: There was screaming, and it pierced my ears like needles of ice.  NOTE: “There was” is one of our classic triggers.  GOOD (Simple): Screams pierced my ears like needles of ice.

BAD: There were men attacking the village, and through their actions of burning cottages, the forest itself began to flame.  NOTE: First, “There were” is one of our classic triggers.  Second, a phrase such as “through their actions of” is a major red flag.  Third, why say “the forest itself” when a simple “the forest” will suffice?  Fourth, don’t provide an action that only “began to” do anything, unless you intend to interrupt that action before it’s complete.  GOOD (Simple): Men attacked the village and burned cottages, and the surrounding forest soon flamed.  GOOD (Detailed): Men attacked the village and burned cottages, and the flames leapt from cottage to stable, from stable to field, from field to trees, until they cast the surrounding forest ablaze.

BAD: I’m hopeful that I’ll find something.  NOTE: The red flag here is “hopeful that.”  GOOD (Simple): I hope I’ll find something.

BAD: The few remaining cars are nothing more than burned out shells sitting on bare steel rims where tires once were.  NOTE: First, the phrase “are nothing more than” raises a red flag.  Second, the final four words are utterly redundant.  After all, everyone knows what purpose the steel rims serve.  This is no less intrusive and insulting than telling a reader “water is wet.”  GOOD (Simple): The few remaining cars, mere burned-out shells, sat on bare steel rims.

BAD: As in all wars, each nation involved believes that the fight will bring improvement in some way; each combatant seeks to gain something, or at least keep all or some of what it already has.  NOTE: The first nine words drag out the start of that sentence.  Second, I’m always suspicious of phrases like “in some way.”  Third, consider the phrase “all or some of.”  Yikes!  Why even mention it?  After all, what else is there?  GOOD (Simple): All nations involved in war believe the fight will bring some improvement; each combatant seeks to gain something, or at least to keep what is already theirs.  GOOD (Detailed): All nations involved in war believe the fight will bring some improvement; each combatant seeks to gain something, or at least to preserve their treasure, their families, their way of life.

BAD: His tone became less harsh as he spoke to the child.  NOTE: Beware of anyone that “becomes” anything.  Slap the writer’s wrench around that thing and tighten it up.  GOOD (Simple): His tone softened as he spoke to the child.  GOOD (Simple): He spoke to the child in soft tones.

BAD: With an open hand, he pushed Steve backward toward the sunlit stream from which the people of Centerville obtained their water.  Steve found himself setting among the summer brambles that grew there.  NOTE: Hmmm… is “with an open hand” truly necessary?  Does it add anything?  What of the word “sunlit” in this case—how is it germane to the fact they get their water from that stream?  Details are great, provided they’re also relevant.  If this detail supplements others, then fine; if not, kill it.  As for the second sentence, beware characters who “find themselves” doing anything.  The Nike marketing folks had it right.  “Just do it!”  They didn’t say, “Just find yourself doing it!”  Finally, if the summer brambles didn’t grow there, how would they have gotten there?  Please don’t state the ridiculously obvious.  GOOD (Simple): He pushed Steve backward toward the stream from which the people of Centerville obtained their water.  Steve fell into a patch of summer brambles.

BAD: Their eyes and minds work furiously as they attempt to discern her purpose.  NOTE: Why else would they “work furiously,” except to “attempt” to do something?  GOOD (Simple): Their eyes and minds work furiously to discern her purpose.

BAD: From where he stood, he saw her fog-colored hair that moved with the breeze.  NOTE: All right, now those first four words are just silly.  Would that be as opposed to some sort of out of body experience—from where he didn’t stand?  Also, “that moved” is too much here.  NOT SO GOOD (Simple): He saw her fog-colored hair move with the breeze.  GOOD (Show; Don’t Tell.): Her fog-colored hair bounced with the breeze and assaulted her head in a gray swarm.

BAD: He should have a place to rest through eternity where she might visit him often while she lived, and she would bring flowers.  NOTE: We’re getting silly again.  First, would that be as opposed to having NO PLACE to rest, WHERE she might VISIT him often?  Second, would that be as opposed to her visiting him while she’s dead?  GOOD (Simple): He should rest through eternity where she might visit him often, and she would bring flowers.

BAD: A blanket of mist clung to the ground as Mary and John found their way.  They threaded the rows of graves.  NOTE: First, “found their way” raises a red flag.  Second, the two short sentences provide a choppy feel.  GOOD (Simple): A blanket of mist clung to the ground as Mary and John threaded the rows of graves.

BAD: When his controlling progressed to violence, and he started hitting her, she hid it from everyone.  NOTE: To first say, “his controlling progressed to violence,” and then to say, “and he started hitting her,” is to say the same thing twice, in two different ways.  GOOD (Simple): When his controlling progressed to violence, she hid it from everyone.  GOOD (Detailed): When he moved beyond simple controlling and started pushing her, slapping her, punching her, she hid it from everyone.

Well, that should be enough for now—plenty to think about as you don the self-editing cap and return to your manuscript.  Remember: Pith is not your enemy; it is your friend.  Pith will not preclude you from writing high prose; indeed, it will aid you in that endeavor.

Always adhere to this High Commandment of professional writing: Make Every Word Count.

‘Til next time, and as always, remember: To write well, you must work hard.  To succeed in this tough gig, you mustn’t be lazy (or discouraged).


Wordiness Is Not a Style – Part 2

This article continues an earlier post entitled, Wordiness Is Not a Style – Part 1.  If you haven’t yet read the first article, please do so before continuing here.

I focus this post on one of the High Commandments of writing: Make Every Word Count.  If you’ve been studying this craft, through creative writing courses or any of the hundreds of books on writing, you’ve already seen this admonition many times.  Indeed, ghosts of Writing Instructors Past probably sound the drumbeat in your subconscious every night whilst you dream of cannibals stalking you through the jungle.

Yet for most writers, wordiness remains an anchor on the ship of prose.

Why is “Make Every Word Count” such a critical commandment?  It’s simple: words are money.  For print publishers, a higher word count equals more printing.  For electronic publishers, a higher word count means more server space and/or bandwidth.  For readers, a higher word count means more of their precious time is required to complete the piece.  Please, Dear Writer, show a little respect for those who support your business.

On top of everything else, wordiness is just plain bad, lazy, dull writing.  It typically revolves around what I call “The 3 R’s of Wordiness.”

Redundancy: Not only is this boring and unnecessary, it’s rather insulting.  When you tell a reader the exact same thing in two or three different ways, she may respond by saying, “Geez, what is it with this author?  Does he think I’m an idiot?  I get it, already.”

Repetition: This signals the reader that you’re running out of things to say, so you just say the same thing over and over.  Gee whiz, that makes for an exciting read.

Rambling: When you run on and on and on, the reader knows that you’re lazy, at best, disrespectful of her time and energy, or that, at worst… well, that you shouldn’t quit your day job.

We writers often fail to recognize wordiness when we see it.  We so focus on this sentence, this word, that we’ve already forgotten the last sentence.  Is it any wonder, then, that we fall victim to The 3 R’s?  Additionally, our writing tracks with our speech mannerisms.  Yikes!  When’s the last time you heard someone utter a gem such as this: “Like, have you guys like seen that like totally amazing movie about like androids and robots and stuff?  It’s like, you know, so totally awesome that like, whatever, it’s just cool and like totally awesome.”

Okay, so maybe you’re not that bad.  The point is that our speech leans heavily toward the lazy, improper, garbled, repetitive and disjointed.  Your writing must not.  Even if you speak as though you stayed awake in high school English, and you have an IQ over 73, you still allow nagging “errors” to creep into your speech.  We all do.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the default voice with which you write is the one with which you speak.  To break those chains, you must self-edit at the deepest possible level—every sentence, every word.  More than that, you must turn off that natural conversational voice in your head.  A funny thing will happen as your writing tightens-up and improves: so will your speech.  You will find that happy, comfortable medium.  It just takes time.

Finally, you must rely on your editor to bring objectivity and a fresh perspective, to catch what your subconscious mind allows to slip past your blinded self.


Our quest for this often leads us down the path of wordiness.  Writers often seek to elevate their prose, to foment literary bliss, and I applaud the inclination; however, too many confuse quantity for quality.  Elevated prose consists not of more words, but of better words better formed.  The pithiest way of saying something may well be the most elegant, whereas the complex bag of wind can be absolute torture.

I offer this example from a piece I edited long ago.  I shall change the character names and keep confidential the author and title.  —  The inner glow of warmth and compassion Fred initially believed to live behind Barney’s gray eyes, blazed fiercely with an entirely different meaning for Betty, or so it seemed to Fred, and in Betty’s attachment to Barney, she lost the capability to manifest emotion toward anyone else.  —  Oh brother!  That bogged me down several times, but I found the final segment the most amusing—and by amusing, of course, I mean terrible.  That one 47-word sentence should be two sentences totaling 25-30 words.  I offer no alternatives because—Good grief!—the writer just needs to go back to the drawing board.  “…the capability to manifest emotion toward….”  Seriously?

Dear Writer, pith is not your enemy.  Pith is your friend.  It will not preclude you from writing high prose; indeed, it will aid you in that endeavor.  Do not confuse “pith” with “simple.”  Use moving, compelling, evocative words and phrases, of course.  But get to the point!

I believe examples offer the best method for learning to recognize and destroy wordiness—simple, repetitive exercises.  Therefore, I shall focus an upcoming article on actual examples and their preferred alternatives, providing a series of “before” (read “bad”) and “after” (read “better”).  It won’t be long—a couple of days, a week at most—so tune in again soon.

‘Til next time, and as always, remember: To write well, you must work hard.  To succeed in this tough gig, you mustn’t be lazy (or discouraged).



Dialogue Tags

I’ve been reviewing early submissions to our Evolved Publishing Short Story Contest.  Several issues have jumped out at me—all the usual stuff I deal with as an editor.  However, one of the most prevalent problems affecting many of the submissions thus far relates to one of the most important elements of any story: Poor Dialogue Construction.

  The primary culprit is the use of heavy, awkward “tags” on the dialogue.  A secondary culprit is not knowing how to SHOW a character engaged in dialogue, versus simply TELLING the reader what’s been said.

As I’ve written at some length on this before, I’ll not try to reinvent the wheel here.  Instead, I shall point you to two articles I posted on this very subject.  Please read them in order:

Dialogue Tags vs. Action Leads/Inserts – Part 1

Dialogue Tags vs. Action Leads/Inserts – Part 2

‘Til next time, and as always, remember: To write well, you must work hard.  To succeed in this tough gig, you mustn’t be lazy (or discouraged).


Wordiness Is Not a Style – Part 1

Many writers fall into the trap of writing as they speak.  For 99.943999876984% of us (I rounded it off), this is a bad idea.  Why?  Just listen to a conversation.  I mean really listen.

How disjointed is it?  How often do the speakers pause not as a function of proper English, but to gather their thoughts?  When they resume, how often do they repeat themselves, drift down another track, or cut the logical thread completely?  How many four-letter words do they use?  How often do they toss in one of the worst four-letter words of all time: “like?”

Listen to anyone under the age of twenty-five, and you’ll likely hear them throwing around the L-bomb like monkeys in a poop fight.  Many people toss in a “you know” every eight words or so, just to make sure that… well, you know.  Lazy “fillers” function as bookmarks in speech—we save our spot so that, once our brains catch up with our mouths, we can pick up where we left off.  Even then, we often get it “wrong” from a grammatical perspective—some of us more than others.

We also tend to speak in a tight, limited vocabulary—one that belies our knowledge of the language.  We rarely stretch ourselves as speakers, yet we must stretch ourselves as writers.  We must also not rely, as we do when speaking, on what I call the “3 R’s” of wordiness: rambling, repetition and redundancy.

A strong narrative is a tight narrative.  Do not confuse lazy, meandering construction with a conversational style.  Keeping it simple is fine… right up until you oversimplify.

This is just a primer for a couple of future posts (not a lot of time today), but I want to set the table because I’ve been seeing a bunch of—and I mean a TON of—wordy construction in my reading material lately.

Even seasoned pros have been guilty.  Why?  Are their editors afraid of offending their cash cows?  Are the publishers taking too much for granted with respect to their superstar authors?  I’m an editor, but I’m also a writer, and as a writer, I would want my editors to catch those pesky problems that slip past me.  Otherwise, what’s the point of having an editor?

I’ll end for now with this one big hint: If you have a sentence structured like the one below (good grief, I’ve been seeing this a lot), tighten it up.  Please.

There was an editor that missed many of the author’s wordy sentences.

Preferred: The author’s editor missed many wordy sentences.

I dropped it from 12 words to 7—a reduction of 42% in a single sentence.  Your “TRIGGERS” (search your manuscript for these) are the following phrases: there was, there were, I/he/she/it was, they were.  I’ll bet you a quarter to your nickel that a good number of those appear in wordy sentences just begging you to take a scalpel to them.  Those that don’t are likely weak and blasé, screaming out for a stronger, evocative verb.

‘Til next time, and as always, remember: To write well, you must work hard.  To succeed in this tough gig, you mustn’t be lazy (or discouraged).

And don’t miss these follow-up articles:

Wordiness Is Not a Style – Part 2

Wordiness Is Not a Style – Part 3


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