Word Crimes

As both a copyeditor and long-time Weird Al fan (I’ve seen him live three times – he puts on a fantastic show!), how could I not share his parody of “Blurred Lines”?  (>^-‘)>

If you missed it earlier this week, check it out in all its perfection below.

 

 

Bene scribete.

Criticism

The critique of a creative work-in-progress can be a touchy, sensitive process, but a nonetheless imperative one if the work is to be taken seriously.

As both an author and professional editor, I regularly find myself on the providing and receiving ends of constructive criticism.  So, here are some things I like to keep in mind for each scenario.

 

EwGetting Criticism

Convey what kind of feedback you’re seeking.  Do you just want mechanical errors pointed out?  Phrasing suggestions?  Or simply overall thoughts on the flow of the story?  Readers will have an easier time helping you if they know what they’re supposed to be looking for.

(More)

 

A red pen.Giving Criticism

Try not to volunteer to critique a piece if you can’t reasonably expect to have the time or motivation to get back to the writer about it.  Silence can be even more disheartening than a bad review.

(More)

 

 

A final point to consider – if, like myself, you are an editor as well as a writer, don’t be tempted to feel like that excuses you from the need to seek out feedback and a solid proofread on your own work.  Your writing may be syntactically cleaner than par, but editing is often more about defeating expectation bias – catching what we’re too close to the work to see – than it is merely polishing the language.  (>^-‘)>

 

Bene scribete.

The Woodlander

The Woodlander - Kirk Watson

 

A little while back, I had the distinct pleasure of serving as editor for Kirk Watson’s fantasy adventure, The Woodlander.  Watson himself pitched the novel as “The Most Dangerous Game” meets Fantastic Mr. Fox, and after jumping at that hook, I found it to be a pretty apt encapsulation!

An animal tale for an older audience (teens and up), the story focuses on a downtrodden squirrel named John Grey – a reporter whose cynical disposition and snarky quips are reminiscent of a hardboiled detective of ’30s pulp, and an immediately likeable protagonist for it.  Six months after a terrible tragedy divested John of his will to write, a strange encounter outside a tavern prompts the squirrel to pull himself together for one more assignment, but when his investigation takes him to the less savory parts of town, he quickly finds himself a part of the story he meant to report.

Well-written with plenty of action, humor, and heart, this is a book I would gladly recommend even if I had nothing to do with it.  (>^-‘)>

The Woodlander is the first volume of The Grey Tales series, and is currently available for 99¢ on Kindle – a tough deal to beat for a full-length novel of this caliber, so take advantage of it while you can!

And don’t forget to check out the author at http://thegreytales.com/

 

Bene scribete.

On Ghostwriting

Writing ghost

Money is the universal shortcut.  You can get just about anything with it.  Sometimes for a lot less than you’d think.

In my line of editing work, I come across a lot of want-ads for ghostwriting.  Now, I can look the other way when it comes to surrogate writing in certain scenarios – you’re a not-so-eloquent public figure who needs the notes and rough drafts for your topical book or memoir worked into something fluid?  Sure, O.K.  But I’m talking about ghostwriting for fiction.  Things like: “I need a sci-fi novel written.  Preferably something to do with space exploration.  Need it to be around 70,000-80,000 words.  Must sign NDA and forgo copyright. I’m willing to pay up to $500.”  (No joke!)  It shouldn’t come as a surprise that there would be a few people out there with that kind of audacity, but I see a dozen of these a day.  And what’s even crazier – these listings get a ton of responses!

It’s a little hard to believe.  I can’t see the appeal to either side of this arrangement.  Does anyone really love the writing process itself so much that they’d be willing to undertake the grueling process of producing a novel for pennies an hour, only to forsake any rights and claims to their own creation upon completion?  Is anyone so desperately enamored with the idea of being known as a writer that they would be satisfied with the hollow “achievement” of putting their name on someone else’s work?  Apparently the answer is a disturbingly frequent yes on both accounts – it’s a big industry.  It baffles me.  It really does.

If I’m being entirely honest, I suppose I would consider ghostwriting a novel for someone if I were offered an absurd amount of money to do so (financial freedom to pursue other projects is nothing to take lightly), but these jobs are being offered at too comical a salary to be considered “just work”.  I could never quite comprehend the sentiment behind the other side of the table, though.  If you want to be a writer then, you know – write!  At the very least seek a co-author if you need help with a specific book.  I simply can’t see fiction-ghostwriting as something that has any reason to be a thing – particularly not as big of a thing as it is.

But I’m curious to hear others’ thoughts on the matter.  Have you ever had experience with ghostwriting (from either side)?  Would you ever consider it?  Am I taking crazy pills?

 

Bene scribete.
 


 

(Want to win a free signed copy of the non-ghostwritten The Amber Ring? Check the link for details. No entrants yet, so your odds are sitting at 100%!)

 

Synopses

While putting the finishing touches on The Amber Ring these last couple weeks, I figured I’d also better throw together a full synopsis for it.

Synopses are kind of a drag.

Not because they’re hard to write – I’ve had more than my fair share of practice summarizing.  It’s because they’re not always easy to keep exciting.  Maintaining something of the flavor and tone of your work while drying it up to its basic elements can be a frustrating task.  I’m certain there are numerous others who can give better advice on the subject than I can, but since I’m here, and so, ostensibly, are you, I’ll go over some of the things I like to keep in mind.

There’s no real easy, short-cut way to approach the whole process, but here are a few points to ponder:

 

Tip of a fish

Synopsis Considerations

 

  • A synopsis is typically a two-to-eight page summary of the entire work – the big twists, the ending, everything (important).
  • The editor or agent you’re submitting to might have a specific requirement as to what constitutes a page, but if not, double-spaced 12-point Courier New with one inch margins is a good place to start.
  • The first paragraph is often best utilized in setting up the chief protagonist – who she is, and how she got to where she is when the story begins.  If you already have a pitch line, it might fit nicely in here.  The remaining paragraphs will then recount the events that constitute the story in the order in which they are presented.
  • At least to start with, only include details essential to understanding the main plot; subplots can be added in order of precedence if there is room left in your alloted space and it would make the summary stronger on the whole.
  • The manuscript to synopsis event space ratio can be wildly inconsistent.  Some scenes may take half a sentence, some half a page, depending on how much plot-essential material they contain.  Some scenes can be omitted altogether.
  • Use strong, descriptive, succinct language (because it’s that easy, right?  (>^-‘)> ).  Word economy is paramount.
  • It’s O.K. to be a little conversational; it can help to engage the reader.
  • If you need some ideas on summarizing, look up recaps for TV episodes, or pull up your favorite films on Wikipedia and read the plot sections.  These usually constitute what amounts to synopsis copy.
  • If you’re really stuck on a blank page, you can try zero-drafting (or better yet, dictating if you have speech-to-text software) your initial go by describing the story, stream-of-conscious, from start to finish as you would a good book or movie to a friend.  You can always edit the result up or down as needed, or scrap it and try again.
  • Cheat.  If page format isn’t directly specified, and you’re aiming for a certain length, tweak the margins and line spacing (but preferably not the font) to your advantage.
  • It doesn’t hurt to conclude the synopsis with a poetic statement that encapsulates some important thematic element from the story’s ending.
  • Have someone who has not read your work take a look at the finished synopsis, and ask them if the story when presented thus is easily followable, makes sense, and is free from superfluous material.

 

Ultimately, a synopsis just serves as a quick overview of a story’s plot to ensure that it’s coherent, original, and interesting.  It doesn’t have to be as brilliantly executed as the manuscript, but anything you can do within its limits to show off the promise of your work will surely be a point in your favor.

 

Bene scribete.

I Hate You, The Slog

The slog hates you

I hate you, the slog.

 

I hate you, the slog.

I hate you, the slog.

I hate you, the slog.

I hate you, the slog.

I hate you, the slog.

I hate you, the slog.

I hate you, the slog.

I hate you, the slog.

I hate you, the slog.

I hate you, the slog.

I hate you, the slog.

I hate you, the slog.

I hate you, the slog.

I hate you, the slog.

I hate you, the slog.

I hate you, the slog.

I hate you, the slog.

I hate you, the slog.

I hate you, the slog.

I hate you, the slog.

 

You are not very nice
and now I’ve said it twenty-twice.

 

Bene scribete.

Giving Criticism

Last week, I talked about getting criticism for one’s writing.  Today, I thought I’d do a companion piece discussing the other side of the coin.

So, let’s take a look at some of the things to consider when reviewing someone else’s stuff (some of these points will naturally be reciprocal to last week’s!).

 

A red pen.

 

  • Try not to volunteer to critique a piece if you can’t reasonably expect to have the time or motivation to get back to the writer about it.  Silence can be even more disheartening than a bad review.
  • Find out what type of feedback the writer is looking for.  It’s not too productive to pick apart the story when all that’s sought is some copyediting, and dealing only with semantic issues when what’s needed is advice on the plot can be equally unhelpful.  If you’re going for the whole package, sometimes it’s beneficial to do a couple go-throughs – first for the feel of the narrative flow, and second with an editor’s eye.
  • Ask the writer what’s caught the attention of other readers, and lend your thoughts on those subjects.  Multiple viewpoints are great for helping the writer gauge what to focus on.
  • Look for and comment on both what’s working and what isn’t.  It’s incredibly unlikely that you’ll be handed a piece that’s either completely without issue or entirely without merit.  Focusing solely on the positive won’t help the writer improve it, and concentrating only on the negative can be discouraging – either way giving a false impression of the piece’s current state.
  • Be specific whenever you can.  Explaining why you do or do not like something is more useful than a mere thumbs-up or -down.  At the same time, if something stands out one way or the other, but you aren’t quite sure why, saying that much is still better than nothing at all.
  • Learn the writer’s tolerance level for directness.  Some you can be blunt with, where some require a little more creative tact.  Negative comments can be phrased positively – rather than “this is bad”, say “this could be improved with blah“.
  • “Scrap it” is a last resort.  Today’s world is cut-happy and proud of it – sometimes it’s the right answer, but a little too often it’s just the easy, lazy way out.  I’m not talking about a sentence here or a paragraph there, but entire passages, characters, and plot elements.  Every sequence has some kind of purpose behind its presence in a piece, and rarely will its essence be fundamentally unsalvageable.  If a scene isn’t working, think about how to address why that is before giving up on it altogether.  Can something be added to liven it up or condensed to improve the pace?  Can it be placed somewhere more appropriate or combined with a similar sequence?  Can its basics be reworked into other parts of the story?  Just don’t be too quick to advocate throwing away what could be made a functional, augmentative aspect of the narrative.  I realize it goes against the current popular mindset, but tell me you’ve never watched the deleted scenes on a DVD and wished they would have kept one or two of them in the film.  (>^-‘)>
  • That said, do look for ways to improve narrative economy.  Getting the same ideas across in a cleaner, more concise manner is almost always a good thing.
  • Don’t be offended if not all of your suggestions are taken.  Remember that it’s the writer’s story, and he or she must ultimately decide what aligns with the creative vision.
  • Lastly, you don’t have to be a writer or a grammarian yourself to provide good feedback.  A reader’s perspective on how the piece works as a whole is perhaps the most important thing of all!

 

Bene Scribete.

Getting Criticism

Feedback is an imperative part of the writing process – assuming you are writing to be read by others.  Finding and taking it, however, is not always so easy.  Some are fortunate enough to have friends and family take an active interest in their work, but some have to put themselves a little more out there to be heard.

Here are some things I like to keep in mind when looking for and getting critique:

  • Convey what kind of feedback you’re seeking.  Do you just want mechanical errors pointed out?  Phrasing suggestions?  Or simply overall thoughts on the flow of the story?  Readers will have an easier time helping you if they know what they’re supposed to be looking for.
  • If possible, find readers who are interested in the genre you’re writing.  They will be more likely to have an interest in reading your story, and they’ll be a better representative of your audience.
  • Be pleasant, friendly, and easy to deal with.  Remember that you’re looking for a favor.
  • Swap drafts with other writers.  You’re more likely to get something back when it’s a fair trade, and you’ll typically get a different but equally useful type of feedback than from a strictly reader’s perspective.  Another writer will better understand where you’re coming from, and can share in your excitement for the undertaking.
  • Be patient.  Going over someone else’s writing can be quite the chore.  Keep in mind that no one else is going to have the interest and investment in the piece that you are, and people are busy.  Some will volunteer to read it, but never actually find the incentive to do so.  Some will start it, and not be interested enough to finish.  If they don’t get back to you, try not to take it personally – just move on and seek out others.
  • Get a few new readers for different draft stages.  What once was can color impressions of what now is.  A fresh perspective is often handy, as the eventual audience will never see the old stuff.
  • Encourage negative feedback.  Particularly with close friends and family, who will gladly tell you what they liked, but often shy away from pointing out what’s wrong.  Let your readers know you want honesty, and if you think you can take it, invite them to be brutal.  Sometimes you’ll have to prod a little – if you’re aware of what you feel are some problem areas, ask specifically what might be done better with them.  And, of course, make sure to take the criticism gracefully (remember that it’s only one person’s opinion).  Further discussion on points is all well and good, but if you get ornery and defensive, you’ll discourage future honesty.  The bad stuff may be harder to hear, but it’s usually more useful.
  • On the other hand, do accept the purely positive feedback from a few people.  The praise from your staunchest supporters can be an invaluable affirmation to your resolve to keep at it, where only critical evaluation can leave you feeling discouraged.  Naturally, keep it balanced – too much flattery won’t help you improve.
  • Not everyone will address the same points, so get your readers’ takes on each other’s opinions.  One person’s thoughts are just that, but when you find where many coincide, you start to get a clearer picture of what’s working and what isn’t.
  • Consider every suggestion, and take about half of them.  It may be difficult, but try to imagine how your story would work with each recommendation you receive, giving it serious thought but acknowledging that it is just another option.  Let your mind fully process its benefits and downsides.  Some will click, some won’t.  If you find yourself not taking any of them, you’re probably being too stubborn.  But if you’re taking all of them, you might be too compromising with, or lacking a solid grasp on, what you’re trying to do.
  • Once you’ve received and had time to mull over your feedback, edit away!

 

Ew

I hate White-Out.

 

On one final unrelated note, if you missed your chance last month to get a free copy of the Kindle edition of Shauna Scheets‘s The Tower of Boran, you can do so today (10/13) until midnight (U.S. Pacific).

 

Bene Scribete.

Out Loud

Errors in text can sometimes be hard to find.  Not the big and ugly ones, but the little, seemingly innocuous oversights, like missing or repeated words.  It’s because the mind wants to find meaning, and it will readily compensate for what it feels is close enough.

For istnacne, msot of yuo wlil prboblay be albe to
to raed tihs wtihuot any graet mnetal eforft.

It’s normally a good thing, but maybe not so helpful when you’re trying to get some copyediting done.  One way to compensate – have it read aloud to you.  But I don’t mean by another person.

 

Tip of a fishTalking Computers = Neat.

Unlike a person, a speech synthesis program has no context or expectation-bias, so it will read everything on the page in a literal, straightforward manner.  Feeding your text through one can be very handy for catching those last little silly errors, and just hearing your story spoken back to you can be useful for a number of other reasons (not to mention the entertainment value of having it done in a droning, not-quite-right electronic voice).

Most computer (or phone, for that matter) operating systems come with speech synthesis these days, but there are also plenty of websites and free downloadable programs out there which will do the trick.  My personal favorite is Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, which has a pretty competent one built in.  Rather than printing my drafts out, I like to convert them for the Kindle to get a more natural and focused read-through, and the option to have it speak it is right there, so it works out nicely.

It’s also funny to hear it pronounce every single one of the proper nouns correctly…except for the most important ones (i.e., any of my protagonists).  (>^-‘)>

 

Kindles can talk

The word was ‘dragon’, Kindle.

 

There isn’t a perfect text-to-speech program out there yet, but they’re still fun to play around with, and can make for a handy utility in your writing arsenal.  What means have you found work best for catching all your typographical blunders?

 

Bene scribete.

Zero Drafting

Last week, I talked about a writing exercise that helps get my brain working faster when my pace has slowed to a crawl.  After spewing out a lot of nonsense that way, I wanted to see if I could apply that high-output word vomit toward something a little more productive, and eventually gravitated toward my current approach of beginning with a hectically speed-written, gloriously sloppy version of each scene in The Book.  A “Draft 0”, if you will.

The basics of zero-drafting are similar to the exercise, only the goal is to try to follow the points of your story-planning rather than letting your mind lead you at random.  You still write as quickly as you can without stopping; the garbage can be cleaned out later.  I started by only doing ten minutes at a time, taking a short break between stints, then moved on to doing a whole scene at once, and now I’ll do an entire chapter in a single go (usually about a two-hour endeavor).  The immediate results are truly cringe-worthy, but that’s O.K.  No one else has to look at this stuff (…for real, this time!).  It gives you a basic framework to follow for the first legitimate draft; some passages will have to be tossed, but many might only need a little editing, and you may even find that the narrative took a few unplanned but ultimately beneficial turns because of the pressure and spontaneity – ideas that could have been missed if you had instead plodded carefully through the first run with an overfocused mind.

Because of my deep-seated need for precision and my perpetual worry of screwing things up, there’s always a build-up of anxiety before I start a draft 0, but once I get rolling with it, it’s extremely liberating.  Regardless of how terrible it is when finished, it’s still a big step forward in the process of getting the book together, and it actually leaves me with a sense of accomplishment.  That’s not something to take for granted; in a solitary activity like writing, self-encouragement is imperative to sticking with it.

In any event, the issue at core here is the subject of today’s Fish Tip.

 

Tip of a fishWrite First.  Edit Second.

It has to be some sort of writing axiom.  Things tend to go a lot more smoothly if you get your ideas down first, and then organize them afterward.  If you edit first, and only write down a sentence after you’ve revised it several times mentally, then the process slows dramatically, and you leave yourself at the mercy of the slog (not to mention it will likely need to be edited again, anyway).

It’s a sentiment we’re all familiar with, I’m sure, but it’s something that certainly still gives me trouble.  One of those things that’s easier said than done!

 

Bene scribete.