Thursday, June 26, 2014

Re-editing: A Seemingly Never Ending Journey

I did it. Faced my fears and dived right in. I opened up Only Human, my first completed 115,000 page novel and got to it.

Two days later, with tired eyes and increasingly large dark circles, I'm starting to feel the worth.

I've known ever since Christmas Eve when I first posted my book on Amazon that another edit at some point in the future was an order. I had a deadline - getting it done in time to be a Christmas gift - and I made it. Unfortunately, I had to sacrifice some things along the way.

Up until a year and a half ago, writing had been a casual hobby. I told friends and acquaintances I wanted to be a writer but past that, I had no expectations and very little knowledge about what it entailed. Even today, I'm not sure I understand the full extent.

Being a writer for me isn't something I can do five minutes a week and expect good results. It's not cathartic or relaxing - a way to get my thoughts out there. It's hard work. Rewarding work when you can sit back and admire your project but hard!

I don't like to use big words (please ignore my use of the word cathartic :) but I tend to ramble. A lot. Reading OH after the merciless editing/deleting I've been doing on my novella was like watching a horror film. Every two paragraphs I wanted to scream and cover my eyes. I put Only Human out there, believing it's a good story. I still believe it's a good story but my 'diamond' is surrounded by a ten foot layer of rock, making the beauty difficult to admire. Editing is my jackhammer.

The first thing I noticed is my habit of over describing. Three to four sentence paragraphs were used to describe locations or random thoughts of my MC and I had multiple uses of three to four commas in a sentence. YIKES!

I didn't want to do my find and search of the words 'like, that, was,' and 'there', knowing it would be painful. I started with 'that', coming up with a whopping 1567 times. I'm at 295 now but I'm hoping to get it down even more. I started on 'like' today but my starting point was 525 or something so it should take less time. I'm sure 'was' will be in the two thousands - I overuse it a lot!

A few scenes read stiffly which I'd felt in my initial release but hadn't had much time to remedy. Now's the time for book surgery! I have to be daring and dive in!

I haven't worked on my novella in over a week and should get back to it before I get to caught up in OH. It's a cute little story and with a few more changes, I'll be pretty proud of it.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Way Too Much Information!

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been doing a lot of research on editing and how to properly present a book. With every discovery made, I want to get my hands on Only Human and rip it apart! It needs so much work!

There seem to be several general rules of editing and then everyone's personal rules that they hold themselves to. A few things I've learned/am learning:
  • Telling rather than showing: This shows up quite often in books, especially with first person manuscripts. The biggest way for me to identify my own 'telling' is by going through sentences and getting rid of an overabundance of the word 'was'. "I was looking down into the dark, sad eyes of a young boy." The sentence is okay but gives me more the feeling of being told and not shown."I looked down into the dark, sad eyes of a young boy," has a much smoother flow with the removal of one word! It was an exciting and scary thing when I learned this and did a find and search of my 30,000 word manuscript. 'Was' appeared 400 times!
  • Omitting Five Senses: When going through my first edit, I have to get rid of a lot of 'He said, she said,' and turn things into what's known as an action beat. The reason for doing so is simple. Too many descriptions can bog down a book and distract from what should be quick dialogue. In my instance, I tend to forget to include the five senses. My characters 'feel bad', 'feel angry', 'feel hungry', etc. but they don't make use of the senses that we as humans do. I know dinner is being cooked because I smell it, not because I walk down the stairs into the kitchen and see Mom holding a pot. 
  • Flashbacks/Back-story: Again, this has to do with telling instead of showing. I've read several books where the characters have flashbacks or the impromptu telling of their past that jolts me from what I'm reading into three pages of explanation. I can't be too harsh since I've made this mistake myself but I do recognize it interrupts flow and interest. The easiest way to get around both of these things is to reference things in conversation or a strange comment your character might make that alludes to something that happened to them in the past. Rachel hated listening to classical music since it reminded her of all those nights home alone, listening to the neighbor's Bach album that did little to cover the terrified screams. You could do this since you're not explaining everything but it's an overload of information. I would write the scene rather like this: Rachel shuddered as classical music filled the room, trying to force her thoughts away from the terrifying nights alone and the sounds of screaming. Since I'm still a newbie writer, it's obviously not perfect but much closer to what I'd enjoy reading. You want your readers to ask questions and be at least a bit in the dark about the characters past. Cliche, over explained characters come off as 2-D and contrived.
  • Too Many Thoughts: I write first person 90% of the time. It's very easy in the telling aspect to constantly be going into the characters head and hearing their thoughts about what's happening. I have to resist! No one wants to hear all those thoughts that should be obvious from the MC's reaction anyway. I have one book  where the girl thinks a lot of cynical things she doesn't actually say but even with that, I have to ditch a lot of the thoughts and show how she's thinking in her reaction.
  • Cut The Boring: If it's boring for me to write, my readers don't want it. It can be hard getting rid of stuff you've spent hours, days, maybe even weeks working on but if you get rid of the slack, you'll get closer to the core of your book. Only Human had a lot of baggage - repetitive scenes, useless dialogue, over long explanations, etc. The comment I've gotten from everyone who's read it is how hard it was to put down. I'm in no way a professional writer or even a great editor but I learned to be harsh with my book. I'm getting ready another round of editing and I'm sure more dead weight will be cut away.
  • Favorite Words: Everyone has their favorite words and they show up in their writing. Favorite words are great in moderation but they can get old really fast. If the word is unusual, you should only use it once or twice in the entire story. With Only Human, my Aunt pointed out my constant use of the word 'gingerly'. My characters would 'gingerly get off the chair,' 'gingerly take a sip', 'take a ginger step', and so on. It's a good word in moderation but overuse is just me getting lazy.
  • The 'ly' rule: Words like suddenly, gingerly, happily, excitedly are so easy to throw into a sentence for me. I didn't know until two months ago that it was even wrong to use them too often. Using words ending in 'ly' is a lazy way to describe something. 'The man gingerly stepped forward, not wanting to hurt his leg anymore'. I would change that to: 'The man took care as he stood, favoring his uninjured leg.'
  • Consistent Character Speak Patterns: All my characters have a different way of reacting, speaking, and understanding. In Only Human, Connor is likely to use proper words and the correct grammar while Zack is sloppy and uses more slang. If Zack said, "I would like to have a drink of water," it would sound out of character and stupid. If Connor were to say it, it would be much more accepted. Zack is more likely to say "Get me a drink before I hit you."
  • Over-describing Characteristics, Features: I read a lot of teen books and most of them are filled with romance of some type. One of my personal pet peeves is the constant description of 'chocolate brown eyes', 'powerful physique', 'soft looking lips', etc. Give readers a few pointers as to what the world in their head should look like and move on. Say that a certain character has chocolate brown eyes and then don't say it again. You might mention the occasional, "His dark eyes turned to meet mine," but past that, don't repeatedly make your reader feel stupid by jamming down their throat what the characters appearance is. In first person, it's also a no-no to have a sentence like this: "I pushed back my mid length, golden brown curls, tucking them behind my elf like ears." Yes, it might give a better picture but I don't think of my hair color when I'm pushing it out of my face. If it were me, the sentence would more like this: "I pushed back the golden fuzz of curls around my face, tucking it securely behind my ears." If I'm tucking back my hair, it's either out of habit or because it's fuzzy and annoying me.
There are so many things to learn in order to craft a good novel and these are just a few things. I'm sure in a few months, I'll look back at my lack of knowledge and shudder again. For now though, I'm working with what I've got. 

On a side note, I've been thinking recently about how awkward most romantic scenes in books are. I think a lot of times it's because the author is describing too much of what's happening and it makes you feel like you've crashed a party you weren't invited too. So many authors talk about the 'earthy scent' a man will carry, or the smell of his aftershave. Maybe it's because I don't live in romance land but I don't notice a lot of distinct smells from people. If I do notice the smell of a guy, it's not usually a pleasant smell. Of course, sweat and unwashed socks wouldn't sound too romantic now, would it?

The biggest instance of over telling and awkwardness seems to be in kiss scenes. I don't write kiss scenes for a variety of reasons but if you read books with any romance, they are almost guaranteed to occur. Some are fine, they happen and you hear more about the reaction of the character than anything else. Several are just plain embarrassing with way to much info as to what the kiss felt like. I'm sure that's something to contemplate if it's happening to you which is the effect the writer is going for but to me, it often just makes me feel grossed out and lose any sense of romanticism at all!

-Anna Leigh

Monday, June 2, 2014

Future Projects

It's been an even crazier month than I thought it would be last time I wrote over a month ago. Reading back over my previous posts, I remembered I'd posted some of my character blurbs to a story that's, well, been kind of thrown away.

It was a difficult decision to get rid of six chapters worth of work but seemed to be the best choice in the end. I've since started over but am having a hard time being motivated which means Human Nature is getting shelved for three weeks until I can get my head back in the game. The good news is, shelving my sequel gives me the time I've really wanted to work on all the other books I've started in the last year, namely four that have been calling my name. Since I'm writing today about my other books, I thought it'd be interesting to do a bullet point of all the books I've started writing and a brief description. Names in descriptions are subject to change, as well as POVs.

  • Walking Among Us (WT) 2014: Rose's family is forced by the government to have an alien from DA1 live with them for three months. Rose's father would never have allowed such a thing but it's been several years that he's been imprisoned, leaving her as head of the household. The clash of cultures is evident and Rose is curious as to how an alien can look, talk, and occasionally act like a human. Is the government she's working for really telling her the whole story? (First person)
  • Younger Brother (WT) 2014: Ali was only a little girl when her father brought boy, small and with a mysterious tattoo, into their house and declared him one of the family. Ali felt protective of the younger boy and did her best to take care of him until he was sent away to learn the inner workings of their business. Now eighteen, he's returned to the house to participate in a competition her father set up, a fight between her two biological brothers and him over who will get the business. In the middle of the only three people she really cares about, Ali has to make a decision that will change her future. (First person)
  • Penalty (WT) 2014: Lana is beautiful and talented in many areas - except the one place she really wants. Lana's dream is to become a writer. After losing a bet to her published boss, she is forced to write the sort of story she hates: a romance set in another country. Not only does she have to write it but she also has to obtain a critique from a renowned magazine, one with a critic who is famous for his bad reviews, and get him to love it. Following a friends advice, she hires a native from the country, only to find he's more of a handful than her boss. Will she succeed with her mission or will her dream to become a published writer remain unreachable? (First person)
  • The Outcast (WT) 2012: Jenny wants nothing more than to blend in but her father's fame makes it difficult. She's been in love with Calvin St. Clair since she was twelve years old, only to recently discover he's avoiding her like the plague and his normally cheerful demeanor seems forced. With public events coming to introduce her into the business and the probability of Calvin's engagement to another girl coming up, Jenny's outlook on life is bleak. To make matters worse, Calvin's younger brother, obnoxious and brutally honest Johnny, is constantly calling her out on what she wants in her life. Her eighteenth year is sure to be unforgettable, if she makes it out. (First person, possibly switched to third)
  • Assisted Dying (WT) 2014: Violet is a teen girl living a hectic life. With both grandfathers dead, both of her grandmothers are living in the same assisted living and filling her days with their very different problems. Grandma Jane is anxious worrier, only interested in her life and the things that affect her. Grandma Anne is a sickly women who hates the burden she is to her granddaughter and wants her to get out more. Violet's life is rapidly spiraling out of control and the resident do-gooder, a endlessly cheerful guy who visits residents without families, seems to think she's cynical. With everything that's happened in her young life, shouldn't she have the right to feel sorry for herself once in a while? There's no way a cheerful smile and endless optimism of a guy without a care in the world would change that. (Third person)
  • Makeover (WT) 2014: Carrie is fine living off the profits of her father's construction business - until he sends her out to a remote location to have her help remodel an old cabin. The workers couldn't care less who she is or if she has to break a nail to help out. It's either buck up or get laughed at for the girl who loves order and cleanliness. (First person, possibly third)
  • Vanity (2014): In a society where no one is less than perfect and beautiful lives Aria Mason, an all natural plain girl. If it weren't for her parents connections, they would have been banished from Cumulus as soon as her plainness became evident. Her coming out year has arrived too soon for her liking and everyone is treating her like she has a disease, including her match who only makes evident he isn't interested. When Aria runs into a talented performer, she's unwillingly dragged into the gossip that surrounds him. Things get even more out of hand when they are trapped on a salvage shuttle headed toward Earth, the place that doesn't know of their existence. Will Aria be able to find her way back without the humans finding out who she is or is their life doomed to be discovered? (First person)
  • Fame (2012): Lexi is probably the only girl on Earth who remembers Jackson Park, a one hit wonder who was famous the same year her parents were killed. Moving to a new city with her older sister and determined to have a fresh start, she gets a shock when she runs into a delivery boy with a striking resemblance to the singer who helped her through the hard times and who goes by the name Jack... (First person, possibly third)
  • First Impressions (2014): Carla Marcus lived a normal life until her sister and brother-in-law were killed in a car accident. Left with Taylor, their six month old baby, she is forced to endure the judgmental stares and harsh words from strangers who think she's a teen mother. An innocent day out shopping lands them in a bank being held up. Her and the baby are kidnapped by men with mixed intentions and with police hot on their tails, Carla worries for the safety of herself and the baby she promised to protect. (First person, present tense)
  • Heart (2013): Bare bones outline. A girl who's lived her whole life with a defective heart gets a transplant. Things have only been good since then, leaving her to live the full life she always dreamed of. Every time something bad threatens to happen, it's taken care of and she is continuously protected. After a mugger tries to stab her and is stopped by a guy who seems to know her name, she begins to wonder about all the other things in her life that've been mysteriously taken care of. Maybe she has a guardian angel after all... (Idea only, have never written the story)
  • Older Sister (WT) 2014: Mia and her family have been having a hard time financially, forcing her to rely on the kindness of the local makeup artist to employ a girl who hasn't even attended beauty school. In a strange twist of events, Mia has to work as a temporary makeup artist for EBOS, a boy band traveling through their city. When a murder occurs and the place is locked down to prevent the killer from leaving, Mia is forced to make unlikely allies as she does her best to protect the people she loves - before the killer chose her as the next target. (First person)
  • Books I Didn't Mention: Loyalty (Historical Fiction), A trilogy of retold classics: Robin Hood, Peter Pan, Camelot, Drifting (Contemporary Mystery), Bodyguard (Action/Adventure), 9 (Story about an a girl assistant coach on a men's team), Beaten (Contemporary, a story about a boy whose father beats him and a girl who wants to protect him).
So, I have started a lot of books! I've finished two, a novel and a novella, and am hoping to get back to a lot of these at some points. Several are just a Microsoft Word document with a few facts scribbled in them. Loyalty was one I started a month ago but didn't take the time to write the plot down for. I really have no idea what I was thinking of and have only one page to reference :( A few might be broken down and turned into one book since they are similar to others I have and wouldn't make a strong enough story on their own. I had a genius idea for my Peter Pan remake and my fingers are itching to get back to it. I have way too many in the works to do so right now but I'm still young...

On the interesting discoveries for this month, I have to mention Natural Reader. It's a great program that turns text to speech and has made a world of difference in my editing process. It's so much easier to edit when it's being read to you and computers don't read over miss-spellings or bad punctuation which makes it more accurate than a human.The free version only includes computer sounding voices but the paid version has some very natural voices. I put up with the computer sound since it works find for editing though sometimes the lack of emotions gets to me.

I'll write again when I get a chance about some of the things I've been learning in my editing journey recently. I've read so many different accounts of ways to edit and decided to throw them all at my novella and see how it turned out. With everything new I learn, I look at Only Human and can't wait to get my hands back on it. It gets more embarrassing by the day with some of the things I let go in the editing process!

Anna Leigh