A Year’s Worth of Learning

May 28, 2008 at 12:08 pm | Posted in Bria, dialogue, editing, format, self-editing, Tina Ferraro, writing | 9 Comments

Somewhere — under the bed, behind a bookshelf, on a flash drive at the back of a drawer — you have the first draft of your first manuscript. Go pull it out.

No. Seriously. Go Pull It Out.

OK — If you’ve been following the Purple Hearts, you know I only began writing (again since college) a little over a year ago. Every time I turn around I feel as if I’m learning something new. I’m currently taking Margie Lawson’s ‘Deep EDITing’ course. Run as fast as you can to go take that class! Self-Editing is vital to success.

So, in an effort to see what I’ve learned, I pulled the first 10 pages of my first draft of my first manuscript. Pull yours out and let’s see, shall we?

1. OPENING: Amazingly enough, I started in the correct place – go me! Not as impressive, I opened in the wrong POV. I started in the POV of a secondary character watching the MC as a boy. It makes sense in a lot of ways BUT, it creates an incorrect view of who the story will be following and will easily confuse the reader.
2. POV: Since we’re talking POV, let’s look at that. Two Word: Headhopping (yes, I know that’s 1 word, but it’s a shout out to our girl Tina Ferraro!) I got dizzy following it. I’ve since learned how to pick out scene POV, stay consistent, and transition to the next one.
3. FORMATING: You’re supposed to format these in a specific way? Font? Margins? Spacing? WOW! What looked easy to read a year ago now looks like a train wreck of ink on paper. If you’re looking to see how to set up proper formatting, we did a post on it HERE.

4. TELLING: Surprisingly enough, this wasn’t as horrible as I expected. The opposite was actually true in many places – showing where I should have been telling. Sometimes, you need to just place a one line tell in there to keep the pace, flow and cadence of your story moving. I’ve learned a lot about how to balance that.
5. VAGUE: Just because something is clear to me, doesn’t mean it’s clear on the page. I’ve gotten a lot better at spotting those, at being a reader separate from myself as a writer when looking at my stuff.
6. PUNCTUATION: It’s true. Bad punctuation does distract from the story – no matter how good it is. Dialogue punctuation seems to be a specific problem the more people’s stuff I CP. HERE is a post on how to properly punctuate dialogue.
7. SENTENCE STRUCTURE: Often when trying to get the story on the page, my first attempt looks like this:

Brennid VERB. . . . He VERB. . . .DISCRIPTIVE SENTENCE. . .He VERB. . .She VERB. . .They VERB. . .

How boring! I had to move things around, shake them up and often make passive statements active. A great way to see your structure is to find replace your main characters’ names and “he” and “she” so they’re a bright, bold color. How many kick off a sentence? 


8. PASSIVE: Speaking of passive sentences – Not only does making your sentences active make the reader more involved and the pace quicker but it also forces a hard look at sentence structure.

So, that’s my first year Big Learnings. How about you? What’s changed in your writing this year.

Let us know so we can learn it too!


Look back and Laugh

October 31, 2007 at 9:07 am | Posted in Bria, character, creativity, dialogue, Fast Draft, format, hero, inspiration, self-editing, writing | 2 Comments

I’m away at a week long writer’s retreat and so this week’s blog is my top ten of my own posts – feels like cheating, except I’m looking over my own stuff, so it’s a good review for me, right?

1.        The Grand Gesture
I love this post. The childhood story really happened, I love to think about what makes a good hero and, best of all, Elizabeth Boyle commented – I mean, seriously.
Which brings me directly to #2

2.     Too Perfect
It takes a look at how having a perfect hero isn’t perfect, it’s annoying and a little weak. A quick shout out to Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages helps to look at creating a more realistic character – especially the hero or heroine.
Sticking with heros and men is #3

3.   Sexy is as Sexy Does
Let’s take a look at what’s attractive AND what isn’t.

4.     Where the HECK is my Blog
Yet another reference to my own quirky-luck and self competitiveness.

5.     Dialogue and Punctuation
A writer’s rant turned into a public resource. LSU linked to us as a resource for how to punctuate dialogue — I’m so glad it was helpful to people. The basics should be what slow your writing down.

6.     My Blog Crush
More of my quirky look at life – I took the idea of a new inspiration and turned it into, apparently, a running joke online. The poet really is very good and one of the places I go when I need to re-think how I’m using words.  Right now that place is Tamara Pierce – how does she squeeze those stories in 55K words?

7.     The World In My Head
Yes, I’m one of those people who can be alone in a crowded room creating my own world. Especially during Fast Draft time such as this post fell into.  I KNOW some of you are doing NaNoWrMo, so you must know how I feel forced to focus all my energy in that one story for 2 weeks straight. 20 pages a day, what was I thinking – Thanks Candy Havers!

8.     What I Can’t/Won’t Write
This post got a lot of attention from people commenting off the blog about my willingness to throw this idea out there. Thanks for supporting my stand with my own personal values.

9.     Story Serendipity
Thank goodness for it!  That’s all I have to say.

10. Formatting Your Baby
It caused controversy in the comments and the FlanTastic chat, but the info there was checked by two print editors so I’m standing by it.
Well, this was fun. Hopefully right now I’m at the retreat writing a masterpiece — or at least not embarrassing myself too badly. 

Let me know your thoughts — I always love to hear feedback, positive and negative (yes, I said negative screw the “constructive.”)

Go Write

Self-Editing 201 with Professor Vonnegut

October 19, 2007 at 1:49 pm | Posted in editing, Meg, self-editing | 1 Comment

You’ve aced Self Editing 101 and eliminated all unnecessary words (adverbs, that, just, about, able, anyway, but, by, even, like, notice, of, realize, said, seems, so, some, still, then, very, etc.) and struggled through S-E 102 as you ‘actionized’ your passive voice. Now, it’s second year, folks, and time for an advanced lesson. Our guest professor is Kurt Vonnegut and his rules on writing short stories :

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages. — Kurt Vonnegut

Now, I’m in the midst of applying this to my current ms. I wiped out a whole character because he wasted time making my main character turn over (she’s in the Caribbean and needed help sunbathing- yes, didn’t advance the action or reveal character either). I need to double check what my characters want- money, love, safety, etc. and then make sure every obstacle keeps them from this desire. (Writing is one of the only places you can unleash that inner bitch and be intentionally cruel! I love it!) And I need to make sure I have someone sympathetic enough to have the reader turning pages even through the bad scenes I missed.

But the last one, the rule about telling all, I think I will break this one. I don’t want the reader to know certain aspects of the book. I hate reading books that I can see the ending. Why waste my time? Isn’t the goal to write a book that people will stay up all night to get to the last page? I even love romances when I’m not sure whom the heroine will pick or if there will be a happy ending. So this rule I’ll break.

And rule breaking, that’s a topic for another blog, but if you want to break the rules, go for it. According to Wikipedia, my new favorite website for all things,Vonnegut qualifies this list by adding that the greatest American short story writer, Flannery O’Connor, broke all these rules except the first, and that great writers tend to do that.


Self-Torture. . .I mean Editing

October 17, 2007 at 11:39 am | Posted in Bria, editing, self-editing, writing | 4 Comments

Completed Manuscript Draft – Check
Printed Copy – Check
Colorful pens, highlighters and page markers – Check
Empty Notebook – Check
Sanity – I’ll get back to you 

At this moment, countdowning until I open the proverbial drawer and pull my draft of the YA Fantasy out for its next run thru. It’s been written, it’s been reviewed — heck it’s even been requested and rejected once (deep sigh) but now it’s time for it to be polished and synopsisized (look, another new form of the word!) 

The frightening thing is, the longer it sits in the drawer, the more flaws I see. The more scenes (full scenes!) I see that need a complete re-write. The more underdeveloped some of my major themes feel. The less clear the motives appear. 

I’m also nervous because someone I respect has it, and I know there are complete parts that are going to get cut and re-written – – – not a doubt in my mind at least 30% of the MS is not going to appear as it is now. I feel like I’m wasting a resource her looking at it now. Not to mention the rough draft I got back yesterday from Kaige – let’s just say it was even rougher than I thought it was. 

So, Friday the self-torture, I mean editing, begins.  

While Critique Partners are important, S-E is vital for a couple of reasons. I think the two most important are it’s your baby and your voice. If you’re going to be an author, you should be growing your skills, getting better with each sweep of the keyboard at creating a flawless MS – one that is yours, not a group of people creating your idea. The other, Voice, seems just as important to me. If you’ve read this blog for awhile, it’s probably quickly became apparent that three of us post here – Jessica on Monday, me on Wednesday, and Meg on Friday — all of us write completely different genres and have very different voices. I love that about us. 

If you’re new at this, I strongly suggest you have a plan. If you don’t have a plan, get one. Why, because self-editing isn’t just about correcting where the comma is, it’s about making the story stronger — tighter, giving it better flow, continuity, word choice, total re-writes of bad scenes, throwing away scenes you love but don’t move the story forward. It’s about making it the best it can be, and not an inch less. 


First: I’ve asked myself what I hoped to accomplish in my story.  Wrote them down and color coded them.  Each time a inch toward a theme it gets a colored tab – Faela has a prophetic dream (whether she realizes/understands it or not) a blue sticky tab goes on the top of the page. Why? Her dreams are a key to one of my themes, when I saw I had been overlooking them for almost 100 pages, I knew theme reparation had to occur. 

Second: Continuity. I’m huge on continuity, and the more well written the book, the more I expected it. I want my first thing out there to be flawless in this regard. SO, every time I have a question about continuity (timeline, character description, object placement, past words said/echoed) a pink tab goes on the right-hand side of the page. I’m not going to pull myself out of the S-E zone to look it up now. 

Third: Is asking if each scene needed. On the read-thru before putting the MS away, I cut a complete chapter. It was one of my favorite scenes, but the MS is too long and this scene was about the secondary characters. It didn’t move the story forward. There was nothing that couldn’t have happened off the page. It got cut. I sighed deeply. 

Fourth: Checking my Characters. Are my characters clearly described? Do they act within their personalities? Does their eye color change? If they have a quirk, it should stay with them, not change without a reason, and be clear what it represents. Do the interpersonal relationships make sense and stay consistent? 

Then I really get down to work. 

Crutches – words, phrases, actions we overuse. I deleted 2 pages of ‘that’ and stopped everyone from nodding. Yes, people in real life nod a lot, but not on the page. 

Personally, one of the hardest corrections on my own MS is grammar. I’m not bad spotting it on other people’s works, but in my own — not so much. I get sucked into the story and the writing and the characters and the motivations and the themes and the. . . .you get the idea. And grammar slides lower and lower and lower.  On my final read-thru I’ll be doing a lovely reverse read. Starting with the last sentence of the last paragraph of the last page of the last chapter — yes, the very last — I’ll re-read the entire MS, backward. This helps you from getting sucked in and makes your mind read something that isn’t logical creates an open space to spot errors. 

Having a guide for your S-E journey is important as well. I have two:

Stephanie Bond (who, if you read our blog, you’ve seen me refer to numerous times) has a great guide to S-E at:http://www.stephaniebond.com/PDF%20files/Writers%20Articles/Self-Editing%20Series%20of%20Articles.pdf 
If you have access to RWA conference tapes, buy a copy of Laurie Brown’s “Self-Editing for Success.” She walks you through the process step by tiny little step. 

I’d love to hear what your writing crutch is. Too many thats? Repetition (the two twins)? Lately I’ve been finding a lot of quites and  odds. That had to stop. So tell me, what do you need to polish? Then, Go Write

5 Minutes Until the Miracle

October 15, 2007 at 9:35 am | Posted in editing, Jessica, procrastination, self-editing, writer's block, writing | 3 Comments

Self-editing. That’s the topic for us Purple Hearts this week.

“For a writer, the ability to look at a sentence and see what’s superfluous, what can be altered, revised, expanded, and, especially, cut, is essential. It’s satisfying to see that sentence shrink, snap into place, and ultimately emerge in a more polished form: clear, economical, sharp.”

In one of those serendipitous moments, this week I started reading the book, Reading Like a Writer, by the aptly named Francine Prose . The prose above comes from page 2 of that book and has come in handy, not only to help shore up my week’s post but to also provide a much-needed refresher to my perspective on self-editing.

I have approached editing, revision, and rewriting as essential but abject pains in the writing process. But because I get so weighed down in the stress of this part of the process, I often lose sight of the point of the exercise – to make a rough draft better, or a good book great.

Which doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with how to do just that. I have been so frustrated with this process that I have started to question how much longer I want to do this. It’s a painful admission.

But then someone posts some words-for-witers-to-live-by to one of my writing loops and one entry in particular steals my attention: You are closest to making it when you are closest to quitting.

It’s like being a member of the mob for me – just when you try to get out, they do something to Suck. You. Back. In. Argh!

I was watching the Today Show one morning last week and a segment featured a family whose mother’s priceless heirlooms got lost on a trip to the hospital and dumped in the trash. To make a long story short, the family persuaded the trash company to dump the hospital’s compacted waste at a separate site at the landfill so they could search the enormous amount of trash. A compassionate custodian from the hospital joined in to help in the search for this needle-in-a-haystack.

Throughout the arduous process, the custodian encouraged the family by repeating his belief that you cannot quit five minutes before the miracle. After six hours of digging, the family was ready to admit that they were never going to find their mother’s lost jewelry. The custodian ripped open just one more bag . . . and located the heirlooms.

He refused to quit five minutes before the miracle.

Self-editing is the figurative enormous amount of trash I have to overcome. But if I refuse to quit five minutes before the miracle, then perhaps I, too, will be able to sort through the detritus and find the buried treasure in my manuscript.

And besides, Joey-Bag-of-Doughnuts can be very persuasive.

I hope your week is full of miracles and serendipitous moments!


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