Now the Work Begins: Editing a Novel

Today’s guest post is from lovely and talented Nora Weston, the woman who knows a little bit about everything. Please visit the Noracast for insightful tips and tricks about everything from simplifying your world, to hosting the perfect party, to emergency preparedness on the road.

Ignore your finished novel for at least a month to distance yourself from the manuscript. I know it’s your baby, your masterpiece, but after some time elapses, your emotions will subside a little allowing the eyes and mind of an editor to take over. Passion is required to get the story down and the editing phase, if performed with a critical eye, will result in an exciting novel you’ll be able to submit.

* Run spell-check and grammar check. These editing buddies will not catch everything, but start with them and go from there.

* Hit “Find” and run a search for words ending in ly. I’ve seen numerous submission guidelines asking authors to check their use of words ending in ly.

Example/No: The extremely extravagantly lit ballroom was too bright.

Improved: The extravagantly lit ballroom was too bright.

Better: An overabundance of dazzling chandeliers sparkled with intensity almost blinding me.

* Hit “Find” and run a search for that, because this word can be overused.

Example/No: “Isn’t it enough that I show up every Sunday to help you?”

Better: “Isn’t it enough I show up every Sunday to help you?”

Example/No: This is the dollhouse that Steve made.

Better: This is the dollhouse Steve made.

* Hit “Find” and run a search for just and really since these words make appearances in manuscripts too often.

Example/No: This is just a really terrible salad.

Improved: This is a terrible salad.

Better: This limp salad is too warm and reeks like it came from a garbage dump.

* Read with a critical eye making sure you’ve used they’re, their, and there correctly.

Example/No: They’re is a black dog guarding the warehouse and he is scary. (they’re = they are)

Yes: There is a black dog guarding the warehouse and he is scary.

Example/No: The policemen told me there motorcycles are parked out back, but their missing.

Yes: The policemen told me their motorcycles are parked out back, but they’re missing.

Do you want more of an explanation? Check out they’re, their, and there.

* Comma Usage: Oh! Where do I begin? I think I’ll leave this one to Professor Pamela Braden of West Virginia University, Parkersburg, WV. This is a tough topic, so I’ll visit Professor Braden’s page when in doubt.

* Sentence structure and length needs to vary so readers do not get bored. Visit Purdue Online Writing Lab for examples. Also visit Dr. Grammar for helpful tips with word usage.

* Character Development: Is your protagonist likeable? Will your readers turn every page hoping this character sees the light, beats the odds, and/or has accomplished the task set before him, or her? This does not mean your protagonist must be perfect. Flawed characters are more believable and it’s thrilling to see a character evolve throughout a novel. Take time to create main characters that are three-dimensional. Give them a unique appearance, habits, expose their likes and dislikes, let their dreams and nightmares help shape their personality; use any means possible to let your readers into their minds. Do your readers know what motivates your protagonist? By the same token…do your readers know why the antagonist is so hateful? Has this character suffered? Check out what Susan Williams Beckhorn has to say about three-dimensional characters. Make sure to read #6, Show, Don’t Tell!

* Check your manuscript to find any sequential mishaps with times, dates, and events. If you’re writing a science fiction novel that hops back and forth between time periods, then this is vital to the story. It’s easy to get times, dates, and events confused when passion for the story has complete control over your brain.

* Dialogue: “How hard could this be?” Guy Hogan answers this question. Always remember, great dialogue moves the story forward. It’s especially fun to write dialogue for characters who speak with a certain amount of “attitude.” Too many dialogue tags can slow down the flow of a story, so be careful. If you take time to listen how people speak to one another, you’ll be surprised. Make notes, observe, and realize people do not constantly say the other person’s name during a conversation.

* Unnecessary Words: Take out words, paragraphs, and pages if they do not add to the story and move it forward. This is difficult to do, but it will tighten up the plot making the action and dialogue move along faster.

* Head-hopping/Point-of-View Violations: I prefer to keep one point-of-view per scene, meaning I only allow one character’s point-of-view to be realized per scene. I’ve read various opinions about this topic and editors disagree, but since so many submission guidelines ask authors not to have point-of-view violations, I stay on the safe side.

* Is there enough tension, or curiosity, at the end of every chapter to entice your readers to the next chapter? If not, add conflict, increase danger, introduce another problem, but keep your readers interested.

These tips will get you started. If you know of a helpful tip for editing a novel, share it by leaving a comment. Thanks for visiting!

Movie Vs. Book

Blame it on a recent disappointing experience, but I wish to weigh in on the common debate between a great book and it’s movie counterpart.

After reading a number of comparisons between books and movies, one idea stands out. The phrase oft repeated is something like, “I didn’t think the movie was true to the book.” or, “They did a great job. They really stayed true to the book.” The concept of ‘staying true’ seams to not be about exact duplication. The key is to recreate the heart of the story contained in the book. It’s not enough for a movie to imitate events. A movie must maintain the same intensity and quality in relationships, character development, tension, suspense, and all other facets of the story. But the how seams to be less important.

For proof, check out Jane Auten’s Sense and Sensibility. Emma Thompson–who wrote the screenplay– said that the dialogue in the book would not give depth to the characters in live action. The character development in the book is found mostly in the narrative sections. In order to ‘stay true’ to the characters of the book, Emma Thompson invented most of the dialogue of the movie. But she did it so well that even avid Jane Austen fans bought it.

Eric Van Lustbader’s trilogy about Jason Bourne offers a more dramatic example of this point. Both the book and the movie appeal to the same audience, and many comparisons claim that the movies remained true to the ideas in the books, but the story lines and events are not at all the same. I believe this is as it should be. Because the books were written several decades ago, simply recreating them–with their outdated technology and politics–would have been futile. The heart of the Jason Bourne story lies in his ability to use modern technology and his cutting edge knowledge to fight corrupt politics. So even though the events are very different, most reviewers are happy with both.

So if a movie is so different from the book, why keep same name? Why not acknowledge it as an entirely different story? The answer is to draw the crowd. The largest initial movie audience will be readers of book. That’s also why it’s so important to appeal to that group!

In my view, Ella Enchanted conversion to the screen was a colossal failure on this point. Gail Carson Levine’s novel is a charming YA fantasy novel about a adolescent girl who must dig deep for the inner strength she didn’t know she possessed. Tommy O’Haver’s movie is also charming, but it’s a spoof on fairy tales centered around a sassy but lovable teenager. Two cute stories, but as a fan of the book, the movie was a total let down. This movie might have done well if it had been marketed as its own product. But as the movie version of the book I loved so well, it didn’t stay ‘true.’

Where do you weigh in? Should a movie stick with the storyline of the book, or is it okay to go another direction? What books-turned-movies do you like/hate?

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Lisa Genova has earned her stripes and proven her skill with the well-researched masterpiece that is Still Alice.

However, this book confirmed for me that I am far more afraid of loosing my ability to think than I am of pain or infirmity. I will try to bare well any challenge that is thrown my way, but I crave the luxury of retaining my memories and ability to think and reason throughout. I place much value on the minds of older people. I would like to serve future generations the same way my predecessors have served me.

After watching my own sweet grandmother fight a loosing battle with dementia and Alzheimer’s I found myself nodding my head a lot throughout this book. I drew many parallels and have gained a greater appreciation for my grandmother’s experience.

Watching Alice go through this and realize her own uselessness was horrifying to me, because I thought of how helpless my grandma must have felt while her disease was progressing. I’ve honestly never considered what Alzheimer’s must have been like for her. I’ve calculated what it meant to my parents, their relationships with siblings, and other relatives and situations. But what must it be like to watch your independence fade and realize what a burden you are becoming and will be to your loved ones? I pray I’ll never know.

Another common experience I shared with Alice’s family is how much communicating can take place without thinking, through feelings alone. In the later stages of my grandma’s experience I remember that even though my grandma couldn’t remember anything or anyone from the present, it wasn’t hard to figure out if she was being treated with respect or condescension because of the way these incidents affected her mood and self-confidence.

My grandma didn’t need to remember any part of a bad or good experience for it to affect her. These experiences drove home to me exactly how important it is to not allow these people to slip through the cracks in our attention.

One important positive feature of Alzheimer’s that the book brought out is the unreserved love these people can offer the world. They love like few others can.

Likewise, I remember well, that as my grandmother’s expectations and ability to evaluate my decisions dwindled, the love she showed for me increased and multiplied over and over. That love was sincere and fully accepting. It never felt false or inappropriate to me. It was beautiful and so meaningful during my teenage years.

I’m so glad that the end of the story brought Alice’s family together and peace to her life. Her family worked hard to help her maintain her quality of life and demonstrated several ways she could add value to their lives.

There are some valuable lessons to be found in this book. Anyone who’s life was/is touched by this cruel disease should pick this one up.

Tips and Tricks Tuesday: How I Craft a Book Review

If you’d like some advice about how to write a very formal and scholarly critique of a book, you won’t find it here. Please visit Purdue’s Online Writing Lab for a great article about that kind of book-reviewing. This is about the informal world of book-review blogging, and what I look for and aim to provide in a book-review.

So, to start: do you or don’t you take notes while you read? I don’t. I prefer to be absorbed into the story, and I can’t do that if I am constantly assessing whether the text or character or what-have-you is ‘jot-worthy’ or not.

I read the book, at whatever pace it demands, and then put it all–my thoughts included– on the shelf for a few days. After that I make a note of anything that still stands out to me: writing style, character development, a certain moment, a plot twist, anything. I figure if I’m still thinking about something after a few days, then it’s probably worth discussing in my review.

If nothing stands out, but I must write a review then my best bet is to go through a list of questions like this one from the Los Angeles Valley College Library and hope it gets the wheels turning in my brain.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I don’t use a template for book-reviews. I shape each article individually. But while I’m shaping, I keep a few do’s and don’t’s in mind:

Don’t:

  • Stress about a comprehensive synopsis. Readers will go to Goodreads or Amazon for that. Most books already have dozens of synopses out there. Your personal opinions and perspective is the unique thing you can offer readers.
  • Be afraid to talk about plot twists, ending, or other surprise points. But be considerate, and warn those who haven’t read the book yet to stop reading your review if you are about to give away something important.
  • Think that a negative review will damage a book’s sales. Often times a negative review breeds more curiosity. If you want to deter readers from buying than don’t mention the book at all.

Do:

  • Read the entire book before you review it! This should be obvious, but for reasons unknown, some people don’t. You cannot pass fair judgment if you haven’t considered all the evidence. And as The Bloggers’ Bulletin suggests, you could end up with a foot planted squarely in your mouth if you make a factual error.
  • Mention the book title and author’s name in the first paragraph of your review. As Scholastic points out, no one likes to dig for that.
  • Express your opinions. As your reader that’s what I want from you. But if you’re reviewing a book about Mexican food, and if–due to a traumatic childhood incident involving avocados–you have an atypical aversion to Guacamole, it would be cool if you disclose that and acknowledge that your opinion may be colored accordingly.
  • Draw your conclusions and then explain why. The ‘why’ part lends credibility to your opinions and persuades your readers. Without the ‘why’ your review is just another rant.
  • Consider the author’s purpose in writing the book. University of Northern Carolina’s online writing center offers a great example of how skewed a review can end up, if the reviewer judges solely from their expectations and ignores the author’s intentions.

I usually sum-up by recommending the book to those that might find value in it, whether it’s a very wide audience made up of anyone who’s ever ridden in a car or a smaller crowd of moto-cross-loving grandmothers of Siamese twins.

So what about you? Do you take notes when you read? Do prefer the scholarly book-critique, or the casual, opinion-laden book-review?

Hello… Is Anybody There…

I haven’t abandoned, I promise!! Between the recent death of my old computer; shopping for, setting up, and learning my new computer; my sick kids; and now, looming finals, posting just hasn’t been a priority. (I feel like that hamster on the wheel, always moving but never getting anywhere!) But I believe things are starting to slow down at my house now. If we all survive finals, then life will be good again.

In the meantime I’ve started a few new posts: my favorite styles of book-reviewing, books vs. movies, and my review of Fablehaven: Keys to the Demon Prison. Hopefully they’ll be worth the wait.

Thanks for your patience,
Lyn

Merlin’s Charge, Peter Joseph Swanson

While on a grail quest, accompanied by various tired and forgettable characters, a horny, pessimistic Merlin does his best to jade an adolescent, and very green, Arthur into despising politics and people.

After reading this book I can’t tell you what Arthur’s interests and favorite pastimes were. I can’t even tell you what color his hair was. But I can tell you all about his wet dreams: what he saw, what he felt, and how he cleaned himself up. So it was with other characters too. The first 1/3 of the book was so unbalanced in this manner that if I hadn’t had a personal motive (I met the author through a writer’s social-networking site) I would have stopped reading.

Another gripe, all 220 pages of this book added up to make one very long chain of chatter. Talk, talk, talk. I felt like I was at a never-ending ladies’ quilting bee! More than once I screamed inside my head, Please stop talking! Just for a second! Perhaps this was meant as an experiment, but in my view it failed and should have been abandoned early into the project.

What’s more, the tone of the conversation never seamed to change. The celebration of a wedding, the slaying of a defenseless blind-man, the press of eminent danger was all revealed to us through generic comments inserted into the relentless barrage of chatter. Characters that were excitable were always agitated. Those that were prone to casual cynicism were always offhanded and negative. Really annoying.

Merlin’s Charge wasn’t all bad, however.

Whether or not it’s true, I’m convinced that Peter Joseph Swanson has done his homework. He struck me as very knowledgeable about medieval times, magic, grail quests, etc. It was great to hear about pursuits and lifestyles of the day. PJS pointed out that things like bridges were considered modern technology, horses were still a luxury, and cobblestones and paving of any kind practically didn’t exist yet.

Also very interesting, with Christianity on the rise and paganism just starting to move toward the background, PJS compared and contrasted various points of both religions all through the book: the differences between wedding and burial ceremonies, explanations for drought and other weather patterns.

I loved PJS’s interpretation of the Holy Grail: a magic cauldron with an endless supply of food. This cauldron does indeed grant life to the town that possesses it and would be far more desirable to its impoverished people than eternal youth or some such.

I also liked the most important plot point. An evil pict-witch steals the Holy Grail, changes its purpose from good to evil by inverting it, and uses it as a demon bell. If she can steal a holy bell from an abbey and turn it evil, also by inverting it, all is lost. So it falls on the future king and his enslaved teacher to save the wasteland.

To sum up, if you love sarcasm and dark humor under any circumstances, definitely pick this one up. If you’re interested in medieval history this might be worth wading through. Otherwise, don’t worry about it. There were some cool things in this book, but I hope to soon find out what the trade value is for a used copy of Merlin’s Charge.

Single Sourcing with Rhetoric

The following is a white paper I wrote with Sharla Winterbottom of WinterWrite and Stacy Parker. We’re all considering careers somewhere in the world of technical communication, so we’re deeply interested by the ongoing battle between writing for an audience and single sourcing. Some “experts” are claiming single sourcing is the apocalypse of technical writing, and we should cling to the old ways as long as possible. Some say it’s the dawn of the second coming, a jumping off point for a whole new era of technical writing. Sharla, Stacy, and I believe the answer, as it usually does, lies somewhere between the two extremes.

I’m publishing this here, because I’d love to hear your opinion on this. Where do you weigh in?

Single Sourcing with Rhetoric
White Paper

The field of technical writing has evolved greatly since its humble beginnings. Technical writing today consists of skill, in-depth subject knowledge, and most importantly, rhetoric—the ability to use language effectively to inform and persuade an audience. Technical writers have adjusted and embraced the changes that have shaped today’s technical writing, especially the changes in consumers’ demands for more “user-friendly” writing. Not only do consumers expect accuracy in typical instruction manuals and everyday documents, but with the increase in web sites and online help features, user interaction with information is more important than ever. New technologies appear daily that affect technical writing and the needs of audiences.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Single Sourcing

One of the more recent changes in the field is the advent of single sourcing, which is writing information in pieces, or modules, that are saved and labeled accordingly with XML (extensible markup language) tags in order to be reused in multiple documents. The needs for consistency, clarity, and efficiency in technical writing can be met by single sourcing, which is a form of content management or managing and maintaining information. Many companies have already employed single sourcing and XML as content management solutions because of the benefits they bring:

  • Writing modules of information for multiple projects one time
  • Reusing modules in multiple places and formats
  • Easily editing only one main document when making necessary changes
  • Cutting costs because of reduced work

Given these benefits, it’s easy to see why many companies would want to single source as much of their content as possible.

However, some feel that writing reusable modules of information can leave rhetoric behind, because to reuse modules in multiple places, single sourced content must be written in a very general manner. Rhetoric that is specific to certain instances or situations would need to be taken out if it does not apply in all the instances where the content is being reused. Because the writing has to be so general, many technical writers feel that single sourcing strips away rhetorical benefits necessary to communicate effectively with a specific audience. Jeffrey Bacha states that “Single sourcing and content management strategies…not only threaten to return technical communication to product centered communication practices, they may also be establishing the elimination of audience awareness from the creation of technical documentation”(147).

Another concern with single sourcing is repetition. In order for each module of information to stand alone, concept explanations and term definitions are repeated over and over. This works well when the information modules are plugged into “frequently asked questions” or an online help format. The reader doesn’t have to search further to understand the terms and concepts used. However, when the information modules are organized into a textbook, manual, or other linear style document, the repetition of definitions and explanations can frustrate the reader.

Blending Single Sourcing and Rhetoric

Erin Joyce points out that content management systems cannot stand entirely alone: “Today, more than 60 percent of companies that have deployed Web content management solutions still find themselves manually updating their sites” (2003).

In order to address the repetition and lack of audience problems, single sourcing should employ the rhetoric that keeps audience needs in mind. Projects should be started with a single source approach. Standardizing sections of information that are in constant use creates consistency and efficiency within a company. In order to deal with repetition the technical writer can use XML tags to identify definitions and explanations within each information module. Then each time these modules are inserted into a document or project, a technical writer can edit for user-friendly transitions and rhetoric. When information modules are organized into a linear style document, the tagging system should simplify the process of pulling out unnecessarily repeated definitions and explanations.

Benefits of a combined approach include the following:

  • Companies save time and benefit by consistency of information.
  • Consumers appreciate that information is clear, pleasant to read, and avoids the automated feel of straight single-sourced format which can repeat too much and lack rhetoric.
  • Technical writers still get to craft information with a specific audience in mind and avoid falling to a status somewhere just above automaton.

Rather than letting the changes and technology adversely affect the field of technical writing, writers need to adjust to these changes and make them work successfully. By keeping the essential audience-centered aspects in technical writing along with single sourcing, writers will be able to continue the evolving nature of the field. By adjusting single sourcing to accommodate audience needs, technical writers can enjoy the best of both worlds—the new benefits offered by single sourcing and the time-tested successes of rhetoric.

REFERENCES

  • Bacha, Jeffrey. “Single Sourcing and the Return to Positivism: The Threat of Plain-Style, Arhetorical Technical Communication Practices.” Content Management: Bridging the Gap Between Theory and Practice. Eds. George Pullma and Baotong Gu. Amityville, NY: Baywood Publishing Company, Inc., 2009. 143-159.
  • Joyce, E. “Study: Content Management Tools Fail.” (2003). 17 February 2010
    .

Sara Gruen’s, Water for Elephants

This book was a little too gritty for me, but I recognize that I’m far more sensitive about public display of sexuality than most. I understand that sensuality was a huge part of circus life. The story needed to acknowledge that part of the circus world, but I would have appreciated being spared so many of the ugly details.

In spite of this I had to keep reading. The originality of the setting, plot, and characters kept egging me on. I don’t believe I have ever encountered a story about circus performers in the 1930’s, set mostly on and just off the train. I was absolutely absorbed in that world.

I loved the parallel story lines involving old Jacob and young Jacob. It wasn’t just an older person reflecting on his former years; old Jacob had problems and struggles to overcome as well. I loved watching him in both situations growing and evolving. Just as Dave Weich says in his interview with Sara Gruen (transcript at the back of the book), juxtaposing the old Jacob with the new Jacob, “grounds some of the crazier stuff going on in his past.” It softens his wild days and endears him to the reader.

The ending was great. Gruen is not afraid of a little falling action, which I deeply appreciate. All the ends wrap up nicely, but there’s plenty of hints for Jacob’s future. I probably won’t read this book again, because of the many detailed sexual encounters, but it was well-written, well-rounded and very satisfying.

Markus Zusak, the Book Thief

Holy cow. I love this book!

The narrator is a compassionate and over-worked Death, minus the scythe, who takes mental mini-vacations by observing the varieties of colors in the sky. While working he always tries to avoid looking at grieving survivors, but his eye is caught by the face of a girl he keeps bumping into: the Book Thief.

I loved hearing about the power of words. The evil words of one man sway millions to do insane things, and the hope-filled words of one girl lift a Jewish soul from his metaphorical grave, comfort her terrified friends and family, and strengthen her own resolve to rise above her surroundings.

Without comparing it to the unspeakable suffering of Jewish people during WWII, Zusak does a brilliant job of showing how difficult life was for regular German citizens. He shows that very few of them were the intolerant madmen they’re sometimes made out to be. Most of them were just scared, hungry, and looking for a way out of their problems. Many Germans believed that minorities were being targeted unfairly, but felt powerless to meddle with that.

**Spoiler Alert** If you haven’t read this book yet, stop reading now!

I am not necessarily a lover of sad books and sad endings. It’s unbearable that Liesel looses her home and so many loved-ones. However I believe the story would have felt untrue or contrived without some great and terrible ordeal to overcome. For heaven’s sake, Death is the narrator, what else can be expected?

The great thing is the depth of Liesel’s sacrifice directly reflects the height of her victory by moving on once the dust has settled.

I wish we could have seen more of her post-war life, but it speaks well that Death didn’t come near her again until it was her time to go. The more I think about that, the more fitting and perfect it is to end the story that way.

Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

This book proves that Henry James is a master at fleshing-out characters and weaving relationships. Each individual was so well-developed they felt more like my dear friends rather than strangers I eaves-dropped on. In fact, the slow moments in the book were due mostly to character and setting development nearly to the point of overkill.

This story contains little action, which in my view, can easily be sacrificed to the great characters and relationships, so that wasn’t a problem for me.

The big flaw of this piece was the sudden drop at the end. I know I’ve complained about this more than once lately, but this ending was by far, the most frustrating! After several hundred pages of build-up, with one beloved character in terrible trouble, and immediately after a life-altering event takes place between two other main characters, we are notified that our main character has figured out what to do, and there the book stops.

There is no hint about how any of these situations resolve (or don’t). The reader is left to drown in a puddle of their own assumptions. Worse still, there is no hope of Henry James (who died in 1916) producing a sequel to tie up the loose ends!

I have stewed for days, wondering about my dear friends who simply ceased to exist. Even though the ending of this book fully invites the reader to do so, I feel I have no right to draw my own conclusions as these people are entirely fictional, and I did not invent them.

*Grrrr* Unless you’ve no problem exercising your imagination upon the work of others, you may want to skip this one.