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Author: Iola

I provide professional freelance manuscript assessment, copyediting and proofreading services for writers of Christian fiction and non-fiction books, stories and articles. I also review Christian novels at www.christianreads.blogspot.com.

Cutting the Diamond (Self-Editing Your Novel)

Cutting the Diamond

In our series on Creating Diamonds from Coal (aka self-editing):

Today we’re going to work on what might be the most difficult part of the self-editing process: cutting.

Yes, there are words in our manuscript that have to be cut in order to allow us to see the final shape of our diamond, to allow it to shine.

And that last sentence is the perfect example. There’s nothing wrong with it—the spelling, grammar, and punctuation are all correct. But it could be improved with a little judicious shaping and cutting to turn our blah to brilliant:

We must cut the unnecessary words and allow our manuscripts to shine.

Thirty words to twelve.

What Needs to Go?

Back Story

Back story is what happened before the novel began, the events that formed our characters, that led them to believe a lie.

Writers need to understand this back story so they can write a convincing character arc. After all, if we don’t know where the character has come from, how can we show readers why they need to change?

We don’t need to tell the reader every detail of back story—especially not in the beginning. Going into the past can halt the forward motion of the plot, and I’ve read novels where the back story goes back generations. There is a writer maxim that we should leave back story for the back of the story and there is an element of truth in that statement.

We don’t the beginning of our novel to be bogged down with back story, but we also don’t want to leave our readers wondering why the main characters are the way they are.

There has to be a balance. The trick is to reveal back story a piece at a time. Margie Lawson says to think of back story like a pane of glass.

Write everything we know about the character, all their back story, on that pane of glass.

Then smash it.

Now we can pick up the pieces one at a time and insert them into the story, sliver by sliver, at the place where reader needs to know that sliver of back story. Nothing more, and nothing less.

If cutting your backstory makes you bleed, consider two things:

  • Cutting is going to make your story better.
  • You can repurpose your deleted backstory for marketing.

For example, you could use your deleted back story as the basis for a series of blog posts introducing your characters, or as a lead magnet to incentivise people into signing up for your email newsletter.

Clichés

You’ve probably heard the advice that writers should avoid clichés like the plague. But has anyone told you why?

Because clichés are predictable.

And we want to avoid predictable writing. We want to write (and read) fresh, original writing. Writing that encourages us to keep reading, because we don’t know what’s coming next. If we read the start of a cliché, we know what’s coming next … so what’s the incentive to keep reading?

If you’re going to use a cliché, twist it. Change it. Make it your own—better still, make it your character’s own. A twisted cliché isn’t predictable, so it keeps the reader engaged (and perhaps gives them a laugh).

Dialogue Tags

Dialogue is an area new writers struggle with, both with the actual words the characters speak (the actual dialogue) and with the way the is identified (the dialogue tags).

There are several common problems with dialogue:

  • The ‘dialogue’ isn’t dialogue at all: it is back story, with two or more characters telling each other what they already know. This slows the story down.
  • The dialogue is too formal for the character.
  • The dialogue is monologue. Dialogue exchanges should be brief—no more than two or three sentences at a time.

Know your characters, and ensure their dialogue is consistent with what they would say in terms of vocabulary, sentence construction, and tone.

Many authors overcomplicate the speaker attributions—how the author indicates which character is speaking. Browne and King say:

  • Start the paragraph with dialogue, not an action.
  • Ensure the words in your speaker attributions are the right way around—he said, not said he.
  • Avoid creative speaker attributions (e.g. Beth clucked, Beth chided).
  • Avoid using adverbs in your speaker attributions (e.g she said smilingly).
  • Don’t explain your dialogue (e.g. Beth said, astonished). If Beth’s dialogue hasn’t shown the reader Beth is astonished, telling us won’t solve the problem.
  • You can use a speaker attribution (Beth said) or an action beat (Beth nodded), but there is no need to use both (Beth said, and nodded).
  • You don’t need to add any dialogue tag if it’s obvious who is speaking.

You can also use a dialogue cue. Writing instructor Margie Lawson coined this phrase to refer body language and vocal cues (such as volume and tone of voice) which show subtext in the character interactions.

Getting the dialogue tags right is an easy way to improve your manuscript.

Repetition

The deliberate repetition of words, phrases or ideas can be used to great literary effect. However, most of us have words, phrases or stylistic habits we tend to repeat unconsciously (for example, I have a bad habit of using ‘however’, and tend to use parentheses too often).

There are several kinds of repetition:

Repetition of a single word

This could be using the same word twice in quick succession, or repeatedly using an unusual word or one that doesn’t fit in the style of the novel.

Repetition of an expression or movement

Many characters do nothing but nod or shrug or smile or sigh. In The Word Loss Diet, Rayne Hall says:

If your novel contains four smiles, each of them creates strong emotions in the reader. If it has a thousand smiles, the effect wears off.

It makes us wonder if the character has had Botox, that they can’t manage any other expression. It makes the character seem as genuine as The Joker.

It’s good to use actions to show us how a character is feeling. It’s not good to use the same action over and over and over. Brainstorm original ways of showing emotion. Invest in a copy of The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglasi. Write fresh.

Repetition at the beginning of sentences or paragraphs

Common issues include starting sentences with -ing words, with he or she, or with the character’s name

Repetition of an image or idea

Many authors give two different images to describe a scene or an object. This is the most difficult to spot, but the most important to notice and delete because it can weaken your writing.

Revise any repetition that is not specifically intended for emphasis or effect.

Weasel Words

Weasel words are words we don’t need, words which drag down our manuscript and make it more wordy than it needs to be. To illustrate, the second clause in the previous sentence (everything after the comma). The first seven words were sufficient to make the point.

Common weasel words include:

It

Either unnecessary or confusing. If you can cut it without changing the meaning of the sentence, do so. Otherwise replace ‘it’ with the noun it is referring to. (Can you see the potential for confusion?)

That

If you can cut that without changing the meaning of the sentence, do so. I find I can cut at least half.

Adverbs

An adverb is describing a verb, attempting (and failing) to make the verb stronger. Instead of using an adverb, replace the weak verb with a stronger version. Or cut the adverb.

Adjectives

Instead of using a string of similar adjectives, use a single strong adjective that best describes the noun.

Weasel Phrases

There are also weasel phrases:

  • She nodded her head (what else would she nod?).
  • She nodded her head in agreement (nodding rarely signals anything other than agreement).
  • She stood up (no one is going assume anything else).
  • She crouched down.
  • He clapped his hands (a small boy might clap his feet. Otherwise, we’re going to know what you mean).
  • She thought in her head (yes, some people say this. But it still sounds silly).

 Overused Words

New writers often overuse words like look and turn (and their synonyms: gaze, watch, glance, study, observe, peek, peer, stare, and glare). I’ve never counted, but Rayne Hall says:

A bestselling novel by a top author contains around five ‘look’ and five ‘turn’, while a new writer’s book uses them five hundred times each.

Writers also use unnecessary words like begin and start. As a rule, we are either doing or not doing. I am either writing or not writing. I am not starting to write.

Remove Qualifiers

Instead of saying really well, find a single strong adjective that gets the point across. Weak or meaningless qualifiers include absolutely, actually, basically, certainly, completely, just, literally, much, only, quite, rather, really, somehow, somewhat, that, therefore, totally, very, and well.

Most of us have a unique set of weasel words. I recently read a manuscript where the author used some variation of magic five times in the first chapter—magic, magical, magically. Used once, magic is an interesting word. Used five times in one chapter, it feels out of place in a novel that’s not about magic.

Find your weasel words, and cut them.

Telling Words

Many authors use words like saw or felt or thought. These words are telling where you should be showing. They’re a sign you’ve slipped out of deep perspective point of view and telling the story yourself, rather than showing the story through the point of view character.

If you’re using point of view correctly, the reader knows anything seen is being seen from the perspective of the viewpoint character. To say the viewpoint character noticed something is unnecessary. So instead of:

Beth saw Jan wore a long black trenchcoat and knee-high boots.

If we already know Beth is the point of view character, the ‘Beth saw’ is redundant, and adds unnecessary narrative distance. We only need:

Jan wore a long black trenchcoat and knee-high boots.

Telling words to watch for include past, present and future tense versions of:

  • See (notice, watch)
  • Feel
  • Think (ponder, wonder, realise, understand, consider)

Sentence Structure

Many new authors want to vary their sentence structure from the traditional subject-verb-object. Many hit on the idea of starting sentences with ‘as’ or with present participles (-ing words). This introduces two other issues:

It can weaken your writing by making it less active. Browne and King explain:

Two common stylistic constructions are:

Pulling off her gloves, she turned to face him.

and

As she pulled off her gloves, she turned to face him.

Both of these constructions [as and –ing] take a bit of action (“She pulled off her gloves”) and tuck it away into a dependent clause (“Pulling off her gloves”). This tends to place some of your action at one remove from your reader, to make the actions seem incidental, unimportant.

Starting a sentence with ‘As’ or an -ing word

This implies the two actions are occurring at the same time, as in the examples above. But many authors use this sentence structure to describe what becomes an impossible series of consecutive actions:

Climbing out of the car, she ran up the steps.

Not even Superman can run up steps while he’s still climbing out of a car. Our sentences need to reflect the correct order of our character’s actions:

She climbed out of the car and ran up the steps.

Sentence Structure

This is the standard sentence structure of noun-verb-subject (she-climbed-car), with the added modification of conjunction-verb-subject (and-ran-stairs).

Using the same sentence construction all the time can feel repetitive. But it’s better to use the correct repetitive sentence structure than an incorrect alternative (verbing, noun subject) that leaves the reader wondering what you meant.

Instead, use a combination of simple, complex, and compound sentences to vary your writing. Add sentence fragments

Consider sentence length. Short sentences feel fast. They increase pace. Long complex and compound sentences slow the pace as they meander across the page, which means you can use varying sentence lengths to increase or decrease the pace of your scene, or to manipulate the reader’s perception of time.

Writerly Words

‘Writerly words’ is a Margie Lawson phrase, meaning something that doesn’t sound natural, something that sounds as though a writer wrote it. This makes it a subtle form of author intrusion—where the author uses a word they like, but that’s too formal to be consistent with what the point of view character would say or think.

Conclusion

Cutting unnecessary words and phrases will tighten your writing and reduce your word count—in a good way.

These are suggestions, not rules. You don’t have to follow them all. In fact, you don’t have to follow any of them. But every time you’re tempted to leave an adverb in, or explain an emotion, think:

Does this make my story stronger?

Be honest. If you’re not sure, save your darlings somewhere then delete them from your manuscript. You can always add them back later if you get feedback from readers or editors that something is missing.

You’ve put the pressure on your diamond, examined the rough diamond, shaped the stone, and cut the stone. Give your manuscript one final polish, to make sure you’ve got the spelling, grammar, and punctuation right.

Now let it shine!

#AuthorToolboxBlogHop: Shaping the Diamond (Showing, not Telling)

Today I’m participating in a new venture: the first Author Toolbox Blog Hop. You can find more post by clicking the link, or find us on Twitter at #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop

Author Toolbox: Shaping the Diamond

Using Show, Don’t Tell to Engage Readers

Last week, we talked about interior monologue—a technique some writers overuse. This affects the pace of the story because it takes the reader away from showing the action into telling the character’s internal reaction. Remember: show don’t tell.

#AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Telling a story is the classic way of structuring a novel, but it is now considered outdated by publishers, and by readers:

There has been a drastic change in storytelling in the twentieth century… Writers need reminding that we’ve all had exposure to movies [and] television … a visual medium. Today’s readers have learned to see stories happening before their eyes. They tend to skim or skip long passages of description or narrative summary,
– Sol Stein, Solutions for Novelists: Secrets of a Master Editor

Therefore you need to show your reader the scene, rather than telling them about the scene.

Our readers want scenes and action, not to be told what happened through description and narrative summary (and narrative summary includes long passages of interior monologue, especially if it’s in the middle of a scene). Readers need to be able to see each scene, see what is happening:

A good scene will enrich character, provide necessary information to the audience and move the plot forward.
– Les Standiford, in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing

Jack Bickham says:

Show, don’t tell. Don’t lecture your reader; she won’t believe you. Give her the story action, character thoughts, feelings, and sense impressions as the character would experience them in real life. There are four essential steps:
  • Selection of, and adherence to, a single character’s viewpoint
  • Imagining the crucial sense or though impressions that character is experiencing at any given moment
  • Presenting those impressions as vividly and briefly as possible
  • Giving those impressions to readers in a logical order

In other words, use deep point of view. Sol Stein gives a useful list of questions to review for each scene:

  • Is the scene described in terms of the action that takes place? If there is no action, there is no scene. The frequent fault of new fiction writers is that they unravel the thread of the story instead of keeping it taut like the gut strings of a tennis racket… Leave the reader in suspense.
  • Is each scene visible throughout so that the reader can see what is happening before his eyes? If the action is not visible, you are probably sliding into narrative summary of past events or offstage events.
  • The reader is not moved by the writer or a narrator telling him what one or another character feels. The reader is moved by seeing what is happening to the characters.
  • Which character in the scene do you have the most affection for? How can you make the reader feel affection or compassion for that character in this scene?
  • Is there a character in this scene who threatens the protagonist subtly or openly, psychologically or physically?

Browne and King apply the ‘show, don’t tell’ principle to the interior monologue and feelings of characters, where authors often use unnecessary adverbs or description to explain what a character is feeling:

This tendency to describe a character’s emotion may reflect a lack of confidence on the part of the writer. So when you come across an explanation of a character’s emotion, simply cut the explanation. If the emotion is still shown, then the explanation isn’t needed. If the emotion isn’t shown, rewrite the passage so it is.
– Renni Browne and Dave King, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

Yes, it’s harder to show than to tell. But make the effort. Your readers will thank you.

Balancing Show vs. Tell

Scenes that show the reader what is happening are harder to write, so writers have a tendency to revert to narrative summary, which is telling. That is not to say that authors should eliminate all narrative summary:

Narrative summary has its uses, the main one being to vary the rhythm and texture of your writing … Just make sure you don’t use it when you should be showing rather than telling.
– Renni Browne and Dave King, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

That’s not to say we should show everything. Yes, we should show everything that’s important. But not everything is important, and there are some things we don’t want to see up close. This is when we can increase narrative distance.

Using Narrative Distance

Narrative distance is the distance between the reader and the point of view character. There is little distance in deep perspective point of view (which tends to be showing). There is a lot of distance with cinematic or omniscient point of view (which tend to be telling).

Good writers know how and when to manipulate narrative distance to maximise reader engagement and prevent the story getting boring.

Imagine film in which the camera stays the same distance from the characters, never moving back or in. Boring, right? The same is true for fiction.
– David Jauss, On Writing Fiction

For example, a murder mystery necessarily includes a murder. But readers don’t necessarily need to see the murder take place. It might be enough to see the body, to give the reader some emotional distance from the violence, and allow us to focus on what’s most important in a murder mystery: solving the crime.

Handling point of view is much more than picking a person and sticking with it. It involves carefully manipulating the distance between narrator and character … to achieve the desired response from the reader.
– David Jauss, on Writing Fiction

Chekhov’s Gun

We also don’t need to see every insignificant action your character takes, every irrelevant thought he has. This means focusing on what’s important.

The more words you devote to an action (or a speech, or a thought), the more importance that action will have in the reader’s mind. This is the principle of Chekhov’s gun: if there is a gun on the mantelpiece in the first act, it should be fired by the third.

If your character is undertaking some mundane, routine action such as squeezing toothpaste onto his toothbrush, then the reader is expecting this to be relevant in some way. Maybe the maid cleaned the toilet with the toothbrush. Maybe there is poison in the toothpaste. Maybe his wife is being murdered in the next room, and he can’t hear over the sound of the running water.

If you’re mentioning mundane details, make sure they’re relevant to the plot. Give the reader the payoff they subconsciously expect. Otherwise, it’s best to tell:

The key is to show the intense scenes and tell the less important transitions (the narrative summary) between important scenes. As a guide, if what you are writing has the possibility of present-moment dialogue, it is a scene and should be written as such. If not, you’re in summary .
– Renni Browne and Dave King, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

Revision and self-editing is about examining our rough diamond and working out how best to shape and cut the rough stone to produce a final product that will shine. How will we manipulate the reader experience through careful use of point of view? How will we get the proportions right in terms of showing vs. telling?

The way we shape our rough diamond at this stage determines the look and value of the final cut and polished product. If we want to maximise the impact of our rough stone, we need to shape to produce a brilliant cut. I’ll be back next week to talk about cutting. I’ll also have a special offer, so don’t miss it!

What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to showing, not telling?

Don’t forget to visit the main Author ToolBox Blog Hop page for more great writing advice.

Best of the Blogs 24 June 2017

Best of the Blogs: 15 April 2017

 

Best of the blogs: the best posts I’ve read this week on writing, editing, publishing, and marketing your novel. Well, mostly writing and marketing, including a useful posts about Elegant Authors from Elegant Themes.

Writing

On Christian Fiction …

TJ Mackay of InD’Tale Magazine visits Seekerville to share her views of the role of Christian fiction in a secular world.

Andrea Grigg visited Australasian Christian Writers to share a similar message. Andrea is Stepping Out and writing to encourage. And that might be in the Christian market, or the general market.

Point of View

 

Kristen Lamb continues her series on point of view with How to Immerse the Reader in Story.

And I continue my series on point of view with Using Point of View to Engage Readers. Great minds must think alike! Although Kristen has better graphics . . .

Marketing

Cover Design

Holly Brady shares seven tips to consider when briefing your cover designer. Yes, I agree with Holly when she says she never recommends authors design their own covers.

 

MailChimp Autoresponders

It is a truth universally acknowledged that authors need an email list, and that MailChimp is the market leader in the field. Okay, not quite.

I’ve seen several comments over the last week from people having trouble with MailChimp account. One problem is setting up autoresponder emails: those emails a new subscriber to your email list receives automatically. (If you’d like an example of an autoresponder sequence, sign up for my email list using the box on the right.)

Anyway, Elegant Themes have written an excellent post on how to set up an autoresponder sequence in MailChimp—complete with pictures. Note that autoresponders are a paid feature in MailChimp. You can select:

  • A monthly subscription where the price is based on the size of your list(s) and you’re allowed unlimited emails.
  • The pay-as-you-go model, where you buy email credits so effectively pay per email sent.

If budget is an issue, you could consider MailerLite. They offer free autoresponders if you have less than 1,000 subscribers.

 

If you prefer video instructions, then I recommend watching Day 3 of the free WP-BFF Five Day Website Challenge, and/or the paid WP-BFF MailChimp MasterClass (available through the BFF Academy, or separately).

Author Websites

Elegant Themes have introduced Elegant Authors, a Divi layout for authors. For those who don’t know, Divi is their popular drag-and-drop theme. They say the layout is free, but I suspect that means it’s free if you have Divi, which means if you have an Elegant Themes subscription.

I haven’t tried Divi or Elegant Authors—I currently use the free version of the Make theme on this site, and I’m happy with it. But I do use two Elegant Themes plugins on this website:

  • Bloom for capturing email optins.
  • Monarch for my social sharing icons.

What’s the best or most useful blog post you’ve read this week?

 

Using Point of View to Engage Readers

Shaping the Diamond Part One (Using Point of View to Engage Readers)

Last week I looked at the types of point of view we use in fiction. This week I’m looking at point of view from another perspective—why it’s important. The main reason we need to use deep perspective point of view is because it’s a great way to engage readers by making them feel part of the story:

As the distinction between narrator and character blurs, the distance between them shrinks, and so does the distance between reader and character.
– David Jauss, On Writing Fiction

This is especially useful in genres such as romance, women’s fiction and young adult fiction, where readers want to feel part of the story.

As an added bonus, proper use of deep perspective point of view helps prevent some of the most common issues I see in fiction manuscripts:

  • Headhopping and Author Intrusion
  • Writing Character’s Thoughts
  • Telling, not showing

Today I’m going to cover headhopping, author intrusion, and writing character’s thoughts. I’ll look at showing and telling next week.

Headhopping

Changing the point of view character in a scene is referred to as headhopping, which can be confusing for the reader. For example, the following paragraph shows three viewpoints in three sentences, first Alice, then Ben, then Dr Cook:

It was all too much for Alice. She turned, clung to Ben’s lapels and sobbed. Her heart was breaking. Ben held her against his chest and allowed the grief of years to be brutalised by hope. Dr Cook looked on benignly, waiting for her grief to subside before he continued with his examination.

This should be revised so the entire paragraph is from the viewpoint of a single character, the character who is most affected by the actions in that scene. This character should be named first, so the reader knows who is the point of view character in the scene.

Remember, a scene has a specific structure (which I discussed when I visited Seekerville). Adding a line break and *** does not create a new scene.

Yes, I’ve seen it done.

I think the author was breaking up the narrative into “scenes” to show she understood the rule of only having one point of view character per scene. But my reaction was that either she didn’t know how to write a proper scene, or that she was too lazy to revise her manuscript properly. Either way, the substandard writing showed a lack of respect for her potential readers.

Author Intrusion

If you’re using deep perspective point of view properly, the story is being told through the eyes of your characters. Author intrusion is when you slip out of the character’s viewpoint and tell the story as the author. An author intrusion can be as simple as one wrong word—an English character who says y’all or pavement. An American who says boot instead of trunk. A high school dropout who talks about serendipity.

For example, I have blonde hair courtesy of an excellent hairdresser. I might look in the mirror and think it’s time to get my roots touched up, but I’m not going to think of my hair colour if that’s not the focus of the scene:

The wind blew Alice’s carefully coiffured blonde hair everywhere.

It’s boring, right? Instead, deepen the point of view:

The gentle breeze whipped into a frenzy, blowing Alice’s hair everywhere–in front of her eyes, into her mouth. So much for the half-hour she’d spend drying and styling a professional coiffure for her job interview.

Author intrusion can also be more noticeable moralising and editorialising—the kind of preachiness which once gave Christian fiction a bad name (I think most authors now know better).

To avoid author intrusion, remember that every word needs to be consistent with what your viewpoint character can see or hear, or what they would think. Nothing more.

Writing Character’s Thoughts

There are three ways to show character thoughts in fiction, but only one I recommend—interior monologue. I’ll discuss the other two so you know why I don’t recommend them.

Quotation Marks

I have seen people ask how you tell the difference between character thought and character dialogue. The rule I learned in school was to use one quotation mark for character thought (‘like this’) and two for dialogue (“like this”).

That’s a useful rule to remember if you’re reading fiction from the 1950’s or earlier, but this approach is now considered wrong:

Never, ever use quotes with your interior monologue. It is not merely poor style; it is, by today’s standards, ungrammatical. Thoughts are thought, not spoken.
– Renni Browne and Dave King, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

In the same way, don’t use thinker attributions (e.g. she thought). These indicate you’re using a distant point of view rather than deep perspective:

Princess Elizabeth sat waiting in the Royal quarters of the Tower of London. ‘I should be grateful I’m not in a regular prison cell,’ she thought. ‘The room is warm, and the food is as fine as I eat at home.’

Thinker attributions signal to agents, publishers, editors, and readers that you don’t know (or don’t understand) deep perspective point of view.

Direct Thought

Many authors choose to use italics to indicate direct thought:

Princess Elizabeth sat waiting in the Royal quarters of the Tower of London. I should be grateful I’m not in a regular prison cell.

However, there are disadvantages to this approach as well:

  • Italics are only effective for a few words or a short sentence. Any longer, and they become difficult to read.
  • Italics can slow the pacing of the scene.
  • Overuse of italics will annoy the reader (and my reader view is that most authors who use italics do overuse them).
  • Direct thought in italics changes the point of view of the scene from third person to first person present tense and back again . This change can be jarring for the reader.
  • Direct thought is telling where the author should be showing.

Interior Monologue

Interior monologue is what your point of view character is thinking, expressed in his or her own voice. There is no need for thoughts to be identified as such, because the rules of third person narration from a specific viewpoint character (or first person narration) imply this is the character whose interior monologue we are reading.

Interior monologue is favoured because:

  • It is showing, not telling.
  • Interior monologue doesn’t interrupt the flow of the story the way italics do, because it is the same tense and font as the rest of the story.
  • It forces the reader (and author) into the mind of the point of view character, which helps them know the character better. The better the reader knows the character, the more likely she is to empathise and feel the character’s emotions.

Interior monologue is stronger writing. It’s the writing which most engages me as a reader. If you want your reader to engage with your characters and experience their tragedies and joys, use interior monologue and deep perspective point of view.

Thinking Aloud

Some authors write scenes where a character appears to be talking to himself or herself, in that their words are set in quotation marks. But they’re alone in a room, so who are they talking to? As shown above, this can give a scene a slightly ‘off’ feel.

It’s rarely a good idea to have your characters mumble to themselves or speak under their breath… it’s almost always going to come off as a contrivance.
– Angela Hunt, Point of View

Prayer

Note that prayer is different from thinking aloud, because we’re talking to Someone (God). Prayer can be:

  • Spoken out loud (indicated by quotation marks).
  • Direct thought (indicated by italics).
  • Interior monologue.

The right choice will depend on your character and the situation—she might normally be a pray-out-loud type, but she’s likely to pray silently when she’s hiding from the maniac with the gun.

Italics

As shown above, italics can be used for direct thought. They can also be used for emphasis. However, it’s easy to overuse both, so my view is it’s best to avoid the problem by not using italics for direct thought or emphasis at all. Instead, only use italics where they are the only correct choice:

  • Book and magazine titles
  • The name of a movie, TV series or play
  • Words from other languages
  • Specific names of ships, trains or planes (e.g. the USS Enterprise)

When italics for emphasis are overused, they are telling where the author should be showing. It’s the typographical equivalent of laughing at your own joke, or asking ‘did you get it?’.

I’ll be back next week to share the other way we can use point of view to engage readers: through showing, not telling.

Meanwhile, do you have any questions on deep perspective point of view?

Best of the Blogs: 8 April 2017

Best of the Blogs from Christian Editing Services

Best of the blogs: the best posts I’ve found this week on writing, editing, and marketing your books. Plus two I wrote. In case you missed them.

Writing

Mike Duran has a new project in the works: a companion to his non-fiction book Christian Horror, this one examining Christian Science Fiction. I love shows like Star Trek, Stargate and Star Wars (see a theme, anyone?), and I’d welcome more quality science fiction that reflects Christian beliefs. What about you?

Donald Maass visits Writer Unboxed to share Casting the Spell—a new way to look at look at your opening lines and ensure they hook your reader.

James Scott Bell visits The Kill Zone blog to give us advice that’s halfway between writing and editing: Don’t Kill Your Darlings—Give Them a Fair Trial!

Editing

I guest posted at Seekerville this week, sharing steps in revising and self-editing your fiction manuscript: Creating Diamonds from Coal. The first step is putting on the pressure.

The second step is examining the stone—especially your use of point of view. I shared on Understanding Point of View here on Wednesday, and I’ll be looking at interior monologue and showing, not telling next week.

If you’re one of those readers who don’t like waiting for the end of a series, then I’ve got you covered: sign up to my mailing list via the link at Seekerville, and I’ll send you a free pdf with the full series of blog posts.

Marketing

Author newsletters. We all have one (or think we should have one). But what do we write about? In this week’s Business Musings, Kristine Kathryn Rusch discusses what she sees as the two major types of newsletter—the chatty fan newsletter and what she calls the ad circular. Which do you write?

Perhaps more important, which do you prefer to read?

By the way, if you’re interested in my author newsletter, here is the signup link: Iola Goulton Author. I email about once a quarter.

Inspiration

Kathy Harris visits the American Christian Fiction Writers blog to ask Do You Have Unrealistic Expectations? She encourages us to focus on what we have achieved, rather than on the endless to-do list we’re stressing over.

Understanding Point of View

Point of view is one of the most important aspects of writing craft for fiction, yet it one of the major issues new writers struggle to understand.

This post will:

  • Describe the basic approaches to point of view.
  • Discuss how to choose the right point of view for your novel.

Approaches to Point of View

The basic approaches to point of view are:

  • First person
  • Second person
  • Third person

First Person

First person uses ‘I’ as the personal pronoun. This takes the reader inside the mind of one character. The reader can only think, see and experience from the viewpoint of this one character:

I sit waiting, waiting, waiting. These might be the Royal quarters, as befits my station as Princess Elizabeth, daughter of King Henry VIII, God rest his soul, but it is still the Tower of London. It is still a prison. Amidst the luxurious wall hangings, a warm fire, and the fine food, I sit here, waiting. Waiting upon the pleasure of the popish Queen. Mary. My half-sister.
My enemy.

First-person point of view gives narrative intimacy, the feeling that they are getting to know this character’s deepest thoughts and emotions. In Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Browne and King say:

In order to succeed in the first-person point of view, you have to create a character strong enough and interesting enough to keep your readers going for an entire novel, yet not so eccentric or bizarre that your readers feel trapped inside his or her head. Also, what you gain in intimacy in first person, you lose in perspective [because] your readers get to know only one character directly.

Note that some readers don’t like novels written in first person. Some publishers don’t accept first person manuscripts, so choosing this option might limit your market.

Second Person

Second person uses ‘you’ and ‘your’, putting the reader inside the story:

You sit waiting, waiting, waiting. These might be the Royal quarters, as befits your station as Princess Elizabeth, daughter of King Henry VIII, God rest his soul, but this is still the Tower of London. It is still a prison. Despite the wall hangings, a warm fire and the fine food, you are still sitting here, waiting upon the pleasure of the Queen. Mary, your half-sister, your enemy.

This feels contrived to me. You are not Princess Elizabeth, so are you really going to sit through a 90,000 word novel and pretend that you are? Second person works for instructional non-fiction, and is the mainstay of ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ books. But it’s not considered appropriate for novel-length fiction.

In the words of Newman and Mittlemark (authors of the tongue-in-cheek How Not to Write a Novel):

Certain late twentieth-century novelists used the second person singular successfully—notably Italo Calvino in If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler and Jay McInerney in Bright Lights, Big City. But there it ended. In fact, it was named the “second person” when McInerney became the second person to get away with it and it became clear he would also be the last. Very occasionally, an editor sees past the contrivance and buys such a book—on the condition that the author revise it completely into a traditional third-person narrative.

Unlimited or Omniscient POV

Some people see omniscient point of view as one end of a continuum of a range of third person viewpoints. Others see it as unique and separate from third person. It is written using the grammatical rules of third person, and uses he/she and his/her pronouns:

Princess Elizabeth sat waiting in the Royal quarters of the Tower of London as the guard entered with her breakfast. She should be grateful she hadn’t been placed in a normal prison cell. At least the walls of the Royal apartment were covered in fine tapestries to keep the heat in, there was a large fire to fight London’s cold winter, and the food was freshly cooked and still warm when it was served to her.
He knew many people who didn’t have these luxuries at home, never mind in prison. Elizabeth was waiting upon the pleasure of her half-sister Mary, the Catholic Queen.
Mary was afraid of Elizabeth, afraid of her popularity with the common people, and afraid she might fight for the throne as that wretched Jane Grey had. She was dead now. And Elizabeth may yet join her.

The advantage of omniscient point of view is that the reader gains a level of perspective over the whole story, because the narrator knows what is going on in the minds of all the characters.

This was the favoured point of view in the past. However, it can be confusing for the reader (see how the example moves from Elizabeth’s mind to that of the guard, then to off-stage Mary?). Modern fiction prefers a more intimate point of view where the reader can see inside the mind of the main characters—but only one character at a time.

Many readers dislike the omniscient point of view, because it can lead to moralising author intrusions (‘she should be grateful’), and is thought of as old-fashioned and patronising.

The other disadvantage of omniscient is that it is hard to write well. The above example isn’t true omniscient: it’s third person with head hopping. True omniscient point of view has a separate narrator with a distinct voice, as in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or The Princess Bride.

Outer Limited or Cinematic POV

Outer Limited describes the action through the eyes of an external narrator who sees the external, observable actions and dialogue but none of the thoughts or feelings of the characters. James Scott Bell describes as this as Cinematic POV. For example:

Princess Elizabeth sat waiting in the Royal quarters of the Tower of London. The room wasn’t a typical prison cell: the walls were covered in fine tapestries to keep the heat in, there was a large fire to fight London’s cold winter, and the food was of high quality. Elizabeth sat, waiting upon the pleasure of her half-sister Mary, the Queen, a Catholic, and her enemy.

Like omniscient, cinematic point of view tends to tell rather than show, and doesn’t give the much-needed emotional engagement with the characters. It can be useful in certain circumstances:

  • It is often used in thriller and suspense novels to show what is happening away from the sight of the main characters (e.g. the villains making their plans).
  • It provides narrative distance, which can be useful when describing certain scenes (e.g. physical violence).

Third Person Limited

Third person inner limited puts the reader in the position of observing the action through the eyes, ears, and thoughts of a single character. It’s much like first person, but written in the grammatical third person language of he/she and his/her.

Note that the reader can only know the thoughts of the point of view character: unless the character is telepathic, the character can only observe the actions of the other characters in the scene:

Princess Elizabeth sat waiting in the Royal quarters of the Tower of London. She knew she should be grateful she hadn’t been placed in a typical prison cell. At least the walls of the Royal apartment were covered in fine tapestries to keep the heat in, there was a large fire to fight London’s cold winter, and the food was as fine as any she had eaten in her Hatfield home: freshly cooked and still warm when it was served to her. She sat, bored, thinking of her half-sister Mary, the Catholic Queen who was now her enemy.

This example feels distant as a reader, as if you’re watching a scene rather than being drawn into that scene. You can see some of what is going on inside Elizabeth’s head, but words like ‘knew’ and ‘thinking’ place an invisible narrator between the character and the reader.

Like Cinematic point of view, Inner Limited has some uses in modern fiction, but can feel distant when it fails to engage the emotions of the reader.

Third Person Deep Perspective

Modern readers favour a more intimate third person (especially in genres such as romance and women’s fiction), as this pulls the reader into the scene and provides a degree of narrative intimacy and emotional engagement more like first person:

She sat, drumming her fingers on the desk. These might be the Royal quarters, befitting her station as Princess Elizabeth, daughter of King Henry VIII, but it was still the Tower of London, still a prison. She gazed around the room. Perhaps the view had changed. No. Still the same wall hangings, showing that awful hunting scene. The poor stag. It hadn’t deserved to meet that grisly end at the hands of her father. That was back when he was married to Catherine of Aragon, before he split from the Roman Catholic church to divorce Catherine and marry Elizabeth’s mother.
At least the fire was warm and the food was as good as that served in her Hatfield home. But there was nothing to do. No new books, nothing to sew, and no one to talk with. It was luxury compared with the hovels most people lived in, but it was a prison. So she sat, praying, watching, waiting. Waiting upon the pleasure of her half-sister Mary. The Queen. Her enemy.

The reader should be able to feel Elizabeth’s boredom and impatience. If this was done really well, the reader would also be able to sense Elizabeth’s underlying fear: that she may have to die in order for Mary to secure her throne. That is the beauty of deep perspective: done well, it shows us things the character themselves may not even be aware of. But the example above also shows one of the problems of deep perspective. It takes more words to show than to simply tell.

Choosing The Right Point of View

How do you choose which point of view to use? In modern fiction, the only real choice is between first person and third person.

Genre may play a part in your decision:

  • Women’s literature and cozy mysteries often use first person point of view.
  • Romance novels may be first person or third person.
  • Thrillers or suspense are usually third person.
  • Middle Grade novels are likely to be third person, and may use omniscient or cinematic viewpoint.
  • Young Adult and New Adult novels tend to be first person or third person deep perspective.
  • Fantasy novels are likely to be third person, and may use omniscient.

Overall, most adult fiction uses third person point of view. The more character-driven the plot, the more likely the novel will use third person deep perspective. Browne and King say:

What degree of narrative distance is right for you? Broadly speaking, the more intimate the point of view, the better. One of the most difficult tasks racing a writer is creating believable and engaging characters, and an intimate point of view is a terrific way of doing this.

Using Multiple Points of View

Most novels are written using multiple points of view, as this provides variety and interest. However, multiple points of view can get authors in trouble.

There are three main ways of using multiple points of view in fiction:

  • First person point of view with multiple characters.
  • Combining first person and third person point of view.
  • Third person point of view with multiple characters.

Multiple characters in first person is not a technique for beginners. Done well (e.g. Gone to Ground by Brandilyn Collins), it is excellent. Done badly, it is virtually unreadable. As Browne and King say:

[some authors] write in the first person but from several different viewpoints—with different scenes done from inside the heads of different characters. This technique can be highly effective in the hands of an experienced writer.

Orson Scott Card explains the problem in Characters and Viewpoint:

Switching first-person narrators mid-story is usually ineffective and always difficult, because it violates the illusion that the character is “really” telling the tale.

Gayle Roper uses the technique of combining first person and third person successfully in Shadows in the Sand. She uses first person for her heroine, and third person for two secondary characters and for the villain. This is not a technique for beginners, because the constant change between first person and third person can draw the reader out of the story.

This is why most authors stick with the tried-and-true options:

  • Writing first person from a single point of view.
  • Writing multiple characters in third person point of view.

Choosing Your Point of View Characters

The final question in is how many point of view characters your novel should have.

Fewer is better:

  • If you are writing in first person, the ideal number of viewpoint characters is one (unless you’re an expert writer).
  • If you are writing in third person, the number of viewpoint characters will vary depending on word count and genre.

The purpose of point of view is to create intimacy with the characters, to make the reader care about what happens to the character. These guidelines are based on what I see as a reader:

  • Category romance (e.g. Love Inspired, approximately 60,000 words) has two points of view: hero and heroine, with approximately a 40/60 split between the two.
  • Contemporary or historical romance, women’s fiction (90,000 words) has two or three points of view: hero, heroine and significant other character. This may be a best friend, or it may be the heroine of the planned sequel.
  • Romantic suspense (90,000 words) has between two and four points of view: hero, heroine, significant other character and villain.
  • Thriller (90,000 words) may have up to five characters hero, heroine (if there are romantic elements) and two or three seemingly-unrelated viewpoints, one or two of which will be the villains.
  • Science Fiction or Fantasy (up to 120,000 words) will have up to five characters: hero, heroine, sidekick, mentor, villain

Each character is someone you want your reader to get to know, to understand. If you have too many viewpoint characters, you reduce the ability of your readers to know and understand your characters and their motivations. As Ronald Tobias says in Twenty Master Plots:

The more characters you add to the mixture, the more difficult it will become to keep up with all of them and to keep them in the action.

Three Golden Rules of Point of View

The general rules of Point of View are:

  1. There must only be one point of view character in each scene (more than one is referred to as ‘head-hopping’).
  2. The point of view character should be the individual most affected by the actions in that scene.
  3. The first name mentioned in a scene should be that of the viewpoint character.

In almost every case, the viewpoint character should be one of the main characters. It won’t be a minor character who only appears on one or two scenes in the entire book. The exception might be if you’re setting this character up to be the protagonist in the next book in a series.

I’ll be back next week to discuss the most common problems new writers have, and how the correct use of point of view can help. Meanwhile, what’s your biggest struggle with point of view? Let me know in the comments.

Best of the Blogs: 1 April 2017

No, not an April Fool (although you might wonder if you watch the YouTube videos on Change Blindness below).

Writing

Narelle Atkins visits Australasian Christian Writers to challenge us to make writing a Lifelong Learning Process … and shares the news that Margie Lawson will be speaking at the 2017 Omega Writer’s Conference in Sydney, in October.

If you’re in Australia or New Zealand, this is a fabulous opportunity to hear from one of the best writing instructors I know of. Are you planning to attend any writing conferences this year? Which one?

Tina Radcliffe at Seekerville shares the best-ever explanation of GMC, The Why of Motivation. It’s all about ice cream, people.

Editing

Seven tips to tighten your writing from writing coach Lisa Tener, and a video shared by editor Joan Dempsey that illustrates why none of us can edit our own writing:

Did you spot the change? What about this one?

These two videos illustrate one of the problems of editing our own work: we see what we thought we wrote or what we meant to write … not what we actually wrote. Even worse, we don’t notice obvious errors if we’re not looking for them.

This is why we need to make multiple passes through your manuscript when editing. If you read through the manuscript looking for point of view violations, you’ll find them. But you’ll probably miss all but the most obvious spelling and grammar errors—and vice versa.

It’s fascinating to know there’s actually a name for it: Change Blindness.

Social Media Marketing

Rachelle Gardner at Books & Such Literary Agency shares on managing Your Social Media Persona. Basically, balancing being authentic with not coming across as a self-promoting whiner. This should be obvious, but I’ve seen two instances of online whining today so I guess it’s not as obvious as I thought.

Note: poor-me whining is not the same ascommenting about the world-news weather system that’s closing schools and threatening your home. That’s being real, and my thoughts are with the people of Queensland as they deal with the aftermath of ex-tropical cyclone Debbie.

Inspiration

It’s time to turn your question marks into exclamation points. No, the editor hasn’t gone mad. (Although I will admit I clicked in this blog post because of the intriguing title). Kaye Dacus explains in Writing with Exclamation Points Instead of Question Marks.

Reader Question: How do I Find a Christian Literary Agent?

Reader Question: How do I find a Christian literary agent? And what does an agent do?

If you’ve read Christian Publishing: A Guide to Publishers Specializing in Christian Fiction*, you’ll have seen that many of the big name Christian publishers state that they only accept manuscripts submitted from recognized literary agents.  Unsolicited paper submissions are likely to be returned unread (or, worse, trashed unacknowledged and unread). Electronic submissions go to the virtual trash can.

*If you haven’t read Christian Publishing: A Guide to Publishers Specializing in Christian Fiction, you can get a free copy by signing up for my mailing list using the signup box on the right.

How do I find a Christian Literary Agent? - via Christian Editing Services

 

What does a Literary Agent Do?

The role of a literary agent is varied. While they are best-known for their role in selling manuscripts to publishers, they have other responsibilities:

  1. Provides structural and developmental editing advice to clients in regard to new projects.
  2. Line edits and copyedits manuscripts prior to submission to publishers.
  3. Submits manuscripts to appropriate publishers and follow up as appropriate.
  4. Negotiates publishing contracts on behalf of clients
  5. Guides clients through the publishing process as required.
  6. Work with clients to develop and implement marketing plans.
  7. Offers career coaching for authors, determining the direction for their writing career and taking industry changes into account.
  8. Acts as liaison between the author and the publisher on any and all issues.
  9. Reviews royalty statements for accuracy and consistency with the publishing contract, and follows up any discrepancies with the publisher.
  10. Recruit new authors and agrees terms of working as per the agency contract.

Not all agents will undertake all these tasks, which should be no surprise. Agents have strengths and weaknesses, and you need to ensure you are getting the best possible advice. That might well mean paying a professional for additional support (e.g. an editor, or a intellectual property attorney).

How do you find a Christian literary agent?

Literary agents receive far more requests for representation than have time to accept, so they are selective in choosing new authors to represent. A reputable literary agent is unlikely to take on a writer who needs a substantial amount of coaching and nurturing, as this work is unpaid.

Agents are paid a percentage of advances and royalties on projects sold, usually 15%. This means agents often turn down authors or projects that might sell in favour of authors or projects they know they can sell. After all, they receive no payment for merely having an author on their books. Agents also need to balance their desire to take on new authors with their ongoing commitments to their established authors.

Check out Michael Hyatt’s List

Michael Hyatt has a list of literary agents available from his website (click here). You’ll have to sign up to his mailing list to receive it, but you can unsubscribe. The list isn’t completely up to date, but will provide you with a solid starting point.

Check out Books in Your Genre

You can also find a potential agent by checking the copyright and acknowledgements pages of your favourite books—many publishers include the agent’s name on the copyright page, and most authors thank their agent on the acknowledgements page.

Check out Books from Your Target Publishers

If your ultimate goal is to be published by Bethany House, you want an agent who has previously sold projects to Bethany House, and has a good working relationship with the acquisitions editors at Bethany House. You don’t want an agent who has only sold to small publishers who aren’t represented in the major Christian book stores, to digital-first or digital-only publishers, or to publishers who don’t require an agent. So check out new books from your dream publisher, and see which agents made those sales.

Check out Christian Writing Conferences

Another way to find potential agents is to review the list of agents who attend prominent Christian Writer’s Conferences each year. Many conferences feature agents as speakers, panel members, or offering agent appointments. Take note of the agent’s name, and their agency (if stated). Seekerville has a list of Christian Writing Conferences.

I’ve Created a List. Now What?

Once you’ve done your research and identified some potential agents, how do you go about getting their attention?

Interact on their Blog

Most reputable literary agents have some form of online presence, such as a website, so the next step is to Google the agent and/or their agency. Good agent websites contain a lot of useful information:

  • The names of the authors they represent.
  • The names of their agents (most agencies employ a group of agents, and they can range from new graduates to agents with decades of publishing experience).
  • Whether the agency or specific agents are open to new submissions, and their particular areas of interest.
  • How to submit to each agent. Some prefer email, others only accept snail mail.
  • The information the agent wants in the submission. This may be a query letter, proposal, or (less likely) full manuscript.
  • A blog, which will include information on how to write a query letter or proposal.

Follow and read the agent’s blog, and when you feel comfortable, comment on the posts. This will help you determine which agents or agencies could be a good fit for your books, and will give you an indication of the personalities of the individual agent: is this a person you want working for you?

Enter Christian Writing Contests

Writing organisations such as American Christian Fiction Writers conducts regular contests for unpublished authors. In most major contests, the final round entries will be read and judged by an agent or acquisitions editor, which can lead to an offer for agent representation or the offer of a publishing contract.

 

Attend a Christian Writing Conference

Meeting a prospective agent at a conference can be good way to get a ‘soft’ introduction so you aren’t approaching them cold. Many conferences offer formal pitch appointments with agents. Some agents will request submissions after getting to know you at a conference, whether through a formal appointment or an informal conversation over a meal.

If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in a future blog post, please email me via www.christianediting.co.nz/contact, or tag @iolagoulton on Twitter.

Best of the Blogs: 25 March 2107

Best of the Blogs from Christian Editing ServicesBest of the blogs: the best posts I’ve read this week on writing, editing, publishing, and marketing.

Writing

Kristen Lamb is back again this week, asking: Do Some People Lack the Talent to be Authors?

Does writing take talent … or just a whole lot of practice and a willingness to learn? What do you think?

Marketing

Book Descriptions

Why is it so easy to write 80,000 words, yet so difficult to condense that down into a brief book description which sells? BookBub have eight hints to help write a book description which sells. Well, it sells books for BookBub. It might not sell on Amazon, which permits longer descriptions.

Cover Design

Joel Friedlander has published his monthly cover design awards. James Egan and Damonza solidify their reputations as the cover designers to save up for.

Possible trends to note included several covers with characters turned away from the reader or in silhouette, and one which used an italic font. There were also a few covers with yellow or orange. Joel warned against this a couple of years ago, but I’m now seeing a trend for thriller or suspense novels.

As usual, it’s worth looking through the full list (100 covers) to see what works, what doesn’t, and why.

Branding

Jenny Hansen shares a fabulous post on author branding at Writers in the Storm. Read Helpful Hacks to Build a Strong Online Brand.

Twitter

Andrew Pickering visits Social Media Examiner to share 7 top tips for using Twitter to Drive More Traffic to Your Blog. I’m only doing three of these. I’m sure I can add three more with only a few tweaks to my sharing routine. One might be a little more trouble—anyone want to guess which of the seven I’m least keen on?

Award Finalists!

The 2016 Grace Award finalists have been announced, and Kiwi Christian author Kara Isaac is a finalist in the Romance/Historical Romance category.

And Romance Writers of America have announced the finalists for the RITAs, the romance world equivalent of the Oscars … and Kara Isaac is a double finalist—First Novel, and Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements. Congratulations, Kara!

Reader Question: Should I Hire Someone to Build my Social Media Presence?

Today I’m visiting Australasian Christian Writers to answer a question from a reader:

Building Your Social Media Presence

An agent liked my manuscript, but said I needed to build my social media presence before he’d consider representing me. I work full time. Should I hire someone?

Short answer: Maybe. Long answer …

Maybe. It depends on what your agent means by a social media presence, the kind of books you write and plan to write, on your brand, and on what God wants for your writing …

To read the rest of this post, click here to visit Australasian Christian Writers.

If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in a future blog post, please email me via www.christianediting.co.nz/contact, or tag @iolagoulton on Twitter.