Posts Tagged ‘editing’

Oh the Things You’ll Learn

October 3, 2011

We write. We’re good. We know it. We FEEL it in our work, the emotion, the beauty. Others feel it too. Mom, cousin Amy, that-guy-you-met-on-the-internet-Mike, Colleen at work. They say it made them laugh out loud, cry, want to tell all their friends about our books.

We’re on our way, right?

My book was good when I “finished” it. Really. It moved people. They laughed and cried and I knew it had “it.”

And it did. I took advantage of an open submission period at an established small publisher that exactly aligned with my genre and intended audience. The editor emailed the next day and asked for the full. She emailed back the day after that to say she’d finished the whole thing and she loved it, wanted more. Let me send you a contract.

So it WAS good, right? It was effing perfect!

Ummm, no.

I did get a contract, and I signed it, and the editor acquired my work of genius. And then she sent back the file with her changes and remarks.

With all the red pen marks (so to speak) it looked like something had died a bloody death all over my manuscript. This thing she had LOVED was… well, it was flawed. Here, and there, and everywhere! It wasn’t just commas or a typos, it was big, meta issues. It goes on too long after the climax. What was the point of this scene, exactly, because it sorta sucks? I don’t believe this at all; why would he get mad at this point? Maybe down there, but not up here, no way.

Insert a lot of wine and a few tears.

But, the moral of this story is, we’ve got a “final” now and I can’t believe what it’s become. My “work of genius” is good. It’s beautiful. It needed help, life support at times, but what had the potential to be good became good, maybe great, because of my editor.

How are you going to do this great thing we call publishing? There are so many options now. Big publishers, small publishers, indie publishing. If you want it, it’s there for you in some form. Our books WILL be out there.

But what does that mean for us? Is it about personal glory? Money? Something else? Can we remove our egos from the process in the name of publishing the book we mean to and not just the one we think we have?

Who do you rely on in this crazy-insane-depressing-exciting-life changing thing most people call writing a book?

For Strong Convincing Fiction, Control Your Narrative Voice – Guest Post

July 14, 2011

Today I’m on a plane flying to Readercon! So the lovely Terri Guiliano Long offered me a guest post. Ain’t she great?. Check out her very informative blog and her debut novel, In Leah’s Wake. (Good name.) 😉

When discussing stories or novels, we often talk about voice. The voice carried the story, we say. Or I loved the writer’s voice. But what exactly is the writer’s voice?

Often, by “voice” we actually mean style – the distinctive way the writer uses language. This makes sense, considering that style is the most overt, so noticeable, aspect of voice. Voice also incorporates tone, diction and narrative structure, as well as the author’s authority – or her control over the subject and writing – and values.

Like speakers, writers have multiple voices. Say, you’re discussing your new job. Conversing with your boss would be worlds away from talking to your best friend. With the boss, you might adopt a slightly deferential tone, perhaps peppering the conversation with industry lingo; you’d discuss rules, expectations, technical issues. The boss’s halitosis – the first thing you’d blurt to a friend – wouldn’t likely come up.

The same goes for writing. An effective voice is attuned to the writer’s message, purpose, story and readers. Here, because I hope to get my points across without sounding stuffy, I’m using a chatty instructional voice. If I wrote this same piece for a technical journal, I’d use formal diction and a more distant, authoritative tone.

With fiction, each genre tends to have its own conventions. For literary fiction, readers expect authors to use figurative language and organic structures. Thriller readers, on the other hand, don’t usually care about flowery prose. They expect vivid writing, of course, but it’s the taut, suspenseful plotting that draws them in.

It’s not that we can’t break rules. We can – and the best writers often do. Remember, though: rule breaking, disregard for expectations, turns certain readers off. That’s OK. To tell your story maybe you need to break rules. Or maybe yours is a hybrid – a literary thriller, for example, that by its very nature ignores convention. Go ahead, break the rules; but to avoid alienating readers, do so only if you have a good reason.

So – we should alter voice to suit our genre, story and readers. But how do we do it?

Let’s begin with style. To alter your writing style, simply change your language and the way you structure your sentences. As already mentioned, lyrical prose, which works beautifully for literary fiction, would feel out of place in a police procedural, where the language is usually simpler and the sentences tighter and more direct.

To change your tone, try pacing the story differently. To speed the pace, use simpler sentences and cut the inessential detail; do the opposite if you want to slow down. Changing diction also changes tone. Chatty language feels conversational – this style works particularly well for chick-lit – while hard or incendiary language can make the writing sound angry or edgy. Watch:

Mary wandered merrily down the street, absently dragging her jacket.

Mary drifted down the street like a bumbling idiot, dragging her jacket.

These sentences say essentially the same thing, but the tone and diction paint very different pictures. Compare the generosity of the first narrator with the critical tone of the second. Depending upon the narrative distance – how closely the writer aligns with the narrator – tone may reflect on the character-narrator or the author herself.

Structure refers to a story’s internal logic, or the relationship among the various parts. Complexly plotted stories are often linear – they progress in an easy-to-follow pattern from A to B to C. Altering structure – progressing from end to beginning, moving in circles, writing organically – can give a story a very different look and feel.

Authority refers to the writer’s confidence or control, and comes across in what he knows – or doesn’t know – about his story. Authority establishes trust in the reader. If a story’s time or locale is unfamiliar, for example, it’s important to provide enough detail to plunge readers into the time or place. Having authority means doing our homework. Yes, it’s fun to write, to be immersed in the story. To write a compelling, authoritative story, we must know what we’re talking about. Spending ample time developing our characters, location and plot gives us control over our material.

Who would you rather listen to? A wishy-washy speaker who isn’t quite sure what she’s talking about? Or a credible speaker, who lulls and takes you out of yourself?

Unlike other elements of voice, values – religious, political, philosophical beliefs – because they’re part of us – our core values make us the person we are – are much harder to change. It’s important to remember that close readers read between lines. Careful readers watch for patterns and in the search for meaning, within a story’s language and patterns, discover hidden values.

Consider the example above. Depending upon context, the sentence, “Mary drifted down the street like a bumbling idiot” may show the personality or mood of a narrative character. If the authorial and narrative voices are the same – there is no distance between author and character – it may say more about the writer. Best to be aware of this – and take pains to write clearly and say precisely what you mean.

Be aware of and get comfortable with your narrative voice. Have fun, experiment. Try changing various elements and notice what an enormous difference it makes.


Terri has taught writing at Boston College since 1996. Her debut novel, In Leah’s Wake, was released in 2010. On Tuesday, 7/17, she joins the Indie Book Collective in “Menage A Blog,” a flirt-to-the-finish blog tour. Which character from In Leah’s Wake do you most resemble? Will, the strong-willed family protector? Or Zoe, the mom who’d do anything for her kids? Or maybe you’re more like Leah, the rebellious, fiercely independent teen. Or her handsome, rule-defying boyfriend, Todd. Or are you like twelve-year-old Justine, sweet, smart, struggling to hold her family together. Or Jerry Johnson, the town cop who, above all, wants to save everyone? Visit Terri’s blog ( on 7/17 and find out!






Because I Said So: When the Hero Comes Home

June 23, 2011

At least that’s the default answer when my kids ask me “why?”

So, yeah, that really doesn’t have anything to do with this post. This is a plug for a book. Yep. When the Hero Comes Home. But it’s not just because it’s co-edited by my fantabulous, editor Gabrielle Harbowy at Dragon Moon Press. Or that it includes a story both from her and an author I’m very proud to know and promote regularly JM Frey, author of Triptych. Plus stories from authors I’d like to know, like Todd McCaffrey and Phil Rossi. I’m also plugging it because it’s good.

Really good. This isn’t a real review, not yet. That’s only because I haven’t finished it yet. But last night I read Gabrielle Harbowy‘s and JM Frey‘s. Gabrielle’s was a fascinating story painted in such evocative language.  JM’s had me dying laughing. So incredibly smart and funny. I can’t wait to get home and read some more.

You should check it out. Really. I’ll wait.

When the Hero Comes Home


You’re welcome. Enjoy it.

I Love This and You’re Very Smart BUT…

May 2, 2011

This is horrid and what you’ve done here is stupid.

Or something like that. Otherwise known as getting revisions back from your editor.

I love getting stuff from my editor. Really, I do. I can weather the crushing depression and the ego-killing “ummmm, duh” things she points out in the margins, because, really, what she’s saying is: I know you can do better, and your book is worth the effort. (OK, and maybe I’ve taken dramatic license with her very professional and diplomatic comments…)

When I accept a pageful of her changes, just the shuffling around of my own words, replacing a “that” with a “which” or such seemingly (oh, and culling my adverbs) minor things, the end result is SO MUCH BETTER.

And let me tell you, I live for the occasional comment bubble that highlights a sentence or phrase I’ve written and simply says “yes.”

I swear, the experience of having a good editor is nearly worth, in itself, all the effort of writing.

Oh, my editor takes freelance jobs too, in case you want in on the nirvana: Gabrielle Edits

How I Found My Publisher

February 25, 2011

OK, this is a bit long…

I Squeeeee’d about it yesterday but now I want to tell you the whole story and maybe you’ll find it interesting or even learn something from it you can take with you on your journey to publication.

I “finished” Fighting Gravity in the late fall of 2009. At this point I was completely clueless about, well, about pretty much everything. I’d never planned to be a writer, never pursued the craft. I’d always “written” in my head, but rarely put it on paper after high school. Fighting Gravity only happened because a story got in my head and Would. Not. Get. Out. so I tried writing it down in hopes of moving on. Haha. Joke’s on me. It was actually pretty good.

So I shared it with a few friends. Now I know everyone’s friends say “oh, it’s great!” and mine did too. But what really motivated me to pursue publication was how many of them told me it made them cry.

That is why I read; to be moved, to laugh, to cry, to sink into a depression for a week, or start dancing outside in the rain. If I’d done that for someone else, then maybe I really could hack this writing thing.

The point of the above, really, is to tell you that, as a manuscript goes, Fighting Gravity was, actually, mostly crap. Oh, there were parts that were great, but as far as the craft of writing went, it was really a stinker.

Fast forward to Fall 2010. I’d spent a year researching writing, researching publishing, submitting short stories to lit mags (and getting a few published,) finding the right beta readers and crit partners, researching and querying agents, attending conferences. I’d had a lot of encouragement and a lot of rejection and I’d learned tons and made a lot of great connections.

In November, I got into Authoress’s Secret Agent Contest over on Miss Snark’s First Victim and my first 250 words went up for everyone and the agent to crit and comment on. The agent hated it. OK, maybe hated is a strong word. Then again, maybe it’s not. She had a lot to say about what was wrong with it. Well, buck up, Leah, and do something with this. I did. I took her input and made it better.

Two days later I heard back from an editor at a Big House I’d been referred to from a conference. YAY! I took my fixed-up opening and sent her the full.

A few days after that I saw this on Authoress’s blog: Announcing Open Submissions at Dragon Moon Press.

Well doesn’t that look nice? And, look, they look PERFECT for me. Dragon Moon Press. Hmmmm…

I sent in my submission. Two days later Gabrielle Harbowy emailed me back asking for the full. One day after that she emailed again. She’d finished the entire. damn. thing. and wanted to talk. SQUEEEEE!

Yeah, so that’s the longest part of the story, promise.

Gabrielle and I talked. She got my story. She got my guys, and she felt passionate about them and the story the way I did. This was so right. A few weeks later I had an offer in my inbox.

That’s it, right?

Well… I still had my manuscript out at Big House. And I had the full with two agents as well. Let’s not get hasty. Surely Big is better, right?

Well, I’d read before about how a small press can be better by far for a debut author than a big house. But still, Big is better, right?

It didn’t feel better, though. With the agents and the Big House editor I felt more and more like just another bullet point on their list of things to do. Dragon Moon was logically a better fit for my book for a lot of good reasons. Plus it just felt right. I already knew Gabrielle was right for my book.

I sat on their offer for at least a month, and it was more than that before I put ink to paper. I needed to pursue the other options or I’d always wonder. So I did pursue, and now I don’t wonder. I’m tickled pink that I found Dragon Moon and they wanted to work with me.

Moral of the story: don’t give up, and don’t limit yourself. Oh, and don’t eat yellow snow.