#FixYourNovel #1: Read it Aloud

In my blog last Monday, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/05/20/the-hard-work-lies-ahead-what-did-i-mean-by-that/, I said this:  “Do I have the audacity to write about how a writer goes about “fixing” his or her novel? Only time will tell.” I’m learning as I go, so maybe you and I can learn together.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Today let’s grapple with “fixing” the rough draft of your novel by reading the entire novel aloud to yourself to make sure it flows naturally, makes sense, has the right amount of backstory, doesn’t have information dumps, and doesn’t have plot holes.

I know, many of you bailed out on that last sentence. If you’re still with me, though, I thank you. If you aren’t interested in today’s topic, just scroll down to see what I’ve been doing, what I’m reading, and what my blog has in store for you next week.

Purposes of reading aloud to yourself

Among other things, the purposes of reading the rough draft aloud to yourself are to:

            * See if the story flows naturally;

            * Make sure there’s the right amount of backstory;

            * See if the pacing is good;

            * Make sure the story makes sense;

            * Make sure events are in proper order;

            * Make sure there are no information dumps;

            * Catch obvious typographical errors; and

            * Look for plot holes.  

Some things I found on my read-through

I’m writing what I hope will be my first historical novel. The working title is The Doubloon. I recently typed “The End” at the end of the rough draft, let it rest a couple of weeks, and then read through it out loud last week. “Out Loud” is very important.

One thing that came to light in my read-through was that some of the scenes weren’t in the best order.

Once the location of a scene is changed – especially if you move it to a point later in your book – you must carefully review the scenes between its original location and its new location to make sure there are no references to what happens or is said in that moved scene in the in-between scenes.

For example, if you reveal a clue in the scene you moved from the end of the first chapter to the beginning of the third chapter, you must make sure you don’t refer to anything in that scene in the second chapter.

There were places where sentences weren’t in the best order. You might not catch those instances if you don’t read your rough draft out loud.

There were instances where a word didn’t do the sentence justice. Sometimes a sentence needed a stronger verb or more accurate adjective. If you can’t think of a better substitute immediately, just highlight it in red and keep going.

I discovered cases where I had not told the reader something they needed to know in order for a scene to make sense. As the author, I knew the background, but I had failed to give the reader enough information.

A number of scenes take place in the meeting house. In my head, I knew exactly what the log meeting house looked like inside, but I had not described it well. That task was added to that running list I mentioned above.

Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

I was surprised to find some typos, which means I’m too confident in my typing skills. There were several cases where I’d typed the wrong word, for instance, “where” when I meant “when” and “of” when I meant “in.” (What was that about?) The spell-check function on your computer won’t catch these errors.

How to deal with problems you find

In some of these cases, I edited the rough draft. In some cases, I highlighted the word, phrase, or sentence so I can go back later and take time to make corrections or changes. I started a running list of things I need to research or be sure to check on later. I only made changes that could easily be done without taking much time. I didn’t want to get distracted from the read-through to the point I got bogged down in editing.

Nice surprise in the read-through

It was a pleasant surprise to find some humor in the manuscript. I wrote all 85,000 words, so how could I forget? Maybe you can keep up with such things, but I obviously did not. I was really pleased with some of the humor and the liveliness of some of the dialogue.

Based on my meager experience, I would say this read-through of your novel’s rough draft should be fun. It certainly was for me. I enjoyed getting reacquainted with some of the characters’ personalities and events in the book.

In addition to the humor in this novel that deals with several serious issues, I hope my readers will try throughout the novel to figure out “who dunnit.”

One of the most important things I learned

One of the most important things I learned through this rough draft rewrite and read-through is how to get words on the page and move on. For years I was guilty of trying to write perfectly the first time. If I had something I needed to research or go back to look for in my research notes, I would stop right then and chase after the answer.

I’ve finally learned to throw in a red question mark or type my question in read red, and keep writing. This was a hard lesson for me to learn. I hope you have learned that or will learn it faster than I did. It makes a huge difference in how quickly your writing can move along.

#FixYourNovel

Look for the second installment in my #FixYourNovel blog series in mid-July:  Scene Outline Critique will probably be the topic.

Since my last blog post

We had house guests and also tried to get as much yardwork done as possible before the heatwave started on Saturday with 95 degrees.

Until my next blog post

I hope you’re reading a good book. I’m reading The First Conspiracy:  The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington, by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch. Next Monday’s blog post will be about the books I’ve read in May.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time and your projects are moving right along.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

What are you reading?

Janet

“The hard work lies ahead.” What did I mean by that?

In my May 6, 2019 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/05/06/the-only-book-i-read-in-april-2019/, I announced the completion of the first rough draft of my rewrite of The Doubloon. Then I made the following statement:  “The hard work lies ahead.” What did I mean by that?

I meant it was time to take all the steps it takes to get a novel published. There are many additional steps. I am, no doubt, blissfully unaware of some of them. Today I’ve listed many of the individual things that need to be done when polishing a novel manuscript. I’m sharing it here in case it will help someone else who is just starting out.

Steps to polish a novel manuscript

Most of the items I list below apply no matter what genre your novel is, but several of them are specific to writing historical fiction. Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I have more questions than answers, but I’m learning every step of the way.

Things I’ve done since last Monday’s blog post include the following:

  • Moved the inciting event from page 45 to page 28 and made necessary scene adjustments due to that change in timing;
  • Changed several character’s surnames so they won’t be mistaken for persons who lived in The Waxhaws, the Rocky River Settlement, and Salisbury in the 1760s;

 What’s left to do? Plenty! I need to:

  • Read entire manuscript aloud to make sure it flows naturally, makes sense, has the right amount of backstory, doesn’t have information dumps, and doesn’t have plot holes;
  • Reading or Listening? With what I recently learned about the difference in reading a book and listening to a book, I need to look at the hook and scene and chapter beginnings to see if they work well for the book listener; (See my May 13, 2019 blog post: https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/05/13/how-listening-to-a-book-and-reading-a-book-differ/.)
  • Characterization: Are the characters distinguishable, what are their motives, and are their arcs in the right places?
  •  Check Point-of-View in every scene;
  •  Tweak Scene Plot Outline;
  • Consider hiring a Scene Outline Critiquer;
  • Take professional editor’s recommendation into consideration and make those changes;
  • Authentic Details: Add details where needed to make sure the reader will feel like they are in The Waxhaws, the Rocky River Settlement, and Salisbury in 1769-1770;
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash
  • Backstory:  Have I included just enough, too little, or too much?
  • Dialogue:  Have I used words not in usage in 1769?
  • Narrative and Dialogue: Have I used any words too often?
  • Fine tune every sentence, paragraph, scene, and chapter, checking for things like cause and effect, strong verbs; use of passive voice; character act first, then speak; and the overuse of adverbs;
  • Check spelling;
  • Check all punctuation — the most difficult task for me; and
  • Read through the novel aloud again. Have I told a good story?

After I do everything I can

 After I do everything I can do to make the manuscript the best it can be, there is still hard work to be done. I’ll list some of those in a blog post seven or eight months from now. I’ll know more from experience by then.

Meanwhile

I need to continue to build my writer’s platform. That’s one thing this blog is doing for me. Along the way, I hope my blog readers will discern the kind of writer I am.

The road to publication

It is daunting road that lies ahead and there will probably be some potholes and detours along the way. I’ve worked on this historical novel manuscript for something like 15 years. I’ve lost track of time and can’t say with certainty when I started working on it.

Until recently, I referred to it as The Spanish Coin. In an effort to give it a two-word title, I changed the working title to The Doubloon. If I’m fortunate to get it published by a publisher, as opposed to myself, I will lose control of the title. I’m trying not to get too attached to either working title.

#FixYourNovel

In the coming months I plan to address these steps writers should take as they work their way through the novel writing and traditional novel publishing process. From time-to-time, I will blog about the steps I listed above in blog posts titled “FixYourNovel #_,” and that’s “#” in the pre-Twitter numeric.

Look for the first installment in my “#FixYourNovel” blog series next Monday:  Read entire novel manuscript aloud.

Do I have the audacity to write about how a writer goes about “fixing” his or her novel? Only time will tell.

Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

Perhaps I can help someone out there who is also writing a debut novel, and some of the process might be of interest to those of you who like to read fiction. If my blog readers start dropping like flies, I’ll know you’re not interested.

Until my next blog post

I’ll read my manuscript out loud and see what it sounds like from start to finish.

Let’s continue the conversation

When you read a blog written in first person point-of-view, do you feel like you’re being talked “at” or not? Do you feel more included when you read a blog written in second person? Does it depend on the topic? Have you ever thought about it?

Janet

How Listening to a Book and Reading a Book Differ

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Until I read Jules Horne’s guest post on Jane Friedman’s March 25, 2019 blog,https://www.janefriedman.com/writing-for-audio-understanding-attunement/ ­­­­­ , I had not considered how a listener of an audio book approaches a book as opposed to how a reader of the printed word approaches a book.

Jules Horne teaches method writing. She has even written a book about writing books for the audio audience:  Writing for Audiobooks:  Audio-first for Flow and Impact. I haven’t read it but maybe I should. If you’re interested in finding out more about Ms. Horne and her books, her website is https://www.method-writing.com/. Most of her work appears to pertain more to nonfiction than to fiction writing, but her guest post on Jane Friedman’s website gave me some things to consider as I write fiction.

I’m fairly new to listening to audio books. It’s a matter of personal preference, and it stems from how I learn things. I’m a visual learner, as a rule. A few years ago, having to listen to a book being read was torture for me. I felt like someone was talking “at” me and they wouldn’t shut up. It got on my last nerve. This became an issue because my sister is my traveling companion. She loves audio books and I hated them. That’s not a good combination on a vacation.

Over the past six or eight months I’ve made an attitude adjustment. I’ve listened to several books and enjoyed the experience for the most part. I am hearing impaired, so it is helpful to me for there to be few erratic changes in volume. That goes for people talking to me, the decibel levels on the TV, and very much so if I’m listening to an audio book.

All that being said, that’s not what today’s blog post is about. It’s about something called attunement. The above-referenced blog post by Jules Horne brought two important things to my attention as I learn the fine points of writing:

(1)          If the hook of your story is in the first several words of your book, the audio book listener might miss it. It takes a few words for a book listener to attune their ears to the sound of the reader’s voice – the volume, the pitch, the accents, and the cadence. A writer doesn’t want the book listener to miss the hook; and

(2)          The same thing applies to the transition into the next scene and the next chapter. The listener, more than the printed word reader, needs a few words of transition to ease into a new scene or point-of-view.

A comparison Ms. Horne makes is that of someone verbally giving us the news. Words like, “meanwhile” or “in other news” alert the listener to a switching of gears, a change in the story. Someone listening to a novel needs similar cues that give their brains a moment to prepare to hear something new.  

The current opening line in the manuscript for the Southern historical novel I’m writing, The Doubloon, is

“Sarah McCorkle dropped her sewing basket at the sight of her husband lying face down between the stone hearth and his desk, sending thread, needles, and thimbles crashing and scattering on the wide planks of the pine floor.”

After reading Jules Horne’s thoughts about writing for audio, I need to rethink that sentence as well as the opening sentences for each of my chapters and scenes. There are a multitude of things a writer has to keep in mind when editing the first (otherwise known as the “rough”) draft. I plan to address some of them in my blog post next Monday.

Since my last blog post

I let my rough draft of The Doubloon rest for several days, and then I started working on the second draft. I changed the timing of an event mentioned on the first page, and that meant adjusting references to that event throughout the rest of the book. 

Getting this book published is going to be a long process, but please stay tuned.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Mother-in-Law, by Sally Hepworth and Stony the Road:  Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. I’m listening to The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women compiled by NPR (National Public Radio.)

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time and your projects are moving right along.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

Do you prefer listening to audio books or reading the words yourself?

Do you prefer holding a book in your hands and turning a paper page or reading a book on an electronic device?

What do you think of the current “hook” in my novel? Do you think it would work as well if you were hearing it instead of reading it?

Janet

The Only Book I Read in April 2019

I really fell off the reading wagon in April! I finished reading just one book because I was more or less obsessed with rewriting my novel manuscript. Therefore, I don’t apologize for reading only one book. I read parts of others that I hope to finish in May… or sometime.

A River in Darkness:  One Man’s Escape from North Korea, by Masaji Ishikawa

A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea, by Masaji Ishikawa

This is the book I listened to in April.

Masaji Ishikawa’s mother was Japanese. His father was Korean. He didn’t fit in anywhere.

After World War II, there was an organized push to convince such mixed families to move to North Korea. On the promise of a better life – a paradise. Masaji Ishikawa moved there with his parents. It soon became obvious that North Korea was no paradise. Life there would be fraught with hard work, propaganda, and mass starvation.

When Masaji Ishikawa could take it no more, he made a snap decision to attempt to escape. If he could make it back to Japan, he could work and make enough money to somehow get his wife and children out of North Korea.

A River in Darkness is the true story of Masaji Ishikawa’s life in Japan, the shattered dreams he and his parents endured in North Korea, the many ways he tried to make a living as a young adult, and the desperation for survival that forced him to escape North Korea against all odds.

Oh how I wish leaders in Washington, DC who praise Kim Jong-un would read this book! There is so much they don’t know – or don’t care to know.

Since my last blog post

I hit a milestone in my writing since last Monday’s blog post. On Wednesday, May 1, 2019 I completed the first rough draft of my historical novel with the working title The Doubloon. The word count was 85,275. It felt so good to come to “The End.”

I’ve left the manuscript on the back burner since Wednesday night, so I can come at it with fresh eyes this week. The hard work lies ahead.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I finally found a copy of The Waxhaws, by Louise Pettus, assisted by Nancy Crockett, that I could borrow from a library. The book is out-of-print, and the only used copy I’ve found online is available for more than $150.00; hence, my relief when I found one library copy that I could borrow.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time and will soon get to type, “The End.”

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

If you’re a writer, what is your favorite or least favorite part of the process?

Janet

#TwoForTuesday: Two Books with Colorful Covers

We’re told from birth that we can’t judge a book by its cover. If we’re honest, though, we are drawn to interesting book covers. Bright colors and images catch our eye, whether we pick up the book or not. Everything I read about self-publishing says not to skimp on the cover. Fair or not, the cover can make a big difference in how that book sells.

Today’s writing prompt

Today’s writing prompt for the #TwoForTuesday blog challenge issued by Rae of Rae’s Reads and Reviews (https://educatednegra.blog/) is Two Books with Colorful Covers.

One book with a colorful cover

The Favorite Sister, by Jessica Knoll

The Favorite Sister, by Jessica Knoll is a recent release by Simon & Schuster. In fact, I learned about this thriller in an email from the publisher.

I have not read this book, and I don’t know if I’d choose to read it just based on the cover. My parents never played favorites with my brother, sister, and me, as far as I could tell. Of course, that might be because I was the youngest. I wonder if my brother and sister would say I was the favorite sister. I don’t think I’ll ask them.

Another book with a colorful cover

The Stars Are Fire, by Anita Shreve

The other book I’m highlighting today due to its colorful cover is The Stars are Fire, by Anita Shreve. You may recall that I wrote about it in my July 3, 2017 blog, https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/07/03/you-must-read-some-of-these-books/.

The Stars Are Fire is a novel based on a massive wildfire in Maine in 1947. In addition to being historical fiction, it’s a thriller.

Until my next blog post

Happy reading!

My blog on Monday, May 6, 2019 will be about the books I read in April. I hope you’ll visit my blog again then.

Let’s continue the conversation

In the comments section below, tell me about two books you can think of that have colorful covers. How much are you influenced by a book’s cover?

Janet

What triggered last Monday’s rant?

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

Last Monday I blogged about what I like and don’t like about social media (https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/04/22/left-in-the-dust-by-social-media/.) My rant appeared to come out of the blue, but today I will explain what triggered my outburst.

Too Many Abbreviations!

What triggered last Monday’s rant was an article I read on Janice Wald’s Mostly Blogging blog, https://www.mostlyblogging.com/seo-plan/. The name of the guest blog post by Kas Szatylowicz is “SEO Plan:  How to Boost Traffic to Your Website In 2019, 7 Unique Ways.” It sounds like information I need, but it turned out to be light years beyond my grasp. That’s not a criticism of the article. I’m the one who fell off (or missed) the Social Media train.

Here are a few examples from the article that whizzed right over my head.

“Can chatbots really improve your SEO efforts?” According to the article, the answer is yes.

It went on to explain chatbots, so I did learn something. “A chatbot – or digital assistant – is an artificial intelligence powered piece of software that answers user queries in an instant. It also personalizes the user experience and nudges the prospect closer to a sale simple by providing answers.”

I laugh every time I read or hear that artificial intelligence personalizes the user experience. It seems like an oxymoron to me. Artificial personalization? I don’t think I want that on my website. You might not get an instant response to a comment you leave on my blog, but at least when you get one you’ll know I wrote it myself.

“Guest blogging. . . drives more traffic in the SERPs simply because the link juice you gain will improve your rankings.” “Huh?”

“Topic clustering is the new black.” What?

“Lastly, don’t ruin everything by engaging in black hat SEO practises.” (The writer’s spelling, not mine.) If I asked “What?” on topic clustering being the new black, then I’ll upgrade that to “WHAT?” for black hat SEO practices. I. Don’t. Have. A. Clue.

Maybe I’m better off not knowing. I have fewer things to worry about.

Since my last blog post

I’ve had a net gain of 13,700 words to my rewrite of The Doubloon manuscript, bringing my current word count to 69,100. I get to start on Chapter 17 today!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The First Conspiracy:  The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington, by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch. Fascinating!

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Look for my #TwoForTuesday blog post tomorrow: ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­“Two Books with Colorful Covers.” Thank you for providing the writing prompt, Rae, in “Rae’s Reads and Reviews” blog. Here’s a link to her blog, https://educatednegra.blog/.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

Are you frustrated with social media?

Janet

#TwoForTuesday: Two Books that Encourage a Change

Today’s #TwoForTuesday writing prompt made me look over the list of books I’ve read since October, 1993 (when I started keeping a list) and select two books that encourage change.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, by Marie Kondo

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo

I read this book four years ago this month. It immediately inspired me to reorganize my dresser drawers. I changed the way I stored many of my garments. It made seeing and finding what I had easier.

Marie Kondo’s mantra is, “Does it spark joy?” If an item doesn’t bring you joy, she says it needs to go. I went through my clothes and some kitchen items asking myself that question, and it felt good to donate some things to Goodwill where they could bring someone else joy.

Reading the book a couple of months before a kitchen remodel helped me part with some pots, pans, and dishes that held sentimental value because they had belonged to my mother. One thing I learned was that I don’t need the chipped or cracked bowl to remember Mama’s potato salad, and I don’t need her beat up pots and pans to remember the delicious meals she lovingly prepared for us.

Ms. Kondo says one must tidy by category, not location. I tend to want to tidy a room and then move on to another room (or not move on, as the case may be.) She says to start with clothing, then books, then paper. I think that’s where the wheels fell off my wagon. Paper is the bane of my existence. As much as I recycle and try to depend on technology, I’m still overwhelmed by paper.

Four years later, I need to read the book again. I think it will encourage me to donate or discard some things that have accumulated since April of 2015. Why should I keep it if it can bring joy to someone else?

I plan to read this book again. After four years and the gaining of a few pounds, it’s time to sort through my clothes again, donate more books to a charity used book sale, and take that giant step into all that paper that seems to multiply while I’m asleep.

52 Small Changes:  One Year to a Happier, Healthier You, by Brett Blumenthal

52 Small Changes: One Year to a Happier, Healthier You, by Brett Blumenthal

I read this book 15 months ago. The idea is that you make a small change in your life every week for 52 weeks. At the end of that year, you’ve theoretically incorporated all those changes into your daily life and lifestyle.

The author says it’s easier to make small changes than major changes. Also, it take time to make a permanent change in your life. A study done by University College London psychologist Phillippa Lally found that it take an average of 9½ weeks to make a lasting change.

I might give this book another chance, even though the first change is a major one for me:  “Drink an adequate amount of water each day to maintain a healthy level of hydration.” Water is not my favorite beverage but, starting today, I’ll make an effort to drink more of it. The rule of thumb is:  “Drink the amount of water in ounces that equals your weight in pounds divided by two.”

Maybe that Week One change will inspire me to lose some weight. The less I weigh, the less water I need to drink! Week Two isn’t any easier:  “Get seven to eight hours of restful sleep every night.” I’m afraid to look at the third week.

Until my next blog post

Thank you, Rae, of “Rae’s Reads and Reviews Blog” for this month’s #TwoForTuesday blog post prompts. Visit her blog at https://educatednegra.blog/2019/04/01/two-for-tuesday-participants-4/ to read Rae’s blog in which she gave a link to her list of prompts for the Tuesdays in April.

Happy reading!

Let’s continue the conversation

In the comments section below, tell me about two books you can think of that encourage change.

Janet