More Tricks of the Trade

I am working my way through Chris Roerden’s book, Don’t Murder Your Mystery. Today I took his recommendation to find creative ways to describe characters. I was guilty of using driver’s license type details to paint pictures of my characters in The Spanish Coin manuscript, so I did some editing this afternoon to illustrate what those people are like instead of what they looked like. After all, habits and mannerisms make people more interesting than their height and eye color.

The learning experience continues, and I am really enjoying the process!

Interview your protagonist

I devoured the July/August 2013 issue of Writer’s Digest as soon as it hit my mailbox last week. It was packed with tips and ideas that I have already put into practice as I continue to polish my manuscript for The Spanish Coin.

One idea James Scott Bell shared in his article, “Vitamin C For Your Thriller,” was particularly helpful and enabled me to enrich my book’s ending. Mr. Bell made the following suggestion: “Go forward in time 20 years after your story ends…. You’re now a reporter and you track down the character and ask, ‘Looking back at everything that happened to you, why do you think you had to go through that? What life lesson did you learn that you can pass on to the rest of us?’…. Now use all your skills to demonstrate that lesson at the end of the story itself, without necessarily using words.”

I asked my protagonist those two questions, and her response filled two pages as fast as I could write. The process gave me a perspective that no other exercises had given me. My book has a more satisfying ending, thanks to Mr. Bell’s recommendations.

Deleting Unnecessary Words

Editing my Spanish Coin manuscript has taken most of my time since my last post. I’m happy to announce that I have trimmed the word count from 114,645 to 99,979.

After reading conflicting guidelines in books and online, I concluded that a manuscript for a first novel had a better chance of landing me a literary agent if if were under 100,000 words.

It was daunting to have to cut nearly 15,000 words from my book, but the process turned out to be enjoyable. Every word had to justify itself. Every scene had to prove its purpose.

I know I have a better manuscript to pitch to an agent now.

Revisions, revisions!

In his book titled Plot, Ansen Dibell wrote, “Any story worth telling is worth revising.” That’s what I’m still doing… revising The Spanish Coin.

As I re-read every sentence, every word, I look for word repetition, unnecessary adjectives and adverbs, shifts in point-of-view, descriptions I’ve written and those I failed to include.

I’m bombarded by questions. Will my readers identify with the main character? Will they care what happens to her? Do I have too many characters? Are the sub-plots woven into the book as well as they could be? Will I ever get this published? Will people buy it?

A day in the life of a would-be author.

Editing my own work

After letting quilting and crocheting items to sell at Hickory Ridge Crafts on dominate my time lately, today I enjoyed getting back to editing my manuscript, The Spanish Coin. It’s been fun re-reading the fourth and fifth chapters, eliminating excess words, and searching for repetitive words. Since the book is primarily driven by dialog, I find it helpful to read it aloud. It has been several months since I last read those chapters, so I’m coming to it with fresh eyes.

Making changes in the dialog can be a little tricky when one is writing historical fiction. A character cannot say a word that was not in use at the time of the story or novel. The Spanish Coin takes place in 1771 in North and South Carolina, so I have to be careful not to use modern phrases. It goes beyond that, though, and I have relied upon a book by William Brohaugh titled English Through the Ages to keep me on the straight and narrow. Once in a while I’ve been surprised to learn that a word I thought was perfect for my character to say in conversation was not yet in common usage in the 18th century.

Using appropriate vernacular in writing historical fiction, trying to give just enough description, not using any word too often, and trying to get all the punctuation right…. Whew! I will forever be learning more about the craft of writing.

If writing were easy, it wouldn’ t be so rewarding!

Did “fewer” get sucked into a black hole?

With the general election over, TV stations have returned to airing commercials for car dealerships and personal hygiene products. Most people welcome this after being subjected to non-stop political mud-slinging for weeks. It hasn’t been easy living in a “battleground” state.

I am glad for a respite from the political ads, but the reintroduction of the usual commercials brings one of my pet peeves back to the surface. Perhaps this stems from the fact that my mother was an English teacher. Maybe I am too sensitive about the misuse of the English language.

I have come to the conclusion this year that the word “fewer” was hijacked from the English language while I wasn’t looking. The use of mouthwash no longer results in fewer germs; it results in less germs. The regular use of toothpaste no longer results in fewer cavities; it results in less cavities. I cringe at these commercials.

Another sore point with me was highlighted last night when I took an online survey about a product that a company is considering offering. I wanted to run out of the room screaming when one of the questions asked me to rate the product as “extremely unique,” “very unique,” “somewhat unique,” “slightly unique,” or “not at all unique.” Something is either unique or not unique; there are not varying degrees of uniqueness.

And don’t get me started on the misuse of “lie” and “lay.” One lies down. One lays something down.

Before I come across as superior to others when it comes to speaking or writing, I admit that I make many mistakes. The words “effect” and “affect” always trip me up. If I don’t have a dictionary handy when I want to write either of those words, I simply substitute another word. Punctuation is my weakest link, and I strive to improve. It is my nature to see the speck in another person’s eye while I overlook the log in my own.

I just hope I never say, “most unique,” “less cavities,” or tell my dog to “lay down.” (Oh no. Does that period go before or after the quotation mark? I just looked up the rule and was reminded that in America we put the period inside the quotation marks, but the British place it outside the quotation marks when the period is not part of the quote.)