A Personal Writing Process

I’ve been to many NaNoWriMo write-ins in my day. Naturally, I’ve conversed with many authors and have heard about personal writing habits that differ from others. I don’t mean planning versus pantsing. Sometimes it’s simple, like a naming convention for files, or a color code for highlighting certain passages for editing. Most authors write a 500-page draft and then whittle it down by one-third; I simply can’t operate in such a manner.

The manuscript for M&M: The Tales of Tyrennia Book II now stands at 235 pages. Sounds a bit short, doesn’t it? Well, in a word, No. The original first draft was only 112 pages. My creative writing classes were in screenwriting; therefore, I tend to write a first draft (which I playfully call Version 0.5) that is 90% dialog. It’s a nasty habit, which I do not recommend for any author. This method is a rather personal quirk or “comfort zone.” I prefer having my plot laid out, no holes or characters ignoring the path of least resistance. Also, it helps me to scrutinize my dialog. pencil

Version 0.5 of Book II moved like a rocket-powered roller coaster. Way too fast and somewhat overwhelming for a reader. Most authors love to write a “page-turner,” but there can be a point where a reader needs to come up for air. My current draft certainly leaves them underwater for way too long. But there were other problems.

Book II’s disparate events in separate locations on a collision course created a dizzying story line. Not only was information zipping by too quickly, but such a plot demanded many shifts in point-of-view (POV).

To solve this problem, I wrote out a small synopsis of each chapter’s events and noted the POV shifts. Yes, way too many. But I also noted the need for characters to perform certain actions, and subsequently work on solving glitches in their plans of action.

So far, I’ve fleshed out the first four chapters and have written a new chapter 5. I saw the necessity of other new chapters as well. For instance, the original chapter 5 is now chapter 9. Because of the minimalist nature of my first draft and outline, the plot is still rock solid. *wipes brow*

Do you have any personal writing quirks in your process?

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Modern Pop Culture References in Fantasy

Call the practice what you will: a shout-out, an homage, or simply a reference. If you’re a fan of pop culture, movies, TV, books, or music, perhaps you’ve seen filmmakers, directors, and writers being cute with this ritual. Recently, my wife and I were watching an episode of “Heroes,” and were pleased at the appearance of George Takei (Mr. Sulu from the original Star Trek). In this new series, he’s a wealthy Japanese business magnate, and the license plate on his limousine read “NCC-1701.” We had a good chuckle over noticing that little shout-out. In “Jersey Boys,” directed by Clint Eastwood, there’s a scene in a TV studio and a wall of monitors. The screens are playing many of the TV shows from that era, including a shot of Rowdy Yates from “Rawhide.”

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These allusions are everywhere if you take the time to notice them. But of course, one must be a veritable fountain of useless cultural knowledge (like me) to catch them. Even The Beatles dropped a shout-out to Bob Dylan in the song “Yer Blues” from The White Album.

With all this in mind, I couldn’t resist the temptation to do the same within my own pages. The original manuscript for Storm of Divine Light was replete with Easter Egg type shout-outs. But alas, my wife (The Queen) and some beta readers suggested their removal. They said that my references, although entertaining, were too overt and jolted them out of their reading immersion.

For some odd reason, I figured that including some shout-outs was the right thing to do as a way of adding humor to Storm of Divine Light. After all, I hadn’t played any word games with a reader since my first short story “A Purveyor of Odd Things” from the Ragged Souls collection. No pop culture references in that one, but an assault of palindromes, anagrams, and double-entendres.

I reluctantly agreed and removed most of them during the final edit. Most of them (heh heh heh). The remaining ones are quite veiled, and I doubt if anyone will identify all of them. I confess, one of them is somewhat blatant, but I figured that one would stay as a signal that there are more. Hopefully, you’ve paid strict attention to my favorite movie lists. Although I do have a nagging suspicion that my friend Lynne will catch most or all of them.

Do you know what NCC-1701 signifies? Or what Rowdy Yates has to do with “Jersey Boys”? Or the lyrics from The Beatles “Yer Blues”?

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2020: Writing Goals for the New Year

For the New Year, I think it best to keep working on what I have already written, rather than start a new writing project. The first draft of M&M: The Tales of Tyrennia, Book II, is done and the first ten chapters are ready for beta reading. Therefore, a release of Book II looks rather promising.2020

My short story collection, that has been “on the back burner” for far too long, should be completed. I’ve decided to alternate between Book II and the collection. Edit a chapter, then edit a short story, then back to another chapter and so on. The shorts collection has seven titles, so it will be done relatively quickly and I can shift my undivided attention back to Book II.

I’m sure some minds are saying, “Shouldn’t this be titled ‘editing goals’ rather than ‘writing goals’”? Not in my case. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts long ago, I write bare-boned drafts (mostly dialog) and edit in an additive manner rather than a subtractive one. My first editing pass involves a lot of writing, like detailed descriptions, body language, ambiance, and the five senses.

On another note, I also plan on doing many more reviews this year. Of course I’m going to restrict them to books by Indie Authors.

Yes, I know these aspirations appear thin, but I believe in keeping things simple. I’ve found that when I set too large a goal and fail to reach it, I turn into my own worst critic.

What do you plan on writing about this year? Do you already have a work in progress? Are you already planning for NaNoWriMo 2020 in November or Camp NaNoWriMo in April?

Every Time You Reply Little Patrick Doesn’t Cry

Editing Crutch Words

When we (the Queen and I) were on the cusp of completing the final draft of my fantasy novel, Storm of Divine Light, I came across an intriguing post by #WritingCommunity member, Indie Author and Editor Dan Alatorre. His blog post concentrated on the dreaded phenomenon known as “crutch words.” Just when we thought we were safe, it was back to the draft for another round of editing.

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What are crutch words?

They are words or expressions that an author’s brain defers to like a default setting (and therefore, they become over-used). These repeated words / phrases should not be obliterated from your writing, but rather, their frequency and usage needs to be reduced.

What do I mean by “usage”?

Word usage falls into two broad categories. First, there is description / exposition and second, there is dialog. I’ll use the word “look” as an example in exposition.

Janet flashed a stern look at him.

Occurrences like this are borderline “telling.”  You can allow about fifteen per novel; just make sure they are distant from each other.

John looked at Janet’s stern face.

Blatant “telling” and also “distancing.” Please edit (with extreme prejudice) such usage from your manuscript.

On the flip side, the word “look” seems quite natural in dialog:

John held up the old photograph. “Wow! Come over here and take a look at this.”

Proper, simple, and to the point. Good job!  Now here’s an example where I make a special effort to  avoid the word “look.”

“Hey, Janet! Amble over to my location and visually scan this old photograph and let’s see if it surprises you?”

An overzealous crusade to edit any and all occurrences of a crutch word in dialog may result in stilted, wooden, and unrealistic conversation.

In another example, you may have placed the word properly, but it appears too many times within a short space.

John held up the old photograph. “Wow! Come here and take a look at this.”

Bill glanced over his shoulder and said, “Now look, I can’t drop everything whenever you think you’ve found something important. Keep searching and we’ll look everything over later.” He huffed a breath and stared at John with a disdainful glare.

“Don’t look at me like that.” John flung the photo into a box.

Every single line of dialog is perfectly acceptable. However, “look” is used four times within five lines of text. Do not only refer to the sidebar within MS Word. When you do a search for any crutch word, scroll though and look for clusters.

Is it possible to use a crutch word to one’s advantage?

People, not just authors, have crutch words in their arsenal. Therefore, to make a character more realistic, give them a crutch word or phrase that is reflective of their personality. Remember to use it and don’t abuse it. If a particular character has a verbal crutch, don’t let another character say the same phrase or word as much.

In Storm of Divine Light, I used the word “quite” thirteen times in dialog. The main secondary character, Cyril, uses it seven times, Maynard four times, Dagorat once, and Liberon once. I gave the character Cyril the phrase “Quite right.” Maynard says the same with some frequency, but I also established that he and Cyril are peers in age, education, and social status.

How to find those crutch words

I searched on-line for crutch word lists. Although some results geared toward public speaking and therefore contained “Um,” “Ya know,” and “like.” I found enough sites to compile a general list, but then came the ultimate problem associated with crutch words in your manuscript:  finding the personal ones unique to your own brain.

You may find those elusive personal crutch words by searching for a different one. When I searched through my manuscript for “very,” MS Word also highlighted “every,” “everything,” “everyone” and “everywhere.” In this way, I discovered that “every” was one of my personal crutches. By the time I was done, I had an extensive list to scrub:

  • A bit
  • A few
  • Actually
  • Almost
  • Appear
  • As though
  • Basically
  • Beginning
  • Certainly
  • Could
  • Definitely
  • Each
  • Every/thing/one
  • Felt
  • Finally* (Obliterate this one)
  • Gaze
  • Glance
  • Heard/hear
  • Just
  • Look
  • Nearly
  • Nod
  • Only
  • Probably
  • Quite
  • Rather
  • Reach
  • Realize
  • Really
  • Saw
  • See
  • Seem/Seems/Seemed
  • Shrugged his/her/their shoulders
  • Simply
  • Slightly
  • Some / Somehow
  • Touch
  • Turn / return
  • Very
  • Virtually
  • Was
  • Watch
  • Wonder
  • Would

Remember to apply the principles of usage and frequency when hunting these buggers down.

I’m somewhat knocked out by the difference between a crutch word-cleaned draft and the preceding draft. My manuscript for Storm of Divine Light became tighter, and neater. Or shall I say more groomed?

Did you find this helpful? Did you find a personal crutch word not on my list?

Every Time You Reply, Baby Patrick Doesn’t Cry

Are You Cluttered?

I’m not referring to the boxes of useless stuff nestled in your garage or overburdening your precious closet space. Nor am I hinting to the shelves crammed with books, looking as if they are fighting each other for an inch of space. Clutter is simply professional ‘newspeak’. William Zinsser and George Carlin noticed the trend and commented upon this phenomenon. Chapter two of Zinsser’s wonderful book, “On Writing Well” is dedicated to word clutter.WWZ

Clutter serves as a sad commentary about the state of language in our modern world. If you want to hear some examples, look no further than any politician, corporation, magazines, or advertising ploy. Here’s a sample about cluttered Airline language from the late, great George Carlin.


“Clutter words create confusing sentences, which become unclear paragraphs, which then grow into puzzling pages, and in the end, complete a most baffling book.” –Ernesto San Giacomo


At this moment, At this point in time, At this very second, Now, you may be thinking, “I’m an author, not some hired mouthpiece.” True, but these subtle bastardizations of language permeate us. Our minds have been absorbing this material for years. As a consequence, clutter may seep into your writing. See what I’ve crossed out in favor of the word ‘now’?

Therefore, be wary of tall skyscrapers, large giants, small dwarves, and tiny ants. I found one such example last week. I saw a promo on Twitter for a new Sci-Fi novel. As usual, I clicked the link and checked out the book using the Amazon ‘Look Inside’ feature. Within the second sentence of the prologue, the author mentioned the “…ill-lit darkness…” Oh well. 😦

Make sure to be aware of clutter while you’re writing, or at least while you’re editing.

Here’s some common clutter examples.

Have you noticed such redundancy in your own writing or in the writings of others?

Progress Report

The covers (ebook and print versions) for my upcoming fantasy novel are complete. I’m still addressing the concerns of some beta readers. The slow process of reading the manuscript out loud has also begun.  Actually, more than a beginning; we’ve completed the first sixteen chapters. I’m not ready to reveal the cover or title. But allow me to simply divulge this tidbit…SoDL: Tales of Tyrennia, Book One.

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Never Trust an Author with a Clean Desk 🙂

I heartily recommend reading your manuscript out loud with a partner. I’m almost stunned at the quality of the end product. Every craft book, or self-help blog post I’ve read have proven their weight in gold. The stream-lined manuscript comes in at three-hundred-twenty-three pages. My formatter says that it will equal more in print, around twenty pages extra.

The first drafts for books two (M&M: Tales of Tyrennia, Book Two) and three (TFW: Tales of Tyrennia, Book Three) are done as well. These drafts are somewhat raw, but I’ve been through the first five chapters of book two and feel it’s ready for another set of eyes.

I guess that’s what happens when one advances their wordsmithing craft. I’m ready for beta readers after three drafts rather than ten or twelve.

Now it’s your turn to give me your progress report. Tell me about your Work-In-Progress.

Every Time You Reply Little Frankie Doesn’t Cry

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2019: Scribbling Forward

Editing and polishing, and then more editing, are the best words to describe my hopes for 2019. I have no goals for writing any new material this year. Stacks of short stories, multiple fantasy novel manuscripts, and blog posts, are screaming for my attention. Oh, the writing is done, but I’m left with the refining. Besides editing, there’s the search for beta readers, addressing any of their valid concerns, and then the slow process of reading out loud.

I’m toying with the idea of a new FaceBook page for finding betas and starting an online critique group. The live chat program known as Discord (popular with gaming guilds) seems to be the perfect venue for such a group. Imagine attending a critique group while nestled comfortably in your PJ’s (I’m sure some of you have a pair with attached fluffy bunny feet), cat on your lap, and a soothing hot beverage. What a perfect way to receive some feedback for your #NaNoWriMo writings from 2018.

Tell me about your work-in-progress. What’s on the back burner? Or a project that’s about to begin?

Every Time You Reply…Little Frankie Doesn’t Cry

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Rid Your Writing of the Passive Voice

In the simplest definition: When a verb is in the passive voice, the subject of the sentence is the recipient of the verb’s action rather than being the ‘doer’ of the action. For example, in “The football was thrown by the quarterback,” the football (the subject) receives the action of the verb. A better and therefore active version of the example sentence would be: “The quarterback threw the football.” When the subject becomes obscured, it makes understanding difficult for the reader.

Editing from passive voice to active is a simple fix that will improve your writing.

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Sometimes Passive Voice Is Difficult To Spot

Here are a couple of small paragraphs for your consideration.

Jorguth fished the scroll from his sack and offered it to Maselle. She opened the rolled vellum and admired the exquisite and pain-staking beauty of the penmanship. The spell was written in elegant Elven calligraphy in black and red ink.

Dusk’s sunset burned red on the horizon. The vast open landscape was filled with magnificent looking trees, shrubs, and flowers. Jorguth smiled as his eyes soaked in the beauty of the view.

Did you spot the two passive sentences?

Is There a Correct Time or Place for Passive Voice?

The best way to use the passive voice is in dialog, specifically when a character is trying to shirk responsibility.

“Well, some mistakes were made. But I have faith a solution will be found.”

Did you notice that nobody receives credit for the mistakes? Later, if the problem is not resolved, it is the “solution’s” fault for remaining elusive. .” (Listen carefully to Politicians in the future.)

A Simple Solution

Use the “find” function on your word processor and search for forms of “to be” like was and were. Even if your sentences are not passive, you should filter those words out. I once blogged about removing forms of “to be” in order to speed up your writing. Too many instances of the offending verb can make your writing slow down to a crawl.

Did you find this strategy helpful?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Every Time You Reply Little Frankie Doesn’t Cry

A New Year: Hello 2018, Good-Bye 2017

As I look back upon 2017, I realize that I set up writing goals for the year that make me want to stop for a moment and say to myself, “Just what were you thinking?” Let’s face it; I set up an impossible level. Yes, under normal circumstances those goals were not far-fetched. However, I made them in January and did not completely understand the time involved with raising a new born. So, before I get on about the future writing hopes and dreams concerning the New Year 2018, let’s review 2017.

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Looking Back at 2017

January: Finished the renovation of the guest room and started on the nursery.

February: Wrote the final short story for the new collection.

March: The stork delivered Little Frankie.

April: Edited 5 chapters of my fantasy novel and placed them in the Beta Reader Manuscript.

May: The Baptism of Little Frankie. We had a house full of guests.

June: Completed third draft of two more short stories.

July: Wrote the first chapter from a sudden bolt of inspiration for a Sci-Fi series.

August: Adopted another stray cat named Moogie.

September: Edited another 5 chapters, which brought the total up to 15 of 28.

October: Wrote a series of blog posts for NaNoWriMo prepping.

MJWI

November: Completed draft version 0.5 for the third novel to round out a trilogy.

December: Edited another 5 chapters, which now brings the total up to 20 of 28.

Looking Ahead to 2018

I’m going to keep it simple for 2018. 1) Finish editing and release the first book of the Tales of Tyrennia Series and 2) Finish editing and release a collection of seven short stories. I do not plan on writing anything new. I’d rather just clean up and finalize the various piles of previous drafts.

How was your 2017? And what are you planning to write or edit during 2018?

P.S. *I wrote this post on New Year’s Eve and on New Year’s Day a sudden flash came upon me. I wound up writing the first chapter of a new campy and quirky series. Faceplant!

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Every Time You Reply – Little Frankie Doesn’t Cry

 

NaNoWriMo 2017: The Final Analysis

Hi Folks!

Well I didn’t get to the desired amount of 50k, but I did get my story on paper. The new manuscript for Book 3 sits at 105 pages for about a 25K word count. Guess I will not be putting in a request for the NaNoWriMo 2017 winner t-shirt.

How Can My Story Be Complete?nanowrimobadge2

I tend to write in a dialog heavy style and later add in other things like exposition, description, body language, and beats. Those 108 pages are probably around 75% dialog. Which of course means it will easily go to 300 pages.

Why Did I Wait Until December 13th?

I flew out to New York City on Nov. 29th and didn’t get back until Dec. 7th. Between  unpacking and catching up on many home chores, this is the first chance I’ve had to sit down and write a blog post.

Did I Do Any Writing While Away?

You know I brought my trusty laptop along and got in a few nights of editing Book One. Only a few chapters are left to edit. Of course, that means I’ll be sending out copies to Beta Readers quite soon.

All in all, I can say that NanoWriMo 2017 went well. How did you do on your project?