Hooked by Les Edgerton

I’m somewhat selective when it comes to craft books. Sometimes I feel like most Indie-Authors spend more time reading craft books on writing than they do writing. And let’s not forget about the money spent. As for self-help books for authors, I have a scant but awesome collection. I usually spend a lot of time reading blogs, taking notice of titles mentioned, and then taking aim for that special book.

My first chapter was bugging me. After we (The Queen and I) would edit about eight chapters, we’d discover something new and start all over again. Well, I can comfortably say that now I feel as if we’ve finally “got it.” Yes, the “Queen” and I were doing an awesome job, but we were still treating the first chapter like any other…big mistake, and thank God we had the intuition not to publish.

I took one of Kristen Lamb’s on-line seminars concerning “Your First Five Pages.” As I look back upon the seminar, it was very informative and helpful. Later, she made a blog post about first chapters and recommended “Hooked” by Les Edgerton.

hooked

Like a vigilant and eager student, I clicked over to Amazon and purchased Edgerton’s “Hooked,” and a copy Kristen Lamb’s “Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a digital world” (still reading this one).

After reading “Hooked,” everything that Kristen explained during the seminar became crystal clear. I guess I needed time to absorb at my own pace. After all, I haven’t been a student for a millennium or two…well maybe three. O.k. you can stop laughing at me now. 🙂

Within Hooked by Les Edgerton, the “crafty” author-coach will explain to you the importance of an opening line, the first page, the first plot points, and yes, how they all coagulate into a rockin’ first chapter. Also, how to introduce a character, and the incredibly sticky subject concerning backstory, i.e., when to use it and when to avoid it.

On another note, Edgerton delivers with a style that keeps you reading and entertained. It would seem that he took his own advice.:-) Let’s face it; this subject in the wrong hands could turn drier than dust faster than a teenager can answer a text-message. But with Edgerton, the read is smooth sailing.

I can give “Hooked” by Les Edgerton a hearty and well-deserved recommendation. Also, you should check out Kristen Lamb’s blog and take one of her classes too.

What are some of your favorite writing-craft books?

When Authors Break the “Rules”

I think I’ve actually got a handle on most of the rules of writing. I’m not talking about punctuation, grammar, plot, character building, or anything in that venue.  What I am talking about are the finer polishing points that turn my pages from talking to singing.

My latest editing discovery concerned “echoing headwords” for lack of a better term coined by the writing website Immerse or Die. In other words, repeating consecutive sentences with the same first word or more than one paragraph per page doing the same.

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Spring has been a busy time for me and I have not done as much reading, writing, and editing as I should have. Therefore, now that I feel like I’ve got this whole “rule” thing clear in my head, I’ve decided to sit down re-read one of my favorite books. After all, isn’t that a piece of advice you see all over author blogs? Good writers read a lot. This re-reading would of course be a different experience, because I have new eyes.

Good Writers Read

I am not going to name the book or the author, and I am not offering this as a form of criticism. It is simply a moment when you throw your hands up and roll your eyes and say, “Just when I thought it was safe to read again.”

I lounged back in my favorite recliner and opened the book. Alas, everything that I have learned about “echoing headwords,” overuse of “to be,” and naming too many people and places in the first chapter, was completely ignored by the author.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Probably something like, “Well you know, once an author is an established thoroughbred, s/he can break all the rules they want to break.” Cough…gag

Did I happen to mention that this great book (and a major seller) was the author’s first book?

I put the book down and went for another one from my trusted overcrowded shelves. Another first book from another famous author that flaunted all of the rules again!

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What’s a little-ole-self-pubbing-indie to do?

Well…perhaps I should offer those rule breakers some admiration.

Thus far, applying some of these tried and true methods has improved the quality of my writing, and I am quite happy and contented with the results. If someone else wants to throw some rules out the window…let them. I have no problems with another author nestled in their “comfy zone,” as long as their formula is working well for them and their readers.

Despite my confusion, I’ll maintain a “live and let live” attitude.

How do you feel about those who not only break a few rules, but do it well?

***Visit Ernesto San Giacomo’s Amazon Author Page and check out a short story for your e-reader today! Choose one or all – Night Flights – Stasis – Ragged Souls – Gematria²***

 

Anaphora Paragraphing?

 

A dictionary definition of “Anaphora” would state, the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive verses, clauses, or paragraphs.

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and on the streets, we shall fight in the hills.” – Winston Churchill

“This blessed plot, this Earth, this realm, this England.” – William Shakespeare

From the above examples, you can see how this technique is used for a heightened dramatic effect.


Try to refrain from over using anaphora as well. In “Storm of Divine Light,” I properly used the technique twice in 376 pages.

Excerpt: Patrons never suspected the humble servant Dagorat once had another name. A name he had tried to bury; an infamous name which struck terror into the hearts of travelers and merchants alike. Blackmond Moonshadow, the most notorious rogue who ever wreaked havoc upon the distant Kingdom of Easterly.



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The word “paragraph” in the definition poses a bit of a problem. Other language / writing guru’s like Hofmann referred to the paragraph as a natural barrier to anaphora. Creativity Hacker refers to starting paragraphs with the same word whether consecutively or just too often as “Echoing Headwords.” This concept seems to apply to both paragraphs and consecutive sentences.

Let’s say that your MC is named Lisa. Imagine the paragraphs on one page starting as follows.

Lisa grabbed…

Lisa looked…

She stepped on…

The dog barked…

Lisa hurried….

She opened…

Lisa went…

*Psst…I know that most of the sentence starters above seem like an assault of declarative sentences, but that is the subject for another blog post.

As you can see, beginning paragraphs with repeated words just doesn’t work very well. Unlike adverbs, where the usage rate is one for every five to seven pages, I couldn’t find the acceptable rate of repetition concerning echoing headwords.

It would be quite a daunting task to complete a novel with every paragraph starting with a different word. I went back into some drafts to find a rate of repetition in my own #writing. I found that you can repeat the start of a paragraph every other page, or at least eight to ten paragraphs apart, as long as they are not on the same page.

As for sentences, try not to use the same “headword” consecutively or bunched too close together.

Have you found evidence of this faux pas in some of your drafts?

***Check out Ernesto San Giacomo’s author page at AMAZON and choose a title today!***

The Queen and I (Part II): Let the Editing Process Begin

I’ve only published short stories; editing them was something of an easy task.  Because they are short, everything from proofreading to substantive editing can be done with each pass. After all, I was only dealing with 8-20 page stories.

A common rule of thumb I’ve read says to wait at least two months before picking up your manuscript to start editing. Well…NaNoWriMo ended two months ago, so the time has come for the grueling process to begin.

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Editing a Paper by Nic McPhee used under CC License

The first two editing passes will be a Substantive Edit. “The Queen” (editor, wife, p.i.t.a.) has never read the manuscript, and she wants to do a complete reading with her notes to me. Those tiny plot holes, character motivations, vagueness, passages that slow down too much, or dialog that doesn’t fit a character need to be addressed first. Essentially it’s a “big picture” edit.

It can be a bit overwhelming at first, but after looking over The Queen’s notes for the first eight chapters, the proverbial light bulb is on. I understand the issues being addressed and it didn’t take much “mental juice” to develop a solution for all of the little problems. Of course what helps me out the most is her ability to write specific notes.

Instead of something like “This is vague,” she’ll write “Seems like he (my MC) gave in too quickly here. Consider more of a discussion or explanation that…” The Queen’s detailed notes readily facilitate a solution. Also, numbering her notes helps. Her first note in chapter 2 will be called (2.1) and so forth.

Communication is the key when performing a substantive editing pass of an entire manuscript, and it’s a two-way street.

Of course, any changes that I make to the manuscript will be typed in green. When I pass the MS back to her, she will see how I addressed each suggestion. For the sake of clarification, I always include the number of her note to my correction. This system is very advantageous when a note calls for something in one chapter to be moved into another chapter.

What’s the first thing you do in order to edit a manuscript? Got a special system?

Ernesto San Giacomo is the author of

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Click the Pic and go straight to Amazon!

 

The 12 Days of Editing

Now that #NaNoWriMo is over, let the editing race begin. However, it’s the Holiday season as well.

Therefore I’ve penned some new lyrics to that oldie but goodie called The Twelve days of Christmas.

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Image Courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Get ready fellow indie #authors and start singing to the melody of The Twelve Days of Christmas…

On the twelfth day of rewrites an editor gave to me

12 comma splices

11 passive voices

10 new verb choices

9 sentence fragments

8 p.o.v. shifts

7 dictionaries

6 beta readers

5 PLOT CHAN-GES!

4 show don’t tells

3 deletes

2 dialog tips

And  a Stephen King book “On Writing”

 

Hope you enjoyed a little levity to take the pressure off the stress of the Holiday and Editing seasons.

 

#Writetip: An Author Needs Beta Reads

Face facts, without a group of beta readers, your editing is incomplete. You can only do a certain amount of self-editing, at least 2 or 3 passes over your writing before you need the aid of some fresh eyes.

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Open Book by Honou used under CC License

The best would be fellow authors working as a small support group, or a local writer’s guild that has a critique group. You can even try to create an on-line network of fellow #indieauthors.

Here’s what I’ve discovered about beta readers. They can point out things that just passed over your head. Those types of errors are easy for a writer to make because everything is clear to the writer, and sometimes it’s hard to put yourself into the mind of a person who knows nothing about your plot and characters.

When I presented the #shortstory Little Red Revolution to my critique circle, I thought that my main character’s attitude was clear.  However, the readers understood and perceived his anger and displeasure, but then questioned why his attitude changed so rapidly. I never intended for anyone to see a change until the final paragraph of part I, but all of the readers thought that the change occurred four pages earlier. Why? Because I had failed to clearly explain that the character also expresses his anger through sarcasm.

The readers thought he had become comical too quickly, a change that I did not intend. I’ve altered it based on their feedback. A good beta read can give your work a final polish and quality that the general reading public expects from a traditional publishing house.

Have your beta readers given you some insightful commentary?

Indie Author Stigma (Part II)

Indie Authors have to be better

I’ve seen typos in some editions of traditional books. It is a rare phenomenon, but it does happen. How does a reader react to such an occurrence? They will probably react the same way that I usually do. I’ll blame the proof-reader, the editor, or the printer. The author is never blamed.

However, if it’s an ebook from a  self-published indie-author, guess who the reader will blame? That’s right, the responsibility for everything squarely rests on the shoulders of the author.

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Photo by Nic McPhee and used under the Creative Commons license

Just because a document can be easily uploaded, that does not mean it should or must be done. I can throw my cat out of the second floor window pretty easily. Does that mean that I should? Certainly not. There are no circumstances that would allow or justify such an action. Yet this seems to be the mentality among many indie authors. Judging from the quality  of the indie books that I’ve seen, I believe that I have made a correct assessment.

Many ebooks have been uploaded simply because it can be done. Therefore it serves as a sort of vain purpose. I wonder if they realize the damage they’re doing to the rest of us.

It has been my privilege and honor to blog, chat, learn, and teach with some other indies who work and strive in order to produce a quality product. Some I’ve met on-line like Diane Tibert, Therin Knight, Robert Hill, Wayne DePriest, Ben Garrido, Nonnie Jules, and Bruce Borders.

I also work closely in critique circles with other authors through the San Antonio Writer’s Guild, like Marilyn Hudson Tucker, April Grunspan, Charles Tate, Suzanne Daniels, Florence Wall, and Stewart Smith.  I can’t wait to read their material. They are all great authors and deserve respect.

Is it fair that after all of the intense work, that we should all be lumped into the same category with a bunch of amateurs who are merely masquerading as authors? What should be the strategy for High Quality Indie Authors to separate themselves from the rest?

For Cryin’ Out Loud, Read It Out Loud!

I could never be a speed reader, although I’d love to have that ability. When I read, I have a mental voice. In my mind’s ear, I can hear the words being spoken. That’s a major mental block to speed reading. However, it gives me a powerful tool.

When I read, I’m in tune to the beat and rhythm of the English language. Yes, every language has one. Maybe that’s why I can speak Spanish and French and fool a native for a few minutes. It’s the beat, rhythm, and voice inflections, that make English so powerful (Yes, I’m perfectly aware of Chinese having those qualities as well). In English, you not only have the stressed syllable in a word, but sometimes there are also a second stressed and a half-stressed syllables as well.

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Photo: Ky Olsen used under creative commons license.

Of course there are numerous books out there concerning self-editing that would make a writer start cutting away. Yes, you should have those guides; I also have some on my desk. However, be careful. You could be destroying a beautiful melody for the sake of mechanics.

There’s a member of my critique group who has a magnificent and beautiful prose style. It’s a treat to hear her work read out loud. The flow reminds me of gentle ocean waves kissing the shoreline. I can see an editor shredding her work for the sake of word count. After all, I’ve read that it’s a rule of thumb to cut out twenty percent of an Author’s draft. I know there’s a certain wisdom in that attitude. After all, not all authors can do what she can do. However, the thought of her prose getting wrecked for mechanical sake makes me cringe.

Also, in my critique group, the presenting author usually chooses another member to read it out loud to the group. I can’t stress the need and practicality of this practice enough. You’ll get to hear how a reader approaches your work. If you don’t have anyone available, convert it to a PDF format and let adobe read it for you. You will not get the benefit of spotting where a reader stumbles over an awkwardly constructed sentence, but at least you’ll get to hear the beat and rhythm of your prose and the quality of your dialog.

Critique Groups: Ego, Etiquette, and Expectations

Hello, all you budding authors. Have you been shying away from joining a critique group? Maybe you’re apprehensive about showing your work in public. Perhaps you’ve written a chapter, a poem, or a short story, and only your spouse and best friend have read it. Their reaction was likely one of two things.  One, they gushed over it and cheered you on. Two, they were brave enough to offer criticism – bubble-wrapped though, so it wouldn’t hurt your feelings. Either way, they could understand the piece, and they think you’re brilliant, so you don’t think you need a critique group. But the truth is that a personal fan club plus two dollars will only get you a cup of coffee.

In contrast, a writer’s critique group is a powerful tool to have at your disposal. Within that circle of colleagues, your work is examined by other authors acting as beta readers, editors, and above all, experienced mentors. These folks have real editing skills and recognize the finer points of authorship. Yes, you need to learn the art of self-editing. But without other critical eyes, you’re unlikely to refine your work to a publishing-ready level.

So I’ve put together a few tips to help you find and mesh with a good group. I hope it helps soothe your nerves by letting you know what to expect.

1.  Finding a Critique Group

I found my group in minutes through www.meetup.com . If there’s nothing in your area, start one! Or find other authors online and exchange ideas and material. Maybe conduct a meeting with others through Skype. Even if you live in a yurt in the Gobi desert, it can be done. We live in the age of light-speed global communication, and there are simply no excuses.

2.  Your First Meeting

If you’ve found a group, chances are they have a website. Read it! There may be instructions for newcomers. For example, my group’s site states that first-timers shouldn’t bring material for critiquing. Why? Because the work to be read each week is selected the week before.

Nothing makes eyes roll faster (and I have seen this happen) than a newcomer strolling in with twelve copies of a complete manuscript. Upon learning his material wouldn’t be viewed that day, he started handing them out, saying, “Take this home and let me know what you think.” Bad idea, you’re making the wrong first impression.

Your first meeting is a chance to observe, to get a feel for the group’s style, and to start getting to know people.  Ask questions. Find out what genres people bring, how to get on the list to be read, and so forth. Talk and be friendly. People are more willing to help friends than strangers. So a few weeks in, you probably will find someone who’ll take your work home to look over. Just remember to reciprocate if asked.

For my first meeting, I showed up with a red pen and a smile. Since then, I’ve had a ton of my work critiqued, and made some good friends along the way.

3.  How to Take Criticism

If you’ve only heard from your fan club so far, the first honest critique of your work may be a shock. Remember the others are not trying to be cruel, and taking their suggestions will probably improve your work dramatically. And if you listen, you should hear positives among the negatives. “You’re telling and not showing…embedded dialogue…your speaker tags need to be changed…but I like the story line, it’s interesting.”

The first time you get read, your ego will be bruised, but you should not feel like dirt.  If the group is hateful or sarcastic, find a different one. And the reverse is true too – a mutual adoration society does nothing for you.  A good group should strike a balance and offer honest but constructive comments.

During your feedback, keep in mind that there’s usually a lot of material to get through in a session. Arguing over comma placement or other minutiae will slow things to a crawl – and annoy everyone still waiting to be read. On the other hand, if you don’t understand what a tag is, or weasel words, by all means ask the question. Seeking clarification is fine, quibbling is not. Of course your piece is the most wonderful thing ever written, but if others don’t see it that way, just nod and take notes.

When you get home, should you immediately incorporate every single suggestion?  No!  Your group consists of fellow human beings, prone to errors and habits. So you need to look over your notes and decide which criticisms are valid. Criticism on your grammar should certainly be corrected.  But other criticisms may be based on stylistic preferences or pet peeves, and you can take them or leave them. After attending a few sessions you will learn to discern between the two. Again, don’t quibble.  If you don’t agree with someone’s suggestion, say thank you, and don’t incorporate it later.  But when more than one person gives the same criticism – believe them. It probably should be fixed.

4.  Giving Back

What you receive from the others has a substantial dollar value. Even the cheapest freelance editors have a hefty price tag. A serious critique group will provide you editing advice for free. Therefore, you need to give back. When you don’t have anything ready to present, show up to the meeting empty-handed and offer constructive criticism to the others.

If you feel that your editing skills are not good enough to offer a critique – you’re wrong. You know how to read and therefore you know when a sentence (even if it is grammatically correct) has an awkward feel. You are also aware when a particular sentence made you hesitate or when some story information wasn’t clear. Sometimes what authors need is the opinion of a reader, not a fellow author – so even as a newcomer, your advice will be sought.  Give it.

 5.  The Extra Perks

Belonging to a critique group gets you out of your yurt to socialize and meet new people.  Perhaps your group, like mine, will contain a truly diverse mix.  We have men, women, whites, blacks, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, liberals, and conservatives, ranging in age from twenty-five to seventy-five. These diverse backgrounds add to the flavor of the group, and the folks have ideas that never crossed my mind, but which improve my stories immensely. I’ve grown to admire and respect the other members, and have made a number of new friends. You can too.