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***

 

My Favorite Films of the 1970’s

 

I don’t care if some of these films did not win a string of Academy Awards or even if they were nominated. They are the ones that I keep going back to when I want to relax as if I’m seeing an old friend. All films not produced in the USA are marked.

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I Go to the Movies Alone… by Betsssssy used under CC License

50. The Last Picture Show – d. Peter Bogdonovich

49. Black & White in Color – d. Jean-Jacques Annaud (Ivory Coast)

48. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage – d. Dario Argento (Italy)

47. Norma Rae – d. Martin Ritt

46. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie – d. Luis Buñuel (France)

45. All The President’s Men – d. Alan J. Pakula

44. The Conversation – d. Francis Ford Coppola

43. Dog Day Afternoon – d. Sidney Lumet

42. The Man Who Fell to Earth – d. Nicolas Roeg (UK)

41. 1776 – d. Peter H. Hunt

40. Animal Housed. John Landis

39. Magnum Force – d. Ted Post

38. Barry Lyndon – d. Stanley Kubrick (UK / USA)

37. Last Tango in Paris – d. Bernardo Bertolucci (France / Italy)

36. Woodstock – d. Michael Wadleigh

35. Rocky – d. John G. Avildsen

34. The Outlaw Josey Wales – d. Clint Eastwood

33. The Seven-Ups – d. Phillip D’Antoni

32. Vanishing Point – d. Richard C. Sarafian

31. Alien – d. Ridley Scott

30. Close Encounters of the Third Kind – d. Stephen Spielberg

29. Jaws – d. Stephen Spielberg

28. Soylent Green – d. Richard Fleischer

27. The Song Remains the Same – d. Peter Clifton / Joe Massot

26. Mean Streets – d. Martin Scorsese

25. High Plains Drifter – d. Clint Eastwood

24. Murder on the Orient Express – d. Sidney Lumet

23. The Last Waltz – d. Martin Scorsese

22. The Stingd. George Roy Hill

21. Smokey and the Bandit – d. Hal Needham

20. Superman – d. Richard Donner

19. Nosferatu the Vampyre – d. Werner Herzog (West Ger. / France)

18. Macbeth – d. Roman Polanski (UK / USA)

17. Monty Python and the Holy Grail – d. Terry Gillian / Terry Jones (UK)

16. Star Wars – d. George Lucas

15. Blazing Saddles – d. Mel Brooks

14. Patton – d. Franklin J. Schaffner

13. Serpico – d. Sidney Lumet

12. Young Frankenstein – d. Mel Brooks

11. Scrooge – d. Ronald Neame (UK)

10. Apocalypse Now – d. Francis Ford Coppola

09. Taxi Driver – d. Martin Scorsese

08. The French Connection – d. William Friedkin

07. The Day of the Jackald. Fred Zinneman

06. Swept Away – d. Lina Wertmuller (Italy)

05. Day For Nightd. Francois Truffaut (France)

04. Jeremiah Johnson – d. Sydney Pollack

03. Let It Be – d. Michael Lindsay-Hogg (UK)

02. The Godfather Pt. II – d. Francis Ford Coppola

01. The Godfather – d. Francis Ford Coppola

Are any of your favorites here? Feel free to comment 🙂

 

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!

 

Fettuccine Alfredo

There are many myths that circulate throughout the culinary world, most of them concerning the origins of famous dishes.  However, the raw beginnings of Fettuccine Alfredo are rather well-known and accepted.

As the story goes, Alfredo first made the dish for his wife, who suffered from terrible nausea during a pregnancy (it is an old Italian custom to “eat white” when you don’t feel well). Further down the road in 1920, he made it for Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. They were so impressed that they presented Alfredo with a gift before they left Rome. Soon the newspapers caught on and ran the story, thus cementing Alfredo’s restaurant and the entrée that bears his name to the world.

I like to order Fettuccine Alfredo whenever I’m trying out a new restaurant. It’s such a simple entrée that if you ruin it, maybe you should get out of the restaurant business. Too often I’ve seen this dish destroyed by either complicating it with extra ingredients, or by foolishly misunderstanding it and using the wrong preparation method. I especially cringe whenever I see jarred “Alfredo Sauce” in the supermarket. Once you read this recipe and its true technique, you’ll realize that there is no such thing as Alfredo Sauce.

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Ingredients:

1 16oz. box of your favorite fettuccine (regular or spinach or mixed)

1 cup of heavy cream or milk or half n’ half * (your choice will impact the cooking time of the pasta)

*If your pasta cooks in 8 minutes, then remove after 7 minutes if you’re using heavy cream, 6 for half n’ half, and so on.

2 tablespoons of room-temperature butter

2 tablespoons of grated cheese

Cooking:

While the water for your pasta is heating, heat the butter and cream mixture in a skillet. Don’t boil it, just get it above room temperature.

Drop your pasta into salted boiling water. Usually dried pasta takes 6 – 8 minutes to cook, but we’re going to remove it early. The pasta will be somewhat flexible but too hard to eat, but that’s exactly where we want it at this point.

Place the pasta into the skillet with the butter and milk and turn up the heat one notch. The pasta will finish cooking by absorbing the water content from the milk / butter mixture. This also thickens the sauce. Just remember to keep flipping and tossing the pasta about twice per minute.

Plate it and sprinkle your favorite grated cheese on top.

Buon Apetito!

I hope now you see why you can’t get Alfredo sauce in a jar. It takes dried pasta to create it. That icky stuff in the jar is usually made (and I’ve seen restaurants do this as well) with a butter and flour roux as a thickener. That pasty flour taste just does not belong in there.

Another major error I’ve seen is the use of garlic. Some chefs mistakenly think that tossing garlic into a recipe makes it more authentically Italian. Wrong! There’s no place for garlic in a butter and cream sauce.

Are you ever going to use “Alfredo Sauce” from a jar again?

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Click the pic and go straight to this Amazon listing

 

Fowl Summer Nights by Diane Lynn McGyver

See what happens when empty nest syndrome and retirement are taken to their “Nth degree.” The exchanges between the main character and her neighbors make this work into a light-hearted romp. Diane spins a great humorous tale filled with comic believability laced with a healthy dose of outlandish circumstances.

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Click the cover photo to link to Amazon

Despite the humorous, I think McGyver is also giving us a lesson about aging, family, and society in general without a heavy hand. These more serious matters are delivered via subtext.

McGyver’s professional prose style makes for an easy and enjoyable read. Especially when she uses her language skills to deliver clever wordplay quips. The novella is free of typographical and formatting errors, and is well edited, which is quite a relief in today’s indie market.

A perfect quick read! I’m giving this one five stars *****

Reviews: Stepping into the Twilight Zone Again

I once did an earlier blog post called “The Twilight Zone of Reviews.” I tend to lean toward that old television classic because one of my first reviews referred to me as “Sinclair Lewis meets Rod Serling on Main St.”

I tend to agree with that assessment. However, now I’m in the Twilight Zone of reviews again, because I just can’t figure out why different groups tend to see my work in totally different ways.

I don’t blow a proverbial gasket over a review that has an unfounded criticism. Why? Because I know that the reader/reviewer missed the cues.

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In my first short collection Ragged Souls, there’s a story called “Martha’s Kitchen.” When I first wrote that piece it was a big hit among my fellow scribes in the San Antonio Writer’s Guild. They loved it and laughed at the right moments. They even pushed me into reading it during one of their “open-mic” nights.

Therefore, when it was published on Amazon and I received my first reviews, I was eagerly awaiting to see how readers would react to the story. Unfortunately most of the reviewers just “liked” it instead of “loving” it.

Of course, this came as a bit of a shock to me. They didn’t load on a huge pile of praise for the story and they also criticized it because they saw it as a “horror vignette” rather than a story.

Color me surprised!

I intended “Martha’s Kitchen” to read like a wry dark-humored Twilight Zone episode. The difference between the Amazon reviewers and my writers group gave cause for me to scratch my head and try to figure this one out.

After pondering for a long while, the light bulb turned on and I think I had the answer. The story is sown with many subtle seeds. For some, it may take a second reading to turn those seeds into humor. That was the difference, my fellow San Antonio authors had read or heard it a few times.

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And…

Those same on-line reviewers also lumped on accolades for the lead story in the collection, “A Purveyor of Odd Things.”

Phew! In my mind, that lead story was the cleverest piece I have ever written.  So what’s the problem? Well…my writing buddies from San Antonio received that story with a rather “ho-hum” demeanor. I haven’t figured this one out yet, but I’ll try.

Your Second Draft: Paragraphing

Now that #NaNoWriMo 2014 is over, many authors, including myself will be scratching our collective heads in the #editing phase of bringing our works to market.

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Journal Entry by Joel Montes De Oca used under CC License

What you should look for in your first glance at your manuscript is spelling, grammar, punctuation, and paragraphing. The first three, spelling, grammar, and punctuation are obvious enough, but you’re going to have brush up on their rules.

If I were to go into every rule for those three concerns, then this would be a book rather than a blog post. Try to obtain a copy of the Harbrace College Handbook, or if you’re in a pinch check out the Ask a Grammar Guru page on Facebook.

In the end, paragraphing seems to perplex quite a few #authors out there. After all, your paragraph can be spelled and punctuated properly and yet be considered wrong.

As far as the mechanics go, the general consensus out there for proper paragraphing is as follows…

When the speaker-tag changes, then a new paragraph is needed. If done right, then you can actually avoid the over-use of tags.

The action of one character causes a reaction from another character. The action-reaction dynamic needs to have its own separate paragraphs.

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A Crumpled Paper Ball by Turinboy used under CC License

A character can only think, say, or do something. Therefore, keep it all in the family in the same paragraph. However, this can lead to paragraphs that are just too long.

Keep the length of a paragraph to five or six lines. If your character says and does a lot, then keep any internal dialog separate in order to avoid a lengthy paragraph.

You can go as far as half a page in one paragraph, if your intention is to slow down the pace.

Did you find this helpful? Did I forget to address something?

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.

 

Some Holy Water Please (Part I)

Lately things just don’t seem to be going as planned. Every time that I try to do something around the house, it turns into a four-hour fiasco. I know that everyone has one of “those days,” but I seem to be having one of “those months.”

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Holy Water Font by Jim, The Photograpgher used under CC License

Just to recap a few things here are some interesting facts. I need to paint some trim around the garage and some windows. A trip to Home Depot and I had everything I needed, namely paint and caulk. I made this trip on Friday, planning to paint on Monday morning. I’d left the paint in the truck.

So on Saturday, on my way to my critique group, I went to buy some smokes and a coffee. I wanted to throw away a few things and when I opened the back of my truck, a gallon of paint came crashing down and popped open. Splat. I wonder if this would’ve happened if I had purchased the cheap stuff instead of the most expensive exterior paint on the market.

Monday morning was burned up going to Home Depot for more paint. Yes, I can only paint in the morning because once that sun starts pounding…well, fuhgeddabowdit.

This is but one episode mind you. Have you ever had the feeling that you need to dunk yourself into a vat of Holy Water?

If Authors Were Contractors

It’s no secret to most of you who follow my blog that I’m getting ready for a move to #Idaho in July. It’s more than just packing up some stuff and moving. I have to get my house ready for tenants. I’ve never been a landlord before and the chores tend to pile up.

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Yes I built it!

There are many things that I know how to do, but still have to rely on contractors because of insurance. It killed me to pay an electrician to do things that I can do. Then there was the fence on the side of the house. I haven’t the foggiest idea about how to install a fence. A call to a local contractor went something like this…

“It’s just a gate and two 3 ½ foot sections of fence on either side.”

“A job that small would run about $350.00.”

I start to smile over the low price…for once something isn’t approaching the $1,000 mark.

“But a job that small isn’t worth it for us. So we’ll have to charge you $700.00.”

“Thanks for your time good-bye.”

Imagine if I could get away with something like that? I know it’s only a short story, but it had to be written, edited, beta read, and formatted as an ebook. Therefore, for going through all that trouble I’m going to have to price it like a novel.

How long would any #IndieAuthor last with that attitude?