Monday, August 28, 2017

"Ing" the Merciless

QUESTION:  A published author told me that "-ing" words are weak and should be avoided. Is this right? 

Pick up any book on writing style or editing, and you'll see that "-ing" phrases have a bad reputation.  

As part of an introductory phrase, it's overused and prone to misuse.  

Misuse -- Picking up the gun, she walked across the room and shot him.

The introductory phrase happens at the same time as the verbs in the sentence do so the sentence above is impossible.

Proper use -- Grasping his shoulder, he fell.  

The verb and the introductory phrase can be done at the same time so it's correct.

Overuse -- Too many of them weaken the writing as any overuse weakens writing.  They also slow the reader’s speed so they can screw up the pace in scenes.  Think of them as bumps in the road that make the reader pause.  

I'm prone to using them to avoid having too many sentences beginning with "he" or "she."  That's where rewriting the rewriting comes in.  

The other common overuse is attaching the "-ing" phrase to a dialogue tag.  "I don't like it," she said, shaking her red correction pencil in my face.  

A way to avoid this and write a stronger sentence would be—  “I don’t like this.”  She shook her red correction pencil in my face.  

Monday, August 21, 2017

Proofreading Tips

I read a blog recently where the established author had received her galleys--the final version of a soon-to-be published novel which the author must proofread for one last time.  She was concerned because she’d always received paper copies, but this galley was digital.  

She wasn’t comfortable working on the computer screen so she had the book printed out.  

All five of my novels have been digital galleys so here’s some of my tricks for proofing digital copy.  It works just as well when you proof your work in progress.

  • Use text to speech, all computers come with it, to have your computer read it aloud.  In the preferences, set the talking speed a bit faster than usual so you won't lose focus.  Use a voice that doesn't lull you to sleep.
  • Change the font and text size.  Make it much bigger than normal so those misplaced commas really stand out.  If you begin to skim, change the size again.  
  • If you see examples of lines shorter than they should be because of a misplaced paragraph break, make the text much bigger and scroll the manuscript slowly to look for other examples.  This is often caused by someone's software putting a paragraph break at the end of each page.
  • If the galley or your software puts in hyphens and word breaks for a neat presentation, do a search for vestigial hyphens.  NEVER USE THE HYPHEN FEATURE ON ANY MANUSCRIPT YOU ARE WORKING ON.
  • If you have an ereader, transfer your book to it.  The different screen makes mistakes more noticeable.  
  • Take breaks.

  • And the most important tip:  Don’t leave the edits to the last moment.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Writer and Criticism

In the early days of writers' lives, our works are our babies, and no one wants to be told that the baby is ugly, or has bad manners, or isn't the brightest tot on the block.  It's hard sometimes even for a pro writer to remember that the work isn't really our baby, and we must learn to separate ourselves from our work.

The trick with writing and publishing is to remember that criticism is about the work, NOT ABOUT THE WRITER.  Criticism, constructive or otherwise, also isn't about the dream of being a writer, it's just another part of the work of being a writer.

Learning writing craft is similar to what an athlete does to become good at his game.  We start out with no skills but work until each necessary skill reaches a certain level of competence. 

It requires practice, even more practice, sweat, pain, criticism, the pained self-knowledge that we are not perfect, and a realization that the dream of being published or being on the team doesn't magically happen.  Then the cycle begins all over again as we grow as athletes  or writers. 

As a writer, you may choose to dream the dream and expect the writing and publishing fairy to touch you with her wand to make your dream to come true.  (Reality check: this will never happen.)  Or you can choose to buckle down to the hard work, the criticism, and the incredible learning curve of creating publishable craft so that your dream will come true.  

The criticism, both positive and negative, will never go away if you choose to be a writer.  You need only read the cruel Amazon reviews of some of the best writers to see that even fame, fortune, and success have an ugly side.  Or listen to the stories from pro writers who have to deal with incompetent or control freaks editors and publishers.

The work of improving craft never goes away. It is the same whether you are a newbie without a clue or an established writer.  Nora Roberts and Stephen King have said so, and I imagine any other writer you respect has said the same thing at one time or the other.

Dreaming the dream with no work or emotional toughness may be fine in the short term, but in the long term that dream attracts the predators-- the scam agents, fake contests, and crooked publishers-- who convince you that you are perfect then suck money and your dreams right out of you until even the writing is no longer enough, and the dream becomes a nightmare.  

If you love the writing and want to be published, you need to decide if it's a goal worth fighting for as well as a goal worth the time and distress of learning the craft and putting up with the shit.  If it isn't,  you need to find another goal worth the effort.  

Monday, August 7, 2017

Bad Things and Good Characters

Writers are told to make things hard for their characters.  They must heap on the problems so that moving forward toward a goal becomes increasingly difficult for the characters.  That’s good advice, but there are problems, then there are problems.

The problems presented should be logical within the plot, as well as reasonable.  If a character is on the way to rescue his girlfriend from a bad guy and his car won’t start, you should have shown that his car was prone to starting problems or he’d been in a car chase being shot at earlier, and, unknown to him, his gas tank had been slightly nicked, and now a puddle of gas is on the ground.  

An occasional problem may come out of nowhere, life is like that, but try to keep these down to a minimal. 

Bad things out of nowhere as plot stalling tactics simply don’t work.  Let your hero face obstacles that mean something, that stand legitimately in the way of his goal.  Your character defeating a true obstacle means something to the reader.  A false obstacle means nothing.