Archive for the ‘The Dreaded Edit’ Category

The Final 1,000 Words

January 21, 2014

The-End-501627

It’s no surprise to anyone – author or not – that every good story needs a beginning with an interesting premise, a middle that’s full of conflict, and an ending that more-or-less resolves it all.

I know a lot of indie authors who have a gazillion good ideas that would make fabulously great story starts, and many who know that spectacular events are not what conflict is about … good conflict is about emotions.

But I’ve seen some stories that just … end … and leave you wondering if the printer forgot to include some pages, or the digital cloud decided to swallow a few. Some end so abruptly it’s as if the author failed to understand that, when crafting a story, you need to give substantial thought to the conclusion.

Resolve the Central Conflict
By that, I don’t mean merely tacking on the-good-guy-gets-the-girl, or the-bad-guys-lose. If you think about it, life seldom resolves anything like that. When it does, we usually call the outcome cute.

When I say give thought to your ending I mean, in terms of your plot, what do you need to put into the final 1,000 words, if cute isn’t your target?

It seems to me this should be a no-brainer … but in the new indie-publishing world, how many weak story resolutions have you read? It doesn’t have to be a happily-ever-after ending, but you do need to tie-up any loose ends.

Also, keep in mind readers generally look for something uplifting, regardless of genre. I always try to leave something to feel positive about, even in disheartening scenes, because whether they admit it or not, it’s what readers really want.

As an author trying to please your audience, so should you.

Surprise Your Reader
No, I’m not suggesting you write O. Henry-ish twists or Twilight Zone endings into your stories. But you don’t have to establish a picture-perfect moment either, where every minor contentious issue is neatly solved.

Yes, every question you planted earlier in a reader’s mind should be addressed, but the answer could be to suggest that a known character … or another one yet to come … might address that minor issue later, after the book ends.

And the resolution doesn’t have to be one that seems expected. In fact, it’s sometimes a stronger story if it isn’t … as long as what happens is consistent with the facts that have already been presented … and avoids those pesky contrived twists.

Tie Your Final Words to Early Events
When you begin the journey of writing your novel, you should also try to have an established destination. I’m not suggesting writing to an outline. I can’t work like that and I wouldn’t ask you to do it, either … although I know a lot of authors prefer to work that way.

But even though I don’t create an outline, I have to admit it doesn’t hurt to have some idea where the characters … the main ones, anyway … are likely to be headed.

How they actually get there is the “something” I leave up to the characters to discover as I write.

I find it much easier to make detours, twists and turns in my storytelling by using such tactics, because I’m often surprised by where a character takes me … so my reader is going to be surprised, too. And that’s generally a good thing.

But it’s always a good idea to create a feeling that the final words somehow hearken to an earlier moment in the story.

Offer Redemption to Your Heroic Characters
No matter how many mistakes your main character has made along the way, allow the reader — and the character — to realize in the end, regardless of the outcome, he/she has done the right thing.

Don’t Change Voice, Tone or Attitude
Your ending will feel tacked on if the voice of the narrator suddenly sounds alien to the voice that’s been consistent for the rest of the book. The last impression you want to create is a positive one, at least as far as the story is concerned.

So, even if your ending is not the most positive outcome possible for your characters, don’t leave your readers feeling tricked or cheated … or they won’t have nice things to say about your book, and they won’t be looking for your next one, either.

The Making of a Winner
I’ve said it before: Writing is vastly overrated. As hard as it may seem when you’re writing your story, it’s after you’ve written your last word that you really go to work.

You actually begin to craft your work into a readable story in the editing, and you elevate yourself as a writer if you can polish your story until it dazzles. Your intent should be to leave your reader spent when he/she closes your book.

Don’t use obscure words or elaborately complex sentences and, for heaven’s sake, don’t suddenly write complicated scenes with vague references or hidden meanings. The ending, more than anywhere else in your story, is the place to be direct and assertive.

So edit, edit and then edit some more, until you’re certain what you’ve done is the best you’re capable of doing. This is where you should put your best work, making sure everything that remains is essential. It’s hard to do … but your story (and your readers) will love you for it.

As I’ve said in other posts, when I do this I sometimes wind up making changes that leave me with a manuscript that’s actually longer than when I started (good writing is often like that).

But whether your climax is 1,000 words long or 10,000, your reader must feel as if they’re racing through it … and that they cannot possibly put your story down until it’s done.

When that happens, you’ve got a winner … and nothing, my friend, feels better.

—————
R.L. Herron Book Signing, January 25, 2014

 

 

Do You Make Your Words Sparkle?

October 24, 2013

Green-grass-with-raindropsPhoto/Bigstock Images

To Proof or Not to Proof
I’ve been looking over the last few posts I’ve made, wishing I’d done things a bit differently. They seem a little preach-y and, while I packed as much info into them as I could, they’re short on stuff an indie writer can actually use.

So, to get back in the groove, I thought I’d pass along some notes I made for myself about proofing and editing … that actually work.

Writers rarely like to revise their work (how well I know), but it’s a hard, cold reality of the writing process. It’s the most important thing you can do after the initial draft.

When you write, if you’re anything like me, you heave a big sigh (of accomplishment? relief?) as you put the period on that final sentence, sit back and look at what you’ve done. It actually feels pretty good for a few minutes.

Then the nit-picking begins.

OMG that’s awkward! What was I thinking? Jeez, why did I write it that way? That’s about as interesting as a margarine label!

Relax. It happens to most of us. That’s what editing is for. Here are five self-editing questions to ask as you begin to proofread your work:

1. Have You Applied the Second-Draft Rule?
Stephen King is one hell of a good writer, whether you like his subject matter or not. In his remarkable book On Writing, he shows a before-and-after example of how editing can improve a story.

The book is one of the best lessons on the craft of writing I’ve ever read. I suggest you get a copy and read it (it’s a memoir not a story, so don’t worry about demons or magic or spooky places).

His Second-Draft Rule is:

2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%

As writers, we have a tendency to believe every word we write is precious – and have a natural reluctance to cut our material – (you do that too, don’t you?). After all, we remember how hard it was to get it down on paper.

However, editing is about making your prose lean and exciting, compelling the reader to turn the page. Try it, it’s worthwhile … but I warn you, it’s much harder than you think. It makes you weigh and measure every word.

2. Is That Adverb Necessary?
If you’re using a lot of adverbs in your fiction, chances are you’re violating a cardinal rule of good storytelling by simply telling the reader about the action … not showing them.

For instance, imagine one of your characters has just obtained some special, long-sought-after prize. Something anyone would recognize as a thrilling moment.

Instead of telling us he was “yelling joyfully,” why not have him jump up-and-down screaming and yelling, creating so much ruckus the family cat runs under the bed in terror?
rocky-img18       Photo/United Artists

Or maybe, like Rocky Balboa, he runs through the streets at dawn, climbs the park steps and throws his hands in the air to the rising sun, letting the world know he intends to claim his shot at immortality.

Both of those descriptions show you how the character reacts instead of telling you … and they’re certainly more descriptive and alive than the word “joyfully.”

3. Where Does the Story Really Begin?
Carefully re-read the first few pages of your story. Where does the action start? A major fault with many first drafts (mine included) is too much background material showing up before conflict is introduced and the characters take over the story.

In several first drafts, my stories didn’t really begin until halfway down page two … or later. So, I found I frequently re-wrote or cut significant portions of the draft’s first few pages.

If I thought any of the cut material was somehow essential for the reader, I had to find another way to get it back into the story, perhaps through dialogue.

Occasionally, the edited work was a bit longer than the original, but the action began sooner and the pace of the story actually got better.

4. Are Your Adjectives Doing Their Job?
Get rid of empty adjectives. Instead of relying on “amazing,” “exciting,” “fascinating,” “scary” and other similar boring descriptions, use sensory details that bring to life what you’re describing:

“The wind swirled dirt and debris across the fields, but it was the immense slab of stone, rising on that wind like a feather, that robbed my sight of everything else.”

or …

“Even in the bright midday sun, the shadow exuded the damp, earthy worm-laden smell of the grave and left a bitter taste in my mouth.”

Find ways to get all the readers’ senses to work. When you do, it means you’re making the story real for them.

5. Have You Read Your Story Out Loud?
Believe it or not, one of your best proofreading tools is the sound of your own voice.

Reading your story aloud to someone is a fabulous way to find inconsistencies or clumsy phrasing, because if you stumble and hesitate over something when you’re reading, it’s likely your reader will find it awkward, too.

However, you want your reader to suspend disbelief, stay in the story and not wander off wondering what the hell you were talking about. If you find that happening, that’s a part you need to rewrite.

Consider Revision a Reward
A lot of people look upon editing as a chore (OK, I confess … that’s MY hand up over here in the corner). It’s harder than writing, and as difficult as marketing. Well … almost.

But remember … if you’re revising and editing, it means you’ve finished the first draft of your project.

How exciting is that?

Let me know what you think.

 


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