Author/Editor Tell All with Executive Editor Stacy Abrams

Okay, this is it. It’s happening!! I tricked talked one of my editors into doing a Google Plus Hangout on Air with me this Friday, June 13, at 11:00 PST. I want to know why she pulled my book out of the slush. And about a million other things. Stacy is the executive editor of Entangled Teen. If you have any questions you’d like me to ask her, leave them in the comments and we’ll get her talking!

Here is the playback:

Making Sense of Revisions

Since I’ve just run through an intensive two-week editing and revision sprint to get my superhero book off to Harper Voyager, I wanted to share what I’ve learned about revisions. Regardless of whether you are sending your work out to a publisher or preparing to self-publish your book, you need to have an editing system. You’ve probably learned a lot about story structure and how a good book reads by virtue of years of reading. You may have a natural feel for it. (I think I do.) But you can also learn a lot about solid story structure.

There are numerous books available telling you various ways to go about revising (my favorites are Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell, and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King), but the best way is the way that works for you. For me, the best way is a combination of using Scrivener and sticky notes.

The many-times-changed sticky note outline of UNEXPECTED HERO

This particular book, UNEXPECTED HERO, turned into what I hope to be the worst editing experience of my life. After working on this book in several drafts over seven years (ugh, that pains me even to say it), I hope I never ever EVER have such a difficult time editing again. It started easily enough with one draft and a clear vision. That vision wasn’t shared by my agent, and I did a page-one rewrite using her notes. In the end, she didn’t like that version either and the book was never sent to publishers. (I learned a lot from that experience alone, and I am grateful that she and I remained friends.)

Now I had two complete books (not drafts) with the same characters, similar plots, and a different time frame. That meant that I couldn’t use them both as the first two books in the series. I had to choose. Problem was, my agent made some good points about things that I improved in the second book, but other elements I liked better from the first book. I decided the best choice was to roll up my sleeves and completely rewrite the book again, taking the best elements and putting them together for the best possible story.

This was not easy.

In fact, it was so difficult, and I had so many other things going on in life – like grad school – that I didn’t finish the third draft. What I did “complete” (for lack of a better word) was creating a document I called “UH Prototype” in my “Hero” Scrivener file. I cut and pasted the scenes from the previous versions along with new scenes I’d written into a Frankenstein document. The final story would look something like this one in terms of story, but most of the scenes needed to be rewritten to some extent. (My heroine had been married for three years in the first version, was unmarried in the second version, and starts out as a newlywed in the final version.)

Then a month or so ago, I heard about Harper Voyager’s open submission window and thought this could be a great opportunity for UNEXPECTED HERO. So I printed out the UH Prototype file and found a printed copy of the last completed “draft” and read them through, making notes. I’d thought I was at least three-quarters of the way through the final draft, but as I read the printouts, I found I was closer to half done. And I only had two weeks to get the book in.

In grad school, I worked on a few of the scenes for school assignments, and even then the overwhelming number of words to get through was difficult to handle. At that point, I had the insight to number my revisions like software. The original book became Hero 1.1. The version based on my agent’s notes became version 1.2. The new version was Hero 1.3, but in the course of many confusing ideas on how to fix it, it also became 1.4 and 1.5. (The first two were original, complete “books” ready to go, and separate from each other. But after that everything else was a draft of the third version of book one.) I also started a file called Hero 2.1 with notes on the new villain taken from Hero 1.1; that will become book two in the series.

Three weeks ago, when I took time off to do nothing but finish this book, everything I needed was in the Scrivener file, and I was getting confused trying to edit such large (90,000 words) documents. So I needed more than what Scrivener was doing. (I now create each scene as a separate document in Scrivener so I can easily move them around if necessary, and compile them into one document when I’m done by pressing a button. Love it!) So I pulled out my box of sticky notes and wrote a one-sentence description of each scene in the order I currently had it, and lined them up (first on the glass of a framed picture at the timeshare – LOL!, then on my white board at home).

Between years of reading, learning story structure in my screenwriting program, and learning how to be an editor in one of my grad school classes, I had a feel for where the story was going wrong. But I needed to be able to visualize the whole thing in one glance. And I needed to move the scenes around and see if it worked better this way or that way. The one-sentence sticky notes allowed me to finalize the structure as I worked through the story. I’d get to a point in the actual writing/editing, and think, but wait… I’d go back to my sticky notes and realize a piece was missing – she had to tell him before they could argue about it. Or I’d be getting along toward the end when I realized she’d told the superhero but not his alter ego, so I had to write in a way that either the alter ego had to pretend he didn’t know or he had to make a mistake and let it slip that he did.

Sheesh!

In a strange, wonderfully sick writerly way, I actually had a lot of fun! 🙂

A reminder to track my timeline

Again, at about the three-quarters point, I was getting lost as to “when” I was. Was the story going too slow or too fast? Was I missing any major obvious events? So I pulled up a calendar that had the date the book started on the day of the week I wanted it to start, and I started writing on the bottom of my stickies – Monday the 18th, Tuesday the 19th, etc. Two scenes had to be reversed because one had to happen at lunch time and the other at dinner time. And somewhere around here I had the ah-ha moment for how I would end the book simply based on the date that the story ended.

It was a difficult process but for some reason it wasn’t as painful this time. Maybe because I’ve been rehashing this story in my mind for seven years. In fact, several times I spent an hour or more looking for a scene I was sure I wrote only to come to the conclusion that I must’ve just developed it with striking clarity in my head! One scene I did eventually find in my grad school homework. (Whew!) In any case, I know this is the best version of this book by far, and exactly what I meant to write. Some of the scenes even surprised me with how good they became. LOL! Definitely my best work to date.

So if you’re trying to figure out how to edit a monster, try some or all of the things I used:

  • printouts and a pen,
  • Scrivener or multiple open Word documents,
  • a calendar,
  • sticky notes,
  • and a white board or wall.

You can tame the monster, but it may take looking at your story in several different ways at the same time.

Good luck! You can do it!

Why?

This is the question my infamous critiquer keeps asking me. Last Friday I turned in my third round of edits on my first sixty-three pages.

Why is this character doing this? And why that?
Why is she thinking this? And why that?
What is she feeling? And why?

With each successive round of edits I’m getting deeper and deeper into my character’s head. To get here, I’ve had to learn a new way of writing POV:  close or deep third person POV.

 

The other day I picked up Plot versus Character by Jeff Gerke. He postulates that writers fall into one of two categories. They are either plot-first or character-first writers.

Given my current editing experiences, I can conclude that even though my story doesn’t have explosions, I am more plot driven by nature. The initial story spark is always an event, an idea, a title. I don’t think I’ve ever thought up a character first.

My infamous critiquer is pressing the character button on my novel and won’t let go until I get it figured out. She is a great match for me as I sense that she is character-first.

This is what I was working on during Author Crush Month:

 

POV Challenge #1: Internalizations.

In the old drafts I was trying to show what the character was thinking using body language and dialogue cues. I always thought that coming right out and telling what the character was thinking or feeling was a no-no. (The old show-don’t tell.) So I had very few internalizations.

Internalizations, I’m learning, are what help the reader experience the story, feel what your character is feeling, stay with your story.

And no, you aren’t supposed to just come right out and say the emotion your character is feeling. But you are supposed to write down her thoughts. In her voice, not yours. And bonus points if you can write it in an interesting and creative way.

Also, these internalizations should include past, present, and future-oriented  thoughts in order to connect the storyline into a whole.

For me, I have to write more “in her head” than I feel comfortable with. I think I’m being obvious, but that’s only because I already know the story. My readers don’t know the story yet so I need to guide them.

 

POV Challenge #2: Relationships

The other big thing I’ve been working on is deepening the relationships my main character has. One of her closest relationships was with her deceased grandmother. This is backstory that plays a crucial role in the current story. But I followed the “don’t start with backstory/no backstory before page x” rule. This meant I had to go back and weave in the backstory earlier than I originally did. And add more of it so that the reader could understand the main character’s motivation. (That good ol’ WHY? again.)

 

Do you write in deep 3rd POV? I’d love more tips on how to show what’s in my character’s head!

Interview: Lauraine Snelling and Kathleen Damp Wright, Authors of “Dog Daze”

I am so excited! My friends Lauraine and Kathleen have written a chapter book for ages 8-12 – Dog Daze, the first book in The S.A.V.E. Squad series – and it releases today from Barbour Books! And it’s Kathleen’s first book! Yay! I asked the ladies if they would stop by and join us for an interview. Please welcome Lauraine and Kathleen!

Kitty: How did the two of you meet and come to the idea of co-authoring a book?

Kathleen: I still don’t know how it started. I got a flyer for a writing conference I don’t remember asking to get.

Lauraine: We met when I was the teacher at a writer’s workshop in Grand Junction, CO, a bunch of years ago. We stayed in touch and became good friends, thank you Lord.

Kathleen: At the conference, she asked us to raise our hands if we were writers. I didn’t, because I was seriously discouraged about writing fiction for publication. I didn’t want to lie. She noticed that. Then, I said to Lauraine that it would be cool if I could come to her house and have her teach fiction tips. So she began a fiction intensive week at her house. I eventually ended up teaching at it.

Lauraine: We critiqued the projects we were working on separately and several years ago, came up the idea of this series. Now we go camping together, trailer/RV style and what do we talk about—-a lot? Why faith and writing, our two favorite topics. And our dogs. My rescue basset Sir Winston–

Kathleen: —And our rescue border collie, Cash the Wonder Dog.  The two couldn’t be more different.

Lauraine: We figure God has a plan for these two couples and this summer, I will have a bike to ride with the others too. Look out world.

Kathleen: I can’t wait. I found her a great bike for $27.50 that retailed for $399 and still looks new.

Lauraine: And yes, Cash the wonder dog, and Sir Winston C ob de mountains, go along–but not on the bikes. We hope that eventually they’ll become as good a friends as we are.

Kathleen: I am not optimistic.

Kitty: Good luck with that. Sounds like you’ll need it! So how are your work habits alike and different from each other?

Lauraine: We both love brainstorming, looking for the unusual and finding the humor in life’s situations. However, Kathleen is a techie whiz and I’m not. But she helps me along, dragging me into today’s world of technical wonders. I brainstorm on paper with a pen or pencil; she adores the cool programs that are out there to assist writers.

Kathleen: Yep. I’m always looking for a way to eliminate the paper issue since I don’t work at a desk. My “office” is wherever I’m sitting at the moment. I use Scrivener in a very basic way to get the scenes going for a story. I wish it was available on the iPad. I have also fallen in love with Evernote for my Android phone, my Mac, and my iPad. I love Infinotes for my iPad for brainstorming. I like moving stuff around.

Lauraine: We both trust that God will give us supremo ideas, and then use our work in ways we can’t even dream of. That makes for exciting discoveries and conversations.

Kathleen: I can tell you that there are things in Dog Daze that were a direct present from God, that’s for sure. They were dancing around and shouting moments when I saw how they enriched the story.

Kitty: Oo, I love stuff like that. How did you work the collaboration?

Lauraine: We brainstorm the ideas, both do research. My favorite is go to the place and talk with the people who are doing or have done what I need to know.

Kathleen: I’m lucky that I have been teaching long enough that there are almost always kids of some age that know about what I’m writing about. Like how whiskers work for cats. For the third book, Second-Hand Horses, I have a former student who is shooting pictures for me at her aunt’s ranch (’cause I need to see a barn and covered corral) and sending me YouTube videos on horses doing the very thing I need to know about. She’s loving it and so am I. I’ve gotten to see up close and personal the great work that rescue organizations are doing in my local area as well.

Lauraine: We go back and forth in the idea stage and critique the outline or synopsis. Then Kathleen writes the story with me commenting. We go back and forth with suggestions. We meet and talk more through; we both love to work in coffee shops with lattes at hand.

Kathleen: That’s my favorite way to work. Us with our husbands and dogs and RVs in the same place and finding the local coffee shop–with high speed wifi. And then a good hot tub later.

Lauraine: And then the final edits. Now we are learning more about marketing and publicity.  There’s a lot that goes into the making of a book that readers will love.

Kitty: I’ve brainstormed with you two in a hot tub. The ideas come faster than we can write them down! I understand you two used Skype to line edit the book together. How did that go?

Lauraine: We did use Skype and it was a great experience, me from my office in Tehachapi, CA–

Kathleen: —And me from my travel trailer on a lake in Utah where my husband and border collie were spending the month working and living. Lauraine kept talking about how amazing it was we could do this.

Lauraine: We went over Dog Daze line by line, word by word. What a marvelous way to rewrite and edit. Our editor was rather pleased too. So few changes needed.

Kathleen: As in about eight! And most of them were about timeline bumps that show up after chopping and editing.

Kitty: That’s amazing! Was this a first for you to publish a children’s book?

Kathleen: Yup! Well, make that, publish any book. I’m a complete newbie and shrieking my head off regularly now that I’ve touched Dog Daze, which is Book #1 of the four-book series The S.A.V.E. Squad. Miss Eight Million Published next to me here can tell you about her kid series.

Lauraine: Not a first for me. My lifetime dream was to write horse books for girls. So my first book was titled Tragedy on the Toutle about a family that lived in the valley when Mt. St. Helens erupted. The title now on the reissue is What About Cimmaron? By the way, a first clue for beginning writers is to write what you know. Cimmaron lived in our back yard and belonged to my daughter Marie and I. He was quite a character.

Since then I have written twenty children’s books with the horse theme, two series of ten books each. The Golden Filly series and the High Hurdles series. Both series are now available in four volumes of five books each.

Kitty: How is writing for children different from writing for adults?

Lauraine: The main difference is the age of the characters. The pacing is usually faster too with less introspection, characters thinking and feeling things. But readers of all ages have enjoyed these series because they are books about families.

Kathleen: I think the dialogue is different as well as word choice. Kids see things differently and can be very profound in a very short comment. The four girls and CP, the neighbor boy, all are smart kids who don’t miss much. As an example of a kid and their depth of feeling but short of speech, here’s a quote from the book that a reviewer used as a favorite: “”A forever home,” she said, rolling the words around in her mouth. They sounded safe.”

Kitty: There are four books, right? How did you get the idea for the series?

Lauraine: Kathleen and I have both had numerous rescued pets and I wrote an adult book called Breaking Free about rescued Bassets and Thoroughbred race horses who could no longer work the track. Disposable animals?  How sad, so we try to do something about that. But one day we were talking and you could have seen the lighbulbs going off over our heads. What if?

Kathleen: Two of my favorite words–what if. As a fiction coach, I gained the nickname The Whatif Girl.

Lauraine: Now those are two magic words for writers. What if we were to do a series for girls about rescuing animals? I think we’d just read one of those marvelous stories of all the great things that kids manage to accomplish. The ideas started popping and haven’t stopped.

Kitty: That’s so cool. And the girls are so different. How did you come up with such differences?

Kathleen: I wanted to make the girls very different and tie each girl’s story arc with the animal’s need. I was very intentional with where they each went to school and what their personalities were like. One 5-star review mentioned the girls were so diverse, any girl could find herself relating to one of them. That’s what I was going for!

Lauraine: That is always a goal for story tellers, make your characters different so they react to things differently, so the reader knows which character they are reading about at that moment. So we talked about general differences and then Kathleen hit on the different education programs for our girls. We thought of three, but then four girls and a neighbor boy  just kind of waved their hands and screamed “pick me, pick me.” So we did.

Kathleen: How the name of the squad came about was very cool. Makes me want to spin thinking about it! I can’t tell you anymore than that, ’cause you have to read the book, but it’s neat.

Lauraine: It really put some major pieces in the wild puzzle called, figure out the story. Just think how boring this world would be if everyone were exactly alike?

Kitty: So true. Which girl do you think you’re most like?

Lauraine: Probably Sunny since she is such a great example of a sanguine personality. And not finishing things? Hey, I’ve spent most of my life as the queen of starting great and then having another to-be-finished project somewhere. Sunny spins when she is excited and I rub my knuckles together and look about to fly. Just ask some of my cousins.  See me doing the eye roll thing. After all these years, that’s what they remember about me most? Not good.

Kathleen: Yayness! (one of Sunny’s words). She is the fave so far of everyone who’s read the book. For me, I’d like to be Sunny and have such a great view of life and fun. Some days I’m Sunny, only I wave my arms instead of spin. Other days, I’ve got my hands flying to my hips with a real Esther thing going on or I’m making lists like Vee. I’m not much like Aneta, although I have a friend who’s very MUCH like Aneta.

Kitty: This sound so fun! Are there any other children’s books planned from either of you?

Lauraine: I certainly hope so, although maybe a better term is dreamed rather than planned at the moment.

Kathleen: I have a magic realism series for the same age group that is close to getting the proposal finished. The rest are women’s contemporary and cozy mystery book and series ideas in varying stages of finished and pitch-able.

Kitty: What other books are in the works for you?

Lauraine: Since I write both contemporary and historical novels, I have others coming out in both genres. Currently I am finishing up a three-book series titled Wild West Wind, set in South Dakota. Wind Dancer is a black and white paint who excels in performing as part of a trick riding act, with his human Cassie. George the bull buffalo also plays a part, oh and don’t forget, Othello who likes to ride behind Cassie. Wind Dancer doesn’t mind.

Kitty: Wow, what a fascinating and exciting journey! I’m sure our readers will be looking for Dog Daze today, and your other books, too! Thanks so much for joining us!

Lauraine and Kathleen will be stopping in during the day to chat with us, so please leave your questions and comments below. Dog Daze is available today at your local bookstore and at online retailers. You can watch the totally cute book trailer on YouTube. I hope you enjoyed our interview!

 

Award-winning and best selling author Lauraine Snelling began living her dream to be a writer with her first published book for young adult readers, Tragedy on the Toutle, in 1982. She has since continued writing more horse books for young girls, adding historical and contemporary fiction and nonfiction for adults and young readers to her repertoire. All told, she has more than sixty books published. You can follow her on Facebook.

Kathleen Wright teaches writing to homeschoolers and online college freshmen and can’t wait to buy a student’s first novel! Her first series debuts in March with book one Dog Daze in The S.A.V.E Squad series, co-authored with good friend Lauraine Snelling.When Utah-based Kathleen’s not dreaming up adventures for her characters, she’s riding bikes with her husband, playing pickleball, and trying to convince her rescued Border Collie that Mom knows best. Join her on Facebook and Twitter.

Writing and Publishing Tips from Angela James and Patricia Wynn

This past Saturday my local RWA chapter (Orange County Chapter in California) met. Our guests were historical romance author Patricia Wynn talking about combining history and mystery, and Carina Press’s Angela James talking about publishing in the digital age. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole day and thought I’d share some of the things I found most interesting.

PATRICIA WYNN
Though I don’t write or read historicals (except for the occasional regency romance) or mysteries, there were a couple of things Patricia said that struck me as useful in my writing.

  • She believes your story should grow out of the setting in such a way that it couldn’t happen just that way in any other place, at any other time. I started thinking about my superhero books and wondered if I’m doing enough with setting.
  • In terms of scene and sequel, Patricia said that if you have fewer and shorter sequels, you will increase the pace and the tension of the story.
  • Another thing that will increase conflict and tension is giving your protagonist fewer people to talk to and confide in. At first I thought, I’m not getting rid of Tori’s best friend or her sister. But then I thought, all I have to do is create reasons why she can’t confide in them, or can’t confide right away.

ANGELA JAMES
During Angela James’ talk, several topics caught my attention.

  • Authors need to understand their contracts before they sign them. (I strongly agree as a business person. I know several authors who couldn’t tell you what their royalty percentages are, let alone on what basis they are calculated.)
  • She wouldn’t suggest that an author already getting published by a traditional print publisher switch over to an epublisher just because of the better royalty rates for ebooks. There are many factors to consider, and there are still a lot of benefits in being published by a traditional print publisher like Harlequin.
  • It’s to an author’s advantage for the option clause in their contract to be as narrow as possible. You don’t want to sign something that sells all rights, in all territories, in both print and digital and in every form yet to be created, in perpetuity. Remember you are licensing your work, not “selling” it. (See the blog by Kristine Kathryn Rusch discussing both licensing and how writers are agreeing to be paid less than in the Great Depression.) Know what the term (length) of your contract is. Once you sign it, you’ve agreed to that deal for that length of time.
  • The greatest position of strength for either party trying to come to an agreement is their willingness to walk away from the negotiations. Know where you stand, what you’re willing to accept, and in what areas you won’t negotiate. Almost all contracts are negotiable, but not all sections of the contract are negotiable.
  • In answer to the question, “Why should I choose Carina Press or any other publisher over self-publishing?”, Angela smiled and said, “I don’t think all of you should.” She said some self-published authors have made it very clear that they hate to be edited. That’s one reason not to try to find a publisher – you’ll both end up miserable. Some people like the inherent control in self-publishing. Others like that a publishing house is doing more of the work (for more of the money) so that the author can spend more time doing what they presumably do best – writing. And she reminded us that there is still a lot to be said for a brand. Harlequin, Penguin, Random House (my list, not Angela’s) are still powerful brand names that people associate with quality books.

Angela’s talk gave me a lot to think about. I agree that there are more benefits to being published by a publishing house than self-publishing and doing all the work yourself. But I agree with people like Kristine Kathryn Rusch and J.A. Konrath who believe that there are better ways to pay for the services than to pay a large percentage over the life of the contract (which can be forever, depending on what you sign).

THE COST OF SELF-PUBLISHING
Self-publishing is expensive. I firmly believe an editor will help you write a better book. How many times have you heard an author say that their editor pushed them to make changes the author wouldn’t have made on their own, changes that made the book better? But many (most?) self-published authors don’t spend the money on quality editing. (I’m talking about both content/structural editing and copy editing.)

I expect to have to pay hundreds of dollars per book for the right content editor, and additional fees for a copy editor. I’m going to start paying someone to format my books as soon as I have some extra money to do so. Meanwhile, I have to accept the opportunity cost of doing the copy editing and the digital and print formatting myself: for every hour I am not writing, I am potentially losing money. And there are many more expenses that I have to pay for out of pocket as well.

It’s a difficult path I’ve chosen. I’d add one more reason to Angela’s list on why you should choose self-publishing over licensing your work to a publishing house: because you really get a kick out of creating your little business yourself!  🙂  That’s how I feel. And I think I’ll continue on my path as long as I feel that way.

Final Push

Only a few more days left in November. Time to hit the word count hard…whether you’ve been writing madly during NaNoWriMo, or merely editing the same crazy 50 pages (+ scene chart + synopsis), like me.

Here’s my editing goal for the end of the month: to make more connections. Connections between the chapters and the characters.

My main character needs to think more about events that happened in earlier chapters and how those events affect what is presently going on and then what is going to happen (or what she thinks is going to happen) in the future. This is something that will help make my chapters less episodic. And, it will give the reader more time in my character’s head, which is still lacking.

My critiquer mentioned something brilliant, something about these reflective moments being like connective tissue between scenes and chapters. Ah! I get it. Now, to make it happen.

How Long Does it Take to Edit a Novel?

I have no idea since I have simply advanced to Round Two of my first 50 pages. This, after I can’t tell you how many drafts I worked over on my own.

Yes, you heard me. I’m only working on the first 50 pages.

I spent the entire weekend on my first chapter alone. My husband told me I was getting a little moody. Something about me staring angrily at my computer among other behaviors.

That particular moment was probably when I was thinking, “I can’t do this. You want MORE? More emotion? Show motivation? Go deeper? How can I do all that without slipping into the dreaded “telling” and breaking the no-backstory-in-the-first-x-number-of-pages rule?”

But then, I GOT IT!

I got how I need to change my POV style to go deeper. Still using 3rd person, but allowing the voice of my character to come out. I also rounded out some plot points and some underlying motivation and I broke that little backstory rule so I could get the motivation across better.

Part of my editing process has been letting go of what I first thought the story and characters were about and embracing what they are becoming.

And my first chapter is so much better. So much smoother. Makes so much more sense.

But if I have to do this for every stinkin’ chapter I will never get finished this book.

That’s not true, because I have writing routines! I know I just have to keep applying what I’ve learned and move forward.

Put the time in.

Day after day and the next thing I know, I’ll be on my last 50 pages.

Five Word tricks for Writers

F

or most of my brainstorming, outlining, plotting, dreaming, etc I like the old-fashioned feel of pen and paper. I don’t get real fancy when it comes to the computer—just Microsoft Word for drafting and editing. I might not be very high-tech with my writing, but I do know a few helpful tricks:

 

1.      Flagging. Whether I’m writing the first or the fifth draft, I use triple question marks like these: ??? to flag areas that I need to take another look at. For example:   ???insert more characterization here; or ???research 1930s music. Then all I have to do to find all my notes is do a CTRL-F for Find and type in double question marks (just in case I did ?? instead of ???). Little trick I picked up when working for a publisher. It’s a fast way to find all your notes.

 

2.      Highlighting. Here’s a little trick I picked up from Margie Lawson’s EDITS system. I took her Empowering Character Emotions class last month. She teaches you how to use highlighters—physically on printed paper, but in a pinch you can use the computer highlighting—to isolate certain aspects of your writing. For example: you can highlight all your dialogue in one color, and your character’s internal thoughts in another color. It’s a colorful way to see what you have and have not included in your WIP. I highly recommend Margie’s classes to learn this system.

 

3.      Coloring text. This tip I just learned from a kind judge in The Sandy Writing Contest. (I made the finals and have just a few days left to take their advice and polish my first 20 pages to an even greater shine before it is off to the final round of judging. Just thought I’d slip that in here!) Back to the kind judge: She changed the text color of all instances of the word “was” and all my exclamation marks: ! Apparently I use these two objects frequently. So, I thought, wow, she did a lot of work here….hmmm….I wonder…Yes!  Ctrl-F to bring up the Find box. Click on the Replace tab. Then, click on the More button. Then click on the Format button. Now you can access Font color (and underline, and colored underline, and so much more.) WAS I ever glad to find this!

 

4.      25 line manuscript. What do you do if you enter a contest like the Sandy and you have to have your WIP formatted with exactly 25 lines? Don’t panic because this is another easy one. I snagged this sanity-saving tip from Jen Crooks at the OCC RWA blog (Friday, April 20, you’ll have to scroll way down). Basically, all you have to do is go to Format/Paragraph. Set Line Spacing to Exactly. Then in the AT box put 25. And, if you have not already done so, deselect Widow/orphan control on the tab labeled Line and Page Breaks.

 

5.      Inserting Drop Caps. Whenever I don’t have a picture for our blog I fancy things up with a Drop Cap (see above…though if you are reading this by RSS it might not show up). Just highlight the first letter, go to the Format menu and select Drop Cap. Also, back in the day when I was focused on writing magazine articles I used the drop cap on my query letters.

Back Away From Your Computer!

The more we blog about our routines, the more Stephanie and Shonna and I realize how different we are! I am sooo not like Stephanie!  LOL!  Yes, sometimes I get caught up in the 80 directions a story could go if I let my imagination run wild. But I’m too much of a control freak and have too great a need for accomplishment and closure to let a story go on too long. When we’re talking, I sometimes want to approach Stephanie like a wild deer, quietly, hand extended, whispering, “Just back away from your computer, Stephanie.” Read her blog from Monday to understand why!  🙂

I only do two or three drafts of a story if I started out with an outline and didn’t confuse myself out of the gate. (Note to self: Do not let the NaNoWriMo free spirits talk you out of doing an outline beforehand. Remember the catastrophe of 2007!) The first draft is more or less what I had in mind, per my outline, with occasional bursts of “Oh! This will be great!

In the second draft, I go through Draft 1 and write a sticky note for every scene with a single sentence for each. I put these in order on a laminated sheet I created in Lauraine Snelling’s Advanced Fiction Intensive Week. (It’s butcher paper with squares drawn on it the size of my preferred size of sticky notes. Along the top are the steps of the Hero’s Journey. It’s basically a huge sheet of laminated hand-made graph paper.)

I use a different color of sticky note for each major character’s POV, and one more color to be used for all minor characters’ POV. (This is assuming a single title novel. In the category romance I’m writing now, it only has the heroine’s and hero’s POVs.) I write the current chapter number and/or page number on the corner of the sticky note so I can find that scene easily in the final document of the first draft.

(I save my work every day as a new file just in case something happens that I wish I could undo. So my first draft file that I work on today would be named “1D 0128.doc”. I know it’s part of the first draft, and I know when I worked on it in case I think – oh man, I deleted that whole section around the end of January and now I want it back! If I worked on the second draft of a book today, I’d name it “2D 0128.doc”. Using numbers instead of letters keeps your files in chronological order. Sadly, a file named “August 15” will appear above “January 28”.)

Looking over the sticky notes in their current order, and with the color coding, I can tell at a glance if I’m over- or under-using a POV. But most importantly, I can see if the story beats are in the right order. I move the sticky notes around, adding new ones (in a new color to remind me it’s a “Add This Scene” note), and occasionally deleting scenes that aren’t working.

Then I open a new blank document and start copying and pasting the scenes from the original into their new order. Where the new scenes are to be added, I just write in all caps – ADD SCENE: [and the one sentence I wrote on the sticky note]. I used to cut and paste the scenes into the new correct order in the current document, but then I’d start losing scenes. As soon as you move the very first one, the page numbers you wrote in the corner of the sticky notes are no longer accurate. Much easier to copy into a new document.

After that, I go back and write in the new scenes, read it over to make sure it feels right, then check for areas where I can improve the dialogue, the setting, word choices, sensory choices, etc. One more read-through and – wait for it, Stephanie! – I’M DONE! Time to work on queries and proposals!  🙂

If this method sounds like something that can help you organize your editing, please use it! And let me know if you end up liking it.