Tag Archives: Rewriting

Favorite How-to-Write Books

Sometimes, the best solution to a story or writing problem is to sit back, read a how-to book, think and then write. No one book has a solution for every problem and for that reason, I have several in my library. I find most books on writing more useful AFTER the story is written. Once you’ve read applied some of the techniques and lessons in these books to either an outline or a revision, your skill as a writer grows and subsequent first drafts become richer and better written.

My five go-to books are:

RandThe 10% Solution: Self Editing for the Modern Writer by Ken Rand
Are you saying what you intended to and are you using the best word choices? Use the ACBs of editing – accuracy, clarity and brevity. Rand lists the syllables (such as -ly) and words which may signal a writing problem. This systematic approach is good for line edits because it allows you to see the words without getting involved in the story.

21stWriting 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Story Telling by Donald Maass
This book is great for both brainstorming and examining the first draft’s effectiveness. The chapters provide a good foundation for all the questions Maass suggests writers should consider when writing about a character or scene or the plot. I must admit that it would be too much for me to apply all the questions to an entire novel, but addressing even one or two of them, I have found can enrich a scene or the story immensely.

DummiesWriting Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy
From fiction writing basics, to what makes a great story, to creating compelling setting and characters, story structure, theme and getting published, this book is a great how-to for beginners and a good reference for everyone.

 

The Fiction Writer: Get Published, Write Now! By Nina MunteanuNina
Take every workshop you’ve attended, develop cheat sheets for quick reference, and you’ve got The Fiction Writer. This book focus on the writing side of getting published with tips on everything from world building, to the hero’s journey, plotting, writing query letters and synopses to the zen of passionate writing.

BellRevision and Self-Editing for Publication: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft into a Novel that Sells by James Scott Bell
Written in two parts, Self-Editing, and Revision, this book is a compendium of the items that are non-negotiable in writing a novel. It’s written concisely and filled with great examples. The chapter “The Ultimate Revision Checklist” has great points to strengthen beginnings, middles and endings along with scenes, setting, theme and how to polish your manuscript.

Other books recommended by my critique group (thanks everyone!):

FarlandWriting Million Dollar Outlines by David Farland
This book is part of David Farland’s Million Dollar Writing Series. Learn how to analyze an audience and outline a novel so that it can appeal to a wide readership and become a bestseller.

ThesaurusThe Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
Designed to enrich your ability to express emotions on the page, this thesaurus tackles 75 common emotions by defining them, listing physical signals, internal sensations experienced, mental responses and cues for suppressed or long term encounters with the emotion.

McKee 2Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee
It may have been written for screen writers but the elements of story, the principles of story design and the elements of craft used to tell a good story are universal. It explains the principles that shape the art of storytelling and the realities, not the mysteries of writing.

KingOn Writing by Stephen King
Entertaining and empowering, Stephen King not only teaches about writing, but provides a practical view of the craft and a writer’s life.

 

Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence BlockBlock
A fun approach to writing and the writing life chapters include: Washing Garbage (revision), Creative Procrastination, and Creative Plagiarism.

 

Damn good novelHow to Write a Damn Good Novel: A Step-by-Step No Nonsense Guide to Dramatic Storytelling, Parts I and II by James N. Frey
Filled with down to earth basics, principles, and suggestions, this book helps writers recognize, analyze and correct problems in their work.

The Anatomy of a Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by TrubyJohn Truby
A story consultant for the film industry, Truby challenges writers to dig deep within and explore their own values and world views. From making an audience care to making characters grow in meaningful ways writers will learn how to move an audience.

BulliesBullies, Bastards and Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys in Fiction by Jessica Page Monell
The title says it all! From moral codes and personality traits, every character needs a specific level of integrity, decency and honesty filled with complicated yet believable motivations.

CardHow to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card
A long standing favorite, the MICE quotient – milieu, idea, character and event- will help you structure a successful story. And if it’s science fiction or fantasy you’re writing, you’ll learn enough about the genre to ensure your stories are publishable.

This list is by no means comprehensive, so please share your favorites with us. Which books do you recommend?

Not Another Edit!

EditsMost non-writers, and many new writers, have no idea that finishing that manuscript and typing END is anything but the end. I know when I started writing, I couldn’t see beyond reaching that final scene. Of course, that first novel was a 300,000 word monstrosity that took me over two years to complete, but the principle is universal.

The first draft is not the final draft.

That truth is even more daunting when we consider how few wannabe writers actually reach the end of their first draft. Of those who do, many lack the determination to see the project to its full completion.

It’s easy to assume the tragic artiste pose and proclaim in an awful imitation of an accent from some European country, “This is my Art and the muse must be honored. The words were given to me like this for a reason.”

Not if you want to sell it and actually have someone read it.

This becomes the dividing line between those who like dabbling in writing as an enjoyable hobby and those who are serious about becoming a Writer as a career.

Some first drafts are pretty good, but pretty good isn’t enough. Every successful author I know recognizes they will need to make several editing passes through each novel before it’s ready. One of the reasons we’re encouraged to write what we love is because if we don’t LOVE our stories enough to work through them at least half a dozen times, we’re going to HATE them before the process is complete.

Many new authors don’t understand this and unfortunately in today’s ebook world, it’s all too easy to complete that first draft and throw the book right up on Amazon.

I for one have read some of those stories. After wading through the piles of novels that make me cringe when I look at the cover or read the first page, I’ve selected one that looked like it had real promise. Many times those ebooks turn out to be pretty decent, maybe have a great concept and tons of potential, but where the author wasn’t patient enough to really finish the work.

I find it tragic when I complete an ebook like that. When I think, “You know, that could have been a really good book. But it was only about 90% finished and needed more polishing.”

What a waste.

Not only of my time, but of the author’s time. They worked so hard bringing that novel to life, only to not put in the effort to get it that last 10%. It’s like Frankenstein stitching together the perfect monster only to not bother raising it up on the platform during the lightning storm. That last 10% is what infuses the story with it’s real life.

That’s one of my fears: that my novels won’t be ready.

I cringe when I think back to my first monstrous novel. With how little I knew about the industry, about editing, I was convinced it was a great work and totally ready to go. Had the ebook revolution already been underway, I probably would have self-published it.

I would have destroyed that story.

I’m glad I didn’t have that option and that the dozens of rejection letters finally clued me in that there was something missing. I’ve since thrown that novel away and rebuilt it from the ground up. The resulting story is ten times better and is one of the eight books I’m preparing for publication in my upcoming “Eight Books in Eight Months” publishing blitz.

Before I pull the trigger on those novels though, I’ve dedicated the time to rewrites, I’ve gathered honest feedback from beta readers, and I’ve worked with professional editors (including Joshua Essoe and Evan Braun) to make sure they’re really ready.

Even so, I still have to wonder, are they really?

This time I feel a lot more justified in saying, “Yes.”

The Patience of Writing an Onion

Writing a good onion, I mean story, takes time and I don’t just mean the time to think and type the first draft. Becoming and being a writer is an evolution, a process, and we need to be patient with ourselves as we learn the craft and apply it. But what does being patient mean and how can we apply it in a meaningful way? Here are three areas where I’ve learned to apply patience:

Creating the story
One day, I heard one writer critique a story. “Sheila is a patient writer,” he said. I was dumbfounded. What did he mean? I read Sheila’s piece and then looked more carefully at the author’s I liked. Slowly, I figure it out and my writing improved immensely.

Patience in your writing means taking your time to explain things where and when they need to be explained. For example, a story which starts with a lot of back story tells of an impatient writer. Knowing when to sprinkle in the details and saving some of them for later takes patience. It also means taking the time to explain things clearly when the opportunity presents. That can be with setting, character description, with action or dialogue. If you are clearly grounded, then the reader will be as well. Take time developing that scene. Show the situation, the feelings, and focus on the important points and explain them as clearly as needed. Don’t rush it unless there’s a good reason for doing so. If you over-write, you can edit it down later. If you are patient with characters you will make them memorable. If you are patient with your story, you will ground your readers and hold their interest.

Learning new skills
You can’t learn everything from a book, a workshop, a conference or a course. The secret, I’ve learned, is to take one thing that stuck with you and apply it to your story, scene or character. That one thing is usually an aha! moment and because of that it means you’ve become aware of something you never realized before. It’s another layer in writing the perfect onion. Apply that new understanding to your work and suddenly it’s transformed in ways you couldn’t have imagined. The truth is that how-to books are long and cumbersome and workshops are intensive because they try to cover enough points so that everyone will get something from it. So, take one thing and apply it.

Deciding which hat not to wear
The first draft can never be perfect – you’ve heard this before but what does it really mean? If you strive for a perfect first draft, your story will never be written and it’s an impossible feat. It’s impossible to wear both the creative hat and the editor’s hats. Yes, plural hat for the editors.

There are three editorial hats: conceptual where the larger elements of the story such as plot and structure are examined; line by line where every sentence and word are examined for clarity, word choice and content; and copy editing for grammar, spelling and punctuation. Then there’s the creative hat. Wearing four hats? Suddenly that sounds silly, doesn’t it?

Your first draft can be augmented by some planning (outlining) and your current writing skills. As you’ll write, you’ll learn more up skills along the way which makes new works cleaner and more cohesive. But that first draft will never be a perfect finished work. Every successful writer knows that. Don’t believe me? Check out their acknowledgements pages. First readers, proof readers, editors – they’re all thanked because they’re all there for a reason. Creativity needs its own hat to weave unexpected twists and unfetter your imagination. The weight of four hats will give you a headache and ultimately, writer’s block. So be patient. Wear your creative hat and come up with an exciting, moving story. The wear each editorial hat in turn. As you wear each one, that’s a good time to apply new skills or insights about the craft. A trick is to have cheat sheets with points or questions for each of the editors.

Patience can best be described as creating an onion rather than peeling it back. Layer upon layer must be built before the story is completed to our satisfaction. So perhaps the hat analogy doesn’t really work. The creative and editing processes are about layering the story to add density to the concept, the plot, to character, to our voice and mastery of the craft. An onion grows from a small seed and layer by layer with watering and patience, it forms a solid bulb and so too grows a story.

The Power of Repetition

KnightOfFlameA guest post by Scott Eder.

I’m always looking for ways to take my writing to the next level. Classes, books, podcasts, conversations… the list goes on. As a perpetual student, I’m learning and practicing every single day. But some lessons are tougher than others and require multiple strikes of the hammer to drive a single point home. In my case, the single point I struggled with was grabbing the reader right out of the gate. It’s a simple concept, really. A story needs to grab the reader’s interest as soon as possible, and refuse to let him go. Compelling characters, barbed hooks, unique conflicts, scintillating writing, and a crisp, unique voice combine to clamp onto the reader’s imagination, tightening his interest with each turn of the page.

Easy, right? You’d think so, but it took listening to a panel of agents and editors at DragonCon for the meaning to really sink in.

When I first started writing, I thought I had time, story time that is. I opened at a soft, descriptive pace that gently introduced the reader to my setting and characters. After that, I stirred in the conflict, ratcheting up the stress and intensity, until eventually achieving resolution. I thought this approach meshed with the fantasy genre. I needed time for world building, and to introduce the uniqueness of my characters, right? So why didn’t I get any interest from the agents and editors I queried? The form rejection letters didn’t help, didn’t tell me what I needed to fix.

I realized that I was missing some critical piece to the story-telling puzzle, and made the decision to seek professional help. (Hehe. I felt a little crazy at this point.) After taking several classes where the instructors helped me understand that I needed to get to the conflict sooner, that I needed to hook the reader up front, I thought I had it. Instead of getting to the action within the first few chapters, I streamlined my writing, introduced setting, characters and conflict in a more compelling way by the end of chapter one.

Woohoo! With my newfound skills, I’d break into the biz in no time. My stories rocked. Or so I thought. But the growing collection of form rejections told a different story. If one of those editors or agents would take a minute and give me something, a hint, a bit of advice, anything to clue me in as to what was missing, I’d have a chance to fix it. Nope. Just a thanks for playing, and have a nice day.

Crap. Now what?

One of the things David Farland mentioned in his class was that you could meet editors and agents at certain conventions. I checked the Interwebs and found DragonCon. I’d heard about this fabled event, but never attended. Once I found several editors and agents on the guest list, I booked my travel plans.

DragonCon has an excellent writer’s track. Panels conducted by authors, publishers, agents, and editors, with topics ranging from writing basics to more advanced publishing concerns, run all day, every day. One of the most heavily attended is the combined editors and agents panel. I got there early, but by the time it started, it was standing room only. It turned out to be more of a question and answer session, than a formalized presentation, which was fine, because I had a lot of the same questions other aspiring writers in the throng dared to ask. And then it happened. The crowd disappeared, the lights dimmed, and the panelists turned to face me, metaphorically anyway. Their comments hit me hard.

One agent said, “Look, you need to draw me in right away. Like on the first page. With all the submissions I get, I don’t have time to read pages and pages, waiting for something interesting to happen.”

An editor chimed in. “Yeah. I’m rooting for you, but unless you hook me within the first page or two with something, and it doesn’t have to be your primary conflict, but something to make me keep reading, you’re done.”

“Hell, you need to grab me in the first paragraph or two,” said the agent at the far end of the table. “I’ll give you a little more time if you have a nifty voice, but not much.”

I blinked a few times as the import of their words sunk in. The first page or two? Hmm…The chatter continued, but I zoned out, churning over how make my first few pages addictive. I wanted the reader turning the pages of my book as if he’d just popped the top on a fresh can of Pringles.

After several iterations, and an enthusiastic thumbs-up from my critique group, I sent it back out. This time, it sold!

And all it took were several books, a few teachers, and one panel at a convention to make it stick. Never stop learning. Make it a part of your writing process to seek out new techniques and information. You never know which one will make the difference between rejection and acceptance.

Guest Writer Bio:
Scott EderSince he was a kid, Scott wanted to be an author.

Through the years, fantastic tales of nobility and strife, honor and chaos dominated his thoughts. After twenty years mired in the corporate machine, he broke free to bring those stories to life.

Scott lives with his wife and two children on the west coast of Florida.

Check out Knight of Flame on Scott’s Website: www.scotteder.net