Saturday, December 15, 2012

Let's Talk Research

Research can be a writer's greatest tool, but can also be the harshest monster to tame. I've seen lots of authors make mistakes with research. Some writers research too much and pile facts into their manuscript in awkward info dumps. Some writers don't research enough and make crucial mistakes in credibility. Some writers do both. Here are some tips to help you avoid these traps. 

Collecting Research

1. Do not rely solely on the Internet. This might come as a shock to you, but not everything you read on the Internet is true. Yes, it's a fabulous source and allows you to have information at your fingertips but any idiot with a keyboard and Internet access can type information into various websites that then becomes part of the digital "public record," with no verification necessary. 

2. Go to the library. Ask the staff at the Reference Desk for help. They can direct you to books, periodicals, digital material, etc. that will help you find the facts. Intimidated? Start in the children's department! You can find a lot of information, written in very basic language and often with illustrations. The simpler you keep your research, the less likely you will be to overload your reader when you insert the info into your story.

3. Do not "cut and paste." Avoid the possibility of plagiarism. Write notes in ink, in your own private form of shorthand, in a notebook or steno pad. 

4. Locate an expert. Over the years, I've contacted vineyard owners, winter sports rehab experts, 911 operators, private pilots, chocolate experts, doctors and nurses, glassblowers, ghosthunters, car mechanics, time management specialists, Jane Austen experts, costumers, and dozens of other people who have knowledge I need for a story I've written. I have never had anyone tell me, "Buzz off, I don't want to talk to you." Most people are flattered and excited to share their knowledge with you. It's almost like a brush with celebrity. You can find experts by using online search engines, contact info from books, local colleges, craft fairs, and programs offered by your school or library. 

5. Remember the Rule of Three. Use at least three different styles of research (i.e. website, book, expert). When using books and/or the Internet, verify info through at least three different sources.

Inserting Research Into Your Story

1. Only include the information that is pertinent to your scene. The biggest mistake most writers make is putting in too much data. Just because your hero works for the CIA doesn't mean we need to know the CIA was founded in 1947. You only need to know this info if you planned to have your CIA agent start working for the organization in 1879. If your agent is employed after 1947, you're good, and the reader doesn't need to know at all.

2. Avoid the "As you know, Bob..." scenario. Writers often rely on dialogue between characters to provide backstory and information to the reader. It's a great tool. I use it a lot. But you have to dance a fine line. Your characters cannot discuss something they both know as fact as if one of them doesn't. This is called "As you know, Bob..." because the dialogue will go something like this: "Since Jake is having a heart attack, we should give him an aspirin. As you know, Bob, aspirin is a reliable way to slow down the formation of platelets, which create blood clots, and a blood clot could be causing Jake's heart attack..." Does anyone really say this while their friend is having a heart attack? Of course not! What will they say? Probably something like, "Call 911! Does anyone have aspirin?" That's it. That's all you need (which correlates with Rule #1 in this segment.)

3. RUE: Resist the Urge to Explain. Tease your reader. Drop in subtle hints without going into gobs of detail. If you’re unsure if you need particular information in a scene, try reading the scene without the passages detailing that information. Did you lose anything in the translation? Was the scene hindered in any way by its absence? If the answer to these two questions is “no,” take the information out. Save it for another time, if you need to use it at all. 

This is where a reliable editor is crucial. (S)he should pick up and question those areas you might have overlooked, or let you know when you’re banging info into your reader’s head.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Are You Ready to be a Writer?

Last month, I asked if you were ready for an editor. But this past week, I've had cause to wonder exactly who out there is publishing. There's more to writing than having a great story idea--particularly if you plan to self-publish. So now I feel the need to ask: Are you ready to be a writer?

Over the last several days, I've witnessed conversations among (self) published authors who didn't know proper punctuation, the difference between a noun and an adjective, or the necessity of chapters in a full-length novel. One author (whose book I purchased) spent a weekend announcing her book for sale, then had to tell everyone who acquired a copy to contact her to download a corrected copy after she began receiving complaints from customers regarding the proliferation of errors. She claimed she "uploaded the wrong version." Guess what? I didn't contact her. I'll read the version of her book that I bought and review it based on that same edition. Sound harsh to you? Maybe. But we're not talking about changing a cover or finding that the last chapter was missing. We're talking about laziness, carelessness, and ignorance.

Now, I understand that not everyone knows everything, and the occasional misplaced comma happens to us all. But if you plan to put your work out there for public scrutiny, either learn most of the basics or hire a mighty fine (and probably expensive) editor. Don't go it alone. And for God's sake, review your files before you make them available to the public! All the self-publishing platforms allow you a chance to re-read the work you've uploaded before you hit "Publish." On KDP, you get the opportunity to read it exactly as it appears on various versions of Kindle, CreateSpace will send you an actual print version (for a fee) or allow you to read the printed version online (for free) and Smashwords lets you download a pdf. So if an author tells you (s)he "uploaded the wrong version," (s)he either, (a.) didn't review the work before hitting that all important "Publish" button, or (b.) didn't know any better and didn't pay for an editor. Either way, you, the reader, suffers.

Maybe I'm pulling down the curtain, revealing the magician's secrets, but I'm not just an author, I'm a consumer. And I resent plunking down my hard-earned cash on a shoddy product. I may not always like a story for its plotline or its characters, but that's personal taste. I shouldn't dislike a product because it's poorly edited, poorly researched, or poorly written. That's like buying a new car and discovering that the engine inside only has enough working parts to take you a mile from the dealership.

There will always be crooks and get-rich-quick schemers and publishing has its share of sharks on both sides of the business. But if you're a true writer, you will learn your craft and do everything you can to provide the public with a quality product.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Add Some Color to Your Writing!

So the same old reds and greens are giving you the blues. You want to make your settings more vibrant, but you just don’t know where to start. Wake up, and open your eyes.

Color is everywhere, and it’s the easiest way to add a little pizzazz to an otherwise bland description. Choose the right word, and your reader will have an instant association. Think about it. If you wanted to write about a memorable sunset, would you rather use words like red and orange or scarlet and tangerine? Which gives you a more visual connection?

Tired of writing my own reds and greens and dying for more than just scarlets and tangerines to choose from, I sat down one day and compiled my very own roster of “colorful colors.” I began by writing the major colors into categories: neutral shades first then all the major colors on the spectrum in rainbow order (who said that junior high school science wouldn’t come in handy one day?).

Once my categories were established, it was time to devise the actual list. First, the two most obvious: food and gems. Everyone can picture the color of an avocado or an amethyst. I tossed in some flowers: rose and daffodil are two distinct examples. Added a few animals to the mix: cardinal and panther fit the bill.

Are you exhausted from the possibilities yet? I was only getting started. I thought to myself, why not try a box of crayons? I went right to the Crayola website and achieved amazing results. Next stop, the local home improvement store’s paint department. Those square paint chip samples offer a multitude of choices, like driftwood or moonlight.(There was even one called poopy diaper--but I passed on adding that to my list.) 

I see your eyes glazing over. Who has time for all that? Fear not, my droopy friend, for I have always been taught to share. Hence, I offer you, no strings attached, my list of “Colorful Colors” for your perusal. I hope they inspire you.

Remember, these are just a few of the thousands of possibilities. Some are descriptive of the larger color group, such as funereal black or rain slicker yellow, and others stand alone, such as ebony or banana. Still others, like neon and bisque, can be used with more than one shade on the color wheel. Get imaginative and string two or more together as in, “The wallpaper was a hideous shade of green somewhere between moss and lime.”

Whether you use one or all of them, let these words be a guide for you--a jumping off spot, if you will. Certainly, there are many more. All you have to do is look at the world around you.

Black: asphalt, brimstone, burnt toast, carbon, coal, crow, earth, ebony, espresso, funereal, graphite, ink, jet, Jolly Roger, licorice, mascara, night, obsidian, onyx, panther, pepper, pitch, priestly, raven, soot, tar, tea, tuxedo, witch’s hat, zinc

White: alabaster, arctic, atrium, birch, bleached, bridal, cameo, cauliflower, chalk, cloud, cotton, cream cheese, diamond, dove, fluorescent, frost, gardenia, ghost, halogen, ice, lace, lightning, lily, milk, onion, opal, paper, peppermint, piña colada, polar, quartz, rice, snow, sodium, sugar, swan, titanium, vanilla, waterfall, whitewash

Beige/Off-white: almond, antique, bisque, bone, buff, champagne, cream, ecru, eggshell, ivory, jute, khaki, linen, mother of pearl, muslin, natural, oatmeal, opal, papyrus, parchment, pearl, percale, putty, seashell

Brown: Amaretto, apple butter, ash, bark, beaver, bronze, brunette, butterscotch, café au lait, camel, caramel, chestnut, chocolate, cinnamon, cocoa, coffee, cognac, cola, copper, cordovan, dirt, earth, fawn, feldspar, ginger, hamster, honey, leather, mahogany, maple, moccasin, mousy, mushroom, nutmeg, oak, peanut butter, pumpernickel, raisin, roan, saddle, sandy, scorched earth, sepia, sparrow, spice, syrup, tan, taupe, tawny, timber, toast, tumbleweed, umber, wheat, wicker, wren

Gray: ash, battleship, charcoal, dove, driftwood, dun, metallic, nickel, pewter, pigeon, putty, salt and pepper, shadow, slate, smoke, steely, storm clouds, timberwolf

Silver: aluminum, armor, foil, glass, mercury, mirror, platinum, steel, sterling, tinsel, titanium

Red: adobe, apple, auburn, beet, blister, blood, Bordeaux, brick, burgundy, candy apple, candy cane, cardinal, cherry, chili pepper, claret, cooked lobster, cordovan, cranberry, crimson, currant, dragonlady, fire, fire engine, garnet, hooker, Irish Setter, ketchup, licorice, loganberry, marinara, maroon, matchstick, mulberry, pomegranate, puce, putana, raspberry, rose, ruby, ruddy, rust, scarlet, stop sign, sunburn, sunset, tomato, valentine, vermilion, wine

Orange: apricot, burnt, cantaloupe, carrot, cheddar, cheese puffs, coral, lifevest, Mandarin, mango, marigold, marmalade, melon, neon, peach, pennant, persimmon, pumpkin, russet, sherbet, sienna, sunrise, sweet potato, tangerine, terracotta, tigerlily, traffic cone
Yellow: amber, banana, blond, brass, butter, canary, caution, citrine, citrus, corn, cornsilk, custard, daffodil, dandelion, egg yolk, flaxen, gold, goldenrod, highlighter, honeysuckle, lemon, maize, moonlight, mustard, pear, pineapple, rain slicker, saffron, school bus, straw, sun, sunflower, sunny, tiger’s eye, topaz

Green: algae, allium, aloe, apple, Army, artichoke, asparagus, avocado, cabbage, celery, chartreuse, chive, dishsoap, dragon, emerald, fern, fir, forest, grass, hazel, honeydew, hunter, Ireland, jade, kelly, khaki, kiwi, leaf, lime, lizard, mallard, meadow, mint, mistletoe, moldy, monster, moss, neon, Nile, olive, pea, pear, peridot, pickle, pine, pistachio, reptilian, scallion, sea, seafoam, seaweed, serpent, shamrock, spearmint, spring, teal, wintergreen

Blue: anil, aqua, aquamarine, azure, baby, bay, blueberry, cadet, Caribbean, cerulean, China, cobalt, cornflower, crystal, cyan, denim, electric, hydrangea, ice, indigo, iolite, lagoon, lapis, Mediterranean, midnight, Navy, ocean, Pacific, peacock, periwinkle, powder, robin’s egg, royal, sapphire, sky, stonewashed, turquoise, Wedgwood, wisteria

Purple: amethyst, Bermuda onion, eggplant, elderberry, grape, indigo, iolite, iris, lavender, lilac, magenta, orchid, plum, puce, royal, tanzanite, violet

Pink: ballerina, bismuth (aka Pepto-Bismol), bisque, blush, bubble gum, carnation, cerise, cotton candy, flamingo, fuchsia, hibiscus, mauve, peony, powder puff, primrose, raspberry, rose, rosé, salmon, shell, shrimp, slipper, strawberry, thistle, tourmaline, watermelon, white zinfandel

Colorless: crystal, glassy, onionskin, translucent, transparent, quartz, water

Multi-colored: prismatic, rainbow, tie-dyed

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Are You READY For an Editor?

In the last two weeks, I've had to turn down three clients.


They weren't ready.

Nobody's perfect, and one or two issues are expected in any manuscript submitted for edits. But if simple problems like improper punctuation, hundreds of instances of smiles and looks (She looked at him, he smiled at her...) rather than true body language signals, no indication of setting or time, too many dialogue tags or incorrectly placed dialogue tags, starting the story in the wrong place, and other rookie errors litter your manuscript, you'll easily be pegged as a newbie writer with a rough first attempt.

Sure, I could shove my conscience into a dark closet, take their money, fix their typos and punctuation errors and send them into the self-pub world without properly preparing them. After all, who am I to judge them?

Who am I? Well, I'm not just an editor. I'm an author. And I'm a reader. And if I allow a writer to release a shoddy product with my blessing, I'm basically peeing in my own pool. I'd rather not. I take great pride in my profession and in helping other authors achieve publication status. But I'm not about to tarnish someone else's dream to line my pocket with a little cash.

So...are you really ready for an editor? Answer the following ten questions honestly:

1. Do I have a complete story?
2. Do I understand and utilize the concepts of GMC, POV, and Show vs. Tell?
3. If my story is more than fifty pages long, does it include chapter breaks?
4. Have I used punctuation properly to the best of my knowledge?
5. Is this work entirely my own with no issues where I've cut and pasted info?
6. Am I confident in my research?
7. Has a beta reader or critique partner reviewed this work?
8. Do I use a good balance of description to convey mood and tone?
9. Have I properly formatted the manuscript according to the editor's requirements?
10. Can I handle criticism and make educated decisions regarding changes my editor will recommend?

If you can't answer, "Yes" to all ten of these questions, you're not ready, either.

I apologize if this bursts your dream, but your editor is not your ghostwriter. The emergence of self-publishing has opened doors to writers who might never have seen their work published otherwise. But that doesn't mean you don't have to learn your craft before you publish. A concert violinist doesn't just pick up an instrument, pluck the strings, and become first chair at the Met. Athletes don't just decide to play one day and sign a multi-million dollar contract with a professional team the next. Practice and education are crucial! You need to know the ins and outs of writing, grasp and utilize the concepts of good storytelling, and most of all, you have to work hard at it. 

Join writing organizations, find critique partners, read. Don't just read for pleasure. Read to learn. Notice the way an author manipulates his characters to evoke emotion in you. Absorb the way the story unfolds naturally, smoothly, with you going along for the ride. Even if it's just to figure out how to end a sentence, pick up any newspaper, magazine or storybook and take a look at the sentence structure and punctuation.

By the way, if you can answer, "Yes" to all ten questions and you're looking for an editor, let's talk.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Ask the Editor: Do I Need a Critique Group?

Maggie A. sent me the following:
Hi Gina. Great blog! I've learned a lot here and printed out copies of stuff I can use later. I'm a newbie author, still working on my first novel, a historical romance that takes place in the time of Charlemagne. Some people have recommended I find a critique group to share my chapters with, but I recently heard a New York Times best-selling author say critique groups stagnate a writer's creativity by sticking to "the rules" too much. Do you agree with that statement? As an author, do you belong to a critique group? If yes, what are the benefits? If I wanted to look for a critique group, where would I start and what should I look for? What should I avoid?

Hi Maggie! Thanks for reading and for the great question. Currently, I have two critique partners and belong to one small critique group where I rely on the opinions and guidance of three very talented writers. I've actually run the gamut on critique groups over the years. Some have been extremely helpful, some have been nightmares.

Certainly, I believe you should have at least one critique partner--preferably someone who is at about the same level as you, writing-wise, but with different strengths. For example, if you're really good at plotting but your mechanics (grammar, punctuation) need major work, find a writer with excellent mechanical skills who has difficulty carrying an idea through to fruition. You'll both benefit from your relationship. Unfortunately, that's easier said than done. This is why a lot of writers join critique groups: the bigger the pool of writers, the easier it is to find someone with strengths that mirror your weaknesses. But that ease comes with a few costs.

For one thing, the more opinions you receive, the more you'll lose your voice by trying to please all those critiquers. Be strong enough to believe in yourself and what you're writing but not so rigid that you dismiss constructive advice. It will take a while for you to know when to go with your gut and when to heed someone else. So don't rush to make changes to your story every time someone disagrees with you. Let it simmer, mull it over, try different versions, but always keep the original intact somewhere.

A more important concern: the bigger the pool, the more varied the personalities. Large critique groups (more than seven members) often fall apart due to in-fighting. Writers are passionate people. We have to be passionate to put our emotions on the page. In large groups, however, this passion can spill over into ugly confrontations or worse, back-stabbing. Drama creates drama creates drama, etc. until there are vicious lines drawn that often affect the entire circle with devastating results. Many critique group members wind up leaving (or get thrown out) after a heated disagreement with group members or the group owner. So be careful who you trust.

This isn't meant to scare you off critique groups. Finding people you can rely on, whose opinion you value, is often a lot of hit-and-miss. Honestly, it depends upon the personality of the writer. You need nerves of steel, a strong backbone, and thick skin. But the rewards can be worth the war--if you find the right circle of writers to strengthen your skills and help launch you into the publishing world.

Good luck to you!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ask the Editor: Dialogue Tags

Melissa D sent me the following: I'm confused about how to use punctuation with dialogue. When should I use a comma and when should I end with a period? What's the difference between single quotes and double quotes? And if the character is asking a question, does the question mark go inside or outside the quotation marks?

Another great question, and a source of much frustration for me when I see it done wrong in published work! Thanks, Melissa.

In the U.S., we always use double quotation marks for dialogue. Single quotation marks are only used inside double quotation marks.

“I want to watch ‘Dancing With the Stars,’” Robbie shouted.
Punctuation goes inside the quotes.
“Too bad, Robbie,” Nicole replied. “‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ is on tonight.”

Clear as mud? Okay, let’s try another.

The witness hesitated.
“Don’t be embarrassed,” the attorney told her. “Simply repeat what the defendant said to you for the court record.”
After a long moment, the witness sighed and leaned forward to speak directly into the microphone. “He said, ‘I’ll kill you first!’” she whispered in a tone roughened with raw emotion.
“And how did you respond?”
“I asked him why.” Her voice, though softer than a child’s coo, carried volumes across the silent courtroom. “‘Why are you doing this to me?’ I’d never given him a reason to distrust me.”

If the the dialogue is a question, the question mark goes inside the quotes: "Why are you doing this to me?" or "Why are you doing this to me?" she asked.

Notice, too, that my dialogue tags are not capitalized—except in the last exchange. Why? Because the last exchange is not a dialogue tag. “Her voice…carried…” is an action. “He said,” “she cried,” “he exclaimed,” “she whispered,” “he asked,” etc. are all dialogue tags. “He rose from the table.” is an action. “She glanced up.” Action. “Mom hung up the phone.” Action. If “Mom exclaimed, and then hung up the phone,” it’s a dialogue tag. Dialogue tags complete the dialogue and are included as part of the dialogue. Even dialogue that ends with a question mark or exclamation point is part of the dialogue. Actions are separate thoughts and require a new sentence. If you took away the dialogue and the rest of the passage is still a complete sentence, requiring no further clarification, it's not a dialogue tag.

“Where are you going?” he asked.
“What do you care?” She slammed the door so hard the walls shook.
“What a witch!” he said to no one in particular.
“Jerk!” With one last scathing look at the house, Carrie stalked to the waiting cab.

Let's try to separate those four.
#1. He asked. (He asked what? Incomplete thought=dialogue tag.)
#2. She slammed the door so hard the walls shook. (Complete sentence.)
#3. He said to no one in particular. (He said what? Incomplete thought=dialogue tag.)
#4. With one last scathing look at the house, Carrie stalked to the waiting cab. (Complete sentence.)

Hope this helps! If not, feel free to email me at for additional clarification!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Show vs. Tell

I’ve heard it said that “Show, don’t tell” is one of the hardest concepts for new writers to grasp. Really? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not belittling anyone who says, “Heck, yeah!” But to me, if you’ve mastered POV, “showing” should become second nature.

I hear the naysayers among you saying, “Umm…hello? They’re two entirely different concepts.” And yeah, as concepts they are indeed separate. But once you’re accustomed to writing a deeper POV, “telling” falls away as an added benefit.

Let’s start by defining “show” and “tell.” “Telling” is exactly that. You, as the author, telling your reader the details, like listing facts: dry with no passion. “Showing” allows the details to unfold more slowly, as your character realizes them. For example:

TELLING:  Jake was afraid. If he went home and told his parents he’d lost his bike, they’d be furious. It wasn’t his fault. Ronnie had told him the bike would be perfectly fine on his front lawn.

SHOWING: Jake stared at his front door and willed his sneakered feet to move forward. Both Mom and Dad would be in the living room by now. They’d notice almost immediately that he hadn’t opened the garage door to put his bike away. Fear slinked up his throat, pounded harder than his pulse. On a harsh swallow for courage, he stepped onto the porch and practiced the speech he’d planned all the way home.
“I’m sorry. I know you told me I should always lock up my bike, but Ronnie said it would be okay on his lawn. And I was only inside his house for five minutes…” 

One of the first differences between these examples that you should notice (besides the length) is that in the SHOWING version, I’m in a much clearer POV. And oddly enough, I didn’t go overboard with adverbs or adjectives in either passage. Dozens of adjectives or adverbs do not change a “telling” paragraph to a “showing” paragraph. Because showing is about more than detailed description. It’s about putting your reader in your character’s shoes. 

Smart-alecks will tell you that you must use all five senses in every scene to avoid “telling.” I’ll tell you right now, that’s a lot of bull. The only time you’d be able to use all five senses without losing track of your story is in a love scene. Generally speaking, if you can inject any three of the five into your scene, you’re good to go. Too much detail will slow your pacing to a crawl and bore your reader to tears.

Details should enhance, intensify, or define, but never slow your reader down.

For example, if you’re enhancing your setting, let’s say the beach, your character will feel the hot sun, a light breeze, sweat on his/her skin. She’ll hear the soft whoosh of the waves kissing the shore, the raucous cries of gulls, the screeches of children, an assortment of music from staticky radios. The odors of coconut sunscreen, salt, maybe burgers on a grill will fill the air. Salt and sand can land on her tongue. And visually? As much or as little as you’d like her to see. Blue water, white sand, multi-colored bathing suits, beach balls, clear sky, towels, chairs, a fat guy in a Speedo…

To intensify a character’s mood, let’s say your character is nervous about an upcoming job interview. Sweat might trickle down the back of his neck, his heartbeat might speed up, his hands could tremble. Body odor might waft up from his armpits. His brain could be reciting his resume in his head. He’ll probably pace, or squirm in the waiting room. There might be a secretary or receptionist in the room. He’ll be filling out an application. Maybe make a mistake and consider which makes him look worse. Should he cross out the error or ask the receptionist for another blank application and start over?

Define a character who’s self-absorbed with things like that quick check in the mirror or shop window reflection, the hair fluff, the perfect manicure, designer labels. Her dialogue (Yes! Even dialogue can be used to show, not tell!) would revolve entirely around what’s going on in her life, what inconvenience she’s suffering, what she wants, needs, hates. She could trip over a homeless man in the street and tell him to lie on the sidewalk elsewhere. Maybe her dogs wear outfits that match hers. She’s probably rude to salesclerks and service people.

All these descriptions are POV actions that will show, rather than tell. In each example, with the list of things the character sees, smells, tastes, feels or hears, the setting comes to life so much that you don’t need to add, “Andrea sat at the beach.” or “Jerry waited outside the executive’s office for his interview.” or “Miranda was a spoiled witch used to getting her way.”

Now for the exceptions. There will be times when you want to tell rather than show.

To push time along, you might close one chapter as a group of people are heading into the dining room and open a new chapter with a sentence like, “After dinner, the couples dispersed to stroll the moonlit gardens.” Unless it’s crucial to the story, we don’t need to sit through dinner with our characters. So a quick summary grounds the reader and allows them to see the passage of time. Perfectly acceptable.

Backstory should be told (in very small doses) rather than shown (which is generally in flashback).

And the last place where you tell rather than show? Your synopsis! (A topic for another time.)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Colon or Semi-Colon?

I read a lot of self-published work. Punctuation is a major issue in works that have obviously not been vetted by a competent editor. Be honest. Do you know when to use a semi-colon and when to use a colon? Do you even know the difference? This is a colon : This is a semi-colon ;

Got it? Okay, let's move on. Colons are used to define time or a list.
5:30 p.m.
The menu offered three different sauces for pasta: alfredo, marinara, and bolognese.

Semi-colons are used like commas (note they have a comma in them!) to separate independent clauses or in the place of a comma when commas are already used to differentiate a group.

Ron packed up the bats; Charlie herded the kids into the station wagon.
Jeremy introduced me to his sister, Pam; her husband, Lou; and their son, Robin.

**Note that by using the semi-colon in the above sentence, I've clearly shown the reader that Pam is Jeremy's sister and Lou is Pam's husband. If I'd just used commas, I could have been discussing four people instead of two: Jeremy's sister, Pam, Pam's husband, and Lou. (And look! I used a colon to define the list. Dang, I'm good!)

Still confused? Don't sweat it. But before you hit "upload," make sure you've got a really good editor to clean up these pesky little issues!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Anachronisms or Flashback to Something that Never Happened

Did you know the word, “Hello” wasn’t part of the English language until after Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone? It’s true. Developed from the old sailor’s call “halloo” (or a derivative), the typical greeting we use today won out over Bell’s own preference to use when answering the phone: “Ahoy.” Imagine that. We might have answered our phones with “Ahoy” all these years. I just might want to try that for fun. (Yeah, I’m a geek. Wanna make something of it?)

Now imagine you’re writing an Elizabethan romance. Your heroine is wearing the corset, the Spanish farthingale, a kirtle, and a sarcenet overskirt complete with low, square neckline. Her sleeves are appropriately puffy and her ruff is in place around her neck. She enters the magnificent Hardwick Hall and spots the queen. “I’ll just pop over and say hello,” she tells her escort.

That quickly, you’ve lost the loyalty of your reader. I hear those grumbles—those of you thinking, Oh, come on! What are the odds my readers know that? In ReaderLand, pretty danged good! Never underestimate your reader’s intelligence. Now is not the time to do the Time Warp.

No doubt a smaller percentage of you are thinking, So what? That’s what an editor’s for. Nope.

Editors are not the folks you see in television shows and movies who take your work, fix all the typos, and book you on Oprah next week. They’re overworked, underpaid, and juggling far too many projects to focus on just you. Your editor is your advocate in the publishing world. (S)he’ll help you make your manuscript better, but the work, my friends, falls into your lap. (Or laptop, if you will.)

So be careful with those anachronisms! Just as you wouldn’t have George Washington commanding the troops in Trenton from the driver’s seat of a Corvette because it obviously didn’t happen that way, you have to watch your word choices and be sure sayings and colloquialisms were in use in the old days. How? How else? Look it up!

A terrific website for etymology (word origins) is the Online Etymology Dictionary. Bookmark it. There are lots of others, but this is my go-to-first site. And be sure to double-check any info you clarify online. **NOTE: I called this my “go-to-first” site, meaning I have others.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Creating Sympathetic Characters

No character, real or imagined, is all good or all bad. We each have our flaws, faults, and foibles, as well as our talents, virtues, and morals.

Think about bad guys in real life. How often are their neighbors surprised because the individuals seemed “so nice”? John Gotti used to host free block parties on the 4th of July. John Wayne Gacy dressed up as a clown and entertained sick children in hospitals. Charming, good looking, and educated, Ted Bundy volunteered on a suicide hotline. Dennis Rader was a spiritual leader in his church, a Cub Scout leader, and a burglar alarm installer. He was also the BTK killer who eluded Kansas police for more than thirty years before being arrested for the murder of ten people between 1974 and 1991.

Be sure to layer your hero, heroine, and antagonist with virtues and vices to make them realistic as well as memorable.

How? Here's a list of sympathetic traits you can add to your characters to bring dimension. Remember, whether good or bad, a great character is someone your reader wants to spend time with!

  1. Undeserved misfortune: Make everything go wrong in your character’s life. Have him/her play the role of underdog.
  2. Insecurity: Everyone is insecure about something (looks, money, power, talent, etc.)
  3. Empathy and self-sacrifice: Fighting for a just cause or for those who cannot fight for themselves.
  4. Courage under fire
  5. Loyalty
  6. Kindness to animals and children
  7. An endearing quirk
  8. Sense of humor
  9. Intelligence
  10.  Familial ties
  11.  Responsibility
  12.  Generosity
  13.  Strong ethics
  14.  Independence
  15.  Modesty, shyness
Not sure how to make your bad guy more sympathetic? Is your hero too arrogant to be likeable? Your editor should be able to help you balance the good with the bad. Contact Gina for Excellence in Editing!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Ask the Editor: How to Write Numbers

Suzanne C. asked: "What is the rule for using numbers in a fiction manuscript? Should I write them out or is it okay to use the integers?"

I hate to tell you this, Suzanne, but it depends on the number.

When adding numbers to your manuscript, always write out any number under a hundred, any non-specific number, or any number spoken in dialogue:

We met three years ago.”
"Adelaide was twenty-two.” 
"Tom hosted a party for their fiftieth anniversary.”
"Thousands of bees flew from the hive."


"She turned to page 387." 

Time with less than round minutes, telephone numbers, addresses and zip codes, dates, and years can use numerals.

"I woke around ten o’clock."
"Lisa got to work at 6:34 a.m."
"The battle took place on December 3, 1796."
"George parked in front of 11 Elm Street."

Hope this helps and thanks for the question!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dive Into Deep Point Of View!

Oftentimes, when dealing with critique partners or editors, you’ll hear the phrase, “deep Point Of View.” What is deep POV? It’s getting so deep into your characters’ shoes you not only experience their five senses, but their innermost thoughts as well. As if the author has become the character and isn’t just writing about him/her. Sounds complicated? It’s an acquired art, but totally do-able… with practice.

A few things to remember with POV, deep or otherwise.

  1. Avoid distance words such as, “She saw,” “He heard,” “she smelled,” “he felt,” etc. “She smelled smoke.” can easily become, “Smoke tickled her nostrils.” “He heard her approach.” works better as, “Her high heels clicked over the marble tiles.” And “She saw the birds fly overhead,” more clearly sets the scene when, “A flock of geese flew across the chambray sky.”

  1. If the POV character doesn’t know about it, you can’t tell the reader about it. This is probably one of the most glaring errors I’ve seen in contest entries and excerpts for editing. Lines such as, “Jenna didn’t notice when Sheila slipped the knife into her sleeve.” are impossible if you’re writing in Jenna’s POV. If we’re in Sheila’s POV, you could go deeper by saying something like, “While she kept her gaze locked on Jenna’s face to distract her, Sheila slipped the knife into her sleeve. Jenna never blinked. Good. She hadn’t noticed.”

  1. Use “anchors.” Remember balance? Well, sometimes the easy cheat is the best. Words like, “obviously,” “suggested,” “apparently,” and “seemed” can keep you firmly in one character’s head, but divulge information about a different character. “Louisa apparently didn’t get the joke. She frowned and shook her head slowly.” “The hair plastered around his head suggested Mark had been caught in the downpour.” “The dog seemed to sense his master’s presence and relaxed his stance.”

  1. Exceptions: Certain facial expressions and body movements can be told from either side of the POV coin. If Joe smiles, he knows he’s smiling. And Daphne can see him smile. Same with frowns, furrowed or arched brows, narrowed or rolled eyes, snorts, smirks, stiffened spines, fisted hands, and good old-fashioned foot-stomping. To save your sanity, put yourself in your character’s shoes. Stand up (or sit down, if that’s what your character’s doing), face the wall (or your dog, your desk, or any object except something that reflects), and act out whatever you’re writing. If you can feel yourself do it, you can write it in your character’s POV.  
In deep POV, you’re not only following the four rules outlined above, you’re using your POV character’s voice and thoughts to communicate the message, as if (s)he is talking directly to the reader,  without the fourth wall of words on a page.

For example, in standard POV, you might see the following paragraph:

Maggie lifted the hood on her rust-pitted ’67 Camaro and stifled a curse. She’d promised her nephew she’d stop using bad words, but a five-year-old couldn’t possibly understand the sheer frustration that could only be soothed by a loud expletive at the right time. The damn car was deader than her love life. Since the radio still played, her battery wasn’t the culprit this time. A bead of sweat rolled down from her hairline and, on a sigh, she brushed her arm across her forehead to wipe it away. The urge to swear overwhelmed her. Mumbling a quick apology to Steven, she shouted out, “Shiiiiitttt!”

Now, let’s rewrite this paragraph with a little deep POV:

Maggie lifted the hood on her rust-pitted ’67 Camaro and stifled a curse. She’d promised her nephew she’d stop using bad words, but a five-year-old couldn’t possibly understand the sheer frustration that could only be soothed by a loud expletive at the right time. The damn car was deader than her love life. The radio still played Let’s Groove by Earth, Wind & Fire.
Not likely. No grooving would commence tonight or any other night in the near future. Not with this extinct dinosaur as her main transportation. At least her battery wasn’t the culprit this time. Maybe the starter? The alternator? Who knew? Who cared? The upshot was still the same: Maggie was wheels-down in the middle of nowhere.
A bead of sweat rolled down from her hairline and, on a sigh, she brushed her arm across her forehead to wipe it away. Sorry, Steven, but sometimes a gal’s gotta let go. “Shiiiiittt!”

Notice how, particularly in the second-to-last sentence, Maggie is no longer just a one-dimensional figure in the story: she's become a live actor in the play going on around her, telling the reader exactly what's in her thoughts without the barrier of "she thought" or "She said a silent apology to her nephew." I didn't even acknowledge that "Steven" is actually Maggie's nephew, but the reader instantly infers it, simply by the way she mentions his name in that statement.

Deep POV can help you:

1.                  Reveal a character’s secret:
“I can’t believe we haven’t met before now.”
In mid-sip, Maggie nearly choked on her Coke. Yeah, right. Wouldn’t Jake be shocked if he knew she drove past his house every morning before work, in the hopes they might run into each other?

2.                  Reveal a character’s internal conflict:
The man had a pet cockatiel. Of course, he did. Because Maggie had been terrified of birds since that escapade at the petting zoo when she was six.

3.                  Reveal characteristics of a non-POV character:
This was the woman Jake called down-to-earth and uncomplicated? This perfectly-coiffed ice blonde with five-hundred dollar shoes and a bag to match? Was the man an idiot? Or did her 36DD boobs blind him to the truth? Because despite what Jake thought, Lucinda was a superficial, snotty, money-grubber. Maggie had seen her type a thousand times before.

Keep practicing. As you write your story, become your POV character and directly connect your thoughts to your reader. Imagine yourself sitting in a local Starbucks or restaurant with a friend across the table from you. You, as your character, are conveying what happened to you that day, last week, or when you jumped back to the 15th century. Then just write down what you would say, exactly as you would say it. Don't worry about using all five senses or noting the friend's reaction. Get the dialogue down first. You can always go back and layer in actions and reactions during edit/revision phase.

Need an editor to help you make your manuscript sparkle? Look no further than Excellence in Editing! You'll receive one-on-one attention, timely turnaround, and great rates.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Ask the Editor: Multiple POV

Caren H. wrote: Do I have to start a new chapter every time I change point of view? How many POVs can you have before it's considered "head-bouncing"?

Great question, Caren! Thanks for asking.

First, let's define POV:

In any work of fiction, you as the writer have the option to tell the story from one of three points of view. There’s first person (I, me), second person (you—rare, but I’ve seen it done really well!), and the most common, third person (he/she, him/her). There is a fourth POV, omniscient, wherein the author is the viewpoint person. But omniscient wreaks havoc with Show vs. Tell (a lesson for another time).

Third person POV is the most prevalent because it allows an author to tell more than one side to a story. But…it has a major drawback: the possibility to waffle between characters’ heads from one sentence to the next, aka head-hopping.

When you’re in one character’s POV (or shoes, if you will), you can only describe what that particular character sees, feels, tastes, hears, etc. So if I’m in Joe’s POV in a particular scene, I can’t tell my reader Daphne is hungry (unless he hears her stomach growl), afraid (unless he sees her pale features and wide eyes) or hot to jump his bones (unless she actually does jump his bones.) If your viewpoint character doesn’t personally experience something, you cannot tell (or show) the info to your reader through his POV!

Joe can’t (or shouldn’t) describe the color of his own eyes, hairstyle, build, or facial expression. So a sentence like, “Joe brushed his sandy brown hair from his cobalt eyes and set his firm jaw.” should be avoided as much as possible. Does this type of sentence happen? Sure. And it’ll slip past an editor, too. But the more you write and become cognizant of the pitfalls, the more these errors will leap out at you when you’re reading someone else’s work—or your own.

This is why a lot of writers have their characters describe their features while staring at their reflection in a mirror or other shiny object. (Please don’t do this. It’s weak and easy. Your reader deserves better.) And please don’t tell me you should be able to head-hop because “Nora Roberts does it.” When you’re churning out as many bestsellers as Nora every year, then hop into a different head in every sentence if you’d like. ‘Til then, you might want to stick to one person’s mind at a time.

So, we're clear on POV? Good, let's back to Caren's question.

How long do you have to stay in one character’s head? Generally, I like to remain rooted for a full scene, but there are exceptions. Love scenes, for instance, are a perfect place to show two different points of view. But like lovemaking itself, the act requires some delicacy, balance, and good timing.

Does every POV switch require a page or chapter break? Not necessarily. Many publishing houses prefer at least a scene break, but if the scene is seamless, you can generally get away without it. By “seamless” I mean that there’s been no change in time or location. There are ways to transition from one POV to the other without actually skipping lines or ending a chapter. I like to use a touch. Almost like playing tag, if my POV character touches another character, I use that device to seamlessly switch POV. Dialogue can help transfer you from one POV to another. For instance, if your POV character, Joe, says, “What do you think, Daphne?” you can describe Daphne’s thought process and seamlessly move into her POV. Just don’t slip back into Joe’s POV the moment Daphne stops talking! Once you’ve switched from one POV to another, spend some time in the new surroundings.

POV purists will insist you need at least a page break for either of these instances, but I’ve yet to have an editor force me to make the change. So if your critique partners bust your butt about it, you can choose to add the page break or to leave the scene whole until an editor or agent won’t acquire the manuscript unless you make the change.

Email questions to Gina at!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Still More Confusables

And the hits just keep on coming. Here's a new list of misused/misspelled words from this month's reading:

1. Principal/Principle. A principal works in a school and has the principal job in keeping the kids safe and educated. Heros have principles.
2. Used to/Supposed to. Let's remember that "d" at the end there, kids, okay? Please. You're supposed to know this stuff.
3. Compliment/Complement. If someone tells you that your shoes complement your purse, that's a compliment.
4. Iced tea. Not ice tea--unless you're icing it as we speak. Even if it's a Long Island Iced Tea. (Especially if it's a Long Island Iced Tea.)
5. Capital/Capitol. The congressman visits the Capitol in Washington, D.C.. Whether he's from the capital of his state, has lots of capital to spend on his campaign, or uses capital letters for his monogram, it's all the same.
6. Illicit/Elicit. Having an illicit affair will elicit gossip from your neighbors.
7. Taut/Taught. Something that's pulled tightly is taut. Your English teacher should have taught you that.
8. Peddle/Pedal/Petal. When you realize you're wrong you might backpedal. The guy who works the kiosk in the mall peddles his goods. The florist might spray glitter on the flower petals.
9. Tortuous/Torturous. Oh, the difference one letter can make! Torturous has to do with torture. Tortuous is wending/winding. Think about the tortuous way a contortionist moves his body. I wonder if his muscles feel tortured.
10. Palate/Palette/Pallet. The five-star chef has a discerning palate (refers to the roof of the mouth). An artist dabs his paints on a palette. During medieval times, the characters might sleep on a pallet. In modern days, the supermarket brings the pallet of canned peaches from the backroom to be placed on the shelves.

Convinced you need an editor? Still not sure, but want to find out if it's worth the time and expense? Contact me for Excellence in Editing where you'll find a keen eye, sage advice, and reasonable rates all in a timely manner!

Friday, August 3, 2012

To Cap or Not to Cap? That is the Question

One of the things that drives me crazy in published works is incorrect (or missing) capitalization. There's a simple rule of thumb you can follow to get it right 99% of the time. Proper nouns need capitalization; common nouns do not. What's the difference? In its simplest form, a proper noun indicates a specific person or place by name:

The Earl of Greenwich, Your Majesty, King James, Lady Ethel Swallowtail, Miss Aragon, Mommy, Captain Courage, and our Lord, Jesus Christ are all proper nouns. Rome, Mount Olympus, The Inn at Valley Forge, Burger Land, and Happy Fun Park (whether they're fictional or real places) are all proper nouns. But if I say my characters dined at the inn before going to the park, no capitalization is necessary.

Here's where it gets tricky. Apollo is a proper noun. The god of the sun is not. Why? Because "god of the sun" is not specific. Even if you're speaking to a group of Greeks, "god of the sun" is not specific. If I'm addressing my father, Dad is a proper noun. When I'm talking about Lucy's dad, it's not. If I'm talking to Lucy about my dad, it's not specific.

So... "Dad said you can't go to the beach without him."


"My dad said I couldn't go to the beach without him."

What's the distinction? The possessive. Adding that possessive (my, his, Lucy's) changes the noun from specific to generic, thereby removing the need for capitalization.

Let's try those tricky titles for the historical writers out there. The rules remain the same.

"The marquis strode across the ballroom." No cap.

"The Marquis of Waterford strode across the ballroom." Capitalize. 
Why? Because we've used his proper title, specific to him alone.

The same holds true for my lord, my lady, and milord and milady. These are not proper titles and do not require capitalization.

"May I help you, my lord?" (Note the possessive!)

"Have you seen Lady Katherine?"

Recently I read a self-published work where the author consistently screwed up "the judge" and "Mom," capitalizing the wrong one. "Judge Judy" is capitalized; "Here comes the judge" is not.

"I wish Mom could be here." Capitalized.
"I wish my mom could be here." No cap.

Now, let's talk deities. The only god that should be capitalized is the one and only God. Why? Because when discussing the "one nation under God" god, God is a proper name. You would also capitalize the name Zeus, but not his title of "god of the heavens." Buddha, Allah, Vishnu, etc. are all proper nouns that require capitalization. Generic terms such as gods, goddesses, demons, etc. are common nouns.

Still confused? That's why you need an editor! Contact me for great rates, timely and informed responses, and excellence in editing!