Sunday, January 31, 2010

Editing Glitch

The long, drawn out editing process can do strange things to your mind, especially when you’re on your fourth, fifth or sixth pass through your manuscript. There’s so much to look for. Grammatical errors, places that drag, plot holes and glitches, passive voice, mistakes in continuity, misplaced modifiers, sentences ending with prepositions, too many be-verbs, adverbs, adjectives, ugly people. You also have to comb through your work, looking for crutch phrases or overused words.

In the first novel-length disaster I wrote, snickered was my word of choice. In almost every scene, I had someone snickering. It’s difficult to come up with another word to describe that Ernie laugh…the one that’s through the nose, kinda snorty, not even close to a guffaw or a chuckle…it’s a snicker. For some reason, the characters in my book were only finding things sort of funny and not hilarious enough to warrant a full-bellied laugh. As a snicker replacement, you can use sniggered or tittered, but too many of those appear and read quite silly. I try to only use one of those offbeat snickers per book. Same thing with guffaw, if it graces the pages at all.

In my latest completed novel, Kings & Queens, my main roach is huffed. While editing, I'm finding there’s a whole lot of huffin’ going on. J.L. Campbell so kindly pointing out the overabundance of huffing, so I can exterminate the bulk of those pesky verbs.

One day after hours of editing, the word THE started jumping out at me from every angle. THE was annoying me, totally and completely, until I realized its importance. It is difficult to write a story without that word, although I'm sure some feisty soul would be willing to take up the NO-THE Challenge, but I can’t even write a post without it. THE is greatly overshadowed by snazzier words like ostentatious, sprightly or sardonic. They possess flair, while THE generally goes unnoticed, sitting in the background, dissolving in shadow, waiting for recognition. I definitely recognized it. THE should be lauded. It does, after all, own total unsung power. A work of fiction can include zingy treasures like precipitation, chimera, onomatopoeia or zephyr, but without conjunctions, prepositions and articles gluing those ritzy, glitzy words together, stories, articles, blogs, etc. wouldn't make sense. [The jury's still out on poetry, which sometimes fails to make sense with or without our beloved, trusty THE. That artistic expression is in a league of its own.]

When editing, look for word and fall-back phrase infestation. Squash those buggers right quick. Some reader will notice and it will pull them out of the story. Of course, now that I brought the all-powerful THE to the stage, front and center, you may be annoyed by its seepage throughout your work. As long as every sentence does not start with THE, same thing with He, She, [insert character’s name] or I, THE will go unnoticed, like it always has from the beginning of the English language. Keep polishing. And then find a point to let go and hunt for an agent, if you don't have one already. You could be the next, great undiscovered talent, soon-to-be best-selling author. Get crackin'.

~ Signing off and sending out Cyber hugs

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Finding Your Characters in Questions

Sometimes characters spring to life easily through your fingertips and other times they kind of plod out without much fanfare or dimension. If you're halfway through with your story or struggling to get it going, go back to character. Even if you have a thin plot, you can make a character-driven novel interesting and gripping, as long as you make your MC someone worthy to read about and follow.

You may need to go back to the character drafting board.

You already have your who, but have you asked "what" questions? What questions are pretty generic, just digging into the surface of desire and motivation.

What does she want most?

What is or will be her biggest obstacle in getting it? Internal and external.

What does she do under pressure?

What does she fear most?

What secondary things does she want?

What will stand in her way at getting those desires?

What does she regret, dream about, fixate on, run to or escape with?

What habits enhance or hinder her choices and actions?

Once you've answered several "what" questions, you can delve deeper into the psyche by answering the "whys".

Why does she want to dye her hair pink? Why pink, why not auburn?

Why does she hate her father?

Why does she believe she'll never find love?

Why is her room painted black?

Why does she want revenge?

Answering those questions will give you a more fully developed character and spawn other questions and surprise you with things you didn't know. Once you know who your character is, what they want and why, brainstorm the hows, which takes everything you learn and puts it into action. Discovering the hows is the best way you show character rather than tell.

How will she get the attention of the millionaire when he has that selfish twit Bambi on his arm?

How will she get home or to some place safe when her car dies in the middle of nowhere, at night?

How will she get away from her kidnappers?

How will she accomplish her goal?

How will she deal with moving to a new locale?

It makes an even better story if your characters fail in their hows, if things go awry or set her three steps back. So brainstorm the "hows" of destruction and deterrence as well.

Once you answer questions as such, your characters will cease to be flat; they'll be well-rounded and seemingly real, and in knowing them so deeply, you'll then be able to build a more gripping plot in the same creative breath. Anyone can tell the difference between a stick figure and a flesh-and-blood person. Aim to create characters on the later end of the spectrum, then those babies of yours will be unforgettable.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.