Monday, August 31, 2015

Filler Words - Just Very Much in My Way

Sorry, Oscar, but adding an adverb to your sign won't make me think your food is more Mexican than anyone else's. If this is one of those things that got lost in the translation--like ordering from the Chinese quick food menu, then I apologize. Oscar should have checked with a writer.

"Very" is a filler word. Ha! My mind wanted to type: It's just a filler word. I could have used: It's an unnecessary filler word. (Could that be considered redundant?) But I would never want to use: It's a very unnecessary filler word. That example over modifies/describes/gives more info about a verb, adjective, or another adverb by doubling up on it. After all, writers are supposed to show the emphasis, not tell it.

In both my rough-draft writing and submissions from others, I've seen an excess of "just" and "even", especially in dialogue. Somehow it sounds more natural in dialogue, probably because we are used to hearing poor speech. 

Read the following sentences and see which you like better:
  • He even saw the dog run away. VS He saw the dog run away.
  • You just can't forget about it. VS You can't forget about it.
Do you really feel an emotional emphasis for the first one over the last? Probably not. Filler words add length, taking up valuable real estate (word count), and hinder the pacing. When readers find more than one on a page, it gets annoying. You can find lists of adverbs-to-avoid online. Do a find and search for these in your manuscript during revisions. 
What filler words do you hate?

Monday, August 24, 2015

Writing a Prologue Readers Won't Skip

I'm working on revisions for the sequel to Secrets of the King's Daughter, so my critique group has seen chunks of my entire manuscript. The last time we met, I gave them my revised first chapter. Someone asked me, "Why do you mention (character I'll call Jay) here?"
I answered, "Remember he's the one who does (this important thing), and I need to mention him before that happens."
"Oh, yes. Well, then you need to have (another thing) happen later that resolves that character's role."
She was right. Suddenly, Jay took on a bigger role in this story than I first anticipated. This lead me to write a prologue.

Before you walk away, thinking, Ugh. I hate prologues, let me tell you this: That is because you have read too many that have done it for the wrong reasons. Done well, prologues enhance a book and pull the reader into the story.

First off, a prologue is an opening scene that comes before the first chapter. Think of it as an appetizer before the main course. It should not be invented because a writer's first chapter is not hooking enough. The first chapter needs to stand on its own merit. It should not be a bunch of world building, an info dump, or an overload of backstory. It should not be long.

Why do I need a prologue, or in other words, what are some good reasons to have one?
  1. In the first book, the reader assumes a false resolution for Jay. In the sequel, I needed to briefly recap some events and show the reader what really happened to that character.
  2. This is the only scene where we get Jay's point of view, thus it is different from the rest of the book.
  3. There is a gap in time between the prologue and the first chapter. And in this case, a gap between the end of the first book and the beginning of the second. A prologue can resolve an out of time sequence.
  4. The prologue serves as a transition between the two books.
  5. It introduces an adversary that doesn't get an intro later; he simply pops up. It's less jarring with the earlier intro.
A good prologue should not be considered a sin. I hope my critique group loves it.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Author Newsletters That Deliver!

I had a pleasant surprise last week. One of my author newsletter subscriptions really delivered! I'll tell you about that in a second. I'm used to seeing fiction authors tell what they are working on and giving easy ways to buy their books in their newsletters, but not much else. While this may be interesting or helpful, it's rare to find lasting value from a fiction writer's newsletter. One freebie might have initially attracted me, but soon I hardly care. I don't want to do that to my readers. Until I figure out what I have of value to offer besides announcing my book release, I haven't wanted to push starting this, even though having that email list is highly coveted as one of the best marketing tools there is.

A newsletter from Jordan McCollum came to my inbox. I like her work and have gotten to know her at conferences, so I don't mind finding out what she is up to. What I didn't expect were all the freebies, news, and helps found there. Jordan lets subscribers read samples (deleted scenes, first chapters, shorts, etc.) of her fiction. She also authored writing craft helps and I was excited to download a worksheet to help me during my current revisions. She calls for reader participation through contests and being a recipe tester for foods featured in her books. Fun stuff!

Now for brainstorming what might be fun stuff in a newsletter of my own. I'd be thrilled to know if any of these interest you or you have new ideas for me. Keep in mind that the majority of my readers will be women of adult and young adult age, readers who belong to the LDS faith (Mormons), readers who would like to understand the scriptures or become inspired, and readers who like some history, adventure, and romance. 
  1. Photos of Book of Mormon lands (from an upcoming cruise)
  2. Mayan/American Indian recipes and traditions
  3. Book of Mormon fun facts and personal insights
  4. Tidbits about writing my book: inspiration, inventing names, creating characters, etc.
  5. Balancing fact and fiction when writing scriptural-based fiction
  6. Contests for readers to participate
Please leave your favorites by number in a comment. What would you like to know more about from me in a newsletter?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Making a Difference as a Reader or Writer

A critique group member and I recently read through a fairly polished 100-page submission and only two of our comments were about the same thing. Two comments out of 100 pages! That tells me how valuable to the writer it was to have more than one feedback viewpoint. A rough draft might see more overlapping. But the point is that each reader makes a difference. Eventually she'll need more readers, and each person's feedback will give the writer a chance to see how her story came across. Each reader picks up on different things and cares about or ignores different things in a manuscript or book. Each has their own opinions.
A few days ago I happily discovered a new writer friend. She offered to be a beta reader. That was huge to me. It's a big time commitment for someone to read through and comment on an unpublished manuscript. They don't always know what they are in for, unless they have already read something of the writer's or enjoy that genre. It will be nice to draw from willing readers rather than beg for them when the time comes. Her kind offer made a difference.
Writers make a difference by supporting other writers and exposing their polished stories. Share your craft knowledge and lend encouragement. I know a few good writers who don't want to risk the fact that opinions of their work will vary and some may be hurtful. Don't be a closet writer. No one else can write your story! It took you too much time to keep your project to yourself. Please make it the best you can, and then share it with us. Your best is good enough for the majority.
Readers make a difference by giving helpful comments, reviewing books, and supporting writers by buying books.
Who will you make a difference to this week?

Monday, August 3, 2015

First Chapter Revisions and My Writing Journey

I'm pleased--more like ecstatic--to have a big project out of the way and submitted to my publisher. After three years of collecting for my "Missionary Stories" compilation, I can forget about it for the next three months or so while it goes through the review process. Phew!

So what's next? (There's always something, isn't there?) It's revision time for my Book of Mormon fiction sequel. (Another milestone in my journey!) It took one year to write the draft and make some revisions suggested by my critique group. Now I'm going through it again on my own. There's a few things I've learned from various classes or blogs, that I want to make sure I have included.

So far, I've only focused on that all-important first chapter. I like my first line as both a hook and a nod to a traumatic past experience. I believe I've given a good opening image of Karlinah's world. Some books start with a bang, but I agree with those who let us see the normal world and the main character's life briefly before we see them in a life or death situation, so that readers care what is happening to them. At least for my genre. I want the reader to connect with my MC. I also like where I started--hopefully close enough to the inciting event, where Karlinah makes decisions and goes in a new direction. Later, I'll need some beta reader feedback on this and so much more.

I was reminded that along with showing this Book of Mormon world and the character who lives in it, I need to show something that is flawed. This sets up the story to show what needs to be fixed in this world or with the character, something the reader can expect to see remedied at the end. Still thinking about that. I did go ahead and insert some hints at a theme, or the MC's inner conflict.

This time through, I will set up a spread sheet for me to identify things in each scene or sequel. (For more on the difference to these and the following terms, see this link to the snowflake guy.) My data will include the point of view (POV) character, the scene's goal, the character's goal, the conflict, the disaster, the setting, the motivation and reaction. For sequels, I need to list the POV character's reaction, her dilemma, and decision. If I can't ID these within a scene or sequel, I could add them, shift where the chapter ends so that it's in the right place, or scrap the scene. This data will help me see if I have all the needed elements and variation in things like having the setting in the same place for too many scenes in a row.

Revisions are eye-opening. Some parts are bound to become frustrating, but mostly I love how it makes a story better. Here we go!