Tag Archives: Revision

Acephalous, An Update

5 Feb

It’s cold and rainy here. It has been most of the week. But, that kind of weather is perfect for hot drinks and long projects. I’ve decided to pursue publication of my first novel. This isn’t the children’s book I mentioned a few weeks ago, but the first manuscript I ever completed–a YA novel called Acephalous. I started writing it in high school and, over the years, it has taken on many new forms, getting better every time. It’s now in its third edited draft of the completed version. I plan to send it for copyrighting at the end of this edit (unless I find something glaring along the way that I have to overhaul. A realistic possibility, as I’m never satisfied).

What I’ve learned is that it is sometimes necessary to step away from projects for a long time in order to realize their worth. I always thought the story was pretty decent. I even shared clips of it here when I was planning on publishing after the second draft. But, after spending so much time with it, I lost confidence. I thought it needed a total rewrite, that there was too much of my younger, untrained, high school writer self left in it. I got overwhelmed. An edited draft two and a fresh draft three sat on my shelf for a couple of years, third printing better than the second, but still unedited.

Now that I’ve come back to it, I realize it’s really not bad. Sure, there are parts I’ve changed, and the time away allowed me to see them, but the time also allowed me to see what was great in the novel and what was innate in my writing abilities–things from my younger, untrained self that really work and don’t need to be educated away. I’d have to say that writing is never more “you” than it is before you’ve been trained in theory, style, and genre. After that, “youness” gets hushed by correctness and propriety. So, this latest version is a balancing act between my original voice as an author, as a teen, and the technical sensibilities of an academic, an adult. What should be thrown away, and what should be added to achieve a properly formed plot? All while being my own, not what any professor encouraged (or ordered) me to be. It’s a line by line choice that I’m fully equipped to make thanks to my education. After all, you have to learn the rules in order to artfully and purposefully ignore them.

Pro-Tip: Characterization

6 Oct

How do you talk to your friends? To your family? Bosses and coworkers?

For every person and situation, there is a way we present ourselves. Why should this be any different for each of your characters? It shouldn’t.

I remember when teachers used to say, “Don’t start a sentence with ‘because,’” or “You can’t use contractions in formal or serious writing.” And they had lots of rules about slang. To a point, those rules were useful. In the context of their classrooms, they were golden. Following such laws ensured decent grades. After all, breaking a rule so explicitly stated would render the teacher unable to take you seriously beyond that point.

But now, it’s time to forget it. It’s rubbish. Rules like that have a place in the classrooms of the teachers who value them and little place else. Try writing a realistic character without breaking them. It’s nearly impossible if you want that character to sound like someone you could really meet. And that’s the key—creating characters that we see ourselves and others in, even when the character isn’t a human. Characters are textual embodiments of our human experience. Even a talking dog on Mars will be based on the actions and emotions we know because it’s impossible to invent an emotion or characteristic fully new and alien. It may seem different but, somewhere at its core, every new creation of fiction is rooted in the human experience. If characters aren’t experiencing and acting organically as you or I would, then what are they? Caricatures of prescriptive rules, rules which tell us how language ought to be but do not reflect how language is actually used.

Example: “Tom, it is late. I find we will miss the movie if we do not leave now. Are we not going to the movies after all?”

“No, Summer, we are not. I have to complete this project for chemistry lab. It is due tomorrow, and I neglected to begin work earlier. I am very sorry.”

Ok, so there’s nothing technically wrong with that exchange between Summer and her boyfriend, Tom. The scene is clear. But how forced did that feel? If you were Summer would you talk like that? If you were Tom? Maybe if this was an exchange between Data and a Vulcan… otherwise, I doubt it. Plus, would a Vulcan actually forget to do his homework? I digress.

Many readers play the scenes of a novel like a movie in their minds. Less visual learners may not, but chances are, they at least listen to the soundtrack of the words. Reading a conversation like the example is as awkward feeling as it would be to watch that scene play out in real life. It doesn’t flow. It sounds like a business exchange between strangers, not a dispute between partners, lovers. The formality slows the natural rhythm of reading. It gets in the way. In more colloquial speech, the words run together. They sound in a reader’s head as they would out of the reader’s mouth. Smooth, easy, and with more personality.

When writing, make sure you’re not stalling the tension and momentum of your scenes by being overly formal. Fiction novels aren’t research papers, agent queries, resumes, or instruction manuals. Make your characters talk like real people.

Since you’ve thrown out all of those rules I mentioned earlier, replace them with this: Each character must have a unique and realistic voice that reflects personality. All quirks will at that point appear purposeful because they will be unique to the character.

Perhaps one character really DOES talk that way in the novel. The choice to leave the dialogue formal, or fully informal, at all times, or even riddled with slang or nonsense words would be obviously purposeful to your readers because no one else would be quite the same. The way we talk is a part of our personality, and it is no different for the characters you create.

Keeping that in mind, let’s try the example again.

“Tom, aren’t we going to the movies? We’ll be late.”

“No, Summer. I’ve got this project for chem that’s due tomorrow. I forgot all about it. Sorry.”

OR

“Tom, we’re not going to the movies, are we?”

“Nope. I just remember I have a chemistry project due in the morning.”

“You promised.”

“I’m sorry.”

“See, you always do this. You plan all this great stuff and then you’re all, ‘Oh, well, I gotta do this instead.’”

“I don’t sound like that.”

OR

“You ready to go, Tom? We need to leave now.”

“I’m doing this chem lab. I can’t stop in the middle of it.”

“Really? You knew we were going out at 4. You saw me getting ready. Why did you start the project if you knew you couldn’t stop until the end? Why didn’t you say something an hour ago?”

See how a simple exchange can escalate if you let the language develop to who the characters are individually and what their situation is as a whole? With additional characterization and narration, the reader may already know or soon learn that these two always bicker, that she’s a little spoiled, but that her irritation is justified due to his aloof attitude and transient interests, or maybe it’s a first fight and the reader has to continue to find out if their relationship can withstand it. With more surrounding description, the reader should be able to say these sentences in the voices set up for each character—the reader’s own variation of what the author has led her to imagine.

The takeaway here is, within reasonable consideration of appropriateness to your target audience, abandon all rules that don’t suit the reality of a character or scene. If your character uses contractions in speech or starts sentences with “because,” let him. If the scene requires slang, go for it. If your protagonist only curses when surprised because she hates to be surprised, let it fly, but only in the proper scenarios. Stay true to the character. All of them should talk in the text like they would talk to you in real life.

Happy writing.

Amanda Marsico,

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast

Pro-Tip: Clarity in Paragraphs and Transitions

30 Sep

It’s easy enough to say that each paragraph you write should make sense. It’s an obvious thing for me to say, and all of you reading this are probably thinking,”Well, that’s not advice.” And you’re right. But beyond that, clarity in a paragraph means that each segment of text should have a distinguishing factor, a reason that it is its own paragraph. In short, a main idea that is summarizable. So, if a paragraph is separated from the one before or after it just as a break in text, for visual appeal or as a small breather, that’s not enough reason for the segment to stand alone. If that separate segment doesn’t have its own main point, its own idea or skeleton that makes it exist separately from the previous paragraph, then it shouldn’t be separate. 

Don’t let high school lessons on paragraphs trip you. Forget the “a paragraph has about five sentences” lesson, and forget the “that paragraph is the entire page” complaint. If there is a reason for all of those thoughts to exist together, then so be it. BUT, that is the great and determining question, both for deciding if you need to break into a new paragraph or group smaller segments into one large piece. Ask yourself: 

  • Are like ideas together?
  • Does this paragraph have a main point?
  • Although related overall, does it exist independently of the previous and following paragraph?

Depending on your answers, you’ve either created a clear paragraph with backbone and purpose, or you haven’t. Revise accordingly.

If you have no reason for a paragraph to be on its own, if it’s a continuation of the previous paragraph, put it with that other paragraph. Keep like ideas together. Otherwise, have a good reason for your choices.

  • Example: Breaking a paragraph in the middle of one narrative moment because the paragraph looks too long on the page versus purposeful/stylistic dislocation or repetition of an idea apart from the main narrative that contains it to achieve flashback or flash forward

When you do need to start a new paragraph, use topic sentences or transition sentences. They say, “Here I am. I am related to the general ideas of the text as a whole, but I am my own entity. I am taking you from the idea in that paragraph to this one, and even though we’re different, we belong together. I’ll prove it.” And then you use the body of that paragraph to prove it. I’ve always said, and any of my formers students reading this can attest, that if you want your reader to reach a certain conclusion about your ideas, you must lead them there with transitions. What you see as related may not seem so apparent to others without that clear signal. You’re the writer. Of course YOU know what you’re trying to say. Will your reader? As such, use that transition as the topic sentence which lends the new paragraph clarity for being its own thing, clarity/summarizabiltiy in its topic, and clarity in its purpose for existing in the story at all. Again, if the paragraph doesn’t do these things, it probably shouldn’t be there (either on its own, or maybe at all–see pro-tip on letting go of the junk).

Finally, keep in mind that all of this advice on paragraph breaks applies only to narrative and content paragraphs. Dialogue, of course, does not fit in this scenario because all new beginnings of dialogue, whether switching between speakers or switching between speaker and narrative, begin a new paragraph. This is a rule of formatting not to be confused with what I’ve said here about lumping large pieces of text together if it all has the same main idea. Please don’t do that with dialogue. 

For more discussion, see the comments section below or email me at marsicoam@gmail.com! In the meantime,

Happy writing!

Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast

Pro-Tip: The Importance of Napping

9 Sep

Fair warning, today’s tip has nothing to do with the actual meat of your writing. This tip has to do with YOU.

I’ve read a lot of “How to Write” books, articles, blogs and all of them take considerable time discussing how vital it is to MAKE time to write. These how-to resources are quick to assume that aspiring writers are not full-time writers. I’m not saying this assumption is fully incorrect. Let’s face it; it’s very difficult to get by financially on the hope of future publication. For those who have not already started to earn a living by their craft, the reality is that writing is a part-time job, a late-night endeavor, a when-I-can hobby. Something else has to bring in the cash while we write toward that big break or perfect job.

So, while these how-to articles are not wrong to say that it is vital to plan a time to get the work done, they often neglect the person behind the task. I realize it’s difficult with jobs, families, and other obligations (plus the desire for a social life) to make time to write. What is even harder, sometimes, is to make time to relax. It’s easy to feel guilty for not using empty time for writing when all of these outside sources say that the best, easiest, only way to make writing a career is to force a place for it into your schedule. Sometimes, though, when you have free time, that’s exactly what you want to do with it. Be free. I call this post “the importance of napping,” but I don’t mean you literally have to nap—although I LOVE to nap. What it comes down to is avoiding the burn out or writer’s block that comes from stress.

Mind-fry is common when balancing so many facets of life, especially under the immense pressure for perfection that we put on ourselves as authors (see earlier Pro-Tip about obsessive revision). As important as it is to prioritize a part of your day for writing, it is equally important to prioritize some time (any time, even if it’s not daily) to mellow. Getting away from your writing can help you hash out new ideas, come back with fresh eyes, see mistakes you overlooked, and feel a general boost in motivation. How can you be excited to get started on something when you’re never away from it? Instead, it just stagnates.

So, don’t feel guilty or lazy or irresponsible for taking some time for yourself to nap, day dream, meditate, or take a walk. Not to sound cliché or sappy, but it’s true that if you don’t nurture yourself, you can’t nurture anything you’re trying to create.

Happy writing (and napping),

Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast

Pro-Tip: Reigning in the Obsessive Reviser

4 Sep

Reigning in the obsessive reviser, also called moving on.

As authors, we are our own worst critics, and there will always be those features (in our writing and in ourselves) we’d like to strengthen. A piece of writing (or art of any kind) never feels completely finished in the eyes of its perfectionist creator. And let’s be real—authors, for the most part, are just like that by nature. I know I am. You may realize after adding more material, completing some revisions, or going through a total overhaul of ideas that what worked during an earlier iteration of your project no longer achieves the desired goal in the newest. So, if a story-line, character, sentence, or word isn’t doing the work you need it to do, change it. Just remember that, when revising, the goal isn’t to get it perfect or even good enough, but to make it good for now. Revision is a recursive process. You will do it again. And again.

If your text isn’t perfect after that one mid-write edit, oh well. Keep going. If your text isn’t perfect after that midnight revise, oh well. Come back to it tomorrow. If your text isn’t perfect after your 5-minutes-until-due-date scramble, oh well. Turn it in anyway. You must resist the urge to edit so fiercely along the way that you cease to write anything new and, instead, produce one-hundred versions of the same paragraph, page, chapter, without progressing or meeting deadlines.

I’ll say it again: Revision is repetitive, but it is not meant to achieve perfection—especially if that obsessive quest for perfection results in late or no submissions. That’s not perfect at all. The point is, you WILL have the chance to make more changes (even if you are working on a deadline). What I mean by this is that, if on a deadline, you get the text to a “good for now” status—the best work you can do in the time given—and you pry your pen out of your hand or off of the keyboard in order to submit it. If the compulsion to continue revising remains, go ahead and work more on your copy of the text knowing that the submitted work was good for now, as complete or concise or creative or accurate as it could be with the time and resources allowed, and just move on.

Pro-Tip: Dump the Junk

2 Sep

If something in your writing isn’t working, CHANGE IT. Don’t get too attached to the first version (or second or third) of something. Jot it down and save it for later before erasing it from your work completely. It may become useful again in a different area of the text. If not, it may apply to another project at another time. This is especially useful for those lines we write and really, really love. You know the ones. They’re hard to delete even if they’re no longer serving your purpose. Sometimes things get said just right. So dump the junk, but save it. Be a line-hoarder. Your literary house is spotless, but you’ve got that crammed closet your friends don’t know about. If and when they find it, you know what it’s there for. Like Monica says in the video link, it’s where all the things that don’t fit in belong.

Self-Editing Tip #25–Those Confusing Verbs

10 Apr

Welcome back, everyone! It’s been a while. Today’s tip focuses on these confusing verbs: lie, lay, sit, set, rise, and raise. I am guilty of using these words in the wrong context on occasion. They can get very tricky because of their similar meanings and frequent misuse in colloquial speech.

Perhaps the trickiest on the list is the lie/lay distinction, so we’ll tackle that first.

The word lie, at least in the context of this discussion, means to rest or recline. “Lay” means to place or put. Before considering the rest of your sentence, determine which you are trying to say. Did x, y, or z rest or recline? If so, this is the word you’ll use. If not, lay is probably the right choice, but don’t get these mixed up when writing or speaking in the past tense.

Here’s a chart to clarify before we go on. Notice how “lay” is the past tense of “lie” as well as the present tense of “lay.” This is why it is critical to pinpoint from the start which verb you need to use.

Lie-Lay chart

One way to determine which word is appropriate for your sentence is to look for a direct object in the sentence. The direct object answers what is receiving the action of the verb in a sentence. In a sentence WITHOUT a direct object, you will always use “lie/(is) lying/lay.” In a sentence WITH a direct object, you will always use “lay/(is) laying/laid.” When considering direct objects, remember that they will never be within a prepositional phrase.

Ex. “The book is lying on the table.” There is no direct object in this sentence. “The table” is located within a prepositional phrase and does not count as a direct object.
Ex. “Lay the book on the table.” “The book” is the direct object in this sentence because it answers what is laid on the table.

The remaining pairs, Sit/Set and Rise/Raise follow the same pattern of rules as Lie/Lay.
Here’s another chart.

Sit-Set Rise-Raise Chart

For “sit” and “rise,” follow the same pattern as “lie.” These words do not take a direct object in their sentences.
Ex. “Sit down on the chair.” There is no direct object because “the chair” is within a prepositional phrase.
Ex. “Set the book down on the chair.” “Book” is the direct object because it is receiving the action of the verb “set.” “Chair” is still part of a prepositional phrase.
Ex. “I rise from bed at six.” There is no direct object because “bed” is within a prepositional phrase.
Ex. “Raise the curtains when you get out of bed.” “Curtains” are the direct object because it describes what is receiving the action of the verb “raise.” “Bed” is still within a prepositional phrase.

So, to determine which word is appropriate for your sentence, consider the nuances in definition of the two words in the pair, and then search for direct objects and prepositional phrases.
Here’s a quick reference chart for using these words.

No DO Yes DO Chart

With these distinctions in mind, I wish you happy writing! Comment or email with questions or anything you’d like to add to the discussion.

–Amanda Marsico
Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast

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