Tag Archives: editing

“The Danger of Making a Long Story Short”

Word usage is of key importance in writing. We’re told to use active words instead of passive words, evocative terms rather than lifeless ones, and we even characterize our manuscripts by “word count” instead of number of pages. All of us have heard the critical advice to cut out “weasel” words, and, thereby, unclutter our WIPs. All of this is wise. But sometimes saying something in the least amount of words actually makes thing worse.

Here are some examples of what I mean. These are, reportedly, actual statements found on insurance forms where drivers attempted to summarize the details of an accident in the fewest words possible.

  • Coming home, I drove into the wrong house and collided with a tree I don’t have.
  • I collided with a stationary truck coming the other way.
  • The guy was all over the road. I had to swerve a number of times before I hit him.
  • I was on my way to the doctor with rear end trouble when my universal joint gave way, causing me to have an accident.
  • The indirect cause of the accident was a little guy with a big mouth.
  • I was thrown from my car as it left the road. I was later found in a ditch by some stray cows.
  • The telephone pole was approaching. I was attempting to swerve out of its way when it struck the front end.
  • I’d been driving for forty years, when I fell asleep causing the accident.
  • As I approached the intersection, a signal appeared in a place where no stop sign had ever appeared before. I was unable to stop in time to avoid the accident.
  • My car was legally parked as it backed into the other vehicle.
  • An invisible car came out of nowhere and struck my car and vanished.
  • I told the police that I was not injured, but on removing my hat, found that I had a fractured skull.
  • I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother-in-law, and headed over the embankment.

It isn’t the amount of words, but the right amount of words that matters. Yes, often things can be said using fewer words. I’m all for efficiency. But there are also times that we edit ourselves into trouble, being more concerned about counting words than using words that count. Sometimes we get in trouble when we try to “make a long story short.”

What do you think?

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Filed under Christian Fiction, editing, Larry W. Timm, reading, Writing

Terri Blackstock Interview

It is my great pleasure to bring you an interview I did with one of my favorite authors: Terri Blackstock. Terri is a best-selling, multiple award-winning, Christian fiction writer who has over six million books in print. Her latest release is called Truth Stained Lies, and is the first book in The Moonlighters Series. Truth Stained Lies releases on March 12, but can be preordered now at amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Indie Bound, or Christianbook.com. You can learn more about this book–and all her great books–by going to her website at http://www.terriblackstock.com. With over 25 years of experience, Terri knows how to write books that will keep you up all night.

And now….my interview with Terri Blackstock.

*Terri, having already enjoyed great success as a best-selling writer (with over 6 million books in print), what keeps you passionate about writing Christian fiction?

Thank you for saying that. I think my ideas are what keep me passionate. God has always gifted me with ideas that I can’t wait to write. So even as I’m getting to the end of a book or series, I have new ideas that keep me going on to the next thing. And sometimes God is working in my life in a way that I think will help my readers, and because I believe that everything happens for a purpose, I try to fulfill that purpose by passing those lessons on to my readers.

*Where do your story ideas come from? Do you develop them from the perspective of a seat-of-the-pants writer or from the mind of one who carefully plots out the entire story before launching into it?

I’m a careful plotter. Usually an idea comes like a light flicking on in my mind, and I have to flesh it out and develop a plot that I hope will be a page-turner. I tend to do a loose plot for the whole book, then I very meticulously plot the first fourth of the book, write that, then plot the next fourth, etc. I use a storyboard to plot each scene so I know where I need to take the story each day.

*Emotionally speaking, which book or series has been the most difficult to write? The most rewarding?

Definitely the Intervention Series (Intervention, Vicious Cycle, and Downfall). The series was inspired by my experiences with my daughter who had severe drug addictions. The whole series was very personal to me, and the mother, Barbara, felt and thought things that I had felt and thought. But I’m really glad I wrote the series, because it brought healing to so many families. I hear from family members of addicts, and the addicts themselves, telling me that they felt they were alone until they read these books. They finally knew that someone got what they were going through. The books give them hope, because they remind them that God is the parent of prodigal children, and He understands the pain and suffering.

*Do you enjoy or endure the editing process?

I actually enjoy the editorial process. The worst part for me is the first draft, but the second draft, all the way through editorial, are kind of fun for me. With each pass I’m able to make the story better. I’ve worked with the same editor for over fifteen years, and he usually gives me a long critique of the story. Then I’m eager to dive back in and take it to the next level.

*One of my greatest highlights from the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference in St. Louis (2011) was the privilege of getting to meet you personally. How do you balance your time so that you can meet the demands of writing at such a high level with the need to maintain a certain amount of personal contact with your readers?

I’ve had to clear my calendar so that I can focus more on writing than other things. For that reason, I don’t speak or teach much, and I keep traveling to a minimum. But I do try to stay connected with my readers through Facebook, Twitter, and email. But I realize that there’s always more for me to learn about my craft, so I do try to make time to attend writer’s conferences when I can. I always enjoy meeting my readers and getting to know other writers. I love the wit and kindred spirit of fiction writers.

*The Restoration Series was a bit of a departure from the type of suspense you normally write. What drew you to that series?

Sometimes I get an idea that doesn’t fit perfectly within my genre, but no one can talk me out of it! That’s kind of what happened with that series. My publisher was concerned I was off-brand with it, but I was determined to write it, and I’m glad I did.

I got the idea for the series after Y2K, when everyone expected technology to stop when the calendar turned. When nothing happened, my imagination kept taking that story in a different direction. What if something actually happened that knocked out all our technology? I researched what could make that happen, and found that EMPs (electromagnetic pulses) are an actual threat. In the first book, Last Light, my middle class family finds themselves without electricity, transportation, communication, etc. I thought it would be interesting to see what a family like mine would do when all of our modern conveniences are taken away. How would they survive? Would they hoard what they had, or would they share at the risk of starving? And I realized that I could bring in the suspense element through the looters killing for food and provisions. In times of crisis, darkness is darker than ever, and light is lighter than ever.

I called it the Restoration Series because I wanted the crisis to be a time of restoration for this family. And at the end of the series, when the power returns, I wanted the family to be different. They have a choice to go back to the way they were before, or to embrace the changes in their family and live in light of what they’ve learned.

I have to say that the series has had renewed interest in the last couple of years, probably due to the economy’s downturn and TV series such as Revolution. My publisher is repackaging the series and will re-release it in the fall, hoping to give it a second life. The subject matter is pretty timely right now. Just for the record, my series began coming out in 2005, before all these similar programs/movies/books were written.

*Even though it was published under a different title and you used a pen-name, Shadow in Serenity represented a transition in your life as a writer. What was it like for Terri Blackstock the Christian writer to revise something by Terri Blackstock the secular writer?

It was kind of difficult because it’s not the kind of book I write now. But I liked the characters and the story–kind of a modern day Music Man–so when I got the rights back, I decided to rewrite it. I have done that with five other books. My Second Chances series was made up of four books that had been rewritten from my early days, and Emerald Windows was also “redeemed.” Revising those books wasn’t quite as hard as writing something from scratch, so it was a nice way to clean my palate between books.

*I’m very much looking forward to the release of Book 1 in the Moonlighter’s Series, which is about three sisters who try to prove that their brother is not guilty of his ex-wife’s murder. In addition to Truth Stained Lies, what can we expect to see in this intriguing series?

I got the idea for the first book during the Casey Anthony trial. I was very interested in that trial, and I followed some blogs written by people with legal backgrounds, who were digging for behind-the-scenes information, some of which wasn’t being allowed into court. It occurred to me that these bloggers probably made some people angry, and I began to do my usual What-If routine. What if someone set up the crime to turn the tables on the blogger? What if that crime put the blogger in the position of being judged? So I created Cathy Cramer, a former prosecutor who started her blog after her fiance was murdered. She’s determined to make guilty people pay–so she investigates and speculates, and posts her findings.

When a reader warns her that she’s about to get a taste of her own judgmental medicine, she shrugs the warning off. But then her sister-in-law is found murdered, and her brother is set up as the killer. The killer has orchestrated events so that her brother’s true story sounds completely unbelievable. Despite Cathy’s efforts to defend her brother, she knows that no one is going to believe the truth.

Cathy is one of three sisters–a blogger, a stay-at-home mom, and a ne’er-do-well taxi driver–who moonlight as private investigators to help solve these crimes related to their family. Michael Hogan, the brother of Cathy’s dead fiance, is a PI who eventually hires the unlikely trio to help him solve crimes. (And he’s Cathy’s love interest.) The personality differences among the sisters creates some humor and conflict as they learn how to work as PIs without getting themselves killed. Each book will feature one of the sisters, and I’m having fun exploring these characters and the relationships in this family.

*How do you handle the ups and downs of being a writer?

I’ve been doing this for a long time, so over the years I’ve learned patience. It used to be so hard to wait…to hear back from a publisher if they were going to buy my book or reject it, to actually get the contract, to get paid, to have a book come out a year later, to see if anyone bought it, to see my royalty statements. I was always waiting, and my emotions were like a roller coaster. One minute I’d be dancing because I’d sold a book, and the next I’d be devastated because someone wrote a nasty review. But I have to say that I don’t let those things bother me much anymore. Deadlines keep me pretty focused, I avoid reading most of my reader reviews, and I try to remember that God doesn’t judge me the way the world does. As long as I’m staying true to Him, I’m succeeding. That keeps me steady.

Thanks to Terri Blackstock for being a part of this interview! You can learn more about Terri and her books in the following places:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/tblackstock

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/terriblackstock

Website: http://www.terriblackstock.com

 

 

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Filed under Christian Fiction, Christian Growth, Christian Life, editing, family, Larry W. Timm, reading, Writing

What’s that smell?

Have you ever had anyone look at you through squinty eyes, their nose all scrunched up, and ask, “What’s thaaaaat smell?” Maybe you have noticed the offending odor, but have been unable to track down the guilty source. Or perhaps, like a teenager in his own bedroom, your sense of smell has been assaulted to numbness, leaving you unsure of what smell has the questioner’s nose bent out of joint. You might even be a tad embarrassed that you hadn’t noticed the stench before it went public.

Welcome to the writer’s life.

Nooooooo, I don’t mean that writers are smelly creatures, or that the task of writing stinks. What I’m referring to is your manuscript. Wait a minute! Relax that fist and take back what you just said about me and my fat head (my head is normal size, thank you.) And before you waste a perfectly good stove top by spilling tar all over it, let me explain what I meant. Please.

Every writer has stinky parts to their manuscripts. The problem is sometimes–many times, actually–we’ve sat in our own smell so long that we can’t tell roses from rotten eggs. We need to call in an independent nose to give our manuscript an objective sniff or two. Because, like it or not, your manuscript has a few rotten spots. Mine too.

Now, we can sit around and pretend that our manuscripts don’t have  pungent issues, or we can let a trained bloodhound follow the trail. Then we can eliminate the problem, and make our manuscripts far more enjoyable for our readers.

Don’ be afraid to expose your manuscript to people who can give you honest feedback. Join a local ACFW chapter or a similar group that encourages members to critique one another. Or develop a stable of first-readers who you can trust. Offer to read other writer’s manuscripts, in order to be of service to them too.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go…something smells.

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Manuscript Impossible

Your manuscript needs help. So you’ve called in an expert. He’s supposed to arrive anytime.

There’s a knock on the door. You cast a nervous glance at your manuscript, your eyes briefly settling on the two words The End halfway down the last page. Is is a declaration of a work completed? Or a prediction about your career as a writer.

A more insistent banging jolts you out of your thoughts. You step awkwardly to the door, pausing to wipe your moist palm on the side of your pajamas. Panic pulls your eyes wide. Pajamas! Too late to change into the garb of “normals” now. He’s here.

HE’S HERE!

A different pounding gets louder. It’s your heart thumping against your ribcage. Wait! I’ll pretend I’m not home. I…I…I don’t need his help after all. I can fix this manusc–“

“I’m Mr. Knowitall Foriegnpants. Open up in the name of literacy,” a deep voice booms. “I’m here to edit your manuscript.”

“I’m not home,” you shout. Bad move. Not much chance of a do-over there.

“I know all about your POV problems,” he states with a verbal sneer. If you don’t open up, I’m going to spread it all over town that you have issues with dangling participles.”

Your breath catches. That’s dirty pool.

“You wouldn’t!”

“I already have the first fifty pages of your novel. Remember, you emailed them to me…incorrectly formatted, of course, but that’s a later discussion. Here on page one I read, ‘…skipping along the beach, the moon shone brighter than before.’ Shall I read more?”

Before you can stop yourself, you swing the door open. Standing on the front porch is one of the largest men you’ve ever seen in your life. Even his eyebrows have muscles. And it looks like turtles have crawled up his sleeves and stopped midway between his elbow and shoulder. A t-shirt strained against his wide chest. On the t-shirt was a quote from someone named Hannibal Lector…something about a census taker and a lunch. The words begin to roll, so you glance away. A giant tatoo of a red ink pen covers most of his beefy forearm.

“I’m not home.”

“What?”

“I mean…welcome to my home.

“I’m here to help you remodel your novel,” he says calmly. Too calmly. And that’s two repetitive “ly” words in a row.

You begin to think that perhaps this won’t be as bad as you fear. Then you notice the camera crew walking up the sidewalk.

So how rough is the editing process? Do you fear the process? Do you look forward to it? How do you feel when you get blunt criticism about your manuscript?

My experiences with a freelance editor have been one of the best learning experiences of my writing life. Every writer needs an editor. There are plenty of places to get good help. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s proof that you are teachable and have a respect for the craft.

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Oops!

Ever written something that didn’t quite communicate what you meant to say? Me too.

Enjoy the following bulletin announcements that I’m told actually appeared in church bulletins:

“Bertha Belch, a missionary from Africa, will be speaking tonight. Come and hear Bertha Belch all the way from Africa.”

“At the evening service, the sermon topic will be What is Hell? Come early and listen to the choir practice.”

“This being Easter Sunday, we will ask Mrs. Johnson to come forward and lay an egg on the altar.”

“On Sunday a special collection will be taken to defray the expenses of the new carpet. All those wishing to do something on the new carpet, please come forward and get a piece of paper.”

“A bean supper will be held on Saturday evening in the church hall. Music will follow.”

“The ladies of the church have cast off clothing of every kind, and they may be seen in the church basement on Friday afternoon.”

“Ladies, don’t forget the church rummage sale. It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Don’t forget your husbands.”

“Barbara remains in the hospital, and needs blood donors for more transfusions. She is also having trouble sleeping and requests tapes of Pastor Jack’s sermons.”

After reading the above bloopers, I’m sure you agree that getting a fresh pair of eyes to view your writing is valuable. Do you have someone to read your “raw” Work-In-Progress and help you catch the bloopers that might be there?

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The Perfect Manuscript

A groom took his new bride by the hand. “Now that we’re married, dear…I hope you won’t mind if I mention a few little defects I’ve noticed about you.”

“Not at all,” the bride said. “it was those little defects that kept me from getting a better husband.”

Defects, snafus, imperfections, issues:  we’ve all got them. Some of us are loaded with them. And so are our manuscripts. Try as we might, we are unable to create the perfect manuscript. There will still be the overused words, muddled phrases, unneccessary speaker attributions, blurry POV issues, and on and on and on the list could go.

So what do we do about it?

We get fresh eyes to look over our work. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received was from an agent who told me to have a freelance editor look over my project before I submitted it to anyone. And that’s exactly what I did. In fact, I’ve done it for both books I’ve written so far on my writing journey. The experience was eye-opening and skin-thickening to say the least. And I loved it!

The editor’s red ink alerted me to mistakes that I hadn’t noticed before. I learned that I have a crazy fascination with the word “that.” And in my first manuscript at least, I had an allergy to contractions and an addiction to speaker attributions. Once I was made aware of these things I just slapped my forehead and said, “Of course!” And there were the other red-inked areas of concern that I didn’t know were defects at all. It truly was one of the most inspiring learning experiences ever.

Writer, relax in the knowledge that ALL writers produce imperfect manuscripts. Be humble, teachable, and respectful of the craft, and you will grow as a writer.

Having other people look at your work is essential. They will see things you missed, or were unwilling to cut. No, there is no perfect editor. They are giving you educated advice, but they can be wrong too. You may have to try a few to find one whose personality meshes with yours, or who has the ability to hear your “voice” and understand your intent. But it is worth the effort. (The dark side of this experience will be a topic for another post).

What mistakes do you make in your writing? Remember confession is good for the soul…or at least good for a laugh. And it helps other writers know that mistakes are just part of the journey. Share a comment about your writing weaknesses and “defects”. Thanks!

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Editor: Coach, Mentor, Friend

I just sent my manuscript to the freelance editor. It’s a game of ping-pong we play where she marks several chapters, emails them to me, and then I make or reject the suggestions. Once I’m done with the section under scrutiny, I email it back to her, and off we go.

I’ve always found the process of creating a story to be an exciting thrill-ride, but the editing experience is just as exhilarating for me. Maybe I’m weird–don’t respond to that–but seeing the story I love become sharper and stronger is amazing. Sometimes I see the things that the editor has marked and want to bang my head on the table and cry out, “why didn’t I see that?”

Okay…a tad dramatic, but you get the point. When I submit my story to “fresh eyes”, I’m doing the story a favor. The fact is, I’m too close to my story to see all the weaknesses. I’ve had people read the story and very often they spot something that I missed.

I have to decide whether I’m after an ego boost or a story boost. Can I take the red ink professionally or will I only take it personally? Is this about me or story? Do I trust the editor?

When I open God’s Word, or feel the conviction of His Spirit in my life, I’m faced with a similar choice. Will I see the Christian life as about me or for Him? Will I trust that His corrections in my life are for the best, according to His purposes?

What is God working on in your life?

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