Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ginger Visits Printed Words (No, not from Gilligan's Island)

Billie was kind enough to offer me a spot on her blog, and I hope you don’t mind if I “recycle” an oldie but goodie from my own blog a couple years back.I think the message bears repeating, plus I’m suffering from the after affects of sedation dentistry and couldn’t put a creative blog together if my life depended on it.I loved this one…hope you do too.

A New Soap Opera for Authors

Between belonging to two critique groups, being edited by different publishing houses and reading information on blogs, I feel more confused than ever. It seems that rules change from house-to-house, and while the lines blur, I’m very clear on the following traps we authors fall into while writing. I just wonder why some people refuse to crawl out after they’ve tripped up. I keep reading the same mistakes over and over so I’m offering a few helpful hints that I’ve garnered from friends with much more experience than yours truly.  I trust that their awesome grasp on what NOT to do when writing that winning novel will help me get famous someday. *lol*.

I’m going to address a few areas in no particular order:

The sequence makes sense. Before someone can react, something has to happen first. What may seem simple can be demonstrated with the following examples:
John jumped up and screamed when the ghost appeared from the closet. Or A ghost appeared from the closet, and John jumped up and screamed.
Sally bumped her head when the car hit a curb. OR The car hit a curb and Sally bumped her head. Both make sense, but the rule is: Action first, Reaction second.
The ghost appearing is the ACTION, and I believe John’s REACTION is apparent.
Sally probably wouldn’t bump her head unless the car hit a curb. Make sense?

2. ‘THAT’ bad habit
When I write, and I notice others do the same, I tend to stick in ‘that’ where not necessary. I almost did it when I wrote the first sentence. Out of habit, I wanted to put “I notice THAT others do the same. A rejection I received a few years back noted I used ‘that’ far too frequently, so now I’ve become accustomed to thinking before I type it. I normally would have typed the preceding sentence thusly: A recent rejection THAT I received noted THAT I used ‘that” far too frequently, so now THAT I’ve become accustomed to thinking… I think THAT you get the picture…oops. I think you get the picture.

Almost every story we write requires some back story (facts leading up to current), but the secret is peppering it throughout so that we don’t bury the reader with it. Novels are supposed to unfold as they’re read—happen in the moment and draw the reader into the action. If you spend paragraph upon paragraph TELLING what has already happened rather than SHOWING what is happening now, you’ve most likely lost the reader’s interest. Give enough detail to bring the reader up to speed but don’t drown them in facts that may not impact the story at all. It’s an acquired talent and one I’m working hard on.

The same goes for describing the scene. The reader doesn’t need to know the location of every tree on the property and how many birds nest in them. Better yet, paint a mental image of the tree shading the heroine’s window and the light filtering through the leaves. I recently read a drafted story in which the author fully-described everything in the heroine’s kitchen, down to the knives in the drawer. I tried to explain that you might mention the counter as the heroine moved past and picked up a knife from the drawer, but three paragraphs describing everything in the room soon grew tedious and overdone.

4. RUE
Resist the Urge to Explain = RUE. A good writer enables the reader to determine emotions from the text. Rather than TELL the reader that your heroine is sad, use descriptive sentences to reflect it. Let the reader assign the emotion. Which would you prefer?

It was Cindy’s birthday and she felt sad.
The red circle on the calendar mocked Cindy—her birthday. But today seemed like any other day. As she sifted the mail, rifling through unwanted catalogs and advertisements, she hoped for one single personally-addressed envelope. She found none.

After writing, editing and learning, I'm so much more aware of unnecessary information we add to our stories when our dialogue should show the feeling and eliminate the need to explain what the reader should feel or see.
Excited, Sasha entered the room. She felt tense and nervous at the same time. She needed water to soothe her thirst.
Could be: Sasha burst into the room. (Entered versus burst – using an action verb to show her excitement). Her heart raced, yet her jaw tensed. (showing her tenseness and nervousness). She smacked her lips, hoping for saliva to combat the cottony feel in her mouth. (showing her thirst). I'm not Nora Roberts...I wrote this on the spur of the moment. :) I think you get the message.

If you have an exchange going on between two people and it is clear to reader, there is no need to continually use the characters name in the dialogue. One must assume the reader is intelligent enough to determine who is speaking to whom with a minimal of hints and tags. Wouldn’t you find this a tad tedious? The concept is taken from something I recently proofread for one publisher:

Jane and Fred sat next to the fire, enjoying their wine. Fred turned to her, with the flames reflecting in his eyes. "Jane, I'm having a wonderful time. Thank you for inviting me."
"Me too, Fred. I'm so glad you came."
"Jane, would you like me to refill your glass?"
"No thank you, Fred. I'm fine. I get giddy if I drink too much."

The same applies for starting every sentence with ‘she/he’. She heard the bell chime can be The bell chimed. She saw the sunset become an artist’s pallet of colors can be The sunset became an artist’s pallet of colors. He or she doesn’t have to identify with everything. Words are better spent describing action to your readers. In the character’s POV, the reader will assume who is doing the feeling, looking, sensing, etc.

I notice this is a trap into which most new writers fall. (See, I didn’t end with a preposition)

6. TENSES (Past, Present, Past imperfect…blah, blah, blah.)

I'm still trying to acclimate to reading things written with 'could see', 'could hear' 'could speak', 'had been missing'. Although I realize it's a style, I've had it beaten into me that 'saw', 'heard', 'spoke', and 'missed' make the story unfold in the moment, and for me are preferred.

Consider, 'she could see his face, even in the dim light. The only sound she could hear was crickets outside the window. If only he could speak the words she longed for. She had been missing him far more than she expected.'

Now consider...She saw his face, even in the dim light. The only sound she heard was the crickets’ chirping outside the window. If only he spoke the words she longed for. She'd missed him far more than she expected.

Okay...CORNY! Still, I prefer this style when at all possible. I realize that dialogue can be in past tense, but I want to feel my stories happening NOW.

We all write so differently. Each of us have a style or flair innately our own. I’m willing to make some changes and concessions during editing, but one thing I will fight for…keeping my own voice. Everyone should. It’s what makes us unique and helps us stand apart from the crowd. The hard thing is trying to convince your editor of that. *lol*

What things have you learned during your editing process, and was this at all helpful? I hope so.

Don’t forget to stop by my website at and please come visit my blog, “Dishin’ It Out,”

 Ya’ll come.


Annette Snyder said...

spot on about an informative post! thanks for hosting Ginger!

elaine cantrell said...

Thanks for such an excellent post. Lots of good information to consider.

Word Crafter said...

Thanks for stopping by Annette and Elaine - Ginger does have a lot of good information. If you get a chance hop on over to her blog or her website and look around. She is a mover.

Pat said...

This is great information, Ginger and Billie. I felt myself mentally reading back through my current manuscript thinking 'Oh-oh'.
Too much THAT is a bad fault of mine also. LOL
Thanks so much for the informative words.

Fran Orenstein said...

Terrific blog, Ginger and I agree with everything you said.I was a magazine editor and have taken more than my share of workshops on writing; this blog was right on target. Thank you for sharing it.
Great idea to host Billie on this site.

Word Crafter said...

Hi Fran and Pat - you are both so right. I keep finding myself asking about "that" is it necessary in this instance. I have many editing questions - but I guess everytime we edit or have a manuscript edited for publication we get a lesson in correct form and language usage.
Thanks for stopping by and your comments.

Elena Dorothy Bowman said...

Hi, always, an informative blog, words of advice we all need to refresh upon from time to time. Thanks for posting.


Word Crafter said...

Hi Elena,
Thanks for stopping by. Yes, Ginger has some sage advice for us today doesn't she? Life time learners make the best teachers, don't you think?

Miss Mae said...

VERY good advice! Interestingly enough, I've had editors to come back to my sentences and add "that" in different spots!

Ain't the publishing world funny? :)

Word Crafter said...

It sure is Ms Mae - and no two editors are alike. I had one that added all sorts of exclamation points I didn't accept those changes though.
Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

That could have been me, but that was a good article All those that's and could's do fill up a lot of that wasted space and could be hard to read, couldn't it?

Anyway, I agree that it was an excellent article. I try to keep things flowing but I still need work on my show not tell part. At least I have the dialogue down pat.

The words I live by

Ginger Simpson said...

*Ginger skidding in*. I've been otherwise detained this morning, or I would have been here to thank you all for dropping by. Thanks to Billie, a longtime "virtual" friend and someone I hope to one day meet in person. The one thing I know for sure about being an author...the learning never stops. I've had the good fortune to go back and hone my previous releases and bring them out again in a new and improved version. Boy, what a difference. Again, thanks for supporting my visit today and for appreciating the tips I've shared.

Roseanne Dowell said...

Great article, Ginger. Very well done. I still edit stuff I read, yet when it comes to my own, I sometimes miss those things you pointed out. Partly, I think, because I know what it's supposed to say and how its supposed to sound and I read it that way. But thanks for the tips.

Word Crafter said...

Hi Ginger,
Thanks for stopping by and adding a note to those who've been reading your wonderful post.

And Thank you too for stopping by Roseanne. Ginger has some sage advice and I'm with you -- no matter how many times you look at your own writing - the "you know what you said" wins and the editor stays buried it seems.
Thanks again

Phyllis Campbell said...

This is great, Ginger!! I have learned a lot from you!


Karen McGrath said...

Great post, Ginger, thanks for sharing!

Frank Scully said...

Well said, Ginger. We all fall into some of these bad habits and need to edit them out as much as possible.

Diane M. Wylie said...

All writers have done the same things you blogged about, Ginger. Sometimes it is nice to hear we aren't alone in making those mistakes. Thanks for a great article.

Joyce Anthony said...

Great advice, Ginger!!! My editor complained I didn't use "that" enough :-( Thanks for sharing!

Lorrie said...

Always a good refresher article. I find as I'm learning to correct, or watch for newer mistakes, like AI (author interference) or telescoping too far out of close third POV, intensity levels, I forget the first rules and slip right back into them.
I should copy this and paste it on my wall.

Lin said...

Ever thought about becoming a writing teacher? At a Community College? You should. If I had had access to your wisdom ten years ago...oh the places I could have gone...

Brenda J Weaver said...

Great information Ginger! Sometimes its hard to see the forest of the trees :)

Word Crafter said...

Thanks to everyone who stopped by to say hi or comment on Ginger's post. Great advice everyone agrees. Thanks Ginger for taking the time to visit today. Everyone who commented will be in the drawing for the prizes for my blog tour month.
Thanks again,

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Ginger,
Very informative and sound advice.



Lisabet Sarai said...

You see, Ginger? We all think you're interesting.

I think I caught this post the first time round, but most of your advisories bear repeating.


Sloane Taylor said...

RIGHT ON, GING!!!! Excellent post and one I sure need to keep me on the straight and narrow!! Just wish I knew how to stop using these darn exclamations points. LOL

J D Webb said...

Great post, Ginger. Made me sit up and take notes!

Larion aka Larriane Wills said...

a lot of good info in there for newbie writers. come to think of it, good for all writers with reminders of habits THAT are so easy to fall into.

Patricia Harrington said...

Very helpful, good examples, and a "mea culpa" because I commit those grievous errors in writing. Too many times.

Interesting and good info with succinct examples.

Write on!

Pat H.

Word Crafter said...

I see Ginger is still getting comments - this is an excellent post Ginger thanks so much for doing this and to everyone who posted thank you so much for stopping by. Each of you will have your name entered in the drawing for prizes on my Money Isn't Everything Blog tour - the prizes are listed on my website at click on the blog tour tab.
And thanks for coming.