Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Adding Scenes, Inserting Plot Twists, and Creating Subplots in Your Novel

After your first read through of your manuscript, you should have a general idea of what’s missing. Your first few rounds of edits will focus specifically on filling out the content of your story, and connecting it all together. A big portion of this round of edits should be focused on inserting three things: scenes that push the plot forward, plot twists that ratchet up the book’s momentum, and subplots that add depth to your story.

Adding in Scenes
After your first read through, the most obvious edit will be adding in those scenes that you either forgot to add in during your first draft, or those that you’ve put off for one reason or another. Now is the time to write them and insert them into the novel.

By doing this, you’ll avoid having to reread your manuscript yet again, and the next time you do read it through, you will have patched up all the most obvious holes. This is important because, as you edit, you want your task to become more and more manageable, moving from the biggest most important edits to eventually fine-tuning and polishing your words.

These Scenes are too Difficult to Write
At a writer’s panel, I had the pleasure of hearing a famous author discuss the process of writing a novel. One individual from the audience asked him how he managed to write day after day. His response stuck with me. The author told the audience that his grandfather was a steel worker, and never took days off just because he didn’t feel like working. The author’s point was to add perspective; if you want to make a career writing novels, then you can’t avoid writing simply because you don’t feel like it.

My point is a little different. I’m not here to humble you, but I am here to inform you. You can take the time off and avoid writing the scene, but you’ll never get published that way. And if you never get published, you never get the opportunity to be successful as a writer.

Just write the scene and don’t hit backspace. It’s much easier to edit even a rough scene than it is to write one. Make it easier for yourself and put something down on paper. You can always go back to it later.

Inserting Plot Twists
Plot twists, while not as necessary during this round of edits, are oh so fun, and they’ll tighten your book and heighten the its momentum. Plot twists are those revelations that shock readers and leave them reeling. One of the most famous examples appears in Star Wars, when Luke Skywalker finds out Darth Vader is his father.

Plot twists don’t always have to do with finding out a side character’s true identity. It could be information regarding the main character, the plot, the world he or she lives in, and so on. For instance maybe your main character finds out he has the same dark power that the enemy has. This revelation now makes your main character (and your readers) question just how good or evil this character is, and just how good or evil the enemy is. Maybe your character discovers a bit of information that upends her entire set of assumptions; that might be a revelation that will alter entirely how she approaches the main conflict. Whatever the plot twist, the point is to shock the reader.

You’ll no doubt have a series of these plot twists already in your manuscript. However, more is almost always better. The world of fiction in this sense is a lot different than real life. In real life, such revelations and coincidences might be few and far between, but in your book adding in these plot twists heightens the story and increases reader excitement.  

Creating a Subplot
Another aspect you’ll want to think about, especially if you feel your book is lean on content, is a subplot. Maybe your main character is trying to get that job promotion in addition to chasing villains. Maybe there is family trouble that your main character must grapple with in addition to the book’s main conflict. Maybe a series of murders occurs that somehow tie into your book’s main conflict.

These are all more minor plots that occur parallel to the main conflict and add more tension and excitement to the story. Whatever subplot you chose, this underlying problem will give your characters and your story additional depth.

If you find your story is a bit on the lean side, or you feel your book needs some additional content, then you’ll want to consider adding in a subplot.

Secondary Benefits
Adding these scenes in will help you determine sections of your story that are really just filler. As you add in these important scenes that push the plot forward and insert plot twists that will increase your book’s momentum, it will be easier for you to identify and remove those sections of text that do not push the plot forward and instead slow down your book’s momentum.

Happy writing,

Laura Carlson, Editor
American Editing Services

Monday, February 25, 2013

Technical Problems Writers Commonly Make and How to Fix Them

Direct Thoughts
Lots of writers will quote the main character’s direct thoughts. This can get confusing and sound clunky, as quotes are so closely associated with speaking. Instead of using quotes, italics is the more appropriate way to insert direct thoughts. However, some editors have argued—and I agree—that even italics are not needed for a direct thought unless the writer wants to place additional emphasis on the word. My reasoning is that books are filled with direct thoughts, and excessive italics will be distracting and get tiresome to the reader.

Paragraph Breaks
Readers like nice, manageable paragraphs. Visually the size of the paragraph indicates a few things to the reader. First, large paragraphs are usually description and/or thought-heavy. These slow down momentum, and they are daunting to readers who want to be whisked through the story. In addition, there’s something about that indent, indicating a new paragraph, that adds structure and is visually pleasing to the reader.

Long, unending paragraphs indicate the opposite. They are not visually please, and they illustrate a lack of structure. Worse, a reader might call into question a writer’s skill if they come across a few of these.

Make sure to insert more paragraph breaks, and if you can’t, or you find that you have a lot of large paragraphs, then this is a critical indicator that you might have too many thoughts or too much description.

Scene Breaks
Within a chapter, inserting scene breaks is a great way to give readers manageable sections to read, remove needless filler, and insert more cliffhangers. A scene break is literally inserting a space between two separate scenes. Often times these breaks are accompanied by symbols such as three dots.

While most writers know about cliffhangers, most do not leverage these breaks to their advantage. Ending a scene with a cliffhanger gives readers a great stopping point, but many times readers won’t stop if they’re anxious to know what happens next. More cliffhangers and revelations means your book with generate more momentum and reader interest.

Scene breaks also help eliminate the need for filler. After all, if you can end a scene at the revelation that the bad guy was a good friend of the main character’s father, then you will also remove the temptation to continue narrating about any mundane events that follow (like driving or taking a shower, or getting ready for bed) and will instead start the following scene or sequel with the next important series of events.

I’ve seen writers use all caps to emphasize a line or phrase, and I’ve also seen writers fail to use italics at all. For memories, dreams, short scenes from another character’s POV (for books that stick almost wholly to a single narrator), or emphasis, italics are the way to go.

They visually set the text apart from the writing that surrounds it. In addition, italics alert the reader that there is something different about a particular line or scene without the writer ever having to directly address the issue.

Spacing Between Sentences
Until recently, we were taught in school to insert two spaces between sentences. This rule is no longer true. The rule now is that a single space goes between each sentence.

These are hands down one of the most difficult pieces of punctuation I’ve dealt with, especially with the introduction of e-books. The common rule is to treat an ellipses like a word, meaning that a space comes before and after it, except when next to a quotation mark.

Complications arise when you take into account that the common rule is also to insert a space between each period. As many of you know, Microsoft Word auto formats three periods without a space in between these periods as an ellipsis. This auto format is extremely helpful because it combines these three periods into a single unit, so you’ll never have two dots of the ellipsis on one line and the third dot on the following line, which happens when you do insert a space between these periods.

That auto formatting is pretty vital when it comes to e-books, especially if you are self-publishing. It’s much better to have three periods with no spaces in between than it is to have your ellipses run onto the following line.

My recommendation is to insert a space before your ellipses, no spaces between the periods, and a space following the ellipsis, except when there’s a quotation mark. Below are some examples:

“Are you going … wait, what?”
“Are you going …”

“Are you going… wait, what?”
“Are you going…wait, what?”
“Are you going … ”

Punctuating Dialogue

Punctuation Outside Quotes
Some writers make the mistake of placing punctuation outside the dialogue. When writing dialogue, punctuation always goes inside the quotes. Here are some examples:

“Don’t go”, she said.
“Don’t go”.
“Why not”?

“Don’t go,” she said.
“Don’t go.”
“Why not?”

Incorrect Dialogue Punctuation
When it comes to dialogue, a more common punctuation problem is not where the dialogue goes, but what type of punctuation belongs there. Specifically commas versus periods.

So, when does a direct quote end with a comma and when does it end with a period? If a dialogue tag is attached to the end of the quote, then a comma goes inside the quotes, and not a period.

“I can’t wait for tonight.” She said.

“I can’t wait for tonight,” she said.

This can get confusing when you start to add other dialogue tags. For instance, “laughed,” “snorted,” “giggled,” etc., would not follow this rule. Why? The dialogue tag is there to describe how someone said something; it’s there to add a bit more context to the dialogue.

So “said,” “exclaim,” and “ask” are all ways someone can say a sentence, but it’s almost impossible to “giggle” a line—and even if it is possible, do you really want your character to giggle out a sentence, or to say a sentence and then giggle.

The test for this is easy. Just ask yourself if a character can say the line and do the action described in the dialogue tag simultaneously. Here are some examples:

“I can’t wait for tonight,” she said.
“I can’t wait for tonight,” she proclaimed.
“I can’t wait for tonight.” She laughed.
“I can’t wait for tonight,” she retorted.
“I can’t wait for tonight.” She snickered.

These rules also apply to dialogue tags placed in other areas surrounding the dialogue.

Happy writing,

Laura Carlson, Editor
American Editing Services

Friday, February 22, 2013

Guest Post on Colorimetry

I know some of you were briefly tantalized by my post on technical mistakes writers commonly make, and I promise I will post it. However, I took it down because I have a guest post on the lovely blog, Colorimetry.

This site is fantastic, if you haven’t come across it before. Burgundy Ice, who runs the blog, writes some amazing and informative book reviews. And she often has raffles! It’s an extremely fun blog to peruse, and if you’re aching for a new book to read, definitely check out her reviews.

Have a great weekend!

Happy writing,

Laura Carlson, Editor
American Editing Services

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Introducing Your Novel: Why the First Few Pages are the Most Important

What is the most important section of your novel? Many of you would argue that it’s the climax and conclusion that are the most important. While the end of your novel is exceedingly important, it’s not the most important. That place of honor is reserved for the very beginning of your novel.

Why the First Few Pages are Important
The beginning of your novel is hands down the most important section of your book, and this has more to do with marketing than it does literary merit. As a writer, it is your job to catch your audience’s attention instantly. Anything less and they might shrug their shoulders and move on to a book that does manage to do this.

This is especially important because Amazon and similar sites allow potential buyers to read a sample section of your book—the beginning. A smart reader will read this sample before he or she decides to buy, and rightfully so. After all, why should they invest money in a book that they know nothing about? It is essential now, more than ever, that writers treat these first pages with care. Your sales depend on it.

Agents and editors also look for books that begin with a bang. Ever wonder how an agent can reject a writer after only reading the first ten pages? They’re doing the exact same thing readers are doing: looking for a manuscript that will immediately hook them. Anything less and they’ll pass on it.

What Your First Few Pages Should Include
So now that you know the importance of your first few pages, it’s time to turn our attention to what they should include. The answer to this can depend on the genre you’re writing, but generally it should involve either a conflict or a mystery.

For example, maybe in your first pages a man stalks your main character before vanishing into thin air. Maybe your main character is running from the cops after robbing a museum. Maybe Dark and Handsome saves your main character from getting hit by a car. These are the types of entrances that generate momentum quickly and will hook your readers.

A lot of you might have what you consider an okay introduction. It doesn’t start with a bang like these examples, but it’s not boring. . . . Or is it? I’m here to tell you it definitively is, at least for a portion of your audience, and you can’t afford that. I’ve come across countless writers who begin the story with an average day, only for that day to end in chaos. Even this isn’t quick enough. Take out that average day and cut to that chaos. Make the first line exciting if you can. Part of being a great writer has nothing to do with penmanship, but knowing just how to string your readers along.

How Many Pages Does this Apply to?
Your first five pages (approximately 1,250 words) are the most important, since that’s your reader’s first impression. However, your first chapter should be extremely well-written and fast-paced, and the two chapters that follow that should also be considerably exciting. This is the section of your book where you introduce the premise, and plant the seeds for the plot. It should raise questions, quicken the heart rate and intrigue the reader. After your first three chapters, if a reader is still hooked, they’re probably not going to put down or discard your book.

Happy writing,

Laura Carlson, Editor
American Editing Services