Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Critique of first page of a novel

by Jodie Renner, editor and craft-of-fiction writer

Today I'm starting a new feature, which I plan to run every Wednesday. I'm critiquing the first page Red indicates words I have added, plus comments and suggestions by me, which would normally be in the margin, not interrupting the text as it is here, but unfortunately, I'm unable to reproduce that aspect of my Track Changes here.
of a novel, anonymously.

If you'd like me to critique the first page of your novel or short story, please send me the first 400-500 words to j.renner.editing(at) Hotmail (dot)com, and I'll critique the first 200-300 words here. If you have a prologue, don't send that - send the beginning of Chapter 1 instead. Also, tell me the genre and a sentence or two about the story and main character. Thanks.

Chapter One:

The cornflower-blue sky stretched far into the distance beyond where the human eye could see. [Good - establishes that we're out in the country, in the prairies.] The air was cool coming in through the open truck windows. Molly glanced over at her nephew Jonas [Establishes that we’re in Molly’s point of view, which is good, as she’s the main character, so it’s best to start in her POV so readers know it’s primarily Molly’s story.] who was playing a game on his cell phone. He looked up from the game long enough to realize his aunt had driven into unfamiliar territory. [Kind of in her nephew’s viewpoint (POV) a bit here.... How does Molly know what he’s thinking or realizing? Best to stick with what she knows for sure or guesses from the expressions, words, body language, and actions of others.] He had not asked where they were as she steered the truck around the curves of several gravel roads that seemed more like washboards than roads. She had taken a detour from their planned destination, Merlkasses [Can leave this name out, unless it's important], a leather shop on the outskirts of town. [Who all is in the truck? Just the two of them?]  [Also, Jonas is on his cell phone, so it's in the present, yet they're going to get shoes and a jacket from a leather shop, which seems to take us back in time, unless Molly has the money to buy the kids shoes and a jacket at a specialty leather boutique, which seems doubtful considering the other info provided.]

Coming around a sharp bend in the road, Molly slowed the truck enough to guide it into a driveway that was so neglected the weeds had nearly gobbled it up. Pulling up to an old wooden gate in serious need of repair and a couple of coats of paint, Molly felt a twinge of uneasiness. [Intriguing. But why? What’s making her uneasy? Maybe give us a few more hints.] It vanished when she saw the tremendous amount [or “huge expanse] of deserted property stretched out along the fence line and beyond. [From the next lines, it seems she's familiar with this property, but in the description we've just read, it seems like she's seeing it for the first time...? If she knows this property well, I would revise the preceding sentences to reflect that, as we're in her thoughts here.] She could barely make out the faded realtor's sign that had dropped down in the wildly overgrown grass near the gate. The sign her realtor, and friend, had placed there months earlier offering the dilapidated homestead for an exceptionally low price.

The children [Looks like there’s another child here. Is it his sister? If so, better bring her to life, too. I'd show the two children interacting a bit earlier in the truck - maybe squabbling or teasing.] clambered out of the truck. The older of the two, a large 15-year-old boy, Jacob Finn Larrimore [It seems this guy is her nephew, and we’re in Molly’s POV, so Molly’s head right now. She’s not thinking of her nephew in these terms. Can you express this in a way that stays in Molly’s point of view, as if it’s her thoughts? Maybe: “Her 15-year-old nephew Jonas protested,” then use his exact words.], grumbled that he would prefer to have gone straight to the leather shop where he was to pick up a pair of new boots for himself and a jacket for his sister, Amy. [ Is Amy there too? Or is he just picking up a jacket for her? And wouldn’t she want to pick out her own jacket? Also, better to show his exact words, rather than paraphrasing like this.] 
"Why are we here? Where is here?" Jonas protested. His zaffre-blue [Thanks for the new word! :-) ] eyes always seemed to make his moods appear even darker than they were in reality. Yet, the wavy, auburn hair falling across his forehead and high cheekbones softened even his roughest edges. His mother had always said [Apparently, his mother died, so I added the "had" to put it into the past perfect or “past past” to show that she used to say this when she was alive.] his bark was much worse than his bite. [You repeat this just below. Use one or the other, but not both.] 

Molly's sister, Kirsty Mae Larrimore [Too formal with all three names for someone thinking about her sister.] would often said say [in the past] of her son, "His bark is just like his father's. Big bark with little bite—until someone pushes him too far. He is so much like his daddy that some days I can hardly believe it. When I look into his eyes, it is as if I've stepped into the past." Kirsty never would elaborate further when she made comments like those. Instead, she would seem to be lost in a private world that she could not or would not share with anyone else. Molly had [in the past] always found her moods odd, especially since Kirsty's husband, Henley Frederick Larrimore [I’d leave out the middle and last name, or at least the middle name. Seems too formal, especially since Molly knows him well.] had brown eyes that looked nothing at all like Jacob's zaffre-blue eyes in shape or color. [This last statement is intriguing.]

Jodie: I like your voice! And the story looks interesting. Can’t wait to find out more about these people! I would deepen the characterization of Molly, though, by showing her feelings, thoughts, and both inner and outer reactions more. Also, bring the two kids to life more, by showing more interaction between them and with Molly, and more attitude. And maybe indicate earlier on (right now it's after all this) that Molly's sister has died, leaving her with the care of her nephew and niece.

Thanks for submitting this first page for a critique. Who's up next?

Click HERE to read my critique of the first page of a historical novel.

Or, if you're tired of waiting for your first page to be critiqued here or you prefer to see the results in private, please contact me about critiquing your first page (250-300 words) for $12. (PayPal takes $2, so that leaves me with $10.) Thanks!

Jodie Renner, a freelance fiction editor specializing in thrillers and other fast-paced fiction, has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: WRITING A KILLER THRILLER and STYLE THAT SIZZLES & PACING FOR POWER (Silver Medalist in the FAPA Book Awards, 2013). Both titles are available in e-book and paperback. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.

To subscribe to Jodie’s Resources for Writers newsletter (published about 4-10 times a year), please click on this link: http://eepurl.com/C9dKD

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Edit and Critique of Your First Page

I'm starting something new here for every Wednesday. I'll choose the first page of a novel or short story to critique anonymously - for free, of course.

So if you have a thick skin, send me your first page (maximum 350 -400 words) by email to j.renner.editing (at) hotmail (dot) com, and I'll choose one to critique every Wednesday here. (If you have a prologue, send me the first page of Chapter One instead.)

I'd prefer it as an attachment in MS Word, double-spaced, Times New Roman, 12-point. Please include the genre, setting (place & time), a sentence or two on the main character(s), and a short set-up (a sentence or two on what the story is about). Thanks!

I'll choose an first page to critique every Wednesday and reprint the first 250 words or so of the story, then follow it up with my editing and various suggestions.

Send me your name, too, but I won't include it, so the critique will be anonymous. And if you want to change the names of your characters and locations, etc., go ahead, as I may find weaknesses in your writing, characterization, or even logic that you never thought of, so I don't want anyone to feel embarrassed. I'll be sure to mention strengths, too, of course!

Overall, it will be a valuable learning experience and you'll go away with lots of ideas for strengthening the rest of your novel or short story, too, to make it more compelling and hook readers in right from the start.

Looking forward to receiving your opening page or so to critique!

Or, if you're tired of waiting for your first page to be critiqued here or you prefer to see the results in private, please contact me about critiquing your first page for $12. (PayPal takes $2, so that leaves me with $10.) Thanks!

Jodie Renner, a freelance fiction editor specializing in thrillers and other fast-paced fiction, has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: WRITING A KILLER THRILLER and STYLE THAT SIZZLES & PACING FOR POWER (Silver Medalist in the FAPA Book Awards, 2013). Both titles are available in e-book and paperback. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.

To subscribe to Jodie’s Resources for Writers newsletter (published about 4-10 times a year), please click on this link: http://eepurl.com/C9dKD

Monday, April 22, 2013

What NOT to do when Beginning Your Novel - Advice from Literary Agents

Compiled by Chuck Sambuchino, over at his excellent blog, Writer Unboxed.

Here's the beginning of this compilation of great advice for novelists from literary agents:

In a previous Writer Unboxed column, I discussed the value of starting your story strong and how an “inside-out” approach to narrative action can help your case. But just as important as knowing what to do when beginning your novel is knowing what not to do.

No one reads more prospective novel beginnings than literary agents. They’re the ones on the front lines — sifting through inboxes and slush piles. And they’re the ones who can tell us which Chapter 1 approaches are overused and cliche, as well as which techniques just plain don’t work. Below find a smattering of feedback from experienced literary agents on what they hate to see the first pages of a writer’s submission. Avoid these problems and tighten your submission!


“I don’t like it when the main character dies at the end of Chapter 1. Why did I just spend all this time with this character? I feel cheated.”
- Cricket Freeman, The August Agency

“I dislike opening scenes that you think are real, then the protagonist wakes up. It makes me feel cheated.”
- Laurie McLean, Foreword Literary


“A sci-fi novel that spends the first two pages describing the strange landscape.”
- Chip MacGregor, MacGregor Literary


“I’m not a fan of prologues, preferring to find myself in the midst of a moving plot on page 1 rather than being kept outside of it, or eased into it.”
- Michelle Andelman, Regal Literary

“Most agents hate prologues. Just make the first chapter relevant and well written.”
- Andrea Brown, Andrea Brown Literary Agency

“Prologues are usually a lazy way to give back-story chunks to the reader and can be handled with more finesse throughout the story. Damn the prologue, full speed ahead!”
- Laurie McLean, Foreword Literary


For more invaluable advice from literary agents for avoiding reader (and agent) turnoffs in your first pages, click HERE to read the rest of this post at Chuck Sambuchino's blog.

Besides publishing her popular craft-of-writing books under the series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction, the award-winning Fire up Your Fiction and Writing a Killer Thriller (and the upcoming Captivate Your Readers), as well as her handy, clickable e-resources, Spelling on the Go and Grammar on the Go, Jodie Renner is a sought-after freelance fiction editor and author of numerous blog posts on writing captivating fiction. Find Jodie on Facebook and Twitter, and check out her posts alternate Mondays on The Kill Zone blog. Subscribe to Jodie's sporadic newsletter HERE.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Basic Formatting of Your Manuscript (Formatting 101)

by Jodie Renner, editor and award-winning craft-of-writing author

[updated Sept. 4, 2015, with more info and screenshots]

Writers submitting stories to magazines, contests, editors, etc. - use these tips to prepare your manuscript and increase its chances of being accepted.

Often, the first thing I have to do when I receive a manuscript for potential editing, before starting my sample edit, is to reformat it, so it’s easier for me to read. Here are some guidelines for formatting your manuscript before submitting it to a freelance editor, a formatter, a contest, an agent, or a publisher. Most of these instructions are for Microsoft Word, 2007 or later.

Indie authorsto save money on the formatting process for your book before publication, follow those steps carefully. Don't use the space bar or tab key for indenting or centering titles. Also, if you clear the formatting of the whole manuscript right at the start (Control+A, then click on the symbol to the right of the Aa in your toolbar), then rebuild your italics, bold, etc., that also prevents a lot of gremlins from sneaking in and causing problems later.

1. For editing, your manuscript needs to be in Microsoft Word (Microsoft Office). This is a must, as almost all editors use Word’s Track Changes.

2. Send the manuscript as a .doc or .docx, unless instructed otherwise. Some contests prefer or require rich text format (.rtf) or even plain text (.txt), but most submissions want .doc or .docx documents.

3. The preferred font is Times New Roman. It’s easier to read than many other fonts.
The font size should be 12-point.

4. To change the font and size for the whole manuscript instantly, click Control + A (for All) at the same time, which highlights the entire manuscript, then change the font and size by using the toolbar on “Home,” and then click “Enter.”

5. Left-justify the text, rather than justifying both sides. That way, it’s easier for the editor to spot spacing errors. That means the text is lined up straight down the left side (except for indents), but the right side is jagged, depending on the length of the last word in the line. To do that, click Control + A, then click the left-justify icon on the toolbar along the top (Click tab for Home first). You can also do that by clicking on the little arrow to the bottom and right of “Paragraph,” then click on the down arrow beside “Alignment” and click on “Left.”

6. Use only one space between sentences, not two. Two spaces between the period and capital went out with manual typewriters.

7. Do not press “Enter” at the ends of the lines to add an extra line-space between the lines. This is a HUGE no-no! It causes major headaches and a lot of frustration. As soon as a few words are added or deleted (which is what editing’s all about), everything screws up. So make sure that when you’re typing and you come to the end of a line, do not press “Enter” unless it’s for a new paragraph. Let the text “wrap” around on its own.

8. A quick and easy way to double-space your whole manuscript: Control + A (for “all”), then Control + 2 (Click on Ctrl and on 2 at the same time). VoilĂ ! It’s done! To change the whole manuscript back to single spacing later, click on Ctrl + A, then Ctrl + 1.

9. To see at a glance all kinds of formatting errors, click on the paragraph symbol on the toolbar along the top. It’s called a “Pilcrow” and it looks like a backward “P”. Here it is: ¶, and it's highlighted and circled above, a screenshot of my toolbar. You’ll see dots where spaces are and a ¶ for every hard return (Enter), at the end of a paragraph or for an empty line space between paragraphs.

10. Correct spacing between sentences. Click on that ¶ symbol again to see a dot for every space (click of the space bar). If you have two (or 3 or 4) dots instead of one between sentences (between the period and the next capital), you need to take out the extra spaces and just have one space between sentences. You can fix that for the whole manuscript in a second or two by using Find and Replace. Click on “Replace,” then after “Find what” hit the space bar twice (if you have 2 spaces). Then after “Replace with,” click the space bar once. Then click on “Replace all” and VoilĂ  again! All fixed! (Unless of course you sometimes have 3 or even 4 spaces between random sentences, as I occasionally see in my editing - a heavy or over-enthusiastic thumb, I guess.)

11. Correct line-spacing and paragraphing: Click on that ¶ symbol in the toolbar again. You’ll see the pilcrow symbol ¶ at the end of every paragraph, to indicate a hard return (“Enter”), and then again at the beginning of a line-space. If you see the ¶ at the end of every line, all down the right margin, that’s a real problem – the biggest formatting mistake of all! You need to remove those pilcrows (returns) at the end of every line, either by using your “Delete” or “Backspace” keys before or after them, or by doing a “Find and Replace.” After “Find” you type in this: ^p (for the pilcrow or paragraph mark). After “Replace” you just hit the space bar once, to replace the carriage return with a space.

When you click on that pilcrow sign ¶, also look for extra dots at the beginnings of paragraphs, before the first indented word, and take them all out. There should just be the indents, with no extra dots in front of them. (I see that quite a lot in manuscripts I edit.)

Note that you should only see the pilcrow ¶ in two places – at the end of a paragraph, and on any blank line. If you see a ¶ anywhere other than those two locations, it’s misplaced and will probably cause some type of inadvertent mischief.

12. Paragraphing for fiction: For fiction manuscripts, don’t add an extra line-space between paragraphs. Just leave it at your normal double-spacing. Press “Enter” at the end of the last paragraph, then indent the new paragraph (0.3 to 0.5 inch) using the built-in paragraph styles, rather than tabs or spaces. (See #15 below for instructions on how to indent the right way.)

13. Paragraphing for nonfiction: Nonfiction usually uses block formatting, with no indents for new paragraphs but instead an extra space between paragraphs.

14. General rule for indenting and spacing paragraphs: If you indent your paragraphs, don’t leave an extra space between paragraphs; if you don’t indent, insert the extra space between paragraphs.

15. How to indent the first line of each paragraph:

Do not click repeatedly on the space bar to indent! Click on that pilcrow again ¶ and if you see 2-6 dots at the beginning of the paragraph, you’ve used the space bar to indent. That’s another big no-no, and a bit of a headache to fix, especially if you don’t always use the exact same number of spaces.

Using the “Tab” key to indent paragraphs also doesn't work for anything that's destined to be published. When editors receive submissions with with tabs or extra spaces added, they need to strip them out, which can be very time-consuming, even with the "Find and Replace" function. If you send a manuscript to a formatter, they usually charge by the hour, so indenting with either the space bar or the Tab key will end up costing you a lot more. Ditto with using either of those for centering your title.

The best way by far to indent for the first line of a new paragraph is to use Word’s formatting.

To do this for the whole manuscript at once, use Control + A (for All), then, in the toolbar along the top, click on the little arrow to the bottom right of “Paragraph” (in Word 2010)

Then under “Special” click on “First line,” then 0.5" or 0.4" or 0.3". Don’t go for less than .3" or more than .5".

Note that your indentation should be set at 0" for the inside and 0" for  the outside. Also, your line spacing should be set at 0 pt before and after. That means no extra space between paragraphs when they're indented.

And by the way, by popular current convention, the first line of a new chapter or scene is not usually indented. So after you've done the above, you can highlight the first paragraph of each chapter and change the "Special" from "First line" to "None."

16. To center your title and chapter headings, do not repeatedly click on the space bar. Again, if you click on the pilcrow (¶) and you can see a bunch of dots in front of the title, you’ve used the space bar to get it over there in the middle. And don’t use the Tab key for that, either. Instead, highlight the title with your cursor, then click on the centering in the toolbar along the top, under the “Home” tab. Or go to “Paragraph” below that, and click on the arrow in the lower right corner, then go to “Alignment,” then click the down arrow and choose “Centering.” A quick trick for centering a word or phrase is to click your cursor in the middle of it, then click Ctrl + E.

17. For extra line spaces between chapters, do not repeatedly click on Enter or Return. Instead, insert a page break. To force a page break at the end of a chapter (in Word 2010), place your cursor at the end of the chapter, usually on the line below the last sentence, then, in the toolbar along the top, click on the tab “Insert” then click on “Page Break.” In Word 2007, click on “Page Layout” in the toolbar, then click on “Breaks”, then on “Page.” In Word  2010, click on the tab "Insert", then "Page Break." Another quick trick? Press CTRL+Enter. This will give you a forced page break for the end of each chapter. Do not do this at the end of a normal page, only for the end of a chapter.

18. Your next chapter heading (chapter name or number) should start at least 3 line-spaces down from the top of the page.

19. Change all straight quotation marks and apostrophes to curly ones.
For example, change "I haven't seen him."  to “I haven’t seen him.”

20. For more advanced, specific formatting, read the guidelines set out by the agent or publisher. And of course, formatting for publication, for example on Kindle, involves a lot more that's not discussed here! Especially if you're writing nonfiction like I do, with subheadings and lists. But preparing your manuscript using the above tips will save your formatter a lot of time and frustration, so will save you a lot of money on formatting costs.

21. And a few quick notes about formatting for dialogue:

Make a new paragraph for each new person talking. Also a new paragraph for someone else reacting to the previous speaker.

Comma after “said”: He said, “How are you?”

Comma at the end of the spoken sentence, where a period would normally go, inside the last quotation mark: “Come with me,” she said.

Lowercase "he" or "she" after a quotation ending in a ? or !, even though Word wants you to capitalize them:

Correct: "Why?" she asked. 

Incorrect: "Why?" She asked.

Do you have any formatting suggestions, tricks, or questions? Let me know in the comment boxes below. Thanks!
Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Captivate Your Readers, Fire up Your Fiction, and Writing a Killer Thriller . She has also published two clickable time-saving e-resources to date: Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage. You can find Jodie at www.JodieRenner.com, www.JodieRennerEditing.comand on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Sign up for Jodie's infrequent (3-4 times a year) newsletter HERE.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Info with Attitude

Info with Attitude - The Kill Zone

Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Here's an excerpt from an article of mine that appeared recently on the excellent blog, The Kill Zone. For the rest of the article, click on the link at the end.
As a freelance fiction editor, I find that military personnel, professionals, academics, police officers, and others who are used to imparting factual information in objective, detached, bias-free ways often need a lot of coaching in loosening up their language and adding attitude and emotions to create a captivating story world.
Today I welcome back to TKZ my friend and editor, Jodie Renner, to share tips on imparting factual information without it coming off like the dreaded “info dump”. Her craft-of-writing book, Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power, recently came out in paperback. Enjoy!
by Jodie Renner, editor and craft writer

Strategies for Turning Impersonal Info Dumps into Compelling Copy

Really need those facts in there? Rewrite with attitude!

Say you want to write a fast-paced novel and your background is in a specialized field, so you decide to set your story in that milieu you know so well. Maybe you want to write a legal thriller or a medical suspense, or a mystery involving scientific research or stolen artifacts. Or maybe you’d like to use your military, police, or forensics experience, but your writing experience to date has mainly been confined to producing terse, objective, factual reports.

As you’re writing your story, you decide at various points that you need to interrupt the story to explain something the readers may not understand. And you want to get it right, both to lend credibility to your story and because you’re concerned about criticism from other professionals in your field. Your first impulse might be to copy and paste sections on that topic from a journal or online search, then tweak them a bit. Or just stop to explain the technical points in your own words, factually, as you would in a report or research paper, then go back to your storyline. Big mistake. You’ve just interrupted an exciting (we hope!) story to give a mini-lecture. Remember that the main purpose of fiction is to entertain your readers with an engaging tale. To do that, it’s critical to stay in the story and in the viewpoint and voice of your compelling, charismatic (we hope!) characters.

How to keep your credibility but write with passion and tension

Want to keep your readers turning the pages? ...

For the rest of this article, click HERE.

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor who specializes in thrillers, mysteries, and other fast-paced fiction. For more info on Jodie’s editing services and her books, please visit her website. Jodie has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Writing and Killer Thriller, a short e-book, and Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power, which is available in paperback, as an e-book on Kindle, and in other e-book formats. And you don’t need to own an e-reader to purchase and enjoy e-books. You can download them to your computer, tablet, or smartphone.