Thursday, October 24, 2019

16 Concrete Tips for Self-Editing

I'm over on The Kill Zone blog today, where I was a regular contributor (every other Monday) for two years, from 2013 to 2015. That award-winning blog specializes in advice for mystery and thriller writers, and I specialize in editing fast-paced suspense fiction, so it was a great fit.

Here's the beginning of my guest blog post over there today, with a link below to the rest:


16 Concrete Tips for Effectively Editing Your Own Fiction


by Jodie Renner, TKZ alumna, fiction editor and author of writing guides    
Are you relatively new at writing fiction? Perhaps you’ve shown your first (or latest) draft to beta readers and been told your premise, plot, and characterization are now pretty solid, but that your pacing is a bit slow and your writing style could use some amping up and polishing. Perhaps it’s overly wordy or just a bit pedestrian.
If so, take a break, then grab a coffee or some chocolate and start going through the whole story again, page by page, to search for any wordy, clunky, hackneyed, or lackluster phrasing and replace it with succinct, fresh, vibrant wording that will entice and delight your readers. The step-by-step list below will help you do a line-by-line self-edit to take your story up a notch or two.
If you want your popular fiction to captivate readers, sell well, and garner great reviews, ferret out and fix these 16 style weaknesses:
1. Meandering, wordy, or repetitive writing. Be on the constant lookout for anywhere you can cut down on wordiness. Don’t bore your readers by having characters going on and on. Avoid lengthy, neutral descriptions—today’s readers don’t have patience with them. And don’t say the same thing several times just to make sure readers got it. Look for areas you’re repeating yourself. Also, watch for “little word pileup.” Can you be more succinct and direct? For example, instead of “It would be a good thing for us to…,” just say “We should….” Here’s an example from my editing:
Before: The man was small and pudgy and he had a full dark beard that he nervously stroked with his hand.
After: The small, pudgy man nervously stroked his full dark beard.
2. Wishy-washy qualifiers that weaken your message. Do a search for words like quite, sort of, almost, kind of, a bit, pretty, somewhat, rather, usually, basically, generally, probably, mostly, etc., and delete almost all of them. Forget “He was quite brave,” or “She was pretty intelligent” or “It was almost scary.” These qualifiers dilute your message, reduce the impact, and make the imagery weaker. Even really and very are best avoided—it’s like you’re saying the word after it needs reinforcing. “She was beautiful” packs more punch than “She was very beautiful.”
3. ….
for the rest of this post, go to: Concrete Tips for Effectively Editing Your Own Fiction.
See you over there! I'd be delighted if you left a comment there as well. Thanks.

Friday, October 18, 2019

7 Tips for Evolving from Nonfiction Writing to Engaging Storytelling

by Jodie Renner, fiction editor and author of writing guides
   
Are you already pretty confident with writing articles, blog posts, essays, term papers, or business reports? Maybe you've even written a nonfiction book or two? Congratulations! Now you're thinking of trying your hand at writing stories. Sounds great. So making the transition to creating engaging fiction that sells should be no big deal, right?

Not.

There’s actually a significant learning curve to recognizing and mastering the essential elements of writing fiction that captivates readers, sells well, and garners glowing reviews.

As an independent editor specializing in popular, fast-paced fiction, I often receive manuscripts from professionals and others who write a lot of nonfiction and are attaching a draft of a novel or short story. They often assume that since they’re used to writing, the transition to fiction will be easy.

Not so.

Nonfiction writers and first-time novelists often don’t realize the importance of issues they’re simply not aware of, so they ask me for “just a light copyedit.” When I start reading their manuscript, I often notice right away the story seems to lack sparkle. It doesn’t engage me or make me want to keep reading.

The writers, although accomplished in their field, have little or no concept of the critical aspects of point of view and showing instead of telling.

Other issues I see are writing that is just too “correct” and distant for storytelling, with stilted dialogue, too-frequent author intrusions, and bland, neutral narration. Finally, the writing often meanders along at too leisurely a pace, lacking sufficient conflict, tension, intrigue, and general zing.

The following tips, for anyone wanting to master the art of storytelling, will help you bring your characters and story world to life by loosening up your language, getting up close and personal with your characters, letting them tell the story, and showing their emotions and reactions.

Of course, you’ll need to start with a fascinating main character with a driving goal who has a daunting dilemma or encounters a serious obstacle, critical problem, or formidable adversary. Add in a memorable setting, some interesting supporting characters, and some conflict and intrigue. Maybe a love interest.

Here are seven essential style elements for a successful transition from informative, fact-based writing to entertaining, compelling storytelling:

1. Get into your character’s head – and stay there.

Start right out in the point of view of your protagonist and show the events through his eyes, with his internal reactions. Forget omniscient point of view – it’s no longer in favor, and for very good reason. Readers want to get “up close and personal” with the main character, so they can become emotionally engaged and drawn into the story.

Show your character’s thoughts, perceptions, and inner reactions to what’s going on right away, so readers can identify with her and bond with her. Don’t head-hop to other characters’ thoughts within a scene. To get into the head of others, like the antagonist or love interest, give them their own viewpoint scenes.

2. Stay out of the story as the author.

Let the characters tell the story, in a natural way that is authentic to the story world you’re creating. This will keep the readers immersed in the fictive dream. Don’t interrupt the story by stepping in as the author to explain things to the readers. In other words, avoid info dumps and other author intrusions.

3. Make sure your story has plenty of conflict and tension
  
Conflict is what drives fiction forward. No conflict = no story. Not enough conflict and tension = boring. Every scene should have some conflict and a change. Every page should have some tension, even if it’s just an undercurrent of unease, disagreement, or resentment.

4. Loosen up your language.

Again, “let the characters tell the story.” Forget perfect English, complete sentences, convoluted phrasing, or fancy-schmancy vocabulary. Use direct language and strong imagery, in the character’s thoughts, colored by their personality, education, background and attitudes. In other words, stay in your character’s mood and voice, using words and phrasing they would use, which also fit the overall tone of the story, rather than a more correct, neutral language.

5. Show, don’t tell.

Don’t step in as the author to tell your readers about your characters or their background or to relate something that happened. And don’t have one character tell another about a critical event that occurred offstage. Show important scenes in real time, with action and dialogue.

Also, to bring your characters alive, be sure to show their emotions, internal and external reactions, and physical sensations.

Evoke all or most of the five senses. Don’t just show what the character is seeing. What is she hearing, smelling, feeling? Even tasting?

6. Use snappy dialogue.

Dialogue needs lots of tension and attitude. Be sure your dialogue doesn’t all sound the same – like it’s the author speaking. Each character’s words and speech patterns need to match their personality and background.

Avoid complete sentences and perfect English in dialogue
. Use frequent partial sentences, one- or two-word questions and answers, evasive replies, abrupt changes of topic, and silences. Read your dialogue out loud, perhaps role-playing with someone else, to make sure it sounds natural and authentic.

Also, skip the “Hi, how are you?” and other blah-blah lead-up and filler. Cut to the chase in your
dialogue.

7. Even your narration should not be neutral.

Avoid bland, authorial narration.

Any backstory should be the character’s thoughts, in their words, colored by their feelings about it. And keep it to a minimum, preferably with flashbacks in real time. Even your description, exposition, and narration should not be neutral – these are really the POV character’s observations, and should reveal their personality, goals, attitude and mood.

For many more valuable tips, with examples, for writing compelling fiction, check out Jodie Renner's award-winning fiction-writing guides, Writing a Killer Thriller, Fire up Your Fiction, and Captivate Your Readers, available at all Amazon sites and elsewhere. For Amazon, click on the links below.

~ Fire up Your Fiction – An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Stories  
Amazon.com   Amazon.ca   Amazon.co.uk

~ Captivate Your Readers – An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction
 Amazon.com   Amazon.ca   Amazon.co.uk

~ Writing a Killer Thriller – An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction
   Amazon.com   Amazon.ca   Amazon.co.uk

For information on Jodie's editing services, visit JodieRenner.com.

What about you? Do you have any other suggestions for nonfiction writers making their first foray into the world of fiction writing? Or any personal experience in this? Please let us know in the comments below. Thank you.

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: FIRE UP YOUR FICTION,  CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, and WRITING A KILLER THRILLER, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, QUICK CLICKS: Spelling List and QUICK CLICKS: Word Usage. She has also organized two anthologies for charity: VOICES FROM THE VALLEYS – Stories and Poems about Life in BC’s Interior, and CHILDHOOD REGAINED – Stories of Hope for Asian Child Workers. You can find Jodie on her Amazon Author Page, at www.JodieRenner.com, and on Facebook. 

Friday, October 11, 2019

12 Dos and Don'ts for a Riveting Opening

updated from original post, by Jodie Renner, fiction editor and author of writing guides

Do you want your popular fiction novel to reach lots of readers and garner great reviews? Of course you do! Competition is fierce, so your first pages have to grab the readers and compel them to keep turning the pages till the end.

Whether in a bookstore or shopping online, potential readers start by checking out the back cover blurb, then read the first page or two. Based on that, they'll either buy that novel or move on to another.

Your first pages are critical!

Gone are the days when fiction readers were willing to read pages of description and lead-up before being introduced to the characters and the plot. Readers, agents, and publishers today don’t have the time or patience to wade through pages of backstory and description, so you need to grab their interest right from the first sentence and first paragraph of your story.

As James Scott Bell says in Revision and Self-Editing, about the opening paragraphs,
“Give us a character in motion. Something happening to a person from line one. Make that a disturbing thing, or have it presage something disturbing.”

HERE ARE 12 DOS AND DON'TS FOR HOOKING READERS IN RIGHT FROM THE START. These are not hard-and-fast rules, of course, but techniques for engaging your readers emotionally, which is what will keep them turning the pages.

1. Don’t begin with a long, neutral description of the setting or with background information on your main character.

Do begin with dialogue and action, then add any necessary backstory or description in bits and pieces where it fits well as you progress through the story. This also builds up reader curiosity and adds intrigue.

2. Don’t start with a character other than your protagonist. 

Do introduce your protagonist right in the first paragraph – preferably the first sentence. Readers want to know right away whose story it is, which character you’re asking them to identify with. (See below for some first lines of bestselling novels.)

3. Don’t start with a description of past events. 

Do jump right in with what the main character is involved in right now and introduce some tension or conflict as soon as possible.

4. Don’t start in a viewpoint other than the main character’s.

Rather than starting in omniscient point of view, as the author talking to the readers, or in the viewpoint of a minor character observing, do start telling the story from your protagonist’s point of view, so readers start bonding with him or her right away. It’s best to stay in the protagonist’s viewpoint for at least the whole first chapter, or most of it, and don’t change the point of view within a scene.

5. Don’t introduce your protagonist in a static, neutral (boring) situation. 

Do develop your main character quickly by putting her in a bit of hot water and showing how she reacts to the situation, so readers can empathize and “bond” with her and start caring enough about her to keep reading. 

6. Don’t start with your character all alone, reflecting on his life. 

Do have more than one character (two is best) interacting, with action and dialogue and some tension. That’s more compelling than reading the thoughts of one person.

7. Don’t start with your protagonist getting out of bed, planning a trip, or traveling somewhere.

In other words, don’t start with him on his way to an important scene. Instead, present him in a meaningful scene right away.

8. Don’t introduce a lot of characters in the first few pages. 

To avoid reader confusion and frustration, it’s best to limit the number of characters you introduce in the first few pages to three or less. 

9. Don't confuse the readers. Don't leave them wondering who this is, where they are, and what's going on.

Readers want to get a handle very early on as to the 5 W's: Who, What, Where, When, and Why. Who is this character, exactly? Give the gender, approximate age, occupation, and standing in life of your protagonist. Also, what's going on and where are they? Is it the present or past? Once readers have a basic idea of your main character and story world, they can sit back and relax and get into the story.

10. Don’t leave the reader wondering what the characters look like or their approximate ages. 

Do provide a brief description of each main or supporting character as they’re introduced, or as soon as you can work it in, so the readers can form a picture of him or her in their minds. But don’t spend too much time detailing every single thing they’re wearing – just a rough sketch is best, with first-impression character traits, and from your viewpoint character’s point of view, but subtly and with attitude.

11. Don’t wait too long to introduce the love interest or villain.

To add interest and intrigue, in a romance, do introduce the hero (love interest) and, in a thriller, show us the antagonist (bad guy) within the first chapter or two. 

12. Don’t spend too long on setup.

Don’t take chapters to introduce the main conflict or problem the protagonist faces. Do write in an inciting incident, or at least some significant tension, within the first pages. 

But don’t fuss over your opening in the writing stage. Just start your story wherever you want. Then in the editing stage, you can go back and cut out the first several paragraphs or pages or even most of the first chapter or two, so that, in your final draft, your actual story starts after all that lead-up (some of which may appear later, in snippets here and there). 

In conclusion, here’s a little rule for writing compelling fiction, coined by one of my favorite writing gurus, James Scott Bell: 

Act first, explain later.

The above tips are excerpted from Jodie Renner's writing guide, FIRE UP YOUR FICTION, available on all Amazon sites and elsewhere. 

Here are some effective opening lines from bestselling novels. Notice that the protagonist is mentioned by name right at the beginning, and the scene is in his/her point of view. Also, some tension and intrigue is introduced right away to compel us to keep reading.

"Jack Reacher ordered espresso, double, no peel, no cube, no foam, no china, and before it arrived at his table he saw a man’s life change forever."
– Lee Child, first line of The Hard Way

"The voice on the phone was a whisper. It had a forceful, almost desperate quality to it.
Henry Pierce told the caller he had a wrong number, but the voice became insistent."
- Michael Connelly, opening lines of Chasing the Dime

"The man with the rubber boots stepped into the elevator behind me, but I didn't see him at first. I smelled him though--the pungent odor of smoke and cheap wine and life on the street without soap."
- John Grisham, opening lines of The Street Lawyer


"I’d never given much thought to how I would die – even though I’d had reason enough in the last few months – but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this."
– Stephenie Meyer, first line of Twilight
"The night Vincent was shot he saw it coming."
– Elmore Leonard, first line of Glitz

"Cooper Sullivan’s life, as he’d known it, was over."
– Nora Roberts, first line of Black Hills

"Dallas ran, far from the house. He could hear his aunt Betsy calling to him, but he needed to escape."
- Heather Graham, opening of the Prologue of The Summoning

Do you have any gripping opening lines you'd like to share? Please use the comments 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: FIRE UP YOUR FICTION,  CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, and WRITING A KILLER THRILLER, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, QUICK CLICKS: Spelling List and QUICK CLICKS: Word Usage. She has also organized two anthologies for charity: VOICES FROM THE VALLEYS – Stories and Poems about Life in BC’s Interior, and CHILDHOOD REGAINED – Stories of Hope for Asian Child Workers. Website: www.JodieRenner.com; Facebook. Amazon Author Page.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

How to Slash Your Word Count by 20-40%

…and tighten up your story without losing any of the good stuff!   

by Jodie Renner, fiction editor and author of writing guides

Have you been told your story looks promising or even intriguing, but your novel is way too long? Or maybe that it drags in places and needs tightening up? Today’s readers have shorter attention spans, and publishers don’t want to accept long novels from new writers, as they are so much more expensive to produce.

The current preferred length for thrillers, mysteries and romance is around 70,000–90,000 words. Anything over 100K is definitely considered too long in most genres these days. Well-written, finely crafted fantasies and historical sagas can run longer, but newbie writers need to earn their stripes first before attempting to sell a really long novel. Basically, every word needs to count. Every image and decision and action and reaction need to drive the story forward. There’s no place for rambling or waxing eloquent or self-indulgent preening in today’s popular fiction! Thrillers and other suspense novels especially need to be fast-paced page-turners.

Some strategies for cutting the word count. It’s best to proceed roughly in this order, using any of the tips that apply to your novel:

FIRST, CONSIDER:

~ IF YOU HAVE A WORDY, MEANDERING WRITING STYLE, TIGHTEN IT UP. As you go along, condense long descriptions and lengthy, uninterrupted backstory; take out repetitions of all kinds (imagery, plot points, ideas, descriptions, phrases, words); delete or condense scenes that drag, have insufficient tension, or just don’t drive the story forward; and in general, make your scenes, paragraphs and sentences leaner. See Chapters 9, 10, 11, 14, and 15 of my writing guide Fire up Your Fiction.

START WITH BIG CHANGES: CUTS TO PLOT, CHARACTERS, AND STRUCTURE:

~ If your writing is quite tight but you have an intricate, involved plot, can you divide your really long novel into two or three in a series? But bear in mind that each book in the series needs its own plot arc and character arc – rising tension and some resolution, and a change/growth in the protagonist.

~ If the story doesn’t lend itself to being broken up, try making your plot less detailed. Cut or combine some of your less exciting plot points. Cut down on some of the “and then, and then, and then…”

~ Consider deleting one or two (or three) subplots, depending on how many you have.

~ Cut back on your cast of thousands. Too many characters can be confusing and annoying to the readers. Combine two or three characters into one. And don’t get into involved descriptions of minor, walk-on characters.

~ Consider deleting or condensing chapter one. Maybe even chapter two, too. Take out the warm-up, where you’re revving your engine, and start your story later.

~ Take out almost all backstory (character history) in the first few chapters and marble in just the essentials as you go along, on an “as-needed” basis only. This also helps add intrigue.

~ Delete (or revise) chapters that don’t have enough tension and change, that don’t drive the story forward. Add any essential bits to other chapters. (Save deleted stuff on another file.) Or condense two chapters and combine them into one.

~ Delete or condense scenes that don’t have enough tension or change, or add much to the plot or characterization. Condense parts where scenes drag, eliminating the boring bits. (Take out the parts that readers skip over.) See my article “Every Scene Needs Conflict and a Change" or Chapter 4 of my book, Writing a Killer Thriller.

~ Take out any weak links, remnants from earlier versions, stuff that just doesn’t fit there anymore (if it ever did).

THEN EVALUATE YOUR WRITING STYLE AND THE INTERNAL STRUCTURE OF YOUR CHAPTERS AND SCENES:

~ Cut back on rambling or overly detailed descriptions of settings. With today’s access to TV, movies, the internet and travel, we no longer need the kind of detail readers of 100 years ago needed to understand the setting, so just paint with broad brush strokes, and leave out all the little details. Also, don’t describe the setting in neutral language. Filter any descriptions of surroundings through the eyes, ears, attitude, and mood of your point of view character. 

~ Same with character descriptions – no need to go into great detail. Give the most obvious and interesting details, and let the readers fill in the rest to their heart’s content. See my article “Character Descriptions – Detailed or Sketchy?”

~ Don’t repeat info. Don't have a character relating the details to another character of something that happened that the readers witnessed first-hand and already know about. Skip over it with a phrase like “She told him how she’d gotten injured.” 

~ Start scenes and chapters later and end them sooner. Cut out the warm-up and cool-down.

~ Skip over transitional times when not much happens. Replace with one or two sentences, or just a phrase, like “Three days later,”.

~ Eliminate or severely condense any “explanations” on subjects. Take out or condense any info dumps, self-indulgent rambling on pet topics, “teaching” sections, or rants. Keep these to the bare minimum, and give the info from a character’s point of view, with attitude, or through a lively conversation or heated argument. See Chapter 8 of Fire up Your Fiction.

~ Eliminate repetitions and redundancies. Just say it once – no need to say it again in a different way. You may think that will help emphasize your point, but it actually has the opposite effect. For more on this, see Chapter 9 of Fire up Your Fiction.

FINALLY, TIGHTEN YOUR WRITING TO CREATE LEANER PARAGRAPHS AND SENTENCES:

~ Try to delete one paragraph per page (or two); one sentence (or more) in each paragraph; and at least one word, preferably more, in each sentence. Cut out the deadwood!

~ Do a search for all those words that are just taking up space or weakening your prose, and delete most of them, like there is, there was, it is, it was, that, now, then, suddenly, immediately, and qualifiers like very, quite, kind of, sort of, somewhat, extremely, etc. Also, take out any other extra words that are cluttering up your sentences like “located”: Not: “The cafe was located on Main Street,” but: “The cafe was on Main Street.” And delete redundant add-ons like “in color,” “in size,” “in time,” and “in number.” Not, “The car was red in color” but “The car was red.” For more tips on streamlining your writing, see Chs. 14 and 15 of Fire up Your Fiction.

~ For better flow, condense prepositional phrases: Change “the captain of the team” to “the team captain”; change “in the vicinity of” to “near,” etc. For more, see Chs. 14 and 15 of Fire up Your Fiction.

For more tips, with examples, for tightening your writing, see "Cut the Clutter and Streamline Your Writing."

Copyright Jodie Renner, 2013

For more tips on streamlining your writing and cutting out the deadwood, see Chapters 14 and 15 of Fire up Your Fiction.

Writers – Do you have any other ideas for reducing your word count?

Also, see my articles, “How to Save a Bundle on Editing Costs” and “Honing Your Craft.”

For many more valuable tips, with examples, for writing compelling fiction, check out Jodie Renner's award-winning fiction-writing guides, Writing a Killer Thriller, Fire up Your Fiction, and Captivate Your Readers, available at all Amazon sites and elsewhere. For Amazon, click on the links below.

~ Fire up Your Fiction – An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Stories     
Amazon.com   Amazon.ca   Amazon.co.uk

~ Captivate Your Readers – An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction
 Amazon.com   Amazon.ca   Amazon.co.uk

~ Writing a Killer Thriller – An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction
   Amazon.com   Amazon.ca   Amazon.co.uk


For information on Jodie's editorial services, visit JodieRenner.com.
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: FIRE UP YOUR FICTION,  CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, and WRITING A KILLER THRILLER, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, QUICK CLICKS: Spelling List and QUICK CLICKS: Word Usage. She has also organized two anthologies for charity: VOICES FROM THE VALLEYS – Stories and Poems about Life in BC’s Interior, and CHILDHOOD REGAINED – Stories of Hope for Asian Child Workers. Website: www.JodieRenner.com; Facebook Amazon Author Page.