Monday, May 17, 2021

How to Engage Your Readers using Deep Point of View

I'm over at The Kill Zone blog today, where I was a regular contributor (every second Monday) for three years. Here's the beginning of my post there today, with a link at the end to the rest of the tips.

Tips for Deepening the POV in Your Fiction

by Jodie Renner, editor & author

Most of today’s popular fiction is written in first-person POV (I) or third-person limited point of view (he, she), both of which show us the story mainly from inside the character’s head and body. These narrative techniques engage readers much more emotionally than the more distant third-person omniscient, which was popular in previous centuries.

Current popular fiction, although a long way from the old omniscient style, still employs a variety of narrative distances, depending on the genre, the target readership, and the writer’s own comfort level. There is a whole spectrum when it comes to narrative distance, from plot-driven military or action-adventure novels and historical sagas at one end to character-driven romantic suspense and romance at the other.

Today’s post focuses on close or intimate narrative distance – how to engage readers emotionally, bond them with your character, and draw them deep into your story, so they can’t put it down. And how to avoid interrupting as the author, which some readers might even find akin to “mansplaining.” See a great post here on TKZ by bestselling thriller writer, Robert Dugoni, “Hey, Butt Out! I’m Reading Here!

Most female readers (and apparently females make up about 70% of readers of novels) prefer to identify closely with the main character. The reading experience is more satisfying when we connect emotionally with the protagonist, worrying about them and rooting for them.

What is third-person limited POV? As Dan Brown says, “limited or ‘close’ third point of view (a narrative that adheres to a single character) … gives you the ability to be inside a character’s thoughts, feelings, and sensations, which can give readers a deeper experience of character and scene, and is the most common way to use point of view.”

(For an introduction to point of view in fiction, especially deep point of view or close third-person POV, see my articles here on TKZ: POV 101POV 102, and POV 103)

From third-person limited, you can decide to go even deeper, into close third person or deep point of view to create an immersive experience where readers are more emotionally invested, feeling like participants rather than observers.

As David Mamet says, “Deep point of view is a way of writing fiction in third-person limited that silences the narrative voice and takes the reader directly into a character’s mind…. Deep POV creates a deeper connection between readers and characters.”

In deep POV, the author writes as the character instead of about him. The character and his world come to life for us as we vicariously share his experiences and feel his struggles, pain, triumphs, and disappointments.

As editor and author Beth Hill says, “deep POV…is a way of pairing third-person POV with a close narrative distance. It’s a way of creating the intimacy of first-person narration with a third-person point of view.” (And without all those I – I – I’s.)

Depending on your personal style, you could decide to write in a deeper, more subjective third-person point of view for a whole novel or story or reserve this closer technique for more critical or intimate scenes.

Assuming you write in third person and want to engage your readers more and immerse them in your story world, here are some tips for getting deeper into the psyche of your character, starting with more general tips and working down to fine-tuning.

~ First, decide whose scene it is. ...

For the rest of this post, go to 

Tips for Deepening the POV in Your Fiction

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three 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 and edited two anthologies. Website: https://www.jodierenner.com/, Facebook, Amazon Author Page.


Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Tricks & Tips for Catching All Those Little Typos in Your Own Work

 by Jodie Renner, editor & author  


 

Whether you’re writing a blog post, a magazine article, a short story, an assignment, a novel, or a nonfiction book, it’s important to go over your work several times to make sure it’s polished and flows well. No matter what your you’re writing, you’re your credibility will be eroded if readers find mispelled misspelled words, misused words, missing or duplicate words, or other typos. 

If you plan to enter your short story or novel into a contest or query an agent, your credibility will be eroded and your reputation tarnished if the judge/reader/agent finds awkward sentences, boring word choices, missing words, extra words, or grammatical or spelling errors.

And if you're publishing your own novel or nonfiction and want to avoid annoyed readers and negative reviews, it's essential to submit a clean, polished, properly formatted book. 

For advice on various aspects of writing, revising, and editing your fiction, you can check out my three writing guides and my many blog posts here and elsewhere. Writers find my to-the-point Fire up Your Fiction, with lots of bullet points and before-and-after examples, very helpful.

After you’ve resolved any big-picture content problems and any style issues, such as slow pacing, awkward sentence structure, or overly wordy phrasing, it’s time to go through the manuscript again for typos, spelling, and grammatical errors, including punctuation. 

My tips below will help you with the final editing and proofreading steps, smoothing out clunky sentences, cutting excess wordiness and repetition, and improving your word choices, as well as ferreting out those tiny little gremlins that escape your notice when you’re concentrating on content issues. At the bottom are links to more articles on specific topics related to revision and self-editing.

When we read our own work, we’re so familiar with what we want to say that we fill in words that aren’t actually on the page and skip over words that shouldn’t be there.

Of course, getting detail-oriented, eagle-eyed friends who are great at spelling to read your work carefully is a great option, if you know any. 

Here are some tips for fooling your brain into thinking your story is something new, something you need to read critically and revise ruthlessly before it reaches the demanding eyes of a literary agent, acquiring editor, contest judge, or picky reader and reviewer.

1. Set it aside for a while. First, if you can, put your article, blog post, or short story away for a day or two before revising and editing it, and your book manuscript away for a few weeks or more, if possible, so you can come back to it with fresh eyes and a bit of emotional distance. If you’re on a tight deadline, start at #2.

2. Start with Word’s Spell-check Editor and check those squiggly red and blue lines under words. Don’t rely entirely on spell-check, though, as it misses a lot (like the well-known laughable gaffe, “pubic” for “public”), and often flags words that will actually change something from correct to incorrect. For example, in a manuscript I edited, MS Word suggested that “I like your thinking” (as in “I like how you think”) should be “I like you’re thinking.” (Blatantly wrong for the context.) And it often suggests the wrong its/it’s, and misses all kinds of typos in manuscripts I edit, like “crowed” for “crowded,” “father” for “farther,” “county” for “country,” and “manger” for “manager.” So definitely don’t trust spell-check blindly.

4. Do a search (“Find”) for words you know how to spell but tend to spell wrong when you’re in a hurry, especially ones spell-check often won’t flag, like “you” for “your,” “the” for “their,” “your” for “you’re,” and “there” for “they’re” or “their.”

5. Maybe invest in grammar and spelling software, such as Grammarly, ProWritingAid, or AutoCrit. Here's a recent (2021) article on the Best Grammar Checkers and Editing Tools.

Then choose some of the following strategies, which are also excellent for picking up on clunky sentences, awkward phrasing, repetition, and wordiness.

Increase the size of the type to 140% -180%, by clicking on the + sign at the bottom right of the document.

Change the font to one that looks quite different to fool your eyes and brain into thinking this is new material you’ve never read (or thought of) before, so you need to pay close attention. Try Comic Sans or Franklin Gothic Book or Book Antiqua.

Format your novel to book size, like 6″ x 9″ with half-inch margins, a font like Georgia or Cambria, and single-spaced, maybe format it to two-column landscape so it looks like an open book, then, if you can afford the paper and ink, print it up and read it in a different location, somewhere you don’t write, preferably out of your home.

Send your book manuscript to your Kindle or other e-reader, then read it in a different location, preferably not at home. If you already have an e-reader, this is of course much cheaper and less wasteful than making a print copy of a whole book. Format it to book size first (6"x9", 0.5" margins, indents of 0.2" or 0.3"), then send it to your Kindle email account as an attachment.

~ Send your story to yourself and read it on your tablet or phone. Or use Word's OneDrive or another cloud option.

~ In a print version, place a ruler or piece of paper under the line you’re reading to keep from skipping ahead. Or keep your finger under each word as you read.

Read it out loud. Wherever you stumble, your readers will, too. This will also help with punctuation. If you pause briefly, put in a comma. If you pause for longer, put in a period. 

Get your computer to read passages aloud to you, while you follow along. This will help you hear errors you may not catch otherwise. To enable text-to-speech in Word: First, add “Speak” to the Quick Access Toolbar: Along the very top above “File,” the blue line that starts with W for Word (or “Autosave” or the “Save” icon), go to the far right to find the small down arrow. Click that. It will say “Customize Quick Access Toolbar.” Click “More Commands.” In the “Choose Commands” from the list, select “All Commands.” Scroll down to the “Speak” command, select it, and then click “Add.” Click “OK.” When you want to use the text-to-speech command, you’ll use the icon on the Quick Access Toolbar, which looks like a square speech bubble on a cartoon. To hear some text read aloud, turn on your speaker, highlight the paragraph or chapter you want to hear aloud, then click the Speak icon on the toolbar. To stop it, click the icon again.

Follow along the text while listening to the text being read aloud. Stop it whenever you need to add, delete, fix, or change a word or smooth out awkward phrasing.

~ For final proofreading for little typos, you could try this: Read the whole thing backwards or upside down (!). I’ve heard these suggestions, but haven’t actually done this myself, and probably won’t.

~ If you’re self-publishing, get a pre-publication sample book printed by Amazon or Ingram Spark and read it somewhere else, preferably away from your home, like in a coffee shop, a park, or the beach. This makes a huge difference  you're approaching the book as a reader, not the writer. I read all three of my writing guides in book form, pen in hand, while away on vacations, and I caught all kinds of repetitions, sentences that didn’t flow as well as they could, were too wordy, or generally needed polishing, etc., as well as the odd typo.

~ I also recommend my two quick, clickable e-resources to help you verify spelling and word choices: QUICK CLICKS: SPELLING LIST – Commonly Misspelled Words at Your Fingertips, and QUICK CLICKS: WORD USAGE – Precise Word Choices at Your Fingertips. Click on the titles to check them out. These handy resources will save you tons of time looking up words in the dictionary, and every word is verified as correct. (They're perfect for viewing on computers, laptops, tablets, or e-readers but don't work on small screens like phones.)

Also, check out these articles for more specific help:
 








Writers – do you have any questions or other strategies to add for catching all those little typos lurking in your manuscript? Let us know what works for you in the comments below. (Your comment will not appear instantly  it will need to be approved first.)

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three 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 and edited two anthologies. Website: https://www.jodierenner.com/, Facebook, Amazon Author Page

Friday, May 7, 2021

How Will Your Story Rate in a Contest? Evaluation Criteria

by Jodie Renner, editor & author

How do you think your unpublished novel or short story would rate in a writing contest? Do you think it's ready to send to a literary agent? And how will your readers react to it, once it's published? Will it get a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down? 

Here's a list of MANUSCRIPT EVALUATION CRITERIA to guide you, point by point, before submitting your story to a contest, editor, or agent (or publishing it yourself).

I was recently asked to read and review the first 50 pages of some unpublished novels that had been submitted to a well-respected contest. Below are the criteria I was sent, with a few points I've added myself. 

These questions will also help anyone wanting to publish their novel (or short stories) themselves, send it to an editor, or pitch it to an agent or publisher. 

Ask some friends, your critique group, or some other savvy beta readers (who read avidly in your genre) to read your first 10-30 pages and reply to these questions. Then collect their responses to see how your novel or short story would measure up to contest judges, agents, or readers. Then it's likely time to do some revising, editing, and polishing before submitting.

1. Intro/Beginning:       

- Does the opening hook you in?

- Is tension established early on?

- Is there too much backstory in a lump? Or maybe too little information provided?

- Does the beginning compel you to keep reading?


2. Characters:

- Can you identify with the main character? Do you care what happens to him/her?

- Is the protagonist interesting and complex, with some desires, secrets, and regrets?

- How well are the characters developed?

- Does each character feel unique? Or are they run-of-the-mill, flat, or stock characters?

- Are extraneous characters bogging down the story?


3. Grammar, Sentence Structure, Mechanics:

- Does the author have a strong command of spelling, grammar, punctuation, and mechanics, or will he/she require significant editing help?

- Does the author vary sentence structure to create rhythm, or does the writing feel monotonous?

- Does the writing meander or go on and on? Does it need tightening up to get to the point?


4. Setting:

- Does the author treat setting like an afterthought, or has it been given an attentive eye?

- Does the story have a real sense of place?

- Does the author get too hung up on describing setting when it is not integral to the progression of the story?

- Is the setting shown from the viewpoint of the character, and does it include sensory elements and character physical reactions to it?


5. Dialogue:     

- Does the dialogue seem natural, organic? Does it seem forced?

- Does it drive the story forward or simply fill space?

- Do the characters use many clich├ęs?

- Are conversations interesting or are they too mundane?


6. Premise/Plot/Pacing/Conflict/Tension:

- Does the basic premise of the story make sense, and is it believable within the story’s context? 

- Does the story move along at a good pace? Do things drag on too long, or get passed by too quickly?

- Does there seem to be something really at stake throughout?

 - Does tension drive the story forward, or does it fizzle out and fall by the wayside?


7. Voice:

- Does character voice feel unique? Does it feel apropos to the character’s nature and background?

- Does the authorial voice tell too much instead of showing?

- Could the story work better with a different POV?

- Is the authorial voice unique, or does it feel like a regurgitation of similar works?

Once you and your volunteer readers have examined your story with these elements in mind and you've done any needed revisions, your novel or short story should be much closer to being ready to send to an editor, contest, agent, or publisher.

Good luck!

I could add more points/questions but don't want to overwhelm you. How about you? Can you suggest a point or two that should be added? Let me know in the comments below. (Comments will appear after being approved.)


Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three 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 and edited two anthologies. Website: www.JodieRenner.com, Facebook, Amazon Author Page.