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The Make-You-Feel-Bad Myths about the Writing Life

2017 February 8

Lately, I’ve done some soul searching, plundering my conscience for advice that might hurt rather than help me.

While a lot of the plumbing of the depths is spiritual, I did ponder some myths that I’ve bought into the writing life that may have set me up for a certain amount of failure.

I’d like to share my two-cents worth about them.

Write a Certain Number of Words Every Day

While writing daily can certainly up your word count and your productivity, the expectation might be a grand one for some. Granted, setting a daily word goal can help someone who needs a push. Setting a daily goal is not a bad thing. To the contrary, goal setting is the way we achieve. However, if you’re working an eight-hour day, have children to raise, dinner to get on the table, extra-curricular activities, etc., a daily goal might not be best for you. Perhaps a weekend goal or a monthly goal to eek out a count when you can is more in line. As long as you pick the goal that’s best for you and stick to it, there should be no guilt when someone brags about their daily word count.

I sit down and write in spurts, and I do have a daily word count that I rarely reach. Sometimes though, I bountifully exceed that count–and then I brag.

A Real Writer Can Work Any Where

Yeah, really? While some folks can write in a crowded coffee house, I’m too busy making sure I don’t spill the coffee or that I don’t have crumbs on my face. When I’m satisfied no one will find anything to use about me in a novel, I’m searching for people to write about–I’m not writing.

Sometimes, my office is a little too quite. Sometimes, my office is a little too loud. I’ll move to my porch. I’ll write with the music blaring, or the house will be as silent as tomb. I’ve written on the beach. I’ve written in my car during a long ride. Other times, I can’t seem to find the right place to click away on the keys.

I wish I could say that I’ve persevered through my inabilities, but the truth is, if I’m not comfortable, I’m not writing–anything of value, that is. I don’t use it as an excuse not to write. I use it as an excuse to find a better place to write.

I Don’t Need Criticism

I’ve seen authors who enter critique groups and spout off how no one understands. They get their feelings hurt, and they storm off and … well, they self-publish a book that isn’t as good as it could be. Balanced criticism is always helpful. You’re not always going to hear what you want to hear about your work. You’re not always going to get good criticism. By that I mean that the criticism you receive might not always be right. That’s why it’s good to have three to five people critiquing your work. That gives a balance. Two people might suggest changes while three others don’t pick up on it. Place the critiques on a scale and decide what is good and what is bad advice.

Just as a fool appears in court as his own lawyer, a writer who can’t take criticism and publishes what they alone think is wonderful has a fool sitting at the typewriter telling their story. And that’s a criticism you can take to the bank.

There Is Only One Way to Tell a Story

At a writer’s conference, I was surprised to hear an editor declaring stories non-publishable because a format wasn’t followed. Now, I know there are publisher guidelines, and a writer who wants to be published by XYZ Publisher should follow those guidelines. For that publisher, a formula might work. However, the advice given by the publisher was that all stories must follow that same formula. Oh, what a dull world that would make. I live for the rare story that breaks the mold.

As to the declaration that there’s only one way to tell a story, I say hogwash. Yes, there are elements that should go into a good story, and the way an author uses those elements creates a voice. One element might be used heavily by one author while another lingers in the background. Formula is just a guideline used by certain publishers to create a work that has been proven by their readers to be popular. An example of such a guideline is having the hero and heroine of a romance meet in the first chapter. That formula doesn’t always work for me. In Better than Revenge, the hero and heroine met in the past, so the tension is amped by the reader’s anticipation of them seeing each other again, which occurs in chapter seven. I’m glad that this editor didn’t have that book.

There is nothing wrong with being a renegade so long as an author knows where to pitch a rebel story line.

Grammar Myths

Runaway grammar rules are often set forth by someone who knows what they’re talking about and given to someone who doesn’t understand the rule and runs with it. I fell victim to one early in my career, and I managed to write an entire novel without a form of “to be” in my manuscript. However, my sentence structure was lacking. Not all forms of “to be” are passive. In fact, passive writing has everything to do with sentence structure.

Then there’s the runaway rule that drives me insane. Please note that “that” is a viable word, and it has a place in the English language. To take out “that” from some sentences creates vagueness. Yes, make every “that” prove its worth before you take it out, but for goodness’ sake, use common sense.

While you’re reviewing the “that’s” and the forms of “to be” in your manuscript, look at the writing advice you receive as subjective and not objective. This means that what works for someone else, might be a good idea for others, but it could derail your writing if you’re not careful. Set goals and thicken your skin with criticism. Write your story so well that whether it is traditional published or self-published, the reviews will set you apart as someone to be read.

all-current-books-01-17-2017-collageFay Lamb is an editor, writing coach, and author, whose emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted three series. With the release of Everybody’s Broken, three of the four books in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series, which also includes Stalking Willow and Better than Revenge, are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on two Christmas novella projects: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, and A Ruby Christmas, and the Write Integrity Press romance novella Heart Seekers series, which includes A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelor, and Unlikely Merger. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.

Future releases from Fay are: Frozen Notes, Book 4 of the Amazing Grace series and Hope (Coming March 2017) and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind series.

Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor, and Goodreads.

 

The Trouble with Floating Body Parts and Misplaced Modifiers

2017 February 1

A fellow author posted an example of a misplaced modifier. While I don’t want to use the published example, I have created one of my own: Gliding easily across the lake in ice skates, my head wasn’t prepared to hit the frozen tundra. One man’s focus on a misplaced modifier is another author’s focus on floating body parts.

I did not coin the term floating body parts, but kudos to the individual who did. The words provoke such an image for me that I am probably over-sensitive when body parts go rogue. When I read a sentence drafted much like the example, I tend to look at it literally. Therefore, the head in said sentence is imagined as sitting atop a pair of ice skates. This image is brought about by the “ing” construction of the sentence. In many cases, an author forgets to assure that the “thing” doing the “ing” is the right “thing” to do the “ing.” So, a better construction of that sentence would be: While I glided easily across the lake in ice skates, I wasn’t prepared when I fell and hit my head on the frozen tundra OR I glided easily across the lake in ice skates, so I wasn’t prepared when I fell and hit my head on the frozen tundra.

A note: not all “ing” constructions are incorrect. The key to eliminating floating body parts and misplaced modifiers in a manuscript is to work toward clarity in every sentence and by attaching a pereson to the body part doing the action.

Misplaced modifiers are much like the missing “of,” “the,” and other often used words that escape an editor’s careful scrutiny. Editors and authors tend to see the image they’ve created clearly, so that the misplaced modifier and/or the floating body parts are unseen until someone with a fresh eye catches it and calls it out.

So what other floating body parts should be avoided?

Her eyes rested on me. *Shudder* Better: Her gaze/stare/attention rested on me.

Her hand fell over mine. *Call it Thing.* Better: She covered my hand with hers.

His shoulders slumped. *Minor, yes, but annoying.* He slumped forward.

His foot held the door open. *That’s a weird doorstop.* He pushed his foot into the door, blocking me from closing it.

I’d love to hear if you have any examples of misplaced modifiers or floating body parts.

all-current-books-01-17-2017-collageFay Lamb is an editor, writing coach, and author, whose emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted three series. With the release of Everybody’s Broken, three of the four books in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series, which also includes Stalking Willow and Better than Revenge, are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on two Christmas novella projects: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, and A Ruby Christmas, and the Write Integrity Press romance novella series, which includes A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelor, and Unlikely Merger. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.

Future releases from Fay are: Frozen Notes, Book 4 of the Amazing Grace series and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind series.

Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads.

The Truth about Coincidence in Fiction

2017 January 25

The definitions for coincidence are: 1) a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent casual connection; and 2) correspondence in nature or in time of occurrence.

By its very meaning, coincidence is not something that happens every day. If it did occur daily, we would take it for granted and think it nothing remarkable.

Therefore, when an author brings in events or circumstances that seem remarkable in nature, the imagination of the reader could be stretched to the point that they no longer see it as remarkable, but implausible.

All uses of coincidence, whether small or large, should be reviewed and weighed carefully by the author. A reader is more likely to accept the wonderful and imaginative worlds of Spec Fiction before they will accept some of the following situations in a novel outside that genre. The following are examples of coincidence in fiction:

  •  A character is thinking of another character, and lo and behold, that character being thought of enters the scene or calls on the phone or sends an e-mail, a text, or a direct message on social media. The author would be better served by layering in the fact that the character stops by often, sends e-mails, texts, or direct messages on social media, so that the reader can reasonable expect the person will act at such a time as needed.
  • A character is thinking of something and uses a word or two that sets that thought or spoken idea apart. Enter another character who uses the same words or thinks the same thoughts. This situation can be made more believable for the reader if the author would give the second character a synonymous word or phrase that doesn’t smack of ESP.
  • An angel or a rescuer shows up right when they are needed with no indication of how that person knew trouble was afoot. Giving a hint of an angelic being or layering in a rescuer’s journey to where the individual needs help, especially if that character is a hero or heroine, will help make this situation more believable. In regard to the rescuer’s journey, throwing in conflict to keep the rescuer at bay only adds conflict to the novel, and every novel, no matter the genre is made better by conflict.
  • A break in the weather, a change in conditions, a much needed occurrence happening at the right time. This type of sudden change waters down the suspense. The author would be better served by keeping the situation and using it to its fullest potential to stretch out the tension for the reader.
  • Right when a character needs a plot device, it is suddenly on hand. This is the equivalent to the gun in the drawer. If the reader has not seen the gun in the drawer prior to its necessity, the gun does not exist for the reader. Therefore, when the gun is produced by the character, reality has been stretched and the bond broken between the reader and the stoyr. Let the reader know the gun is in the drawer before it is required.

These are only a few of the examples that bring in unwarranted consequences. When layered in correctly, the coincidental events will read less like high fancy and more like a believable occurrences.

all-current-books-01-17-2017-collageFay Lamb is an editor, writing coach, and author, whose emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted three series. With the release of Everybody’s Broken, three of the four books in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series, which also includes Stalking Willow and Better than Revenge, are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on two Christmas novella projects: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, and A Ruby Christmas, and the Write Integrity Press romance novella series, which includes A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelor, and Unlikely Merger. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.

Future releases from Fay are: Frozen Notes, Book 4 of the Amazing Grace series and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind series.

Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads.

Deadline Ramblings

2017 January 18

I’ve been dealt one of those nasty little things I call a deadline. I don’t like them. I avoid them like the plague, but for this story, I was given a choice between an earlier release date or one at the end of the year.

The reasons I usually shun a release date are fodder for a “How Not to be a Writer” post, so I thought I’d share those with you today:

  1. Deadlines choke the creativity out of me.
  2. I’m a quality writer not a quantity writer.
  3. I’ll dare anyone tell me when I have to have a story ready. I’ll know it when it’s time to let it go.

Some authors bloom with adrenaline when a deadline is imposed. I actually know an author who writes under some pretty tight schedules while running a national writer’s conference and a very large writer’s organization. Yet, she thrives under deadline pressure.

I do not.

However, I have had to face the truth about my writing diva-ness.

  1. A true author is creative whenever and wherever creativity is needed.
  2. A quality writer who does not produce quantity will be a starving writer.
  3. Editors have a right to demand a story within a reasonable time, and they understand that most authors are never ready to let a story go to press. Who knows? They may have missed a comma.

So I’m off to shrug off the diva-ness and put my big gal panties on and write, write, write. After all, the manuscript was two-thirds written, and I found a chapter-by-chapter synopsis I don’t remember writing. How cool is that? I must have some professional author in me somewhere.

all-current-books-01-17-2017-collageFay Lamb is an editor, writing coach, and author, whose emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted three series. With the release of Everybody’s Broken, three of the four books in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series, which also includes Stalking Willow and Better than Revenge, are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on two Christmas novella projects: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, and A Ruby Christmas, and the Write Integrity Press romance novella series, which includes A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelor, and Unlikely Merger. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.

Future releases from Fay are: Frozen Notes, Book 4 of the Amazing Grace series and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind series.

Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads.

Inspriration: Because a Story Starts Somewhere

2017 January 11
by Fay Lamb

A question I’m often asked is where do I get the ideas for my stories. My ideas come from several areas, and I’d like to share those with you to help you get a jump start on a new project.

Ideas are “iffy” little things. Sometimes an inkling for an entire plot might come into my head because of some trigger. Other times, I might get the inspiration for a lead character, secondary character, or a plot device, maybe even a simple scene to build the story upon.

Bumblebee the Bear in Everybody’s Broken was an inspiration received when I saw the cutest picture of a bear. In fact, that picture reminded me that a series set in the mountains of Western Carolina would not be complete without a bear. At first, Bumblebee’s character afforded comedic relief and nothing more. What she became to the story surprised even me.

The idea for my novel, Charisse, was born out of a collaborative effort. Therefore, I want to call this inspiration necessity. When I first began to write Charisse’s story, she was not called Charisse. She was Faith, and her story was one of five novellas. When the story came close to a contract but didn’t get picked up, each author took their special character and did what they wanted to do with her. Faith became Charisse, my first attempt at writing simple romance, and I learned something inspirational about myself. I cannot write simply.

In my novel, Better Than Revenge, the hero clicked with me right away. His inspiration came from him. He walked upon the stage of my mind, stared down at me, the director, and said, “I’m an ex-convict who went to jail to protect my heroine. I’ve just found out that she has a seven-year-old son, and the kid is not mine.” As I neared the end of the stories first draft, I realized that the heroine wasn’t as concrete as I liked because I didn’t have a strong picture of her. I worried over that until the day my husband and I drove by a farmhouse in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. That farmhouse instantly became the heroine’s abode and gave me a link with her that I didn’t have before. Add two cows, some chickens, and a psycho’s return looming over her, and she became very real to me.

My favorite way to for inspiration to strike is to see an actor or actress in a role and connect with that character. At that point, I have something one dimensional. I study the actor or actresses roles, and I pull good and bad traits from the various characters they’ve portrayed until I have a fully formed, three-dimensional character to which my readers can bond. When that happens, the creativeness flows through my veins like a shot of intravenous fluids because if I know if I’m bonding with the characters, my readers will, too. Ideas swarm inside my imagination, and while working around the house or taking time away from the computer, I allow the character and his or her friends to come out on stage for audition. The lead characters work as co-directors telling me who can stay, what role they’ll have, and where their stories will take us. They cast different scenarios for me, and when the right one comes along, I know it. The story sticks. The plot doesn’t grow cold … it heats up.

Another way to obtain inspiration is so obvious that many authors dismiss it.

Just write.

Write every day. Write without inspiration so that it can be stirred within you. True authors cannot cite a lack of ideas as a reason to stay away from the page. Often, putting the hands to the keyboard is what brings the ideas out to play.

Do you have a special way to be inspired? If so, I’d love to know.

all-current-books-01-17-2017-collageFay Lamb is an editor, writing coach, and author, whose emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted three series. With the release of Everybody’s Broken, three of the four books in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series, which also includes Stalking Willow and Better than Revenge, are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on two Christmas novella projects: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, and A Ruby Christmas, and the Write Integrity Press romance novella series, which includes A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelor, and Unlikely Merger. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.

Future releases from Fay are: Frozen Notes, Book 4 of the Amazing Grace series and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind series.

Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads.

 

The Four Movies that Impacted My Writing and Why

2017 January 4

the-four-moviesOnce upon a time, I was a movie buff. Now, I pretty much avoid most of what Hollywood has to offer, but in that land far, far away were four movies that literally changed my writing, and I’d like to share those with you and tell you the impact they made on my technique.

First, I do believe that there are seven essential elements to writing fiction. Each element is necessary to write a novel worth reading. The way an author uses those elements is his developmental style. In the way that a great script comes across the screen for the audience, so should a story come alive in the readers’ imaginations. These four movies helped me to create that move in the minds of my reader.

A warning, though, before we start. Two of these movies might be considered PG; two of them are definitely R-rated due to content and language, especially the use of God’s name in vain as was the surprise I received when I studied one of the most iconic and beloved stories of our time. I tell you this because I want you to make an informed decision before you decide to watch. Oh, and there could be a few spoilers below.

The Mummy (with Brendan Frasier)- PG

Clarification of the classic is important here. I’m a suspense writer, but more and more when I watch anything on television, let alone a movie, I have to turn the channel. The explicit violence is not something I feel comes with suspense. That’s a horror flick. I don’t do scary.

Yet, The Mummy is a horror flick. I believe the charm I saw in the movie the first time I watched it was a result of director, Stephen Sommers’, use of old Hollywood techniques that allowed me to experience the “horror” without turning away. While I do not believe there ever was a time when Hollywood was sensitive to what it pushed upon an unsuspecting public, there was a point when they were not allowed to get away with it. Sommers took us back in time to when a hero was a hero; a heroine was a competent damsel in distress; the sidekicks for both the antagonist and the protagonists add dimension to the story, and tension came in what was about to happen and not in the grossness of showing it.

Sommers heightened tension for the viewer by placing into our imaginations what was about to happen to a hapless character who ran across The Mummy. For example, we know when the professor loses his glasses in the tombs that the mummy is on his way. Something inside of us wants to scream, “Get away. Get away.” Then the mummy appears, and the professor can’t see him. Fear rings in his voice as he explains to the stranger that he’s lost his glasses. We see the grotesque mummy standing over him. My senses are on alert. I know the fellow is about to meet his demise. Does Sommers show the monster crushing the life out of the man, his eyes bulging out, his neck broken? No. This wise director cuts to shadow, and on the wall we see the man shrink up as the mummy drains the life from him.

Another technique utilized by the director is that of speeding up the action yet slowing it down with conflict. While Evie is tied to a slab, awaiting her sacrifice and Rick is fighting the mummy, who is getting the best of him with his conjured mummy priests and his own strength, Rick’s sidekick is running around trying to read an ancient spell. Jonathan isn’t a student like his sister, Evie, and he struggles with the translation, spouting out to Evie that the symbol looks like a bird. He has to describe the bird, and Rick is yelling at him to hurry up with the translation. That’s classic suspense. Still we’re waiting for the results of the scene, and the audience is caught up in split second action while all the time the suspense is being slowed with the conflict of Jonathan’s ignorance.

Everything about The Mummy is either a “wait for it” or a “my heart is racing,” moment. The viewer does not have to see the brutal violence. The suspense results in artfully leaving the audience to their own imaginations until the dreaded action occurs–in shadow or off camera–or at a fast clip with conflict hurdles.

This technique happens to be about pacing. The next movie includes pacing as well as an important lesson in layering.

Back to the Future- R  (for language)

Marty McFly takes the audience on the adventure of a lifetime. I’d watched the movie several times before the masterful script caught my attention. In Back to the Future the layering and back story begin from the opening credits in which the only words spoken come from a television newscaster and Marty’s exclamation after he strums the guitar on Doc Brown’s amp-on-steroids. In the opening credits alone, the reader learns Doc Brown’s history and why he lives in a garage. The viewer understands that Doc is obsessed by time and that he has stolen some plutonium. We know he has a dog named Einstein, and we understand that he and Marty are very good friends. The fun of this movie, for me as a writer, comes in ferreting out just how much the screenwriter had to layer into the story for it to make sense. I only caught one problem, and I won’t tell you what it is. You’ll have to find it for yourself.

As the movie continues, though, we see the layering of plot devices from Marty’s cassette player to the movie camera he takes to the past. We meet his parents in the present so that when Marty goes back to the past, we understand that his parents aren’t exactly who they present themselves to be in the present, and we learn why they are like they are. In this movie, back story is unique because it’s everything, and the way it is layered in to each scene, building the conflict is amazing. Layering is also important because what Marty does in the past is largely because of what he’s brought with him from the future, whether it is information or plot devices.

L.A. Confidential-R (for content and language)

With regard to violence, this movie is the exact opposite of The Mummy, but the layering is dynamic, especially for writers like me who love character and plot and developing separate plots that converge into one story at the end.

This story has three concurrent plots. One officer is attempting to rise in the ranks, and his desires make him a target from others on the force. He’s not too shy about his aspirations, and when a group of people in a 1950’s dinner are shot up and killed, including a police officer, our man gets his chance to investigate a crime. That crime leads us to hero number two.

He’s a bruiser of a cop. He collects extortion payments from citizens by order of his chief, but this hero isn’t all bad. He’s multi-dimensional. He doesn’t like hero number one because that hero is everything he isn’t and everything he doesn’t want to be. He takes orders. He does what he’s told. He’s not seeking advancement. Then into his world walks a woman who appears to have been beaten. Our hero number two kicks into action. He seeks her out, trying to find out if she’s okay. He finds out that she’s an escort, and the cuts and bruises on her face were due to surgery to make her look like a famous actress. His infatuation with the escort collides with hero number one’s aspirations of solving a crime.

Hero number three is getting his money in another way. He sells Hollywood gossip to the local gossip rag, and he makes money. He also stages events and sets up stars for trouble so that the columnist can get his story. His actions tumble him into the escort service world when he sets up a rising star and finds him dead. That’s when his world collides with the worlds of hero number one and number two.

These stories evolve with each scene, cutting from one lead to the next until they get closer and closer and closer, and finally, we see how it all fits together. If you want to know how to move one or two or even three plots along, I recommend this movie.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof-PG

I saved my favorite for last. When I first saw the expertise of the screenwriter in bringing a classic to life, I thought it was only about the conflict. The story of Brick and Maggie Pollitt, Big Daddy, Big Momma, Goober and May is all about conflict that rises as the story goes forward and climaxes pretty much in the first part of the second act when all of the mystery concerning Brick and Maggie’s back story explodes and leaves the characters to put out many fires and also causes another explosion or two.

Is this a thriller? No. It’s the story of an ex-football player, ex-sportscaster, ex-football team owner whose marriage is falling apart. From scene one, we see not only the conflict but the dynamics of character.

This movie teaches every element of writing: plot, pacing (back story and scene development), conflict, character, point of view (the deeper the better), dialogue, and showing (not telling). It’s a rich movie for an author to watch and to glean. And when you get to the end of it, you’ll find out that everything that happened in the story was about back story–deep, rich back story. However, you’ll also note that the screenwriter never took one moment to throw the reader into the past with a flashback–my pet peeve. The story has deep, dark soil, and every bit of back story comes to life in front story, in words that are spoken and in words that are never said.

I’m sure there are more movies out there that utilize techniques that authors can learn. I’d love to hear any that have helped you develop your story.

all-current-books-01-17-2017-collage

Fay Lamb is an editor, writing coach, and author, whose emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted three series. With the release of Everybody’s Broken, three of the four books in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series, which also includes Stalking Willow and Better than Revenge, are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on two Christmas novella projects: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, and A Ruby Christmas, and the Write Integrity Press romance novella series, which includes A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelor, and Unlikely Merger. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.

Future releases from Fay are: Frozen Notes, Book 4 of the Amazing Grace series and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind series.

Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads.

Why Italics Are a Problem in Fiction

2016 August 10

The Problem with ItalicsIn writing a story, the key to reader participation is point of view. Whether an author agrees that a simple point of view (simply keeping the viewpoint in the head of the lead character for the scene) or a deep point of view (drawing the reader into the story to experience it with your characters) is best, authors are still finding ways to draw their reader out of the story.

The most popular, annoying, irritating, exasperating, for-crying-out-loud-stop-it habit has become italics.

My gut wrenches when I see italics inundating a published book or submitted manuscript. Yeah, it’s that bad.

So, why are italics a problem?

Before we get down to the problems with italics, let’s look at the reason italics are used in fiction: 1) authors use italics to indicate internal monologue; 2) words are italicized by authors to provide emphasis; and 3) italics show that a word is being defined. We won’t get into that because when this occurs the italicization is correct.

Now, we can dissect the problems with the first two uses.

No matter the reason they are used, italics jar a reader out of the story. In internal monologue, italicized thoughts remind the reader that they truly aren’t a part of the story. They are simply reading what is going on.

For italicized emphasis, the author is telling the reader one of two things (and possibly both in some instances). Either the author isn’t confident in his or her ability to get the dialogue across without the emphasis or the author isn’t confident in the reader’s intelligence to understand what is being said.

In case you need a translation on these, it boils down to one hard fact: the author is telling rather than showing. Yes, these methods have been used, and they continue to be practiced, but italicization is a shortcut, and when you breakdown the shortcuts of authors, they seem to have one thing in common: they are a form of telling.

Internal monologue can be shown much easier in point of view. I understand that there are still some hold-out authors who balk against deep point of view. Also, there are some writers who are studying it and struggling with the concept because internal monologue gets in their way. Those authors use a mixture of both, often putting deep point of view into italics and leaving internal monologue as if it were deep point of view.

Here’s a deep point of view primer: in third-person, quite simply, a scene is set as the lead character’s scene by giving that character an action. Everything stays in third person, and every thought in that scene is recognized by the reader as that character’s point of view. Take out telling words such as heard, knew, recognized, thought, etc., and you have deep point of view. Practice makes it better, and the practice is a lot of fun. Internal monologue in third person is changed to first person and italicized. Can you see why the continual use of that practice would become annoying to the reader? There are two instances when I feel that internal monologue is necessary: 1) when the character is in silent prayer; and 2) when the author truly feels that the emphasis of a statement of internal monologue is necessary. Believe me. That instance is rarer than most authors want to believe: Big Foot rare, if you get my meaning.

Let’s not get started with novels written in first person. In all honestly, the reader should be in that character’s point of view. Italics in first person stories are utterly useless, so I’m not even going there.

Look at the following paragraph written with and without internal monologue:

Abra let the wind blow through the open car window. This winding road to Shane’s was one of her favorite places. Who would have thought that in only five and a half months, she’d be used to the mountains. Cruising them was so much more fun than traveling on straight roads where you could see miles ahead without a break in the scenery.

So, after reading this paragraph, what do you think she’s doing? She’s driving. She’s not only driving, but she’s driving to the home of someone named Shane.

How long has Abra been in this area where she’s driving and how do we know she’s a little new to the area? She shows us in her point of view. She been there a little over five months; she likes the mountains. She’s obviously from some place void of their beauty—like Florida. (Writing what I know). She shows us these things in her deep point of view, without italics. Four sentences of the first paragraph, which gives Abra the action and the thought, and we’re driving on that mountain road with her.

Let’s see how the same four sentences sound with internal monologue:

Abra let the wind blow through the open car window. This winding road to Shane’s was one of her favorite places. Who would have thought that in only five and a half months, I’d be used to the mountains. Cruising them is so much more fun than traveling on straight roads where I can see miles ahead without a break in the scenery.

Yes, the information is the same. The delivery is what kills the second version. As a reader, I’m in the car with Abra driving to Shane’s house for the first two sentences. In the last two, I’m outside the car, as Abra is kind of alone with her thoughts.

Keep the italicized thoughts out, and I’m still sitting in the car with Abra heading to Shane’s. I’ve been there five and a half months with her, and I’m winding around those curves, loving where I am at the moment.

Now, to emphasize (notice I didn’t use italics for the pun) my next point, Abra isn’t alone in her car. She has two little boys with her, and they can help us see how italicization for emphasis can be unnecessary, for the most part. Let’s look at a bit of their conversation with the italicization included:

“Maybe we’ll see Bumblebee today,” Paulie whispered.

Shu-ut-ut up,” Peter hissed.

“Buzz, buzz,” Abra let them know she heard. “Is that what Shane and Taffy film for their music CDs and DVDs? Bumblebees?”

“Shane films lots of stuff. Last week we got to watch two otters play in the stream at Mount Tabor. It’s really not a mountain. It’s a place where the mountain levels out to one side, but it’s higher on the other. The stream roars down. Shane owns it.”

Would you believe that none of that emphasis is necessary? Look over the paragraph again. Without the italics would you understand that Bumblebee might not be a bumblebee? Yeah. Because the author (me) has capitalized the name of whatever it is.

Do you get the idea that Paulie and Peter don’t want their mom to know that Bumblebee isn’t a bee because maybe she won’t let them continue to do whatever they do with Shane and Taffy? Duh! That’s why Peter tells his twin to sh-ut-ut up, and the boys evade Mom’s questions.

Not one piece of italics is necessary. The dialogue and the way it is delivered take away the need for the telling emphasis. The reader is shown what they need to know. They aren’t talked down to, and the reader also feels as if the author believes he or she is smart enough to catch on to the interplay between a mother and her two boys.

Okay, to the authors who argue that rules are meant to be broken and authors do live to break rules, the fun in breaking the rules comes when you do it at the right time and not every time. Seeing every other word italicized for emphasis or paragraphs of internal monologue weary a reader and plain wear thin on an editor or agent. The secret to breaking these rules and any rule is first to understand it, and when it is understood, use it to the utmost in one, maybe two instances. As stated above, I call that the Big Foot rule. Break the rule so sparingly that the reader will remember it as if they would remember stumbling across a Big Foot or make Big Foot so stealth that they wonder if it existed at all.

Book Poster

Fay Lamb (The Tactical Editor)  is an author, editor, and writing coach, who loves to work with authors to help them meet their goals.Her emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted three series. Stalking Willow and Better Than Revenge

Art of Characterization Cover FINAL FRONT (2)Books 1 and 2 in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on two Christmas novella projects: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, A Ruby Christmas, and the Write Integrity Press romance novella series, which includes  A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelor, and Unlikely Merger, which are now available in print or eBook as The Heart Seekers. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.Future releases from Fay are: Everybody’s Broken and Frozen Notes, Books 3 and 4 of Amazing Grace and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind.

Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads. Anyone interested in learning more about Fay’s freelance editing and her coaching, should contact her at fay@faylamb.com.

 

 

The Danger of Killing Characters

2016 July 29

The Danger of Killing CharactersRecently, while heading toward the last scene of my work in progress, I pondered killing off the hero. In this tale of suspense, a lot of people fall prey to mayhem. I thought perhaps offing the hero would be a twist for my reader. I pondered this thought for all of two seconds.

Spoiler alert: I kept him safe and returned him to the arms of the heroine. Believe me. I wouldn’t write this unless I knew that the twists and turns in this story will keep a reader turning the page wondering how the heroine will ever have a happy-ever-after.

Here’s why I didn’t end the character’s life:

I’m not Nicholas Sparks. He can get away with it. Those who continue to read his books look for someone to die. I don’t read his books any longer. If he left a heroine or hero alive at the end of a story, I would be surprised. In turn, if I killed a hero or heroine, my readers would be flabbergasted. Readers do not like their favorite writers to surprise them in this manner without very, very good reason.

When readers pick up a book, they are investing their time and their imaginations in the lives written on the page. For an author to kill a main character without necessity is a waste of both a reader’s time and imagination. Once a reader has realized the author has wasted her valuable investment, she is less likely to allow the writer the opportunity to do so again. Some authors do have very good reasons for not providing a happily ever after romantic ending. In A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks, there is no story unless the young heroine dies. That’s what the story is about. She’s dying. A miracle cure would really aggravate the reader. The same is true of The Notebook. The jury is out on some of Sparks’ other titles, though. I stopped reading the books because my costly investment yielded nothing of uplifting value. I don’t like to close a book and walk around bummed about it for days. However, there is one title by Og Mandino where the story is imprinted on my heart because the young hero of the story died. He had to die. Without it, like the aforementioned Sparks’ title, there would be no story, but The Twelfth Angel sits among my favorites on my bookshelf.

Killing off a secondary character can be tricky as well. The best example I have of this is from the movie, The Mummy. Good old Bennie. He was a rascal, but he was a funny rascal. Even when Evie stands in the desert with him after she believes the mummy has killed her hero and she declares, “Nasty little fellows like you always get their comeuppance” (yes, I have seen the movie over 200 times. I can quote every line), I was still not prepared for that comeuppance. I was angered. How dare they kill off Bennie?

Well, they dared because he was akin to most of Peter Lorrie’s characters in the classic movies. When the shock and anger wore off, I understood Bennie had to die. The screenwriter had a reason. Fans of the movie realize that the directorship and the appeal of the movie is the classic formula, especially in characterization: hero, heroine, sidekick, villain, villain sidekick.

Now, secondary characters with four legs—our little furry friends—that an author kills off are another story altogether. Very few times when I have read a novel or a proposal have I believe any animal killed within the pages was done for anything but author suicide. Oh, the readers might cry over the animal’s death, but the emotion turned on the author is anger, hence, author suicide. The writer becomes dead to the reader.

I get those folks who say, “You have more compassion for an animal than you do a human being.”

Great. Those people are right probably not only in a story world but in real life.

Shame on me for being honest.

However, the majority of readers, if they will admit it, feel the same way about the books they read. Kill off a secondary two-legged character, and I might not like it, but I will continue reading. Kill off an animal without real reason and the book is trashed, as in hurled into a wastebasket, never going to tell anyone about the story because I would never do to another reader what an author did to me by suggesting they read the story.

If I’m editing for acquisition and an animal dies, the author is in trouble unless I see why it had to happen. And I have had one acquisition—only one—where I accepted the death, and I have to say that the reader did it so well that when it happened, I jumped up from my chair with my hands covering my mouth. The killing was necessary, but we had to tone that well-written death down a tad. In fact, the actual act was not shown, but the reader got the gist when they turned the page to the next chapter. You see, when I jumped up from my chair, that was the ultimate case of what I refer to as “jarring the reader.” I was taken right out of the story–horrified by the action. I don’t like to be horrified. I don’t watch horror movies. This book, while an action/thriller type story, was not horror, yet I was unsuspectingly jolted by the terribly vivid end to an animal.

The truth about the risk of killing off important secondary characters was brought home to me through the untimely death of a real-life feline who didn’t even live in my country let alone in my home. I was on staff as secretary for my church at the time. I was in an evening service. My pastor had just returned from the Philippines. That particular evening service, he was reporting on the mission team’s trip. Within the first five minutes, he mentioned that on the way from the airport their driver ran over a cat. The next day in a meeting, he asked his staff if the report had conveyed the importance of the trip. I looked up at him, and with all honesty, I declared, “I don’t know. The last words I heard were about the dead cat.”

So, the lesson I learned is this: whenever an author decides to kill a character (whether it is hero or heroine, a secondary character, either two legged or four legged), the result of said death should be weighed carefully. An author could have a great message or theme woven through the pages of his or her story, but kill off the wrong character, and that message or theme will be lost to the reader. The only part of the story that will be remembered is the death of the beloved.

The death of the Filipino cat, an animal I would have never known about otherwise, clenched my heart and squeezed so tightly that I heard nothing else of what the pastor said. Though the pastor’s words had been important, they were lost on me. He’d made me love the cat by telling me of its death. The story wasn’t about the cat, but my heart stayed with the dead animal, imagining its suffering on the road in the same way I imagine you, as a reader, are imagining it right now. I did not learn about the missionaries we support or the souls reached during that trip.

What I just did to you by telling you the feline’s story (and I made sure to share it at the end of the post) is not what you, as an author, want to do to your readers–without good reason.

Books Collage

Fay Lamb (The Tactical Editor)  is an author, editor, and writing coach, who loves to work with authors to help them meet their goals.Her emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted three series. Stalking Willow and Better Than Revenge

Art of Characterization Cover FINAL FRONT (2)Books 1 and 2 in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on two Christmas novella projects: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, A Ruby Christmas, and the Write Integrity Press romance novella series, which includes  A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelor, and Unlikely Merger, which are now available in print or eBook as The Heart Seekers. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.Future releases from Fay are: Everybody’s Broken and Frozen Notes, Books 3 and 4 of Amazing Grace and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind.

Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads. Anyone interested in learning more about Fay’s freelance editing and her coaching, should contact her at fay@faylamb.com.

 

Three Techniques to Add Heart and Mind to Shallow Characters

2016 July 11

Shallow CharactersI’m in the midst of edits for my next release. I love the story. The complexities and the twist and turns have me feeling as if I’m on a continual roller coaster of fun. This is my subjective analysis, I know. Right now, I’m tickled that this is a story I can’t wait for others to read. Usually, as I’m coming to the end of a project, I worry if it is good enough to put forth for my readers.

However, as I dug deep into the story, I found some shallow areas, and each of those little pits had to do with characterization. I’m being honest here, my hero and heroines are the ones that sank into the short abyss and needed to be plucked out, cleaned up, and the holes filled, I’d like to share some ideas with others who might run across the same problem in their fiction.

This first technique must be explained carefully, but let me put the word out there. Those who know how I feel about this element of fiction will gasp. The word is backstory. Now, for the careful explanation. All characters (both real and imagined) have a backstory. The most colorful individuals have faced events in their lives that make them unique, that make them think differently from others, that either make them fearful or infuse them with bravery, that make them sad or cause them to hide the sadness behind a happy face. I can’t get around that truth. In fact, if you read my stories, the characters’ backstories are very important. However, many writers use backstory as filler. They’ve missed the beauty of this element of fiction. Not only does backstory make a character unique, but it also adds fodder for the front story. Working on a character’s backstory, knowing all you can about them is key to building character. The problem, though, with so many authors, is that they’ve worked on this intensive study of their characters’ pasts, and they feel it is a waste not to stop the story and place block upon block upon block of what happened in the past right in the midde of the front story.

Rather, backstory should be gleaned for the little nuggets that can be placed along the path of the reader. Those nuggets should come forth as front story and nothing else. Never, ever let anything stop the front story. Bring your past to the future, and keep it in the moment. Don’t linger in the past. All that’s needed are those little golden gems. A reader should be placed on a forward path to run across a small nugget here and there, reach down (or turn the page) to grasp that piece of gold, and continue forward. Don’t give it all away, though. Each nugget is a piece of the puzzle that will be solved as the story moves on. Placed just right, those nuggets pull out the truth of a character and bond them to the reader. When the character is shallow no more, the reader plunges into their lives and hopefully will not want to be moved from the story world. They’ll wish the journey could continue forever. A writer’s job is to bring the story to a satisfying close that makes a reader wish to linger for just a while more.

Another technique I use is to study the roles of different actors and actresses. Some of my friends simply use a picture of someone they’ve seen, and they develop a character around that. This is my usual technique with secondary characters, so I know it can work. I tried this method with my hero in my work at hand. I searched and searched for just the right face to put a character behind. That face is still my character, but it wasn’t until I concentrated on how he moved and how he acted with others in various roles, that he began to grow and to open himself up to me. This particular face behind the character came from a man who plays a dark role in the one show he is known for. My hero can be moody because (see the first technique above) his backstory has some depth to it, but he’s a nice guy most of the time. I couldn’t rely on the dark role to carry my character forward. Relying on one role of an actor or actress tends to build a cardboard character. So, I had to search deep to find clips of this particular man in real life and in other roles, and what I found put flesh and bone and heart into my hero.

As noted, be careful with this technique. Don’t mimic a screenwriter in building your character. Examine the many facets of the roles the actor or actress plays. My favorite actor to develop characters from is Andrew Lee Potts. Quite simply, the man has a wide range of acting abilities. I first ran across this actor in a movie called Alice. He played Hatter, and in that role he made American women swoon. Before Alice, though, he played Connor Temple in the British show Primeval. In Primeval, Mr. Potts played a quirky genius who specialized in dinosaurs and later worked on developing scientific equipment. His portrayal took the character through a range of emotions and behaviors. In Primeval, he was hopelessly in love with one of the other characters. In Alice, he was a brash, reluctant hero. In other movie and television roles he was tough, homicidal, mentally challenged, mean-spirited, and often funny: a very wide range and a pot of gold for characterization.

This last little secret is what I use when my characters are particularly tight-lipped and I need to psychoanalyze them a bit. Allow the character to write a journal entry. Just as in real life, we often pour our souls into our private writings, our characters, which are pieces of us, feel secure in doing the same. While I have no trouble sitting down and talking to my characters–they’re chattering at me all the time–sometimes, they don’t want to share everything. That was the case in my novel Better Than Revenge. I had a conflict-filled scene going between my heroine, Issie, and her sister, nicknamed Sissy. While the girls waged a war with words, Sissy’s husband, an ambitious prosecutor who’d risen to his position by his wrongful prosecution of Issie’s fiance, sat by and watched. I’d known this scene was coming. In fact, the scene was a pivotal turn in the novel, but I couldn’t get to the heart of why these two very different sisters, who seemingly loved each other, were at odds. Issie, who always tried to protect her baby sister, wasn’t being forthcoming, so I  took out a journal, a real paper journal; I put a date on it, and I became Issie. She poured out her heart, breaking mine as she did. She explained that her sister had been lied to by her husband, and worse, Sissy had believed her husband over Issie, drawing conclusions about Issie’s hero, Michael, that were wholly untrue. Since Michael’s imprisonment, Issie has not seen the man she loved. In her mind, he left her behind when released from prison. The argument between the sisters was prompted by the fact that her brother-in-law’s manipulations of the facts have been reported and a sadistic rapist, whom he urged  Issie not to prosecute to protect her unborn child, is about to be released. Because she followed her brother-in-law’s advice, the rapist never knew about his son, and her silence was surely what sent Michael to prison. Under the laws of that particular state, her son, whom she loves more than life, despite the circumstances of his birth is in jeopardy should, upon his release, his father ever learn of his existence.

Can you see how that journal entry not only helped to add heart and emotion to the characters and the scene, but also gave me insight into a family dynamic gone horribly wrong and desperately in need of repair? That journal explored a part of the story that truly became its heart and soul, a plot I wouldn’t have ventured into without the character’s input. Also, with that information in my writer’s arsenal, you can imagine how furious a reader could become at the man who set all of this conflict in motion and sat back and allowed his wife to do the arguing. So, those emotions flowing through your character can pour into your reader as well.

Characters can be a challenge. There’s no doubt about that. I struggle with characterization in every novel I write, and until each of the characters, whether they are lead or secondary, dig themselves out of their shallowness, my job as an author is not complete. I’d love to hear from other writers on the techniques used to add flesh and sinew, heart and mind to your character creations.

Books Collage

Fay Lamb (The Tactical Editor)  is an author, editor, and writing coach, who loves to work with authors to help them meet their goals.Her emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted three series. Stalking Willow and Better Than Revenge

Art of Characterization Cover FINAL FRONT (2)Books 1 and 2 in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on two Christmas novella projects: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, A Ruby Christmas, and the Write Integrity Press romance novella series, which includes  A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelor, and Unlikely Merger, which are now available in print or eBook as The Heart Seekers. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.Future releases from Fay are: Everybody’s Broken and Frozen Notes, Books 3 and 4 of Amazing Grace and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind.

Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads. Anyone interested in learning more about Fay’s freelance editing and her coaching, should contact her at fay@faylamb.com.

 

How to Drive an Editor Crazy

2016 July 5

How to Drive an Editor CrazyI’m back …

The straight jacket has been removed, and I am able to conduct business with dangerous tools such as a computer and a website.

Okay that was a joke. Maybe.

On my time away in the asylum, I came across a few suggestions that might help as authors continue to apply edits to their work. I suppose this first post is appropriate.

I have enjoyed life as an editor both in acquisition and in freelance, but there are some things that authors do, and I’m including myself in the author category, that can drive an editor to the brink of insanity. Granted, when these things are done correctly and sparingly, they may make an editor’s heart soar, but when done incorrectly and to the point of overdosing the reader, the editor … this editor … can be brought to momentary lapses of villainous derangement. Editors can be very dangerous when they cross the threshold into the land of the demented, so I thought I’d share a few of those treacherous areas with you:

  • Creative punctuation: Authors who tiptoe through the field of em dashes, ellipses, parentheses, semicolons, commas played by ear, and run-on sentences, or as I refer to them “end of sentences played by ear,” must know why these wonderful marks of punctuation exist and how they are used before they can break the rules. Editors develop pet peeves. We develop them because of writers. Some editors, and I’m not one of those, hate semicolons. I love a properly placed semicolon when they are not used in every other sentence. Some editors don’t mind parentheses in fiction. I’m not one of those editors. I abhor parentheses in fiction. (However, if you see me write posts or other non-fiction, you are liable to see me use one or two or a dozen. I’m trying to break that habit.) The key to keeping an editor within the margins of sanity is the correct use and the lack of overuse of various creative punctuation marks. A special note about commas: as an editor, I am a comma Nazi. However, when advised by an author that the comma is creative license, as in “I want a pause there,” most often I will agree. Try to pull that stunt with a semicolon, and we’re going to war. The same applies with a run-on sentence. If I can’t get away with them, neither can anyone else in my realm of influence. And believe me I’m notorious for the longest sentences in recorded history, all chopped down by the ready pen–or track change–of an editor.
  • Stage direction instead of a sentence: Stage direction in a screenplay might read something like this: “You don’t understand. I must see what’s in that closet.” Stepping toward the door.
    There’s a running gag in the movie Murder by Death where Peter Sellers, as Mr. Wang is told by the host (and I’m paraphrasing out the terrible language), “You’re a highly educated, intellectual detective. Why can’t you say your pronouns.” That’s exactly what I remember every time a writer dares to cross over from the art of literature to screenwriting … a perfectly fine art with its own set of rules, but a screenwriter can get away with leaving out the pronouns. A writer of literature should not even attempt to do so.
  • Alright is not a word (even though my spell checker on my website seems to think so.It is wrong, terribly and utterly incorrect). Already is one word; all right should always be written as two words. And if you don’t believe me, start looking on Facebook or Pinterest for the memes. Most editors have one that declares that “alright” is not all right. This also applies to “a lot” of other misspelled and incorrectly used words.
  • Continuing with the last note, let me tell you what will really have an editor plotting against an author with manic fury. Yes, I’m exaggerating. The truth is probably closer to the editor stoking a little fire or irritation. All an author has to do is to refuse to believe what an editor is telling him or her. Careful here. I’m not saying that questioning an editor is out of the question. I’ve learned how wrong I can be on some edits because the author has dared to say, “Yeah, but …” However, when an editor tells an author, “Thou shalt not use alright” or indicates to the author that the publisher requires a space on either side of the ellipses, or prefers “OK” to “okay,” continuing to do as thou wanteth, doth not make the editor happy.
  • Starting every sentence with a conjunction: I love conjunctions. They’re beautiful sitting in the midst of a sentence. I even like them at the beginning of sentences, but I like them only when they are used correctly. Little known fact: when a conjunction starts a sentence, a subject and predicate are still necessary. Okay. There is some poetic license given in this regard, but the key is to not over use it. Once per novel should suffice. Oh, and here’s another little known fact, or so it seems not well known: then is not a conjunction. A poetic license shall not be issued, at least from this editor. If the publishers would let me get away with it in my writing and in my editing, and then would be used. Many of the run-on sentences mentioned above actually should start with the word then.
  • Misplacing the modifier: While misplaced modifiers are often a source of comic relief for editors, the practice can wear on us after awhile. I laugh when I read something like, “Chopping the onions, her eyes teared up.” Can’t you just see the little arms on those eyes chopping away one moment and wiping the tears the next? The giggles stop if the modifiers continue to be misplaced.
  • Drop in a plot device only when it is needed: Oh, it’s perfectly okay to drop in a plot device, if it is placed in the story long before it is necessary. If Pauline’s on the railroad track, and she’s able to somehow dig out a knife from her pocket and cut the rope, the reader better have seen that knife dropped in her pocket at some time prior to the scene.
  • So far, the advice, while true, has been tongue-in-cheek and mostly for the authors who have honed their craft and, like me, continue to do certain things that annoy our editors. This next bit of advice should be taken quite seriously, and it is to the individual who believes that all there is to writing fiction is sitting down to the computer and plunking words and thoughts onto paper. That individual can be identified by an editor in the very first paragraph, and sometimes they might be spotted from line one. Writing is an art. Some elements of this special craft come easy, but I guarantee that no one picks up a pen on day one, story one, and masters the art without practice, much practice. Nothing drives the insanity  in an editor more than picking up the first draft of an individual who then delays the author from reviewing the work of truly talented, well-studied, serious authors waiting for their chance in the hard-fought world of publishing. In all truthfulness, nothing brings out my madness quicker than picking up a published novel (whether traditional or self-published) that harms the talented authors in much the same way.
    I would love to hear from editors about their own pet peeves or “thou shalt nots” and from authors who have learned what not to do to keep their editors happy and healthy and out of the asylum.

Book Poster

 

Fay Lamb (The Tactical Editor)  is an author, editor, and writing coach, who loves to work with authors to help them meet their goals.

Her emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted three series. Stalking Willow and Better than Revenge, Art of Characterization Cover FINAL FRONT (2)Books 1 and 2 in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on two Christmas novella projects: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, A Ruby Christmas, and the Write Integrity Press romance novella series, which includes  A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelorand Unlikely Merger, which are now available in print or eBook as The Heart Seekers. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.

Future releases from Fay are: Everybody’s Broken and Frozen Notes, Books 3 and 4 of Amazing Grace and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind.

Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads. Anyone interested in learning more about Fay’s freelance editing and her coaching, should contact her at fay@faylamb.com.