Why It’s a Good Reason to Delete “Shitty Drafts” and a Short List of Tips to Improve Them

writing, fiction
writing, fiction

The naughty words are from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.  Anne didn’t write me and tell me to cut my drafts, “shitty” or otherwise. In fact, she gave me permission to write them.  My editor Debbie Simorte told me it was a good idea to delete them from my blog, for the same reason spammers give me.

“Your site is rife with errors.”

Rife with Errors

Excuse me, Ms Spammer, “rife with errors.” I have a few too many, I admit, but I think rife is harsh.

But Debbie agreed, even though she didn’t put it like that.  Editors look at your site. If they see a Work in Progress (WIP), see it even has an acronym, they wonder if the rest of the story will be a WIP.

Internet users
Internet statics users Worldwide

 

 

To the 10 faithful Girls on Fire world-wide readers, I apologise, but you’ve already read it anyway. So no apology needed, right? To the 3.05 billion internet users who hadn’t seen it yet, I’m sorry, but you will have to buy the book when it comes out.

Anne Lamott’s Stages of Drafts and Tips to Get Through Them

1. DOWNDRAFT:  First draft – get it down

  • Avoid so much draft three – dental work –  by setting your page the way publishers will want it – even if you are just practicing.
    • double space
    • indent paragraphs
    • use only one space between sentences instead of the old-fashioned two. The best way to do this is to turn on the little button ¶ that hides in various places depending on what program you use. This magic button shows you how many spaces you have everywhere.
  • Write out small numbers.  Just get in the habit while you are putting things down. It makes it easier later and it doesn’t slow down your spontaneity.
  • Sometimes in the middle of your editing you have to draft an entirely new chapter to fill in the holes. I did that today. Forgive yourself and with that chapter you are back to stage one.

    Down Draft - Ger 'er down!
    Down Draft – Ger ‘er down!

2. UPDRAFT:  Second draft – fix it up

  • Ask someone like you husband who never read a romance in his life to read it.  His insight will astound you.  You will learn how men think, and more importantly how he thinks. He will be really honest and say things like, “You can’t wrestle a washer full of water. Have her turn off the water like this. Come here.” Or “This sounds petty like she is making fun of the blind. Pick a different cause. Why did she say something stupid like that?”

    Editing - picky picky
    Editing – picky picky

3. DENTAL DRAFT: Third draft – check each tooth

  • This is a job for another pair of eyes. A very picky pair. This person finds errors that run between chapters like “Ted is 88 in chapter 2 and 89 in chapter 1.” Or  “Why did Vanessa move away from Sarah’s into a hotel.  I like her living with Sarah, but then you have to deal with her comments to Tani in Chapter 2.
  • This is where you also pick up the extra space between sentences, commas on the inside of quotation marks, and misplaced commas in general,
  • Eliminate passive verbs and redundant words

What I realized is that we  weave a net when we birth fiction characters, just like life.  When we edit one thing we may miss the other connections that one statement makes. You need those extra eyes.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for the pictures, Google.

Easy Changes to Spice Up Dialogue that You Can’t Teach Elementary Students

Elementary teacher

After retiring from over twenty years in education, I discovered that I’ve been writing dialogue incorrectly. Not only have I been writing it wrong, I taught it wrong. In my defense, I would not WANT elementary students to know some of these secrets.

Woman and two young children outdoors holding volleyball and smi

  1. To write great dialogue EVERYBODY fights – Yikes! As a teacher, I mediated fights all day. I hate fighting, but as an author, if characters don’t fight or at least disagree, it’s hard to tell them apart. Intensity can vary from teasing to screaming.  I tried it.

no pictures

Tani enjoys arts and crafts, home decorating, and shopping. Vanessa suffers from depression over losing  her home to a fire, and starting over again.

“You need pictures.” Tani declared.

“I had pictures.”

They’re gone, Ness. Your place has no personality. Let’s go shopping.”

This wasn’t a huge fight, but it helped to set the scene, and made it a little more interesting than just saying.  Vanessa had no pictures on her wall, and needed to go shopping.

Hazel

From The Fault in our Stars by John Green, sixteen year old Green Hazel has terminal cancer, and her mother is trying to help her through depression.

“I refuse to attend Support Group.

“One of the symptoms of depression is disinterest in activities.”

“Please just let me watch America’s Next Top Model. It’s an activity.”

“Television is a passivity.”

“Ugh, Mom, please.”

“Hazel, you’re a teenager. You’re not a little kid anymore. You need to make friends, get out of the house, and live your life.”

“If you want me to be a teenager, don’t send me to Support Group. Buy me a fake ID so I can go to clubs, drink vodka, and take pot.

“You don’t take pot, for starters… You’re going to Support Group.”

“UGGGGGGGGGG.”

elementary writing

  1. Cut out words especially off the beginning of dialogue. Teachers have to pull words out of elementary students to get efforts like. “I have a cat. My cat is gray.” We struggle to teach them to add adjectives, adverbs and connecting words to make their writing more interesting. Then teacher becomes a writer, and the word on the street is, “Less is more.” I tried this with my character, Sarah, who is always in a hurry. Even Vanessa improved with a few cuts to her tendency to wordiness.

So, I thought it was just a gimmick at first,” she had told Sarah during their daily phone call the next day.

Well, did you even check up on their credentials?” Vanessa had visualized Sarah with one hand on her hip and her eyes rolling.

Of course, I looked them up online. I think they’re legitimate.” Vanessa played Spider Sol while they talked.

“Never mind, don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it tomorrow. I’ve got a call. I’ll talk to you later.”

According to James Scott Bell, shorter sentences speeds up action.  What do you think?

fire
“The fire is raging out of control,” shouted 4’s chief. “Don’t go in there.”  (DUH!)
  1. Use dialogue to reveal the unknown not the known.  Dialogue is not an excuse to be redundant. Eliminate repetitive information. On the other hand, elementary teachers spend all day diverting disaster by repeating known information. I changed from teaching fourth to first grade. I was not ready for all the repetition I needed in my dialogue.

giving directions

“Put your pencils at the top of your paper so I will know when you’re done.” Without this reminder, pencils might work as a drumstick, baton, or a sword.

“Put your pencils, down.” You think they learned it the first time, but looking around, you see papers with extra drawings, drawings on someone else’s paper, and in worst cases, drawings on the desk.

This is not the case for authors. They must not show something that either the readers or the characters already know.  I crossed out “duh” words in my next attempt at dialogue.

Fred, four years Trixie’s junior, could move quickly when necessary, but not fast enough to avoid eight ounces of water that sprayed him from the waist down, when Trixie got mad during her birthday party.

The party’s chatter died suddenly to see how Fred would handle his soaking trousers. He stood up and undid his belt and unbuttoned his top button.

“Trixie, you got Fred’s pants all wet,” Fred’s girlfriend Edith said.

“Guess I’d better take these wet pants off!”

The crowd gasped in unison.

?????????????????????????????????????????

These seem like minor adjustments, but as I read over my manuscript, I found almost every conversation sounded better when I followed these spicy tips: provoke characters into fighting, cut their words short, and don’t use dialogue to repeat information everyone already knows.

Thank you Google for all these pictures.

If you liked these tips, you’ll love the book by James Scott Bell, How to Write Dazzling Dialogue:  The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript.

Dazzling Dialogue

Thanks to my new friends, Catherine and Irene who “liked” me on TC History Gal Productions.  Hope others will join me as well even though there are no prizes that I know of besides getting better acquainted.  🙂

Images of America: Four Simple Steps to Edit a Pictorial History

Editing a picture book with 50 -70 word captions for each of 200+ pictures requires more effort than you would think, and grammar is not the hardest part to correct.

1.  Ask experts to read your manuscript.

McKay Point 2

I might have made the mistake of calling this a cement dam at one time.  But not after writing Images of America:  Woodlake.  Robert Edmiston corrected one entry explaining that cement is a part of concrete, but dams are made of concrete, an aggregate of cement and rocks.  No company in Woodlake makes cement.  In a million years I would not have corrected that mistake on my own.

This is the four room school built in 1912 or 1913, not 1923.
This is the four room school built in 1912 or 1913, and not in 1923.

2.  Ask experts to help you check pictures for historical accuracy.  This can be more difficult than you think.  Sources of pictures don’t always label their pictures.  Even libraries rely on the picture donors to date and label the pictures correctly.  Sometimes you can check facts using newspapers, but they are not always accurate either.  I used two or three references when possible to make sure I had names and dates correct.  Even then, my readers questioned me on several items.  Marcy Miller and I sleuthed through dates of the school buildings.  She had a picture of a building built in 1913, but several dates were attached to it.  I had thought it was the same building that is now the district office, but I had a date of 1923 on that building from an obscure reference in a book.  As we dug, we found that there were actually two different buildings.  We looked at the brickwork at the bottom of the building and compared it to another building picture we had from a newspaper.

Edmiston-29

3.  Ask experts to check names, double check them. If you are like me, you were not alive in 1860.  When a relative tells you that one family’s children were too young to attend school in 1860, you have to question the historian’s information, if possible.  In this case it was not possible because the historian passed away in 1971, and she did not have anything footnoted.  The mystery might have been solved because the woman from the family in question had children from a previous marriage that could have attended school in 1860.  Even though the children had a different last name than was listed in the book, the historian might not have realized that because the woman had remarried, and the children might have gone by the new husband’s name to make things more simple.  Some things never change!  But it is surprising how important it is even 150 years after the fact, to get the names correct.

 

Notice the search box at the top, and the name is highlighted.  The page number is also listed in the sidebar not pictured.
Notice the search box at the top, and the name is highlighted. The page number is also listed in the sidebar not pictured.

4.  Document your sources so that you can find where you got your information.  One fact in question came up about the name of one of the participant in the 1926 Pageant named in the picture. One elderly resident had seen the picture and told Marcy Miller that it was one person,  when in fact it was his brother.  The evidence was in the newspaper, and when I showed her the article, she said, “Well his memory isn’t always perfect.”  Expect people to question your facts, and do your best to keep track of them.  When publishing with  Arcadia books, the template doesn’t allow for footnotes or an extensive bibliography, but you almost need to include one in your own copy.  I spent a lot of time looking for the information source to prove my writing.  Sometimes I had it listed in the caption, but when I approached 70 words in the caption, I couldn’t include the information credit for publication.  As I neared the end of my research, I purchased a product, Wondershare PDF Editor Pro to make my PDFs searchable.  This helped me to find information faster.

Can you guess the year of this picture?  Clue:  Experts are alive today who can name most of those pictured.
Can you guess the year of this picture? Clue: Experts are alive today who can name most of those pictured.

In their author’s guidelines the publisher suggested that writers allow 2 weeks for editing using an expert reader.  They moved my deadline up a month, so I didn’t have that luxury, but they have been wonderful about accepting changes, and once I get the proof back, I will have another opportunity to proof read it once again.

I hope this has been a helpful process for you in your own writing.  🙂

Find me on Facebook under TC History Gal Productions.

 

My First Give Away

After being a teacher and a consultant for over twenty years, I produced my first original “How To” give away.  It took hours of editing to produce.   If you are interested in being on my email list, and getting free PDF articles from time to time, you can email me at tchistorygal@gmail.com.

editing

The article is “Ten Tips for Editing Before Your Editor Reads Your Novel.”  Editing takes me three times as long as writing!  WOW!

How to Conquer the Mountain of Manuscript Editing

You think you’ve done a great thing when your screen is filled with words and maybe some pictures.  As you read each chapter and smile, your accomplishment amazes you.  Pity the poor NSA person who has to read every keystroke because you’ve already made many changes before you completed the chapter.

Manny in prison

You finish.  It’s 50,000 words, and there’s a plot, characters, a setting, all the things it needs to turn it in to NaNoWriMo.  So you cut, paste, send, and they send back a verification.  You are done.  Take it to the publisher.  Right?  Not so fast.  There could be an error or two.  Oops, that was almost a month ago, and what happened?  Maddie sent me a great article she wrote on editing, so I’m working through it, but here are some additional tips I’ve found as I’m climbing the editing  mountain RANGE.

Manny's Big Boy pants

  1. Put on your big girl/boy pants.  Be prepared that some people won’t like things, or that the mistakes will overwhelm them, or they will be bored.  I’ve done a lot of writing, so I know to expect this, but it is always difficult at first because you have been smiling at your cleverness for a whole month, and you think everyone else is going to be blown away by what a magnificent writer you have become.  You need some of that self-confidence, or you’d never write in the first place.  If your writing is really horrible, probably you’ll never hear from the reader again, so accept the criticisms as a good sign.
  2. Enlist the help of close friends and family.  My husband didn’t read every word. In fact, he got stuck on Chapter One, and hasn’t finished it yet.  Nonetheless, he has been a great help.  I’ve gotten ideas from lots of other readers, and we talk them over.  For example, one reader said, “Take Trixie where you’d never go, and let her respond.”  Do you know how difficult that is to do?  My thought was where in the world could I take her?  My husband suggested a male strip tease club.  Sorry, I’ve been there – only once when I was in my 20s, BTW.  I begged my date to take me when we were in the big city of San Francisco.  It was a shock to see how ugly those girls were.  We stayed a few minutes, and left. After shocking my husband with this information, we got down to business and brainstormed where I might “take Trixie” that I’ve never been, and he came up with a great idea that ended up not being a place at all.  It means some research and adjusting, but it is very doable, and I’m pleased with the results.  I’m still smiling, so far at my little creation.
  3.  Get readers from outside your family and local area to read and help you see what is unclear.  One reader told me to explain what made my setting unique.   MORE research comes into play at this level of revision.  I used several books about my target city.  I looked up controversies on the internet.  I spent quite a bit of time looking at what others said about where I set my story.  I am very familiar with the place.  The investigations gave me new perspective.   So once I had the feelings are on the paper, I needed to go back and add those things that are unimportant to me.  It might be different to you.  You might notice the way things look, and have to go back and add the emotions.  Everyone is unique.  I had to cut back on my dialogue, and give the readers a little background information.
  4. Don’t worry about people liking or disliking certain characters.  One reader told me she didn’t like the character that I based mostly on my personality.   Oh well, my favorite character ISN’T me.  I can go back and change things about her/him.  Give him/her different interests, reactions, looks, setting, family.  I can even change “me” into a man or my male model into a woman. You name it, with the flick of a finger, you and your friends (who are your other model characters) are no longer in the book.  So don’t get hung up on whether someone likes your favorite character or not. It’s nothing personal. Different people appeal to different folks. That’s good.
Manny and Justina
Manny and Justina, with just a few easy changes! 🙂

So now it’s all good, (for now).  Darla says I’ll be done when I’m 64.  But YOU are ready to follow Maddie’s plan of attack.   http://breezybooksblog.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/editing-your-own-work/

Many thanks to Carol, The Eternal Traveler, for the many pictures she sent of Manny traveling the world over.  The photoshopping is mine.  You can catch Justin at theadventuresofjustinbeaver.wordpress.com.

Any guesses about where Manny is in these pictures?  Setting IS important, yes?