~Make it your Best~

You only get one chance for a good first impression

 Before submitting your manuscript do some simple things to make sure it’s your best work. 

`Run your word processor’s Spell/Grammar check – this is by no means the best way to edit, at the same time you’ll be surprised just how much it catches. Have a trusted friend (preferably another writer) proof your work.

`Grammar does count. Publishers do employ editors. They are not there to police your use of commas or find your dangling participles.

`Send the cleanest manuscript you can present. Examine your work for lazy, unnecessary, or repetitive words. ‘That’ is one which invades a novel without the writer noticing.

Also look for where you can delete unnecessary descriptors. ‘She sat back down glaring at me.’ ‘She glared at me as she sat.’ 

Every line of dialog doesn’t require a tag (said, answered, etc). Show the emotion in the lead sentence and you don’t have to explain. Simple is better. Use said.

Examine your sentence structure. Look for diversity. Are you starting your sentences with ‘ing’ or ‘ly’ words too much? How many begin with he, she, character names or the?

Are your sentences too long with endless connectors? Or do you have a rash of sentence fragments which should be put together?

The right word – No spell check program will catch these errors consistently. As a writer it is your job to make sure you’ve got the right usage. 

Their – They’re  

Your – You’re

To – Too  

Complement – Compliment 

People ‘lie’ Things ‘lay’

`Does it start in the right place? As the author you need to know everything about your characters, all of the history which makes them act the way they do. The reader often doesn’t need to know or it can be worked into conversation as the story unfolds.

`Start the story where the action begins. Giving the reader pages of back story can put them off and you want to grab them from the first paragraph.

`Too much information, information dumps, are common and at times necessary. Examine these to see if they can be presented in conversion or action. If it isn’t necessary to move the story forward consider cutting it. Paragraphs of back and side stories can become tedious and put your reader off.

`Consistent point of view (pov). Every character does not need to have their pov shared with the reader. Give pov to your lead characters because what they know, see and think propel the story. Avoid jumping from one character to another every other paragraph. It can be confusing for the reader.

`Show, don’t tell: 

Troy saw a dog cross the road. 

Motion caught Troy’s attention. A scruffy, brown dog loped across the dusty road and into the trees as if he owned them.

`Writing is a process of constant learning. Be willing to listen to comments without getting defensive. If you’re still protective of your work, get over it or wait until you do. Submitting to Agents and Publishers can be a brutal business. A writer needs to develop a pretty tough skin.

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What is the Heart of Love?

Their eyes met across a crowded room.’  This is about as cliche’ as it gets when writing about falling in love. Love at first sight.  I know it happens and outside of seeing your child for the first time it is exceedingly rare. Perhaps it’s why so many writers have taken up the cause, to bring fantasy to life.

One doesn’t have to write romance to face love in a plot. All relationships involve attachment of one kind or another. Friendship, parent, cousin, brother, sister, friend, collegue to list a few. In most of these relationships the attachment is implied. The attachment can also be twisted to create suspense or leave the reader questioning it to spring a surprise.

Will the hero save his wayward brother or let him dangle for his bad behavior?

Will the female lead believe her cousin has changed and chance being lead into danger for the loyalty of family?

How can anyone could trust Uncle Frank when it is so obvious he’s a putz?

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I write romance, so my story lines revolve around two people falling in love and navigating the mine field that can be love. I don’t like writing or reading love at first sight. Lust at first sight is more likely the situation. Love takes time because trust and respect are required for a long term ‘Happily ever after.’

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So how do you write relationships in your work?

How do they color your work and effect the rhythm and flow?

Are there elements of romance in your crime story?

What is the heart of love?

The Critique

I always find critiques interesting.

When the reader and author don’t know each other it can be taken as snarky or insincere.

When the reader knows the author, well that can get down right interesting.

You can hurt a strangers feelings and not feel too bad, but someone you know?

This is where the rubber meets the road. I picked people I knew would suck it up and tell me ‘It’s trash’ to read my early work. And they did too. I found knowing them a help. These people had a vested interest in me and they risked upsetting me. THANK YOU..this is how we grow as writers.

I’m not above injury, but when I put something out there for critique that’s what I want. How horrifying it would be to query crap and never get called on it.  Friends tell friends when it’s bad. Are you a friend or an acquaintance?

I always wonder at the would-be-contestants for American Idol. It is obvious, even to me, some of these people can’t sing. Doesn’t anyone care enough to tell them? “Darling I love you. You will only embarrass yourself.” Dang.

Throwing flowery words around is good for the ego, but little else.

Is it too wordy? Too lean? Confusing? Or can’t string a good sentence together bad?

If an author isn’t ready to hear the answers, they aren’t ready for the world to see their work.

I don’t want anyone blowing sunshine up my skirt.

How do you feel about it?

What’s really going through your head as you read articles looking for a scrap of good to say?

Setting the Stage

I find when I’m writing it is like a movie playing in my head and I tend to get wrapped up in the action, dialog and characters, forgetting to paint the scene. So I find myself going back to add visuals later. Often times more than once. Doing sweeps for clothes, decor and so on.

What are my character’s wearing? Do I have the correct styles, fabrics for the period? Do I know the names of the fabrics, styles I’m using? Sometimes I don’t and have to looking for them or have long chunky sentences.

The Costume Gallery

The Fabric Store

Whether it’s a Regency or a Contemporary setting knowing what you are talking about takes a bit of research. 

What a character wears says as much about her as the way she interacts with other characters. Clothes can give subtle hints to things yet to be revealed, or negate the need to explain she’s modest or eccentric or at the top of fashion.

Where do our character’s live? An Arts and Crafts/Californian bungalow or a  Victorian style house. Do you know the different Victorian architecture styles?  As the author it’s your job to be precise in your settings.

Queen Anne is a specific Victorian type not a generic term for the era.  Queen Ann is my personal favorite.

Dave’s Victorian Houses

Are your characters Frank Lloyd Wright, free from clutter, streamlined? Or are they stuck in the eighties with dripping oil lamps and enormous water bed furniture? Or somewhere in between with Gustov Stickley’s clean lines which lend themselves to a homey feeling consistent with the Arts and Craft movement?

Clem Lambine’s Period Homes

As I see it; there should be nothing in a novel which doesn’t serve the purpose of the story. Whether it’s a chintz tea set, Mission style furniture, the color of the walls, carpet or lack there of.

While they might seem inconsequential, what you dress your story with adds layers to characters and the mood of the story. Can you imagine Dracula living in a 70’s split-level? How about Queen Victoria in a sod house?

Knowing what you are talking about can make the descriptive short and unobtrusive. Unless you are in Queen Elizabeth I court it shouldn’t take paragraphs or a page to set the scene or describe a gown.

When I find that I’ve done just that, a lot of it hits the cutting room floor in edits.

So does window dressing happen as you write your first draft?

Do you write in layers, going back to add color to the script?

Is any of the background conscience thought or does it just happen/dictated by the characters themselves?

Do you use back drops and accents as a means to propel the story, or just as fill?

Sherilyn Winrose, author of Safe Harbor published by Second Wind.