Show Don’t Tell

show don't tell

I talked about showing versus telling earlier in the series but I wanted to go more in-depth with it in an example.  I believe without understanding the difference you’ll never be able to properly describe for your readers what you’re trying to show them. So below is an example from my own novel Ode to the Queen followed by a re-written version to show the difference (see, showing not telling ;) )

Show don’t Tell

Showing:

“How did you know?” I said quietly, looking up at him as he moved into my bedroom and bent down to set me on the bed gently. The bed was so soft and comfy, I could feel it surrounding me like a cloud and I sunk with pleasure deeper into the covers. My eyes slipped closed and I snuggled around the blankets happy and thankful he’d brought me to my bed.

“Just a sec, you have to take that dress off. It’s soaking wet, soapy, and smells like Killer Kool-Aid.” He reached out, pulling the blankets away from me and I groaned as the cold air hit me once more.

“No…” I whined, trying to fight him but failing as he got the blanket completely out from under me and dropped it onto the floor.

“Savannah, just take your dress off and I’ll get you some pjs.” He turned and looked around for the closet before heading over to get what I needed.

“You just want to see me half naked again.” I said with a soft mumble and he agreed with a chuckle as he pulled out a nightie from the closet.

Telling:

“How did you know?” I said quietly, looking up at him as he moved into my bedroom and bent down to set me on the bed gently. Aidan was so gentle with me as he lowered me. It was uncharacteristic how nice he was being. Usually he was nothing but withdrawn and short, this had to be a different side of him that I didn’t know about yet.

“Just a sec, you have to take that dress off.” He scolded me like a child as I began to snuggle into the soft, warm bed. He reached out, pulling the blankets away from me and I groaned as the cold air hit me once more. Maybe he wasn’t being nice but just revelling in his chance to be condescending and controlling over me.

“No…” I whined, trying to fight him but failing as he got the blanket completely out from under me and dropped it onto the floor.

“Savannah, just take your dress off and I’ll get you some pjs.”

“You just want to see me half naked again.” He chuckled as he searched through the closet looking for pyjamas, but I noticed he didn’t turn back to actually look at my half naked body. He was truly being a gentleman, I didn’t expect that of him. This was definitely a different side of Aidan no one but me could possibly know about.

In the second paragraph instead of letting the reader connect the dots themselves I spell it out for them through Savannah and point out the facts I want them to know: Aidan has a softer, kinder side than the one he shows to most people in Olympus. In the first paragraph this was made obvious when he laughed but didn’t actually turn around, nor did I mention him staring at her blatantly as she undressed and later redresses. This is a milder example as I didn’t want to give away anything from the plot but the point is there. This is a good example of redundancy.

In school our teachers tell us to write as if the reader is an idiot. This mentality shouldn’t transcend into our writing for pleasure as you have to believe that someone who has picked up your book genuinely wants to read it because they enjoy reading. If they enjoy reading then they have read other books, subtleties will not be lost on them.

Interested in reading more about Savannah and Aidan? Check out my debut novel on Amazon!

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Macros

macros

The last topic I want to talk about in this mini series about editing is macros. Have you ever heard about them? Basically macros are little bits of programming inserted into your word processor to complete little tasks that are otherwise time-consuming and finickity.

Specifically this is great for writers because macros can catch things like long sentences by highlighting them for you. It can count how many times phrases and specific words are used. There are some codes that catch needless words (filler words) or telling words so you can change them to showing. There’s a macro for detecting passive writing… Literally, there is a macro for every major editing issue most writers struggle with.

Here is a great website with over 400 free macros for writers.

I’m not an expert when it comes to macros. I’ve started reading about them but haven’t used them yet in my editing process (this is mostly due to me being in a writing phase right now and not an editing one). But from the sounds of it they can really help you catch a lot of things that otherwise could get overlooked and there’s no harm in having something help out right?

Are you willing to use macros? What do you think about them? Let me know!

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Beta Vs Alpha Readers

beta vs alpha readers

Wikipedia is a little misleading when you search for beta readers because according to their definition beta and alpha readers are the same thing. This is wrong. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid. It’s poisoned! No! No! NO!

Here’s the lowdown: Beta Vs Alpha Readers

Alpha Readers

In the Greek alphabet everyone knows Alpha comes before Beta. There is no difference in readership during the pre-release period of your novel writing. Alpha readers are those devout few who read your work before it’s even been edited. They go through it with all the spelling and grammar errors, plot holes and other such things to give you feedback on your story. They’re not looking for spelling mistakes and grammar problems because, trust me, there are tons.

Some argue that you should edit first before giving your draft over to your Alpha readers… I don’t. I have Alpha readers that can’t wait for me to get my ass in gear and edit my novels. They just want the juice so I give it to them and they focus solely on the story for me.

That being said, I don’t give them WIPs. I give them full, completed chapters. Even if I might go back and add scenes or edit something later, what I’m handing them is coherent. For the most part. My Alphas don’t care about hurting my feelings and making me curl up in a ball with cookie dough (Hi Janna and Brianna!) they point out when I’ve diverging or something sucks so many balls I’ll never get it fixed. They’re mean, but they’re helpful. Getting reader feedback early in the editing is so helpful later on when I go back and edit scenes or add things because they give me ideas of things that need to be edited.

Beta Readers

A Beta reader gets your book after it’s been edited. It’s a different group of people from your Alpha readers because you need the fresh set of eyes to go over it. They look for all kinds of flaws – spelling, grammar, plot holes, character issues, etc. They are the ones who are like the sift for your flour; they find the lumps and catch them before a paying reader does.

The great thing about a Beta reader also is the fact they’re, usually, your target audience so you’re getting genuine feedback that is likely to come from your readership. I didn’t actually get a specific Beta reader for Ode to the Queen when it was at that stage. In fact, I put it up on this site similar to Wattpad and I let people read it for free and they posted reviews for me there. Using that, I went through one more time and added and changed things that they had pointed out. Like the intensity of Aidan and Savannah’s relationship. Having that done prepared me for the reviews I get now because the feedback is the same. Some people hate Savannah, other people over her. That’s a fact I can’t change but I’m happy to talk to any reader who has questions about her character and why I wrote her the way I did.

Some people argue you don’t need both but just a Beta reader. What do you think? Do you use both or are you willing to use both? Let me know!

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How I Edit

how i edit

 

Yesterday we talked about the types of editing and today I wanted to talk about what my process was when I edit my novels. Fun fact; I rarely edit my blog posts unless I’m reading something back (after it’s been posted mind you) and I notice a problem. With my novels? It’s a totally different story.

This is how I edit.

Edit #1

The first time around I re-read my work and I do a lot of line and copy editing. This is usually when I catch the majority of my spelling and grammar mistakes. I will also do some mild developmental editing. At this point I usually have written the next book (if it’s a series) so I know if there’s any plot developments in the next book that need alluding to in the book before. Or if I need to have build up created. I’m not doing any major fine-tooth combing on this go, I just try to catch things that are obvious at least to me.

Edit #2

The second time around I don’t edit by sight. I edit by hearing. Every word processor these days has the ability to “read” out loud your writing. So paragraph by paragraph I have the computer read out the words to me. This is usually how I fine-tooth comb my spelling and grammar because the computer will read out a word wrong if it’s spelt wrong (and it also catches when I put the wrong word in the sentence – which is great because this happens to me a lot). It’s also good for punctuation because if the sentence doesn’t have an obvious pause or pauses when it shouldn’t the computer will read it like that. It also catches grammar like when a sentence runs on forever and clearly needs to be cut down. Once again this is more of a line and copy edit than anything else. Spelling and grammar, naturally, are the first thing most readers will notice.

Edit #3

The final edit is usually more of a content edit than anything else. At this point my feedback is back from beta readers and alpha readers so I fix up dialogue, change around scenes, and generally take their advice at hand. Obviously I catch the last few spelling and grammar errors but mostly this is spent changing things around. I try to take more away than I add since as I mentioned yesterday if you’re adding anything during this point you’ll have to go back on it and do the first two steps all over to them. I usually do the read out loud bit to make it quicker work and read along with it.

This isn’t a fool-proof method. Obviously, I don’t believe there is one. But this is what worked for me and I’ve gotten feedback from my readers that the editing on my novel is really well done. So I wanted to share my method, even if you just take on doing the read aloud thing (which is mostly the biggest tip I have here. It’s a goldmine for finding mistakes.)

If you have any editing tips feel free to share them!

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Types of Editing

types of editing

One of the things I’ve noticed, talking to fellow authors, is that most people get an editor for their novel but don’t actually realise what kind of editing they’re purchasing and which kind would be more beneficial to them. I told an author in a review that her novel read as though she had gotten really good line-editing/copy-editing but the story sorely required content-editing and she had no idea what I was talking about! I told her it was an editor who gave her plot feedback and found plot holes, character under-development and she said “that’s a thing?”

Yikes.

So I thought today would be a good time to introduce the types of editing and what each type entails. It’s just as important for blogs as it is for novels so bloggers don’t shy away!

Developmental Edit

Developmental can easily be confused with content editing but shouldn’t be. Developmental editing usually occurs before the book is even done other edits because it’s the sort of editing you receive when you give your book to beta readers or an author is unsure of the story and where it is going. Usually developmental editing leads to the author rewriting huge chunks of the story or removing certain plot devices. Think of it as if you’re a food blogger: you’re going to continue to tweak the recipe until it is done by changing what ingredients/cooking times/techniques/etc. Usually this editing occurs innately.

Line Edit

Line editing usually occurs at the same time as copy editing which is why they are often seen as interchangeable types. Line editing, specifically, is word choice, awkward phrasing, word repetition (like that girl who says like a million times out of context), dialogue is age appropriate (a seven year old doesn’t speak like a seventy year old), showing versus telling, cliches, timing, etc. It is basically breaking down every sentence and making sure it works. This is not to be confused with spelling, grammar and punctuation though. This is purely words and how they function to tell the story.

Copy Edit

This is the kind of editing everyone thinks about when they hear the word “editing”. This is your spelling, grammar, punctuation, whether your protagonist’s eyes were blue in the beginning and are suddenly brown without any magical reason. For historical novels – or novels that use history as a basis for building a world see 5 Laws for Creating a World – it also includes fact checking. It’s the nitty gritty of editing and everyone has to do it.

Content Edit

Also known as substantial editing/style editing. This is editing of the story. Is there plot holes? Is the character likeable or if they are meant to be dislikable – are they? Do your characters grow over the course of the story? Is there unresolved conflict? Does conflict resolve too quickly? There is also other things like pacing, tension, plausibility, suspension of disbelief, if the romance is believable, if the characters are believable… I find this part of the editing process usually ends with me adding another scene or taking some things out until it feels right. The trouble with adding though means you have to do steps 1-3 all over again. A lot of people argue this should be your starting point but I believe this should be the last thing you do. But we’ll talk about that later.

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Themes

themes

I’m going to start this by telling you something very important: I have never picked a theme for my stories ever. In fact I barely remember what they are from my days of high school English. So I did a quick google search:

  • Beauty of simplicity
  • Capitalism – effect on the individual
  • Change of power – necessity
  • Change versus tradition
  • Chaos and order
  • Character – destruction, building up
  • Circle of life
  • Coming of age
  • Communication – verbal and nonverbal
  • Companionship as salvation
  • Convention and rebellion
  • Dangers of ignorance
  • Darkness and light
  • Death – inevitable or tragedy
  • Desire to escape
  • Destruction of beauty
  • Disillusionment and dreams
  • Displacement
  • Empowerment
  • Emptiness of attaining false dream
  • Everlasting love
  • Evils of racism
  • Facing darkness
  • Facing reality
  • Fading beauty
  • Faith versus doubt
  • Family – blessing or curse
  • Fate and free will
  • Fear of failure
  • Female roles
  • Fulfillment
  • Good versus bad
  • Greed as downfall
  • Growing up – pain or pleasure
  • Hazards of passing judgment
  • Heartbreak of betrayal
  • Heroism – real and perceived
  • Hierarchy in nature
  • Identity crisis
  • Illusion of power
  • Immortality
  • Individual versus society
  • Inner versus outer strength
  • Injustice
  • Isolation
  • Isolationism – hazards
  • Knowledge versus ignorance
  • Loneliness as destructive force
  • Losing hope
  • Loss of innocence
  • Lost honor
  • Lost love
  • Love and sacrifice
  • Man against nature
  • Manipulation
  • Materialism as downfall
  • Motherhood
  • Names – power and significance
  • Nationalism – complications
  • Nature as beauty
  • Necessity of work
  • Oppression of women
  • Optimism – power or folly
  • Overcoming – fear, weakness, vice
  • Patriotism – positive side or complications
  • Power and corruption
  • Power of silence
  • Power of tradition
  • Power of wealth
  • Power of words
  • Pride and downfall
  • Progress – real or illusion
  • Quest for discovery
  • Quest for power
  • Rebirth
  • Reunion
  • Role of men

Oh. Okay! Got it, totally refreshed now. Even if you don’t know what the theme of your book is or even what the theme of your blog is don’t sweat it. I’m here to help. I was reading an article about editing the other day and basically this author had the idea that you could edit your entire book in one attempt if you prepared yourself with a small write-up about your book before beginning. One of these things she said you had to know was the theme of your novel. She explains that knowing what your theme is helps you with editing because every. single. scene. should address your theme. Everything should be linked to this theme or even sub themes because your theme is the entire purpose of your book.

I know, I thought it was plot too. Who knew!

The same goes for blogs. Every single post you write should be relevant to your theme. If it has nothing to do with your theme does it belong on the blog? Can you justify it’s presence? Imagine if you were a long-time reader of A Beautiful Mess or Style Me Pretty and they suddenly did a post about the mechanics of a car. You would blink a few times and wonder if your water and lemon was vodka and lemon. Wouldn’t you? I would.

So find your theme. Your theme is going to keep you on track. (I found my theme when I realised I needed one – turns out I had one all along!)

Thanks to Holly Lisle for the inspiration!

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Conflict and Resolution

conflict and resolution

As a reader one of the biggest things I hate the most when I’m reading is when a writer introduces a conflict and moments later resolves it. I’m sure you’re thinking, “how is that so terrible isn’t that just conflict and resolution?” So let me explain:

I was reading a book (okay I’ve read several books that have done this) which killed a character. It was an obsolete character created purely for shock reaction but they killed this character and the protagonist is standing over the dead body and basically thinks “well, if no one is going to solve the mystery of this murder I will.” She then proceeds (in the matter of paragraphs, and I’m not exaggerating) to go and “investigate” this murder by speaking to this couple. Except this couple won’t speak to her and she decides this is extremely strange but it doesn’t matter. So she goes to the sheriff, tells her what she thinks it is and the sheriff looks at her and says “yes, I knew it was a vampire. That’s why I didn’t investigate.”

BAM mystery solved. In less than a page. Not to mention I was left sitting there going “WTF? How did the sheriff know? Why wouldn’t he at least pretend to investigate so no one investigates him?” And so on and so on. I couldn’t even buy into the next disappearance or murder because the writer had lost me. I wasn’t interested in being intrigued because I knew by the time I started to vest interest in the problem it would be solved.

In another book I’ve read in the course of a single chapter they introduced the bad guy and suddenly the main character was imbued with another special power that was unique in defeating specifically the bad guy. That’s the point when I roll my eyes and walk away.

If you’re going to resolve your conflict here’s a few tips:

  1. Take your time. Build momentum.
  2. Do not EVER (and I mean NEVER EVER) use a deus ex machina*.
  3. If the conflict has no impact on the grand scheme of your plot, it has no place in your story. This is filler and not the good kind.

What’s a deus ex machina? This is latin for “Machine of God” some translate it as “Hand of God” but the meaning is the same. If you have something come out from absolutely no where (usually out of the sky – like a God) this is a deus ex machine. Deus ex machinas are techniques used by playwrights to resolve conflicts that otherwise seem impossible. Basically, only God could fix this problem. Usually I see this technique used when someone shows up out of the blue, who previously had an excuse not to be there, a character develops a new power, they “look around and I suddenly spotted x, y or z.” One way of spotting if you’re using a deus ex machina is to see if you’re using a word like “suddenly” “out of no where” “just like that” or some other variation of these.

Like I said yesterday, conflict is great. It creates intrigue and keeps your reader coming back but if you’re going to create conflict after conflict and then just continue to resolve it before it even goes anywhere or helps develop the plot or your character it has no place in your story. It doesn’t give your story the illusion of being “fast pace” it just drives your reader away.

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Building Momentum

building momentum
Logically, this topic should come after tomorrow’s but given how a plot should be laid out I put this first. So think of this as a part one of two parts. Today we’re discussing building momentum.

As a blogger we usually build momentum by posting “sneak peeks” of projects on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. It builds intrigue and interest, it makes our readers anticipate the full project and they most likely will be constantly visiting your social media sites or your blog itself in anticipation of seeing the full project. They might even sign up for your feed if they haven’t already or your newsletter in order to ensure they get updated when the project is completed and posted.

The same sort of mentality has to happen for a writer. It’s important that the way you write keeps your readers turning the pages. You don’t want to give them any reason to close your book or turn their e-reader off and walk away so make sure when you build momentum you’re also building intrigue.

I’m not saying that if you’re not writing a mystery you have to, all I’m saying is there are some old school writing techniques you could use that have worked forever that would help you ensure your readership remains interested. For instance: the dreaded cliffhanger. It doesn’t have to be anything grand like a death or a battle but even just something small like your characters have just kissed for the first time but you withhold their reactions. This will make your reader turn the page and start the next chapter because they want to know what happens next.

Half the fun of reading a book is the drama. People read books to escape so give them something to escape into. Create a world where drama is dramatic and maybe a little bit unrealistic but we buy into it because it’s escapism at it’s finest. If you create conflict and then resolve it moments later you’re going to bore your audience. But I’ll talk more about that tomorrow.

For now, all you need to know is: it’s okay to take it slow. You’re not going to bore your audience by dragging out your conflict for a chapter or two. A chapter or two is going to give you the chance to flesh out the conflict, give the reader as much information as you can and allow them to anticipate how it will be resolved and then hopefully you’ll shock them with the results.

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Describing for the Reader

describing for the reader

 

I touched on this briefly in my laws for creating a world yesterday but when you’re describing for the reader there’s a few things you might want to keep in mind.

The first thing I already talked about was knowing what to describe and what not to describe. Specifically this advice is for fantasy writers: if you’re writing something that is Dungeons and Dragons or World of Warcraft inspired there’s a good chance your readership knows what an Orc is. Most people who pick up these types of adventure fantasy books are the kinds that play these games and love Lord of the Rings. So you don’t need to tell them what an Orc is. They know. They want you to launch right into the adventure part of the story that you’ve promised them.

The second thing I want to touch on is the rule of showing and not telling the reader what is going on in your story. This is where the idea of describing for the reader comes in. Most of the books you pick up in a major retailing bookstore aren’t really going to have this problem (don’t get me wrong though, I’m sure a few have slipped through the cracks) but mostly you’ll find this trouble with indie books that have been self-published. I think a lot of the time people have trouble discerning the difference between what showing looks like versus what telling looks like.

The most common example of it that I find is when a character explains the plot to the reader – this is normally telling as they are literally telling you what you need to know. Another occurrence I’ve seen is redundancy. The author has done what they need to to show the reader the information they need but they don’t trust themselves so they usually follow it up with a very redundant statement that tells you exactly what the last sentence showed you.

I’m going to go into more depth later on about showing versus telling but for now, mull over these mini “rules” for describing for the reader. They’ll help improve your writing and help you connect with your readers better.

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5 Laws For Creating a World

creating a world

I apologize in advance but this post is exclusively going to be directed toward fictional writers. Stay tuned for more broader topics in the next few days but for today we’re going to be talking about creating a world.

I think something a lot of writers don’t realise is that even if you’re not writing a Supernatural/Paranormal/Fantasy novel you’re still creating a world within your story in which your characters exist. You determine the laws and the rules of such a world and as it’s creator it’s important that you especially uphold them.

So when you’re creating a world I have 5 simple laws I believe are important to follow when creating your own rules for your story:

  1. Follow your rules – if you say that in your world Vampires and Werewolves only exist don’t, in book four of your series, suddenly introduce Zombies (or say Werewolves are actually shape shifters a la Breaking Wind, I mean Breaking Dawn) and shock the hell out of even the supernatural creatures in your story. I’m sorry but if you have lead us through 4 books at this point and they haven’t existed up until now you can’t suddenly think I’m going to believe that they do magically (however fantastical your story is).
  2. Know what to explain and what not to explain. If you’re writing a fantasy story that has elves, wizards, and other creatures that are fairly well known thanks to Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter and all those other stories don’t feel compelled to waste the reader’s time by explaining what a wizard is but skirting over what a Hoochie-coochie-lalamapor is. It sounds like an obvious point but you’d be surprised how many times I find myself dredging through an explaining for the umpteenth time of what a necromancer is but being introduced to something the author clearly made up and having no idea what he’s talking about.
  3. If you’re going to have another language in your book, write it in English but acknowledge it’s a different language. I don’t want to read your made-up language with no explanation of what is being said to me. If you feel you absolutely need to show off and show your reader you came up with your own language than make sure you have a character who acts like the dumb reader and gets the translations for us. Again, seems like common sense that is not that common.
  4. Don’t forget that if you make up a new world you can’t assume that it’s going to have the same luxuries you would find on Earth, in this realm, at this time. A lot of writers, I find, will create a world that is similar to Edwardian England, or sometimes even earlier than that but fail to do adequate research to ensure that the technology they are employing is the right kind. You might not be writing a historical novel but if you’re using history as a reference point your readers are going to know and they’re going to dislike any inaccuracies. If, for whatever reason, you do want to include more modern technology have an explanation at the ready to justify why such an item would be making an appearance in your world.
  5. Don’t cop out. It’s easy to create a new world where “humans” exist but half the fun of fantasy is making something that doesn’t exist. Sure vampires look like humans but they drink blood – Werewolves are humans for x amount of days (depending on the verse you’re looking at) but shift physical forms the other days of the month. So play around, what makes the humans of your world different from the humans of the “real world”? I just read a book where the eye colour of the humans changed depending on their clans thus making genetics in that world different from ours. You can do something as small as that which takes away from the natural “humanness” of their being. Play around with it, be creative. That’s half the point of making a world entirely your own.

That’s it. It’s as easy as that. What do you think of my “laws”? Would you change any? Would you add to them? Let me know!

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