Jeanne: 5 Writing Tips from a Cranky Judge

crayon-colored-pencil-150994_640I recently judged in my chapter’s writing contest. My entries were really good–great premises, interesting characters, but writer did some things that pulled me out of the story:

1) If you have your character perform a complex physical action (like cupping his jaw while simultaneously pulling on his lower lip) do the action yourself, exactly as you’ve described it, in front of a mirror. Is it possible? Does it look the way you imagined it? If there’s any doubt at all, snag someone and have them read your text and then perform the action for you. Are you still happy with it? If not, rewrite until it works.

2) We’re constantly told “show, don’t tell” but be sure what you’re showing tells the reader what you intend. “A lick of fire curled through her belly” tells me she’s experiencing a strong emotion, but does the fire represent anger or lust? Make sure that’s clear from the context.

3) Gratuitous prepositions and adverbs. “She sank down to the floor.” You can’t sink up and even if that weren’t true, the floor is a dead giveaway. Trim those suckers!

4) Pronominal reference. I get that all the tutorials on close third POV tell you to minimize using character’s names, but if there are two men in the room and you just say “he,” make sure it’s crystal clear which “he” we’re talking about.

Also, by default, a personal pronoun references the last noun of the same gender. Example: “Marisa didn’t want Leah to go. She would be lonely without her sister.” I believe this means that Marisa would be lonely, but what it says, as written, is that Leah would be lonely because “She” references the last noun of the same gender–Leah.

5) If you’re going to define a new term that’s part of your world building, give us the term and then the definition, not the other way around. Don’t make us go hunting through three paragraphs trying to figure out what you’re defining. There’s a reason the dictionary is written the way it is.

Justine: Copy Editing Challenges You Can Easily Overcome: Apostrophes

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Cartoon by What the Duck.

Author by day, copy editor by night. That’s me. To keep myself occupied in the evenings (I’m not much for watching television) and to help pay for my book cover habit, I take copy editing jobs from select writers. In my former life, I had a ten-year career as a technical writer. Combine all of this experience and one starts to notice particular consistent misuses of various grammar guidelines (I don’t like the word “rules,” because there are some rules made to be broken).

Over the next several posts, I’m going to lay out a few basic guidelines, abuses, and misunderstandings of grammar in the hopes that you, fair writer, will learn them and will put them to good use. If you’re paying for copy editing, this will not only make your copy editor love you more (trust me, it will), but it will reduce the time it takes your copy editor to work through your manuscript.

Disclaimer: I use the Chicago Manual of Style as my “bible” for anything grammar- or copy editing-related. There are other style manuals which may offer differing views. Continue reading

Jilly: Craft Book Squee–Dreyer’s English

Last year I decided I wouldn’t buy any more writing craft books until I’d made better use of all the ones I already own and have at best cherry-picked my way through. A couple of months ago I broke my self-imposed rule, and I’m so glad I did.

Dreyer’s English is subtitled “An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style.” The author is the Copy Chief of Random House, so he should know a thing or two about cleaning up one’s prose. The wonder and the joy of it is that while some of his book is about The Right Way and The Wrong Way to write, as much again is about ignoring the so-called “rules” and making mindful, intelligent choices to optimize your story and amplify your own voice.

He had me at the introduction: Continue reading

Michaeline: New phone, who dis?

 

A young woman on a telephone, talking to a variety of gentlemen in the margins.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

I got a new phone today! I didn’t really need one, and I could have transferred stuff around, deleted all the bad pictures and obsolete screen shots, and made room for another year’s worth of digital clutter, but my daughter was getting a new phone for college, and my husband decided I should have a new one as well.

This seems as good a time as any to provide the periodic reminder: Back up all your stuff! I was frantically saving and sending my history from my favorite texting service (unfortunately, it’s only text that gets saved — fortunately, I am a very text-based communicator!). Back up your stuff! Not just the personal stuff, but the writing stuff, as well! Continue reading

Jilly: Reading Week Lessons Learned

For reasons best left unexplained except to say all’s well that ends well, last week I spent a few days out of action, followed by a few more recuperating on my sofa with a restorative book or ten.

When I’d soothed myself with all my favorite re-reads, I decided to try a highly rated fantasy series. It’s been on my radar for ages but I never bought the books because while I like the premise, the blurb and the reviews, the story is written in first person, present tense, which isn’t my catnip. The POV character (in this case, the heroine) is telling the story, so either she’s using present tense to describe something that happened in the past, which seems affected, or she’s providing a running commentary in the midst of the story action, which suggests she’s not fully engaged in what she’s doing. If the heroine isn’t all-in, why would I be?

No matter. I wasn’t going anywhere, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

The writing was good—good enough to get me past the first-person-present-tense obstacle. The characters were engaging, and the world fascinating. The chemistry between the heroine and hero was credible, with plenty of zing. Sadly I stopped after Book One of the trilogy, for two main reasons.

One (the lesser of the two) was that the book didn’t have a self-contained storyline. The characters grew and changed, but the book was a collection of unanswered questions that will no doubt be resolved over the remainder of the trilogy. So there was no moment of thrilling catharsis at the end of the book, just a vague feeling of “to be continued…” .This was a light-bulb moment for me, since the edit report on my first Alexis book (edits still on hold until I finish the prequel story) said I was guilty of this same folly. Aha. Okay. Must cogitate.

The second issue, which really annoyed me, was the author’s persistent use of deus ex machina at critical plot points. (According to Wikipedia: deus ex machina is a plot device where a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and seemingly unlikely occurrence, typically so much as to seem contrived). The story may be a fantasy, but that does not give the author the right to wave her magic wand every time the plot gets too difficult for the characters to resolve on their own.

Continue reading

Jeanne: What’s in an (Author) Name?

Because I’m a feminist, there was no question that, when crafting my author persona, I’d include my maiden name.

Because my husband has been wonderfully supportive through multiple dead-end manuscripts, a year of grad school, and all the expenses and woes attached to self-publishing a pair (so far) of romance novels, there was equally little question I’d want to include my married name.

So that’s how my author name ended up being Jeanne Oates Estridge.

It’s not the most euphonious romance author name in the world. (The most euphonious author name is Lorelei Celador (I just made that up. Close your eyes and say it out loud. L’s and R’s and S’s are the most pleasant sounds in the English language.) ), but it is who I am. That means it should be a) natural for me to answer to and b) easy to enter into whatever software requires it.

Right? Continue reading

Jeanne: Writing the Unlikable Protagonist

Some of my very favorite books have unlikable protagonists:

  • Ain’t She Sweet, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
  • A Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby
  • Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn,
  • Girl on a Train, by Paula Hawkins
  • A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy O’Toole
  • Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte.
  • Citizen Vince, by Jess Walter

But, you point out, most of those novels are literary fiction. Only one is a Romance.

True, but I’ve never subscribed to the notion that Romance can’t take on the same challenges as other genres. The only two rules your book has to follow to be a Romance are:

  1. Must have a central love story.
  2. Must end with a happy ever after.

That’s it. Somewhere along the way, a lot of romance authors (and, to be honest, readers) have added a third, unwritten rule: The protagonist must be likable from Day One. I beg to disagree. Continue reading