Kay: Kill Your Darlings

This word cloud was built from the text of this post.

Last week my critique group talked about “empty” words—the words we don’t need and don’t notice we use too often. My go-to favorite unnecessary word is “just,” a word I discovered that I’d used 368 times in a 127-page (so far) manuscript. By the time I finished searching and replacing it with a blank space, I’d cut 250 words from my text. Other favorite empty words we found: really, actually, and well.

The problem with finding empty and overused words is that unless you know your favorites and keep a diligent eye out for them, you don’t really (see what I mean?) notice them as you type. They’re in there before you realize it, and they’re invisible to you when you reread your work.

A fun way to discover what words you’re using a lot is to build a word cloud, which shows you at a glance which words you’re using most in your text. Scrivener has a built-in feature for this purpose, but if you’re not a Scrivener user, there are other ways to do it.

Several free programs will build word clouds for you. Continue reading

Nancy: Lessons From the Dreaded Day Job

Why, you might ask, have I taped a scene to my wall? To keep my brain guessing.

Why, you might ask, have I taped a scene to my wall? To keep my brain guessing.

Once upon a time, a very nice girl found herself working in a really stressful industry. Okay, you caught me: I’m talking about me. I haven’t qualified as a ‘girl’ for decades. And very nice…well, that depends upon the day and the situation. But I did work in a really stressful industry (US government proposal management, in case you’re desperately curious). Over the years, I developed some mad skills that I brought to bear on high-pressure, deadline-driven, writing-intensive problems.

A few months ago, I left that industry and promptly forgot (or more likely purged) much hard-earned wisdom about writing and revision. And while I’d always believed honing my fiction writing and storytelling skills only improved my performance on those (non-fiction) projects, I didn’t think much about what lessons from my day job could teach me about writing fiction.

For what feels like eons but has only been several weeks, Continue reading

Kay: The Art of Love

Al and Roey Stickles dancing at the trailer park: Sarasota, Florida 1946. Photo courtesy of State Library and Archives of Florida - https://www.flickr.com/photos/floridamemory/7157828142/

Al and Roey Stickles dancing at the trailer park: Sarasota, Florida 1946. Photo courtesy of State Library and Archives of Florida.  www.flickr.com/photos/floridamemory/7157828142/

I’ve started writing a scene that I think will be pivotal in my book. It’s a scene in which my hero and heroine have sex, but the sex will propel them into a new stage of their relationship. My critique partners have emphasized that it’s important that I show why my heroine has been unwilling to move forward quickly with the romance—she won’t move in with the hero—even though she must make a decision soon about whether to return to her old job across the country. If she goes, the relationship dies.

So to write this sex scene with as much sensitivity and weight as it needs, I wrote a scene that sets it up—my heroine tells the hero about her mother, and in so doing, reveals her feelings about family, home, and security. I wrote this scene from the hero’s POV, because I wanted readers to see his reactions to her story, and I wanted him to ask the questions I thought readers would be likely to ask if they’d been in the room with her. I spent some serious time on the scene, and it’s not bad. I’d give it maybe a B-.

Continue reading

Kay: Close the Book or Turn the Page? Hooking Readers

Photo by AntanO

Photo by AntanO

The other day I got caught in a long wait without the new book I’d just started, so I pulled out my phone and started a book from my digital TBR pile. It was great! I liked the protagonist, a 20-year police veteran, now a PI, shattered from a tragic personal event, resisting the lure of paid clients. And then this dame walks through the door…

And I was off and running. I loved the PI, loved the dame, loved the premise. And then—on a stakeout, the PI leaves his gun on the passenger seat, his laptop on the back seat, his burglary tools and other equipment in an open bag on the floor…and doesn’t lock his car door.

Boom, just like that, I was done. What cop turned PI—anyone at all—wouldn’t lock their car with all that stuff visible? No one. Behavior like that is either a screaming Plot Device, or it foreshadows an investigator who’s too stupid to live. Either way, I didn’t read one more page.

Hooking the reader at the beginning of the story is difficult, but crucial for writers. My instant turnoff of this mystery reminded me of Nancy’s recent post, describing her many rewrites of her first chapter as she works to find the true starting point of her story. And Jenny Crusie, in a recent post of hers, wrote of her struggle to figure out who her hero is. A different character emerges with each draft, she says. Continue reading

Kay: Making Romance Real

marriedJust recently I had a setback with my WIP when a long-time critique partner said, after reading three chapters, that she didn’t know why my main characters were on the page. She didn’t see the attraction between my hero and heroine. She didn’t see any conflict.

I’ve struggled with this book, so I tried a new approach: I’ve been writing the turning points first and then filling in chapters as the mood struck. My plan is to write as quickly as possible and then revise until I’m happy. Her assessment of the romance in this book was disappointing, because I’ve been working hard to strengthen the execution of romance elements. My romance plots usually struggle to stay in front of my exterior plots, but in this case, I thought I’d done a pretty good job of keeping the romance hot and prominent.

However, I know I have a problem with it: Continue reading

Justine: What My First Drafts Look Like

unhappy skierI’ve been playing around with a contemporary story (inspired by a ski trip to Utah over the holidays) tentatively called The Lesson. I don’t have much to it yet…just two chapters, one of which I hammered out while on the plane flying home. I thought it’d be fun to throw it out there for the world to see, and also to get your comments (critical or otherwise — I can take the heat, so long as you’re polite).

I’m also putting it out in the internet-ether to demonstrate what first drafts can look like…sorta clunky, not-much-making-sense kind of things. There are a few good lines, but as my CPs have pointed out, there’s plenty of stuff that needs work, a few things that are confusing, and some useless stuff.

However, as Nora Roberts once said, Continue reading

Justine: Look at Your Turning Points with Fresh Eyes

typewriter2I’m immersed in another awesome weekend of Margie Lawson’s Immersion Master Class. I’m still working on Three Proposals, which has been my book du jour for the last three years. One of the challenges of working on a book for too much time (too many years!) is that you become accustomed to the words on the page. You become comfortable with what you’ve written and it’s hard to see what parts of your book really need some improvement. My turning points could really use some work.

In case you’re new to fiction writing, a turning point is when a significant change happens that sends the trajectory of the story in a new direction. This is something I had a lot of trouble identifying in my book when I first started writing. Some turning points are huge (like when Susannah’s uncle tells her she’s getting married) and some are smaller. Continue reading