Thursday, June 26, 2008

Filler, and Fixing It

Today's subject is filler - you know, the stuff you throw in to raise word count, but which doesn't further your plot. As writers, we all do it. This is why the aforementioned outline of your story is so important.

Once you've created an outline, including the important plot points or character reveals within each scene, you'll notice whether a scene is moving your story ahead, or just stagnating it. If your characters spend an entire scene chit-chatting about the tree in the heroine's garden, chances are it's not crucial (unless your hero is a landscaper who suddenly discovers this is a rare Superficus greenacea that might be the only cure for the devastating earache plague that's killing swimmers everywhere ... but I digress). If your characters spend the scene repeating something the reader already knows, chop it. Do it. It'll make your story better, I promise. Think of it as pruning. (Oh, no, here she goes again ...)

Don't be afraid to delete scenes. I chopped the entire first three chapters of one book after realizing how much they slowed my story down. Take whatever might be crucial information in those scenes, and move it somewhere else. Your reader will never know she missed the filler - and she'll get a faster, better read. If you're worried about your word count sinking below the required mark, chances are your story didn't already have enough "meat" on its bones. Think up a good subplot that ties in with the main plot, and thread it through the whole story. Word count will then take care of itself.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Making Outlines

A helpful way to organize your story, once it's written, and decide if a scene is working or going nowhere, is to make an outline of chapter, page numbers, scene, POV, and major plot points. For example (yes, a silly example, but you'll get the point):

CHAPTER ONE, 20 pages

Scene 1 - Tarzan's POV
* Introduce Tarzan and his internal conflict
* Establish setting (jungle)
* We learn that Tarzan likes bananas

Scene 2 - Jane's POV
* Introduce Jane and her major external conflict with Tarzan
* Hint at her internal conflict
* We learn that Jane's father runs an anti-banana regime aimed at taking over the world and allowing people to eat only oranges

And so on, all the way to The End. Only the important plot points may be added to your outline. We don't need fine details--just what drives most of the action, and what your reader must know in order to keep reading cohesively. Fine details are just polish (character descriptions that aren't crucial to the plot, minor characters, etc). You want to extract the nuts and bolts and bullet-point them in your scenes.

This will help you discover whether your scene really has a purpose driving it forward, or whether it's just filler. If your reader doesn't learn any important points or clues about character or story in the scene, it may not be needed. If those important points could be learned in another scene without overloading it, you might be able to move them to that other scene and thus improve your pacing. You'll realize whether a new setting is even necessary (Think like a movie producer - do you want to have to pay out the dough to build that extraneous locker room set, or can this dialogue take place on the football field you already have available? Don't just intro a setting because it's "cool" - make sure it has purpose.). You'll also notice if you've been in one character's POV too long, and your reader might be missing the full range of story emotion from your other major characters.

Outlining your story greatly improves your speed when it comes time to revise. You'll notice it's easier to move plot points seamlessly from one place to another, and it will be easier to edit out (or sometimes add or flesh out) scenes when necessary. I strongly suggest outlining your story before submitting to an editor. That way, when (oh, joy!) he or she requests revisions, you can get them ready that much faster.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Wild Rose Press Visits CNYRW July 12th / Tiger Publications Closes

The great thing about editing for a local E-publisher, and The Wild Rose Press in particular, is that they often attend local writers' functions. Rhonda Penders, Senior Editor of The Wild Rose Press, attended CNY Romance Writers' mini-conference recently, and she has now generously agreed to attend a chapter meeting on July 12th. If you're in the area, and considering joining CNYRW anyway, this is the time to dust off that manuscript and come to pitch it to a publisher! I will be there myself, as a liaison between the two organizations. I can help answer questions about either one, or show you around. Come visit us!

In other news, the small print press Tiger Publications will be closing its doors. See more about this at their website and at DearAuthor.com. Authors whose works are offered through this publisher should seek return of their rights before submitting to another publisher. It's always sad to see a publisher close, because it's hard on the writers who work so diligently on their manuscripts. Stay strong, everyone. I will keep my fingers crossed that your work finds new homes soon.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Editing Basics

For the next few entries, I'll talk a bit about editing. There are a few things you need to do to be sure your manuscript is received well, either by a print or E-publisher. Here are some of the most important.

1. Proper Formatting - Some publishers vary in their preference, but the standard is the same across the board. I discussed it a couple of years ago, and you can find the list of what to do here. If an editor can't see past your formatting mistakes, they may not be able to fully appreciate the hard work you did on your story!

2. Vivid, Unique Characters - Your characters need to be memorable and well-rounded. What sets them apart from any other character your reader may have read? Give them foibles and idiosyncrasies. Just like real people! That includes your bad guys.

3. Strong Conflict - Not just bickering. Give your hero and heroine a real reason to be at odds throughout the course of your manuscript, otherwise there's no romantic tension.

4. Good Hooks - Each scene and chapter should end with a punch that makes your reader need to continue reading to find out What Happens Next. Think of them as mini-cliffhangers for your scenes, and bigger ones for your chapters.

5. The Happy Ending (in Romance) - We romance readers (and editors, too) crave a happy ending. If we don't get one, we'll be disappointed. Give us a convincing reason to believe your characters are going to get their Happily Ever After at the end of the book. See more about this all-important moment here.

If you have any questions on these topics, feel free to contact me!