Monday, September 30, 2013


Okay, folks, the real stuff is starting...

See that up there? That's my name. On a book cover.


The cover's still undergoing finishing touches, so I'm not going to reveal - yet - but suffice it to say, it's A-Maze-Ing to see my name on a book. *Shivers*

Now, I know you guys are constantly bombarded with requests to look at, share, blog and / or tweet stuff, and I know this is just one more request on the pile. So if you have zero interest, thanks for stopping by! Check back on Thursday when we're continuing the self-editing series.

But if want to get involved with the release info for Breakable, keep reading! There might be a free book in it for you:

In aid of getting the word out there, I'm offering signed giveaways, guest posts, interviews, and "see it here only" excerpts to reviewers, bloggers and social-media hounds for both the cover reveal (Oct 7-12) and the book release (Nov 4-14).

BOOK BLOGGERS / REVIEWERS (particularly YA fiction): You can request a free, advance digital copy of Breakable, no strings attached. Or you can join the cover reveal squad (Oct 7-12) and / or I can offer a guest post or interview during the release tour (Nov 4-14). (Some giveaways are possible, depending on the number of followers you have and hits your blog gets).

GOODREADS USERS: You can add Breakable to your To Read list.

FACEBOOK / TWEETERS: Click here! There might be a free digital book in it for you! Or you can follow my updates on facebook and twitter, and share, retweet, and generally be an awesome author friend.

Thanks for taking the ride with me, guys. I can't wait to get Breakable out there, and you guys are a huge part of that.

Thank you!

Your Turn: To get involved, click this link and add your email address to whichever group you'd like to be involved in. Or like me on facebook, follow me on Twitter, or add BREAKABLE to your Goodreads To Read List!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Self-Editing #5 - Mining Your Manuscript for Modifiers

Today I’m assuming you've read the previous self-editing tips - especially tip #4. If you aren't sure what modifiers and adverbs are, and how they affect your writing, read that post first. We’ll wait…

All set? Great!

Strap in. Gird your loins. Grit your teeth and [Insert other resolute attitude here] because... we're attacking the REAL modifiers today. That's right, ALL the dreaded 'ly' words.

Here's a small sample from my first manuscript:

"No," he said softly.

The barista smiled politely.

He watched the light innocently blinking on and off.

I had no idea how he'd moved so quickly.**

Etc, etc, etc...

You know them, and [possibly] love them. [Probably] too much. If these puppies have a strangle-hold on your manuscript, you're [really] in trouble. So put your preconceptions aside and go for the ride:

Modifiers pop up in a multitude of environments - and some are [really] necessary. But most [actually] aren't.

The problem is, taking a single sentence out of context and removing the modifier appears to achieve little. Yes, you dropped your wordcount by one... but didn't you just lose a nuance? How are readers supposed to find depth in your work if everything is written [starkly]. Isn't that boring?

Answer: No. Go pick up your favorite [traditionally] published book and read the first five pages. Count how many adverbs appear. My bet is you won't even need the fingers on one hand.

A story is made rich and deep by the skillful weaving of plotlines and character development, not modifiers. Don't get me wrong, your descriptors (which will include adverbs) are critical at times. But what a reader wants is to fall into your world. Their brain wants to forget they're reading and [just] move through the story. The more words required to paint the picture, the harder that is to maintain.

So, here's your assignment today: Take one chapter of your WIP and paste it into a new document. Do a Ctrl + F search on 'ly'. Wherever the word isn't [absolutely, unequivocally] necessary, delete it. Wherever the word is necessary, take another look at the sentence. You have two options:

OPTION 1: Could it be pared down by making the verb / descriptor itself more active? For example:

"How are readers supposed to find depth in your work if everything is written starkly." becomes "How are readers supposed to find depth in your work if the writing is stark?"

If you're willing to put the work in to cutting [all] the fat in your manuscript, your story will thank you. And so will your future agent / editor / reader.

OPTION 2: Can, or should, the adverb be replaced with action? In Techniques of the Selling Writer, Dwight V. Swain says:

Wherever practical, substitute action for the adverb.

“Angrily, she turned on him”? Or, “Her face stiffened, and her hands clenched to small, white-knuckled fists”?

“Wearily, he sat down”? Or, “With a heavy sigh, he slumped into a chair and let his head loll back, eyes closed”?

Vividness outranks brevity.

At least, sometimes.

(Note: Mr. Swain begins his instruction with an acknowledgement that the examples are at times wordy or over-simplified, but he’s done this purposefully to make the picture clearer).

I’ll be the first to recognize this kind of work is time-consuming, and in some cases will absorb some wordcount. But I’ve yet to see advice from an editor or agent that didn’t suggest polishing a manuscript to the very best of our abilities. And I know from personal experience, these kinds of efforts are rewarding. When your book turns out sharper and more engaging, you’ll be glad you took the time. Promise!

Your Turn: Are there a lot of 'ly' words in your manuscript? Are you having trouble identifying how to rephrase a sentence to streamline it? Jump into the comments here and give us an example or two. Maybe we can help!

**This is the only example where the adverb is necessary.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Self-Editing #4 - Choose Your Modifiers Carefully

Modifiers are words that modify other words; in other words, they make your words more complicated.

Word up?!

Today we're mainly addressing adverbs - words which modify a verb. They usually (but not always) end in 'ly'.

If you're pursuing a traditional contract, be warned: I learned the hard way that professionals see frequent use of adverbs as a mark of amateurish writing. Whether you like it or not, these words make your manuscript stand out for all the wrong reasons.

We'll attack modifiers in two steps. Today is the easier and more straightforward Unnecessary Modifiers Frequently Used (aka Another Seek and Destroy Mission). These are the words we probably don't need. Then in the next post, we’ll talk about those modifiers which should be replaced by action.

Step one of eradicating unnecessary modifiers (which are only a writer's friend when used with skill and dexterity... not impunity) is identifying common or invisible words you use too much. For me the following are the priority contenders:


These words crop up in my writing constantly - and can usually be deleted without any negative impact on the sentence. In fact, in every case where they can be cut out, the words flow more smoothly and the writing is more engaging without them. For example:

"I'd never really seen this side of him before." becomes "I'd never seen this side of him before."

"His eyes had just fallen on Dani again." becomes "His eyes fell on Dani again." [NB - We lost a 'had' there too!]

But those aren't the only modifiers creeping up behind and jumping into my sentences. Lesser, but perhaps even more insidious are:


"I could hardly wait." becomes "I couldn't wait."

""I know," he said simply." becomes ""I know," he said."

"Mr. Jamieson was clearly losing his touch." becomes "Mr. Jamieson was losing his touch."

I've said it before and you'll hear it again: These look like tiny changes, hardly worth the effort. But when you multiply each by dozens of occurences in a single manuscript, you find an overall lightening of the text. Your book reads more easily, more clearly, and more simply...

So here's your mission: Use this list (along with any words that come up in the comments) to do another seek and destroy. Then hang-ten for the next post because that's when the real work starts.

Good luck!

PS - You probably noticed I italicized all the modifiers in this post. Were they all necessary? No. But some of them were. You're going to have to make a judgement call during this mission. Just sayin'.

Next Post: When action should replace adverb.

Your Turn: What modifiers crop up in your writing too often? (I’ll add them to the list).

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Self Editing - Seek & Destroy Word List #3

To aid you in further Seek and Destroy exploits, the following is a list of words over-used by me and some of my lovely, gorgeous, sophisticated followers. Check out your manuscript to see if you're an over-user too (the first step to solving the problem is admitting that you have one). Or read below the list for some help on how to determine your words de jour.

Do you have any to add to the list? (Seriously, do you? I'll add them)

'And so,'
Realize / realized / realizing
Turned (i.e. "I turned to find...")

If you're not sure which words you're prone to overusing, you can use software like a wordcloud, or this manuscript analyzer (which claims to use your own computer for the processing, ergo your words aren't transmitted anywhere).

But if you've been writing more than one book, don't be fooled:

In my first I manuscript overused several character actions (shrugging, nodding, winking and such). In my current in-revision manuscript, I'm giving too many stomach / gut reaction references. My WIP is heavy on the shivering, trembling, shaking and so forth.

All that to say: Even if you've looked at previous manuscripts and eradicated overuse, don't just assume you'll have the same word hiccups in a new work. By all means, find and replace words you know you're prone to using. But also check each new manuscript for new offenders.

That's all from us today. Next post: The Dreaded Modifiers.

Your Turn: Comment with any more words you'd add to the overuse list, or good links / tips for figuring out who your offenders are.

Monday, September 16, 2013

ANOTHER Honest-to-God Publishing Story

In 2011 I posted the publishing story of my friend, author L. R. Giles. Well, I've had the pleasure of "meeting" author Lori Goldstein this year, and I have to say, her journey to the Big Six publishing contract is just as entertaining (and heart-wrenching) as Lamar's. I trust you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

Without further ado, I give you over to Lori's capable hands...

The Importance of Having an (Honest) Cheerleader
GUEST POST by author, Lori Goldstein
Behind every successful writer is a pom-pom wielding cheerleader. As time goes on, if you’re lucky, you may look over your shoulder and realize you’ve gathered an entire high-ponytailed squad. But in the beginning, there is just one.

For me, the cheerleader doing the high kicks on the sidelines was my husband. Without him, this journey to publication would have ended years ago. In fact, without him, this journey would have never begun.

The year was 2008. I was working as a freelance copyeditor. My journalism degree had led me to a career in the world of words. Newspapers, trade journals, corporate communications, by 2008, I’d written, edited, and designed for these and more. I switched jobs a few times in my early career, constantly searching for the one that would allow my love of and excitement for the written word to be felt in the actual work I was doing. I came up empty. It wasn’t them, it was me. (Well, maybe sometimes it was them. I’m looking at you IT metrics newsletter.)

Working as a freelancer allowed me to take on a wider variety of projects. They weren’t all glamorous, but at least I was doing different things (like editing a knitting for dogs book, I mean, how many can claim that on their résumé?) and meeting new people (including some Okies after editing the energy policy proposal for the state of Oklahoma, don’t ask, still unsure how that came about).

But in terms of career fulfillment, I was running on fumes. The work was steady enough, I was in charge of my own schedule, and I had more free time to do other things I enjoyed. In truth, the search was over. I had resigned myself to work not being something that would ever contribute to my personal happiness. I figured lots of people live that way. After all, isn’t that where the “a job’s a job” comes from?

Thankfully, my husband was not so ready to give up the hunt. We were both avid readers. Nothing made us happier than a week on the beach with a stack of books weighing down our luggage (the same is true today, save for the switch to fully loaded must save one’s back as one gets older).

One day, my husband came home from work, having told a coworker yet another amusing (for them, not me) tale of what it’s like to be short. At 4 feet, 10 inches, I am not built for this world. Scratch that. The world is not built for me. Don’t believe me? Try having to sit on a pillow to see over the steering wheel or getting whiplash as your belt buckle snags on the kitchen drawer pull every time you wash dishes. Welcome to my world. Annoying to me, but apparently, funny to everyone else.

“People have no idea what it’s like,” my husband said. “You should write about it.”

If this were a movie, there’d be a light bulb flashing above my head followed by a montage of me sitting on a pillow at a desk with a trash can as a footrest, banging away at a keyboard, printing out the final page of a short book (pun intended), walking through a fancy lobby proudly sporting a pair of kids’ ballet flats adorned with sparkly hearts, exiting an ornate elevator to sign my name on a generous publishing contract.

But it’s not a movie, and it’s also five years later, so we all know that didn’t happen. But what did happen is I wrote a book.

Though a writing folder on my computer contained several first chapters of a variety of stories, I never pursued any of them further. I was a journalist, not a creative writer. I could tell a news story, I could write a snappy feature article, but a story straight from my imagination? That wasn’t me. But this, writing about being short, nothing could be more squarely in my wheelhouse.

And it was nonfiction. It was like writing a really long article. No problem.

Hey now, stop that. I hear you laughing. I hear you calling me naïve. And I was. I thought this, writing about me, would be easy. And the truth is, most days it was. But easy doesn’t mean good.

During my freelancing lulls, over the course of the next year, I wrote my book about being short. By the middle of 2009, I had approximately 50,000 words. I thought it had some funny moments. I thought the writing was solid. It was ready for my first reader. And you know who that was by now, don’t you?

I can’t imagine being in my poor husband’s shoes, having to read something I spent a year on, something he encouraged, and having to be honest about it. The pressure. The desire to just smile and say “it’s fantastic” must have been strong. And that’s what a cheerleader would’ve done. But I didn’t need just a cheerleader. I needed an honest cheerleader. And he was. It must’ve been one of the hardest things he’s had to do, but he did it. He told me there were parts he thought were hilarious (and I heard his guffaws while reading so I believed him), but he also told me he thought it needed work.

And we talked about what I might be able to do with it. One idea was to turn it into fiction. Maybe a romantic comedy type thing where a short chick meets an NBA-sized dude and the hijinks ensue. But as I’ve said, I didn’t consider myself a creative writer.

By this point, it was the fall of 2009 and the economy was in the toilet. Being flushed down with it were most of my freelancing clients. Companies were scaling back, and my services were the first to go.

At first, I panicked. Was I going to return to an office job? And lose my freedom? Were there even jobs to be had?

But then, my cheerleader suited up and raised a pom-pom. My husband encouraged me to think of this not as a problem but as a solution. I would now have more time to write. To do a job I thought I might actually like —I was not ready to say (hope for) love.

I owe my publishing career to my husband, my cheerleader, and to this moment. This moment in the fall of 2009 is when I decided to write.

While I loved much of my nonfiction book about being short, something made me open the writing folder on my computer. One nugget of a story, based on the true experience of a college friend, leapt out at me. The original date on that file, which had a mere five pages of material, was 2005. It was now 2009, and it was time to go back to it.

My only preparation was reading Stephen King’s On Writing. As I kid, I read every Stephen King book in print. Surely this would be enough to transition me into the world of fiction.

Yes, now you can laugh. A lot. I am.

I didn’t then. I didn’t laugh a year later in the fall of 2010 when my husband read my first draft, which came in at a whopping 150,000 words (the Stephen King effect!), and told me, in a much more serious tone than with my short book, that this was good but not great. He said, despite the year I spent on it, that it still needed a lot of work.

Did his honesty hurt? Yes. Both of us. But it also helped. Because he followed that comment up by flinging both pom-poms in the air and insisting this manuscript was worthy of the work. There was something there. Of that, he was sure.

I was less sure. But his cheering, and his willingness to discuss changes and read every revision, wouldn’t let me give up. Wouldn’t let me give up for the next two years, the two years it took me to rewrite this manuscript.

Writing is hard. Writing is work. Writing takes discipline. Writing takes the ability to learn from your past mistakes. Writing takes opening yourself up to critiques, allowing yourself to revel in the good and forcing yourself to not only accept, but to change, the bad.

During those two years of rewriting I experienced every emotion. Frustration. Self-doubt. Anger. Sadness. Joy. Yes, joy too. Because despite this being the hardest thing I had ever done, it was also the most rewarding. And fun. I loved it.

I devoured every craft book in my local library. I read everything I could online about querying and getting an agent and landing a book deal. And all the while I cut, edited, wrote, and rewrote my manuscript.

I learned to write by rewriting that book. I learned to trust my cheerleader by writing that book. My cheerleader who wouldn’t let me give up. My cheerleader who waited by the phone, more scared than I was, to hear what the first person outside of him thought of my writing.

In the winter of 2012, this manuscript was in the best shape it had ever been in. I loved it. My cheerleader loved it. But no one else had read it. Few people even knew I was writing it. I was afraid to tell friends and family because what if it wasn’t as good as we both thought? Even if it was, I knew the odds of getting an agent let alone a publishing deal were long. It was hard enough setting myself up for disappointment. I didn’t need to do it with an audience.

But I knew I needed an outside opinion.

I signed up to have two agents read my first three chapters at a conference run by Grub Street in Boston in May 2012. In advance of that, in February 2012, I submitted my pages to a Grub Street manuscript consultant. She was to give me feedback I could incorporate before those agents would receive my work.

My heart pounded as I walked in the door that day. Sophie Powell, author of a lovely novel called The Mushroom Man, set my heart racing even faster by becoming my second cheerleader.

She loved my writing. In her captivating British accent, she read sentences, my sentences, aloud, saying how “brilliant” they were. Mind you, this is a commercial, mainstream story about a twenty-nine-year-old man-boy struggling to find love and happiness and (sound familiar?) satisfaction in his work. I was not trying to write the next great literary novel. But Sophie made me feel like I had.

Her enthusiasm and her words, “I cannot imagine this not selling” followed by “send this to my agent” made my entire body tingle.

I still remember the pride and excitement I felt when I ran out the door after that meeting and called my husband. A complete stranger, a complete stranger in the publishing industry, had validated what we both hoped. I just might be a writer.

Of course, again, this isn’t a movie. It’s the real world. And the reality is, the publishing industry is hard. My book might have been the best book ever written and still not find its way out of my writing folder and into the hands of readers. But that day, I thought I was on my way. I mean, it had taken me three years to get there. Three difficult years. I thought maybe, just maybe, success was around the corner.

It wasn’t.

I sent my query to Sophie’s agent. She didn’t request my book. The agents at the conference in May, while having extremely complimentary things to say about my writing, thought the beginning needed to be faster. They didn’t offer for me to revise and resubmit.

I won’t lie here. This was devastating. I am not an overly optimistic person, and still I had convinced myself that this was the start of something. I had even given in and told a few close friends what I had been up to. Which turned out to be a good thing. I needed the cheerleaders they became. Because they read my manuscript and gave me such positive feedback that I put on my big-girl pants and started revising — again. I took the notes from the agents and reworked my start. After running it by Sophie, who gave me an even bigger thumbs up, I was ready to start querying in July 2012.

Taking the advice I had read, I decided I’d write something new while querying. I switched genres, moving from adult to young adult because an idea for a book had been kicking around in my head for a while. I’ve always been a fan of young adult everything — novels, TV shows, movies, they’re my favorite source of entertainment. So why not write in this genre I love that is experiencing quite the resurgence right now?

Pantsing my adult manuscript had led to three years of work. It was an experience I was not about to repeat.

So before I wrote a word of my new idea, I took a Grub Street novel planning course with author James Scott in July 2012. Though I had read much on this topic over the years, none of it resonated with me. But James Scott’s class did. I must’ve eaten a dozen flies that week with the way my mouth constantly hung wide open. Everything he said clicked. Every trick, every technique, every piece of advice he gave seemed designed specifically for me. I got it. I finally got it. I finally got the elements of the novel. And how to plan them.

So energized was I that I took one last crack at my adult manuscript. I adjusted a few things to better match what I had learned in the course. In September 2012, I began querying. At the same time I started planning my young adult novel. I spent the rest of that month developing a detailed outline and beat sheet, to the tune of fifty pages.

While I queried my adult manuscript in the fall of 2012, I wrote my young adult novel, tentatively titled Becoming Jinn. The first draft took me two months. Two months. Planning made all the difference. Needless to say, I am a convert for life.

Unfortunately, the queries I sent out for my adult manuscript didn’t result in many requests. And the rejections on the full didn’t provide much feedback. Save for one agent. The agent who is now my agent: Lucy Carson of The Friedrich Agency.

Though she passed on my adult manuscript, she said the magic words, “you are a talented writer.” They were the perfect words at the perfect time. The rejections were starting to take their toll on me. But the positive things Lucy said about my writing style and my storytelling ability fueled my desire to finish Becoming Jinn.

And my husband, my cheerleader, pointed to those words as evidence of why I needed to keep going. Maybe my adult manuscript was a tough sell in the world of commercial mainstream fiction, but Becoming Jinn had a great hook. It just might be the thing to get me noticed.

After revising for a month, including incorporating feedback from published authors whose critiques I had bid on and won through charity auctions, Becoming Jinn was ready to be queried. Before I got the chance, in January 2013, I entered my first page into a contest and won. The prize was a full manuscript review by an agent. I hadn’t even sent out a single query yet, and here I was with a request for a full.

Considering how querying my adult manuscript had gone, I wasn’t optimistic that querying Becoming Jinn would go much better. But still, what if the contest agent liked my manuscript? Did I want other agents to have a shot? Did I want one particular agent to have a shot? I sent out a handful of queries including one to that particular agent: Lucy.

In less than a week, Lucy had read Becoming Jinn and offered representation. I was in shock. My road, which began in 2008 with a nonfiction book about being short, was ending with representation by an agent for a book about genies. Five years later, I was finally on my way.

Based on Lucy’s insightful feedback, I revised Becoming Jinn during the winter and early spring of 2013. We went on submission in May 2013, and in less than two weeks, I had an offer for Becoming Jinn and its unwritten sequel from Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan.

I actually did get the chance to step out of an ornate elevator into the Flatiron Building in New York City when I met my editor for the first time in July. It was then that it hit me. I’m going to be a published author. After all my struggling, I have a career I love. One that is professionally and personally fulfilling. And I have my first (honest) cheerleader and all the ones who joined the squad after to thank for it.

Writing may be a solitary endeavor, but thankfully, the journey is not. 

Lori Goldstein's book, the tentatively titled Becoming Jinn is scheduled to be released in Spring 2015. You can see a sneak peek and follow the rest of this publishing journey at and chat with me about books and more on Twitter at @loriagoldstein.You can connect with her on Goodreads at

Your Turn: Questions for Lori? Comments? Where are you in your author journey?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Self-Editing – Seek & Destroy Word List #2

If you're working on ways to tighten your prose without changing the storyline, doing a find and replace on the following words and phrases will help lower your word count and streamline your read:

Find and Replace 'was going to' / 'were going to'

This phrase can almost always been replaced with 'would', 'could', 'should' or other single words. As in:

"My new school was going to be scary and awkward."


"My new school would be scary and awkward."


"Did he think the walls were going to part and reveal the batcave or something?"


"Did he think the walls would part to reveal the batcave or something?"

Find and Replace (or delete) "seemed" or "as if"

"Seemed" needs other words around it to make sense, stretching your sentences out and lowering tension. Search your manuscript. On the occasions when the nuance it provides isn't important, just delete it.


"She wasn't strictly coiffed like the others, but she seemed more elegant anyway."


"She wasn't strictly coiffed like the others, but elegant anyway."

"Seemed" and "As if" are also often used by novice authors to give an impression they want the reader to have, rather than one evident through the plotting / 'showing'. Fixing these will require more work and time:


"He stared at the broach in my hand, as if it were an object of much greater importance than just a gift from my mother."

This kind of statement is often used to (poorly) highlight something to the reader, usually something that in the real world the character couldn't actually know. They also only take the reader halfway ("seemed" or "as if" imply, rather than state - see the tip below).

We all need to learn how to layer hints and clues through character action, dialogue and plot, rather than pointing at something and saying "This is important!". If this is an approach you take, don't beat yourself up. Just see if you can find a way to lay that trail in a more subtle manner.

Find and Replace "almost"

If you're a frequent user of 'almost' I know what you're thinking:

"It's different than stating something outright! "Almost" means almost!"

That's true. But as a general rule, it's not important to clarify the nuance for your reader. And you’ll end up diluting the impact when a word like ‘almost’ is actually needed. Take a look at these examples from my early draft:

"He pulled his sleeves up almost to his elbows." (Nuance unimportant).

"He was almost certain of that." (Nuance won’t affect plot).

"It almost looked as if it had grown there organically." (Nuance unimportant).

(NB: We're going to talk about the other problems in those sentences in a later post).

"Almost" (or “nearly”) aren’t important when they have no bearing on the forward motion of the story. Strong, active fiction means that in most cases, the character moves forward as if the totality were the case. So state it that way. Give the reader no reason to question what they're supposed to be seeing or understanding.


"He was almost certain of that." is an accurate summation of the character’s mindset - but in my manuscript, directly following that statement the character stepped out and acted as if he were sure.

In real life we are rarely 100% certain. Instead, we make choices and act on what we consider to be the best chance. It’s only those moments of real uncertainty that trip us up – when the stakes are high.

If you want to resonate with readers, dial back on general uncertainty by stating your case outright as it will drive the character or plot.

Then, when you hit a moment when a character has a real dilemma and struggles to identify certainty, your “almost” is a tension builder, rather than another extra word lost in the shuffle.

Find and replace (or delete) "began", "started" and similar

Like "almost", "started" or "began" can be necessary, but not nearly as often as you'd think.

"Some weird things started happening to me before she got sick."


"Some weird things happened to me before she got sick."

Note the change to the end of the verb that follows 'began' or 'started'. As a general rule, "ing" becomes "ed" - the tense has not changed, but the language is active.

All of the above may seem like small changes, but if you're replacing dozens of occurrences in an early draft, it will lower your word count and stop your reader getting bogged down in lengthy sentences. When put together, these kinds of changes make your entire story smoother.

More coming!

Your Turn: What words do you use too much? For instance, I'm forever using "realized" - this character realized, that character realized, everyone realized... yuck! What's your word nemesis?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

My Apologies to You Dear Reader (AKA: Shame On You Google!)

Okay, so I just discovered that earlier this year, when I listened to Google about all their wonderful and enabled Google+ comments on my blog, it stopped any of you without a Google+ account commenting! It also changed the structure of my blog post appearance so you couldn't see if there were comments already made.

I'm sorry. Seriously. I wondered what happened and why everyone stopped talking. Turned out it was my fault!

Needless to say, I'm fairly livid at Google right now (who sent me all kinds of email and promotional material about how beneficial it would be to change my comments to Google+).

Well, I have learned my lesson, and I've re-enabled the old, default comments that let anyone who cares to have a say, do so.

Please accept my humblest apologies for Gate Keeping you up to this point.

And please...tell me what you think! There's lots of stuff happening in my publishing journey over the next couple months. I'd LOVE your input and advice.

Happy reading (and commenting!)


Monday, September 9, 2013

Plotting a Mystery (for Non-Mystery Writers)

One little admin note before we get down to business: I recently discovered that Google's insistence that I switch to Google+ comments was a VERY BAD IDEA. Hence, I've returned to default comments on Seeking the Write Life. So, please, when you've read Mary's AWESOME post here, get involved! Let us know what you think, or ask Mary questions. Technology will no longer be your gate keeper. Promise!

Now back to our previously scheduled viewing, fresh from the keyboard of Delacorte's Next Big Thing: Mary Elizabeth Summer.

Take it away, Mary!

Plotting a Mystery for Non-Mystery Writers

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’m not really a mystery writer. Yes, I wrote a mystery, and yes Delacorte Press is publishing it, and yes I will write more mysteries in the future. But the truth is I accidentally fell into writing mystery. I always thought I’d be a sci-fi or fantasy writer. But then I had this crazy idea for a mystery story, and well, here we are.

I’ll let you in on another little secret. Writing a mystery is hard. You actually have to plot, like in advance. For a pantser like me, it was a steep learning curve. My point in writing this post is to give you a few tips that helped me write mystery. Because let’s face it, every book in every genre has some hint of mystery to it.

Preplanning, Planning, and Post-Planning

Writing a mystery by the seat of your pants is asking for trouble. Can you do it? Sure. Can you dig a hole by moving each individual grain of dirt by hand? Of course, but why would you want to? All writing is pantsed, whether you plot it out in advance or not. The difference is that plotters have figured out the shortcut to a well-structured draft.

Don’t panic, pantsers. You probably already plot and just don’t realize it. That was the case for me, anyway. All your scribbles and research and daydreaming while driving to work counts as preplanning. Plotters just formalize their preplanning by calling it that. For an exhaustive list of plotters’ tools, check out 25 Ways to Plot, Plan and Prep Your Story.

The preplanning/post-planning that works best for me:

·         Create a mind map (or multiple mind maps) of plot, theme, and character development before writing the first draft—this takes less time than you think.

·         Create and keep updated a storyboard while drafting (I use an Excel spreadsheet for this).

·         Create a reverse outline/timeline before drafting the end of the story to make sure every loose end is addressed.

Reversals, Twists, and the Unexpected

The best mysteries are the ones where you never saw it coming but you totally should have.

Example 1: In The Sixth Sense, **spoiler alert** the protagonist is actually dead himself and doesn’t know it until the end of the film. We as viewers should have guessed, since he never holds a conversation with any living person but the kid, and the kid gives us several clues during the film as well.

Example 2: In the Star Wars trilogy, we’re shocked when we find out Darth Vader is Luke’s father, but Obi Wan gives us foreshadowing about that in the first film by bringing up Luke’s father in the first place. We as viewers should have guessed that something was up with Luke’s dad, because enough time was spent discussing it in the first film to indicate its importance to the plot. The goal is to create effective reversals, twists, and the unexpected, to hint at it just enough in the beginning so that readers say ‘Oh, snap!’ when they get to the reveal.

It’s a balance, though. Don’t show readers all your cards. You have to give them bits of the truth, but lie your face off the rest of the time. Misdirection is the key.  Distract them with shiny bits of characterization, voice, subplots, etc. to keep them from seeing your evil author machinations. This is where scene layering is your best friend. Make every scene responsible for doing at least three things at once—for example, further the romance subplot, show the protagonist dealing with her identity crisis, and foreshadow plot-reveal #2.

In terms of coming up with reversals/the unexpected, I just ask myself, what is the craziest thing that could happen right now that would throw me, the protagonist, and the reader for a complete loop? For example, when I re-re-rewrote the first chapter of Trust Me, I’m Lying, I asked myself, what could Julep’s missing dad have left her as a clue that would absolutely turn her blood cold? The answer: a gun.

One giant, flashing-neon-lights warning in regard to reversals, et al. Do not make the antagonist the protagonist’s father. It’s been done. In general, avoid all cliché reveals, like ‘oh my gosh, the guy she likes is actually a vampire!’ because you’ll bore your reader. Instead, take conventions and turn them on their head. For example, change it to the much less obvious ‘oh my gosh, the protagonist is actually a vampire and the guy she likes is actually just lunch!’

What the heck is foreshadowing anyway?

Well, I’m sure if you’re reading this, you already know that foreshadowing is a signal or indication of a future event. But how do you implement it effectively? What does it actually look like?

 The answer is it could look like anything. And chances are, if you’ve got some idea of where the protagonist is going to end up, you’ll plant little bits of foreshadowing without even meaning to as you draft. (See preplanning/post-planning tip above.) This actually happens to me all the time, so I’m speaking from experience here.

To give you an example, one of the side characters in Trust Me, I’m Lying has been betraying Julep from the beginning. I foreshadow the eventual reveal of her/his betrayal with small comments the person makes (or doesn’t make when she/he should), with facial expressions she/he makes during conversations with Julep, with seemingly inexplicable actions/reactions to things through the course of the story.

Here are some techniques I’ve used for foreshadowing:

·       Bring back a seemingly innocuous character in seemingly insignificant ways, i.e., mention him/her in one sentence every other scene or so.

·       Mention a significant person or plot point once in the beginning in an off-hand way (I call this technique the Obi-Wan-Kenobi).

·       Have the protagonist observe the (usually unexpected) facial expressions of the character they’re interacting with when said character is hiding information from the protagonist/reader.

·       Reveal something shocking about a character that is not THE reveal about that character so that readers think that character is already accounted for. Then BAM, hit them with the real reveal they’ll never see coming.

·       Sprinkle your secret antagonist’s name/signifier in innocuous places throughout the story (e.g., her name on a plaque on a wall, its symbol on canned goods in a marketplace, his face on a poster on the wall of the post office).

·       When all else fails, have your protagonist feel off about something, i.e., have her feel leery at first of a character who turns out to be shady, have her instincts warn her that something about what another character has just said is not quite right.

One final note about foreshadowing: it’s okay to come completely out of the blue with something, no foreshadowing or warning at all. But don’t do it more than once, and don’t do it for anything important to the main plot of the mystery. The reader is most satisfied when they could have figured out whodunit but didn’t until a page or two before the protagonist does.

The Tight End

Fiction is not real life for a reason. Real life is chaotic and random. Fiction (at least commercial fiction) is very much NOT random.

Everything in fiction has a purpose, a thread connecting it to The Way Things Are Meant To Be. That doesn’t mean chaos isn’t a force the protagonist fights against. And it doesn’t mean everything has to end up sunshine and roses.  What it means is that your story must end as it must inevitably end. Your job as the author is to get the reader to buy into your ending so that they feel satisfied and respected and will buy your next book.

The good news is that you get to decide what the inevitable ending is before you even start writing. Even if you don’t know all the logistics of how you’re going to get there, the ins and outs of everything that will transpire, or which hot guy your protagonist ends up with, you DO know (or should) what the resolution of the mystery is. You know whodunit before the thing ever got dunned. So now all you have to do is get your character to that same place of knowledge in the most twisty, convoluted way possible, throwing up roadblocks that would take Sisyphus light-years to remove.

When you’re drafting the end of Act II is when you need to start worrying about connecting all the dots to the conclusion. This is when I bust out the reverse timeline. The beauty of the reverse timeline is that it gives you a birds-eye view of where you are and where you need to go. Mapping the steps to get there is much easier when you see all the pieces at a distance.

For example: when I was drafting Trust Me, I’m Lying, I got to the last scavenger-hunt clue Julep’s dad has left her and I didn’t quite know how to wrap up all the subplots that had cropped up during the course of drafting the story up to that point. So I created a reverse timeline to see all the pieces I had dangling that needed resolution. I looked at those pieces and asked myself, if I were Julep and I knew everything that Julep knows, how would I use all these things to accomplish what I need to accomplish?

Then it hit me. Julep could actually use one of the subplots I’d developed for an entirely different reason to take down the antagonist and save the day. From a reader’s perspective, it looks like I developed the subplot specifically so Julep could use it at the end, but I actually did the reverse—I used an already existing subplot to help tie up the end.

Remember, one of the secrets to tight, elevated, professional storytelling is to constantly keep bringing everything back to the center. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Reduce every chapter to its essence by combining and deleting unnecessary scenes (same with sentences); reuse as many characters and plot elements you’ve introduced as you can; recycle subplots by using them for more than one purpose. The result is both a simpler and a much more intricate story, a world that feels as real as our own, and an ending that was inevitable from the very first word.
Mary Elizabeth Summer is an amazing writer who forgot to send Aimee her bio, so Aimee is just letting you know that she isn't the only one who thinks Mary Elizabeth is amazing: Mary Elizabeth's YA Mystery will be published by Delacorte Press next year. Because she's awesome. If you hadn't already noticed...

Your turn! Any questions for Mary Elizabeth? What do you do to create the mystery in your stories?


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Self-Editing - Seek & Destroy Word List #1

I’m reprising the self-editing series. Please feel free to comment with anything from your experience, or ask questions.

We're starting with the "seek and destroy" lists - which is really just a fancy way of saying the words can often be deleted with little or no change to the surrounding material.


Seek and Destroy "that"

Yes, you heard me. Obviously there are ways and times the word "that" is crucial to correct grammar. But those moments are rarer than you might expect.

Exercise: Take 4000 words of your WIP and paste it into a new document. Do a word count and write it down. Do an automatic Find and Replace in which you replace 'that' with nothing. Now read the chapter. The only place 'that' should be re-inserted, are the sentences which no longer make sense. Now do another word count.

TIP: Do this exercise on a portion of the manuscript you haven’t read for a few weeks. That way you’re not anticipating what the sentence will say.

Seek and Destroy "had"

(NOTE: I've had some great advice from editors / writers about specific grammatical rules regarding the use of 'had'. Check those out before embarking on your Seek and Destroy for this word as there are occasions where had needs to be included).

Of course there will be moments when the word 'had' is critical. But since this word automatically places whatever it references into the past tense, it makes present action passive. So, rule of thumb: if you're describing or showing something that happened in the past, "had" will be necessary. If you're showing or describing what's happening now, try to avoid it at all costs.

I.e. "I had wished he would notice me," becomes "I wished he would notice me."

"Cheryl had wondered if Nick was cheating," becomes "Cheryl wondered if Nick was cheating," (or, even better in my opinion, simply state the internal narrative: "Was Nick cheating?")

The sentences may be only one or two words shorter, but can you see how they read with so much more immediacy?

Seek and Destroy "was"

I've left this one to last because when you search your manuscript for 'was', prepare to be there for a while. And each replace will be a little more involved. In most cases you won't be able to simply delete 'was' because you'll have to change the tense of words around it. But the seemingly endless task is worth it.

Most of the time you're looking for the "was ****ing" construction:

In most cases, the change is simple: "I was leaning on the windowsill." becomes "I leaned on the windowsill." Or, "I was faced by a horde of Horse Lords." becomes "I faced a horde of Horse Lords."

Sometimes the changes will be more complex - especially when there are several 'was' in quick succession. Observe this example from an early draft of my first manuscript in which the protagonist describes the school uniform she's forced to wear:

"I was wearing plain black, lace-up leather shoes over dark nylons. The skirt was a dark green and navy plaid shot through with tiny stripes of red and white. My blouse was white and a dark blue, v-neck cashmere sweater topped the lot."


"I wore plain black, lace-up leather shoes over dark nylons, a dark green and navy plaid skirt shot through with tiny stripes of red and white, and a white blouse. A dark blue, v-neck sweater topped the lot."

(NOTE: I'd actually change that paragraph significantly now, but that's a self-editing tip for later).

I know this sounds involved, and when you take each example on its own, it seems like little difference. but when you make these changes throughout an 80,000 word manuscript, you'll drop hundreds (maybe thousands) of words. The overall impression will be tighter and stronger.

I think that’s enough for one post. I’ll be continuing the self-editing series over the next few weeks and have a lot more words and phrases to help you streamline your novel!

Your Turn: Any questions? Feel free to tweet or email me any words or phrases you'd like to see included in the series.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Will You Help Me Tell the World About BREAKABLE?

While I'm furiously working to get Breakable polished and all shiny-clean for release in November, it's time to start thinking about getting the word out to the world! Can you help?

The cover reveal (SO excited for this!) will be in early October, and the book release will follow on November 4th (including a subsequent 10 day blog tour).

As far as I'm concerned, there's no media presence too big or too small to be on my humble bandwagon. So if you're willing to tweet, facebook, blog, cover reveal, release huzzah, host an interview, whatever, whatever, whatever - here's your chance!

Below is the sign up to be part of the team. You have the option to choose one or all the stages and all you have to provide is your email address for each event you'd like to be a part of (and don't worry - if you sign up for more than one, you'll only receive one email per event. I won't be bombing you with multiple emails each time).

Interested? >>> CLICK ON THIS LINK. <<<

Add your email address wherever applicable. I'll take care of the rest!

Thank you in advance, team. You have my genuine gratitude.

PS - If you aren't sure, you can read the first chapter of BREAKABLE by clicking on the "Preview BREAKABLE" link at the top of the homepage.


Monday, September 2, 2013

ON WRITING: Nothing is "Caused". It Should Just Happen

Okay, pet peeve time.

There's a book in my library that is a great little historical romance, generally well-written and compelling.

However, it is peppered with the characters (and inanimate objects around them) being "caused" to do things.


""Indeed," he said, giving the seat a push, causing it to sway gently back and forth."

"...the fellow looked a little familiar, causing him to wonder if perhaps they had met before..."

Seems harmless, I know, but can I plead with you, dear author friend, to avoid this phrasing at all costs? Not only is it "wordy" (requiring more words than necessary), but it's also passive. It separates the reader from the action by describing what's happening, rather than showing it.

The above examples could easily be wittled down:

""Indeed," he said, pushing the seat. It swayed gently."

"...the fellow looked familiar. Had they met before?"

This isn't the only kind of phrasing with these issues, but it's one that I find particularly irritating, so it's the one I'm highlighting for you today.

Working on this has reminded me that it's almost time to take my final manuscript through the last stages of self-editing (to make sure it's as tight and free of over-used phrases as possible). So over the next few weeks I'm reprising the self-editing series. Tune in for more tips and tricks on tightening your manuscript!

Your Turn: Is there a phrase or word that irritates you when you read it? What is it? How would you fix it?