The Craft of Writing

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10 Common Writing Errors

In Editing Your Manuscript, The Craft of Writing on April 13, 2010 at 7:47 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to the PODCAST of this article.


All writers begin writing at the same point in their lives, as novices. And as such, most make many of the same errors as they hone their craft of writing. Today, I’ll discuss some of the most common writing mistakes with the hope it’ll move you along your writing path a bit sooner than otherwise.

1. Grammar is the most obvious mistakes novice writers makes. English is a difficult language on its own and contractions, dangling participles, punctuation and all the rest only add to the confusion. However, to improve your writing, improve your grammar. I use Reader’s Digest “Success with Words” to answer my questions.

2. Empty adverbs are another sure sign a writer is a new to the craft of writing. Most often these are the dreaded “-ly” words that have crept into the American lexicon. A classic example of how these words should not be used comes to us from The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. In it he writes, “Almost inconceivably, the gun into which she was now staring was clutched in the pale hand of an enormous albino.”

3. Poor dialogue will indicate a novice almost at once. Dialogue in novels is a tricky device to master but all it really takes is a bit of knowledge and practice. See this post for more on how to write DIALOGUE.

4. The nefarious verb, “to be” and all its devious forms tells your reader you’re new to the game. (And I can prove that with my first manuscript.) This word and its cousins flatten your narrative and slows the pace of your novel. I’ll again use the example from The Da Vinci Code to illustrate this. He writes, “Almost inconceivably, the gun into which she was now staring was clutched in the pale hand of an enormous albino.” Learn more about the verb “TO BE” here.

5. Lists of anything denote a novice. New writers might describe their setting with a list of things the character sees or they might depict someone’s emotions by clicking off a list of feelings the character experiences. This concept reaches into almost every facet of a novel. The problem with lists is they bore a reader. It’s as if you force them to tick off items on a visual clipboard. If you’re trying to describe something, focus on the small things that lie in unlikely places. For more on imagery, read this BLOG POST.

6. People in the early stages of their writing career often “tell” instead of “show” their story. That is, they issue vague statements in lieu of describing an idea in more detail. A classic example relates to how a writer depicts people. The inexperienced writer will describe a character as “beautiful” whereas the experienced writer describes the person in some detail so to allow the reader to visualize the woman’s beauty. They might write of the “perfect symmetry of her features,” which allows the reader to form their own mental pictures.

7. Talking heads are another common error of inexpert writers. A talking head is a character who exchanges in dialogue before the reader knows about this person or the setting in which they are placed. If you see pages with nothing other than dialogue on it, you may need to flesh out the characters, the setting or some other aspect of your scene.

8. Point of view issues identify new writers, too. POINT OF VIEW, or POV, indicates who is telling the story. There are a number of points of view and each has its rules as to who can tell the story. In First Person POV, the narrator of the story is the only character allowed to tell us what transpires. This means things he can’t see, for example the future, cannot be brought into the story. Further, this is the only character from which the reader will receive a firsthand insight into their feelings and thoughts. Readers can only learn about other characters by way of the narrator’s interpretations. In contrast, third person POV allows for more characters to get involved, but only one at a time. You need to move to another scene or chapter to bring in another character’s direct input.

9. New writers often don’t create scenes the reader can visualize. Did you realize the human mind works in pictures rather than words? This forces us to write in such a way as to “paint a picture” with our words. New authors often have yet to master than technique of creative detailing. You can learn more about COMPELLING IMAGERY in this article.

10. And finally, there is the tendency for new writers to pepper their stories with clichés. This is a sign they have yet to develop their creative abilities.

By no means is this a complete list of common writing mistakes, but if you review your work and find these everyday errors are missing, you’re well on your way to writing a great novel. I do hope your writing continues to improve and I also hope you know by now, I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”

The Secret to Writing A Riveting Novel

In Editing Your Manuscript, How-to's, The Craft of Writing on April 1, 2010 at 8:34 am

By C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article, click HERE.

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How does a writer evolve from one who pens the first draft of a novel to one who attains the rarefied status of published author? Of course, there is no substitute to a strong and well-written story, powerful characterizations and effective, believable dialogue. However, as any experienced writer will tell you, you must also master the skill of editing. And within editing, one of the more powerful of tools available lies within the words you choose. That is, you should review every noun, verb and adjective to consider if you have used the most specific and compelling of words for them.  The goal is to insure you paint the most stimulating word pictures for your reader.

Here’s an example of how I wrote a sentence in the first draft of my current manuscript and how it reads in my sixth version.

“They raced across the open ground.”

“The soldiers plunged into the maelstrom.”

Both sentences indicate the same event, men fighting in war. However, which holds the more potent setting, the more powerful image? In the first, we see people running over a field. We might have children playing for all this indicates. Whereas in the second, there is no question a battle is underway and men throw their bodies into the violence. The change is dramatic, yet all I did was choose more specific words.

Here’s another example as to how strong word choices can improve your writing.

“Jak woke first.”

“The sun burst over the horizon and wrenched Jak from his exhausted stupor.”

In this case, the verb, “wrenched,” is much stronger than, “woke.” If you imagine a character who just wakes up, you might see him stir from a pleasant night’s slumber. You can almost see him flutter his eyes as he brings the soft morning into view. In my story, however, this scene is not so pleasant. So, to create a better impression of what I wanted my reader to see, I had Jak yanked into consciousness. By comparison, this is a brutal action and a better description of what I wanted my character, and my reader, to experience. Though I enhanced the sentence, this change of a single word created a much more dramatic scene.

This same technique works for adverbs and nouns, too. To show how adverbs can also be improved, consider my working title for this article. At first, I titled this, “The Secret to Writing an Interesting Novel.” Can you see how the change from, “interesting” to “riveting” made for a better image?

If you take the time to consider each noun, verb and adverb in this way, I believe you’ll experience a leap forward in your writing skills. In the process, you just might increase your chances of publication, too.

Now that you know the power in this editing technique, I challenge you to do this with your manuscript and let us know how it improved your writing. I look forward to hearing from you.

Until we meet again, know I wish for you, only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”

When is Too Much Sex, Too Much? (Caution Terminology)

In Editing Your Manuscript, General Information, The Craft of Writing on March 1, 2010 at 8:55 am

Listen to a podcast of this article here.

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One of my blog readers asked me to expand on an earlier article, “How to Write a Sex Scene,” and today I’ll try and help her out. Her question entailed how much detail should one write into a sex scene. In my mind it’s up to the writer, but the answer varies according to writer’s target audience and the needs of the scene. Regardless, the reader’s imagination is the determining point.

Let’s look at the scene first. If you’re writing about raw sex, you might wish for more detail. Should you write about the power of love, you’d likely incorporate less. In the first case, you might include the feel of a woman’s wetness, whereas in the second you might offer nothing more than a bit of caressing as the two disappear behind a door.

Think also about the scene’s perspective. Is it written from the eyes of an eighteen year-old male bully or from grandma’s? Imagine how the bully might envision sex in relation to how might your grandmother. (Sorry for that visual.)

Let’s now take a look at the target market. Imagine how “the first time” scene might change if you wrote about seventeen year olds, thirty-somethings or grandmothers. In the first, you might have a young boy’s initial experience which entails raw sex with much more physical and tactile detail. The second could be a woman’s first encounter since her oppressive divorce where the details revolve less on the physical than the emotional. Grandma’s first encounter since her husband died might have very little detail, (if you don’t mind…), and convey something like comfort or even betrayal. Each displays the same basic scene, but with wildly varying descriptions and need for detail.

Here is how I feel about the subject in general. It’s all about the reader’s imagination.

Consider this simple example of describing a woman’s eyes when writing this type of scene.

“As he grabbed her hair and pushed her down on him, her eyes grew wide as silver dollars.”

“As he grabbed her hair and pulled her down on him, her eyes grew wide with excitement.”

Which of these lines creates the better vision to the reader? To me, everyone knows the size of a silver dollar and though the scene might be titillating, this simple detail reduces the reader’s option to use their imagination. In contrast, her eyes growing wide with excitement allows the readers to interpret how the character looked and thus makes the scene more personal to the reader. Now envision how involved a reader might be if a hundred details form in their mind, rather than on the page. This concept of appealing to the reader’s imagination applies regardless the level of detail. The more your reader employs their imagination, the more personal, more powerful the scene is to them.

I’m also all about the emotion of a scene. Consider a rape. Though the grabbing and thrusting it integral to the incident, if nothing else is described, the scene lacks much of its potential strength. However, if you write about how the woman emotionally responds to these actions, your writing will have much more impact.

To me, detail is dependent upon the scene and the audience. Use more of the reader’s imagination and fewer major details and I think you’ll write with more powerful imagery.

Now for some general tips.

A sex scene, as with all others, should maintain your writing style. Do you include every detail in every scene? Then continue in that vein. Do you skirt the large details for the small? Then carry on with that.

Highlight the tiny details. A man caressing the goose bumps on a woman’s thigh is more enticing than simply thrusting into her.

Think of your writing more as an Impressionist painting than one from the realistic period. The Impressionists worked with blurs of color and motion, allowing the reader’s mind to see what they wanted to see. The viewer’s imagination filled in the gaps. In contrast, the Realists painted each and every detail, giving each as much power as the next. Though their work is amazing, you only see what they want you to see.

Color-code the emotions you write on the page. Some people use colored pencils or crayons, while others use their word processing text highlighter. It matters not, but here’s how it works. When you mention an emotion such as yearning, you might color it gray. Should you highlight that mood one gets when a couple cuddles after sharing sex, you could use gold.

After colorizing each emotion, make a flip-book of your pages and thumb  through them. The colors that jump off the page will offer a strong insight as to the effectiveness of your writing and inform you if you’ve produced the type of article you wished. If your sex scene has a lot of black, for example, let’s hope it’s a rape. If the colors begin with cerulean, turn to yellow, shift to gold then orange and red, then back to blue, you’re probably on the mark for a love scene.

I read somewhere that “Details are the fingerprints of prose.” (Great line, don’t you think?) However, think of your details like spices. Too much salt or pepper and you’ll ruin the taste of the meal. So it is with your writing. Use your details sparingly so as not to overpower your reader.

When incorporating details, insure you employ your characters’, and thus your readers’, five senses. Have your character look at her nakedness, touch her skin and taste her lips. Have him hear her moan and smell her explosion. (And he’d damn well better see she has one.)

The general purpose of your novel is to transport your readers to another place and time. Would they rather go where they wanted or where you tell them. It’s all about the imagination.

It’s not about the sun, it’s about the warmth of the sun on one’s skin.

I do apologize for not offering specific instructions to leave in the erection and omit the sigh, but how much detail to write into a sex scene is up to the writer.

I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”

It's All about the Editing

In Editing Your Manuscript on February 23, 2010 at 7:27 pm

There exist any number of “rules” for writers to follow when editing their novels and though I’ll pass along some of those, let’s begin with a couple lesser know tips. You can read more editing tips in one of my earlier articles here or at this post on Bukisa.com.

Edit for words that end in “-ition” or “-ization” or “-ment.”

Here’s an example of how that works. The sentence, “I worked it to its completion,” can be reduced to “I completed the work,” without any loss of meaning. By simply eliminated the “-tion” and similar words, our writing becomes more crisp.

Edit for verbs used as nouns. Think how you might clarify this sentence.  “I offered the answer earlier.” For more precise writing, it should read “I answered earlier.” The revised sentence enriches the action of the verb, “answer”, and reduces the wordiness.

Keep an eye out for words that duplicate meanings. For example, consider the following list I found at http://www.lincoln.edu and you’ll see the how the word(s) in parentheses do not enhance the meaning of the other word(s).

(actual) experience     add (an additional)

(advance) planning     (advance) reservations

(advance) warning     all meet (together)

(as) for example     ask (a question)

at (the) present (time)     (basic) fundamentals

came (at a time) when     (close) proximity

(close) scrutiny     collaborate (together)

(completely) filled     consensus (of opinion)

(definite) decision     (difficult) dilemma

(direct) confrontation     during (the course of)

(end) result     enter (in)

estimated at (about)     estimated (roughly)

(false)pretenses     few (in number)

filled (to capacity)     (first) began

for (a period of) 10 days     (foreign) imports

forever (and ever)     (free) gift

(invited) guests     join (together)

(major) breakthrough     merged (together)

(new) beginning     (past) history

(past) records     plan (ahead)

(possibly) might     postpone (until later)

protest (against)     repeat (again)

same (identical)     since (the time when)

spell out (in detail)     (still) remains

(suddenly) exploded     (therapeutic) treatment

2 a.m. (in the morning)     (unexpected) surprise

(unintentional) mistake     (usual) custom

written (down)

You know those “wordy phrases” we hear so much about? Here are some samples to purge with some appropriate substitutes.

at all times – always                                             at the present time – now

at that point in time – then                                 beyond a shadow of a doubt – without doubt

due to the fact that – because                            for the purpose of – for

in connection with – with                                    in most instances – most oftenin order to – to

in some instances – sometimes                          in spite of the fact that – although

in the event that – if                                            on an everyday basis – routinely

on a daily basis – daily                                        subsequent to – after

the reason is because – because

Other general editing tips you don’t regularly hear include:

  1. Edit early in the day.
  2. Edit a single issue at a time.
  3. Print your manuscript and read every word aloud to someone else.
  4. Use a straight edge under each line as you read to edit.
  5. Read each sentence as an individual paragraph, as if there is an enter stroke after the line.
  6. Have someone read it out loud to you.
  7. Be certain you consider every instance of the verb, “to be.” (See this post for more information.)
  8. Don’t edit under fluorescent lighting. (Bet you’ve never heard that one before.)
  9. Write one day and edit another.
  10. Editing should reduce your manuscript’s length.
  11. Check your checker. “Read” and “red” are both accepted by your spellchecker.
  12. Remember, grammar checkers know grammar but they don’t understand grammar.

I hope this helps you polish your novel and one of these is THE tip that secures representation for you.

As always, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”

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How to Structure Your Story

In Editing Your Manuscript, The Craft of Writing on February 23, 2010 at 10:03 am

Listen to a podcast of this article HERE.

When some novelists sit down to write a book, they begin within a general feel for their story and characters then sit down to write. The book sort of takes shape, fills in and reaches its culmination of its own accord. This technique is the one I’ve used to date. The problem is it calls for much editing after the first draft. In my current manuscript, “Born to be Brothers,” I’m on my sixth major edit and only yesterday determined a seventh is needed.

Other writers organize their thoughts into a formal outline with all plot points scripted, every CHARACTER fleshed out to the level of ear hair, all IMAGERY constructed and each subplot developed in full.

This has nothing to do with the article

This method requires less editing after the first draft but more thought beforehand.

I think it’s obvious the method one chooses is determined by the writer’s personality.

There is a third option for those who are more organized than I and less ordered than God. It’s called by a number of names but is often known as the Three-Act Structure. In general terms, it  dictates a story has three distinct sections. Without surprise, you’ll find these “acts” are the beginning, middle and end.

Many say this is an arbitrary division of a story and has no real value within writing. They indicate the story revolves around the main CONFLICT and how that conflict is resolved. To be honest, I see their point. However, I think organizing does help us to stay focused, especially those writers new to the industry. With that in mind, I’ll offer this and hope you’ll feel free to do with it as you wish.

I did a bit of research and found the early Greek stories consisted of only one act while the Romans settled on five. I couldn’t determine why they the numbers differed, but regardless, today we utilize three acts. As mentioned before, the acts comprise the beginning middle and end of your story or as I prefer, the Set-up, the Confrontation and the Resolution.

When I wrote the first draft of my current manuscript, I’d not given any thought to the three-act structure. However, as it turned out, the novel naturally fell into the Set-up, Confrontation and Resolution  pattern. The Three-Act Structure seems to fit the human mind’s need for logic and may well be a natural storytelling methodology.

Although this is quite arbitrary, I’d guess you’d break up a hundred-thousand word novel into something like a twenty-five thousand word Introduction, a fifty thousand word Confrontation and a twenty-five thousand word Ending.

The Three Act Structure allows writers who don’t do a great deal of outlining to create a first draft with more efficient pacing. It gives them a feel for when to move from one part of the story to the next. This structure should also help eliminate the sagging middle, which is often caused by incorporating too much information too early in the manuscript.

The Set-up is designed to introduce your major characters, setting and premier conflict point. You might also toss in a subplot or two in this section. (For more on subplot, read my post from yesterday.) By the end of this section you’d have identified your detective, his lovely assistant, the murderer and the victim. There would be some action, a secret or two and maybe even an erotic innuendo here or there. However, the secret to the Set-up is it ends when your first major plot point, the hero’s great conflict, expels him from his normal life.

The Confrontation is all about thickening the plot. Think escalating tension and conflict, allies and enemies and character growth. It develops by way of the myriad of obstacles your protagonist faces and the many lessons he must learn in order to defeat the villain, whomever or whatever he may be. This is that part of your story where your second major plot point, the confrontation with the Big-Bad-Wolf, threatens. The formal confrontation takes place during Act Three.

The End is where the great villain is confronted and defeated. This section finalizes when you tie up all the loose ends and answer all the nagging questions you forgot to earlier. It is in this act you send your triumphant hero home to the welcoming arms of his lovely assistant – the very one your reader thought had died during the Confrontation.

For more on structuring your story, read my earlier post HERE .

In the mean time, know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”

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That Simplest Way to Improve Your Writing

In Editing Your Manuscript, The Craft of Writing on January 6, 2010 at 8:23 am

When I completed my first manuscript, I sent my novel to an editor so she could inform me just how many requests for autographs I might receive from my soon to expand fan base. As I’m certain you’ve already surmised, she utterly failed in her task.

Though the manuscript contained more red ink that black when she returned it, one specific note she entered, (and entered and entered…), related to my use of the word, “that.” Though I paraphrase, she indicated that specific word could most often be eliminated without losing any meaning or substance within the sentence. Since then, I’ve found everyone uses that word so often in our everyday speaking we no longer hear it. However, when I read it, it’s now as obvious as a blemish on a prom queen’s nose.

My editor offered a simple trick I still use to this day. The secret, she said, is to read the sentence aloud without the offending word and consider if the meaning of the sentence is lost. If not, the word is unnecessary and it should be cut. Alas, I lost much of my word count during that exercise.

Let’s look at a couple of examples.

“What’s the best way to get that accomplished?”

“What’s the best way to get accomplished?”

You see the sentence lacking the word loses something, doesn’t it? It doesn’t make sense. In this case, keep “that” in place.

Another example:

“Organize your files so that you can find things with ease.”

“Organize your files so you can find things with ease.”

It’s obvious in this example the word is not necessary and may be purged. The result is more efficient writing.

The easiest method I’ve found to perform this edit is to use the “Find” feature in your word processing program, then work through the resulting list. It won’t take as long as you think and once you’ve gotten used to not using the word, it becomes second nature.

Now, there is a caveat to, “that,” so I’ll pass it along. The word is still often considered acceptable in formal language. Though I can’t remember the last time I used formal language.

With this said, I tend to leave the word in my dialogue, most often with my less educated characters. For my more educated ones, I do not.

As you work through your edits, try this simple technique and I’ll bet you’ll be surprised how much it improves your writing.

Until we meet again, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”

Tips on Editing Your Novel

In Editing Your Manuscript on January 5, 2010 at 11:54 am

Many authors, professional or otherwise, make some of the same mistakes when writing. Among them is the correct balance of “white space”, unnecessary or too much information and the infamous “as –ing” construction.

The balance between text and white space on a page is a difficult concept to explain, but you’re looking for the correct flow to your page as well as your words. To give you an idea of how to find this flow, print out your manuscript, or even your chapter, single-spaced for this exercise. Flip the pages and just get a feel for the amount of white to black you see. Then compare your manuscript to a novel of similar genre and see how it compares. Does yours have a great deal more or less white space? Do your paragraphs seem dramatically longer than the published work’s? If you have too much black, this is often caused by too little dialogue. Too much white space, in contrast, often means too much dialogue. One secret is to look for paragraphs that run more than, say, half the page. Try this a few times to see if this helps you. It’s interesting, but this simple exercise may just enhance your writing more than you’d imagine.

Another error writers make is implanting unnecessary or too much information. This often comes from the overuse of setting or a character’s personality traits. For example, if you find your character dons her threadbare coat while slipping on her gloves with only six full fingers, and she laments the hole in her hat as she places it atop her head, then picks up her worn purse that contains only a few odd coins, well then, you’ve probably told too much. Your reader will understand your character’s economic plight with much less information. Just drip these ideas by offering a detail or two then get into the story. As these details build up, your reader will understand both personality and setting. If you need this much information for word count, then your story is probably too thin.

Another way an author adds too much information is having more than one character perform the same function or provide identical information to the story. Does your story need a father to teach your hero to use tools and a grandfather to teach him to hunt? Can both of these functions be performed by a single character? Too many characters in a novel create confusion for the reader and might not add to the story. Read the first fifty or so pages of Gone with the Wind and you’ll understand what I mean. Review each character to see if they are necessary to the story and see if two or more can be combined for clarity.

The “as –ing” phraseology is also often used abused by new and experienced writers alike. To explain this, we’ll revisit our destitute woman mentioned earlier.

“As she put on her hat, she turned the key in the lock.”

Another way you might see this is as follows:

“Putting on her hat, she turned the key in the lock.”

See the “as –ing” context here?

When reading these sentences, the first action, putting on the hat, seems to have much less weight then the next action, turning the key. The hat feels inconsequential. To correct this, it might be rewritten as follows:

“She placed her hat on her head then inserted the key into the lock.”

In this case, both action appear to have significance and therefore makes the first action more important.

If you review your manuscript,  you may well find some of these issues buried within. By fixing them, you’re writing will take on a far more authoritative tone.

Best of luck and I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

To Pay, or Not to Pay?

In Editing Your Manuscript, General Information, Working with Agents on December 14, 2009 at 8:35 am

There is a controversy I run across quite often as speak to writers of various genres. That is, do you pay someone to edit your books? As with many questions, there are two sides to the answer. Some say, “Under no circumstances!” Others fell there is, “No problem!”

It’s my opinion, and many will disagree with me, the answer is, “No problem – with a caveat.” And that caveat is dependent upon your goals.

The ARA, (The Association of Author’s Representatives, Inc.), is the accepted governing body for those employed in the world of literary agentry. Membership in this association is voluntary and many agents join and accept the association’s ethical guidelines. Others choose not to do so, though this does not indicate an agent is unethical. The policies of the ARA, as it regards reading fees, stipulates,

“…literary agents should not charge clients and potential clients for reading and evaluating literary works in the ordinary course of business.”

Another aspect to this controversy is a good agent will, in one way or another, see that your manuscript is edited, again for no fee. In contrast, a freelance editor will charge for the same work.

As mentioned, your individual answer depends upon your goal in the matter. In the case of an agent, he works on commission and is paid only when he sells your manuscript. They are salespeople who choose which products, (books), they wish to represent and then see them into the hands of publishers. The freelance editor, in contrast, is paid upfront and charges by the word or page.

I think this is where all the confusion about paying people to edit your manuscripts originates.

In my mind, “reading fees” are very different from editing fees. Reading fees means they charge you to study your material and determine if they wish to represent your work. Editing fees is an entirely different concept whereas the editor charges to help prepare your work for submission to an agent or publisher. Therein you find the difference between the two.

In my case, I was new to writing and I hired my editor as an instructor. I understood my lack of skills and sought an effective method to learn them. A freelance editor gave me those lessons. As I read, (and reread and reread), her suggestions, I began to see the realistic application of the craft of writing. It was from her I learned the basics of the craft and, in my case, paying to edit my manuscript substituted for years of formal education. I still had, and have, much to learn, but she got me moving in the right direction.

After sending my original manuscript out to seek representation, all of my many queries were turned down except one to a specific agent. He sounded enthusiastic about my novel and said he’d take on my book if I’d use his in-house editing staff to put it into publishing condition. Of course, this service was offered for a fee. This requested fee was unethical. He didn’t say my work still needed editing and to get back to him when it was complete. He said he’d see it done internally. This requested fee was my red flag.

An agent may appreciate your manuscript, but before they represent it they may feel it needs additional editing. They may even name three or four freelance editors they trust. However, they should never charge for editing “in-house,” nor should they receive a kick-back from any of the editors they recommend without your prior approval.

My answer to this question? If you want to learn the craft of writing or to improve your chances of representation, a freelance editor might be a wise choice. If you don’t wish to go that route, an agent who charges fees is perhaps unethical.

Now, who among you will argue with me?

Best of luck with your writing and know I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Author of Born to be Brothers

Tips on Eliminating Unnecessarily Overused Adverbs

In Editing Your Manuscript, The Craft of Writing on November 16, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Aspiring authors always hear about the need to reduce adverbs, but just how might that be done?

First, let’s define the word, “adverb.” Dictionary.com defines them as, (are you ready for this?), “any member of a class of words that in many languages are distinguished in form, as partly in English by the ending -ly, or by functioning as modifiers of verbs or clauses, and in some languages, as Latin and English, also as modifiers of adjectives or other adverbs or adverbial phrases, as very, well, quickly. Adverbs typically express some relation of place, time, manner, attendant circumstance, degree, cause, inference, result, condition, exception, concession, purpose, or means.”

Come on, guys! Let’s whittle this down to say they are modifiers of verbs, generally, usually, often words ending in –ly. Ah, that’s much more understandable.

Let’s take a look at how this plays into our writing.

If you read the title of this post, you’ll notice two modifiers of the word, “Adverbs.” They are, “Unnecessarily” and “Overused.” Could this title have been written without the adverbs and still make sense? Sure. Tips on Eliminating Adverbs makes perfect sense. So, too, it must be in your writing. Eliminate as many of your adverbs as possible for better writing.

Should you eliminate all adverbs? Perhaps not, but each should be studied to insure they add to the quality of your writing. As we’ve all learned by way of earlier posts to this blog, the “rules” of writing are actually only guidelines, but if you put this maxim to good use it will improve your writing.

Let’s look at a couple of examples, shall we?

The sun slowly set over the horizon.

How important is the word, “slowly,” in this example? Not much. Everyone knows a sun set isn’t immediate. If that word were eliminated the writing would be crisper and the concept of the event would not be lost.

Now compare these two sentences.

“She laughingly brushed off his comment.”

“With a laugh, she brushed off his comment.”

If you read them aloud, you’ll find no change in the meaning, but rather a dramatic alteration to the cadence, or the music of the words. Which is the better written? (“B”, is your correct answer.) The difference may be subtle to many, but the importance of this technique over a novel length manuscript will accumulate dramatically, ah, in a dramatic fashion.

Here’s one more example:

“Begrudgingly, he admitted she was correct.”

“With a begrudge, he admitted she was correct.”

We see here the easy alteration turned out worse than the original. In lieu, try something like this.

“He admitted she was correct, though he felt bitter at having to acknowledge the fact.”

Which of the three sentences reads better to you? This illustration shows how difficult the correct rewording might be. Regardless, the lesson here is to edit each individual adverb for elimination or replacement.

As to when to edit your adverbs, I can only tell you how I do it. I wait until the first, or even the third, draft is complete then I use my Find function to locate all “ly” words. I then evaluate the individual adverbs for options as to how better reword the sentence for more compelling writing.

Until my next post, my all your books be best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Ten Tips to Remain Unpublished

In Editing Your Manuscript on October 22, 2009 at 9:13 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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We all wish to see our books and novels on the shelves while throngs of people race to the store to grab a copy for themselves. Few of us will ever realize this dream if we lack those skills necessary to master the craft of writing. So, I’m offering a short list of novice errors the accomplished writer has learned not to make.

Your manuscript is full of synonyms for the word, “said.”

“Save me!” she pleaded.

“I’ll save you!” the hero responded.

The villain cried out, “I won’t let you save her!”

“Never mind, I’ve saved myself,” she complained.

If you feel you must use a tag line, put it in sentence form.

She pleaded for someone to help.  “Save me!”

Her hero called out to her. ‘”‘ll save you!”

The villain yelled to her hero. “I won’t let you save her!”

After freeing herself, she stood behind them with a scowl. “Can’t you two do anything right?”

(If your dialogue sounds like this, you’ll remain unpublished, but this works as an example.)

You Use Too Many “ly” Words.

Adverbs are badly overused by writers today. Oops, I mean, Adverbs are overused by writers today.

Adverbs are the lazy author’s method of working. This writer has the tendency to use the first thought that comes to mind and put it on  his paper. This is no problem in your first draft, but by your fourth or fifth, they should mostly be gone, uh, they should generally be gone, oh, jeez, I mean there should be few, if any, of them left in your manuscript. There are two traditional ways to overcome this error. The first is to use your Find Feature within your word processor and locate those evil “ly” words. Replace them with stronger verbs or reword them. The classic example is to replace “softly crying” with “whimpering.” You can also drop the “ly” word entirely, or rather in its entirety,  if it doesn’t make a difference to the meaning. Consider the phrase, “utterly alone.” If you’re alone, you’re by yourself and if you are “utterly alone” you are still by yourself.

You Have a Tendency to Overuse Adjectives.

Our classic example in this case is, “the dark night.” We all know night is dark and by adding the word, you’ve not embellished the concept of night at all. James Thurber explains with this sentence. “The building is pretty ugly and a little big for its surroundings.” “Pretty ugly” is still ugly and “a little big” is still big. There is a place for adverbs in writing, but use them sparingly and only if you’ve attempted to replace them with verbs and nouns.

You Use Wimpy Words.

Wimpy words tend to cheapen your writing. They include such things as almost, probably, seems, appears, about and “ish-words”, among others. Did your character almost yell out or did they fume? Did the boss seem upset or were his eyes flaming with anger? Use your words with boldness and confidence.

Clichés are a Dime a Dozen.

Now and then your readers feel it in their bones that your writing has feet of clay. (Hey, Cut me some slack. I’m improvising on the fly here.) Cliché’s bore your readers and an author’s worst sin is to writing boringly, uh, without feeling.

Your Writing Contains Dialect.

It be too diff’cult t’ red dose dam woids. Ya cotton t’ ma meanin’? With some characters, you must show a distinction between their dialect and that of others, but aim for the flow of their speech patterns rather than their actual words.

You Repeat Your Best Words Over and Over and Over and Over Again.

If you truly use the same words too often, your writing will truly be, uh, truly bad. Keep your eyes open for those words that repeat themselves too often. It bores your readers to repeat the same word or words repetitively. Look for those words that are similar in wording, too. Reword them.

Miscellaneous Errors.

“He looked over the escarpment between childhood and manhood.” If your writing sounds like poetry, reword it. Just use expressive, interesting words and put them on the paper.

You use altogether too much alienating alliteration.

Sure, it can be effective if used with correct comportment, but its effectiveness is fast fleeting if you employ it as a tentative tool too many memorable times. Alliteration can work, but its strategic use makes for more effective writing.

Your Writing is Coy or Uses Gimmicks.

Starting too many sentences with, “and” or “but.”

You pull lines from movies or television shows.

Your exciting sentences end with multiply punctuation marks!!!!

You use CAPITAL LETTERS instead of italics to indicate emphasis . (“DO WHAT I SAY!” vs. “Do what I say!”)

Perform a triple-check of your manuscript and see if it can be improved. It may well make the difference between a form rejection and an offer.

(And you thought you were done with your editing.)

I hope you know by now I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”