How to Format an Ebook Using Pages!

How to Format an Ebook Using Pages!

Greetings all,

The Journals of Bob Drifter Front CoverAs I mentioned yesterday, The Journals of Bob Drifter (2nd Edition) is live (and currently that ebook is only 99 cents). What it took to get there is something that frustrated me. All my life, I’ve believed in learning. I think the best way to learn is to teach. My mentor (hi Chip!) told me the obligation of someone who is taught is to “pass on what you’ve learned as freely as it was given.”

Well I paid for what I learned. I paid in time, and a lot of money I didn’t need to spend. So what I’d like to do is save a lot of you a lot of money.

First, the funny part: I thought my design skill would be a great asset to the process. Well, for the paperback, it was. But the ebook was another story. You see, e-readers aren’t design readers, they’re text readers. So if the reason you’re pay anywhere between $200 and $2,000 to publish your book is, “I never designed before,” you needn’t worry.

I’m actually not against people paying the $200 price. What you’re buying isn’t the fancy design, it’s the time you could spend writing. I, on the other hand, don’t have enough capital to pay for something I know how to do myself. If you need to save money, this is one heck of an easy way to do it. You can publish your book for free, saving that money to do things like pay a better cover artist, edit the book again, or invest in tables at conventions.

The basic trick of it is, is to think about your book the same way you would about formatting an essay.  I’m still figuring out the best way to get that table of contents working, but I found a way around that too.

First, if you use Pages, just know most people don’t like it. If you want to know how to do this using Word, I can’t tell you. I bought a Mac. It has Pages. It’s what I use. But, if you’re a Mac/Pages guy like me, and you want to publish your book, it’s far easier than I made it.

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Also note the Table of Contents item. When you’re done formatting your headers (see below) go to the front of your book, insert another page break, and then insert that ToC. Select the same header and DONE!

Design Trick 1: Use page breaks.  I use them between chapters, and this is a very common thing. Doing this allows you to edit in previous chapters while guaranteeing the next chapter will still start on a new page. So, when you’re done writing one chapter, don’t hit enter until you get to a new pages. Instead, go to the top menu bar, select Insert > Page Break.

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-11-10 at 11.55.37 PMDesign Trick 2: Use a heading or create one. I won’t go into how to create one in this blog because I’m trying to keep it short, but it’s not hard. You want to use a heading though because that will make your table of contents clickable. (I also won’t go into my back door to a clickable TOC. I found a thing that works, but I want to find the tool that makes Screen Shot 2017-11-10 at 11.55.48 PMit easy.) You want to do this though.  When you type up the chapter’s name, highlight it. On the right side of your window, you should see a “document” panel. If you don’t, click the “Document” icon on the top-right of your menu bar. Once you see it, go to the “Style” tab. At the top of that tab is a dropdown box. Use this to select whatever heading you want. Pages has at least three pre-made headings. If you really want to make your own, just format it however you want, and click the “+” sign in that dropdown box. Name it whatever you want, and then use that item for the rest of your book.

Design Trick 3: Photos.  This was the part that really took me a while to figure out. I would “place” my photos, but then use the wrap text feature. Placing photos (going to the top menu bar, selecting “Insert > Choose” is absolutely the right way to do that. Then, click on your photo.  Get the size the way you want. Once that’s done, click on the photo again just to make sure it’s selected. That will change the panel to your right to the photo’s options. You’ll have three tabs: “style,” “image,” and “arrange.”  Click the “arrange” tab.  Ensure that “Move With Text” is selected.

Screen Shot 2017-11-10 at 11.56.33 PMThen, go to the “Text Wrap” dropdown menu and, believe it or not design folks, select “In line with text.”  This is frankly counter to everything every designer was ever taught, but if you don’t do this, your photos will look skewed and out of place.   If you want to center the image or align it right, click just to the right of the photo. Make sure your cursor is blinking to the left of the image, then click “center” or “right” just as if you were moving text. That will make sure your images stay high quality and where you want them. If you want the image anywhere but the left, center, or right of the frame, I’m afraid I can’t help you there. That said, I’ve never seen anyone want to place their images in those sorts of places. My books have chapter icons and “scene-break” icons.  Those are all centered.

Design Trick 4: Export as a Word document. Then upload.

The point is, KDP has made their ebook conversion process so that you don’t actually have to do much more than you would if you were formatting a high-school essay. If you need help, just shoot me an email or PM on Twitter or Facebook, and I’ll be happy to help. Just make sure that you only pay money for design services because you have the extra money or lack the time. (I’d make the time if I were you, paying someone to do this simple a task is just throwing money away). I’m not a master at it yet, and I may have a glitch or two to work out, but the point is I can go to one more convention a year than I previously could because I don’t have to budget $200-$400 for design.

I hope this helps.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

 

 

 

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Let It Go: The Balance Between Deadline and Quality

Let It Go: The Balance Between Deadline and Quality

Greetings,

The Journals of Bob Drifter Front Cover
The cover is copyright M.L.S. Weech, any redistribution without my consent is a possible copyright infringement. All stock images are from Pixabay (This includes the feature photo).

As I type this, I’m waiting for the physical proof copy of the 2nd edition of The Journals of Bob Drifter. This reminded me of a few things I’ve discussed with others in the field.

The main reason I wanted to do a 2nd edition was to gain more control over the price and make it easier for people to purchase. I also wanted to be able to have electronic e-sales. Making this decision allowed me to do another editorial pass. In truth, I did three.

By my count, that means I’ve done about 41 total passes on this book. This isn’t to say I’ve rewritten it, I’m proud to say I only did about three “full” revisions. These were drafts where I changed or rearranged content. The rest were proofreading drafts, and that’s where I want to focus my attention.

There’s this term, minimum viable product. I’ll be honest, I hate that term. To me, it connotes, “get it printed as quickly as possible, and don’t worry about the quality.” Perhaps I take that term too far, but I’ve read work completed under that banner, and to be frank, it never works out well. The typos and issues pull me out of the story and away from the plot.

However, the other side of that coin is even worse. You see, at some point, you have to let it go. This is why I hold so firmly to my process. It’s the balance I’ve found between ensuring the best product I can get to my readers while ensuring I actually release something.

Too many people ever finish a book or never publish it because they want it to be perfect. Here’s the brutal truth: You’ll never be perfect. Of the 41 times I’ve read Bob Drifter, I’ve never failed to find a rather significant number of issues. It’s simply going to happen when one writes 133,000 words. Now, this version is FAR cleaner than the last, and it should be. I’ve been told that the industry standard for “number of errors” in a book is 3% (author and editor friends, I’d appreciate confirmation of this). That means I could theoretically have more than 3,900 typos in Bob drifter, and I’d still be “within standard.”

horizontal-2071304_960_720I never counted, but even after paying my editor to do a pass on the book, I found an embarrassing number of grammar errors and typos. I even noticed a minor continuity issue. (It appears Richard used to own a house that changed color. I fixed that.) I assure you, my editor did a fine job. I promise I gave my best effort the other 40 times I went over the book. The simple fact of the matter is the book will never be “perfect.” I have to give you readers the best, high-quality product I can in a timely manner. That means taking a breath, and letting the story get out into the world at some point.

I don’t in any way agree with the philosophy of “just get the product out.” Those who disagree with me are welcome to, and you can even comment if you wish. This is simply my opinion on a common topic of discussion in the industry.

What I do support is the idea that you have to, at some point, release a book.

What I recommend:

editing-1756958_960_720Develop a plan, and hold to it. I’ve mentioned my plan a few times in a few different blogs, but because I can’t think of any one to refer you to, I’ll just go over it.

Discovery draft: get the story written.

First draft: Fill in holes. Flesh out the plot. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors. (This usually takes me between 3-7 “passes.”)

Alpha draft: Get alpha readers’ feedback. Take information under advisement and address concerns. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors. (This time it usually takes me 2-5 “passes.”)

Editorial draft: Sara gets her hands on the product and provides her developmental edits. I take those recommendations into consideration and make appropriate changes. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors. (The remainder of these “read-throughs” usually take between 1-3 passes.)

Beta draft: Send the draft out to the target audience. Apply their feedback. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors.

Copyediting draft: This one goes back to Sara. She looks at the structure and grammar. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors.

Proofreading draft: The last draft before I send it to publish. Simply read out loud until I can’t find an error.

Proof draft: When I get my proof (digital or physical), I read it out loud, making any changes I catch. I don’t repeat the process, I simply correct what I catch.

Is this too much for you? That’s OK, you can’t minimize. I wouldn’t be angry at someone who doesn’t do “read out loud” passes until the copyediting draft.

Arguments against my way: “What do you pay an editor for?”

I’m glad you ask. I pay Sara to catch what I miss. The more errors I blatantly ignore or don’t bother to look for, the more likely she is to miss something. I’m sure Sara would much rather I send her my best than if I send her a group of random fragments for her to polish into a book. If I did that to her, I may as well give her credit as a co-author. She’s the editor, but I’m the writer. It’s my job to give her my best product, and her job to make it better.

ElelefinalHowever, once I finish my process, I let the book go. I haven’t even looked at Sojourn, even though it’s not even scheduled to be turned in until later this winter. I followed my process, and I trust it. I’m sure people will note errors, and I’ll note them and offer my thanks to any who tell me about them, but I did my best with the time I gave myself to develop the story.

This is the process that works for me. You can use it, use your own, or use mine to develop something new. The point is, give your best effort. Don’t expect your editors to take your “least” efforts and make it stand out, but don’t edit a 30,000-word story 30,000 times and take years to release what should come out in a matter of months. (I’m delaying my releases because of a marketing and momentum plan, but those products will be finished well before my “deadlines.”)

A note: Please don’t feel insulted. Perhaps you have a different definition of “minimum viable product.” I’m happy to hear it, though I’ll probably still disagree, it doesn’t make you wrong any more than it makes me right. Like I said, find what works for you. The point is, give your products the love you want your readers to give those products, but remember they can’t love the books at all if you never publish.

What I hope is this post motivates you to publish that book you’ve edited 40 times. Get that story out in the world because you worked hard on it. If you’ve just finished the first draft of a product, do the story a favor and give it a few passes to make sure it’s the best it can be. Perhaps if they called it “most timely viable product,” I’d be more willing to accept it, but that’s not the case.

I hope this motivates you either way. I’m very eager to hear editors’ and authors’ opinions on this matter.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

NaNoWriMo: The Spirit of the Month I Never Actually Participate in

NaNoWriMo: The Spirit of the Month I Never Actually Participate in
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All stock art from Pixabay.

Greetings,

As November approaches, which is a pretty big month for me, I’ve seen quite a few NaNoWriMo posts, and that got me thinking. I’ve written some 10 manuscripts in my life, and I’ve never once participated in NaNoWriMo.  I’m not going to participate actively this year either. However, that doesn’t in any way mean I don’t appreciate it.

The spirt of November is to get people writing. I have quite a few conversations with people who say they want to be writers, but sure enough, whenever I ask what they’re working on, they never do. NaNoWriMo is a beautiful idea designed to force people who say they want to write to actually write.

When I’m drafting (the portion of the writing process most directly related to NaNoWriMo), I end up writing at least 1,000 words a day, and I average 2,000 on the weekend.  So let’s see, that would equate to about 38,000 in a month. So I can’t proclaim I write 50K or have ever written 50K in one month, but I feel confident I’ve done it. At one point while drafting New Utopia, I’d written 10K in a single day just to see if I could. New Utopia is a ways down the road as that’ll need extensive revisions. The point is, I commit to writing everyday.  Oddly enough, that makes me think of Christmas or one of those heritage month celebrations.

help-2444110__340I honestly love Christmas. It is, in fact, my favorite holiday, but I promise there’s a correlation.  I get upset during heritage month celebrations because they always feel like pretense to me, which is offensive. It feels like, “Today is the day we’re going to acknowledge that people of different races, nations, or sexual orientations are important.” Meanwhile I stand there and wonder why we can’t just be respectful every day of the year? Why can’t we carry on the spirt of Christmas all year?

Do I claim to be perfect? HA!  Not remotely. However, I do make a serious effort to be generous whenever possible. To me, generosity is the spirit of the holiday known as Christmas. I also happen to feel personally that it was the day my savior was born, but that’s a different subject.

I also try my best to actually ignore differences. At work, I’m very unconcerned with what color you are, where you’re from, or who you sleep with. All I care about is your ability to perform your job. I love culture. Maybe not “experiencing” so much, but certainly “understanding” it, so I’m prone to asking blunt and endless questions. If I meet someone who’s been to or from another country, I tend to pepper them with questions. I remember when a dear friend of mine became Vegan. I was amused on one degree, but also curious. You see, culture is what makes each of us special, but I’m a firm believer that when someone points out differences, you’re creating segments. So I make it a point to focus on what we all have in common (the work).

So here comes NaNoWriMo, and a bunch of people will sit down and finally start writing.  (Hopefully they’re writing their submission for The Power of Words.)

dragon-860683_960_720My feeling, personal though it may be, is that NaNoWriMo takes away excuses. It’s beautiful. I’ve never needed a reason to sit down and write, but if this is what gets young writers in front of keyboards, then I love it.

No, I’m not going to try to write 50K, but I am going to try and get another draft of Repressed done (getting Bob’s second edition on shelves takes priority). That brings me to the spirit of NaNoWriMo, and in that spirit, I offer any first-time participants this advice.

Commit to a word count, but start small in the beginning: This is all the more important if you’re cold starting. Someone who has a few books written or has at least grown to writing every day probably don’t need to worry about this step, but beware overextending.  If you say you have to write 1,700 words a day, and that first day you only manage 700, you’ll feel defeated and quit.  You will gain speed and word count as you write every day. Don’t panic or quite if you only get a few hundred words out the first week. The more you write, the more momentum you’ll generate and be able to write. I promise!

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Ironically, this image of my students was taken during a failed attempt to teach capitalization as an active-learning exercise.

Write, but just write: I see my students fall into a trap. They want the thing they’re writing to be perfect on the first try. That’s impossible. I’m releasing the second edition of Bob Drifter and even that won’t be perfect, but it’ll be better. There’s more to it, but the relevant part of this is that when I draft, I don’t revise or edit. I just go. It took me, oh, I’d say two years to learn to let go of the desire to be “perfect” when I draft. The first book I ever finished writing went through 21 additional complete rewrites. Each time, I felt more and more defeated. There were many problems, but my biggest hangup was that I kept thinking, “This draft will be perfect.” I don’t think writers ever finish a book; they just run into deadline or realize they have to let go. I leave it to you to decide how many revisions and edits you should do, but if you never write the darn thing in the first place, you’ll never publish anyway.

Make every month NaNoWriMo: Never stop. I don’t draft nearly as much as I write, but I always push forward. Lately, I’ve done a better job of committing to a project. I finished Sojourn before I worked on Bob’s second edition.  When I sent that to the editor, I drafted Repressed, and even accidentally drafted The Worth of Words. Now that I have Bob back, I’ll get it on shelves (hopefully by the end of November), and then I’ll turn my full attention to Repressed.  But even when I send that out, I’ll shift right over to Worth of Words. My point is, I’m always working. I motivate myself by finishing projects, and having that project I want to get to planned. It sort of tempts me. You see, I’m excited to write Betrayed (the sequel to Caught). That means I can’t wait to finish those other projects so I can get to this one. The more you do, the more you will do. So have fun out there. I may not be with you in function, but I’m absolutely with you in spirit.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Book Review: Conflict and Suspense by James Scott Bell

Book Review: Conflict and Suspense by James Scott Bell
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This cover image and the image of the author were taken from his Amazon author page for review purposes under fair use doctrine.

While doing an Alpha Reading for Sojourn in CaptivityQuintessential Editor recommended this to me because I’d never written in first person before, and I had quite a few kinks to work out.

Conflict and Suspense, was full of tidbits and insights that I found valuable as a writer.

I want to touch on two things that really stood out to me. There’s really a lot to glean from that book, and I honestly recommend it, especially for those working on improving their outlining skills.

Write first. Explain later: I’m a fan of long fiction, and, to be honest, I don’t know how many people abide by this rule AFTER they’re established.  But it’s  still a valid point.  Writers feel like they have to really get their readers to connect with those characters, so they tend to want to draw out a moment or give back story. What that usually ends up becoming is a bunch of exposition that just bogs the story down.  I saw this in practice with my Beta Readers for Sojourn in Captivity.  Most of them liked the story (I may even go so far as to say loved it), but to an email they all said the beginning was too much. I wanted to establish Elele’s relationship with her family, her spoiled upbringing, and her skill with math.  I also wanted to do some world building.  This only served to give my readers a large terminology lesson before the book started moving. I tell my students this many times: The delete key is almost always the answer to your problems.  What’s now the first segment, dives right in. I take the time to explain a few things here or there, but I start the story with the tension and let it build to her confrontation with the recognized god of her alien race.  My editor liked it much better.

That brings me to the second point of discussion I appreciated in Bell’s book.

91hAFbJPSbL._UX250_Happy people in Happy land: That’s what he calls an overdone part of a book. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about that segment. What it gave me was food for thought. The entire book is essentially about keeping the tension and conflict going. With no tension or conflict in the beginning (i.e. happy people in happy land), what concern should the reader have for the characters? Why should they keep reading.

Here’s my example:  Do you go for walks? I do. Do you stop randomly and stare at the window of a quite home? I don’t. But what do you tend to do if you hear screaming and shouting? See where I’m going?

I thought about that segment of the book and felt the desire to argue. What I ended up doing was changing my inference.  I wouldn’t say Bell goes so far as to tell you to start off with miserable people in miserable land. Instead, show the scene that’s true to the arc of the character, but make sure you give the readers that insight as to the conflict that represents the burning embers of the inciting incident. If there is tension in the characters’ minds or hearts, make sure the reader can see it.

Let’s go back to those houses. Maybe they aren’t screaming. But maybe you hear a door slam? Maybe, through the window, you catch a glimpse of a woman and a man sitting apart. (I promise I don’t just randomly walk by house windows and peek in.  This really is just a hypothetical example.) The point is you need some sort of disturbance to draw the reader in.

This book has a ton of helpful hints, a few case studies and even an example outline. It’s a great tool to help readers identify how to bring each scene to it’s highest intensity. I recommend this book to new writers looking to understand what keeps readers turning pages. It’s also good for people trying to figure out outlines.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Book Review: Creating Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland

Book Review: Creating Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland
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This cover image was taken from Amazon for review purposes under fair use doctrine.

I’ve recently started eating more greens thanks to my friend the Quintessential Editor. (I’m pretty sure he recommended this book.) This book was something I read to help me with outlining more.

Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development, does a few things that I’m a big fan of.

The first thing I’m a fan of is the case studies. Each arc description is summarized and supported with examples to help illustrate how such a plot plays out in different movies. I should explain that this book is a bit different from what I’d call plotting.

In plotting, you’re marking the key plot points and events in a story. This is so readers see progression in the overall narrative. I’d wanted to improve my development of characters as they progress through the plot points. This novel did that. Weiland breaks down three types of arcs: The positive change arc, the neutral change arc, and the negative change arc. She breaks negative change into three more I can’t recall off the top of my head. The case studies and benchmarks she provides are things I plan to pull out while outlining my next main project and editing whatever I’m working on. I think understanding these types of character arcs is a must for writers. How you feel about them and how you apply those thoughts is as unique as the storyteller in my opinion, but understanding them matters.

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This image and the feature image were pulled from K.M. Weiland’s website for review purposes. As I’m trying to recommend her book, I’m hoping she’ll forgive the use of these images.

Another thing I’d like to highlight is the idea of “The Lie Your Character Believes.”  That resonated with me. I won’t go into it here because 1) I fear copyright and 2) I think authors, especially those who feel they struggle with outlining, should give this book a read. I actually listened to the audio edition, and that was super helpful for a guy like me.

I’m less inclined to be entirely beholden to some of the more rigid benchmarks. Weiland gives specific percentage marks for each point of the story. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I completely disagree, I just don’t know that I’d be that militant about where certain shifts in the story happen. What I will say is those benchmarks are great guides, but stories need a bit of leeway.

What I intend to do with this book and information is weave some of the elements of this book’s character plot points with my plotting.  This should keep the sense of progression my stories have (which I feel are solid) and give me a way to plan the emotional journey of my characters a little more carefully.

Creating Character Arcs is a great outlining tool that provides informative case studies for each type of arc. Authors or aspiring authors should pic this up and add it to their toolbox of story building tools. I’m a fan of “how-to” books that are this simple to understand and through in presentation. I can’t say enough about those case studies!

Thanks for reading,

Matt

 

That Pesky Pronoun: A Pitfall of 1st Person Narrative

That Pesky Pronoun: A Pitfall of 1st Person Narrative
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All Stock images taken from Pixabay.

I’m taking the chance to work on Images of Truth since I’m waiting for the editor to get back to me with Sojourn and Bob. This project is so much bigger than either of those. How much bigger? Well, I’m at 107,000 words, and I’m not even halfway done (though I’m at 47 percent based on my math).  Using POV writing as opposed to first person narrative is much easier to do though now that I’ve written a complete story with both techniques.

That gave me an idea on what I could share with people in today’s blog. Last week, I talked to you about Adverbs. Today, I’d like to go over something I saw a lot of in my fourth set of revisions of Sojourn.

When I first wrote about first person narrative, I spoke about the pros and cons. What it let me do was limit the scope of the story and focus on the character I wanted everyone to connect with most (in this case, Elele). I stand behind the idea that it was the right call. Now, this may backfire on me for a few reasons I won’t get into in this blog, but I made a decision based on what I felt was best for the story, which is all any writer can do.  That said, one consequence I didn’t think about what how many times a writer would be tempted to write “I.”

The first was easy to fix because of my experience as a journalist. I teach my students that observation is the most powerful tool they have, but a lot of my students feel the need to tell me they saw something. “I watched,” “I heard,” and “I felt” are attributive clauses that aren’t necessary. Want to see what I mean?

Here’s a paragraph from the third draft of Sojourn:

I watch as they fuss over their pod mother. She touches them and embraces them. 

Dozens of Seferam each check on the oldest member of their family as I observe, breathing in moist air.

So here’s a question to ask yourself.  Isn’t this story in first person? So of course she’s watching and listening. I don’t need to tell the reader that because the narrator is the character doing the watching and listening. Now, I’ll be honest. Even though I looked out for it in my last draft, I still have those types of clauses in there. I’ll have to do a search and get rid of it. It’s wordy and unnecessary.

Here’s what that segment looks like in the fourth draft:

They fuss over their pod mother, and she touches and embraces them. 

Dozens of Seferam each check on the oldest member of their family as I observe, breathing in moist air.

alphabet-2082547__340Yeah, I still have her “observing,” but I felt I needed that to show her position in relation to the other group, not to prove she saw it. One could argue I don’t even need that bit in there, but it’s a step up from the last draft.

So when I sit down to do my final draft, you can bet I’m going to search for the clauses “I watch,” “I see,” “I hear,” and “I feel.” I’ll delete that, and watch my story’s word count shrink. This will make my prose cleaner, more readable, and more active.

But that’s not the only thing to watch out for with that pesky pronoun.  Naturally your character is going to do things, and, since you’re using first person, there will be the temptation to start pretty much every sentence with the pronoun in question. Quintessential Editor (who was so kind to Alpha Read) for me, pointed out how often I did that. What that actually does is dehumanize your character. It buts the character in the way of her own story. So let’s go all the way back to that first draft of Sojourn and see what Corey wanted me to see.

Here’s the Alpha Draft:

I close my eyes an instant before I approach the threshold. I feel something brush over the tip of my nose. The heel of my left leather shoe scrapes along something too. I open my wings, and use the force of the air to turn just before I glide into a red-painted wall. My wings strain at the effort, feeling as if they might yank off no matter that my mind knows that’s physically impossible on a mathematical level.

Notice that three out of four sentences begin with “I.” Notice the word “I” is in that sentence five times. We want to get rid of some of that redundancy and make this a bit more active? How do you do that though without a subject? Well, I choose a different subject.  Let’s look at this latest draft.

My eyes clench shut an instant before I approach the threshold. I feel something brush over the tip of my nose. The heel of my left leather shoe scrapes along something, too. I use my wings and the force of the air to turn just before I glide into a red-painted wall. My wings strain at the effort, feeling as if they might yank off no matter that my mind knows that’s physically impossible on a mathematical level.

Now, two out of five sentences begin with “I,” and I only see that pronoun four times. Just look at it though. See that “I feel” there? That’s right. This needs a nice, final once-over for just that problem.  Like I said, I know it’s there, but now that I edit for it, I’ll think about it more as I draft. So let’s look at how this paragraph should probably end up:

My eyes clench shut an instant before I approach the threshold. Something brushes the tip of my nose, and the heel of my left leather shoe scrapes along something else. My wings open, and the force of the air causes me to turn just before I glide into a red-painted wall. My wings strain at the effort, feeling as if they might yank off no matter that my mind knows that’s physically impossible on a mathematical level.

letters-2077234__340Now, I have four sentences, and not a one of them starts with the pronoun “I.” In fact, that pronoun only appears twice. The structure of the sentence is still active, I’ve only changed the subject and the predicate. I noticed it more on this draft, but in the final draft, I’ll look for things like this to tighten up that prose and make life easier on the reader.

I thought you’d all like a glimpse into the editing process and note things to look out for. I’ll be better at it the next time I write in first person, but, at the very least, I know to look out for that before I through one word at a reader a hyperbolic number of times.  If you’re writing in first person, try this out. Do a search for the word “I.” If your program is like mine, (I use Pages, but that’s more because it came with my Mac than an endorsement.) the program will highlight all the instances. I did it with my first draft, and suddenly it looked like someone overlaid my document with sheet music.  I mean yellow highlights everywhere!

Like adverbs, you can’t eliminate a part of speech entirely, nor can you simply never use that pronoun. The trick is to use it when you need it, and not to let it get out of control. Trust me, I’ve read each of these four drafts about seven times each, and I still see instances where I can revise and tighten the structure of my sentences (sorry Sara!).  Like any tool or trick, you want to do everything you do with intent and awareness.  I hope this gives you something to work with in your drafts.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

 

Frantically writing Badly: The trouble with adverbs

Frantically writing Badly: The trouble with adverbs
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All stock images were from Pixabay.

I’m almost finished with my edits to Sojourn in Captivity, and I came upon something during my revisions that I thought I’d share with you.

General writing advice states that “Adverbs are bad.” This was most recently (Yes…that’s an adverb, but I needed it) reiterated to me in Elements of Fiction Writing-Conflict and Suspense by James Scott Bell (I’ll review that soon, I promise). Bell says, “Always see if you can find a strong enough verb to stand on it’s own.”

So let’s talk about those pesky modifiers.

What are adverbs:  Adverbs are one of the eight parts of speech.  They most commonly (see that?) modify verbs, but they can also modify adjectives and other adverbs. They usually (yep..there’s another one) end in “ly.”

So why are they bad?

I offer two reasons why adverbs are almost never helpful:

1) They’re vague. People tend to want to throw an adverb in there because they have a clear picture in their mind about what they see, but they’re not looking for the best word. So they do something bad writers do: they fall under the illusion that more words makes bad writing better.  This is false. More words don’t make a sentence more clear or a book better. Here are some examples:

He quickly ran – So…you mean he sprinted.

He said softly – So….you mean he whispered.

He shouted loudly – Okay, now you’re just being ridiculous. Have you ever heard someone shout quietly?

eye-2286601__3402) They cause more problems then they solve. The second problem isn’t about the adverb one uses (though you’re better off if you replace it with a stronger verb). It’s about where people put adverbs. Adverbs are modifiers, and when you put a modifier in the wrong place, you alter the wrong verb, adjective, or adverb. My students recognize this as a misplaced modifier. Here are some examples:

He fought until he tirelessly finished his work for the day. – No.  I don’t think he finished tirelessly. In fact, I’d wager he was exhausted by the time he finished. I think that because I’m pretty sure he fought tirelessly

He typed until he quickly finished his writing for the day. – Well, maybe he did finish quickly, but the way he finished quickly was by typing fast. Here, there’s less confusion about what the writer meant, but I’m telling you it still makes the writer look bad.

What I hope I’ve done is help you see why adverbs cause problems. Can you eliminate them completely? (Obviously (Yes….I’m aware of what I did twice in a row.) not.) What you want to do is make sure each adverb is justified. Every time you write an adverb, justify its existence as if you are justifying your right to be a writer.

What did I do?

First: I did a search for ly.

manuscript-1614234__340My trusty writing program told me I had 406 adverbs in my story. I went adverb to adverb, just as I recommend you do. When it was all said and done, 363 adverbs remain. That’s not entirely true. (Wait…I mean there’ s more to it than that). My word program said there were 363 words that end in the letters ly. That means the word family would appear in the search. I’m not sure how many actual adverbs I have left, but I’m happy I switched out about 40 for stronger verbs. The story moves better. Each sentence is stronger for it.

Following this plan, or one like it, will do the same for you.

Thanks for reading,

Matt