Archive for June, 2010

It’s been a terrifically trying six months of ups and downs. I’ve gained a new son, who is healthy and happy, and beautiful. I lost my mom to cancer; I lost a nephew to something far more insidious, and my youngest sister is now in what the doctors call a persistent vegetative state. Indeed, it sucks.  I had my debut novel published (audio in the works), and unsuccessfully swore off short fiction. I’ve finished edits on a second viable novel manuscript, and have nearly drafted a brand new novel that seems to have some interesting things seeded through out. Between the insomnia, hospitals and bedside vigils I’ve been creatively drained (which means only one novel drafted this year, boo!), but had a lot of time to kill. So I lined edited — gosh did I line edit.

I consider myself more of a storyteller than an author. I do have a deep passion for the written word, of course, but to my one-track mind, story and character trumps all. Like many authors, I find myself fevered in composition, lost in my mind’s eye, and the subsequent results are often riddled with typos and language so profoundly abused it should probably seek a restraining order against me. These are not your typical typos, I can easily sneak them by least three beta readers and two editors. Unfortunately, the readers always catch them once the material has gone to print.

I’ve gotten a bit better by utilizing a few techniques and  tools. What follows is a few techniques. (Check that tools link if you are interested in some of the free software I use.) These tricks are probably old hat to a lot writers, and this is mainly aimed at the beginning writer still developing his or her writing habits. Most were lifted from other sources over the years.

So let’s have at it:

• First and foremost … Is it a complete story? Do you have a set up, an inciting incident, conflict, climax and some kind of dénouement? If not, fix all that first. I think it was Stephen King who said, “You can’t polish a turd.” Fair and true. A bad story with clunky writing will probably fair much better than beautiful writing with no story behind it. The shorter the story, the more critical it is to get the structure right. Flash fiction is unforgiving in this regard.

• Change the font type to something you don’t really care for, but is readable. Try a couple of bumps up or down on the size. Larger is probably better for most people, given the size of monitors these days. Try changing the background to light gray, or light yellow or off white. Something that isn’t hard on your eyes, but you are not used to. The idea is get your brain reset and to look at the prose in a new way. Don’t worry, you can change it all back when your done.

• Turn on your spelling and grammar check, add names or words that it doesn’t know to the custom dictionary. Examine every single one of those squiggles and decide if it is a legitimate complaint. Take it with a grain of salt though, MS Word is over zealous and often flat out wrong. The goal here is to get some the obvious stuff cleaned up.

• Read from the bottom up. Start with the last sentence and read through. Look for rhythm at the sentence level. Now is a good time to look for comma splices, homonym problems, word choice. I think it’s a good idea to keep it small at this stage of the edits. In theory, at least, this keeps you from getting too absorbed into the story. It won’t always work of course. For longer works, like novellas and novels, I often randomly jump around. The problem is that you don’t end up with full coverage of the manuscript unless you follow some kind of pattern.

• Now you’ve done it backwards, read through forwards, this time read it out loud. Look for cohesiveness and structure at the paragraph level. Make sure thoughts run together in a coherent and readable way. Of course continue to patch up any new errors you find. Once you’ve done this at least once …

• Put it away for a week, or even two. Yep, this is the hardest part. I know, I know, it’s been handed straight down from the heavens on a ray of sunshine directly to you, and you alone, and you just cannot wait to get it subbed. Wait! Really, it will still the same story in two weeks, and I’ll bet there is still some smoothing to do. Once you’ve waited the allotted time, go through the process again. For this round, I suggest you turn on the “unprintable characters”. You know, the mode that shows the paragraph marks, and spaces, tabs, etc. This can really help slow you down if you have a tendency to start scanning through the text; try it, you’ll see what I mean. Perhaps you’ll find new stuff to fix, or it could be you feel like it’s a waste of time. If so, try reading backwards on the paragraph level.

• Rest it again, another week is best, but a couple of days might be enough.

• Find a beta reader, or, if that’s not possible or time efficient, try Text to Speech. Most operating systems come with built-in software these days. I know it’s ugly, sounds like crap, and you wouldn’t make your dog listen to it … well, those endearing qualities are exactly that makes it effective. You have to listen carefully to understand, and when words are missing, or sentences are patched together with the wrong punctuation you will notice.

On the subject of beta readers: I suggest two types of beta readers, if you can find them. One who is good with story and structure, and one who is good with grammar and punctuation. For this sort of thing, the grammar/punctuation type is clearly what you want. Grammar and punctuation feedback is often right or wrong, but if it doesn’t sound right or doesn’t work for you, then disregard it. Remember you can have meaningful prose with bad line editing, but you can’t really line edit without the prose. Shoot for high quality in both, but keep in mind who is the master, and who is the slave.

By now you’re probably sick of the story, good. It’s nearly time to rest it again. Yep, it really probably should be done.

Okay, okay, read it one more time before you send it out into the world. (I’ve had some people tell me they like to print out a draft and mark it all up with a real live red pen. I don’t do this, because it seems a waste to me, both in paper, ink and time. But it’s possible this could be effective for you. Why not give it a try?)

All done, now just sit back an wait for the fame, glory and piles of cash.  I’m still waiting, but perhaps you’ll have better luck than me.

________________________

Bosley Gravel has just finished final edits Bound, an epic novel of love, violence and human  potential, set partially  in the African Serengeti.  His novel The Movieis out in paperback at all fine on-line retailers.  Look for his collection of intertwined short stories July 2nd, Americana: The Last Gleaming with Shadowfire Press.  And, though he doesn’t quite believe it it, Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl, Behave!, a fairytale about lesbian witches will appear at The Fabulist, sometime soon. He continues to draft his latest novel American Woman and is darn near done.

People always ask writers how stories come about.  Here’s what happened to me.

Someone in my Flash Forum set the weekly challenge to write about fruit. 

Raspberry, I thought, then, jam, because I do make jam.  It goes well with my home-baked bread and suddenly there was a genie—just like in the stories! 

“Grrreetings!” he said.  

“Hullo,” said I, thinking, What have we here?  

He was a Djinn* so I dubbed him DJ, but that isn’t his real name, of course.  I didn’t find that out until much later. I liked him from the moment we met and it happened to be his very first day on the job as a genie.  It didn’t go well.

I wrote about his first “jam”—raspberry—and then began to think of other jams he could get into—blueberry, strawberry, blackberry—and so I wrote a second story, then a third, and I put them on my forum for feedback.  People liked them.

At that time these were separate stories, you understand, but by the fourth, a pattern was emerging and a series was forming itself in my mind.  So I wrote a list of all the jams I could think of and imagined some others.  Then I tried to associate each jam with a place, culture or image.  I had a plan.  “A Genie in a Jam” was underway.  

DJ needed a history.  I wanted to know who he’d been as a Djinn, his background, and how he got here so I researched Djinn culture, other dimensions, mining, and such.  I figured out DJ’s life, his family, his culture and his name, which I promised not to reveal.  He gets so tetchy!  You’ll notice that to me, DJ is real.  After all, if I don’t believe in him, who will?   

Only through writing could I find out more about DJ and his adventures.  It took over two years of drafting, redrafting, and getting feedback from forum friends to craft a flash novella.   Bewildering Stories has given it a home.

* Djinn: jin·ni or jin·nee also djin·ni or djin·ny n. pl. jinn also djinn (j n)  In Muslim legend, a spirit often capable of assuming human or animal form and exercising supernatural influence over people.  –From The Free Online Dictionary

_______________________________

A Genie in a Jam by Oonah V Joslin, is a series of 17 flash length stories about   DJ, a Djinn (whose real name is revealed in due course).  He has always wanted to be a Genie, live amongst humans, and grant wishes.  His naivety and adventurous nature though, ensure that things don’t run altogether smoothly and as” Genie of the Jam,” he gets into some sticky situations.    A Genie in a Jam starts over at Bewildering Stories on June 28th with Story 1, “ Of Elders and Rhubarb.” 

Oonah V. Joslin is the winner of two Micro Horror prizes and an honoree in The 2009 Binnacle Comp. Full lists of what went where available on at Oonah’s Every Day Fiction author site. She also served as judge of  The Shine Poetry Competition 2008 and is managing editor of Every Day Poets.  Anthologies: The Best of Every Day Fiction 2008, The Best of Every Day Fiction TWO, Toe Tags, and  A Man of Few Words. Oonah blogs at Oonahverse.

Writing, for me, is like eating. The first draft is like eating a fresh-baked brownie. It’s delicious, and wonderful, and makes me happy. Finishing the first draft is like pushing back from the table after a big dinner, all full and content.

Editing, though, is like dieting. I know that I need to do it. Those 20 pounds (or 20 000 words of crap) aren’t going to disappear without some work. However, I’m lazy, and I’m comfortable with the extra pounds, and hey, do I really need to diet (edit)? I don’t like editing. It’s boring, and it makes me re-read my writing and feel like a failure because I didn’t get it right the first time, even though I know that NO ONE gets it right the first time through. Even as I’m writing this, I’m putting off editing a WIP, because I know that there’s a LOT of work waiting for me. At the same time, I’m putting off exercising – procrastinating on two fronts at once!

If editing is like dieting, then submitting is like making a home-cooked meal for my in-laws for the first time. I’m pretty sure that I know what I’m doing, I’ve practiced making each of the dishes, I’m quite certain that my pie is awesome, but I’m just not entirely sure that everyone is going to like what I make. What if my father-in-law wants apple pie instead of cherry pie? What if my sister-in-law hates sweet potatoes? What if Grandma hates the stuffing recipe that I used? I can have everything all ready and on the table, but until they start eating and telling me whether it’s good or not, I’ll be nervous. When I submit something, whether it’s a short story, article, or something else, I have no idea if the editors will like it. I can be fairly certain that I’ve written a coherent piece, that I’ve used proper language and grammar, and that I haven’t embarrassed myself by misusing big words, but until I get a response, I’m nervous. Very nervous.

And now, after all of these food comparisons, I’m hungry.

_______________________

This post originally appeared on May 27, 2010 at http://daniellelanois.blogspot.com/2010/05/writing-and-eating.html.

Danielle Thuen is an ophthalmic assistant by day, and everything else by night! A creator at heart, she can be found writing, knitting, crocheting, beading, scrapbooking, or cardmaking in her spare time.  She’s also an avid reader and movie buff.  You can read about all of her creative endeavors at http://daniellelanois.blogspot.com

Waiting for responses on submissions is tough work. The anticipation, the hope, the fear, the fearing to hope! What’s a writer to do in the weeks or months when the inbox or mailbox is filled with nothing but chirping crickets?

Don’t Wait, Write
The best thing you can do to keep from worrying about when you’ll get a response on a submitted piece is to forget about it. Easier said than done, right? But getting your mind off of your submission really is easy if you start focusing on a new story (or poem or article). It’s all about putting your extra time and energy towards something besides hitting refresh on your inbox a hundred times a day.

If you’re working on a new story you also get the added bonus of having another piece to submit. The more you write, the better your writing becomes. And the more pieces you have making the submissions rounds, the more likely you are to have something accepted!

Edit… Something Else
Editing is another avenue to a win-win situation for the waiting writer. Just make sure you’re editing a piece you don’t have out on submission! Suddenly you’ll notice all the flaws in your story. If it’s out on submission… oh no! The editor will obviously notice every little issue and reject it! Or, worse, they’ll decide to publish it as-is before you can add more polish!

Avoid adding more waiting anxiety to your plate by working on making another story shine instead. Like writing, editing well takes practice.

Be Prepared
As every hyena Boy Scout knows, it pays to be prepared. Sometimes quite literally! And the worst things that can happen to a submission are loss and rejection. Loss is usually out of the writer’s control, so I’ll focus on rejection.

Rejection happens to every writer, both published and unpublished. So it’s not a bad idea to brace yourself for it. It’s not a fun thing, but it’s not the end of the world either. Market research is your friend in the face of rejection, both potential and realized. In case the current market doesn’t work out, go ahead and find the next one. Or the next five while you’re at it.

The best places I’ve found on the web for detailed market listings are Duotrope’s Digest and Ralan’s Webstravaganza. Ralan’s specializes in speculative fiction and humor markets, while Duotrope includes everything from non-fiction to poetry to fiction markets. Duotrope’s new “saved search” function has been incredibly helpful. They also have a free submission tracker, which has already saved me the embarrassment of accidentally simultaneously submitting!

And then…?
I’ve only mentioned a few writing related ways to deal with the waiting game, but I’m sure there are plenty of other ways to get your mind off your circulating submissions. What have you done to distract yourself while waiting?

This article previously appeared in Violet Hilton’s blog.

__________

Violet Hilton spends much of her time weaving words into worlds for the characters living in her head. When she’s not spinning tales, she spends her free time knitting and crocheting an ever-growing stash of yarn into submission. You can find more about her writing at http://www.violethilton.com

I’m one of those nerdy types who actually reads software manuals from cover to cover. I know. I know. Anyway, when I decided to write fiction, I, of course, read a number of books and articles on the craft, including those containing the advice to purge the text of adjectives and adverbs. In the beginning, I revised my stories to delete every one of those dastardly intruders and replace them with strong nouns and verbs. It was an excellent challenge, and my writing improved.

However, I don’t completely agree–see, I used an adverb (an unnecessary one, either I agree or I don’t, but one I chose to use)–with this practice. Sometimes a precise noun isn’t descriptive at all. How many of you know what a Nashville Warbler looks like? If instead I write “a yellow-breasted songbird,” my readers will have a clearer idea of the picture I’m painting.

On the other side of the argument is the idea that, in flash in particular, every paragraph, every sentence, and every word has equal importance. Using precise verbs and nouns and not relying on adjectives and adverbs, strengthens the prose and allows the author to pack a big story into a few words.

Here’s an example of adverbial clutter.

“Harold inched slowly across the room.”

What’s wrong with this? “Slowly” is redundant. If Harold “inched” (to move slowly and carefully, by definition) how could he not do it “slowly?” “Harold inched across the room” says the same thing and saves a word—and is more precise than “Harold walked slowly across the room.” There’s a tension to “inched” that isn’t there with “walked.” Here’s another way to think about this. If your 400-word story contains thirty sentences and you save one word per sentence, that’s–oh yuck, math–a lot of words!

So, while I don’t subscribe to the dictum to delete all adjectives and adverbs from my prose, I do ruminate on each word until I understand exactly why I decided to use it.

Here’s a story that first appeared in Static Movement. Are the adjectives distracting?

The Robber’s Fiance
by Jim Harrington

Dressed in a jogging suit, her hair damp from the shower, Inocencia sits on the sofa in her parents’ guest house and lays her head on Javier’s bare shoulder.

“I thought you loved me,” she says.

“I do,” Javier replies.

“Clareta says she heard you telling your friends you would have the drugs for the party Saturday night.” A purple-tipped finger traces a vein on his leg. “Am I going to this party, or just my father’s drugs?”

Javier sits her up and turns her to face him. “Of course, you’re coming to the party.”

“There may not be a party,” she says.

“What do you mean?”

Javier turns at the sound of the door opening. Inocencia’s father enters, followed by two men each twice Javier’s size.

“Did you think I wouldn’t tell Daddy?”

_____________________________

Jim Harrington discovered flash fiction in 2007, and he’s read, written, studied, and agonized over the form since. His Six Questions For Blog provides editors and publishers a place to “tell it like it is.” In his spare time, he serves as the flash fiction editor for Apollo’s Lyre.