Tripped up – A pantser’s confession

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Yes, I’m one of those.

Despite the fact that I tend to be very organized, thrive on consistency, and pride myself on never being late, it’s not the way I write. Usually, things move along swimmingly with only minor hiccups and the pantser’s life serves me well. Once in a while I end up being tripped by those pants and have to scramble to fix the mess. One could say I’ve been hoist with my own petard.

As you’ve no doubt surmised, I’m busy unwrapping my ankles so I can get to where I really need to be. After releasing my latest book three weeks ago, it was time to begin the next project – book three of my Gladstone Shifters series. Before I could begin writing something new, I needed to go back and re-read the first two books. I’ve been away from the series for more than a year, so a refresher was essential. No big deal, right?

This is where a plotter or planner has the advantage. Why? Because they would already have the series “bible” close at hand with all the needed information: names, dates, ages, physical descriptions of characters, timeline, etc. It was something I should already have done, but thought a cluttered file folder and my memory were good enough. Who has time for all that when there are more books demanding to be written?

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So I began to read, taking copious notes of all the information I might need for book three and typing them up properly for future reference. It turns out this wasn’t the only problem. It quickly became apparent the manuscripts needed yet MORE editing and minor changes. Things which slipped by unnoticed before were now glaringly obvious and must be fixed. Cringe worthy, embarrassing, unacceptable! There’s no way I could release (or begin writing) a new book without cleaning up the first two.

So, my simple task of re-reading morphed into constructing the series handbook I’d neglected, along with a new round of editing and corrections. I should have seen it coming. Since when does one of my easy-peasy tasks NOT become a time consuming black hole? Jettison the goals! Forget the “done by” dates on the calendar! Lower the sails and deploy the anchor! You get the idea – I’ve fallen behind, mired in a to-do list of my own making.

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For me, there was no choice at all. Once I recognized what needed to be done, I had to go back and fix things before starting new material. I know how my linear brain works by now, so trust me, pulling up my pants was the only option if I wanted to keep walking! Not to worry – I have made progress. It’s just going much slower than I’d like.

At this point the plan is to write a shorter in-between novella to pacify my demanding readers. (It’s not their fault, as I’m a year overdue releasing book three). After that, I’ll get to work on Forbidden Moon. I’m not going to promise anything though – after all, I am a pantser!

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(Don’t) Say that again – Dealing with overused words

I’m on the hunt.

My manuscript was overrun with the nasty little boogers and it’s taking precious writing time to stop and cull them from the herd. You know what I’m talking about, though they go by many different names: crutch words, filter words, overused words, tired words, lazy words, needless words, filler words, repetitive words – and don’t get me started on adverbs! I’m tempted to use a different term altogether, but it wouldn’t be acceptable in polite company.

I prefer the term “crutch words”, but what are they?

“They are words or expressions that an author’s brain defers to like a default setting (and therefore, they become overused). These repeated words/phrases should not be obliterated from your writing, but rather, their frequency and usage need to be reduced.” Sam Giacomo

I found at least three things worth mentioning in Sam’s simple definition.

Default setting – every writer tends to overuse certain words and phrases, but it’s part of your unique writing voice. They spring from your upbringing, education, region of the world, and personality. Relax. You come by it naturally, you can use them, and you’re in good company.

Not be obliterated – When I was first confronted with my own repeats, it surprised me! (Had, that, but, was, & would are some of my worst.) Removal of every single crutch word is neither required nor desired, but you will have to cull them. The effort is more than worthwhile, as it will improve sentence structure and the overall quality of your writing.

Reduced – Here’s the hard part, and none of my research revealed how many occurrences of a word or phrase is acceptable or excessive. Shouldn’t the magic formula look something like this? [20 uses of “X” per 1000 words = disaster] I wish it were that easy! I use MS Word for my writing, so I take advantage of the “Find” feature. If I see a whole bunch of repeats clustered together, I go hunting. If the overall number is large, I look at each one and winnow it down.

For example, while working on story number three of my current MS, I punched in the word “was”. Whoa! Two hundred forty four occurrences in a document of just under twenty thousand words. It took hours of eliminating, replacing, and re-writing to get the number down to one hundred three. The process is subjective, but once you know what your crutch words are it’s easier to find an acceptable balance.

Beware – the little stinkers are tricky! The list of offenders never goes away as old ones are replaced with new ones. Always ask your beta readers to watch for them, as they are more likely to catch them than you are.

Happy hunting!

 

 

 

 

 

The Odious Apostrophe

I’m pressed for time this week, so thought I would re-post this ditty from April 2018. I still struggle with the crazy thing from time to time, but it’s no longer my kryptonite. Who knew a teeny-tiny punctuation mark could cause so much grief? Enjoy!

 

The Odious Apostrophe

 

Apostrophe, Apostrophe,

or should I say catastrophe?

You make me nervous, angry, mean,

You’re Satan’s punctuation scheme.

I put you in and take you out,

Confusion reigns, along with doubt.

Unlike the period or comma,

You thrive on messiness and drama.

English would be much less rotten,

If you could only be forgotten.

 

Alexander Elliott

Weekly Roundup – Plot vs. Characters

Weekly Roundup is an update on what’s going on in my world. Welcome!

I had an interesting discussion with a co-worker recently concerning the merits of certain Sci-Fi films. For me, the only ones which matter are Star Trek and the three original Star Wars films. Many will disagree with me and that’s OK. The point of our discussion was what made them great movies, and I believe it’s the development and interaction of the characters which made them fun to watch and created loyal fans. The plot was important and the action exciting, but they only really mattered because of the way they affected or involved the characters.

What does this have to do with my writing? A great deal! I must confess, at the beginning I was convinced that the plot and action were key, while the characters were only so much window-dressing. Frankly, I was wrong – guilty of both ignorance and arrogance. As I became more comfortable as an author, a curious thing happened. Each book I wrote became progressively more character driven and I was then forced to reevaluate my basic assumptions on what constituted a great story.

It’s now obvious that the plot and action points become the vehicle for character development, interaction, and growth. It isn’t either/or, but both, and in the process they merge together to create a memorable reading experience. When readers finish a book, it’s the characters they remember and what they experienced along the way. Of course, writers cannot neglect a plausible and interesting plot or neglect to include sufficient drama and action. The story will fall flat without them, but it’s the characters which bring it all to life and are remembered long after the book is finished.

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Traitor’s Moon is almost ready to publish! I have made some terrific improvements and cleaned up the manuscript in a dozen different ways, thanks to some terrific beta readers. One of the sticking points was the need to streamline the final chapters and improve the end matter. After three or four configurations, I finally got it right. It was necessary to write some additional material, relocate portions relating to book three (teasers), create an additional chapter, and simplify the Epilogue. Whew! I’m glad that work is done, and I’m very pleased with the results. Unless I hit a major snag, the release date should be sometime before the end of February.

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I am also re-editing Expectant Moon. I want the first book to benefit from everything I have learned since it was released, so I am reading through it and making changes. Most of it is correcting small spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors which were missed somehow. I also changed a character’s last name (he appears briefly here but has a much larger role in Traitor’s Moon), made minor phrasing changes, and provided more detail between breaks in the action. In addition, the Prologue was tweaked to make it easier to understand.

All in all, the book will be in much better shape for new readers to the series. Obviously, I’m hoping those who purchase Traitor’s Moon will also purchase Expectant Moon, and I want them to have the best version I can produce. The terrific new cover design should also attract attention. I wish I already had book three written and ready to go, as I have a feeling readers will be demanding MORE. Not a bad problem to have…

Reader Roundup 6-13-18

Reader Roundup is a weekly update on what’s going on in my world. Welcome!

Seems as though everyone and their mother is trying to sell me their book on how to be a successful author. Much of the material I’ve seen is repetitive, common sense stuff with little value. Allow me to share some helpful gems which are worth repeating – and I won’t even charge you for it!

  1. SLEEP. A consistent sleep schedule with 7-8 hours per night is essential to supply your mind and body with the energy and creativity you need. Shortcuts lead to lethargy, sluggish thinking, and a lack of productivity. No more excuses – DO IT!
  2. STOP. Stop writing before you are finished. What?? The best way to jump-start your writing the next day (and avoid writer’s block) is to stop before you complete the section/chapter you are working on. I find it very helpful to leave myself brief notes which include the things I still want to say, giving me grease for the wheels when I come back to it later.
  3. FORGET. Forget about the guilt if you can’t write something every single day! I work full time and often have days of zero writing. There are enough pressures on my time and psyche, so laying a guilt trip on myself is destructive and pointless. Yes, a serious author must remained committed to the task, but there’s no need to beat yourself up in the process.
  4. COLLECT. I’ve mentioned this before, but always be prepared to record ideas when they make themselves known. Just because you are on chapter one doesn’t mean you should ignore a great idea for chapter six or even the end of the book – or subsequent books if you’re doing a series. Write it down, send yourself an email, record it on your phone – whatever works for you. The point is not to let good ideas get away simply because they occur to you at an odd time. Once forgotten, they may remain so!
  5. EDIT. Go over your manuscript with a fine tooth comb, and then hand it off to a team of beta readers. Make corrections and then re-read the thing from start to finish to see what else you and the others have missed. Repeat as often as necessary to produce the cleanest possible product. If you cut corners here, you are shooting yourself in the foot. Readers will forgive occasional mistakes but they will not give your book(s) a second chance if it is riddled with errors.
  6. COVER. You must have an attractive cover if you expect people to seriously consider looking at your book. Even if your writing is top-notch and the manuscript has been carefully edited to within an inch of its life, you have one chance to grab their attention. Spending the time and money to do it right will pay for itself many times over. Remember this – many potential readers will initially see your book cover in a thumbnail size, so make certain it’s clear and eye-catching.
  7. BLURB. Writing a book description, or jacket blurb, is one of the hardest things an author must do. It has to be brief, yet catch and hold the attention of a potential reader within seconds. It ain’t easy! You are competing with hundreds of other books, and readers are looking at the cover, blurb and price to determine if they want to purchase. If you lose them right out of the gate, all your hard work on the manuscript will be for nothing. Personally, I use my beta readers to help me determine if the blurb is doing its job. If not, I write as many as necessary until they give me a thumb’s up.

There are probably a zillion other things I could mention, assuming I’m even aware of them myself, but this is a good start. The next step is marketing, which is a minefield each author must learn to navigate for themselves without losing limbs, and I’m not going to pretend I have it figured out. For now, focus on writing a great story and preparing it for publication, since that in itself is a huge milestone and worth celebrating!

Do you have tips and tricks to share? Comments/questions? Just want to say hello? I would love to hear from you! Click HERE.

***Update on my current manuscript, Traitor’s Moon. I finished chapter one today and am ready to move on to chapter two! This may not seem like such a big deal, but it’s an indication of real progress. I’m eager to write about new characters as well as old friends from book one who have an integral part in the story.

The Odious Apostrophe

The Odious Apostrophe

 

Apostrophe, Apostrophe,

or should I say catastrophe?

You make me nervous, angry, mean,

You’re Satan’s punctuation scheme.

I put you in and take you out,

Confusion reigns, along with doubt.

Unlike the period or comma,

You thrive on messiness and drama.

English would be much less rotten,

If you could only be forgotten.

 

Alexander Elliott

 

How Many Misteaks Can You Find?

Put on your spectacles and see if you can find all the errors in this ridiculous story! I have been keeping track of boo-boos as I read, and these were found in various eBooks and news reports. Some are garden variety errors, while others are truly cringe worthy. One thing is certain – if we don’t catch them our readers will. Have Fun!

It Never Seizes to Amaze Me

Darlene was passed indigent, woken up by the careless made careering around her room. The smelt of her breakfast tray repealed her, and she was weary of what the new cook might have sent up from the dinning room. The variating menu made her shutter as she took a cautious peak under the domed plate. She was conscience of the made watching her, champing at the bit to return to the safety of the kitchen. Trying a different tact, Darlene ignored the oppressing meal, righting it off as a lost cause.

“You may buddle up this mess ay ess ay pee and throw it in the wooden stove! If this is the cook’s idea of an aspirational meal, she is the hugest dumbie I have ever known.”

The abstracted made span around and left the room, closing the door. Her absents gave Darlene a chance to distress and consider her boaring life. Yes, her boardem grew huger every day, scaring her sole. She got up and glanced out the window at the rot iron fence around there small front yard. The eradicate heartbeat which kept her in this room made it difficult for her to gleam slithers of information about the outside world.

The few tit-bits she heard edged her on to escape the homely atmosphere, and she shunned upon the selfness of her family as they left her alone day after day. Her room was filled with interesting bobbles, but she dreamed of a latter to climb down from her perch or ascend through the crowds. But it was no use, as her feet were made of led and she was entirely too plaint. She would never be able to sew her wild oats in Silicone Valley, hunt a wildebeest, buy a cumber bun, or order something eatable from a resterant. What an opressing life!

(Hint – there at least 56 misspellings, incorrect usages, or non-existent words. How many did you find?)