On Cliches, Gimmicks, and Cheap Writing Tricks

Editor's Suggestions

I don’t normally write about television shows or movies, mostly because I see everything years later after its initially premiered since we only use pay-to-play services like Netflix and Hulu. But this is only a review in part, mostly because a show got me thinking about common issues in writing.

I am a huge sucker for all things fantasy, sci-fi, or supernatural, so when I watched Hap and Leonard last year and loved it with a blazing passion, you could definitely color me surprised. The writing was clean, the characters were amazing, the story was part D.B. Cooper-style mystery, part tragic love story, part buddy movie, part clusterf*ck. The villains were insane (quite literally), and the entire thing was so compelling that I was instantly hooked. I think I ended up watching the whole first season in two days.

Needless to say, when Hap and Leonard season two came out, I was excited. I’d been waiting to see it for a little while, but it was… Not that good. Very different from the heart-pounding finale that I’d just re-watched a few days before in preparation.

I wanted to like this season… but unfortunately, it suffers from some really messy writing.

Most of it was one big, lagging blegh that had me begging for a twist that would reinvigorate my interest and throw me for a loop so I could stop predicting everything that was going to happen.

Every. Thing. That. Happened.

This got me thinking: the gimmicks and clichés they used in this season are common pitfalls that I’ve seen plenty of writers do. Was I surprised to find that I disliked the second season of this show almost as much as I liked the first? YES. And after watching it all, I narrowed it down to just a couple of reasons I think the new season didn’t hold water… or my attention, largely.

So, here are 5 writing mistakes (based on what I saw in Hap and Leonard season two!) that you should avoid:

1. Clichéd villains

On the topic of villains, season one of H&L had some amazing ones. These people were dynamic, they were interesting, they were flawed, and their motivations were unique (if not WTF). But season two threw these interesting characters away and replaced them instead with some cartoonish villains straight out of your Saturday morning line-up.

I expected more from these bad guys, but what the writers delivered was some Scooby-Doo-esque caricatures of down south good ol’ boys. The villains in this season had little real motivation or drive. Overall, the bad guys were weak, unmotivated, and boring. And there are few things worse to do to your story than to give someone a boring villain.

Your villain is a tremendously important part of your story. They should be able to drive the plot and force your characters to react. They have to put your good guys in a no-win situation where all bets are off and your characters have to make a decision. Good bad guys cannot be oafish, buffoonish caricatures of people, because you’re never going to take them seriously.

Think of a villain that really got your blood pumping. Why did they make you feel that way? Think about what their motivation was. Think about them as people first, and bad guys second. Give them desires of their own.
Don’t have them crunch beer cans in their hand to threaten the good guy.

Seriously. Don’t.

2. Making side characters one-dimensional

Ah, stereotypes, how we love you—said no one ever. For H&L being set in 1980s Texas, I knew there were bound to be some. In the first episode of season one, for example, our two heroes are kicked out of the rose fields because some cheaper migrant Mexican farmers took thur jerbs.

This stereotype, however minor, ends up becoming a major catalyst to propel the story, so it’s one that probably gets overlooked immediately. Hap and Leonard are clearly down on their luck, struggling to pay their bills, and doing hard manual labor out in the fields. Losing their meager means of employment makes them susceptible to an offer that they would not otherwise take, so it had a decent purpose.

Season two, however, went off the deep end. Given that this season is based around the disappearances of young black children, they attempted to address the racial environment at the time. The writers wanted to focus the tension between cops and the black neighborhood where this takes place, and they have the double task of showing a black detective trying to earn the respect of his white comrades. But for a show that wanted to address many topics of racial inequality, I was confused as to why they filled it with so many racial stereotypes.

Season one gave us deep emotional connections between the main characters. It told the sad story of what happened between Trudy and Hap, and Hap and Leonard’s tragic bond. One of the white characters even stands up against another white man calling Leonard a racial slur, getting more upset at it than Leonard himself. The characters were well-rounded, had their morals, beliefs, and lines in the sand. Season two… not so much. Perhaps it was the addition of so many new characters, but these people often ended up being pointless stereotypes that seem stretched into handy MacGuffins more than anything else.

And basically everyone is a racist. Everyone. Except Hap.

Several black female characters were often mouthy, gossipy, and prone to aggression. Many of the side character black men who got any screen time were drug-dealers, gang members, and on one occasion, murderers.

The beautiful leading lady, Florida, is introduced as an intelligent, well-to-do powerhouse attorney… who ends up a female love interest/MacGuffin. She never really helps her clients out and only actually goes to court one time, where despite her expertise, intelligence, and experience, she’s unable to get the judge to rule fairly… Yet Hap is able to easily strong-arm him to get the outcome she couldn’t.

Leonard himself, a gay man, ends up being put in a situation where he’s sexually assaulted by another gay man. Given the situation and the deep emotional moments of the first season, this could have been a real scene about Leonard’s own struggles with his sexuality/masculinity, or about consent, or vulnerability, as it had been in season one between him and his boyfriend. Instead, they took the easy route, portraying the other gay man as being overly sexed and aggressive while playing twangy country music over Leonard’s jittery escape to suggest that we should be laughing.

At sexual assault. Because he’s gay.

Even Detective Hanson was basically a stereotypical “Uncle Tom” figure, working for the white man and turning his back on his brothers. For his part, his struggle to maintain his racial identity as a police officer in a deeply racist town never really gets addressed, which was a shame and made his character very one-dimensional.

There are situations where stereotypes can come into play (RARELY), but your supporting characters should not be just empty, predictable, baseless stereotypes. Your secondary characters should have as much design behind them as your main character. If you give in to stereotypes, you’re not doing anyone any favors, least of all your writing. Make your characters—all of your characters—robust, dynamic, and unique.

3. Mistaking mystery for suspense

While season one of H&L had me on the edge of my seat wondering what was going to happen next, season two stripped down the tension and replaced it with dumb-luck happenstance that guaranteed no matter how far off the reservation our characters went, they were going to end up going in the right direction. (Because ghosts?) Once that became apparent, the mystery they were trying to solve lost its oomph and the tension became forced.

Mystery and suspense seem to go hand in hand, but those who aren’t familiar with them can sometimes get confused or think that just because there’s mystery, there’s also going to be suspense.

Finding out that your favorite celebrity is pregnant and won’t say who the baby daddy is can be a mystery.

Finding out that she’s going to do a FB Live reveal in a week and it could be someone really, really inappropriate is suspense.

Just because there is mystery in your story, it doesn’t automatically mean there’s suspense; the two are not synonymous.

When you’re writing a mystery, remember to give your reader tense moments that genuinely threaten the characters’ cause. No one likes a boring, predictable plot.

4. Misdirected misdirection

Misdirects can be an intense and wonderful addition to your story. There’s nothing better than getting to that point in a book and gasping or having to pause for a moment or reread the last line in a brilliant plot twist that you didn’t see coming.

Misdirects have to, however, be: a) tantamount to the plot, and b) actually plausible.

There were a ton of misdirects in season two of H&L, but none of them were anything I could believe. These attempted misdirects weakened the plot and made the characters seem dumb on more than one occasion. If me, the TV-at-home viewer can figure out what’s happening and the characters can’t, it makes it feel like the writers expect the audience to not have many points in their Intelligence skill.

It’s also important to keep your misdirection to a minimum. Remember in Mission Impossible 2 how Tom Cruise’s character keeps taking off masks to reveal the truth behind various disguises? First time, gasp! Second time… okay…? And then after that it loses its effect because magic tricks aren’t as impressive if you see them over and over again.

5. Throwin’ continuity to the wind

There is nothing more infuriating than when you catch your characters or plot in a continuity error. I don’t even know how many forums and fan pages there are on the internet devoted to finding and revealing continuity errors in shows, movies, and books, but… it’s a lot.

This is so important in writing. Your reader/viewer/mom wants to feel like they’re really in the world you’ve created. Like they know and understand your characters and everything that drives them. If you break that for them, you’re gonna have a bad time.

Lots of shows end up doing this, but it happens in books a lot, too, which is why you should always know your characters and story.

In season two of Stranger Things, we’re introduced to Dustin’s pet turtle Yurtle when he finds a demodog. He takes Yurtle out of the aquarium, puts him down, and poof! Gone forever. This one issue stuck out so much to some viewers that we started #WheresYurtle on Twitter.

We’re still waiting for answers, people.

Likewise, in Hap and Leonard, Leonard keeps dogs on his property. The dogs play a significant role in the latter portion of the first season, and then in season two, the dogs… just disappear, never to be heard from again. There’s also the issue of a box filled with money that has literally never been mentioned in the entire second season, despite being imperative to the first. And season one was deep, gritty, and had black humor moments that were sparse and well-placed. Season two was filled with several poor attempts at humor that most often fell flat, ignoring the serious, dark tone of the first season entirely.

Nothing in your writing will distract and break your reader’s suspension of disbelief faster than having something out of place in a story. This could be your character’s actions, certain aspects of their appearance, or if elements of your story suddenly disappear or change drastically.

The best way to avoid this pitfall is to keep track of your characters, their appearances, their wants, etc. You should also have a chart that lays out your story and plot points so you don’t forget and just wipe out something important in your world.

Just remember, your story is going to need details, believable people and plots, and continuity that would make any hardcore fan weep with delight. Because the last thing you want to do is leave your audience confused, angry, and waiting to find out where the f*ck that turtle went for the rest of their lives.

 

 

 

Photo: Getty

 

 

When Word Fails You

Blog Articles

“I came out to write and have a good time and I am honestly feeling so attacked right now,” the Microsoft Word edition:

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Capitalization: You’re Probably Doing It Wrong

Editor's Suggestions

One of the most common misconceptions that I run across in writing is when to capitalize things, and when they should stay lowercase. This is honestly a big issue, and can take your manuscript from potentially looking professional to seemingly amateurish in a heartbeat. It can be the difference between an agent or publishing house thinking that you know what you’re doing, or thinking that you started writing a week ago.

Proper capitalization in your writing is important for several reasons.

  • There are already pretty firm rules in place about this subject, so expressing ignorance of it means that you might also lack ignorance of other conventional writing rules.
  • If you Capitalize random words, It can make your Reader’s Voice messed up. Try reading This without doing a Weird version of Internal Puberty voice Changing in your Head. Can’t Do it, Can ya?
  • Capitalization is often used for emphasis or importance, but this is really, really, not the best use for it. It’s called “vanity capitalization,” and editors literally hate it. Capitalization should be kept to proper nouns (people’s names, place names, etc.), the first word in a sentence, and of course, proper titles.

One of the biggest no-no’s I’ve seen is confusing capitalization of honorifics. For some people, this can be a very difficult subject to broach, as there are many rules regarding the use of honorifics, and some of them are confusing.

What are honorifics? Honorifics are essentially “titles” that you give to people. Think sir, ma’am, mister, doctor, etc. For those of you writing medieval fiction, there are also the titles of royalty and lords. This can all get a bit confusing when you’re trying to figure out what needs to be capitalized, and what needs to be lowercase. So let’s start with some clarification!

When a title should or should not be capitalized:

First things first, NEVER capitalize “the” unless it’s the first word of your sentence or it’s the first word of your book/movie/art title.

“I saw The Secret Life of Pets the other day.” vs. “This is The Book of Shadows.” The second one is wrong. It will make your editor/agent/reader/publisher cringe. Don’t do it!

Sir & ma’am: Are only capitalized when they are the first word in a sentence.*

Correct:

Sir, I’ve got some bad news…”/ “But what were you hoping to hear, ma’am?”

Incorrect:

“I’ve got some bad news, Sir.” / “But what were you hoping to hear, Ma’am?”

* The only time this would be different is if you are introducing someone who’s been knighted, like Sir Elton John, or Sir Patrick Stewart. These are now titles that include the proper noun that makes them capitalized.

“Oh my goodness, it’s Sir Patrick Stewart! May I have your autograph, sir?”

“Eh, what do you know, mister?” vs. “That’s Mister Ford.”

“Can I ask you a question, miss?” vs. “I’m telling Miss Davis!”

Familial use

“But Mom said I could go.” vs. “That’s my mom.”

“Didn’t you ask your father?” vs. “Yes! And Father said I could go.”

“I’m going to see my uncle.” vs. “I’m going to see Uncle Robert.”

US political titles

“President” is a title frequently used in writing as a means of addressing the president. It also holds the first spot for one of the single most incorrectly capitalized terms I’ve ever seen. (And that’s not hyperbole, either.) You’ll notice in this paragraph that “president” is only capitalized at the beginning of a sentence.

(The following samples in this section are all correct.)

That’s because it’s not a proper noun on its own and therefore should not be capitalized unless before a name or if that’s someone’s actual name.

“But sir, the president is on her way now.” / “Tomorrow, President Adams will be speaking in the courtyard.”

The same goes for other political titles, like senator, congressman/woman, ambassador, vice president or chairperson, etc.*

“This is Robert Davies, the senator from Montana.” / “Excuse me, Senator Davies?”

“I’d like to introduce you to Congressman/woman Jones.” / “The congressman/woman isn’t available right now.”

*If your character is being addressed by a honorary title that includes the words “madame” or “mister,” etc. before it, then it is capitalized.

“Would Madame Ambassador follow me this way, please?” and “Mr./Mister Secretary, a word, if you can.” / “Please, Vice President Craig, listen to reason!” and “The vice president cannot take part in the meeting at this time.”

Titles of profession

Doctor, professor, officer, detective… these are all commonly capitalized when they should actually be lowercase. The only time these titles should be capitalized is when a proper noun follows them.

However, there are some grammar places that capitalize titles like “doctor” when they’re addressing the person by that title, though I personally do not follow these rules unless it’s a nickname, like calling your doctor “Doc.”

This is because doctor is both a profession as well as a title, and if you’re addressing someone as “doctor,” you’re calling them by their profession. It’s the same thing as saying “teacher” or “mailman.” None of these professional titles are typically capitalized unless adjoined to a proper name, like below.

“I’ve got a bad cold, doctor.” vs. “I’ve got a bad cold, Doctor Strauss.”

“I’ll have the paper to you tomorrow, professor.” vs. “I’ll have the paper to you tomorrow, Professor Adams.”

“That’s an order, captain!” vs. “That’s an order, Captain Walsh.”

“Over here, officer!” vs. “Over here, Officer Waterson!”

“Let’s get started, detective.” vs. “Let’s get started, Detective Peters.”

“But the teacher said we can’t.” vs. “But Teacher told me we can!” –You’ll note here that “teacher” is capitalized. That’s because it’s being used in place of a name of one specific person, and can be treated as a proper noun. If someone calls their teacher “Teacher” in place of her name, it can be treated as a proper noun of sorts.

Pet names

Nope. No capitalizing pet names. Nicknames, yes. Pet names? No.

“How are you doing, honey?” vs. “How are you doing, Nicky?”

Religious terms

There are too many to address, so I will leave a helpful link here.

Medieval titles/royal titles

One of the biggest problems I run across in fantasy is the improper use of titles. Basically they follow the same rules as the titles of profession, with a few exceptions, which will be addressed below. For the most part, when using a title like king, queen, prince, princess, duke, duchess, etc., do NOT capitalize unless it’s a direct address that includes their name.

“Introducing Queen Tabatha Shaw.” vs. “Introducing the queen, Tabatha Shaw.”

“That horse is the king’s!” vs. “That horse belongs to King Michael!”

“Protect the king!” vs. “Protect King Michael!”

“This is the duchess, Sarah Milford.” vs. “This is Duchess Sarah Milford.”

“Ah, Princess Anne, you’re looking lovely today.” vs. “Ah, princess, you’re looking lovely today.”

“No, my prince, the hunt has been canceled.” vs. “No, Prince Eric, the hunt has been canceled.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Lord Edward.” vs. “It is a pleasure to meet you, my lord.”

(“My lord” and “my lady” are only ever capitalized at the beginning of a sentence. Consider them the same as sir or ma’am.)

Medieval title exceptions

“What will you have me do, sire?” (Like sir, this word is not capitalized unless it’s the first of a sentence.)

“Today we’re going to the Lord Mayor’s joust!” (Lord Mayor is a capitalized term. However, if you were to say, “We’re going to the mayor’s joust,” it would be lowercase. “We’re going to Mayor Johnson’s joust.”)

His Grace Duke Edward Gibbs.” vs. “How do you do, your grace?”

“But Your Majesty, we must adjourn.” vs. “But majesty, I must protest…”

“Oh, Your Excellency, of course!” vs. “Oh, of course, excellency.

“Yes, Your Highness, we will have it done right away.” vs. “No, highness, we didn’t.”

These cover a few common (and easy to confuse) terms that should either be capitalized or lowercased given their use in the sentence.

And remember, when in doubt, find out if there is a name after the title or honorific, and choose accordingly.

Photo: weheartit

Talk that Talk (the Way Your Reader Likes it!)

Editor's Suggestions

Today, Inklings, we’re talking about talking.

Naturalizing your dialogue, to be specific.

Every writer has their own unique voice when they’re writing, because every person has their own dialect, inflections, voice patterns, and even vocabulary or colloquialisms. This is part of what makes language so diverse and gratifying to play with. You can use a variety of letters and sounds, and even make up your own!

But despite this, many writers struggle when it comes to making their characters speak, and if you have this problem, trust me, you are not alone. Dialogue between imaginary characters is hard, dude.

There are books upon books and blogs and lessons and classes and conferences about creating awesome dialogue, but there is a much, much simpler method of amping your character’s convos up to enjoyable levels.

1. Listen to conversations around you.

Go to your local coffee shop, grocery store, park. Sit for a while and hear how people speak. Pay attention to how they phrase things, or what inflection they use. Are they guilty of “up talk” or “vocal fry?” Do they over use the word “like” or “uhm” or “you know” because they are struggling to piece their words together? Do they have a tic, like beginning every sentence with “Okay, so…”, or just jump in and talksofastyoucan’tevencatchup? Believe it or not, these are all things you can incorporate (within reason) in your own writing. To make dialogue in writing believable, you have to know speaking in real life. You have to understand speech patterns—but this isn’t as hard as it sounds.

As human beings, we are actually significantly gifted at picking up body language and tone in speech, and now, it’s your great difficulty to translate that innate knowledge into your book.

2. USE. CONTRACTIONS.

As I’ve stated many times before, one of the easiest ways to make your language flow is an extraordinarily simple one. When you’re talking to a family member, do you say everything so prim and proper that you could be an extra in Pride and Prejudice? Chances are, no, no you don’t. Everyone has their “professional” voice and their “relaxed” voice. Professional you might be more precise, but chances are you won’t be able to cut those syllables with a chisel, right? Relaxed voice is how you normally speak, when you’re alone or with comfortable acquaintances. Putting a sense of “relaxed” voice in dialogue is a fantastic way of making your reader “say” it in their own version of relaxed voice, which makes it flow smooth like butta, baby. And the best way to do this? Use contractions.

“Do not take that bag out of the closet! If I have to look for it, I will end up late to practice!”

“Jer, we are going to the store. Is there anything you will need me to pick up?”

“I cannot forget to put all of the laundry in the dryer when I get home.”

“But Barbara, there is nothing you can do. He told you he does not want any help.”

Or

“Don’t take my gym bag out of the closet! If I’m late to practice because it’s missing, I’ll be pissed!”

“Jer, we’re going shopping. You need anythin’?”

“Aww, crap! I gotta remember to switch the laundry over when I get back.”

“Barb, you can’t do anything. He said he doesn’t want help.”

Write how people speak, not how a narrator would dictate a sentence.

3. Read EVERYTHING aloud. ALL OF IT.

Go and read a portion of a book out loud. Doesn’t have to be dialogue or even your own work; just pick something and go. Did you find yourself sliding over the pronunciation of certain letters in favor of your relaxed voice? Like saying ‘don’ instead of don’t? Do you perhaps soften your “r” to the point where ya sound Bostonian? Did you read it fast, or slow? Did it jive with your internal voice, or did you find yourself pausing and rereading portions so you could reassess the tone? Reading written words aloud will strengthen your understanding of dialogue and language in general. Pay attention to your own accent. Are you from the south? Did you know that southern accents have different dialects depending on where you live? Midwestern tones can seem southern, but have subtle differences, and west coast people sound completely different from northerners and southerners altogether? A Bostonian accent is drastically different than one in New York, and both are distinguishable from New Jersey or New England.

Hearing words out loud from different regions can really help you develop a style of writing conversations that will give everyone an individual voice. If you want your characters to pop, give them different “vocal” affectations. Learn to recognize and incorporate different accents, dialects, and parts of speech in your dialogue to give your character, well… character.

4. Use slang and colorful (not necessarily vulgar) language.

My siblings and I grew up in northern Florida surrounded by country folk and surfer dudes, but my mother is from New York, so we picked up a lot of slang from her that wasn’t common in that area. I ended up pronouncing forest as “fah-rest” or orange as “ah-renge”, and we abbreviated “shut up” so that it became a single word (“shaddup!”) and we called unidentified bits of paper or fluff on the floor “schnibbles.” At the same time, I was developing a touch of a lazy drawl, and getting a bit too relaxed around g’s, if you know what I’m sayin’. I was comfortable with “surfer talk”—which is its own thing entirely. I found out that I would specify tacos at Taco Bell the southern way of “the 89 cent” ones—yes, children, tacos did used to be that cheap. We don’t lie when we say the 90s were a wonderful time—or when telling someone to leave “something” alone, I would often jam the words together to pronounce it as “Lea’ that alone.” I fought against using “ain’t,” although I will admit that it has slipped in conversation at least twice. Language is fun! Use various methods to make yours enticing.

5. If it doesn’t need it, DON’T MAKE THEM TALK.

Sometimes, the best things are left unsaid, right? Well, occasionally. In dialogue, “a picture is worth 1000 words” takes on extra meaning. If you can show us what’s going on without your characters talking us through it, then do it. When you’re writing a screenplay, dialogue is a precious commodity. You seriously have to consider what words are going on that page because you are so limited with page space. Some of my favorite parts of a movie are where the characters say absolutely nothing because the action speaks so well for them. If your character is talking when they really should be quiet, remove it. See how well silence can direct a scene for you.

Pixar actually does a fantastic job nixing dialogue in favor of showing action—think of the beginning of the movie Up, or actually don’t, because I do not need to cry right now. How about a film like Wall-E, instead? The action carried so well that they were able to forego dialogue in HUGE portions of the film, and one of the sweetest moments ever is when Wall-E first meets Eve:

Now imagine if he had been giving her verbose, expository dialogue about how he’d been fulfilling his mission to box all the trash on Earth.

When in doubt, go without!

 

photo: SFStation

3 Cliches (That Completely Lose Your Reader)

Editor's Suggestions

The Top 3 Clichés that Make Me Close a Book

By Kelly Kobayashi

1. The Love Triangle

How many times have you yourself been in a Love Triangle? How many times has anyone you’ve ever known? I’m sure I’m blowing your mind when I tell you honestly that neither is true from my own experience. Have I known girls who broke up with one guy because they found themselves attracted to someone new? Definitely. Have I known guys who stayed silent and sat on their feelings until they sorted out which girl of two to approach? Of course.

But I’ve never personally known anyone just so darn alluring that multiple people crushed on them (and made their passionate feelings known) at once. I’ve never found myself so confused by my own feelings as to selfishly string anyone along. I’ve never known any boy, girl, man, or woman so stupid as to not know the difference between “I find this person hot” and “I care for this person’s story, their happiness, opinions, feelings, and overall well being.” Lust and Love are not hard to separate, even for teenagers. Shocking, I know.

So, even more offensive to me than the predictability, pointlessness, and utter failure at creating tension, is that the Love Triangle is just unrealistic. It’s lazy. And it’s actually pretty insulting, especially to YA readers. We know who we would pick, so why is the protagonist such a shallow, cruel, weak dimwit?

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Don’t care. *slams book shut*

2. The Misunderstanding That Could Be Solved With a Single Conversation

Usually goes something like this: Girl sees Boyfriend walking beside another girl across the street. (They are not even holding hands.) Next day, Girl freezes Boyfriend out. No texts, no calls, no explanation.

Girl, I don’t have time for you and your faux drama. Boyfriend is really better off without you if that’s the way you’re going to act.

Or how about this: Male Lead of high fantasy novel finds out his Female Lead is stuck in an unwanted-but-arranged marriage, which—due to obvious factors such as time period, societal norms, and family politics—is completely understandable, but he still accuses Female Lead of betrayal, cowardice, and gold-digging.

Um, Author, you set up this world. You designed it as a medieval realm. You created gender parameters around the Female Lead. You made arranged marriages an accepted practice. Why is your Male Lead throwing 2016 shade?

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Nope. *slams book shut*

3. The Misdirected Insta-Thirst for Revenge

Ugh. This one I really just can’t take seriously. And it’s the crux of far too many crime thrillers and graphic novels. This one plays out: Villain murders Mentor, Love Interest, or Family Member, then leaves scene. Best friend enters scene. Hero walks in, merely sees Best Friend standing over the body (wearing a look of horror), and vows REVENGE! upon them.

Call me nitpicky, but I’m pretty sure I would want to… you know, ask questions, investigate, and FIND THE REAL VILLAIN who is not my OBVIOUSLY-A-GOOD-GUY Best Friend?! I would at least ask Best Friend what happened. Did they see anyone? Did they just get there like I did? Have they already called for an ambulance?

If the Hero’s friendship is so tissue-paper-thin that he can believe Best Friend capable of murder, I don’t care if he realizes the truth later. Best Friend should run in the opposite direction from this idiot’s brand of loyalty and consideration.

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I can’t even. *slams book closed*

 

Feat. Photo: mensxp

Style vs. Messy Writing

Attitude & Critiques, Uncategorized

“Writin’ a book is a big durn deal, ya dig? Sometimes, people be like’n ta change the way they be writin’… to repre-zent a way of speakin’ or actin’ that ain’t necessarily the way it’s suppose to be written… ya get meh?”

But then again, sometimes people mistake passive or messy writing for stylistic choices.

These two are not the same.

Some of you who may be new to writing probably don’t think much about what an editor might say (or do!) to your manuscript, but the fact of the matter is, you can have the cleanest draft ever, and if your editor is skilled, they’ll send back a red-lined manuscript that makes you want to weep. There’s a big difference in writing and editing a book, and most people (editors included) have difficulty with that, because writers understand the book in a way that is completely different than readers or editors do.

Writers know all of the intimate details of a book (like we discussed previously), and sometimes, they can get a little butt-hurt when someone suggests anything changes. This is NORMAL. And trust me, everyone does it.

I try to remain professional when I edit, always making certain that my inflectionless type isn’t going to offend… but there are some writers who are bound to get hurt because that’s their baby you’re trying to cut in half here. I get it. I TOTALLY DO. Because I have had to suck up the pain of a mean edit, cry over my keyboard, and then start the hacking anyway, and it totally feels like losing a limb. It really does.

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Pinterest
The actual stages of getting a book edited.

One of the things that I see authors cling to, time and again, is the old “That can’t be changed because it’s a stylistic choice, not XYZ whatever editor says.”

Let’s clarify something here, okay? Messy and/or passive writing is not typically a stylistic choice, and therefore all the wailing and gnashing of teeth in the world won’t help.

There are certain things that we, as editors, must do, and cleaning up these instances is not a grudge; it’s our job.

  • I have worked on books for people who spoke English as a second language who’ve accused my attempts to clarify the common American phrases they were using incorrectly as attacking their stylistic choice. (These were not intentional… it was a case of simply misunderstanding their meaning or use.)
  • I have worked with authors who have honestly fought with me over ending a sentence on a preposition (which is TOTALLY OKAY).
  • I have had people fight with me over deleting ‘and’ or ‘but,’ because it’s ‘okay’ to start sentences with them… (Not every other line, it’s not!)
  • I’ve even had authors argue with me on words that were misspelled entirely and claim it as a stylistic choice. No. Spelling the name of a country wrong in a historical fiction piece is not a choice. It’s a mistake.

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No. Bad author! Bad!

My point is that some authors (maybe you?) have some serious bones to pick with their editors over changes that are totally required. Grammar and punctuation are two of these things.

One of the biggest ‘stylistic choices’ I’ve run across though, is that of the passive sentence.

When an editor looks over your manuscript, s/he is going to look for several elements, including something we call ‘voice,’ which is the style with which you write. Styles might include quirky ways the character’s dialogue is displayed, like above, particular repetitive habits, phrases, sentence structure (using fragments, for one), or any other way in which your particular author’s ‘voice’ comes through the words.

Pick up a book, any book. If you open that first page, the way in which one author writes may be similar to another, but they each have their own voice that is undeniably them. It is your editor’s job to preserve this voice in all of their edits and to maintain your stylistic choices.

There are books that occasionally defy the typical writing process. One such book, Crank, writes from the perspective of entries of a person falling into drug addiction. As the author goes on, the writing becomes less stable and more chaotic, more poetic, mirroring the character’s slipping sanity. This is a stylistic choice, most definitely. And it works! The editor preserved that choice while also doing away with sloppy or passive writing.

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One of the style guidelines of the companies I’ve worked for told its editors to do a search on the words was/were throughout the document and correct them if necessary. So a sentence like, “The purse was stolen,” might be okay if your character says it in dialogue, but in your narration it would typically be a no-no. (Unless it’s something like say, a crime novel where you don’t actually know who took the purse.)

The proper way would be something more like, “He stole her purse,” which assigns blame, or “Someone stole the purse,” which leaves it a little more ambiguous. Now, this is not an exact science, because someone is going to write in such a way that the passively worded sentence might be more appropriate. In that case, it would be a stylistic choice… but most people don’t do that on purpose, and the rest of the writing will define that for an editor.

Incorrect: Henry was standing by the tree when she was pulling into the driveway. Her arrival was making him wait.

Correct: Henry stood by the tree when she pulled into the driveway. He was waiting for her. (This last ‘was’ is fine, because it’s an active sentence where Henry, the subject, is the one performing the action.)

I walked into the lobby, and in the corner, a song was being sung by Sam. <-This type of sentence is unfortunately very common, and it’s a bit messy.

I walked into the lobby. In the corner, Sam was singing by himself. <-This is a better way of phrasing it, because it corrects the passive bit, ‘a song was being sung’ to the active voice, ‘Sam was singing.’ In this way, the ‘was’ is still correct, but the passivity has been removed from the sentence.

Again, these are not stylistic choices. They are examples of messy writing that everyone at some point is bound to do—yes, even editors on the occasion!

The most important thing to remember in writing in a particular style (which could include passive sentences/voice) is to make it abundantly clear in your writing so your editor can tell the difference. If you have a couple of instances of messy writing but the rest of your work is clean, you probably can’t argue it’s a style choice.

If you have a character that purposely speaks with a specific dialogue that requires the butchery of American English spelling, that is a style choice. If your narrator dictates the story in an unusual style, then make sure your editor can tell.

One piece of advice that is of the utmost importance is this: If your editor doesn’t know, can’t understand, or doesn’t see the connection, neither will your readers.

Happy writing, Inklings, now get to work!

 

 

 

Take a Peek…

Real Editing Samples, Uncategorized

Want to see what actual editors would recommend you work on?

Send it in!

Who knows? You could be next.

This portion of the blog will be dedicated entirely to editing actual samples sent in by Inklings Anonymous group members! Interested? Take a look below:

If you want your piece reviewed anonymously, please e-mail me your information via the contact page of this blog.

No hardcore erotica or poetry, please!

Do not submit your piece in the discussion comments. You may post a comment stating you would like your work reviewed, and state the genre, length, and whether or not the piece has been self-published previously.

Yes, you may still submit your piece even if you’ve already self-published it. In fact, I encourage you to. 

Submitted pieces can be up to 5 pages long, and may be a sample of any part of your work, For instance, you could send in pages 1-5, 21-26, or even 47-49, etc. It may be a section from a short story, novella, work in progress, or novel. We may not use all 5 pages, but will send the corrections back to the author. You are welcome to ask questions about anything posted on your work.

Please be aware that your work will be featured on the blog without identifying markers hidden, so if you have a really specific, weird character name you use that people might see, you might want to substitute it with something else before you send in your work.

Send in your work, Inklings!

 

The Editor’s Perspective: POV and you! …And you… and…

POV and You!

This week we’re exploring different POV styles and how to use them effectively.

Point of view mistakes in writing make up a bigger portion of my editing tasks than you would believe. Many burgeoning new writers may not take the actual method of different points of view into account when they’re working and trust me… it shows. Point of view is an insanely important part of writing; it can make or break a scene, a chapter, or even a book. It’s incredibly important to be aware of the different types and why you should recognize when to use them and how to remain consistent in that style. When I see a book come across my desk with bad POV mistakes, it makes me question the validity of said book being there.

This is NOT the impression you want to make on potential publishers, editors, or readers.

We’re going to take a look at the different types of point of view, or POV for short, and give you a brief break down of why and how to use them, and keep you from making a huge rookie mistake and switching your POV mid-sentence.

(Yes, I have seen this happen… more than you know.)

For the purpose of maintaining consistency in your writing, I am also going to show examples of head-hopping and tell you why you shouldn’t do it!

First, the different points of view:

First Person

Second Person

Third Person

     Limited

     Omniscient

First Person

First person is a cool way to literally have your writer ‘slip’ into the character’s brain and see the word from this perspective. The use of the pronouns ‘I’ and ‘me’ or ‘my’ are going to dominate this POV. Why? Because you are the protagonist. You experience the world with the immediacy of someone who’s there and witnessing it firsthand.

Example: I didn’t want to go to the mall, and shook my head curtly. I could already see tears welling up in her eyes, no doubt in an attempt to guilt me into going. I stomped my foot.

“Not again, Clarissa!” I shouted.

First person is used often in genre fiction like Y.A., autobiographical writing, or memoirs. It is never used in academic writing, so please never write your assignments this way!

Adult fiction can be written in first person, but I personally don’t see it done well very often. This POV can often be tricky, but we’ll cover that another week!

Second Person

Second person is unique in that it’s more informal and conversational with the reader. When you write on your blog (as I’m doing now), you are speaking directly to the reader and addressing them as though they are in the room with you. ‘You,’ ‘your,’ and ‘yours’ are going to be the words du jour with second person, since your ‘narrator’ is going to speak directly to them.

Example: Henry’s always getting fired up over nothing, but that’s the sort of thing you’ll come to understand about him. He’s probably just blowin’ off steam, so I wouldn’t take it too personal, if I were you.

Second person is often used in direction/instruction writing, advertisements, songs, blog writing, or occasionally in speaking. It’s not often used in fiction writing, unless your narrator/protagonist is attempting to directly speak to the reader, otherwise known as “breaking the fourth wall,” which pretty much means that your protagonist is expressing awareness of the fact that s/he is being observed by an outside source.

Think of Deadpool’s dialogue… even in a video game, he expresses plenty of awareness of his surroundings by addressing the player directly, and even grabbing health bars to beat other characters with. He is the epitome of a second person view, because he has no problem telling you right where you can shove those bars, either.

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Definitely one way to show sentience…

In fiction writing, you have to have a particular style and skill in order to switch successfully in and out of second person and any other POV, so this should be used sparingly.

Third Person

Third person is the most popular POV to use in American fiction. Most novels you will read in America (and probably some other English speaking countries!) will be written in third person limited or third person omniscient, which I’ll cover in a moment.

Third person limited is more preferable to omniscient, at least in my experience, and is most typically what you’ll come across in modern fiction. It gives your narrator’s voice the ability to describe the world from an outsider’s perspective (like if you’re watching it through a video camera), while still focusing on the main protagonist and relaying their thoughts and feelings. ‘She,’ ‘he,’ ‘it,’ ‘they,’ ‘them,’ ‘her,’ ‘him,’ ‘his,’ ‘hers,’ and ‘its’ are going to be common in this POV.

Example: Amy held her breath, back pressed against the wall. The cold seeped into her bones, but she couldn’t move. The tip of a broken floor tile jammed its way painfully into the underside of her boot, but she didn’t dare make a sound. He might hear it.

Third person omniscient means that your narrator is still looking at things from an outsider’s point of view, but instead of expressing just one character’s intentions, it can express all of them. Third person omniscient means that your narrator is essentially invisible and watching the characters do their thang. They are not a character in your story. They do not express personal thoughts, feelings, or emotions. Something that is important to remember is that in third person omniscient, your narrator is an outside observer, which means that they cannot understand the internal thoughts your character has, and therefore, cannot describe thoughts or feelings that the characters themselves have not already expressed.

Correct:

Harry ran down the sidewalk, his tie furiously flapping over his shoulder. He waved frantically to the bus as it pulled away from the curb. “Wait!” he screamed. “Wait!”

At the stop next to him, Francine flipped her arm over and frowned down nervously at the watch on her wrist. “Thirty minutes ‘til the next one,” she said with a sigh.

Incorrect:

Harry ran down the sidewalk, feeling his lungs almost burst inside of his chest. Ugh, he thought, if I keep this up, I’ll get a stitch in my side.

At the bus stop, Francine glared down at her watch. Thirty minutes, she told herself, biting her lip. I’m gonna be late on my first day!

Third person omniscient is a trickier style to use, because when some writers attempt this, it becomes third person limited with… HEAD-HOPPING. (You thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you?) The incorrect example is actually a perfect example of something you shouldn’t do.

Let me let you in on a secret: Most editors and publishers are going to hate head-hopping, and most newbie writers are going to do it. Why? Because they don’t know how to consistently write in a proper POV, or because they think they can tackle third person omniscient, and… they can’t. That’s not a dig. If you’re not quite there yet with your ability to write in third person omniscient, keep trying but don’t submit that work until you’ve been able to clean it up once or twice at least and make sure you’re not making us feel like  we’re hearing voices.

(Unless your character, is, in fact, schizophrenic, in which case, okay, cool!)

Don’t ever put two characters’ independent thoughts on the same page unless you’re writing in third person limited and putting page breaks in between them to signify a POV switch from one character to the next.

(A page break is easy: three or four pound keys or hashtags, as the kids call them nowadays (###), or three or four asterisks (***) mid-page will do the trick.)

By head-hopping, you will end up creating a muddled, confusing scene in which we are simultaneously reading different characters’ minds. It’s not pleasant, it’s not good writing, and as an editor, it’s literally one of the most frustrating things to fix because I basically have to reconfigure entire portions of story to best fit who I think is the main protagonist based off of your writing. Basically, it becomes character Jenga, which is not as fun as it sounds.

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Like this except more tears. My tears.

Whether you are writing in first, second, or third person, make absolutely certain that you don’t deviate into another style. How can you keep track of this? Double check the pronouns from each of the styles, and pay attention to what you’re writing.

Does your third person limited style end up head-hopping? Figure out which person is your main character, and then focus on them. Make sure your first person style focuses solely on one character, like you’re in Being John Malkovich staring through his head. If you go second person, make sure your style is addressing the reader as though the character is aware of their presence and doesn’t question their narration of important parts of their life to an invisible stranger.

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I said don’t question it!

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At any rate, it’s really easy to accidentally make your writing sloppy by skipping around these various points of view… and more people than you realize end up doing this by accident.

Remember: Pick ONE and stay with it. You’ll save yourself (and future publishers!) a lot of headaches in the end.

 

The Editor’s Perspective: Too Much Information

Too Much Information...

One of the things that I consistently see—and am guilty of myself—is the habit of over-sharing.

Writers often have the difficult task of not only making up absolutely every part of their story down to where their character has an unsightly mole or embarrassing birthmark, but to do this mental and physical creation for every single character in their story. It’s exhausting!

Think about it: Imagine your friends or coworkers, or even family members. We’ll say just pick three at random. What do you know about them? Favorite color? How many fillings they have? When they were born? Their parents’ current city? The place they lost their virginity? Their first car? Their pet’s name from when they were ten that they use as a password? The amount of their bank account/s?

Now imagine their personal drives, inspirations, or fantasies.

Do they have a tortured secret from their past that haunts them to this day? Was their first love a con artist? Father an abusive drinker? Do they hate alcoholics for that reason? Are they one themselves? What’s their ultimate goal, their dream in life? What makes them keep going, even in the face of complete and total hopelessness?

Hell, what’s their favorite position in bed?

Likely, you won’t even have half of the answers to questions that specific, and probably not at all to that last one about your family members.

 

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Please, no Jaime and Cersei Lannister jokes… except this one.

Moving on…

A writer may not have this specific information, but imagine knowing a person on a much more in-depth scale and then having that depth of knowledge for 10 other people in your book—or even more, if we’re going with Game of Thrones again. Now imagine that you have three stories that you’re working on concurrently, and each of those people also has those individual properties, and not to mention they’re in different genres, so it’s an entirely different type of world…

Oh, and some of them may only exist for one page. Or not even show up in the story at all.

What I’m saying is, there is a lot of information going on in a writer’s head at any given time, and sometimes it’s hard to compress that information to determine what goes into your book and what stays off the page.

I recently edited a short piece where the author randomly decided in the middle of an unrelated paragraph to go into detail about the character’s very specific job, her age, the length of time she had been at said job, the people she liked there, what she hoped to accomplish at the job in a couple of years, and the respect she hoped she garnered from her co-workers. It was random, it was waaaaaay too in-depth, especially given the parameter of what she had been talking about before, and it was absolutely over-share.

The toughest part? Not one single thing about that woman’s job mattered to the story at all, and given its awkward delivery and general unimportantness, it had to be completely cut. Do I feel bad when I make these suggestions? Yes, I do. Someone worked really hard to come up with a believable character with believable background information and wants to show that information. Are the changes necessary?

Let’s just say this: Nine times out of ten you can cut entire paragraphs of over-share from a book and not just make it shorter, but make the story better.

I thought you were supposed to be detailed in writing?

Absolutely! When world developing, it’s good to be as thorough as possible. There are numerous sites whose soul purpose is to help develop worlds and characters with intense detail. In the past, I’ve used LitLift to keep track of specific things about characters from their shady pasts and emotional and physical scars down to height, weight, eye, and hair color. Not all of these things make it into the pages of a book, and honestly, not all of them should. That does not mean you shouldn’t have that information before you write.

Think about how much more information J.K. Rowling was able to divulge about her Harry Potter series after the final book came out. The information you keep back can oftentimes be important to the development of your character or world, but still not entirely pertinent to the story itself.

Confused yet?

Writing differs from world building in that you have to be far more selective about where, when, and even if that information you’ve worked weeks, months, or years on makes it into the final cut. It’s basically having a giant bin of Legos and having to sift through it for all the exact right pieces. Could you use all of those pieces to build a cool spaceship? HELL. YES. Legos are amazing. All of those pieces would fit together one way or another.

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But would they be the streamlined, coherent, amazing spaceship you saw on the box? Uhm… maybe, if you tweaked it here and there, and kinda squinted your eyes and tilted your head…

Okay, no. But that’s basically what writing a book is like.

So how does a writer determine what goes into the story?

This part is going to be difficult, no matter how many times you write a book. You have allllll that information rolling around in your head, itching to get out. Sometimes you know your character’s personal information better than you know your own. Being that close to it, you literally can’t see the forest for the trees. So what helps cut down what the necessary information isn’t?

Outlining and plotting out your story like a well-crafted blueprint, that’s what.

When I was younger, there was no way in hell I was going to outline my work before I wrote. It wasn’t that I was against it, but I’d get the idea and I’d just go for it, full throttle, no easing back until the words had left me.

As I got older and went to school for writing, I started to learn more about the Hero’s Journey and other methods of crafting your story, and outlining became MUCH easier. Using even a vague pattern for outlining your story will give you a better idea of where it’s going, what your important plots and subplots should be, and if you really need to crack that joke on page 156, or divulge your character’s reason for doing that thing on page 79.

Can you sew a pair of pants by hand? Sure, but it’ll be messy as hell. Can you use a pattern to make it much more neat and then clean it up when you’re done? YES. Nobody’s going to want a pair of jeans with seventeen buttons on one pant leg and no fly, or a scarf that’s way too big—

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Never mind. Sorry, Mr. Kravitz.

What I’m saying is that giving yourself time to plan and outline the story before you start writing will give you knowledge about the highlights and important areas in your story, and also tell you which parts can get chopped off right away. Sometimes people write out of order because the parts come to them that way. I do this sometimes when I find the urge to write a particular scene before I’ve gotten there. It can work because I’ve outlined specific instances to happen, so my brain is still working out how they go together, even if I have several pages from the beginning and end done with no middle sections.

Your outline should always be in the order that your book needs to go, regardless of how you write. It gives you a ladder that you can follow to reach the top, even if you’re hopping from the third rung to the eighth.

Does outlining guarantee your story will be right the first time?

In no way does any planning you do beforehand guarantee that everything will work perfectly in the long run. There are always complications in writing, and sometimes, your character will simply run you into a corner before you realize what’s happened. Sometimes the outline needs to change because you realize that parts of it won’t work or don’t suit the direction you’re trying to go. Maybe the goal changes and you need to rewrite that super sweet space battle or remove it entirely.

Just like your writing won’t be perfect the first time around, your outline will often change as the story develops and fleshes out. It’s the nature of writing. It’s a living, moving, writhing, sometimes bratty piece of work. It occasionally has a will of its own and will make you feel like you’re trying to convince a toddler not to stick that shiny thing in their mouth. But the important thing is to push through it and get to the end, whether you’re happy with it or not…

…And then hire a crazy awesome editor to clean it up for you. ;p

Reflections!

Blog Articles

A lot of things have happened for me in the last year. Not all of them great, but some of them pretty wonderful. May 3rd was the anniversary of the day my (now) husband and I officially started dating, waaaaaay back in good ole’ 2011. We celebrated quietly (because one can only have so many anniversaries, I am told, and marriage trumps dating), ate dinner, played GTA 5, and my husband gave me a glorious Sailor Moon figure, because, yes, we really are that much of a geeky couple.

It was, unfortunately, also the day that marked a big sadness in my life: the day I got rear-ended by a–not soccer mom, I was vehemently corrected–woman in her “athletic sport-abled transportation vehicle.” It caused a lot of issues, a lot of pain, and a lot of pure, utter, nonsense. It’s a part of my life I am hoping to put behind me.

Because of these things, May 3rd caused a lot of reflection for me. I will be twenty-eight in a scant few days. If my grandmother were here, she’d tell me I’m only a year away from her favorite age of twenty-nine. When I was little, I actually looked forward to getting to that age so I could tell people the same thing my grandmother told them all the way up until she passed: “I don’t care what my birth certificate says, I’m twenty-nine and holding.” This is the woman whose thick Brooklyn accent I adored to mimic, who always had a electronic gambling game in her purse, a cigarette in her hand, and lipstick on her glass.

It’s amazing the things you think about around birthdays, isn’t it?

These days it doesn’t feel like I have time for anything. Much less for reflection, so the third was an interesting–albeit it bittersweet–period. About a year and a eight months ago, I graduated from college. Half a year after that, I started working as a proofreader. About eight months ago, I got married. Three months ago, I got promoted to editor. About two months ago, I started editing job number two, and hell if my days haven’t just been a whirlwind since then. Working in your industry is great; it’s what you strive for. Of course, the pay doesn’t really cut the mustard some days, and your workload is shit, but the thing is, you adore what you do. And I do. I don’t mind filling my days with editing and my downtimes with video games… but it doesn’t leave much time for my writing stuff.

When I went to school for creative writing, I had grandiose dreams of finishing a couple novels, getting some short stories out, and eventually having a successful editing company of my own. Of course, the real world never works out like a five year plan… and slowly that plan began to look more like fantasy than the novels I read for a living.

(Still, it’s hard to complain. I read books for money and tell them how to make it better!)

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When you can actually fix the misspelled words in a book

I’ve been trying to cram a lot into a very limited amount of time, however, and recently, that meant pushing myself to clean and polish (read: cut 8,000 words out of) a short story of mine, in the hope that I can submit it for publication in an anthology. I’m super stoked, if not perhaps nervous that I’m taking their ‘20,000 words or less rule’ a bit too literally.

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I take word count to heart, thank you very much.

Like all hopefuls, I’m eager to see the acceptance email after working on something so hard, but there’s still the nagging doubt that I’ll be able to do it at all. Editing other people’s work makes me understand how great it is. Editing mine? Not so much.

(Hint to any struggling writers out there: You are probably your own worst critic… so don’t listen to you.)

Maybe the five year plan isn’t working out the way I wanted; maybe my dreams are different now, and maybe a couple got derailed in lieu of more realistic expectations.

That’s okay. Gonna keep at it and hope I hit my mark one day.

Wish me luck! The deadline is June 1st. ;p