Writing a Novel: Choosing Your Audience

Editor's Suggestions

So you’ve got the vision for your next (or first!) great story, and you’re aiming for getting it published. Go, you!

You know the over-arching plot, you think you have the perfect ending, and you just want to get it out there and have the world salivate all over it. But when you describe the story to people, they just nod all non-committal like and say, “Oh… sounds pretty cool.” And maybe they’re quick to change the subject after your verbal pitch.

So… now what?

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Believe it or not, when you first start describing your book to people, their reactions are actually really important. Why? Because they’re letting you know what they think of your book—or at least what they think of the idea of your book. And, based on their age, gender, and even economic or political status, they’re showing you whether or not they are part of your target audience.

“But people will buy my book because it’s awesome!” you might shout.

And firstly, don’t shout, ‘cause I’m right here and already battling some tinnitus from my clubbing days. And secondly, some people will buy your book just “because,” or even to give it a chance to demonstrate its own merit when you’re having a .99c sale… but those people are usually the ones who come in all back of the bus ‘n shit, well after your book has had its chance to make it (or break it) out there in the world. And if you’re not reaching your target audience, then your book sales are going to flail around like a fish on the shore.

And those “buy it just because it’s cheap” people aren’t the people you are marketing to. So just exactly who are you trying to reach?

If you answer, “Well, my book is for everyone,” then… (LOUD BUZZER NOISE):

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There is literally no way in hell you can pitch, market, and reach everyone. There just isn’t. It isn’t possible.

So, you need to decide early on several things about your book:

  • Which genre you’re writing in
  • Who this book might appeal to
  • How you can reach that audience

Quick!
Describe your book in one to two concise sentences.

Most people flounder here (including people who have already written, published and promoted the book), so don’t worry if it starts out somewhat like:

“It’s an awesome YA/urban fantasy/sci-fi/middle-grade/new adult/romance/rom-com/supernatural thriller with werewolves that turn into humans on the full moon that hunt down and attack other people. My main character is 14 years old and single-handedly ends up saving the world from this destruction.”

Like I said, this is a problem that many writers have, because when we have an idea, it burns within us. We focus so much on the writing of the idea that we have that we forget sometimes that we’re not just writing a book—we’re creating a sellable product. And that sellable product needs a well-defined audience. We need to know who we’re writing to, which means we need to develop something called the “proto-persona”—that is, the exact “type” of person we want to reach.

So first things first, we’re going to need to pare down that over-share spiel.

Since we’re talking mythological creatures in what sounds like an urban environment, I’m going to assume right off the bat that we’re not aiming for say, someone your grandpa’s age.

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Something of interest to note when figuring out your audience: Women not only read more novels than men, but they also are more likely to read fiction than men are.

So immediately, we already know that if your book is fiction, then not only are men less likely to read it, they’ll also be less likely to enjoy it if they do. So we’re probably going to gear more toward the female side of our audience. But your character is 14… do you really think that someone 40 or older is going to want to read about a middle-schooler’s problems?

The age of your characters are IMPORTANT. Typically, people like reading about characters who are also in their same state of life. Whether that’s age, situation with a job, single- or married-dom, or anything else, it makes us feel good to read about people from a walk of life that we can relate to and understand. One of the easiest ways to do this is to focus on the age of your characters and have them in situations that are relatable to your audience. So if your character is 14, you’re probably appealing more to younger kids, but if you don’t want to write that young, then don’t! Let’s say your novel is looking more YA than middle-grade at this point because you want to include adult themes like sexin’ and swearin’.

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So, let’s move the characters’ ages from 14 to around 18. Typically speaking, you will need to aim your character’s age right around the same age of the people you hope to reach. That means if you want to write about a 18-year-old girl, you will probably appeal most to people right around that age group (give or take about 10 years).

This will of course vary, but essentially, you’ve just defined your market as appealing to 15-25 year-old ladies who enjoy supernatural or urban fantasy tales.

This means your themes, ideas, and the drama within the pages needs to be relatable to this type of person. If your character is still in school, then younger readers will relate more, but older readers can still appreciate it. If your character is struggling with their lycanthropy while working a shitty job with low pay and inconsistent hours, then your older audience will relate more, but younger audience members might still enjoy it.

Either way, you’re creating your market as you write your book, which is incredibly helpful when you’re trying to figure out who will buy it, read it, and tell all of their friends about it.

While creating your proto-persona really isn’t too hard, it can seem utterly daunting. Knowing your audience is important when you’re figuring out who to market to, but really, your book can speak for itself, so just let it guide you!

Photo: WeHeartIt

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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.

I’m not kidding.

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. 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. DEAD 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 we 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.”

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.

“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.”

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, like 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 lowercase given their use in the sentence. If you think I missed any, let me know!

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

Yangon, Myanmar

Real Editing Samples

This week’s short story comes to us anonymously! Below is the review of the untitled piece, as well as some suggestions for how to make it even better. Any suggestions or questions can be put in the comments section below.

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One of the very first things you want your reader to do is be intrigued. You have to really pull someone in within the first few paragraphs so that they have a reason to keep reading. That means you’re going to need to give your reader one of two things: Action, or mystery.

Action and mystery are great openers; they will pull your reader in. But it will do absolutely nothing if there isn’t anything interesting for us to find out. If your character is going through a series of nonsensical  movements (to your reader, at least), and we don’t know why, that’s not mystery, it’s just confusion.

You have a beautiful set up here: “Fiercely hot, steaming, tropical Yangnon, largely unknown to western eyes.” But that isn’t followed through with anything. It immediately gets dismissed by the next sentence. “How to explore? I find a 10:00 p.m. cycle ride-out and arrange to have dinner with friends.”

How to strengthen your opening? Remove the weak area.

How to explore? I find a 10:00 p.m. cycle ride-out and arrange to have dinner with friends.  We set off into the night time of Yangon.

“Fiercely hot, steaming, tropical Yangon, largely unknown to western eyes, I’d arrived at the very edge of my world, and my nerve.  In the hot darkness, a line of car headlights illuminates a hazy scene of pavement diners.  Hopping on and off the crowded pathway, we salsa along the jagged edge of the traffic. We turn down narrow alleyways, squeeze between market stalls heavy with bananas and mangoes, and along half built, half-lit streets. Street signs are few and far between.”

Already this is building a world for me. I can imagine it, I can smell the mangoes, I can see the people. That’s great! That will pull your reader in. Where are they going? What are they doing in this tropical paradise? I want to know more!

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Notes 2. In the paragraph following the beautifully described world, you have your character somewhat frantically going to find directions. This pulled me out of the story. Apart from showing their state of mind, and letting us know that there’s somewhere they need to be, which could be summarized neatly in a few sentences at the start of the following paragraph, this particular paragraph doesn’t do anything for your reader. In a short story, you’ll have less time to pull your reader in. This paragraph could easily be shortened and joined with the following one, or removed and summarized in fewer sentences.

Screenshot 2016-03-28 18.17.54.pngNotes 3. You definitely want to specify to your readers about anything related to temperature. Given that we Americans can’t figure out degrees in Celsius to save our hides, we instinctually fall back on the Fahrenheit degree base, and twenty-four degrees in Fahrenheit does not a pleasant bike ride make! If your readers might be from various parts of the English-speaking world, make sure to specify things like this just so they don’t have to double take to figure out what you mean.

Notes 4. For British/UK English, the standard is to keep the ‘s’ at the end. (Towards/backwards) This is simply a matter of where you intend for your main audience to be. Again, if this is elsewhere in the English-speaking world outside of America, this would probably stay in. To publish in America, however, the ‘s’ would be taken out (toward/backward). Small differences, but they can add up. The same can be said with any s to z changes. In America: organize, realize, recognize, etc. Outside of America: organise, realise, recognise. And of course we Americans also remove the ‘u’ from words like colour.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the short story!  You got a lot of detail and description in for such a small amount of pages. You definitely have a strength in creating a vivid landscape. I could see the story. I could picture what was going on. Your imagery was beautiful and strong, and really pushed me through it. There was a great flow to the way you described everything. There is a little to be corrected as far a pace goes, like with the part that stalled me, but overall, it was a fun read.

I wanted to mention, as well, that after having read this story, that I have no idea what your character looks like, if they’re male or female, or even what they’re wearing. I kind of argued with myself about even mentioning it, because I honestly can’t tell if I like it more without the protagonist having an identity. It did nag at me a little, but then, it’s my job to notice things like that.

Thanks so much, Anonymous Inkling, for letting me read and critique your short story! I will be sending along the rest of my critiques later on. For those of you who want to read the full piece, you can find it here:

Yangon, Myanmar

Fiercely hot, steaming, tropical Yangon, largely unknown to western eyes, I’d arrived at the very edge of my world, and my nerve. In the hot darkness, a line of car headlights illuminates a hazy scene of pavement diners.  Hopping on and off the crowded pathway, we salsa along the jagged edge of the traffic. We turn down narrow alleyways, squeeze between market stalls heavy with bananas and mangoes, and along half built, half-lit streets. Street signs are few and far between.

I dance alongside my companions hopping over gaping holes in the unlit pavement, rapidly chatting while casting around for scarce landmarks.  We continue past juice stalls where petite, raven haired women feed sticks of sugarcane into the jaws of ancient industrial mangles, solid, glossy, dark green monsters, next to them, tailors are bent over elegant Singer sewing machines. I scribble down hieroglyphic directions, TL elephant temple, TR rickshaws, alleyway straight arrow, TL… or would that be R in reverse? Too late, we cross the main road and run over a tiny footbridge.

We hop onto a narrow path of gangplanks past a parade of dark, wooden, open fronted shop houses.  The cavern-like interiors are entirely exposed. Rooms are lit with bare, single light bulbs and piled high with dusty stock and family belongings. On high shelves. tiny spirit houses adorned with orange and pink temple garlands glow against the dark wood. The smell of incense wafts out. The locals end their day over the evening meal at simple wooden tables and straight-backed chairs, hypnotized by the ubiquitous TV. We stride purposefully past, unable to resist glancing sideways to peer into their lives laid bare, one eye on the gangplank.  One family space after another is surreptitiously examined as the inhabitants simultaneously look up into our strange European and North African faces. Warm smiles and nods are exchanged in a mutual understanding of reciprocal curiosity.  We turn the corner and enter the restaurant.

After much engrossing conversation, suddenly it’s 9:40 p.m. I say goodbye and head out. Round the corner back along the gangplank, more smiles and nods. Across the main road, TL into the alleyway back onto the half built street. This is all right, I can do this. Did I see that yellow sign on the way? Never mind. Into the next street. Was it left? Hang on, find a streetlamp, still got fifteen minutes, it’s not that far.  Check the map. What’s this street called?  It’ll look familiar in a bit. No, it doesn’t. Definitely not.  Ask that street vendor over there. He gently takes the map from my hands and very slowly turns to his light. Oh no. I hop from one foot to another desperately trying not to be impolite. This street? This way? Yes?  Twelve minutes. Right, I’ll get there. Just dance around people and traffic a bit faster.  Okay, this is it. Go. Got to get there, don’t want to keep them waiting, once in a lifetime experience. Why didn’t I leave earlier?  Getting closer now, it’s round this next corner and up past the Swiss Embassy. Just need to jog a bit now. I wonder if that’s where that car’s going? Probably.  Yes, there’s the sign, Bike Rides, Yangon. It’s 9:59 p.m.

###

The bikes are allocated; they’re good quality mountain bikes.  We twist and circle around each other in the courtyard testing the feel of the brakes and changing up and down the gears. The group is a mix of thirty-seven friendly expats, independent travelers and regular cyclists, German, Dutch, American, Canadian and Burmese.  The leader is a fifty-something affable Australian expat with a confident, funny Burmese wife.  He’s straight up as you’d expect, and mildly curious.

We file out of the gate, and I’m ecstatic. We’re cycling around the capital of Burma in the middle of the night, not due back until 1:00 a.m. We circle onto the main road and soon start to pick up speed and file onto a highway, fluorescent marshalls slot in along the line.  As we settle down we’re a fluttering constellation of lights against an inky sky. The line moves into a steady pace and some of the regulars draw alongside for deceptively casual conversation while keeping an eye out for potholes and street dogs. At twenty-four degrees Celsius it’s just cool enough to ride and the breeze is welcome.

We file down city streets, past night markets of smoky food stalls and endless pavement banquets.  Before the intersection, we’re told it’s the left fork in case of separation.  Accelerating across the lights as one, we swoop leftwards disappearing into the blackness like a shoal.  We pick up a swift pace along blissfully traffic free roads.

Everyone is warmed up and tuned in and we spread out as confidence grows. The tarmac is undulating in places, and it’s largely dark, so you need to be a confident rider. This is no tourist trundle. We spool down a long section and past the ornate white palace of the City Hall and toward some of the more decrepit colonial buildings at the waterfront. They’re poorly lit, so I’m straining to see much. The Customs House has been renovated, and the Strand Hotel that entertained Rudyard Kipling is imposing and impressive. The high court is a little like St. Pancras station in London. I make a mental note to read Orwell’s Burmese Days.  We pass the port authority and come into the central area.

I’ve teamed up with a Canadian who peels away from the line. I follow instantly and we head towards the 2,500-year-old Sule Pagoda, in the middle of what is now a huge roundabout.  Its endless golden spire punctures the dark velvet sky. The white dome is encircled by grotto-like shrines, their interiors brightly lit in citrus limes and lemons. It’s a fairy tale, fairground sight. We swoop onto the curve and spin around the outside, stealing glimpses at the golden Buddha’s heads surrounded by multi-colored sunbursts of flashing neon lights.  We sprint round a second time, faster, leaning into the road, laughing with glee and exhilaration at this fantastical, surreal merry-go-round, and race off to catch the others.

The group is on the road out of the city now and we begin a gentle climb, I start to feel my thigh muscles burn. It’s about 11: 30 p.m. The pace slows a little, but is still good as we reach the flat and start the long home stretch. Soon the leaders stop and the line concertinas into a tight group. We climb off the bikes to stretch our legs and gulp down some much needed water.

People chat and examine each others’ bikes. As my heart rate and breathing slows I look up at the night sky and feel the tranquility and eeriness of a strange city at rest. The quiet chatter of the other riders floats through the darkness. Then for no reason at all, I turn round. There, in the middle of an enormous jet black sky, gently glowing like a huge mythical, golden palace is the Schwedagon Pagoda, the most sacred Buddhist Pagoda in Myanmar. It stands on a hill and at 325 feet, dominates the Yangon skyline. It contains the oldest Buddhist Stupa in the world. I’m rooted to the spot. I look at my watch, it’s past midnight. I feel giddy with awe and surprise.

 

Photo: A Link And Travel Tour

 

 

 

 

The Accidental Plural (of Native English Storytelling)

Editor's Suggestions

The Accidental Plural of the Native-English Speaker’s Story

By Kelly Kobayashi

The way that we tell stories as a culture, as a community of smaller tribes, is defined as greatly by our writings as by our oral traditions.

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We’ve all asked someone about their family or childhood adventures. And surely they have responded with animated theatrics such as, “My mom was useless, man. She used to call me up at 3:00 a.m., drunk at the Kwik-E-Mart, begging me to pick her up. She used to dance, totally plastered, to All I Want for Christmas is You and knock the Christmas tree over.”

Or, “My Grandpa Walt was UNBELIEVABLE! He used to chase us through the house with the garden hose—through the house—for real! Grandma would catch us all and beat the smiles off our faces! But it was worth it! God, I miss him.”

If you read between the lines of stories such as these, then you know instinctually that the 3:00 a.m. Kwik-E-Mart, dancing-Christmas-tree-collision, and indoor-hosing-and-beating escapades each only happened once.

But you also know from the speaker’s language, the way that we native English-speakers—with our rather bad, but infective habit of constant exaggeration—these single scenes of life added up to create the human being standing before you now. This pluralization of the event is a sign of emotive power. The speaker so cherishes or reviles or has become defined by certain aspects of his life that they have expanded within him. “We once…” morphs into “We used to…” He must share this story, and the story almost tells itself as repeated occurrences.

These stories that you must share, the stories that stretch themselves beyond once in a lifetime—these experiences and growth spurts and belly-aching fits of laughter and moments of absolute humiliation have defined you as a person. They’ve crystalized into the moments you value, or at the very least, hold most intimately to your core, whether you like it or not. The inspirational and the horrific.

You know which stories you share in accidental plural form when introducing bits and pieces of yourself to those around you. So too should you attempt to share these bits and pieces of your singular expertise through your writing. All the things that you “used to” see, feel, participate in, be excluded from, or covet secretly are your gifts to give through your own storytelling.

Kelly Kobayashi is an editor, author, and ever helpful book reviewer. She works with both published and unpublished authors, and has a deep love of the written word. For more information, or to contact Kelly about her beta reading and book reviewing services, please contact her at her website, here.

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!

 

But You Don’t Really Care for Edits, Do Ya?

Attitude & Critiques, Uncategorized

The Editor’s Perspective: Giving and Receiving Feedback

By Toni Adwell

Most editors have horror stories about authors being obstinate, oblivious, or downright rude about any changes being made to their work. Don’t get me wrong: I understand where the authors are coming from, too. Some editors and proofreaders have no tact, and there are certain critiques and edits I’ve gotten on my writing that baffle me as an author.

“Your intro comes on too strong.”

“You mean I’m not supposed to hook and engage the reader?”

When it comes down to it, though, there are certain aspects of writing that cannot be compromised the majority of the time, such as grammar and spelling. I’m not talking about dialogue and style, because sometimes those will cause exceptions. When I write dialogue for the Troll in my FanFic, it’s nowhere near grammatically correct, and the spelling reflects my attempt at the Jamaican accent it’s based off of in World of Warcraft.

What I’m talking about are authors who refuse to recognize changes that need to be made due to passive voice, dangling modifiers, common word choice mistakes, such as lose/loose, than/then, their/they’re/there, assure/ensure/insure, and so on.
Those are non-negotiable in the body of the work.

That being said, here are a few friendly tips when giving or receiving critiques and edits:

  • Keep in mind the difference between constructive criticism, and being an asshole. “This is incorrect because of xyz, so here’s what to keep in mind, and an example of what to use instead.”–Good. “Your work is horrible, and as a result I’m not able to differentiate between your work and you as a person, so you must also suck!”–Not good.
  • Tone can be lost in translation on the Internet. What might sound polite to one person can sound completely rude to another. Don’t assume people are being jerks with their critiques/edits, unless it’s obvious like the example above.
  • Remember, even if you don’t like what you’re reading/editing/critiquing, that someone put a lot of effort, work, and likely heart and soul into writing the piece. It’s not cool to trash someone simply because you’re not down with the subject matter. If you can’t handle the content, then correct the technical mistakes, and suggest another editor/proofreader to go over the work for said content. The same goes for their ability to write. “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”–Ernest Hemingway
  • We’re losing the ability to be polite in our society, and even if you don’t agree with what someone has to say about your work, thank them for their time, and move on. You’re not going to convince someone to change their mind about it, especially when what a person likes is opinion-based, but they did take time out of their day to read it and respond. Even if they’re being asshats, you don’t need to stoop to their level–you are not a mirror for their behavior. “I respect your opinion, even though I don’t agree. Thank you for your time.” You don’t have to like someone, or their opinion, to be polite to them. 
  • The hardest one? Don’t take it personally. It’s really difficult not to, because of how much proverbial blood, sweat, and tears goes into writing. Hell, sometimes the blood, sweat, and tears are literal. Your work is made from a piece of you, and when someone is down on it or doesn’t like it, that can be a major blow to your self-esteem and ego. The best thing you can do is listen to what they’re saying with your mind, and not your heart.

TL;DR: Don’t be a jerk, don’t assume others are jerks, be polite, and don’t take it personally.

Do you have any horror stories about an editor or an author? Feel free to vent in the comments. No need to name anyone or their work, but sometimes you need to get things off your chest so you can move on. It’s cathartic!

Keep your chin up!

The Always Aspiring Writer

Toni Adwell is an editor with Damnation Inc. and an aspiring author. You can find out more about her at Legends of the Wordsmiths (http://lotwordsmiths.blogspot.com) where she gives book reviews, World of Warcraft fanfic chapters, and excerpts from her own work. 

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