Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Guest blog-- editor becomes writer

From Alicia: Nancy Reinhardt has had a varied and intriguing career in writing and editing! I knew her many years ago in my RWA chapter, and she suggested I apply for a free-lance job that ended up being quite lucrative for me. She's a generous member of the writer community, as you can see from her website! A couple years ago-- small world-- a California publisher hired her to copy edit my husband's book. And we're in the same town! Small world, huh? Anyway, she's got a book coming out, and I wanted to ask her about the experience of publication after copy editing. I really am wondering if she can copy edit her own work! :)

1. Nancy, can you tell us a little about your career as an editor and writer?

I’ve always been a writer—as long as I can remember. I wrote my first novel at age 10. It filled up three composition notebooks and was about my older sister, who was in high school falling in love with a member of the rock band, Herman’s Hermits. From that point on, I was completely hooked on writing happily-ever-after kinds of stories. I’ve been journaling and writing ever since. Life kind of got in the way, but in 1984, I took a story I’d written to the RWA National Conference and showed it to an editor from Silhouette. She was so kind and told me that I needed to take some classes and keep working at it. I was completely deflated and put the story away.

At about the same time, a friend from a writer’s group I belonged to needed someone to help her with her communications business, so I worked with her and that’s where I learned how to be a proofreader and copyeditor. I discovered I really have a gift for it. About sixteen years ago, I went to IDG Books (now Wiley Publishing) and took their For Dummies series proofreading test, passed it, and took a project home with me that day. I’m still working with Wiley as a proofreader and copyeditor. In the ensuing years, I’ve built up a client list for nonfiction copyediting by cold-calling publishers, being willing to take tests, and doing the work. I’ve taken several classes and seminars about editing and I read voraciously on the topic. The industry has moved from paper to electronic editing, so I’ve had to pick up new skills along the way. I do think that people underestimate the work an editor does. I’m not sitting on the sofa in my jammies with a box of chocolates, a paperback, and a highlighter and red pen. It’s focused work where you are in front of a computer screen often trying to make sense of material that you know absolutely nothing about. Frequently, the authors I edit aren’t writers per se—they’re experts in their fields—so my job is help make them sound as smart as they really are by tweaking language, maintaining consistency, and fixing grammar and punctuation.

The novel writing came back into my life after my son left the nest. The characters started stepping out of my imagination again and I wrote. New life experiences and travel and just being braver gave me the courage to send my first complete novel to an agent in New York. She loved it, signed me as a client, and is now shopping it to publishers while I continue writing more books.

2. What is the difference in tasks between the different types of editing?

Great question. I am a copyeditor, also known as a line editor, which means I come in about midway through the publishing process, after the development editor has worked with the author to refine content and make any substantive changes to how it is being presented. I read every word of a manuscript to make sure it flows and makes sense. Then I get busy with the mechanics of the work—grammar, punctuation, structure, making sure authors are staying active and maintaining a consistent voice. I also verify that headings and references are correct and consistent. The manuscript goes back to the author after that, then sometimes back to me or sometimes back to the project editor (who more or less shepherds the whole process from start to finish), and then on to layout before going to a proofreader. Basically—very basically—the development editor is the “big picture” person and the copyeditor is into the details.

3. How has your editing background helped you as a writer?

Frankly, it’s helped and hindered me. I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer (a pantser) which means I don’t make outlines or particularly know everything that’s going to happen in my stories until I write them. But, the editor in me can’t resist going back over everything I write and tweaking it and tweaking it...so I sometimes slow myself down because I get caught up in editing instead of simply telling the story and then going back to polish it. The editor knows the grammar rules, how to spell, and has a good vocabulary—all things that help the writer be more creative and ultimately send out a polished professional manuscript.

4. Tell us about how you submitted and sold your book?

I have my critique partner to thank for this first sale—she sent me to BookStrand Publishing, a romance e-publisher. I went to their web page, followed the submission guidelines, and sent in the manuscript. About three weeks later, I got an offer to publish RULE NUMBER ONE.

5.  What's the best piece of advice you can give writers about revising their book?

First, find a critique partner and work with that person. Listen to what they have to say. Find beta readers and listen to what they have to say. Then don’t think that your words are golden; be willing to change them if you need to. I’m not saying that you have to destroy your story or write to a formula, although with category romance there is an expectation of a certain kind of story. But writers who refuse to change anything at all won’t sell their books. Be ready to rewrite if you need to. Take criticism well—and find people who will be honest with you. There’s a difference between honest and hurtful—you’ll figure out fast who really wants to help you, so stick with those people.

The flip side of this is that you have to trust your own instincts, too. Otherwise, you’ll always be editing and polishing. At some point, you have to step away from the keyboard, pronounce the work done, and move on to the next one.

6. What's the best piece of advice about working with an editor?

Trust them. Most editors just want to help you make your story or manuscript better, and really good editors are very conscious of your voice—they don’t want to change your story just for the sake of changing it. They want to help you create the best work you can. And edits aren’t personal—most of the time, I’ve never met my authors, I know only what I read in their bios in the Preface of the book. My job is to make you sound as smart as I’m sure you are—that’s all. Work with your editors, don’t fight them on everything, and know that they’re trying to help you.

7. Can you give us a description of your story?

How about if I give you the blurb for the book?

Decorator and home stager Katy Ruth Gilligan has sworn off men. She’s been married to two no-good cheating weasels, so when handsome book publisher Jack Walsh shows up on her doorstep and pretends to be her hired escort, she’s not one bit amused. Jack’s back home from traveling the world as a journalist, ready to take over as CEO of his family’s publishing business. Not only does he want to hire Katy’s firm to renovate his family’s historic building, he’s also very interested in exploring the attraction between them. At first, she’s humiliated and furious, but the job will put her on a fast track to success. Despite the fact that she’s drawn to her new client, Katy’s determined to protect her heart. Can Jack convince her that the third time’s a charm? 
Here's the "buy link:"  http://www.bookstrand.com/rule-number-one

Monday, February 27, 2012

Reading past the rules

Some of us were discussing the "rules" which are based on archaic or even Latin grammar ("Do not split an infinitive, and yes, I mean you, Captain Kirk, with your to boldly go!" "Do not end on a preposition!).

I would say don't believe in the "rule" about not ending with a preposition. However, I do want to point out that the end of the sentence is a real power position, and it might infuse more drama into our prose
if we tried not to end on weak words like "of".

He was the one she was thinking of.
She was thinking of him.

Him, in a romance novel at least, it a strong word, and a good place to end a thought. Of? Not so much.
Not to mention, of course, the whole passive v. active thing. ("He" is really the object of the preposition, but in the first sentence, "he" is put in the subject role, and that causes a passive construction.)

That is, forget the rule notion, but it's not a bad guideline to rewrite sentences that end on "of" or "to" or "by," just to see if it's possible to end on a stronger word.

Other examples of ending on a preposition? Prepositions are, ideally, supposed to be followed by a noun (the "position" part indicates that). But there are all sorts of English constructions that have prepositions without nouns to follow.


Friday, February 24, 2012

Action and dialogue replacing deep POV

Sometimes I work with writers who write cryptically, refusing to reveal something in the "text"-- the words, the emotion, the thought. That is not, in itself, a problem, especially when the character is shut down and focused entirely on what he's doing or what's going on around her. You don't have to be in deep POV, deep in the character's body, heart, and brain, after all.  And you might have a great reason for pulling back and rendering this passage or scene in a constrained manner.

But it is a problem when it's not a deliberate evocation of the character-in-the-moment but rather a lapse in fleshing out the author thought ("He's going to the bank," "She's telling her story") into a scene. A scene is more than just dialogue, more than just movement.  Usually a scene has setting, action, dialogue, thought and feeling (from the POV character), or some combination thereof.

Not to say that we can't strip a scene down to a Hemingwayesque quick-fire dialogue without even any tags... but that will be all the more impressive in contrast to more fully fleshed out scenes. And of course, there ought to be a reader-experience reason. It's kind of like walking down the street in your underwear -- that might be a statement, but not if the reason is just "I forgot to finish dressing."

What do you want the reader to get out of this passage or scene? Most scenes probably will have a couple layers at least. At least we will know enough setting to have a sense of inside/outside, day/night; enough POV that we know who the POV character is, or if this is omniscient or objective POV; enough exposition that we are aware that Linda is Joey's mother, not his girlfriend. What does the reader need to know?

There can be no subtext without text. So we need to supply the text. HOWEVER, that doesn't mean the reader needs to be told everything. Here's an example. You might know the play Trifles-- brilliant 1-act kind of proto-feminist by Susan Glaspell. What I found, researching this play, was that Glaspell had later adapted this as a short story, A Jury of Her Peers (note the significantly more "explanatory" title).

I loved the play, even just in text without the actor interpretation and the staging. I was not so blown away by the short story. Why? I think it's because the playscript (which has dialogue and action but no internalization or "POV") gives just enough information, particularly in the actions of the characters, to let the reader figure out what has happened. (It's sort of a little murder mystery-- why did the wife kill the husband? The male sheriff thinks it must be insanity, therefore no trial, because after all, a woman would have to be crazy to kill her husband! But the women in the play find something that explains the motivation, and .... well, read it. It's good.) But the short story explains a bit too much. (Now I don't know if I might have liked it better if I hadn't first read the playscript.)

Anyway, it's hard to get the ingredients in some Goldilocks proportion, not too much, not too little. But I would suggest that most (not all) scenes, if they don't have internalization that reveals the thoughts and/or feelings of the character, then maybe the action should compensate in supplying the additional layer of meaning that could allow for subtext, theme, symbol, all that deep stuff.  That would assume that we choose meaningful action, which adds to or contrasts with the dialogue in some way that reveals more or another meaning.  Like here from Trifles:
SHERIFF We'll be right out, Mr. Hale.
[Hale goes outside. The Sheriff follows the County Attorney into the other room. Then Mrs. Hale rises, hands tight together, looking intensely at Mrs. Peters, whose eyes make a slow turn, finally meeting Mrs. Hale's. A moment Mrs. Hale holds her, then her own eyes point the way to where the box is concealed. Suddenly Mrs. Peters throws back quilt pieces and tries to put the box in the bag she is wearing. It is too big. She opens box, starts to take bird out, cannot touch it, goes to pieces, stands there helpless. Sound of a knob turning in the other room. Mrs. Hale snatches the box and puts it in the pocket of her big coat. Enter County Attorney and Sheriff.
COUNTY ATTORNEY [Facetiously.] Well, Henry, at least we found out that she was not going to quilt it. She was going to--what is it you call it, ladies?
MRS. HALE [Her hand against her pocket.] We call it--knot it, Mr. Henderson.
While the dialogue is all compliance, all women being obedient, the action (hiding the bird is hiding the evidence that would convict Mrs. Wright) shows what's really going on. That's good writing, juxtaposing two conflicting "accounts" really and letting the reader figure out what it means, that the women are protecting another woman from the misunderstanding by the law.

Here is part 1 of Trifles performed by a college troupe. (Part 2 and 3 will be linked on the left.)

Anyway, a scene might be flat if there isn't another element supplying amplication or conflict with whatever is on the surface of the scene (often it's dialogue mostly). If there's a reason you're not in the POV of the character, so you're not showing the thoughts and feelings (and I think there are good reasons occasionally to stay more distant in POV), then consider not just going with dialogue, or an objective narration, but adding in one or two more narrative elements, especially if the action can contrast in some way to add more meaning.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Your favorite words!

Can you help? I want to write about writers and their love of words, and I do mean words. Specific words. What are words that you love?

Here are mine:
Words I love:

"Opprobrium"-- love that word.


"Phalange." Don't ask me why. It's actually sort of an ugly word.

"Lingering"-- only the participle. I don't like "linger".


And "darkling," which I bet John Keats just made up. Darkling, I listen.And for many a time...

Oh, and "listen."

I like "L" words. "Laugh." "Lugubrious." "Lily."








I think it's a good sentence when I can use one (or all :) of those.
Help! What are words that you love just because?

Sunday, February 19, 2012


I'm wondering how we as readers decide that some fictional event is implausible. Or rather, why we suspend our disbelief-- what makes that possible.

So there are things like time travel which are prima facie implausible. But we "believe" them, at least while we're reading, unless....? What? What triggers our "no way" button?

Recently I started reading a book which had as a heroine a 30-year-old physicist. She was already a world-famous physicist, advising the White House, being considered for major prizes.  And she had been a teen mom and had a 13-year-old.

For some reason, this triggered "no way" for me. (The time-travel plot, no problem though!) "There's no way! Teen moms might eventually go to college. But they usually have to work along the way, and so it'll take them 6 years just to get a BS. And a hard science PhD will be at least another 6 years. At least! So she couldn't actually have made a name for herself by 30. Impossible."

Now why did that seem implausible to me when in fact a teen mom getting a PhD by 30 is actually more likely than time travel. (My own mother got a hard-science PhD when she had eight, count 'em, eight children. So I know motherhood doesn't absolutely disqualify you.... but she was 52 when she got the doctorate.)

What's the trigger? I think actually it might be when you KNOW it's wrong. I teach college, have an academic background, and I know how long it takes to get a PhD, and how long it takes to get a name in academia.

I do not, however, know if time travel is possible. I suspect it's not, but heck, what do I know. It's conceivable.  While in my mind, getting a hard science PhD and establishing a career by 30 when you were a teen mom isn't possible. I know enough to know that's just the author copping out, wanting to have a nubile young lady, a world-famous physicist, and whole teen mom thing, all in one.

What about you? What triggers your "no way" button?

I'm thinking that paradoxically, the more outlandish the issue, the more likely we are to accept it, just because we won't know much about it. What annoys us is when we DO know something about this situation, and we get a sense of those "clinkers" that don't quite compute in our understanding.

What do you think?
Also what  would make this work better? Would acknowledging the unlikelihood help? Like mentioning how unlikely it is?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Ten Myths about Editors

I had a lot of fun writing the article that's over at Romance University today. If you've ever wondered what the life of an editor is really like, go check it out!


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Little More Fun

So, over at Romance University, we had a little fun with romance cliches for Valentine's Day. In the run-up to the game, we talked about doing bios or other samples in the spirit of what we intended. So this is the one I came up with that was meant to be a self-mocking bio:

Unaware of the effect her hazel eyes were having on the contest entry, her auburn locks floated on the summer breeze. What powerful, strong, throbbing prose, she thought silently to herself. But only one entry could dominate this vixen judge. She stomped her foot for no apparent reason. How dare all these other entries make her read them? Just because she's an editor doesn't mean...mean...mean...something or other.

We didn't use it at RU, so I thought it would be fun to use it here instead as a pop quiz of sorts. What wrong with this paragraph? Some are to do with style, and some with content, but all are things I've seen so often I hope never to see them again. Post your answers in the comments, and let's see if as a group you can catch them all. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Get 'Em In

Today for Valentine's Day, we're having a little fun with romance cliches at Romance University. Go on over there and give me your worst!


How Adele Makes Us Cry

An analysis of Someone Like You and how it jerks tears.  I think this analysis might be transferable to tearjerking scenes, which are a special interest of mine.  This analysis says that the song has a lot of repetition in the beginning, and then a sudden breakout of voice (an octave change), which very much goes with my thoughts that emotional scenes depend usually on a three-part structure (three similar parts) which suspend the emotion and then a sudden "punch" or change of tenor which releases it.

The comments are pretty funny, especially from the loser guys who complain that she's fat and thus can't possibly be worth anything, because, you know, they would like totally have a chance to date her and refuse to do so.  Where DO all those guys come from, and if you've seen them, tell me-- do they look like David Beckham in that Super Bowl commercial that they're just too good for most women? They are sort of amusing, but more pitiable, I guess.

Anyway, what makes a scene (or song) yank tears from you?  I have a weakness for scenes where the character is bravely fending off emotion. No, no, seeing his childhood sweetheart get married isn't so bad. Well, maybe a little bit bad. But he still has to dance with her, and tell her he's happy for her. Sob!!!

Brave characters, stiff upper (Trembling) lip gets me every time.

I also sniffle at happy memories remembered in very sad times, like the heroine remembering her little sister dancing like Beyonce in front of the mirror, when she gets word that the sister is missing in Afghanistan. 


Sunday, February 12, 2012

The End of the Beginning

(Here are some posts on my own blog that discuss openings.) To keep this relatively short, I want to focus on the all-important last paragraph.

The beginning of a story has a lot to do, and it might be most helpful to write your opening, write the rest of your story, then come back and revise the opening so it is more effective in setting up the plot questions and themes. I was helping a friend with a story just today, and we discussed the "end of the beginning." This book is about a girl raised in Europe who was forced by her parents to study piano for years. She is disillusioned by music and eager to get far away from her parents, so she chooses a college in the US that has lost its music program. That's the opening, setting up her college story.

I suggested that the author think about what is going to happen later in the book. The college is going to resuscitate the music program and recruit the protagonist to be the first major, and in the end of the book she's going to found her own punk band, showing that she has chosen her own way (not the parents or school). Boy! This is good, because it forces her to change, to learn to value her own talent, to choose rather than just react.

The end of the opening, however, could set up the "praxis" of her journey, by posing a bit of a conflict or question. In a way, the last paragraph in the opening could serve as a "hinge" to the rest of the story, actually helping to open up to the rising conflict and rising action of the middle, and hinting at the theme that will be resolved in the ending.

His first chapter has her choosing a college, deliberately selecting the one that has lost its music program. I suggested a final paragraph that would emphasize what he wants the reader to think about. But to achieve that, he must identify what that is! Does he want the reader to think about her disorientation at being in the US after Europe, a fish out of water? Or her sense of her musical talent being trapped by the expectations of her parents even as she arrives in this new place?

He agreed with the latter, that her journey should start with her resistance to those expectations, and so he wanted to draw the reader's attention to this. So he ended the first chapter this way, "My first class was History of Culture, in the Humanities Quad. Shoved into a corner of the lecture hall was a grand piano, swaddled in a gray quilted cover. I hurried past and took a seat in the center, directly in front of the professor."

This sets up the conflict between her desire to be "merely a student" and her musical talent and provides a concrete action (hurrying past the piano) to symbolize the beginning of her journey from resistance to self-acceptance. If the author wanted to emphasize her "fish out of water" aspect, how could that be achieved with the same situation (entering her first class lecture hall)?

Another way to use that final paragraph in the first chapter is to set up a motif (a recurring thematic image or concept) which the rest of the story will develop. For example, in my Regency novel Poetic Justice, the first chapter pits the hero John against an enemy, who tries to trick him by offering an alliance and then trying to kill him. I was worried that the adventure of this opening would conflict with the quieter aspects of the rest of the story. But when I realized that no matter what the situation, John was always being "tested," especially by the class system that scorns him as a tradesman.

By the time his shipmates arrived panting, daggers drawn, the light was gone entirely and the dock was slippery with blood. Two of the bandits had fled, and the third lay unconscious on the dock. John loosed his death grip on the saddlebag, let his first mate take it, let his steward peel his fingers from around the knife and put it away. He nudged the bandit with his foot. "Tell your employer," he said, then paused to drag in a breath, "that I passed that test too."

Thus, in the final paragraph of the first chapter, I emphasized this motif to connect this scene with the rest of the story, which develops and finally resolves the recurrent pattern.

Look at your own first chapter and think of how you might use that last paragraph to wet up the rest of the book, by establishing the context or conflict, by posing a question the rest of the story will answer, or by connecting the first scene with the rest of the story using a theme or motif. Any examples from your work?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Defaulting to the Protagonist

I've got this odd writing process. I write a chapter or scene, and start writing the next, but then realize that I need to add or deepen or change something in the earlier scene. So I got back and "layer in" whatever I've realized I need to do. So I never really have a first draft, as I'm making changes even as I write new material.

I'm doing that now, in fact. I've started what was supposed to be a short story but is looking to be a novella-- I'm in chapter three, and the conflict is just getting joined. When I wrote the first chapter, I had a minor character Amelia, the sister-in-law, and she is the "pivot" that brings the hero and heroine together. Well, she actually DID in the first version.  She writes a note to the hero telling him to meet her at an art gallery, and then tells the heroine to meet her there too, and she doesn't show but they encounter each other. Awwwww.... well. She certainly is a nice guardian angel, isn't she?

When I found myself inventing an elaborate motivation for her to do this ("she wants to bring Jordy back into the family from which he is estranged! And also to distract Felicity from possibly stealing back her former fiance, now Amelia's husband!"), I sensed that I was resting a whole lot of the plot action on the machinations of a minor character. Sure, she has motivation... but really. She isn't the protagonist. So her motivation shouldn't be more intense and dramatic and plausible than the main characters.

Every time I start a story, I learn this again. A story is only as strong as its protagonists. If they don't care enough, don't have enough motivation, to commit the actions that drive the plot, then they should be retired to the sidelines so someone more purposeful can take over the protagonist role.

So I went back to that opening scene, and squinted at it. How could I make Felicity re-encountering Jordy the result of the motivation of one of them? As soon as I posed the question, challenged myself to achieve this, I had the answer.  She wants to warn him about the sister-in-law's machinations. So she tracks him down to tell him what's going on.

There. I feel better now. A minor character is no longer the most important person in my plot. My hero and heroine are center stage, where they ought to be.

And, btw, by revising this scene to force Felicity to act, I also eliminated an embarrassing coincidence that would have truly annoyed the reader. ("Oh. Right. Out of all the churches in all the villages in all the kingdom, she walks into the one run by the sister-in-law's vicar brother. How convenient.") Defaulting to protagonist action and motivation rather than coincidence and minor character machinations, I think I strengthened the opening and more important, strengthened my characters.

Am I the only one who has to re-learn this every book???

Writer Heroics

Fun article about Dickens on his 200th birthday. Read and marvel about how he saved his manuscript from drowning.