Guest Post: Choose the Right Words (And Live to Tell About It)

Here’s Post #2 in my local writer’s blog hop!

Today’s post is from Katherine Gotthardt, talking about how editing your word choices can make your writing SHINE!

Guest Blog: Choose the Right Words (And Live to Tell About It)

By Katherine Gotthardt, M.Ed.

You’re a writer. I don’t have to convince you that words hold power. If you didn’t believe that already, you wouldn’t have bothered to pick up the pen or put fingers to keyboard. But what you probably ask yourself all the time as you’re writing is, “Is that the right word?” How do you decide?

In my decades of battling with words, many times losing, I’ve learned that the right words are too often elusive. But in spite of this, I’ve also learned following a few guidelines helps me maintain a steady stream of at least half-decent writing, whether it’s poetry, articles, social media posts or something else. Here are some methods I use when I’m fighting to find the right words.


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Banish Wimpy Wording

In your heart of hearts, you know wimpy wording when you see it. “Very,” and “nice” don’t say a whole lot, for example. They kind of take up space with their banality, clogging up the works while stronger words shift back and forth on the soles of their feet, impatiently waiting their turn. Be specific. Be courageous. Tell that “very nice” lady she’s “uncommonly agreeable,” and then decide what that means in the larger context of your work. You might realize “very nice” is not very nice at all, and now you’ve got the start of a more complex character in your novel. Or you’ve created a conundrum in that article you’re writing about the jewelry store owner the next town over, and you’d better watch your tone or you’ll get your publisher in a pickle. But by evicting the weakling words, you’re moving past trite and forgettable writing. 


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Write in 3D

Human beings live sensory lives. Even when we’re alone in our own heads, we use taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound to make sense of our surroundings. Our memories are made up of perceptions brought to us through nerve endings and cortex, creating meaning from stimuli. We’re wonderful processors of the sensual. Take advantage of that. Use the senses to write in 3D. Don’t tell me there’s a gray dog on the corner. Show me what’s ahead: a bristled beast with iron-colored fur, lifting its leg, leaking on the fire hydrant, the sun beating a rhythm of mirage on the street’s pavement. Oh. Maybe I should cross the street because I’m not especially sure that’s a friendly Fido out for an afternoon romp. Now you’ve created something besides the image. You’ve created conflict – the archetypal “man versus nature.” Superb. Have your characters react accordingly. Move the action along, no matter what you’re writing.


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Stop Repeating Yourself, Stop Repeating Yourself, Stop Repeating Yourself

We writers do it all the time. We end up using the same words over and over and over and over and… It bores readers, and when we notice we’ve done it again, it usually horrifies us. How could we have overlooked our repetition of “let’s” five times within four sentences? Ugh! Okay, forgive yourself. It’s easy to make this error, especially when deadlines are screaming from the Google calendar, the cell phone and the land line are ringing at the same time and your pug is barking at the Amazon delivery guy. It’s not cheating to use the tools given to us by the tech demigods. A thorough grammar check should slow you down long enough to help you see the error of your ways, even if your grammar tool doesn’t specifically point out repeated words. And when your brain feels like bubble wrap? Use the thesaurus. I promise you, the Amazon guy won’t tell.

If after using these three techniques you still find yourself losing the war to find the right words, it really is okay. Get up. Stretch. Take your dogs for a walk. While they’re watering the grass, you’ll have time to rest your brain. By the time you return, you’ll be ready to jump back into the trenches. And if you’re still losing the battle?

Thankfully, there’s always the option to edit. Again.

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katherineWBooks

Vice President of Write by the Rails (WbtR), Katherine Gotthardt has been writing and teaching for more than twenty years. She is the author of five books and CEO of All Things Writing, LLC. Learn more about her and her work at www.KatherineGotthardt.com.


Check out the Write By The Rail blog hoppers:

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3 Techniques to Fix Your Pacing

There’s a writing skill that many novelists struggle with.

It’s something that read-a-chapter-a-month critique groups often miss.

Pacing.

We all know that you need to start off with an inciting incident — at least by the end of the first chapter. But after there, it can get a bit fuzzy.

3 Techniques To Help Your Pacing

 

Beat Sheets

First off – the high level stuff.

Now, planners are likely to be using a beat sheet of some sort like these linked by Jami Gold.

I know pantsers and even many plantsers don’t think they’re for them, however, I want to warn you against being too quick to reject them. I know going through them really helped me during my first (and 4th) round of revisions.

Sentence Structure

Next? Let’s look at the low level stuff.

Fast paced scenes should read fast. Slower paced scenes, one finds, often lend themselves toward literally causing the reader to slow down.

One easy way to do this? Sentence length! Here are a few examples by All Write Fiction.

But no matter how much (or little) you plan, no matter how you vary your sentence lengths and structures, you’ve got to live with the story a while before you can truly grok each scene’s full emotional impact.

Shuffling Scenes!

We’ve looked high, we’ve looked low. Now? We’ve got to look at where the pieces go.

This is basically the reason Scrivener exists — or so I’ve heard. I’ve only used it once.

Sometimes, one scene fits better at a different place in your novel. The only problem is? You’ve got to make sure you haven’t referred to events that haven’t happened yet or triggered events that aren’t near your scene any more.


***

My Pacing

I’ve been thinking about the feedback I got on my work-in-progress #1, and a lot of it has to do with the pacing.

I’ve punched up the tension toward the opening and feel pretty solid about it, but I know, as it goes on, it mellows out for a while.

Scrolling through last night, I realized my next majorly-tense scene happens after the 50-page mark — past where query submission packages and most partial-requests end. So I started contemplating how to get them to those scenes faster…

Now, I wasn’t about to cut the chapters before that! Maybe they’re my darlings, but they’re full of world-building, character introduction, and some well-earned melancholy.

That’s when I realized, if I swapped which of the two settings that Lilivan, my main character, hits first, I’d increase the tension and her anxiety, making her work for [REDACTED].

That said, it requires cutting a character out of the now-first setting and swapping an innkeeper’s welcoming family with a stern hostel keeper.

I’ve got my work cut out for me, but I think it’s gonna be worth it.


***

Have you tried looking at your scenes, contemplating pacing, and truly considered if your novel just might work better if things happened in a different order?

Did it work?

Top 4 Questions From An Editors & Publishers AMA (Ask Me Anything)

Sunflowers in full bloom against a bright, clear blue sky.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 (Happy Summer Solstice!)

At Balticon52, I had the opportunity to attend an Ask Me Anything panel of Editors and Publishers. Usually in my panel notes, I skim over the panelists to get to the meat, but in this case, I feel their expertise was part of the draw.

The publishers and editors in question were:

  • Walt Boyes – an award-winning journalist, writer, and editor of the Industrial Automation INSIDER, the Grantville Gazette, (the magazine of the 1632 Universe), co-editor of Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press, and a member of the 1632 Editorial Board.
  • Scott H. Andrews – a writer, musician, and the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of the online fantasy magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies. He’s a six-time Hugo Award finalist and with his podcast, a five-time Parsec Award finalist. [Fun fact: he always gives personalized rejections!]
    • For non-querying writers, I know that sounds kinda… pathetic. But if you’re in the querying trenches, you know what that’s worth.
  • Neil Clarke – the editor and publisher of the Hugo and World Fantasy Award-winning magazine, Clarkesworld.
  • Ian Randal Strock– a writer, plus the owner and editor-in-chief of Gray Rabbit Publications/Fantastic Books (www.FantasticBooks.biz). Previously, he edited and published Artemis Magazine and SFScope. He also worked on the editorial staffs of Analog, Asimov’s, Science Fiction Chronicle, and many others.
  • (moderated by) Jeff Young – an award-winning author, bookseller, and editor of several anthologies.

So let’s get this rolling. Here are the questions.

1. What is Your Biggest Pet Peeve?

The top three answers were:

  1. Zombie Stories — they’ve been done to past death
  2. Writers who don’t READ THE GUIDELINES
  3. Writers who argue with critiques
    Even if you disagree with the critique or the suggestion, don’t argue with someone who spent their time and energy to give you feedback.
         Give that section of your prose a closer look

    • Is it moving the story along?
    • What is it adding?
    • Could you do it better–not necessarily the way they suggested.

Person holding a blue ballpoint pen writing.

Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

2. Should A Writer Use Different Names For Different Genres?

As with all writing advice, it depends on the situation:

  • If you’re doing your own marketing, starting over with a new name doubles the amount of work you have to do to get traction.
  • If you’re with a large publisher, it can be helpful for the marketing.

That said, there are of course caveats:

  • You can end up getting shelved in the library/bookstores alongside whatever genre you first published in.
  • If you’re doing both Children’s books and explicit erotica — it can be helpful to make sure kids don’t end up with a book they probably didn’t mean to get.

Regarding publishing names in general:

When choosing which name to be published under (birth name or pen name), searchability reigns supreme.

You want to be high in the search result, but also easy to spell.

Simplified spelling, middle initials, mining family names, or deciding who you want to be shelved next to are good places to start.


Shelves full of books, in a decently lit library.

3. How Has The Market Changed In The Last Ten Years?

The top 3 ways the market’s changed:

  1. More exploring of the human condition in fantasy, a lot of the exploration is reactionary — which has a shorter shelf life.  Morgan’s side note: It might be more overt, but I’d argue that fantasy has ALWAYS explored the human condition.
  2. The rise in the respectability of online magazines.
  3. Massive growth in international markets.

Wood signpost, with worn red arrow pointing right. Greyed out mountains faintly behind it.

Photo by Jens Johnsson on Pexels.com

4. Where Do Querying Writers Lose You?

There was a lot of discussion on this question, so I’ll break it into high-level and specifics.

The top three high-level answers were:

  1. When I quit caring.
  2. If you make it work to follow the narrative.
  3. If they don’t remember it the next day.
    • Note: This editor also said that the bad stories blur together, they don’t typically remember them.

Top 4 things that break their buy-in:

  1. ‘Red line of death’ – Boredom, implausibility, names that don’t fit the setting
  2. Implausibility – where all emotions are explicit rather than undercurrents. Most people don’t spell everything out for each other in real life.
  3. External commentary (even by the narrator) – “If I’d only known then…”
  4. A character doing something stupid or out-of-character (OOC)

A thought bubble drawn in chalk, with a lightbulb resting in the bubble

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I always find getting an insider perspective on the industry enlightening. Hopefully, these answers help you as much as they helped me.

 

So You’re In the Editing Doldrums Again? These 5 Sites Can Help

After you’ve written your novel and revised the BLEEP out of it, one thing remains:

To edit your manuscript!

 For those of you who are confused:

Revision worries about the characters, the plot, the setting, and the pacing.
In other words: The Big Picture. 
Editing is all about word flow and grammar.
In other words: The Details.

Here are the top sites I use when editing my novel.

5 Sites That Can Help You Edit Your Manuscript

1. Do you need a checklist to even know where to start?

One of the most useful checklists I’ve found was at theWriteLifeLogo:

It talks about standard grammar mistakes, crutch words, and bad habits.

Now, not all of the things it suggests cutting need to be deleted. Adverbs (often words ending in -ly) and passive voice both have their place, but cutting down on the instances of those things can make your writing stronger.

2. Do you need help replacing your crutch words?

Try your basic, friendly, online thesaurus for help at:

Thesaurus.com

When you’re trying to replace a weak adverb or some passive-voice with a stronger verb, but you can’t think of any? Thesaurus time! (I have to confess, I actually just keep this open on a tab when I’m writing OR editing.)
thesaurus.com

3. Do you need more accurate terms?

Sometimes, the history of a word can help you find a better term. Just look it up on:

Etymology is the study of language. So, this site tells me where the word came from, similar words in different languages, and words that were used for this term in the past.

So…

When you’re looking for a word that doesn’t sound so modern, so common…

Maybe you’re coming up with a name for a different type of magic?

Try looking up a root word related to the concept you’re attempting to convey and see if a historical version of the word will work. I’ve used this for magical methods, city names, and more.

etymonline.com

4 & 5. Do you want to have your prose analyzed?

After you’ve done what you can, it’s time to bring in the hired guns:

The Hemingway App and Grammarly

Confession? I’m cheap.

I use these tools for free, online. Which means, their use is a little more limited. They won’t analyze my entire manuscript, sometimes even a chapter is too long for them–maybe I need shorter chapters?

But, if I copy/paste a section at a time into the HemingwayApp website or into a new Grammarly document, they will both provide me with a rather comprehensive analysis of my writing. Hemmingway: checking for sentence complexity and word choice, Grammarly: checking, unsurprisingly, my grammar.

hemingwayApp

With both of these tools, they can only run their algorithms on your writing, they can’t judge its effectiveness, simply the way it adheres to the rules. Thus, some of the feedback should be ignored. But they do give you a good sense of what might make your sentences better. Plus, they make certain when you violate some grammar or writing guideline, you’re doing it on purpose.


With these 5 sites, you can be pretty sure by the time you’re done, that your polished draft is a clean copy, that is easy to read.

Just recognize they can’t actually make your story good,  you’ve got to do that on your own.

So You Finished Your Rough Draft, Now What?

Nano is over and with that, the urgency for many writers seems to dissipate once they hit December. For me? The first week of December is often time to catch up on all the chores I let slide while trying to get my words in.

This year, I’m also adjusting to a new sleep schedule for the new job I started the last week of November. And prepping my home for the holidays my family celebrates…

But what about my writing? What about yours?

The Next Steps

Well, the next step depends on you. What do you want to do next? There are two main options and either could be right for you.

First – Take time off

In years past, I’ve taken December off and started again, to finish my work-in-progress (WIP), in January. For many of us, with family obligations or kids having breaks, December is a hard time to create new habits and is rough on the old ones. Be kind to yourself an give yourself permission to take the month off. Or to only work on your writing when you have free time, rather than scheduling everything else around your writing.

Maybe you just need an afternoon. Maybe you only write during NaNoWriMo. Most of us fit somewhere in between.

Second – Decide what your next project should be

NaNoWriMo has a traditional goal – write 50,000 words in 30 days. Not everyone follows those goals, but they’re there if you want to.

But November is over. That means it’s time for you to decide what you should work on next.

Finish your novel

So, if you were writing a rough draft in November, whether you won or not, it’s likely that you still have a ways to go to finish your novel!

Some of you wrote 100,000 words or 500,000 words, some of you barely squeaked out those 50,000 words, and some of you… well, you made some progress. You put words together on paper and you’ve got more than you started November with. Be proud of yourself.

But. Modern novels, at least YA and Adult novels are longer than 50,000 words. usually, they START at 65,000 words, and more fantasy things with a lot of world building can be as long as 120,000 words.

There’s a good chance your story isn’t done yet. In which case, your next project might be finishing your NaNoWriMo project!

Edit your novel

Perhaps you’re like me, this year. For the first time ever, I managed to FINISH my rough draft during NaNo. (With 50,612 words, but still.)

Maybe you’ve decided that you’ve written a novella and you’re okay with that.

Either way, it probably shouldn’t see the light of day, or even the eyes of a supportive alpha (pre-beta-reader) before you’ve done a read through and edit.

While gunning for word count and trying to skip editing, writers often end up with confusing word choices, sentences that are out of place, and plot holes you could drive a tank through.

If nothing else, do a line edit to make sure your story is readable. If possible, do a light revision, checking the pacing, verifying that the story order makes sense, and minimizing plot holes.

Start something new

Maybe you’re sick and tired of that novel from November.

The deadlines and panic, (or simply the concept itself), sucked the enthusiasm and joy from the story for you, leaving a lifeless husk of a story on your hard drive.

Maybe you pushed the Nano inhibition limits and are left with something you never want to see again.

Maybe you didn’t even do NaNoWriMo.

Maybe you just need a break.

In any case? Were there any other story ideas that started flirting with you? Trying to distract you from your NaNo project? And ideas that have been rolling around in the back of your head for days, or weeks, or years?

Go ahead and give it life!

Finish something old

Did you abandon or neglect an older project in favor of the new and shiny project for NaNoWriMo? Or choose to take a break for NaNo so you could come back to it fresh?

Maybe NaNo had nothing to do with it, but you still have that old story, sitting in a drawer somewhere.

Now could be the time to pull it out, reread it to see where it’s at and decide. Is it worth saving? What does it need? Massive revisions? Line edits? The ending written? A new first chapter and a coat of fresh paint?

Third – Set Achievable Goals (either now, or after a break)

So, now you’ve decided what you’re working on next. How do you find that momentum you had during NaNoWriMo? You set yourself some achievable goals.

For finishing your novel or starting something new

Word count goals, as you may have discovered, are helpful.

Outside of NaNoWriMo, I’ve usually set a smaller goal than 50,000 words. Obviously, your goal should be based on your life, your writing speed, and your availability.

  • I’ve aimed for 10,000 words before and found that actually a bit short–as soon as I started getting into the writing flow, my words for the week would be done.
  • 20,000/25,000 was a manageable goal with downtime, but steady progress. In which I could take a few days off.

For editing or finishing something old

I spend a lot more time editing than writing. But editing per word is hard to track, you’re adding and deleting… so what sort of measurement can you do? Editing pages!

Even if you delete some, or add some. You can still see how far through the original draft you’ve come.

  • I’ve aimed for editing 10 pages per editing session.
    • Some evenings I’ve managed 3 editing sessions before bed.
    • There have been times I’ve managed 1 editing session in a week.
  • Don’t forget to take the time to plot.
    • Go through your novel, summarize each chapter, and look at the big picture.
    • How is the pacing?
    • Are there plot holes?
  • Feel free to take time off from story editing and just do search-replace style editing.
    • Look for crutch words(very/just) or passive voice (am/is /was/were /be/being /been) and see if you can replace with stronger verbs.
      • Note: I usually try to halve my count for every overused word, so I keep track. I like metrics, I may have mentioned before.

What Is Morgan Up To?

Now, shortly before NaNoWriMo, I got the most treasured type of rejection letters on my novel, “Flesh and Ink”. The one with feedback. That I had a good idea how to implement!

So, my plan for this month is to write a new first chapter and update the old first chapter to work with it. Beginnings are hard. Pacing is tricky, and since my story is fantasy, it’s hard to set the scene, describe the stakes and consequences, and introduce you to the characters and world without feeling like I’m cramming everything in, and sprinkling info-dumps on top…


Wish me luck! And best of luck with your next project.