More This and That…

My “This” today is a written-versus-spoken mea culpa, and words of encouragement I meant to say in person the first Thursday of this month. There’s a “trying-to-be” startup writing group that is getting together the first Thursday of every month at our local Newberry Family Center. But I didn’t make the last lunch. I wanted to come, and I wanted to offer to the few that might have shown up, encouragement to write, write, write… So, I decided to post my undelivered spoken writing group encouragement thoughts and words here, since I couldn’t make it to that meeting[i].

I’m a firm believer that if you aren’t a “pen to paper genius protégé”which I’m definitely NOT!—you have to make the MISTAKES that make you better: and if you don’t WRITE and REWRITE, you never make those growing mistakes, and consequently, your writing doesn’t improve—and often, doesn’t even get done. You never get that “Great American Novel” out there, or that wonderfully enjoyable cozy series with protagonists you love and hope everyone else will too, or the chronicling of your special hero, or the biography of someone you admire, or your book of poetry, or book of songs, or how to do something you’re good at, or your own memoir… I know, it’s rather trite and obvious words of encouragement—but I don’t think the sentiment can be expressed too often. Write and make those mistakes that move us forward, make us better writers.

To quote from P.D. James’s 5 Bits of Writing Advice (taped up by my computer where I can repeatedly read)  “…Don’t just plan to write—write. It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style….”

My “That” thought in this post is also prompted by “what’s going on in my life right now”—and is also a follow-on thought to making those “mistakes.” First off is to write the darned thing, but then, once you’ve written it, finding editors you trust is crucial. I’ve been so lucky to have great editors along my writing journey[ii]. The Caretakers, my latest book, is now in its third round of edits—sometimes it seems endless. But the release date is finally out there for the first week in July. And here’s the point—a lot of my “how could I do that again,” are misspellings, grammatical no-nos I never seem to remember, leaving out articles, and chronology and character mishaps[iii]—which I attribute to my carelessness and grammatical blind sightedness. BUT, with every book, and with every editing report, I also learn something about my writing that I can improve.

An example from my latest of what I’m talking about—I tend to go on-and-on about what’s going on in my character’s heads and their environment—with not a lot of “action” or dialogue. It’s a tendency that can bring about reader loss of interest. Well, the opening of my latest went on and on—which I wouldn’t have noticed because I liked the character (smile). And there isn’t a lot of thriller/adventure type action throughout the entire book, which didn’t really jump out at me. My editors of course saw these areas for improvement—and in line with my “This” above, pointed out opportunities for me to improve my craft.[iv]

So, here’s the big questions(and my answers) I’m presenting in this post—aimed especially to “in process” authors. Do you want to write? Then doing is the answer, no matter how daunting it might seem. Do you want to be the best author you can be? Then pay attention to areas we can improve for readers to enjoy our work. My thinking is—”writing” is a process, not a done-deal.

Our next local writers “keep at it” lunch is just around the corner… Sure hope nothing happens to keep me away this time, because I need a little, “Have you started the next one yet?” encouragement.

Happy Writing Trails!


[i]New water lines being put in kept me at home.

[ii]Mike Foley, Kitty Kladstrup, and Virginia Moody.

[ii] See Gayle Bartol-Pool’s excellent post last Wednesday https://thewritersinresidence.com/2019/06/19/polishing-the-gem-2/

[iv] In the case of The Caretakers, I’ve whittled out three pages from the opening, and I think I’ve “livened up” some scenes.


Polishing the Gem

Jewel 3by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Part Two: Keeping Track of Time

Along with the biographies of the various characters, I also compile a Chronology Chart that records each character’s date of birth and other significant episodes in the principal characters’ lives. You ask: Why should I do this? Here’s why. If a character is twenty years old in 1997 when she is at the Police Academy, she will be thirty-one when she has a run-in with her superiors in the LAPD. She will be thirty-three when she transfers to the small city of Santa Isabel up the California Coast. And she will be forty when the body of a police captain’s wife turns up on the pier in her city. Keeping track of her age during twenty years will also tell you when other incidents impacted her life.

Keeping the same running chronology on other principle characters will show when they had a chance to interact with other characters and when major incidents happened in their lives. If you are covering many years in these peoples’ lives, the chronology is a godsend.

If one of my stories takes place over a week or two, I use a calendar. Usually I mark off the few weeks involved on a piece of paper and jot down what major events happened on those days. This keeps me organized and I can make sure I don’t have one character in New York when he should have been in Los Angeles.

When the story gets down to the nitty gritty, by that I mean the final chase scene where and when all the characters collide, I actually mark off a sheet of lined paper by the hour or even fifteen minute intervals so I can plot various characters going to and from various places so the times fit reality. How many times have you watched a TV show where the good guys can get across say Los Angels in a car in about two minutes when in reality it would take the better part of an hour? I know TV gets away with it, but I prefer a little more reality in my fiction. I plot air travel times as well as automobile driving times between places down to something that is fairly close to the actual time frame. You can look up airline flight schedules on the Internet as well as driving distances in hours and minutes on Google maps. My time sheet keeps the story honest.

Even if your story takes place over a twenty-four hour period or an evening in the haunted house, it serves you well to keep track of the time. It also allows you to watch where the bad guy is. Remember, he or she is the reason you are writing a mystery, if in fact that is what you are writing. But even if you are writing a memoir, you still can’t have 32 hours in a twenty-four hour day.

 

Jewel 4Polishing the Gem

Part Three – Line by Line

 

A Line Editor, as the phrase implies, goes line by line checking for errors. She is looking for misspelled words, missing words, redundant words, redundant words (I wrote the last one twice just to see if you were paying attention.) She is also looking for words used incorrectly like when you use “effect” when you should be using “affect.”

I actually keep a long list of troublesome words on my computer for quick reference. Of course there is always the dictionary. Mine is ragged from constant use. Remember: Spell-Check is only good if you actually misspelled a word. If you mistakenly typed in an actual word for the one you wanted, it will not know the difference. And sometimes the Grammar feature on your WORD program will be wrong. Get out your Chicago Manual of Style and verify your usage if Spell-Check tries to tell you that your grammar is incorrect. Often the computer will insist that “It’s” should be “its.” It’s wrong when you want “It is” and it wants “its.” Have patience. It’s a machine.

There are a lot of words that writers get wrong. Maybe your readers won’t know the difference, but work at getting the word right. You do need to know when to use “laying” verses “lying.” Laid and laying always take an object. Lie, lain, and lying don’t take an object. There are also a bunch of words that are used incorrectly such as dead-end verses dead end. Dead-end is the adjective. Dead end is the noun. Deadend isn’t a word. Some word groups are written with a hyphen. Some are one word. Some are two separate words. Some words are just hard to spell correctly. My list is long, but I know to check that list when I am editing and come across a familiar nemesis. We all make mistakes, but it’s nice when we catch a few before the book goes to print.

 

Part Four – Continuity – Coming up in another few weeks.

Progress!

        by Linda O. Johnston

Climbing Books

 

What is it like to make progress in your life and in your writing? 

It’s wonderful!

When I was younger, making progress often consisted of reviewing a real estate contract for my law career.  And negotiating it. And eventually getting it to the point that the parties were willing to execute it.

Or, it could be helping one of our sons with homework or choosing the next school he’d be attending and working on the details to get him there.

Or, always, getting one of our Cavalier pups to obey our commands. Of course, we always obey theirs.

Pencil 2

And of course progress included writing a new novel or proposal, and getting it accepted by a publisher, then finishing it, and finishing it well.

At the moment, progress is still getting both writing and editing accomplished, plus promotion, too.

I’m currently under contract for four Harlequin Romantic Suspense books.  So what is my progress there?  WDeadlineell, I’ve finished manuscripts for the first two.  I’ve also completed initial edits for the first one after I received changes and questions from the editor, and I sent it back this week–and already received the final version back to review.  I need to make more progress there! With the second, I’ll review the completed manuscript once more and send it off next week before the deadline.

I’ve just begun working on the third, and face a tight deadline that I intend to meet.

So, happily, I’m making progress, even considering all the time I have and don’t have to write. I’ve been busy promoting the last mystery I was under contract for, plus I’ve been participating in a lot of events. For example, I’ll be at the California Crime Writers Conference next weekend, where I’ll be on a panel about having a long-time career.

Yes, I’ve had a lot of progress points in my career, which I’m always happy about.

So what is progress in your life? In your writing and/or reading?

Racing 2