Smart Edit – An Overview

Smart Edit: An Overview
Terry Odell

Smart EditLast time, I mentioned I used a program/app called Smart Edit to fine tune my manuscripts. I said I’d go into more detail if there was interest, and frankly, I’m in editing mode on the new book, and don’t have the brain cells to spare to come up with a different topic.

**Note. I am simply sharing my opinions and how I use the program. I get zilch from the company for my posts.

Those of us who don’t have an unlimited budget rely on the “tricks” and for me, Smart Edit helps tighten the manuscript, and finds things my eyes have missed.

I have the ‘inside Word’ add on, so I can work right in the manuscript, but there’s also a copy-and-paste version. One thing I like about the ‘inside Word’ version is everything is previewed in context, so if it’s fine as is, you can skip to the next. If you want to make changes, you click on that result and it’ll take you right to that passage in the manuscript.

The program (sorry, but to me, an ‘app’ is something like Angry Birds, so that’s the term I’m going to use) runs checks on a variety of potential pitfalls. The obvious is “repeated words” which, despite my having my own checklist of crutch words, always finds new ones. There’s also “repeated phrases.”

Beyond that are searches for misused words, redundancies, risqué words, clichés, adverbs, proper nouns (good for finding those places where you’ve written “Helper” instead of “Hepler” for your protagonist), and looking back at Elaine’s post last week, speaker tags.

One thing to understand. SmartEdit doesn’t edit. It points out things you, as the author, are in control of, and every decision is yours to make. It’s not perfect, but I’ve found it’s a good starting point.

Here are some examples (You should be able to enlarge them by clicking.)
In addition to overused words and phrases, here are some of the other searches it will perform

Smart EditAnd some of my results:
This was a search for adverbs.

Smart Edit Adverb search
And for cliches
Smart Edit Another search that can be helpful is dialogue tags, although this is one where the program isn’t as accurate. It’s flagged words as tags that aren’t written as such. Again, the user is responsible for checking. (This was taken from a 3500 word short story run, which is why the overall counts are low. It does go back to Elaine’s post about using said, which is my go-to dialogue tag.)

Smart EditThe program doesn’t correct your grammar. I know people use other programs for that, although I don’t usually have trouble with grammar, so I’m more interested in streamlining and clarity. I beta tested a grammar program once, and it didn’t get anything right.

I’m paying an editor, you say. Why can’t I let her find and fix these? I could, but most editors charge by the hour. I know of one who charges by the word. If I can spend those hours taking care of a lot of these excesses, it saves time—and what can be significant money.There are other editing programs out there, but I’ve found SmartEdit works best for me. While I have a list of my words to destroy, somehow, new once crop up in each manuscript, and having this program find the sneaky ones I wouldn’t have thought to look for helps.

Do you use any automated programs for editing? How have they worked for you?



Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Watch for her upcoming release, Deadly Options, due out in late February.

+7

In Praise of Experts

Photo credit: Luke Jones, Unsplash

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

In fiction, you often walk into different worlds. Perhaps you speak a few words of the language but you’re not fluent. You have a general idea of the architecture and geographic layout. But there are secret passageways in which you can become lost and unseen chasms into which you can tumble.

But you’re committed. You must go forward on your story quest. So, you seek out natives from those worlds to guide you. 

Today, I’d like to introduce you to several insiders who shepherded me through unfamiliar terrain in my new thriller, Flight to Forever, which launches today. 

The story takes place in the rugged mountains of the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana. I’ve hiked and explored the area but am far from a hardcore outdoorswoman. I needed to call upon experts in various fields to fill in the gritty details.

Here’s an overview of Flight to Forever:

Main characters: investigator Tawny Lindholm and her husband, criminal defense attorney Tillman Rosenbaum.

Inciting incident: When the pandemic prevents a Vietnam veteran from seeing his wife of 50 years in a memory care lock-down, he busts her out. Because an off-duty cop is injured during their escape, law enforcement is hellbent on capturing the aging fugitives.

The couple flees into the mountains where they’ve gone camping for years. Their daughter begs Tawny and Tillman to help her parents. The determined veteran won’t go down without a fight, increasing the urgency for Tawny to find them before the cops do.

Setting: The fugitives choose an abandoned fire tower as their hideout.

In bygone days, fire spotters spent summers in isolation living on mountain summits in small wooden cottages built on high stilts.

When lightning sparked forest fires, the spotters used a mechanical device called a fire finder to pin down the exact map coordinates. Then they called in the report and crews were dispatched to fight the fires.

Satellites and advanced technology have now rendered the towers obsolete. A handful are preserved and have been renovated into vacation rentals. For $50/night, adventurous campers pack in supplies and stay in a lookout with staggering views from on top of the planet. Most lookouts have fallen into disrepair or been destroyed by fire.

One of those abandoned towers becomes the hideout for my fugitives.

My guide into that remote world is retired Forest Service employee Kjell Petersen, a former fire spotter.  He now volunteers to maintain the few surviving lookouts. Kjell is also a gifted photographer who’s snapped thousands of gorgeous mountain shots with wild critters and wild weather, taken during his career. He not only told me fascinating stories, he graciously offered a selection of his photos for the cover.

For hours, Kjell shared anecdotes full of details only a true insider knows. As he described being in a tower when it was struck by lightning, the hair on my arms stood up.

Kjell Petersen and friends

After the first draft of Flight to Forever was finished, Kjell reviewed it and fixed my goofs. At one point, I wrote that avalanches had destroyed many old lookouts. With a kind smile, Kjell gently corrected me. “Lookouts are built on top of mountains. There’s nothing above them. Avalanches happen below them.”

Well, duh.

Thanks for the save, Kjell!

Sue Purvis in Central Park

To research the setting, I could have slogged through grizzly territory in mud up to my artificial titanium knees.

While authenticity is important, with age comes wisdom. I know my limitations. 

Instead, I tapped another expert, Susan Purvis. She’s a geologist, search dog handler, and former search-and-rescue volunteer with more than her share of risky escapades. She also wrote the bestselling memoir, Go Find.

Sue gave me a quickie course about sedimentary limestone and sandstone cliffs. Harsh weather shears the rock off in massive slabs that crash down mountain sides. When rock crumbles into loose, unstable rubble, it’s called talus or scree, which is treacherous to hike or drive on–turning Tawny’s search into a white-knuckle adventure.

In conversation, Sue happened to mention she’d once slid her truck off an icy bridge and wound up hanging over the edge.

That anecdote was too good to pass up. I appropriated Sue’s harrowing experience to inflict on poor Tawny.

Legal eagle Phyllis Quatman

Since the male lead, Tillman, is an attorney, legal conundrums happen often. For that, I consult attorney Phyllis Quatman, who writes suspense under the name P.A. Moore.

Sometimes dodgy actions are necessary to move the plot forward even when they push my characters into gray areas of what’s legal vs. what’s moral.

Phyllis is an author as well as a lawyer. She understands the need to achieve story goals while also keeping the heroes out of serious legal trouble.

If I’m ever arrested, I know who to call.

Dr. Betty Kuffel

 

The unlucky folks in my thrillers get hurt a lot—drugged, beat up, knifed, shot, etc. Retired ER doctor Betty Kuffel has seen every injury known to humans. She is an encyclopedia of mayhem and murder methods. She also writes medical thrillers.

Paging Dr. Betty.

A subplot involves Tillman and his teenage son. While Tawny is busy tracking the fugitives up a mountain, Tillman must travel to the other side of the state when his boy is injured in an accident.

Betty upped the story stakes by suggesting complications that turned the son’s broken leg into a life-threatening crisis. She also infused realism with her insider knowledge of pandemic restrictions that keep frantic Tillman away from the bedside of his critically-ill son.

Sue, Phyllis, and Betty are my longtime critique partners and cherished friends. So it’s expected that we help each other.

But I’m constantly amazed at the willingness of complete strangers to assist a curious writer.

When I contact experts and introduce myself as an author doing research, they are almost always generous and helpful.

They’re eager to talk to an interested listener about their specialties. Plus, they like to be part of the creative process of writing a book.

As long as a writer is polite, respectful, and mindful of the expert’s time constraints, most pros are happy to go the extra mile to assist you.

A small gesture of appreciation is a customary courtesy. The people who help me are listed on the acknowledgement page and I always give them an inscribed copy of the book.

Today, I raise my coffee mug in a toast to the experts who helped with Flight to Forever: Kjell, Sue, Phyllis, and Betty.

~~~

TKZers: Have you consulted experts in your research?

What sort of assistance did they provide?

~~~

 

 

Today is launch day for Flight to Forever. 

Now that you know what happened behind the scenes, I invite you to check the book out at this link. 

+13

1st First Page Critique for 2021!

Despite 2021 starting off like a bad sequel to a disaster movie, I’m trying to get back on track with all my writing goals and I hope you are too (in between just a few news distractions!) Today is my 1st first page critique of the year, and this one, despite having no title, is described as romantic suspense.  My comments follow  – see you on the flip side.

First Page Submission

What do the bitches have planned for me today?”

Gasping, she looked around. Had she really said that out loud? The thought that ruled her life and had done so since she’d arrived on campus in August. What hell were her roommates going to subject her to this time? God damn it. How the hell did the trio manage to mess with her when they weren’t even around?

Sighing when it appeared no one was paying her any undue attention, she resumed trudging towards her dorm, absently wiping a tear from her eye. Having stayed away from the room as long as she could, there wasn’t anywhere else to go. The library and student union had closed so it was the room or her car. And sadly, if she wanted to try to sleep in her car, she’d need a blanket from the room anyway. To make things worse, the football team had won that day, so they’d be drinking and probably pretty wound up.

The key bounced all around the keyhole, her hand seemingly trying to protect her from the evil on the other side. Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to relax so finally, on the tenth try, the key slid in and it was time. Bracing herself, she crept into the room. Madison and Morgan spun away from her desk, their faces turning red. Morgan hustled to the other side of the room, but Madison just stood and stared.

She walked to her bed and dropped her backpack, “Need something, Madison?”

“Your damn ass out of here.”

Right on cue, it was starting again. She tried to pretend she didn’t hear it, silently repeating to herself, don’t let them win, don’t let them see any weakness. Sitting on the bed, she pulled a fresh spiral notebook out of her backpack and grabbed a pen. All she wanted to do was ignore them and hope they might leave her alone, for once. She flipped to the first page, eager to document her initial thoughts for the latest English Lit project. It was her favorite class and the professor was the reason she was here. He was a friend of her junior college English teacher and had gotten her a scholarship. Today, he’d given her a special assignment, challenging her to dig deeper into herself after she’d confided that she had thoughts of writing for a living. ‘The ones who set themselves apart share a small part of themselves in each work’, he’d said, ‘Could she be a great one?’ Excited by the challenge, she started jotting notes. Ten seconds later, the notebook was ripped out of her hands.

Overall Comment
This page certainly has an attention getting first line, but after that I have to admit I was a little uncertain about the tone of the story, the voice of the protagonist, and whether this was the beginning of a younger adult novel dealing with bullying or (as it had been described) more of a romantic suspense novel. The tone of this first page definitely seems more suited to YA and I didn’t really get a suspense vibe…So my first major comment to our brave submitter, is what tone do you want to set for this novel? The first line “What do the bitches have planned for me today?” presents a very aggressive, in your face POV, which definitely drew me in, but after that the protagonist becomes much more passive and weak, and her actions seem to contradict an initial strong beginning. Likewise the descriptions and actions used in this first page are all over the place, presenting mixed signals about the protagonist’s character as well as the tone of the book. The final paragraph for example, seems very odd – after steeling herself for what her roommates will do to her, and fearing for the ‘evil’ they will unleash, the protagonist suddenly sits down and starts musing about her English Lit assignment…
Specific Comments
Given my overall comments focus on POV, character voice and tone, I thought the easiest way to illustrate these concerns was to go through this first page and embed my specific comments throughout. Here goes:

What do the bitches have planned for me today?” I love this attention getting first line. Wasn’t sure if intended to have as actual speech, if so need two quotation marks. Remember grammar and punctuation need to be perfect.

Gasping, she looked around. Now I’m deflated. Perhaps, the internal monologue should continue to give the protagonist a stronger voice Had she really said that out loud? The thought that ruled her life and had done so since she’d arrived on campus in August. What hell were her roommates going to subject her to this time? God damn it. How the hell did the trio manage to mess with her when they weren’t even around? Maybe move these questions up earlier so we continue to hear the protagonist’s inner monologue. Remember voice is critical to a first page so you want it ringing out loud and clear.

Sighing This seems passive, given the aggressive first line. when it appeared no one was paying her any undue attention does she secretly want attention?, she resumed trudging towards her dorm, absently why would it be absently if she’s so upset. Does she want people to see her pain and help? wiping a tear from her eye. Having stayed away from the room as long as she could, there wasn’t anywhere else to go. Explain why The library and student union had closed so it was the room or her car. And sadly, if she wanted to try to sleep in her car, she’d need a blanket from the room anyway. If she’s that afraid, why not go to a hotel? The reader needs to get a sense of why she had no one to turn to – especially as college campuses usually have counselors/RAs etc. To make things worse, the football team had won that day, so they’d be drinking and probably pretty wound up. In this paragraph the protagonist’s voice sounds far different to what we read in the first paragraph – much weaker, more passive and using different language..she says bitches and then only uses ‘wound up’?? It’s confusing for the reader and weakens the dramatic tension.

The key bounced all around the keyhole, her hand seemingly trying to protect her from the evil on the other side Very passive descriptionTaking a deep breath, she forced herself to relax so finally, on the tenth try, the key slid in and it was time. Bracing herself, she crept into the room. Again crept is a very weak description given how aggressive she sounded at the beginning of the page Madison and Morgan spun away from her desk, their faces turning red. Morgan hustled to the other side of the room, but Madison just stood and stared. So they’ve been looking through things on her desk – shouldn’t she have more reaction to this?

She protagonist should have a name as it’s unclear who this ‘she’ is walked to her bed and dropped her backpack, “Need something, Madison?”

“Your damn ass out of here.” Without more background their bullying starts to border on caricature – their actions need to feel very specific and real if we are to sympathize with the protagonist

Right on cue, it was starting again. She tried to pretend she didn’t hear it, silently repeating to herself, don’t let them win, don’t let them see any weakness. Why doesn’t she just grab the blanket and leave like she intimated in previous paragraph? Sitting on the bed, she pulled a fresh spiral notebook out of her backpack and grabbed a pen. Why do this? She’s been so afraid and upset, yet she calmly sits on the bed and pulls out the notebook?All she wanted to do was ignore them and hope they might leave her alone, for once. This seems inconsistent, given how much bullying we’ve been led to believe has happened She flipped to the first page, eager this verb seems oddly out of place given how fearful of their bullying she’s been to document her initial thoughts for the latest English Lit project. It was her favorite class and the professor was the reason she was here. These seem unnecessary details which drain the scene of dramatic tension He was a friend of her junior college English teacher and had gotten her a scholarship. Again, why is this detail here?Today, he’d given her a special assignment, challenging her to dig deeper into herself after she’d confided that she had thoughts of writing for a living. Suddenly, despite the threat from Madison and Morgan, she’s just thinking about an English Lit assignment?‘ The ones who set themselves apart share a small part of themselves in each work’, he’d said, ‘Could she be a great one?’ Excited by the challenge, she started jotting notes. Tone inconsistency – she was afraid of their evil a few minutes ago and now she’s excitedly jotting notes?Ten seconds later, the notebook was ripped out of her hands.

I hope these specific comments help highlight the issues I have with this first page. That being said, I think this brave submitter has the basis for a strong first page if the protagonist’s voice can really shine through and if the set up for the story is clearer, more consistent, and the bullying comes through as very real and dangerous.

So TKZers what constructive feedback do you have for our brave submitter?

+9

Will We All Be Grunting Soon?

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

Remember when we used to call them “grammar schools”? The idea was to train the young in the foundational rules for communicating in our language, especially in written form. Such teaching has fallen on hard times. Fewer and fewer teachers are adequately trained or interested in the rules of grammar. The fallout can be seen everywhere, from schoolrooms to boardrooms, from books to blogs.

If this slide continues, what will we be left with? Grunting, I suppose. We could end up communicating like the monster in Young Frankenstein:

In years past, all journals and newspapers had crusty editors who were deeply grounded in rules of style and grammar, and could train their cubs to be more precise and understandable. But this species of grammarian has largely died out. And with the onset of digital and instant media, the flubs are flowing more freely than cheap beer at a bowling alley wedding.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit I’m no grammar expert. Unless I’m reminded, I don’t know a gerund from Geritol. To me, conjugation sounds like what prison inmates get when their wives visit. Nevertheless, I try to do service to the King’s English by regularly checking reference books like Write Right!

So allow me to cite a few examples of grammatical drift I’ve come across recently, mostly from “reputable” sites. They may seem innocuous now, but they’re like pebbles that precede a landslide. Let us watch our wording lest we get buried under rocks of perpetual bafflement!

Apple have been focused on your point of sale dollars for hardware.

A verb has to agree with its subject. Apple is singular, so has is required.

He has been more prolific in his career than either Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach.

It’s either/or, not either/and.

Yet why does more than 1 billion devices worldwide, in all socioeconomic strata and often most dominant in emerging markets, only account for 6% of publishers’ sales typically?

Can you spot the error in this mangle of a sentence?

The best hope for conference chaos this Fall after the Big Ten canceled football season lied with Ohio State.

Hoo boy. The lie, lay, lied, laid distinction is one of the trickiest in our language. I confess it confuses me still. But it doesn’t take an English degree to sense that lied is wrong. What to do? Consult a stylebook, or find an online explanation like this one that explains the differences.

Another editorial judgment is whether to just rewrite the sentence for greater clarity. In this case, I would. First off, is the writer saying people “hope” for “conference chaos”? Or is the gist of the thought that a hopeful end to the chaos would come via Ohio State?

I suspect it’s the latter, and if so the main thought of the sentence is deflated somewhat by its structure. We need a rearrangement and a comma. And we don’t need that big capital F jumping out at us in the middle. (Almost always, a season should be lowercase. How do I know? I looked it up!)

I would recast the sentence thus:

After the Big Ten canceled football season, the best hope for ending conference chaos this fall was Ohio State.

Instead, Costas had to take a pop shot at one of the sports he helped cover for a large part of his 38-year career at NBC Sports.

Did Costas throw a can of soda? Or was this a potshot (one word), an off-hand critical remark?

How Zoom’s new features will fair in the video conferencing landscape.

One wonders how Zoom can put up a Ferris wheel and sell cotton candy in a conferencing landscape.

They’ve heard the writing on the wall.

A neat trick!

We have to tip your hat to them.

I’ll do what I please with my own hat, thank you very much.

Now the FBI goes to work pouring over surveillance videos.

Pouring what? Coffee? Won’t that hinder the investigation? I’ll need to pore over more articles to figure out what they’re doing.

We were all waiting with baited breath.

I wonder what they baited their breath with? I’ve tried anchovies, but my wife objects.

In the absence of editors, what’s a writer in a hurry to do? (Here I’m distinguishing articles and the like from novel-length books, where we do have more time for beta readers and editors. See also Terry’s excellent self-editing tips.)

I know there are digital grammar apps, like Grammarly, that might help. Most of them require a subscription and I’ve heard they’re not 100% accurate. At least you should take the time to check your doc with Word’s spelling-and-grammar tool, and listen to your document via text-to-speech.

Words and how they sound are our bread and butter. So don’t jam up the works with clunky grammar. That’s just not fare to our readers, who tip our hats to us.

+19

Limp, Reel, or Totter

Abnormal Gait

Does your old scruffy sailor limp down the dock, slap down the dock, reel down the dock, or totter back and forth on a peg leg?

When we were taught description, the advice was to be specific. We didn’t drive down the street, we raced west on Elm Street. Today we are going to add some possibilities for ways to walk abnormally. If you (or your daughter or granddaughter) grew up with Barbie dolls, you know there are a million packages of “accessories” that can be purchased to dress your doll in style. I believe my wife bought a sack of nearly one hundred shoes for the granddaughters. I just kept my mouth shut and shook my head.

Well, let’s get out the accessory package for “abnormal gait.” I explored an old medical textbook on physical diagnosis. Here’s what I found:

Parkinsonian Gait – (the shuffle)

  • Body held rigid
  • Trunk and head bent forward
  • Short, mincing steps
  • Arms do not swing
  • Other clues it’s Parkinson’s – face void of expression, hands with pill-rolling tremor

Ataxic Gait

  • Diseases of cerebellum, brain, and cerebellar tracts
  • Resembles alcoholic intoxication
  • Patient staggers or reels
  • Possible causes: stroke, infection, tumor, or trauma

Slapping gait (or Steppage Gait)

  • Pathology in the posterior column of spinal cord
  • Tabes dorsalis – caused by tertiary syphilis
  • Loss of sense of position
  • Broad based, feet wide apart
  • Raises legs high, then slaps feet on ground
  • Eyes fixed on ground
  • Manages well in light, but great difficulty in dark
  • Other diseases: diabetic neuropathy, untreated B12 deficiency, other peripheral neuropathies

Hemiplegia (weakness on one side of body)

  • Example – stroke, trauma
  • Drags affected leg around in a semicircle
  • Holds arm on same side rigid against chest wall
  • Knee held stiffly, ankle extended

Spastic gait

  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Jerking, uncoordinated movements

Scissors gait

  • Spastic paraplegia, spastic cerebral palsy
  • Walks with thighs held tightly together

Hysterical Gait

  • Bizarre
  • Delicate balancing movements are present that allow patient to walk in a bizarre fashion

Antalgic limp

  • Caused by pain
  • Irregular hopping gait
  • Hurries to shift weight to nonpainful side
  • Muscle or tendon strains can cause shortening of stride on affected side

Uneven leg length limp

  • One leg shorter
  • Compensates by walking on toe on short side or by dropping pelvis on short side
  • May be wearing one shoe with a thick sole

Ankylosed gait

  • Restricted joint motion
  • Patient who needs hip replacement “drags” the affected leg as he swings it forward

Gluteal limp

  • Example – polio myelitis
  • Caused by paralysis or shortening of the gluteus medius muscle
  • Trunk swings over the weakened side during stance phase to maintain balance

 

Okay, now it’s your turn. Tell us about the gait of one of your characters, or create a new one. Hysterical gaits could be great fun to invent. Strut him or her down the fashion runway. We’ll all watch and cheer. See that little thumbs up button on the bottom left of your screen? Vote for the descriptions you like, or you can even tell us how much you would pay for such an accessory if it were on sale by a “fashion designer” of gaits. Be kind.

 

 

 

+12

Reader Friday: Jump Inside a Book

As a kid I loved the Gumby (and his pal, Pokey) animated shorts, especially for the times when they would “jump into” a famous novel and appear in the world of that story. They’d interact with the characters and influence outcomes.

If you could jump into a novel and be part of the story, what novel would you choose, and what would you do inside that world?

+6

‘Nuff Said

By Elaine Viets

Jenny, my first editor, gave me this advice: When you write dialogue, never use any tags but “said.” and “ask.”
As advice goes, it was pretty good. Jenny told me that the eye passes over “said” and “asked” and doesn’t stop my story, the way flashier tags did. Nothing said amateur writer like so-called “creative” dialogue tags. I avoided the hundreds of synonyms for the simple, efficient “said.” Here’s why:

“It’s time to go,” he insisted.
“I agree,” she concurred.
“My arm hurts,” he whimpered.
“Come along, you big baby,” she jeered.
“Hey, that hurt,” he yelped.

I also knew adding adverbs to “said” could quickly get me into Tom Swifty territory:

“The roof doesn’t leak any more,” Tom said dryly.
“I’ve lost my hair,” Tom said baldly.
Ouch.

But good advice can go too far. Always using “said” as a tag can make your novel look like a ping-pong match. Consider this dialogue:

“I’m leaving you,” she said. “I can’t take it any more.”
“Hah!” he said. “You’ll come running back. You always do.”
“Not this time,” she said. “Your affair with that stripper was the last straw.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Let me make it up to you.”
“You can’t,” she said. “I’m outta here.”

Suppose I took out some “saids,” and added observations instead.

“I’m leaving you,” she said. “I can’t take it any more.”
“Hah!” he said. “You’ll come running back. You always do.”
She folded the last blouse into her suitcase. “Not this time. Your affair with that stripper was the last straw.” She zipped her suitcase shut.
He handed her a Tiffany blue box. “I’m sorry. Let me make it up to you.”
She opened it, and studied the diamond earrings with hard eyes. “You can’t. I’m outta here.” She tossed the box on the bed and rolled her suitcase out the door.

That’s better. And the dialogue is improved even more if I add the characters’ names:

“I’m leaving you, Josh. I can’t take it any more.”
“Hah! You’ll come running back, Marie. You always do.”
Marie folded the last blouse into her suitcase. “Not this time, Josh. Your affair with that stripper was the last straw.” She zipped her suitcase shut.
Josh handed her a Tiffany blue box. “I’m sorry, Marie. Let me make it up to you.”
She opened it, and studied the diamond earrings with hard eyes. “You can’t. I’m outta here.” Marie tossed the box on the bed and rolled her suitcase out the door.

Okay, Hollywood won’t be calling to option that dialogue, but you get the idea. Adding names and observations helps tag your dialogue, and cut back on the “saids.”
You can also use too few “saids.” Mystery writer Robert B. Parker is a master of dialogue, but he could be stingy with his “saids.” Consider this dialogue from his novel, Family Honor, featuring PI Sunny Randall. It’s written in the first person.

“They both brought people home,” she said. “If one of them was away the other would bring in a guest.”
“How about Millicent?”
“They didn’t seem to care if she knew.”
“Did they know?’
“About each other?”
“Um hmm.”
“I don’t know. They weren’t very careful. They didn’t seem to care if John or I knew.”
“Know any of the people that they brought home?”
“No.”
“Were they people who came often or did they go for variety?”
“Variety, I’m afraid.”
“Both of them?”
“Yes.”

Are you lost? I am, too. There’s more – at least another page more without a “said” to be seen. Some “I saids” every four lines or so could have made this intriguing conversation about infidelity much easier to follow.
When all is said and done, “said” makes a good dialogue tag – in moderation.
***
Preorder Death Grip, my new Angela Richman, Death Investigator mystery, due out March 2. Here’s what Kirkus said about Death Grip: “Viets produces chills with a murder hunt turned on its head.” https://tinyurl.com/ya9q9tfm

 

 

 

 

 

+14

When The Dog Catches The Car

By John Gilstrap

A couple of days ago, Brother Bell posted a compelling piece about the process of writing. It got me to thinking about the strange transition that happens when writing evolves to be more than a passion, and becomes a means to pay some or all of the bills.

NOTE WELL: None of what follows is intended as whining. I am fully aware of how fortunate I have been–and continue to be–to be 23 books into a 25-year career doing the very thing I’d have told you I wanted to do if you’d asked me when I was 12 years old.

But while I have the best job in the world, it’s still a job. There’s a relentlessness to it.

To start, I’ve over-committed. I wrote two novels and a 7,500-word short story last year. I have to deliver another Victoria Emerson thriller on April 15, followed by a September 15 deadline for the next Jonathan Grave novel. Plus, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I’m working on a fun Western novel with two other authors. As I write this, it’s my turn again to write a chapter. Tick tock. I’m also collaborating with another writer and a film producer to develop a very cool idea for a television series.

Meanwhile, my wife and I are building a new house that we’ll be moving to around this time next year. It’s in the West Virginia woods, about 90 minutes from our current house. In addition to the weekly (minimum) visits to the worksite to monitor the details, there are the thousands of decisions to be made from among infinite variables. Exterior stone, interior floors, appliances, design flow, and, and, and . . .

I must confess that the general malaise of the past 12 months worked its way into my soul more deeply than I would have expected. And I’m a news junkie. ‘Nuff said on that.

Crimson Phoenix, the first book in my new Victoria Emerson series drops on February 23, and my publisher is pulling out a lot of stops to promote it, which means lots of emailed interviews and (God help us) Zoom calls. I’ve got a YouTube channel to feed, social media stuff, and the rest of everyday life.

I feel sometimes that every time I sit down to write, another high-priority, time-sensitive thing pops up. My wife and I both work out of the house–our offices are no more than 30 feet from each other–and oftentimes, we won’t see each other until dinnertime, and then we usually go back to work after dinner. We do make it a point to relax and watch TV beginning at 8pm at the latest. Sanity lies in Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Okay, maybe I am whining.

I think I’ve mentioned here before that I spend a fair amount of time on Facebook writers’ groups. (It’s a great way to bring traffic to my YouTube channel.) Those places teem with rookies who maintain that as writers, their sole job is to create stuff, and that marketing, promotion and the rest should be someone else’s responsibility. I don’t engage at that level because I have little to offer to the deeply clueless. We all know the reality that without all that other non-writing activity, success will never happen. (I’ll leave it to you to determine what your definition of success is.)

Then, when success does happen, complete with all the accoutrements, the world changes a bit. Maybe a lot. It feels unearned because you know there are way better writers than you who have not seen the same success. And because it feels unearned, it also feels fragile. Hell, it is fragile. Fragility is the nature of the entertainment business.

The past is the past, pal. What’ve you got for me today?

With success comes the burden of additional opportunities, all of which have a short shelf life. I say “burden” of opportunities with full knowledge that the phrase sounds oxymoronic. You work hard, you create work that resonates. Do it long enough, and it resonates with enough people that the work gets recognized by people higher than you on the creative ladder and they invite you onto their rung.

It’s terrifying, if only because saying no is not an option. You say yes to an invitation to submit to an anthology of stories by franchise names. You say yes to the offer to develop a TV series because if you say no, you may never get another call like that. Every effort for every project has to be the best you can give because anything short of that betrays the reason you were asked in the first place.

You lose sleep because you understand that no matter how much effort you put into those opportunities, they may come to nothing. You realize that your true loyalty must be focused on the longtime readers who helped you achieve your greatest dreams. They, too, perhaps more than any others, also deserve the best you can give. They’ve earned the best you can give.

“Sleep is for the weak,” a fire captain told me one time. I’ve been thinking about him a lot these past few months.

+17

Editing: The Three Levels Of Hell

(Note: This post will be a little harried, so forgive me if it’s badly edited. I lost a crown Sunday night and my dentist was good enough to get me in Monday morning. Be good to your teeth or they’ll turn on you…)

By PJ Parrish

I like to think I’m a pretty decent writer. But man, I am a lousy editor. And this from a person who spent a good portion of her journalism career working a copy desk.

Try as I might, I am just not very good at ferreting out typos, keeping names of characters straight, and understanding all the variations of lie and lay. This was not a huge problem when my books were published by reputable houses with great line editors and wonderful in-house copy editors. But with the contraction in the industry over the past two decades, most publishers began to farm out editing duties to free-lancers. Not to bash them — many were refugees from staff cuts — but the father workers wander from the main source, the harder it to keep things from going awry. This is partly why print newspapers now have so many errors and typos in them; local copy desks are a thing of the past and stories are edited not in the towns where they are produced but in centralized mother-ship offices. This is why, when I was working in Fort Lauderdale, an editor in our Chicago office changed the color of key lime pie in my story from yellow to green. In all fairness, maybe she didn’t get out much.

But I digress. This week, I am trying to edit one of my old books, Thicker Than Water, as we ready to self-pub it on Amazon. We have done this to most of our backlist titles as we get the rights back to them.

Now here’s the thing: This book, like all the others, went through the rigorous thresher of our previous publishers — first Kensington, then Fawcett, Simon & Schuster, Thomas & Mercer, and some excellent foreign houses. Boy, I had some great editors along the line, including my very first, John Scoglamiglio, who is now editor in chief at Kensington Books.

Still, I am aghast at the errors, typos and flab I am finding. My blood runs cold at this because I know that while readers can be understanding about such things, their trust only can stretch so far.

My point (yes, I have one!) is that whether you hope to be traditionally published or go it on your own, you must do whatever you can do get good editing. How? Well, that’s the problem, right? How to find a good editor is a blog for another day. The good ones don’t come cheap. But I gotta say this: Only a fool thinks they can edit their own book. If you disagree, go read Terry’s January 8 post here on how she tackles editing.

So let me try to set the table by reviewing the three different types of editing you will need and maybe have to fork over good money to pay for. Basically, there are three levels to editing — LINE EDITING, COPY EDITING AND PROOF-READING.

One of the best explanations of the differences I’ve run across comes from publishing expert and teacher Jane Friedman. (Her blog is a must-read for any writer at any level.)

If you’re thinking of hiring an editor, you have to be clear on exactly what the editor will do. I recommend you read Jane’s entire blog on the subject. Click HERE. It is a guest post from Sandra Wendel, book doctor, editor, and author of the book, Cover To Cover: What First-Time Authors Need to Know about Editing. Here are some highlights:

LINE EDIT: an editor examines every word and every sentence and every paragraph and every section and every chapter and the entirety of your written manuscript. Typos, wrong words, misspellings, double words, punctuation, run-on sentences, long paragraphs, subheadings, chapter titles, table of contents, author bios—everything is scrutinized, corrected, tracked, and commented on. Facts are checked, name spellings of people and places are confirmed.

Me here: This is the heavy-lifting of editing. My professional editors would send me lengthy letters that made me want to cry. But the editors were doing their jobs — suggesting plot changes, character enhancements, digressions to fix, time-time errors to correct, places where the pace flagged. If you ever had a good line editor, you know they can make or break a book. Back to Sandra (with bold face from me!)

COPY EDIT:  There is confusion about what a copy edit includes. Most of the time, authors want that thorough line edit. If a manuscript is so clean, so squeaky clean, so perfectly written with lovely paragraphing and fine-tuned punctuation, then maybe the manuscript just needs a copy edit. Like never. I can’t even recall a manuscript that has come to me this clean that it would need just one pass for a polish for mechanical issues. Never. Not even books written by professional writers. And not even my own book. I hired out my line editing, and it’s a humbling process. So let’s just agree that when someone says copy edit, they really mean a much deeper and more thorough edit than putting commas in the right place. A copy edit is the lowest level of edit. Rarely does a manuscript need “just” a copy edit. Sometimes a copy edit is a final step performed separately by your editor or someone else with fresh eyes. Some editors (like me) do copy editing all along looking for these types of errors, and a copy edit is part of the line edit.

Here is a checklist of what Sandra says goes into a copy edit:

  • Correct any typos, which would include misspelled words.
  • Fill in missing words.
  • Format the manuscript before production, and that includes just one space between sentences (I don’t care what you learned in typing class in high school, the double space messes up the document when it is converted into real book pages).
  • Streamline punctuation and properly use commas, periods, and em dashes—like this.
  • Avoid overuse of ellipses to denote a break in thought … when they are really used to show missing text. And those exclamation marks! I allow authors about five in each manuscript. Overuse them, and they lose their punch.
  • Make sure the names of characters and places are spelled consistently throughout (Peterson in chapter 1 may or may not be the same Petersen in chapter 6).
  • Find and replace similarly sounding words that have different meanings (for example, effect and affect).
  • Conduct a modest fact check (perform a Google search to find the exact spelling of Katharine Hepburn or the capital of Mongolia). This isn’t Jeopardy!, so you do get to consult resources. I keep a window open to Google just for such searches.
  • Make new paragraphs to break up long passages.
  • Question the use of song lyrics and remind the author to get written permission.
  • Point out, in academic work, that footnote 6 does not have a reference source in the citations.
  • Remove overuse of quotation marks. For emphasis, use italics, but sparingly. Books generally do not use boldface.
  • Impose a consistent style for the text (this means using a style guide for capitalization and hyphenation, treatment of numbers, heading levels). The Chicago Manual of Style is preferred unless the work needs to conform to an academic convention such as APA, AMA, or MLA.

Me again. Whew. See the difference? A good copy edit is vital to any book. But don’t confuse it with a line edit. A line edit is a deep tissue massage, and sometimes surgery. A copy edit is a mani-pedi. Which leaves us with the last editing step. From Sandra again, talking about proof-reading, a k a getting your galleys:

PROOF-READ: Let’s say your manuscript is fully edited (no matter which level you chose, sometimes even a developmental followed by a line edit with the same or different editors). Your work will need a proofread either in manuscript format or after it is designed in pages as PDFs. Should you proofread your own work? The short answer is later, if you’re in writing mode. The shorter answer is never. Why? Because it’s your work. And your brain plays funny tricks on you. It will fill in your words, and you’ll be completely shocked when a professional editor returns your edited manuscript. What? How could I miss that?

Me here. (Back from the dentist with a temp crown and a jaw full of novocaine) Okay, that’s the breakdown of what to expect from editing, in a nutshell. Again, I urge you to go read the entire blog. It’s filled with good advice. Hope I’ve left you something good to chew on.

 

 

+11

Writing Tips from Elmore Leonard’s Boyd Crowder

If you haven’t watched Justified, check it out. It’s a goldmine for writers. The FX series is based on Elmore Leonard’s short story, Fire in the Hole, and three books, including Raylan. In fact, all the actors wore wrist bands that read WWED — What Would Elmore Do?— to stay true to the creator’s vision.

Elmore Leonard worked on the show till his death in 2013.

The series follows Raylan Givens, a U.S. Marshal, played by Timothy Olyphant, who returns to his hometown of Kentucky to take on the local criminal element. Boyd Crowder, an old friend, proves to be his toughest nemesis. Raylan may be the hero, but Boyd, the villain, steals almost every scene. Boyd is calm, funny, and deadly. The back-and-forth between Boyd and Raylan is absolutely mesmerizing. Elmore Leonard did a masterful job of creating these two characters.

I’m not sure if we mere mortals could pull off such a memorable character like Boyd, but he sure is inspiring. Aside from Leonard’s expert characterization, the remarkable talent of Walton Goggins never lets you see the full picture as clearly as you think you do. Just when you’ve figured Boyd out, he switches sides and teams up with Raylan to bring down a bad guy.

Writing Tip: The best villains have at least one endearing characteristic.

To Elmore Leonard’s credit, Raylon also blurs the line between hero and anti-hero.

Writing Tip: The best heroes are flawed.

Fun fact: Walton Goggins only signed on for the pilot episode, in which Boyd was supposed to die, but Elmore Leonard wanted to explore the character in more depth. The rest, as they say, is history.

Boyd Crowder’s Characterization

Rap sheet: Silver-tongued bank robber turned low-level Kentucky kingpin with higher aspirations and an occasional religious “born again” streak.

Superpower: Nobody who knows this many 50c words has fewer compunctions about stabbing you in the back. Nobody likely to stab you in the back knows this many 50c words.

Kryptonite: He’s desperately in love with his former sister-in-law.

Writing Tip: When crafting characters think outside the box.

What makes Boyd truly stand out is his poetic dialogue, which we’ll get to in a sec. First, let’s look at a few of his one-liners.

Arguing with a man who has renounced reason is like giving medicine to the dead.

I believe you dictate the river of fate through your own actions.

I’ve learned to think without arguing with myself.

A man who speaks out both sides of his mouth deserves to have it permanently shut.

I’ve been accused of bein’ a lot of things. Inarticulate ain’t one of ’em.

He’s right! I should probably note: Until you’re as famous as Elmore Leonard, attempting the following dialogue in your WIP might not work. 😉

Boyd: Well, well, well… I hesitate to ask what brings us the pleasure of this divine coincidence that we find ourselves crossing paths this fine spring morning.

Translation: What are you doing here?

Boyd: I fear, my brother, I am in a quandary as to your inner thoughts and the impact of said ruminations on your future actions in this here hollow.

Translation: What’s up?

Boyd: Mr. Augustine, seeing as how Drew Thompson’s already in the Marshalls’ custody, why you’re cutting off the tail of my cousin and offering him up is opaque to me.

Translation: What do you want?

Boyd: I fear that within my belly stirs the emanations of desire for a product that sates the ache within.

Translation: I’m hungry.

Boyd: Well, my darling, being a lowly omnivore like yourself, I shall choose from this glorious list of animal flesh—the edible prize that men have hunted and killed for centuries, incidentally—a rounded flesh of cow, slipped within a doughy mattress, saddled with cheddar.

Translation: I’ll have a cheeseburger.

Boyd: Be that as it may, I sense within me a growing, nagging torpor that seeks a temporary hibernation in a solitary area for comfort and slumber.

Translation: I’m going to bed.

Make no mistake. Boyd is a dangerous guy. Check out one of the best murder speeches ever written.

That’s a rap, folks! May 2021 be your most successful year yet.

Have you watched Justified or read Fire in the Hole?

Join the giveaway for a chance to win 33 fast-paced thrillers and a new e-reader! No email required.

Enter to win here: https://t.co/k0oZKfcIYX?amp=1

Good luck!

 

+16