Another round of edits: 10 things learned

After spending the past month editing my WIP, Book II of the Worlds Apart series: A Mass of Enemies, I realized some things I hadn’t really reflected on before.

Here they are: ten things learned after another round of edits.

1. It’s really hard to keep characters, scenes and plot points consistent between books 1 and 2 of the same series. As you change, so do your characters and your perceptions of them.

2. Only writing can make you a better writer.

3. I don’t believe in Writer’s Block, or maybe I’ve been lucky not to experience it yet.

4. As writers write, they grow. But just because we can publish ourselves in this highly evolving self-publishing world, doesn’t mean we always should.

5. Get lots and lots of beta readers and edits done before you think about publishing. People will be nice to your writing. People won’t understand it. People will despise it. If you’re lucky they might like it. Don’t go off one of those opinions or even all of them. Take what you need. You will learn something from each and every critique and read through you receive.

6. It’s never gonna be perfect.

7. Know your manuscript so well that you’ve practically memorized entire scenes. Go back to them. Fix them. Mull them over. Go back again.

8. I imagine I will always think about every mistake (or what I may think of as mistakes) in my novels for years to come. I need to develop a strategy to do better with that and just let the pieces fall where they may.

9. Keep writing.

10. Love your writing. Love those who become invested in your writing. Show them you appreciate them. They are more valuable than gold.

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What kind of things have you realized after editing?

A Game of Thrones: Show Versus Tell

It seems to me that the battle between Show Versus Tell has been going on longer than the Game of Thrones being played in Westeros, but it’s a bit less exciting.

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Okay, maybe a lot less exciting.

But Show and Tell are duking it out just the same. And while one may be favored above the other by good writers everywhere, their continual struggle and fight for the spotlight cannot be ignored.

Who are these characters, Show and Tell, and what claim do they have to the Writing Throne?

These powerful figures that inhabit the writing world have been around since the beginning of time, and they continue to mystify those who live and deal with them on a regular basis.

It seems that the more these two fight for power, the more they wreck and ruin everything in their path.

But for us writers, we don’t have to be ruined. We don’t have to choose sides. We can serve both masters. We just have to figure out the appropriate time and place for them—when to show and when to tell. Before I go any further about these enigmatic entities, let me introduce them to you.

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Show has his hands in everything, from dialogue and scenes to thoughts, actions, and reactions. But Show should be all over the place (so to speak), because Show is a lot more engaging than Tell. Even Tell will tell you that.

But Show has some shortcomings, and that’s where Tell comes in. Show can’t possibly show—through action, dialogue, or other mechanics—every facet of a character’s life. You can’t show the reader that Mrs. Klein is an ex-gymnast with a love for gambling and a knack for attracting seedy men. Showing all of this would take ages, and you don’t have the time or the energy to do it. In this case, Tell delivers what he needs to, dropping bits of detail, while Show works his magic. If Tell does his job well, the reader won’t even notice him.

Tell should do this seamlessly, bit by bit, so the reader retains his or her curiosity for the character. Dumping all the facts down from the very beginning is a sure way to get your readers disinterested. When that happens, they’ll close your book. Forever!

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Well, maybe they won’t be that harsh, but you get the point.

When chunks of story are missing or it is too difficult to show everything that happened from the beginning of time to where the characters are now, then tell. Tell the reader what happened without going on for too long. And then begin to show again.

Keep Show and Tell in check, so they balance each other in an eternal dance like they were always meant to. You cannot show an entire story, and you most definitely cannot tell one either. Show should take center stage. Don’t tell the reader that Cindy was upset. Show it by making the reader feel a certain mood. With precise language, show her anger by engaging the five senses. What color was her face, her ears? How did they get that way?  What shades of color and imagery show the reader Cindy’s current mood?

Perhaps it’s that both Show and Tell have a claim to the Writing Throne, but at different times. When you’re writing, there are times when it is better to tell than to show, and for the most part, vice versa. If done correctly the reader will experience the story rather than be a distant observer.

Alternate Show and Tell so that your reader can see the scene but also read bits of backstory throughout. Find that balance and you’re on your way to writing a great piece. Then you can have more time to focus on your other problem areas.

We’ve been showing and telling since kindergarten. Why should it be any different now? 

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* * *

Show strolled down the chalky grey street, hands in his faded denim jeans pockets, an unlit cigarette hanging lifelessly from his mouth. He spotted the woman he was looking for underneath the awning of a barbershop that had been closed for several years. Her silk stockings and ruby red lipstick matched with everything Show had heard about Lady Klein. Instead of asking the question he was meant to ask her, all he could say was, “got a light?”

Tell had always been an upstanding citizen, everyone knew. Ever since the day he had turned down Mrs. Joplin’s advances in her attempt to make her wayward husband jealous, he had been the envy of every man and the lust of every woman, including Mrs. Joplin.

I have an obsession with making characters out of everyone or everything. And I don’t think it will ever stop.

You really want to be a writer?

Stop telling the world and start showing them.

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Follow me on Twitter @jobicusmaximus Instagram @worldsaparttheseries or @jobabraham or check out my website: www.jamerkel.com

How to Hook your Readers with a Good Opening Paragraph

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If you’re following my blog, just stopping by, or keep up with me in any capacity, then I assume it’s for one of three reasons:

  1. You’re a friend, acquaintance, or follower of mine, genuinely interested in my upcoming book series, Worlds Apart, and the process that goes along with it.
  2. You’re a fellow reader, writer, or blogger looking consciously or accidently stumbling upon my blog or other resources for ideas of your own – and that’s great; we all do it! OR . . .
  3. You’re in it for the “Free Giveaway Mondays” that happen on the last Monday of every month because . . . well . . . who doesn’t like free stuff? And if that’s why you’re following me, that’s perfectly fine, too. My hope is that you’ll enjoy what I write enough to keep coming back for more.

Regardless of what brought you here, I really appreciate the support, and I couldn’t do it without you!

I want to share with you a piece of personal information that my fellow readers, writers, and bloggers might find useful. I want to talk about the importance of strong book openings and how to hook your readers with a good opening paragraph.

We’ve all heard the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” And although those words are great in theory, the fact of the matter is: we DO judge a book by its cover. Now that e-books have a stronger presence in the reader’s realm, a cover is one of the most important things . . . that is, until you open it.

What comes after the book cover? Page 1, of course. Much like the cover, you, as the author, want the first chapter, page, paragraph, sentence to shine like the sun that little orphan Annie promises will come out tomorrow! You want the following pages and chapters to be just as good, but you really want that intro to pop. Why? Well . . . think about it!

Unless you’re writing for self-satisfaction and don’t really care how your books fare, then you want people to read your books. Let me lay out three scenarios for you to consider.

Scenario #1 Your readers buy your book, but your opening page and paragraph are terrible. There is no hook. Your readers become bored, and you’re tossed into that wannabe-writer-with-no-talent pile. And if you were working on a series, well, you can forget about future sales.

Scenario #2 Your opening is mediocre. It’s not great, but it’s not bad. People who bought your book were curious enough to read on past the first few pages. Maybe they’ll get to chapter 3 or 4, but unless the writing improves, they won’t be able to stomach much more. Only those readers who believe they have to finish every book they start will hang in until the bitter end. And then you’re out of luck. Trust me, they won’t be back for round two.

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Scenario #3 Your opening is fantastic. You’ve got the reader pulled in, hook, line and sinker, and they’re not going anywhere! Writing a good opening is like starting your party with the good wine. When you write, however, you don’t want to switch to the cheap wine—no matter how drunk your guests get. Am I suggesting that you get your readers drunk on your well-written prose, dialogue, and action? Absolutely!

If you need some inspiration for how to hook your readers, check out “The 25 Best Opening Lines in Western Literature.” Not only does the article give examples of great openings, it also describes why they are effective.  I’ve included one of my favorites below.

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Opening lines from George Orwell’s 1984

Creative Thought Process: “To properly set the mood for a futuristic dystopia, combine the elements of springtime, coldness, an unlucky number, and bells tolling. Then, watch people fight over the feasibility of a clock that can strike thirteen.” (shmoop.com)

Every writer wants to experience the third of my scenarios. It means your readers are buying your book, reading it from cover to cover, and—hopefully—will be left with a craving for more.  That leads to word-of-mouth recommendations, book reviews, and a general boost in visibility. And if you’re writing a series, like I am, you need all those things!

The reason I share all of this is because I recently had, and am still having, a hard time with my opening for Book One, A Myth Reborn. In 2011, I began my writing journey, and for the last three years, I’ve been changing, editing and tweaking my first novel. Mostly I’ve been happy with it—except for the opening, that is. My problem was that I liked most of what I had written and didn’t want to change too much, so I removed chunks of muscle and skin and let the skeleton of the story intact.

During the madness of March, when I did little except write, edit, and research, I realized (with much help from my editor, Susan Hughes), that it was time to take more drastic measures. It was time to amputate a few limbs from the skeleton of my story. It was stressful, at first, to throw out all those words. What if I couldn’t replicate what I’d written the first time? What if I forgot certain plot points and they popped up in the story later, out of nowhere? The point is—I wasn’t satisfied. I went back to the drawing board, after 3 years, and tossed the opening of my story, and you know what? The ideas came flooding in! And many of the other minor problems I’d had with my story began to work themselves out, too!

Having suffered through this part of the process, here’s my advice: Hook your readers with something different. Write something out of the ordinary. Make them CARE, right from the start. With the opening I’m working on right now, I allude to the fact that (much like the mantra of my entire series), “change is coming.” After a line or two, the reader discovers, through thoughts, action, or dialogue, that things are about to change. And change is good—it means there’s a story to tell.

Anyway, that’s my take on it. Don’t just take my word on it, though. The article linked above has lots of clever ideas on how to write a good opening, and the commentary about the creative thought processes each author went through is witticism at its finest!

Finally, as I end this post, I’d like to share an update about my month of March Madness and what is on the horizon for April. Because I like naming things and giving them themes, I’m deeming next month “An Author’s April Spring Cleaning.”  I’m going to clean up what I need to. That means more editing on A Myth Reborn, categorizing the helpful resources I’ve found in a more organized way, and attempting to get ahead of the oncoming wave that is self-publishing. And, of course, I have to plan for my next giveaway on April 28th, the last Monday of the month!

Don’t forget, the March Madness Free Giveaway Monday is still live until March 31st at midnight (EST).

Life is beautiful! The future is bright!

“Keep on dreaming even if it breaks your heart.” – Eli Young Band

Like what you see?

Follow me on Twitter @jobicusmaximus Instagram @worldsaparttheseries or @jobabraham or check out my website: www.jamerkel.com

See you all next time!

What to Consider When Choosing an Editor

Every child who grew up watching/playing Pokémon (an animated cartoon/video game originating in Japan) secretly wishes they could have lived in that world. Okay, so you saw it on TV, with animated monsters and people running around saying cheesy lines, and you think, why would I want to be in that world?

One, instead of going to school, you get to travel the world with creatures possessing incredible powers while battling other trainers during your journeys. If you’re good, you can catch wild and elusive Pokémon, defeat other powerful trainers, and form bonds with these dynamic creatures as you all grow together. Sounds like a dream come true to me. That phrase Ash Ketchum uses so frequently, “Pikachu, I choose you,” has so much power behind it. He makes the decision to choose a water type or a fire type and then commands all the moves.

Well, I don’t live in a Pokémon world, but recently I felt that exhilarating type of power that Ash feels every time he chooses a poke ball from his belt. This week, I had the great honor of choosing an editor. Try as I might, I’m not able to go the way alone. I need a fresh set of eyes and ears to hear my story – someone removed from my own mind and personal experiences to show me what I just can’t see.

So I emailed about fifteen freelance editors from the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) asking them to give me a quote and time estimate based on my project. I tried a larger company first but felt the interaction was impersonal, and I definitely didn’t want that for my book series. I wanted something more personal and intimate, someone I could call on at any hour if I had a question.

Of the fifteen editors, they all had one thing in common: they were all prompt. Bam! Things were off to a great start. Next, came the important part. In choosing my editor I looked at three main things:

  1. Response/response time: Did they respond to my questions/directions from my email? Did they write a few sentences and not really address what I wanted, or did they take the time to answer my questions, go above and beyond, and ask some of their own? Basically, did they seem invested in my project or did it seem like they couldn’t be bothered to take on another project?
  2. Sample edit: It is impossible to understand how an editor edits without seeing some of their work! Some editors offered to do a sample edit under a certain word count. Others I had to ask, but once I did, they all agreed to do so. Some didn’t offer while others ended up never getting back to me after the initial email.
  3. Services offered, experience and expense: After getting past the initial round, and eliminating those who didn’t respond or asked me the same questions repeatedly after me having answered them, I moved onto numbers 2 and 3. I wanted to know what services editors offered and how much he or she would charge for them. One editor told me she could edit the entire manuscript for a very low price (possibly thinking I might bite based on that) without even seeing my level or ability. I ruled her out immediately. The fees and services offered by the editors ranged widely. Some offered copyediting, developmental editing, critiques, author coaching, promo support, or any combination of these services. Experience was another thing I looked at. Had they edited for authors who had been published? Had the books done well?

Two weeks later, I had my choices narrowed down to four. Why couldn’t I just choose all of them? Well… we won’t get into that just yet. I had to choose one! My upcoming battle with the self-publishing world was fast approaching, and I could only take one Pokémon with me (apologies to my editor for comparing her to a Pokémon!).

Of the four, two of them were expensive upkeep. They needed food and water all the time, and I just couldn’t afford to keep them going. The other two were in close competition. They would both be spending their precious time and energy to fight for me, and in that they were equal. But one stood out above the other. I noticed a bond there from the very beginning. She had reached out to me in just about every form of social media, knew about my life, and each of her email responses was tailored to my specific questions. This told me that she was truly as invested in this project as I was. After some deep thought, I was ready to make my decision. I was ready to deliver my “baby” into the hands of a very capable editor.

So, I am happy to announce that I have selected my editor for Book One of the Worlds Apart series, A Myth Reborn.

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Susan Hughes, I choose you!

Susan Hughes is a freelance independent editor and proofreader, handling fiction and nonfiction, corporate publications, essays, and articles. She specializes in substantive editing, line editing, copyediting, and proofreading.

She has edited titles by independent authors Lauren Graham (Seriously Cancer? I Do Not Have Time for This!) and Richard Stephenson (Collapse and its sequel, Resistance). She also edits for Charles P. Garcia, whose op-ed pieces have been published by Fox.com and Jill Carpenter, who writes for The Huffington Post.

Interested in finding an editor for yourself? See if Susan Hughes meets your needs.

website: www.myindependenteditor.com

Twitter: hughesedits4u

And now, onto the next thing! See you all next time!