An Easy Way to Improve Your Novel Right Now

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If you read my post on using find and replace to edit your novel, you know that I’m all about easy ways to pretty up your prose!

There are certain writing tips and tricks that get shoved around a lot: showings vs. telling, info dumps, and purple prose, for example. But there’s another big one that’s often ignored: filtering.

Filtering is when you “filter” the novel through the character’s senses, creating an extra layer of distance between the reader and the story.

There are a lot of filtering words, but here are the big ones.

Filtering Words

  • Saw
  • Heard
  • Felt
  • Tasted
  • Knew
  • Thought
  • Realized

If you’ve never heard of filtering, you might be thinking, I use these words all the time!  Unfortunately, filtering is something widely known among industry professionals (it can be a red flag that work is amateur), but it’s much less known to aspiring authors.

Let’s look at an example of text with filtering:

Tina heard a deep grown and felt breath on the back of her neck. She knew the monster was too close, and she realized the door was too far for her to get away. Her mouth tasted dry and metallic with fear, and she could feel her heart thumping against her ribs. As she turned, she saw big drops of monster spit all over the ground and knew she was done for.

The problem with all of this filtering is that it stops the reader from putting themselves in the character’s place because they are constantly reminded of their distance from the events. It’s Tina who heard the noise, not the reader. It’s Tina who tasted the fear.

So what would this look like if filtering were eliminated? There are lots of ways to get rid of filtering, and they all require you to stretch your creative muscle. Here’s one possible rewrite:

There was a deep growl and hot breath sprayed against the back of Tina’s neck. The monster was close. Too close. She squinted in the darkness, but the door was at least fifteen feet away. She’d never make it. A dry, metallic taste filled her mouth, and her heart thumped against her ribs. She turned and the toe of her shoe dipped into a puddle of monster spit. She was done for. There was no way she’d make it out now.

Do you notice how much closer you feel to the action in this second version? Do you see how much more heavily it relies on showing instead of telling?

Eliminating filtering words is an easy way to improve your writing right now.

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The Ultimate NaNoWriMo Survival Guide

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NaNoWriMo is coming! In three days you will begin a mad dash to write 50,000 words in just 30 days! It will be chaotic. It will be stressful. And if you don’t have the right tools and techniques, you might not survive!

So here it is, my ultimate NaNoWriMo Survival Guide!

Stalk the Forums

Want to take a break? Need a hug? Choking on a plot bunny? The forums over at NaNoWriMo are awesome! Support for yourself (and your story) is just a click away!

Indulge in Your Liquid Vice

Coffee? Tea? Whiskey? Diet Coke? Normally I wouldn’t endorse such indulgences, but this is NaNoWriMo people! Whatever your liquid vice, stock up on it and keep it close at hand for emergency pick-me-ups.

Put Socializing on Hold

You don’t have to go to every party, wedding, and girls night out. This is a month to focus on you and your writing. Your true friends and loving family members will understand and still be there when you hit 50k.

Set up a Writing Oasis

A cuddly cat? A firmly closed door? The TV blaring? What do you need to create a writing oasis? If you’re not sure, trial and error is a good way to start. Figure out your perfect writing conditions and make sure it’s available when you need it.

Don’t Panic

You will get behind at some point during NaNoWriMo. You’ll run out of ideas, have a family crisis, or collapse in a heap of tears unable to lift a pen. It will happen. But don’t panic. Catching up on those lost words isn’t as hard as you might think. Just take a deep breath and plow forward.

Connect with other WriMos

Whether on Twitter (#NaNoWriMo), the NaNo website, or beyond, find a community of fellow NaNo Warriors and connect. You need the comradery, the cheerleading, the shoulders to cry on. Don’t try to NaNo alone!

Find Your Mantra

What is it that holds you back from your writing? Create a mantra to counteract it, write it down, and stick it on your desk or computer screen. Some examples: I deserve a chance to do what I love; I can accomplish anything; Excuses get me nowhere.

Change Your Scenery

Sometimes you just need to move out of your writing oasis to get the juices flowing. Find a nice coffee shop, get yourself an expensive latte (or whatever you drink) and bang out some words away from home.

Turn Off the Internet

If you find yourself spending more time reading about writing than actually writing, it’s time to turn off the internet. Take a notebook outside (a real one, you know, with paper), or turn your WiFi off (smart phones too!). Then get to work!

Stash Your Favorite Snack

Gummy works? Peppermints? Jalapeno potato chips? NaNoWriMo is not the month to be watching your waist line. A hundred extra calories a day? We gotta do what it takes my writer friends!

Take (Structured) Breaks

Sometimes sitting and staring at a blank screen can do more harm than good. If you need a break, take one, but keep it structured. One level of Candy Crush. Fifteen minutes cuddling your cat. A half hour TV show. Keep breaks short and sweet, but don’t deprive yourself of mental rest.

Attend Write Ins

NaNoWriMo provides handy local groups where you can connect with writers in your area and get together to write. There’s nothing like a roomful of furiously typing fingers to get you focused on your own book.

Participate in Word Sprints

Word sprints are a mad dash to a certain word count. When you’re accountable to other writers, it helps you really keep your focus. You can find word sprints on the NaNo forums and on Twitter (#NaNoWriMo & @NaNoWordSprints).

Bribe Yourself

There’s nothing like bribes and rewards to get words on the page. Bribe yourself for both big and little goals: a bathroom break when you finish the page, an episode of Mad Men when you get to 10k, a NaNoWriMo T-shirt when you cross the finish line.

For Pete’s Sake, Don’t Edit!

The last thing you want to do during NaNoWriMo is edit your work. Put the words on the page and then don’t look at them again! Not even a peek. Always move forward and never look back. You’ve got the rest of the year for editing.

Read the Pep Talks

NaNoWriMo is nice enough to get real authors to write pep talks. Don’t ignore them. These talks are awesome! Make sure to read them and get yourself all revved up!

Track Your Progress

There’s nothing more rewarding than watching those little bars climb up and up and up on the chart tracking your progress on the NaNoWriMo site. Check out this chart often and bask in the glory of how far you’ve come!

Always Believe in You

Don’t let that little voice inside your head tell you that you suck, that you’ll never make it, that you’re not a real writer. You can do whatever you put your mind to. Every writer starts somewhere. You WILL make it.

 

Want some FREE editing for your NaNoWriMo novel (or any novel)? Enter my contest to win free editing from yours truly. All participants get a free query letter critique!

 

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How to Avoid Errors in Tense (Past or Present)

Tense comes easier to some writers than to others. If you’re a writer that struggles with sticking to one tense, here are some tips that will help.

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Choose Your Natural Tense

Unless there is a very good reason not to, write your novel in the tense that comes most naturally to you. This will save you a ton of time in revisions, because no matter how hard you try, you will always (at least occasionally) veer back towards your natural tense if you try to write in a tense you’re not as comfortable with.

The majority of writers are weak in present tense. Even after dozens of rounds of revisions, their writing still has glaring errors. In the typical past tense novel I edit, I see maybe 4-12 issues with the tense across the entire manuscript. But in every single present tense novel, I see hundreds of errors in tense, sometimes 4-12 per page.

There are some writers, though rare, that have an easier time sticking to present tense than past. There are also some writers who don’t make mistakes in either tense. Know what kind of writer you are. Be aware of which tense comes more naturally to you and use it!

Check Around Dialogue

One of the most common places I find tense errors is directly following dialogue that is in the opposite tense of the narration. For example:

I shove my hands on my hips and scowl. “It wasn’t like that,” I said.

Since the dialogue is in the past tense, it tricks the writer’s brain into thinking that “said” is correct. This should really be written:

I shove my hands on my hips and scowl. “It wasn’t like that,” I say.

Here’s an example in past tense:

I marched across the room and grabbed her by the shoulders.  “We need to get out of here now,” I say and wipe the sweat from my brow.

Again, the tense has shifted after the dialogue. It should be written:

I marched across the room and grabbed her by the shoulders. “We need to get out of here now,” I said and wiped the sweat from my brow.

Mistakes in tense around dialogue are extremely common so make sure to spend extra time on these areas.

Imagine Talking to a Friend

This is a trick that can help the writers who truly can’t identify whether something is in past or present tense.

If you’re not sure whether a line is written correctly, imagine that rather than reading a story, you are talking to a friend.

If you are trying to write in the present tense, imagine you are talking to a friend and narrating what you’re doing right this second. For example:

I turn around and walk to the counter. The clerk smiled at me as I picked out a pack of gum.

If you imagine that you are narrating your every move as it happens, you will realize that “the clerk smiled” doesn’t make sense. It should be “the clerk smiles.”

If you’re trying to write in the past tense, imagine you are telling a story to your friend about something that happened last week. For example:

I ran down the street and bumped into Mrs. Duncan. She scowls at me and nearly faints.

When reading that out loud as if you’re telling a story about last week, it’s obvious that “she scowls” doesn’t make sense and that it should be “she scowled.”

Proofread, Proofread, then Proofread Again

If you’re writing in present tense or if you struggle with the past tense, you need to proofread your novel multiple times. Read through the entire thing looking for nothing but tense errors. Read it backwards if you have to. But make sure that you catch every single error in tense.

Though the mistakes may be simple to fix, errors in tense jar readers out of the story, which means that agents and editors will be more likely to chuck your manuscript into the rejection pile.

Get a Beta Reader or Hire an Editor

If worst comes to worst and you feel that you aren’t able to iron out your tense issues on your own, seek out a capable beta reader or hire an editor.

For more thoughts on tense, check out my article: Present Tense Might be a Bad Idea.

Need help with tense, plot, or other problems? Check out my editing services or pick up a free 1,000 word edit.

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The Goal of Editing

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What is the goal of editing?  Why do writers spend months or even years rewriting, revising, and editing their books?  Why are you editing your book?

The first answer that comes to your mind is probably something like:

“I’m hoping to make my novel better and more entertaining.”

“I’m hoping to get rid of errors, plot holes, and inconsistencies.”

Or maybe even something like: “I keep getting rejected and I don’t know why.”

While all of these reasons are legitimate, they don’t get to the heart of what editing is actually all about.

The real goal of editing is to eliminate anything that might jar the reader out of the story.

That’s it.

Simple, huh?

When I tell writers (especially my clients) that this is what editing is really all about, it’s like a light bulb goes off in their head. Instead of getting hurt or depressed about hacking and slashing their novel, they get excited. They can see the true goal, the light at the end of the tunnel.

Editing isn’t about conforming to genre stereotypes or imitating famous authors. Most importantly, editing is not about following laundry lists of writing rules. The rules are just there to help steer you towards the bottom line, the end goal of keeping your readers fully engaged in your story.

Books are about the reader. A novel is nothing without the reader’s suspension of disbelief.  If head hopping, tense changes, or telling instead of showing pulls the reader out of the story, your novel fails to do its job. It fails to transport the reader into a world they can fully believe and become absorbed in.

For a novel to work, the reader must believe that what they’re reading is authentic. That can’t happen when they get hung up on unusual word choices, plot inconsistencies, or characters behaving out of character. When that happens, they see your hand in the work. They see right through your characters and straight to you, the author, and just like that they’re no longer absorbed in the story.

What separates a novel from being laughably bad and amazingly engaging is nothing more than the reader’s ability to believe in it. Nothing gets a book chucked back on the shelves (or into the rejection pile) faster than a reader thinking, This would never happen in real life!

“But,” some writers might say, “my book is a Fantasy. It can’t have happened in real life!” But that’s why readers pick up a Fantasy (or SciFi or Horror). They want you to make them believe that crazy things could really happen, that there is really magic, mystery, and wonder in the world, at least for a little while, at least while they’re reading your book.

Part of the fun of Harry Potter is thinking that someday (maybe!) you might get your acceptance letter to Hogwarts. And what fun would Doctor Who be if we didn’t all secretly believe that someday he might show up in in his TARDIS and whisk us away on an adventure.

When you’re editing, no matter what you’re editing, the bottom line is that you must eliminate anything that prevents your reader from fully engaging in the story.

So there’s no need to cry for the loss of a chapter you loved or despair at the major restructuring required to make your plot believable. It’s all for the good of the story. It’s all for the reader, and that’s who editing is really all about.

 

Need help figuring out why readers are getting jarred from your story? Check out my editing services.

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Tips & Pitfalls When Including the Villain’s Point of View

I’ve edited a lot of novels lately that rely heavily on the villain’s point of view. Occasionally this can be an interesting way to add tension and suspense. It can also assist in conveying a complicated plot that would be confusing from only the good guy’s perspective. But often the villain’s point of view detracts from the story.

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Outshining the Hero

We all love villains. We’re fascinated by monsters, serial killers, and double agents. But we’re not quite as inherently fascinated with the good guy. That’s because we all know what makes good guys tick.

Readers love puzzling out what makes some people do really bad things. So if you’re including the villain’s point of view, you’re working with readers’ natural fascination with the bad guy. If you don’t successfully present an even more fascinating good guy, the book won’t sit with readers the way you want it to. The villain could push the hero into the sidelines.

Zapping Suspense

If you clue the reader in on the villain’s plans, it’s possible to zap the suspense out of the novel. Rather than wondering what’s going on along with the good guy, the reader is simply waiting for the good guy to catch up with what they already know. This not only cuts suspense, but it can also make the good guy look unintelligent. Since the reader knows the answer, they think the hero should too.

If the novel is a mystery, including the villain’s point of view can cut out all of the mystery elements. If we already know who the double agent is, why care about the good guy’s investigation?

Tips for Including the Villain’s Point of View

If the villain’s point of view is required to tell the story, here are some tips on how to do it right.

  • Don’t linger on the villain. Give the hero substantially more “screen time.” Only use the villain’s point of view where it increases suspense.
  • Let the hero reveal important information. If the hero is the one who keys the reader in on the big revelations, they’ll find the hero far more fascinating and important than the villain.
  • Keep it vague. You can show the bad guy torturing the hero’s partner, but don’t tell us that it’s revenge for his mother’s death or that it’s in the abandoned childhood home of our hero. Snippets of intense situations increases our suspense, but answers zap it.
  • Introduce other mysteries. If keeping it vague doesn’t work with the story, let the bad guy reveal what he’s doing and why, but introduce a different sort of mystery for the good guy to reveal. This could be a dark personal secret or another layer to the villain’s scheme.
  • Fully characterize the hero. Don’t give us a good guy that’s just a hollow shell. He needs to have a personality with both good and bad qualities.
  • Give the hero personal stakes. If the hero has nothing at stake other than solving the case/crime or stopping the bad guy, readers won’t care all that much if he succeeds. The key is to give the hero something personal at stake, something readers don’t want him to lose.

 

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How to Dump Info Without Info Dumping

As much as we all know to never ever use info dumps, it doesn’t always make sense to convey something through dialogue or a flashback, and sometimes you need the reader to know the information right away – you don’t have time to trickle it through several chapters.

So for those times when you truly need to do some telling instead of showing, here are some tricks to slip it in unnoticed.

Landscape

Establish a Scene

Before moving into an info dump, always establish a scene. This means that the very first information conveyed needs to establish the basics: who, what, when, and where. Let the reader know what your character is up to and they will have something to visualize. Visualizing something (anything!), helps the reader stay engrossed in the scene.

The Scene has to Matter

The scene you establish must be in some way integral to telling the story. The scene’s purpose cannot be simply to dump information on the reader. Something interesting must happen in the moment of the scene, not only in the info dump. For more about this, check out: How to Spot a Bad Scene or Chapter.

Stick to the Facts

Does the reader really need to know that Hank was late to Jane’s wedding, the Halloween party, and Christmas Eve? Or do they just need to know that Hank is always late? If it’s the fact that the reader needs (Hank is always late), and not the story (Hank was late to Jane’s wedding, etc.), then stick to the one sentence fact, don’t tell a two paragraph story.

Keep it Short

Think critically about what the reader really needs to know to understand the story. Every time you want to tell something, ask yourself: If I didn’t tell this, would it reduce the reader’s comprehension of the story? If the answer is no, leave it out. Don’t slip into the trap of believing that more information always enhances the story. If the characters, plot, and world make sense without the information, the readers don’t need it.

Couch it in Action

Couching an info dump in action allows the scene to maintain momentum rather than grinding to a screeching halt. A lack of momentum is what makes info dumps so glaringly annoying in the first place. So instead of Jane sitting at the window contemplating how Hank is always late, she can think about it while pacing around her apartment. The key word is “while.” She needs to think about it while pacing, not before or after.

Let’s look at a scene that does not follow these rules:

Hank was never there when Jane needed him. She would sit and wait for hours and he’d never show up. He was late to her wedding even though she sent a cab to his door at the right time to pick him up. He was late to the Halloween party when they were dressing up together as M&Ms. They worked for hours on those costumes and almost missed the party. And then there was Christmas Eve. Hank was Jane’s secret Santa and he was so late that she had to open her gift after the party had already ended. And he never even cared. He just shrugged it off like it was no big deal. But Jane cared. She cared a lot.

Jane laid down and went to bed. Maybe someday Hank would change and be the man that she needed.

Why it Doesn’t Work

Let’s break down why the above scene doesn’t work by examining each of the rules.

Establish a Scene: Where is Jane? What is she doing? Why is she thinking about Hank always being late? We don’t know any of that until after the huge paragraph of info dump.

The Scene has to Matter: Is this scene really necessary to the book? Nothing happens except Jane pouting about Hank’s lateness and then she goes to bed. With no conflict or relevance to the rest of the novel, this scene is clearly not needed.

Stick to the Facts: Do we really need to know that they were going to dress up as M&Ms? Or that she sent a cab to his house on her wedding day? My guess is no. What we really need to know is that Hank is always late.

Keep it Short: Is everything in this paragraph necessary to grasp the concept that Hank is often late? Clearly not. And remember, we don’t want to fall into the trap of believing that all details “enhance” the story. They very often do not.

Couch it in Action: There’s no action in this scene until the last sentence, so obviously no couching is happening here.

So how can we rewrite this scene?

Jane paced back and forth in front of her apartment door. Hank was late. She wrung the end of her shirt in her hands. He was always late. She took a deep breath and paced harder. Maybe he didn’t want their relationship to work out as much as she did.

There was a knock at the door. She yanked it open and Hank stood there, a bright smile on his face. Two hours late. She sighed.

Why is this better?

Let’s break it down:

Establish a Scene: This is done right away. We know where Jane is and what she’s doing.

The Scene has to Matter: Hank is on his way over so presumably something is going to develop with the plot.

Stick to the Facts: Rather than long stories, there were brief sentences about Hank’s lateness.

Keep it Simple: The facts weren’t embellished with a bunch of extras. It was simple and quick.

Couch it in Action: Jane is active, before, during, and after the information is conveyed, so the reader is never yanked from the scene.

And here’s the kicker: Writing a scene like this is usually easier, faster, and actually conveys more emotional information than an ordinary info dump. If you use these techniques, your writing will improve, guaranteed!

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Improve Your Novel with Find and Replace

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Once you’ve perfected your plot and polished up your prose, there’s a quick way to add an extra layer of shine to your novel: Find and Replace.

The “Find and Replace” feature (sometimes called “Search and Replace”) is an easy way to get rid of bad writing habits that you might not notice when reading straight through your novel.

Here are some things to search for and eliminate from your book:

Began & Started

Find: Begin, begins, began, beginning, start, starts, started, starting

Replace these words with active verbs. We don’t need to know that the character started doing something, we just need to know that they’re doing it. “Start” and “began” make the action feel less active so consequently, the reader is less engaged.

Example: He started to run.

Change to: He ran.

Adverbs

Find: ly (this can be a bit tedious, but if you have a love affair with adverbs it will be well worth the time.)

Replace words ending in “ly” (AKA adverbs) with stronger verbs or cut them out entirely. Adverbs weaken the action rather than strengthen it, and they are often a sign of lazy writing.

Example: He quickly ran across the park.

Change to: He darted across the park.

Verbs Ending in “ing”

Find: ing (again, this can be pretty tedious, but it’s worth it.)

Replace verbs ending in “ing” with verbs ending in “ed” whenever it is proceeded by “was,” “were,” or “is.” This sort of “ing” verb makes the action less active and if you use it a lot, it can also raise your word count.

Sometimes, however, this sentence structure makes sense if an ongoing action is being described, but think critically about whether it makes a difference if the action was ongoing or immediate. If it doesn’t matter, go with “ed,” as in the example below.

Example: I turned and Mary was glaring at me.

Change to: I turned and Mary glared.

Time-Based Adverbs

Find: when, then, suddenly, immediately, always, often, already, finally

Replace these time-based adverbs with stronger descriptions that show the suddenness, frequency, etc., or eliminate them entirely. I wrote a post about time-based adverbs here. But here’s the gist: more words take longer to read and make the action feel less immediate, not more immediate.

Example: I immediately ran through the door.

Change to: I ran through the door.

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If you want to suggest an article topic, please leave a comment.

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First Draft Problems and How to Solve Them

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All first drafts have problems.  But all first drafts can also be polished into gems with a little (or a lot) of rewriting. Here are some of the most common first draft problems and how you can solve them.

Info Dumps Through Dialog

This is when a huge amount of the plot or back story is conveyed through dialog.  Rather than showing the reader the conflict and allowing them to gradually learn about the history of your character and universe, you simply stuff everything necessary into a verbal info dump.

“I don’t understand,” Maggie said.

“Let me explain it to you,” the wizard said. “It all started twenty years ago when your great, great grandfather wanted to rule the kingdom…[100 words later]…the king didn’t want that to happen so he sent away the man servant and told him to never return, but he secretly…[250 words later]…and then you were born and raised by mountain trolls…[200 words later]… so now you must regain the glory of our kingdom by fighting the dragon of the north.”

Solution: Find ways to trickle this information throughout the book.  Think critically about what your reader needs to know in any given moment. So long as they get the information before it becomes relevant, you’re good, so space it out.  Also, think critically about whether the information is needed at all. Condense the story down to its bare essentials.

Info Dumps of the Past

This happens when the novel is packed with things that happened before the start of the story. You may be constantly backtracking to explain things. It gives the reader a sort of whiplash as they are ping-ponged from the current events to the past and back again.

Angela looked at me in that crappy way of hers, eyes bugging out of her head.  I hate that girl.  Last summer when I went out with Max, but he was still in love with Abby, who really wanted to be with Kristy, but she was totally hung up on Brad…[200 words later] and then she totally didn’t even show up to my birthday party and she had the nerve to ask me to…[450 words later] …so that’s why I don’t like Angela.

Solution: Follow the advice for info dumps through dialog and also consider the possibility that you are starting your story too late.  Sometimes info dumps about the past can be eliminated by adding a well-structured first chapter that shows the reader what they will need to know to understand the rest of the story. For more help: How to Dump Info Without Info Dumping.

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Over Explaining

In large part, this has to do with not trusting your reader to “get it” without your (extensive) help. The result is that the same thing is explained over and over and over again. This is often the cause of super long word counts.

He was sad. His eyes welled with tears. His head dropped to his chest. “It’s so tragic!” he cried, wiping away tears. His heart felt as if it were breaking.

Solution: Trust your reader! And keep it simple! If you explain something once, the vast majority of your readers will understand and remember it.

Under Explaining

This happens when you’re too close to your own story. Everything feels so obvious and clear to you (as the author) and as a result you are leaving readers scratching their heads wondering what the heck is going on.

Charles opened the fridge and inside there was a GooblyOobly. It pulled out its wattyboo and cast a Famblaster spell that cracked Charles’ hobmufster in two.

Solution: Step away from your work! Get some distance (a few days to a few weeks), then come back to it with fresh eyes. Try to read it like you’ve never seen it before. If this doesn’t work, have someone else read it for you and mark where they get confused or feel lost.

Chapters with the Same Purpose

Each chapter or section should serve a unique and necessary purpose in your novel. In a lot of first drafts, there will be multiple chapters that share a function.

Perhaps you want to show that Lexi is scared of water, so you write a scene where she has to take a sponge bath instead of bathe in the tub.  Then you write a scene where everyone else is going swimming and she can’t go.  Then you write a scene where she has a panic attack when a glass of water is spilled on her.  Okay, we get it!  She’s afraid of water!

Solution: There is nothing wrong with including all of these scenes in your book so long as there is another purpose to each of the scenes.  You can only have one scene with the exclusive purpose of demonstrating her fear.  After that, there must be a different conflict, a different purpose, or else the scene should be scrapped. For more help: How to Spot a Bad Scene or Chapter.

Chapters with No Purpose

This is the dreaded filler!  If your characters are eating, smoking, staring out a window, or thinking of the past, you have most likely written a chapter or section with no purpose.  Each chapter/section must have a conflict and a resolution.  If there is neither, it’s just filler.

I have found that NaNoWriMo novels in particular have a lot of filler because writers are racing to meet the word count.  Filler can also happen when a writer isn’t sure where they want to go with the book so they ramble for a few chapters before getting back on course.

Solution: If a scene has no conflict or resolution, cut it out.  Don’t whine and moan and cry about it.  Just cut it out and move on.  You’ll never miss filler scenes when you get down to the finished product.

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Three Words to Banish From Your Novel (or else)

2163816826_f6f7e8da16Showing instead of telling is a big obstacle for many writers.  Sometimes writers tell instead of show without even realizing it!  Here are three words that insidiously introduce telling into your writing.  Get rid of them (or else)!

Obviously

Examples:

He was obviously in a bad mood.

She obviously had a headache.

It was obvious that she didn’t want to be there.

Clearly

Examples:

He clearly thought she was full of crap.

She was clearly happy about the news.

It was clear she had better things to do.

Indicating

Examples:

He stepped back, indicating that he didn’t want to be that close to her.

She frowned, clearly indicating that she was still upset about their fight.

The man indicated that she should sit down.

Why They Suck

Anytime a writer uses a sentence like the ones above, I want to jump up and down screaming, “Cheater, cheater, cheater!”  All of these sentences are telling rather than showing.  They’re cheap, easy, zero-effort ways of making a point.

Sometimes these words are also used to stretch the point of view (POV).  If your POV character doesn’t have any way of knowing something, you can simply say that it’s clear, obvious, or indicated.  Cheaters!

Stretch yourself as a writer, find ways to show how characters think and feel.  Use expressions, body language, tone of voice.  And sometimes just let your readers breathe!  Give them a chance to draw their own conclusions.  They’re smarter than you think!

Need more help?  Check out my editing services.

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How Long Should a Novel be?

2774876344_07115d9e4aIs your novel too long?

Is your novel too short?

I often find myself editing clients’ manuscripts that are far too long and (occasionally) far too short. Whenever I approach a writer about changing the length of their novel, they frequently attempt to “prove” that the word count is acceptable by throwing around famous novels:

“Well, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is only 36,363 words!”

“Everybody loves Harry Potter, and The Order of the Phoenix is over 250,000 words!”

But the problem with these arguments is that they don’t prove anything. There are exceptions to every rule and there always will be, but that doesn’t make knowingly breaking the rules a good strategy for those seeking publication.

So What’s the Ideal Length of a Novel?

That depends on several factors, including where you publish and the genre.

Mainstream/Contemporary/Literary

The Low End: Many agents and publishers will automatically reject novels that are shorter than 60-70,000 words (Sorry NaNoWriMo writers). Exactly where they draw that bottom line depends on the individual. If you keep it above 65k, you probably won’t be rejected on word count alone.

The High End: Somewhere around 100-120k is the cut-off length for most agents and publishers. Anything above 100k puts you in the high-risk zone for rejection, so make sure your query is top notch.

Ideal Length: I’ve heard from several agents and publishers that 80k is their favorite length.

Romance/Erotic Fiction

The Low End: If you’re going with traditional publication, anything under 50k is probably too short (65k for historical). If you’re self-publishing or e-publishing, you will find there is a market for stories as short as 3,000 words.

The High End: Typically, anything over 70k is too long for a romance. Historical romances and genre-bending romances (scifi, fantasy, etc.) can push as high as 95,000 with some publishers.

SciFi/Fantasy

The Low End: Generally, anything less than 80k is too short, but there may be exceptions for “light” SciFi/Fantasy, books that could be marketed as mainstream.

The High End: SciFi/Fantasy can easily get way up there in word count! First-time novelists (note: self-publishing still makes you a first-time novelist to the traditional publishing world) should try to keep it under 120k, but certainly lower than 150k. Publishers specializing in SciFi/Fantasy are more comfortable with high word counts than those that are simply open to publishing it.

Mystery/Thriller

The Low End: Cozy mysteries may be as short as 55-60k. Thrillers should push a little higher: 65-70k on the low end.

The High End: Cozy mysteries are usually no longer than 75-80k. Non-cozy mysteries and Thrillers can get as long as 100-110k.

There’s nothing wrong with deviating from the length recommendations.  Some writers will successfully publish an unusually long or short first novel.  But you can almost definitely increase your odds of publication by staying in a word count range that publishers are comfortable with.

Need help cutting down or beefing up your word count?  Watch my video on how to shorten your novel or check out my editing services.

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