Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tips To Help Shape Up Your Manuscript

This is some of the hardest work any writer confronts - Rewriting and Editing, but there are some methods you can use to help you stay focused and work through with a continuous hand.  First off, I am not a teacher or a paid professional coach, I just know what works best for me, and used advise I was given from various sources.

Most of us do free writing on the first draft.  This is when we let our imagination go wild, and we let our 'muse' do its best.  Many writers use NaNoWriMo for this first draft, and it helps to keep focused on result.  You can do this yourself anytime, by setting up word count objectives each day.

After we finish the first draft we have a mess of jumbled up ideas.  You can at this point go to an editor to make sure your story thread rings true, but you still have to do the rework yourself.

Now pull up your sleeves and work through your draft.  If you went to an editor consider all their points as you rewrite.  Don't be afraid to delete where appropriate, and add where more information is needed.
Here are some steps I try to follow:
  • Read your entire manuscript through once without stopping, and then set aside for it to incubate a day or so.
  • Go back and make a complete outline of each character - know who they are and how they react, what they like, dislike, do and say.  If you did this already with the draft's outline, revisit to make sure you caught everything.  Some things may have developed as you wrote the draft, and need to be added.
  • Go back to manuscript and read it out loud, one chapter at a time, to make sure it sounds correct, especially when it comes to dialog, and fix wherever needed so your true character rings through.  Make notes where you need to change things.
  • Go back again, and make sure each chapter has the correct tension, using a set goal with actions that lead to a disaster or some form of hook to keep the reader wanting more.
  • If you do not use Scrivener or some form of software with outline capabilities, use the board approach for this part.  If not, then consider creating an excel sheet to track each scene, and list the main idea for each scene - by doing this you can see how the entire piece works and flows.
  • When you have the scenes outlined by goal - reactions - disaster/hook, look it over and see where you might need to add tension or details to keep the flow smooth, and the tension correct.
Go back to manuscript again, this time looking for offenses some of us (including me) most often have scattered throughout:
  • Watch out for head hopping (jumping from one person's thoughts to another) and make sure the POV for each scene is only one person.
  • Correct verb tenses, make sure everything is consistent.  This gets tricky if you are using flashbacks etc.
  • If you have used a spell checker in your document, go through again manually.  Sometimes a word is spelled correct but its the wrong word, (like of instead of off).  Some say this works best if you go backwards and start at end - I think you just need to proceed slowly and don't read, just look.
This so far has gotten you to a pretty good place, and you hopefully have read through your manuscript at least half a dozen times by now.  - This is the point where your may want to go to an editor again.  Put it aside for awhile - and then after a week or so.

YOU GUESSED IT - go back and read your manuscript again, this time with a highlighter and pencil, if you have it printed.  I like to do a quick conversion to an eBook format, and then I read in my reader and use the highlight feature of my kindle or Ipad.  (anyone can do this with Calibre or similar software)  Highlight anything that sounds out of sorts, make notes (you won't remember).  Then go back to your manuscript and make the changes.  For this part I like to do it chapter by chapter...

By the time you have finished editing you should have gone through the story at least half a dozen times, but most likely closer to over a dozen.  The last part, I actually repeat many times over.  Maybe some can get this all done in one sweep, but I know for myself, I read my manuscript at least fifty times (I lost count).

The thing is, as you set your work aside and incubate, you may come up with some new ideas to add.  If you do - go for it.  This is how we get the extra twists and turns, the symbolism, the ideas that are threaded throughout.  These writing techniques don't just happen with our original idea, they take time to turn over.

One more suggestion I very strongly believe you should use - Beta readers.  Get feedback from others, even if you use an editor.  The feedback will be enlightening.  When someone else who is objective reads your work, they will see things you missed.  Listen with an open ear, and consider their points.  This will make for a better story overall.

So you say "This is a lot of work!"  Yes it is.  This is the meat that makes up writing.  These steps are crucial to any manuscript.  Bottom line, it takes a lot of time, patience, and reworking, to have a manuscript turn into a novel.  Don't get overwhelmed - but instead take it step by step, one section at a time.  Your work will reveal a well written story for others to enjoy, and that is the goal.

Keep reading - Keep writing!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Our Basic Need To Be Heard - Writing Is Therapeutic

The past few weeks I shared Part One of a story I was developing.  That is back on my desk to edit and rewrite.  In the meantime, I wanted to touch upon a few other thoughts concerning writing.

There are many people who consider themselves writers, and many who don't and probably should.
We have been trained to think that writers are authors who get published in books -
Well I never liked being told what to think or do!
So if you please, JUMP out of that box with me for a moment.

Yes authors are writers, but there are more.  Being a writer is more than are a writer if you write to express yourself or an idea, and if you
  • you write everyday in a journal
  • you are part of a team at work that summarizes projects
  • you blog 
  • or any other type of consistent writing platform
Then you are a writer - YOU write to express yourself or an idea.
In our society writers tend to be the people who seek out:
  • organization
  • making sense of the world around them
  • need for balance 
  • seek the finish line -
  • they can envision the end goal in their mind

Anyone can pick up the pen, pencil, keyboard - and start writing.  If you are disabled there are other software out there to assist, so no excuses.
Everyone can benefit from writing, and here are a few benefits already recognized.

WRITING is therapeutic. 
  • proven helpful for patients with PTS (Post Traumatic Stress)
  • therapy for children who suffered from abuse or traumatic events
  • growing pains in general 
  • writing love letters have saved marriages
  • writing diaries have helped individuals discover themselves

Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing.
Guidelines for writing therapy

The physical act of writing out our thoughts, our fears, anxieties, and situations we are struggling with, helps to heal us inside.

One of the most human of all needs is the NEED TO BE HEARD.  We seek out self expression in many ways, but writing is one of the most expressive and healing of all.

The act of writing connects the two parts of the brain at the same time.  While we are immersed in the physical, it connects with our conceptual side, bringing them together to make one final harmonious thought.  What could be more beautiful than that? of Anne Frank

This July there are many people out there who are participating in the NaNoWriMo July event.  Check it out for the next round, and challenge yourself to some robust writing.   

It just may help you discover something new about yourself, or the world around you.

Keep reading - keep writing!  and have a great weekend.


Friday, July 12, 2013

Murder Mystery In the Woods - Last Chapter of Part One in the Continuing Saga - YOU can name it. I need a title.

Each week 1000 words or more, of a continuing story, will be posted Friday.
(equivalent to approximately 3 paperback pages).
If you looked last week, I missed it due to the Independence Holiday.

 Part One - Chapter Seven.     This is the last chapter in Part One. 

Does anyone have a suggestion for a title yet?

(Saga began with original story post one / chapter one - on May 23rd- see archives on this blog)  

 Early Morning Start

It was five in the morning when my alarm sounded its obnoxious buzzer. It must have been invented by someone with a warped sense of humor. I fumbled and found the button and slammed it down. Finally the noise disappeared. I kept my head under the pillow a little longer until my ears stopped ringing. It was the most annoying clock in the world, and that’s exactly why I bought it. It did its job every day. It was the only model that managed to wake me up. It’s an I love it, I hate it, kind of thing. I rose.
My feet shuffled about until they found my slippers. I pulled on my robe, half twisted, and padded my way to the kitchen cupboard. I rummaged through the shelves and grabbed the coffee, and managed to make a pot that tasted good enough to drink. It was strong, and the aroma woke me more than the caffeine. I gripped the circumference of the mug, which I made years ago in the ceramic class that I hated, and I felt the warmth from the hot coffee on my hands. It was soothing, and welcomed on this damp cool morning. I moved the curtain and gazed out of the window. The street was still dark but the lamp post gleamed light on the wet pavement. I wondered if the rain was going to last all day.

Images of that poor girl popped in my head. I wanted so much to figure out what happened to her. The list from Keaton Hakes jumped at me too. A question nagged at me, why was Mr. Simpson on the list? He was an old man, a small store keeper, how was he involved with role playing games?

My curiosity was piqued, and I couldn’t wait for Rory. I decided to stop by the general store this morning on the way to the office. Maybe I could give Rory some good news first thing this morning, if I got the right answers at Sal’s.

Rejuvenated with the new prospect, I went straight to my room, lingered a few moments in a hot shower, and dressed in record time. I pulled my hair back and put on my hat, then grabbed my gear, threw it into the front seat, and headed my truck to Sal’s General for some more fine coffee and local gossip.

Every morning, all the old timers met on the cement steps of the old store. The building needed paint and the windows were still filled with old signage from a few decades back. The only signs taken down lately were of the cigarette ads. The old men who gathered were farmers, local tradesmen, a couple of guys unemployed by the mills that were shut down ten years back, the local preacher, and a few others from time to time. They talked about hunting, their gardens, and the weather, and anything else that was local news, like Jennifer Taylor’s murder.

My mind was positive they all had their own theory. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to listen to them, I figured I could get some information just by being one of the locals. So another cup of Jo this morning. I didn’t want to mess up anything for Rory, so I planned on being just the concerned local Ranger, and neighbor. Besides, I could use another cup of coffee, it was going to be a long day.

I parked my truck up front and jumped out of my seat. There were three men loitering on the front steps under the canopy with a few tears from wear. I tipped my hat to them as I walked past.

“Howdy.” one of them said.

It was a man who lived down the street from me, but I couldn’t recall his name. He was an electrician who moved here not long ago.

“Good morning Karen.” another voice chorused as I walked by.

His voice was well known to me, I used to take piano lessons from his wife, Mrs. Roberts. I went into the store, rubbing my hands together to warm them, and gave a hearty hello.

“Good morning Mr. Simpson. Looks like a nice day, if you like rain. How’s the coffee today?” I said.

He was at the counter as usual, ready for any paying customer. He folded up the paper and turned his attention to me.

“Coffee is strong and fresh like usual. Help yourself Karen. Are you planning on getting the rest of your groceries now, because my produce man won’t be here until this afternoon, after he makes his stops in Glen Falls.” he said.

I filled my cup, and added some creamer, and then topped it with a lid. I answered him while I walked towards the register.

“No, just coffee right now. I have a lot of work to do today, so I need an early start. You know me, I need the caffeine to wake me up.” I laughed.

The old man gave a faint smile. He looked even weaker than the other day.

“Don’t you worry Mr. Simpson, I will be back later to get more things. It won’t be until after the produce gets here though.”

I laughed a little, but he didn’t seem to notice. His mind was definitely elsewhere, as he stared off someplace past me, like he was still in his sleep’s dream.

“Are you all right Mr. Simpson?” I asked.

He pulled at a loose thread of yarn on his old worn sweater. I noticed that it’s the same sweater he has been wearing for years. It was almost as if it was part of his skin instead of clothing. The blue color had faded, and was more of a gray. It had become part of his image, and fraying with age, just like the man. I knew something was wrong, but not sure how to get such a reserved man to talk frankly, when he obviously was uncomfortable, or just didn’t trust me with his affairs. I felt sad for him. He always had people milling about his store, but he was still so lonely. I tried to remember if he had a wife, but I couldn’t recall. So I added that to a list of things I had to look up when I got back to my desk.

“So the veggies are due in this afternoon after the Glen Falls route. What else do you get from there? Anything else get delivered from the city?”

I ventured a prod. His eyes seemed to react, but I wasn’t quite sure how to interpret it. I wondered why he dealt with Mr. Hakes. Maybe Sal sold his products here in the store. My eyes started roaming over the shelves, looking for any games that he might sell.

“Sure I get other stuff from the city. Not much though.” he said.

He grabbed the paper back up from the counter, unfolded it and started reading again.

“Hey, Mr. Simpson, I have a kid that I mentor, you know the big sister thing, and he’s into those electronic games. Do you by any chance sell them here?” I asked.

“Sure, I sell a few. They’re over there.”

He pointed to the other side of the store. I walked over and looked at his inventory. I took my time picking up games and putting them back on the shelf, like a real shopper, comparing the goods. I knew he was watching me from the corner of his eye, and I wondered why. Was it so crazy for a girl to look at electronic games? Mr. Simpson had quite a few displayed, most were military type hero games, a few about monsters, some truck and car racing games, and one called “Real Horror Games”.

I stopped cold, literally, I froze. Chills ran down my spine. It was like something evil and sinister just breezed past me. The store was quiet except for the thumping of my heart. I felt like I needed help.

I glanced outside to the steps to see if anyone was there, but they were gone already. It was just me and old Mr. Simpson, and for some reason that thought scared the bejeezus out of me.

I heard him behind me, folding his paper, placing it on the counter, and then he started walking towards me. The old wood floor creaked under his feet as he walked closer to me. I heard his foot dragging, sweeping against the grain with his shoe. It swept across the dirty wood floor, swish, swish, beating a pattern to a horrid song. No reason existed to fear this man, he was after all an old fixture in the town, known all my life, but I still felt myself expand with anxiety.

Sweat shimmered on my forehead, and my face flushed. The trail of heat rippled through my body. I caught myself praying. Then a bell jingled. Someone entered the store. A breeze of relief filled me, and I turned my head and saw Rory, stepping into the isle. My body deflated.

“How’s the coffee this morning Mr. Simpson?” he said.

Mr. Simpson went back to the counter, and I followed with the game in my hands. I placed it on the counter.

“Please ring me up. I’ll take this game, and I’ll pay for both coffees.” I nodded at Rory, who was pouring his coffee into a reusable traveling cup.

“Okay. That’ll be fifty two.”

He took my money, but kept his eyes averted down at the counter. He deliberately avoided looking at me. It was odd. A lot more was going on with Mr. Simpson and Sal’s General than anyone could have imagined, but my hunch was not going to get us very far. We needed to get back to the office and start digging into more files. There was an answer to all this strangeness, it lingered at our finger tips.

Rory and I both left, tipping our heads as we exited the store.

“My, you’re up early Karen.”

“I know, I couldn’t sleep.”

Rory chuckled.

“You couldn’t sleep? Is the pope still Catholic?”

He knew me so well. There wasn’t much I could get passed him.

“Okay, so I set the alarm on purpose. I want to get back to my office and dig into a few things. I have a weird feeling about old man Simpson.”

I nodded my head towards the door. Rory turned around, and then leaned back against my truck.

“Oh boy, this coffee hits the spot. It’s cold this morning.” he said.

The drizzling rain stopped for the moment, but the mountain air was still damp. A memory of my Dad flashed in my thoughts, an old memory, of us conspiring to stay warm on an early morning, when he declared it a fishing day. My father had taught me how to appreciate nature. We hiked and fished together, and he taught me all the signs the forest revealed. Unfortunately as the years went by I became more his designated driver than student. He was not perfect, and died after drinking too much and getting behind the wheel. Those were hard days, sadness after losing him, but a corner of my mind was relieved that he left before he hurt someone else, an innocent bystander. I missed him, especially on damp days like today, good fishing weather.

My feet kicked the dirt as I looked at the ground. There was no time for daydreaming. I shot my face up and looked at the road ahead. Everything was foggy. A few quiet moments passed, and then I turned to get into my truck. Rory held my arm, and stopped me.

“His name was on the list. That’s what’s bugging you and me. So let’s pull up some information. I’ll follow you to and we can sign into the police data base too.”

I shook my head, and we both drove to the cabin at the park reserve.