Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Author’s Toolbox: The Auditory Read Through

Every author develops a toolkit containing writing skills and techniques, preferred software and hardware, and proven processes to develop a polished manuscript. I’d like to suggest authors add the Auditory Read Through to their stockpile of available tools.
If you are like most modern authors, you compose your first draft using a word-processing program, which means you first see your words on a screen. You may rewrite your manuscript using a screen to display your text, or you may print out a copy of your manuscript, make handwritten corrections and then convert those back to an electronic form.
Many authors have learned that they find different problems when they view their manuscript on the screen compared to what they find when using a hard copy. I suggest that you will also discover different issues when you read your manuscript out loud.
Even if on previous read throughs you silently sounded things out in your head, you did not fully utilize your sense of hearing. Before the written word, stories were spoken, and you should listen to yours to discover a few last issues you may have missed.
My approach to the Auditory Read Through
I print out the manuscript single-spaced applying the same font, type size, lines per page and page size as the publisher will use. As I read, I’ll see, for example, a long paragraph that needs splitting or dialogue that runs unbroken for two pages. [I am not worrying about exact layout, orphan lines, where words break on a line, or anything like that. 
What am I listening for? Anything that doesn’t sound right on a sentence-by-sentence basis, as well as considering a paragraph or page as a whole. Whenever I stumble or trip over a word, there is a good chance I need to rewrite something. This gives me the opportunity to straighten convoluted sentences and exchange flabby diction with precise wording.
Often on the read through I’ll discover I used a word several times within a short span. I never saw the multiple uses on screen or page, but my ear picks it up.
I pay particular attention to adverbs: are they covering for a flabby verb? Make sure every adverb is necessary. As an example consider the line “She quickly walked to the sidewalk.” With the multitude of verbs available to describe exactly how she moved to the sidewalk, this sentence employs a lazy approximation for what the reader should visualize as they read.
Where I used multiple adjectives, can I replace them with one perfect descriptor?
Have I noun-ized verbs (xxxxx-ness) or verbed nouns (xxxxx-ize)?
Are my verbs ending with “ing” appropriate?
Have I fallen into a repetitive pattern? Do too many sentences share the same form? Are sentences all the same length?
You can do as I do, printing out the manuscript and reading it aloud to yourself, or you can use software that reads the words to you. I’ve tried both and they both work well. Using software has the added advantage that you use only your ears, since you aren’t the one reading. Plus, it can be entertaining when the software butchers a word it doesn’t know.
Some people record themselves reading their manuscript out loud. While they are reading, they muzzle the internal editor. Once they start the playback, they are truly listening (since they are not also reading). I haven’t used this technique, but it is intriguing, although it seems like extra work—but folks swear by it, and I may try it sometime.
I find the best time in my manuscript creation process for the Auditory Read Through is once I think the manuscript is ready for a final nit check. You may want to wait until you believe you have polished the manuscript to perfection. Others may find it’s useful much earlier in their process.

If you’ve tried the technique, how did you think it worked for you? If you haven’t performed an Auditory Read Through, do you think you might?
~ Jim
This post first appeared 8/24/16 on the Lyrical Pens Blog

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Judy Penz Sheluk - Guest Author

Judy Penz Sheluk (who I first met as a member of the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime) is the author of two mystery novels: The Hanged Man’s Noose: A Glass Dolphin Mystery (July 2015) and Skeletons in the Attic: A Marketville Mystery (August 2016).

What is the background noise when you write and why is it there?

I usually have talk radio on while I’m writing. I switch between Newstalk 1010 Toronto or Talk 640 Toronto, depending on the host and topic. I find it easier to zone in and out of talk radio than a music station. If I’m editing, however, I need silence, because I like to read the work out loud, or have my computer read it to me.

Are you a plotter, pantser or something in between and why?

Definitely a panster. I’ve tried writing to an outline but it just doesn’t work for me; I might have a vague idea where I’m headed, but that can, and usually does, change along the way. When I’m working on a novel, I try to write a chapter a day, vs. a specific word count or x number of hours. If I end the chapter with a bit of a hook, then I look forward to continuing the story the next day.

When you start reading a book do you always finish it? If not, what causes you to permanently put a book down?

There was a time when I finished every book I started, but life is too short, and there are too many books that I want to read. If there are really sloppy spelling errors that will do it for me. I recently put a book down after two chapters because the protagonist had auborn hair. But sometimes, it’s just because the story doesn’t connect with me. If it’s a book that has come highly recommended, or won awards, I’ll put it aside and try again in a couple of months. On occasion, the second try will connect. But if it doesn’t, I won’t give it a third try.

Do you read reviews of your books? Why or why not?

Yes, I do. I’m not obsessed with checking them every day, but I do check at random. If someone has taken the time to read my book and write a review, I think I owe it to that person to read what they’ve written. Besides, a great review from a stranger can make my day!

When you compare your first draft to your final draft, do you net add words or subtract words? In general, what is it that you add or subtract between first and final draft?

My first drafts are very clean. Because I try to write a chapter a day, and my chapters tend to be on the short side, I edit as I go along. Once a week, I’ll go back and do a quick reread of what I’ve written and make revisions. So the final draft is usually pretty close in length and content to the first.

How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?

The premise of Skeletons in the Attic is that the protagonist, Calamity (Callie) Barnstable inherits a house in Marketville after her father dies in an at-work accident. The inheritance is tied to the condition that she must live in the house and find out who murdered her mother thirty years before, when Callie was just six years old. The catch? Not only did Callie not know about the house, she’d always believed that her mother had left voluntarily.

The idea came to me when I was sitting in my lawyer’s office with my husband, Mike. We were there to revise our wills, but our lawyer was delayed in court. In fact, the opening scenes of the book are culled from that experience, which serves as a reminder: beware of what you say and do around a writer. Everything is grist for the mill.

What is a piece of writing advice you think is worth sharing?

To quote Agatha Christie: “There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you’re writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.”

To find more information about Judy Penz Sheluk, visit www.judypenzsheluk.com, where she blogs about books and the writing life.

Here’s a blurb for Skeletons in the Attic:

Calamity (Callie) Barnstable isn’t surprised to learn she’s the sole beneficiary of her late father’s estate, though she is shocked to discover she has inherited a house in the town of Marketville—a house she didn’t know existed. However, there are conditions attached to Callie’s inheritance: she must move to Marketville, live in the house, and solve her mother’s murder.

Callie’s not keen on dredging up a thirty-year-old mystery, but if she doesn’t do it, there’s a scheming psychic named Misty Rivers who is more than happy to expose the Barnstable family secrets. Determined to thwart Misty and fulfill her father’s wishes, Callie accepts the challenge. But is she ready to face the skeletons hidden in the attic?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

PM Drummond - Guest Author

PM Drummond is the author of the reader-nominated Kindle Scout winner, Perdition-Virago Series Book 1. (And I met her through the “secret” Kindle Scout Winners group.) She has an MFA in Writing and writes urban fantasy and paranormal romance novels.

What is the background noise when you write and why is it there?

No background noise. I live in a forest because it’s so quiet (except for my Chihuahua, Smidgen, barking at squirrels, cats, raccoons, and bears). I like to write with no distractions. I think I get distracted easily, but my husband says a meteor could drop on the house when I’m writing, and I wouldn’t notice.

What is your most recent excellent read (book, short story or essay) and why?

I’m currently reading Charlaine Harris’ Midnight series. I’ve read all her stuff including her earlier cozy mysteries. She’s a storytelling genius. I’d read her grocery list if she’d send it to me!

Are you a plotter, pantser or something in between and why?

Both. I’ll start out with the beginning of the story, the end of the story, just a scene that pops into my head, a character, or a vague story problem. I throw that onto a plot outline I derived from the hero’s journey with various other influences incorporated into it. Then I figure out the rest of the plot points (so during that part I’m a plotter). I see those plot points as the steel towers of a suspension bridge.

I start writing (mostly pantsing) at one end of the bridge making my way from tower to tower with my cables of writing until I get to the end. Sometimes I cheat and skip to another part of the bridge if a scene is really screaming to be written, and then I go back to where I left off. I’d really be an unsafe bridge builder in real life. Good thing I’m just a metaphorical bridge builder.

When you start reading a book do you always finish it? If not, what causes you to permanently put a book down?

I don’t always finish books. I probably put down about 20% of the ones I start to read. I have my own list of things that cause me to stop reading a story. I think everyone has that list and everyone’s list is different, which is why there are all different kinds of stories in the world (thank goodness).

My list includes things like non-interesting beginnings that take forever to get to the story problem (I don’t mind a slow start as long as it keeps me enthralled), gratuitous violence or sex that has no story purpose, a lot of bad story mechanics (spelling, grammar, head-hopping, etc.), or an overwritten story (too flowery, the writer trying to impress the reader with overdone descriptions, or $20 words where $2 words would do).

Do you read reviews of your books? Why or why not?

Yes. I feel an author can learn from reviews. Sometimes you learn how to improve your writing. Sometimes you learn what different perspectives readers have, and it reinforces that a writer can’t make all readers happy.

What do you do that you suspect causes your copyeditor to pull her/his hair out?

I use em-dashes A LOT, and even though I have a Masters Degree in writing, I am seriously comma-challenged. I think I just didn’t get the comma gene in my DNA, or maybe it mutated into a superfluous em-dash gene.

When you compare your first draft to your final draft, do you net add words or subtract words? In general, what is it that you add or subtract between first and final draft?

The final draft is longer. I get ideas while I’m writing, so I make notes to add the ideas on the re-write. But I also take things out if they don’t add to the story. I took out a whole scene in Perdition that I loved. It broke my heart. Marlee accidentally zapped a cranky professor at work. I used to work at a university, so maybe it was a fantasy of mine.

So to summarize, I take out the bad or non-working stuff and add more good stuff, and somehow it gets longer.

How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?

My current work, the Virago Series, of which Perdition is the first book, developed from a variety of sources, so this answer is a little long. I was watching a show on an educational channel one day about the government trying to weaponize telekinesis and remote viewing. When the show was over, I wanted to change the channel, but the cable remote was across the room and I thought, “Wow, wouldn’t it be nice to have telekinesis?”

Then I got up to get the remote, tripped over one of my dog’s toys on the floor, and spilled my ice tea, and I thought with as clumsy as I am, if I had telekinesis I’d make a complete wreck of everything. That was my “aha” moment when Marlee was born. She’s a telekinetic hot-mess. She reminds me of Lucille Ball with superpowers.

At that time, I happened to be reading Carlos Castaneda’s 1968 book The Teachings of Don Juan, which is about Dr. Castaneda’s training with a Yaqui shaman named Don Juan. When I was plotting Perdition, I incorporated a fictionalized backstory from one of Castaneda’s accounts in the book of tribal warriors killing the entire family of an evil shaman. That backstory blossomed in my head and became several plots. So Marlee’s one book became a six book series.

Watching another documentary about the history of the Vikings’ war boats and raids, I stumbled upon the Viking attack on the monastery at Lindisfarne. That story became an important part of two of my other characters’ backstories.

The whole experience taught me to read and watch a wide range of things—especially non-fiction. You never know when something will spark a storyline in your brain’s plot engine.

Name three writers from whom you have drawn inspiration and tell us why.

Charlaine Harris for her fantastic characterization, plotting, and tying her stories and series together.

Darynda Jones for her crazy characters (go Charley Davidson!), her hilarious plot situations, and her hot heroes.

Faith Hunter for her kick-butt heroines and superb paranormal world-building. Her Jane Yellowrock heroine has a Native American background, which I think is cool especially since I’m from Native American descent and so is my character Marlee.

Okay, I have a bonus fourth writer: Stephen King. He’s written no matter what his crazy life has thrown at him. In fact, he’s taken some of that crazy stuff and turned it into great plots. I’ve read his book “On Writing” three times. Two times on my own, and once because it was required reading during my Masters in Writing program.

 What is a piece of writing advice you think is worth sharing?

Write your stories to the best of your abilities and never stop learning. Don’t go all gonzo worrying about pleasing everyone with your stories. Even best-sellers have one or two star reviews. That’s what makes reading and writing so wonderful—its diversity.

This interview has been fantastic. I previously only published short stories in anthologies. Perdition and the Virago Series are my maiden voyage into full length novels. I’d love to hear from readers and build a connection with them. Here are ways we can connect:
My website:  PMDrummond.com

Amazon Author Page at www.amazon.com/author/pmdrummond (all lower case or it doesn’t work for some reason—go figure). 

I love, love, love Goodreads, you can find my author page at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15427667.P_M_Drummond 

Here’s a quick blurb for Perdition – which you should check out.

Freak is a relative term.

What do a creepy moth, naked werewolf, Harley-riding monster killer, ancient vampire, and crazy old lady hiding in the woods have in common? It seems they’re all trying to thwart Marlee Burns’ goal to be normal. Of course her uncontrollable telekinesis and the mercenaries trying to kidnap her don’t help much either. Now she must embark on a journey to discover the origins of her power and get rid of it, before whoever is trying to catch her and dissect her like a lab rat succeeds.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Lincoln Cole - Guest Author

Please welcome fellow Kindle Scout winner Lincoln Cole. He is the award-winning author of multiple books in different genres. His most recent book is Raven’s Peak, a horror/paranormal thriller that was selected by Kindle Press for publication.

What is the background noise when you write and why is it there?

My preferred background noise is music, and it fluctuates depending on the kind of writing I’m doing. When I’m writing action scenes I like something fast-paced and full of energy, and when I’m writing something slower I like for the music to match it.

What is your most recent excellent read (book, short story or essay) and why?

I finished Game of Thrones not long ago, and George R. R. Martin is one of the most incredible authors at world building I’ve ever read. He isn’t as good at character creation as Stephen King, but he’s as good if not better at writing a scene and bringing the audience into his world.

Are you a plotter, pantser or something in between and why?

Something in between. I used to be a complete pantser, but now I’ve gotten a little better at putting the ideas of a story down and following a guide. I usually abandon my outline during the rough draft, but it does help me tie it together and save time in rewriting.

When you start reading a book do you always finish it? If not, what causes you to permanently put a book down?

I usually can’t ‘stop’ reading a book once I’ve started it no matter how bad it is. However, if it isn’t compelling then sometimes I just never pick it back up again and I find something else to read instead. It’s just a permanent ‘in progress’ read at that point, but I won’t officially say I quit on it.

Do you read reviews of your books? Why or why not?

I try not to. Something I read that makes a lot of sense is that an author can receive dozens of five star reviews and shrug it off, but one two or one-star review can devastate his/her entire day. I think that over time any author has to reach a point that the reviews are meaningless, but it’s nice getting past those first few that show the general reception of a new work.

What do you do that you suspect causes your copyeditor to pull her/his hair out?

I use the word ‘had’ fairly often, which causes a few people (mainly my father) to lose his mind. He’s of the opinion that even if it’s used correctly, it’s still wrong. I’m sure he heard that in a podcast somewhere.

When you compare your first draft to your final draft, do you net add words or subtract words? In general, what is it that you add or subtract between first and final draft?

I add and remove a lot during the rewriting process. My first draft is usually a skeleton of the story where I hit all the high notes of the book, but I skip details if I simply can’t put them together at the moment. Those always come in during the rewrite, so often the first rewrite adds forty percent more to the book, and then the next several passes usually add and remove equally.

How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?

I’ve wanted to write a book like Raven’s Peak for a long time, and I wanted to tell the story with unique and unexpected characters. I like the idea of Novum’s, so I didn’t want to try and make the world so different from what people expected that it would be hard to follow, but I wanted to add new things slowly to develop my own world.

What is a piece of writing advice you think is worth sharing?

The best writing advice I can give is don’t be afraid to make mistakes. If you’re self-published then you are the writer, editor, designer, social media expert, and marketer for your brand, and you’re going to make a lot of mistakes learning all of these new careers. Mistakes mean you’re learning, and over time you’ll be amazed at all of the new things you know about, so just keep trying new things.

To find out more about Lincoln Cole and his writing, visit http://www.LincolnCole.net/signup and add your email address. You’ll receive news and updates as well as two free stories! You can also find me at https://www.facebook.com/LincolnJCole

Here's the blurb for Raven's Peak:

A quiet little mountain town is hiding a big problem. When the townsfolk of Raven's Peak start acting crazy, Abigail Dressler is called upon to find out what is happening. She uncovers a demonic threat unlike any she's ever faced and finds herself in a fight just to stay alive. 

She rescues Haatim Arison from a terrifying fate and discovers that he has a family legacy in the supernatural that he knows nothing about. Now she's forced to protect him, which is easy, and also trust him if she wants to save the townsfolk of Raven's Peak. Trust, however, is considerably more difficult for someone who grew up living on the knife's edge of danger.

Can they discover the cause of the town's insanity and put a stop to it before it is too late?

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Jim Nelson - Guest Author

Jim Nelson’s latest novel Bridge Daughter was published in June by Kindle Press. (He joins me as a Kindle Scout winner.) His other books include Edward Teller Dreams of Barbecuing People and A Concordance of One’s Life. He lives in San Francisco.

How did you develop your idea for your most recent work?

I can’t fully explain where the idea for Bridge Daughter came from. One morning while preparing to write a chapter for another book I’m (still) working on, a strange thought struck me: What if we lived in a world where daughters are born as surrogates for their mothers, growing up to young teens and giving birth to the “real” child before dying. Rather than brushing aside this strange notion, I asked myself some questions how a world like this would look. These questions became the kernel for Bridge Daughter.

For a different (abandoned) project I’d developed a character, a bookish teenage girl who learns to make origami cranes thinking she’ll get a magical wish after folding a thousand of them (senbazuru in Japanese) in one year. The book was a non-starter but I wondered if I could find another home for her.

Taking these and some other scraps of inspiration I had in my writing notebook, I spent the rest of the day outlining Bridge Daughter. Within a day or two I’d written the first chapter.

Name three writers from whom you have drawn inspiration and tell us why.
For Bridge Daughter I looked to Patricia Highsmith, Graham Greene, and Kurt Vonnegut for inspiration.

In my mind, Highsmith is sui generis in American literature, an author who stripped down the tough-guy novel and moved its mean streets to the petty backbiting world of the petit bourgeoisie. (She was also a master of dialing up tension one Fahrenheit at a time.) Since I knew Bridge Daughter was going to be a thriller (of sorts) set in suburbia, I looked to her for guidance on just how to pull that off.

I’ve always admired Greene’s concision, his “proper words in proper places.” Unlike my last novel, Edward Teller Dreams of Barbecuing People, I felt Bridge Daughter’s drama was charged enough without a stylized and talky narrator, so I kept Greene’s clean diction in mind as I wrote.

Since I was writing about a pregnant thirteen year-old girl doomed to die in a few months, Vonnegut’s gallows humor and fatalism seemed appropriate. I read a few of his books while writing Bridge Daughter to keep my spirits up.

When you compare your first draft to your final draft, do you net add words or subtract words? In general, what is it that you add or subtract between first and final draft?

Oh, I overwrite. The first round of edits is almost always deletions. My novella Everywhere Man wound up at half the size of the first draft.

The first chapter of Bridge Daughter I mentioned earlier was dropped entirely during the revision process. When I cut a scene, or even a chapter, and realize later I don’t miss it at all, that’s the kind of editing I like.

Are you a plotter, pantser or something in between and why?

A plotter, to be sure. I’ve done some work by the seat of my pants, but it rarely results in anything I would call successful.

The past few years I’ve been studying Syd Field’s three-act form. Syd Field is something of a legend in the film industry for preaching a strict adherence to narrative structure: By page 30, this must have happened, by page 60 that must have happened, and so on.

I don’t believe such rigid rules are necessary (or even healthy) for writing a novel, but having some scaffolding in place is a huge boon before starting a first draft. I’m writing about this on my blog at http://j-nelson.net/continuing-series/

What is your most recent excellent read (book, short story or essay) and why.

M. J. Vigna’s Deadly Deadly thoroughly impressed me. The author had such command over the subject matter, I felt in good hands throughout the novel. It’s also a rejoinder, of sorts, to the American Western genre and its idolatry of loners doling out justice. I’ve not read as vivid and surefooted a depiction of life on the high desert since The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. I gave it four stars on Amazon, but in hindsight I should’ve given it all five.

What is the background noise when you write and why is it there?

I collect film soundtracks and find them good music for writing. It helps they’re largely instrumental, as I find vocals distracting when I’m writing. And if you think about it, soundtracks are designed to help convey a narrative, so it makes sense to pair them with writing fiction.

Right now I’m listening to the soundtrack for Max Payne 3 (a filmic video game). In the past I’ve written to soundtracks for Captive, Naked Lunch, The Man With One Red Shoe, Ascenseur pour l’eschaud, and others.

What language error, when you hear or see it, grates on you like the screech of fingernails on a chalkboard?

I’m mellow about grammar in fiction. If meaning is communicated well, break out the bubbly, I say. Keep your language fresh, that’s important to me.

Feature writing (newspapers, magazines, blogs) I’m more critical of.

Here’s the thing: I don’t like sentences that open with “Here’s the thing:” Overuse of the em-dash—adding punch to a flabby sentence—has become our generation’s writing crutch. And using “well” with glib repetitions to appear cute and informal is, well, cute and informal.

None of these are language errors, I just wish writers would refrain from using them. It’s dumbing-down our language and, by extension, our discourse.

When you start reading a book do you always finish it? If not, what causes you to permanently put a book down?

I’ll put a book down if it doesn’t capture me. I used to worry I was setting aside books because they weren’t fast-paced enough, but later I quit blaming myself. I don’t need action or adventure to read through a book. Give me a compelling character and give that character a compelling situation.

There’s too much avant-gardism in American literature today. It’s created a sense in authors that it’s the reader’s responsibility to sit still and listen. Fiction is a negotiated experience between the reader and writer. Meet me halfway and I’ll devour your book to its last word.

What is a piece of writing advice you think is worth sharing?

Be true to yourself and write what you want to read. Find characters and situations that intrigue you and follow them where they lead you. My worst writing is the writing I did thinking it would satisfy a particular reader, editor, or publisher. My best writing is the work I did thinking “No way in hell is anyone going to want to read this,” only to discover I was wrong.

Bridge Daughter is now on sale at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01EZ4B0VE To read more about my novels, as well book reviews and writing ideas, check out my web site at http://j-nelson.net or visit my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/j.nelson.net

Young Hanna thinks her thirteenth birthday will be no different than the one before—until her mother explains the facts of life. Hanna is a “bridge daughter,” born pregnant with her parents’ child. In a few months she will give birth and die, leaving her parents with their true daughter.

A mature bookworm who dreams of college and career, Hanna is determined to overcome her biological fate. Then she learns of an illegal procedure that will allow her to live to adulthood…at the cost of the child’s life.

“Don’t start this until your schedule is clear—you won’t be able to put it down.” – Cynthia Ross, 5-star Amazon review