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Adding Visual Impact to Your Story – Part 1: Letting your scenes tell your story

As authors, we’re all taught to develop our story primarily through our characters. We’re taught to paint detailed descriptions of our characters, use conflict, flashbacks and other methods to let the reader form images. Images of our protagonist, our antagonist, our hero, their lover and our stories supporting cast.

But what about other story elements? Our settings? Our scenes? Dialogue? Character actions? Aren’t they just as important to building your story as describing your characters? Isn’t where they go, what they eat, what they see, hear, and smell important too?

As a mater of fact, does telling your reader that your hero has brown eyes really say anything about them? Do we really care if their hair is blond, red, brown or black?

Painting a picture

What if we say it’s blond with streaks of blue on one side and a faded patch of orange on the other? Doesn’t that immediately form a picture of someone young, a bit wild and daring?

My point being that you can subtly paint a picture by adding visual impact to each element of your story. And that, will be the subject for this blog series.

Letting your scenes tell your story

In the first of this series we’ll look at painting a picture with your scenes and settings. Actually, not only the scene or setting, but also the locations you choose to place them in.

Aren’t these just as important to building your story as your characters? Isn’t where they go, what they eat, what they see, hear, and smell important too? The picture you paint in any scene must contain at least some of these images to be complete; to draw the reader into your scene and make them feel as if they’re part of it.

Many of us refer to this as “Show don’t tell”. Uh, yes! Of course! How simple! But, is it?

 

Let’s give it a shot. Write a quick scene of someone walking on the street above.

Okay. Time’s up. Let’s see how you did.

First, did you tell us where they are? In New Zealand, Germany, Ireland, San Diego?

Did you describe what they saw? What they passed?

What did they smell?

Did they stop and buy something? What was it? What did it smell and taste like?

How about the woman pushing the stroller? Is the baby crying?

Using the five senses

If it’s not clear yet, we’re asking you to put yourself into your characters’ shoes. For you to describe the scene using their five senses. What they:

  • Saw
  • Touched
  • Tasted
  • Heard
  • Smelled

Also, what emotions, if any, each invoked. What about when they saw their destination, the book store? Did they smile? Chuckle? Did the smell of books fill their nostrils?

If you’ve included all or most of the above types of descriptions in you example, you’ve painted a complete picture for your reader. Not only of the scene but of your character too!

After all, aren’t we all best described by our inner feelings? By how we react to what we see, smell, hear, touch and taste? By the memories and emotions each conjures up, or doesn’t?

Finally, don’t forget the sixth sense, intuition. Intuition not only influences, it interprets what our senses are telling us. It translates their meaning into our unique world.

Writing Demystified

So, you want to be a writer but you have no idea where to start, what to do, how to do it, or really what your story is about?

That means you pretty much look like this guy. Lost, no idea where he’s at, where he’s going, who to ask for help or even what to ask.

It also means you’re where most authors are, or soon get to, when they start.

Are we going to write it for you? Nope, we have enough trouble writing our own stuff. Besides, it’s your story, not ours. But, we’ll get you started by:

  • helping you collect your ideas
  • pushing them around to form a rough story
  • building an outline
  • adding details
  • forming a story
  • creating nice guys, not so nice guys and plain old villains
  • adding lovely women, sexy women, ugly women and even evil women
  • inserting characters that support and bring out your main characters
  • developing plot twists and turns
  • inserting flashbacks, flash forwards and maybe a flash sideways into a parallel world, if you’re into Sci-Fi
  • helping you build settings that put the reader into your scenes
  • wrapping it all up with a bow around your ending.

 

WOW! All that? Yup! And we’ll even throw in:

  • how to find the rules of your genre, style sheets and outlines
  • getting help from a developmental editor
  • what NOT to do
  • how beta reading and editing fit into the writing process and why they are critical
  • covers
  • book descriptions
  • chapter titles
  • writing software.

 

If you’re already an author with a story partially or fully written, you’re probably thinking this is pretty lame stuff. Perhaps. But why not give it a read? It’s never too late to learn something new. Then bouncing your work against new, different, or even rehashed writing ideas may just help you tweak your characters, fine tune your plot, brighten your settings or make that boring subplot really work for you.

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So grab a note pad (lap top or tablet if you prefer), pull up a couch like Oscar Wilde here and get ready to become famous. Once you are, you too can wear a cool fur coat, boots and spats like his.

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This blog is intended to cover the basics of writing your story, but is there something we haven’t covered? Something you think might help you develop or fine tune your draft? If so, jump in there and let us know.

Editing – Part IV – Proofreading and other types of editing

In Part I we covered the basics of editing. Parts II and III then went on to talk about the most common types of editing: Developmental Editing and Copy or Line Editing.

Part IV will wrap up the basics of the editing process most authors will need and cover two other types of editing primarily used to help new authors get off the ground with their first manuscript.

 

By now, you and your editor have pored over your manuscript. You’ve gone back and forth with ideas, screamed at each other, hugged each other, tweaked things till they’re perfect or as close to perfect as you can get them, and there are no more post it notes hanging everywhere!

The really good news? You’ve learned to trust yourself!

You’re also one step away from being ready to publish. Uh, actually, make that several steps; but that’s the subject of another blog.

So, what’s next?

Proofreading

Proofreading is the final review on your completely edited manuscript. You know, the one you’ve hashed over, revised and tweaked on just about every page.

And, because of the changes, we need to go back and check for:

  • Typographical errors
  • Punctuation
  • Grammar
  • Spacing
  • Print quality and font consistency
  • Sufficient white space – margins, paragraph spacing, indenting.

In short, we need to make sure it’s completely error free and print ready.

Other types of edits

But what if you’re still not sure and somehow, someway, things are still just not working for you?

Well, this calls for a Substantive or Content Edit

A substantive or content edit is a complete assessment of an author’s final manuscript for:

  • Style
  • Structure
  • Logic
  • Tone
  • Accuracy

 

This is in addition to, and in our case, after or during a full copy edit.

Often, any good editor will throw in some or all of these as part of their copy edit. Why? Well because they, like you, have now lived with your characters and your story from beginning to end. They have built a picture in their head and when the structure or tone isn’t working, it jumps out at them. Likewise, when the style of your story changes or the logic or accuracy drifts and doesn’t make sense they quickly pick up on that too.

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The final type of edit in our editing chest is a Production Edit.

A production edit coordinates all of the manuscript processes from a Developmental Edit through publication, including:

  • Copy edit
  • Internal content and cover design
  • Printing
  • Binding
  • Distribution
  • Coordination with the publisher

Think of a production editor as a project manager, and the womb-to-tomb writing and publication of your manuscript as the project.

Editing – Part III – Line Editing

 

In Part I we covered the basics of editing. Why you need an editor and an overview of what an editor does and doesn’t do. Then, in Part II we covered Developmental Editing, which is intended mainly to help new writers who are having difficulty getting started with their story.

In Part III, we’ll cover the most common form of editing, Copy or Line Editing.

At this stage, you’ve likely gone over, and over, and over your manuscript. Now you’re either in love with it and convinced it’s perfect or can’t stand to look at it another second!

Whichever it is, will help you and the editor decide which form of line editing you’ll need.

If you’re certain you’ve found and corrected everything you could, are in love with your plot and characters, then a light line edit is likely all you’ll need.

On the other hand, if you’re convinced none of it makes sense and you wrote it in some other language, then you’re probably headed for a heavy line edit.

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By now you’ve likely guessed that a copy or line edit is performed on the what the writer believes to be a completed manuscript and is a line by line check of the authors work.

Line editing can be light, medium or heavy, depending on what state the manuscript is in. As noted above, a clean self-edited manuscript would likely need only a light line edit. Whereas a manuscript the writer is uncomfortable with will need a deeper, heavy line edit to help finish developing the story as well as fixing things.

Typically, a medium line edit and its depth, will fall somewhere in between, depending on what the editor finds during his/her initial manuscript evaluation.

Things the editor will make sure are correct and proper for each type of line edit are:

  • Light
    • Spelling
    • Punctuation
    • Grammar
    • Capitalization
    • Number usage
    • Abbreviations
    • Typographical errors
    • Omitted or repeat words
    • Overall story accuracy

 

  • Medium – A light edit plus:
    • Consistency of American or British English, colloquialisms, accents
    • Sentence construction and run on sentences
    • Elimination of unnecessary words
    • Syntax
    • Proper and consistent tense
    • Overused words and adverbs, clichés, purple prose
    • Logic or plot holes
    • Character/time inconsistencies
    • Style sheet/guide adherence (if applicable)

 

  • Heavy or Full – A light edit, necessary elements from a medium edit and suggestions for:
    • Cuts
    • Additions
    • Rewrites
    • Revisions to unclear passages
    • Replacement words
    • Rearranged sentences and scenes

 

Which type of line edit is right for you? That’s up to you, the condition of your manuscript and your editor.

When is your manuscript done being edited? When you and your editor agree that it is. Remember, this is a circular process. The more changes you make as a result of the edits, the more additional checks the editor will need to make.

In Part IV we’ll cover the final common step in the editing process, proofreading, and mention a few special editing processes you may want to consider.

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Line editing can range from simple to complex. Have we covered what’s generally contained in each type? Do you have a question about something specific? Let us know and we’ll gladly answer it.

Writing Allsorts Support the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts

 

At the November 2019 Guild meeting, Susan Strasser of the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts, Creative Writing Department, asked if Guild members would be interested in helping students at her school.

We volunteered after the meeting and have since been working with her to help the school’s students perfect their writing skills.

In January, we were given twelve short stories from students and asked to critique them. Then in early February, they were part of a four person ‘Jury Panel’ that listened as each student read their paper. The other two jury panel members were instructors from the school, who had also pre-evaluated the student’s papers.

After each student finished reading their paper, one by one the jury panel members provided their critique of the paper, offering both positive feedback and suggestions for enhancements.

Before the first student read their paper, the four panel members did a quick comparison of our critiques. Instantly, it became obvious how impressed all of us were with the twelve papers. Each student had done an excellent job and almost all of the suggestions for improvements were truly enhancements that an edit of a published writer might find.

Perhaps even more impressive was that none of the students took offense to our comments or suggestions and each and every one of them expressed appreciation for our helping them to become better writers.

In mid-April, we put together a PowerPoint presentation on how to enhance Creative Non-Fiction using Creative Fiction writing techniques.

This was presented by Bob at the end of April, as the Creative Non-Fiction class kicked off its first session via Zoom. The session covered the three structures of Creative Non-Fiction which the students were to choose their first paper from.

It then provided example topics within each structure and gave examples of how, show don’t tell, emotions, the five senses and other fiction techniques, could be used in each. Once again, the presentation was very well received as the students went off to select the topic for their first paper.

Next up, once on grounds classes resume, we have offered to do the Editing Untangled Workshop to help round out the students’ skill sets.

We were even given food!

 

Here’s what Susan had to say about what we did:

“Bob and Robyn were a great addition to our student’s development as writers. Not only did they provide meaningful feedback for student writers during our mid-year jury, but they also gave a workshop about picking topics when the school was doing distance learning [during the pandemic]. I can’t wait to have them back next year.”

 

Susie Strasser

San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts

Creative Writing Department Chair

Yearbook Advisor

English Department

Developmental Editing – Part II

In Part I we talked about why you need an editor and briefly noted the different types of editing.

In subsequent parts we’ll define what an editor does in each type of edit, starting with developmental editing.

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Before we get into developmental editing though, lets take a second to tell you what an editor, any editor, should never do.

  • Make corrections to your document, no matter how insignificant, without your permission!
  • Write your story for you! (That’s called ghost writing)
  • Change or rewrite your story or document, under any circumstances! (That’s called co-authoring.)

Remember, this is your story, not theirs!

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Okay, your story is done! Well, sorta.

So, how do you know what type of editing help you need?

Easy, ask the editor.

Any good editor should first evaluate your story and advise you of what they think it needs. For us, this is typically done by requesting the first chapter of your story and another about three quarters of the way through.

Why? Because, first of all we want to see what state your story is in. If it’s a collection of PostIt notes (like above) or only an outline, you definitely need a developmental edit. An extensive developmental edit!

If it appears your chapters are comprehensive, your story is complete (yes, we can tell) and your writing follows most of the rules, you likely only need one form of a line edit.

Of course, there is a lot of in between territory. We’ve seen stories go south in Chapter 4. Sub plots from Chapter 6 to 10 that added nothing to the story. Things stolen from other places and stuck in. Stories written by several people that changed style with each chapter.

So, why Chapter 1 and a far in chapter?

Simple. There are rules for the first chapter that are used to pull the reader into your story. Did you follow them? Did you even know about them?

Also, your writing should get better as you go. Does it? Are you getting into your story, falling in love with your characters, improving your descriptions as you write?

If not, we’ve got a lot more story suggestions (developmental editing) to come up with.

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Simply put, developmental editing concentrates on helping you develop and keep true your story, your characters and your scenes.

As editors, we’ll work with the author by providing guidance, feedback and critiquing the following areas:

  • Structure
  • Characterization/character arcs
  • Goals, motivation, conflict
  • Correct point of view
  • Show don’t tell
  • Plot
  • Pace
  • Genre specific and appropriate form
  • Believable and genre specific dialog
  • Balance between narrative and dialog
  • Scene descriptions

We’ll also provide templates and a checklist as requested or needed.

Our whole intent is to keep you from getting frustrated as you build your story.

As we stated in Part I, we’re a second set of eyes intended to help you perfect your work. In developmental editing that means helping you build a complete story that pulls the reader in from Chapter 1 and holds their attention till “The End”.

We hope we’ve also made it clear that developmental editing can run from helping you build your outline to barely tweaking your story. In the later case, you’re more likely to need a heavy line edit, which will be part of what we cover in Part III.

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We love questions so, is there anything else that you would expect an editor to comment on or help with during a developmental edit?

 

International Dublin Writers Festival – 10-13 September 2020

Updated – Please check the International Dublin Writers Festival website for the latest updates.

We’re ecstatic! We’ve been invited to present our popular Editing Untangled Workshop at the 2020 International Dublin Writers Festival.

The festival will run from 10-13 September 2020 and will be held at the Academy Plaza Hotel, just off of O’Connell Street in the centre of Dublin. There will also be a special welcoming book fair and cocktail party on Thursday night.

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Full conference details and registration can be found on International Dublin Writers Festival.

Conference admission is $149 and includes the Awards Dinner on Saturday night. Or attendees can sign up for the Saturday sessions only.

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In addition Railtours Ireland is offering a Special Discount for conference attendees (Discount Code: Writers10)

The discount is 10 percent off on all tours plus the following special additions:

  • Free Upgrade to a four-star hotel in Killarney (Usually B&Bs are used)
  • Free full Irish breakfast on board the 7 am train to Cork on day one of the tour
  • Free tickets for the Dublin hop on hop off tour ticket per adult (A 22 Euro value)

 

Tours offered by Railtours Ireland cover all of Ireland and a full description can be found on: https://railtoursireland.com

Reservations can be made directly on +353 1 856 0045 or toll free 1 877 451 4783. Be sure to mention “Writers10” for the discount.

Questions to: info@railtoursireland.com

 

 

Editing untangled – Why do you need an editor? – Part 1

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One of the things we have noticed as we’ve attended writers’ conferences and writers’ group meetings is the confusion surrounding editing. From why do I need an editor, to what does an editor do, to what type of editing do I need?

Here we’ll attempt to clear the confusion by answering these and other common questions about editing.

So, let’s start with: Why do you need an editor?

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Yay! Congratulations! You’ve finished your story. You’ve pored over it and over it and over it. You’ve made it absolutely perfect. Or so you think.

But now everyone says you need to get it edited.

Why? Because a professional editor is a second set of unbiased, educated eyes.

An editor doesn’t know:

  • your story or where it takes place
  • who your characters are
  • what your characters look like, act like, feel, how they behave
  • who’s likable and not
  • what your scenes and settings look like, feel like, smell like
  • what you meant to write
  • what word you thought was right
  • what your character really meant to say
  • why you switched POV or tense.

In short, they have no preconceived ideas about your plot, where it’s going and will not read into it what you intended to write. It’s up to your story and writing to tell them all that. Finally, they’re also trained to spot and not read over grammatical, punctuation, typographical and other errors.

Simply put, editing helps you perfect your work. It can range from helping you build your story to polishing it or suggesting a complete rewrite.

How much an editor does depends on the status of your work and the type of edit you’ve requested.

Here is a link to the three basic types of editing.

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Not sure what edit formula’s right for you?

In Part II we’ll go into a lot more detail for each type of edit to help you select.

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Have you used an editor at any stage of your writing? How did they help you?

Brain Teaser

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This is an unusual paragraph.

I’m curious how quickly you can find out what is so unusual about it. It looks so plain you would think nothing was wrong with it. In fact, nothing is wrong with it. Study it but you will still may not find anything odd.

Email us if you think you know the answer!