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Category: On writing . . .

Jenny Jensen's column
Home > Columns > On writing . . .

Drafts by Jenny Jensen, Editor @A_SliceofOrange

October 19, 2017 by in category On writing . . . tagged as , , ,

Drafts | Jenny Jensen | A Slice of OrangeDrafts

 

I love quotes. I collect them, especially quotes about writing from writers I particularly respect. Since I work with writers of all levels from beginners to veterans, I find that sometimes the perfect quote from an established writer is exactly what I need to reinforce a point – so I use my collection well.

 

I just took on a new client who sent an outline for her first novel. The outline included a précis of the plot, quick character sketches, a few narrative bits on action scenes and several options for an ending. Buried in these concepts were the seeds of a very fresh new voice. I’m excited; it’s the kind of challenge I relish. It’s the perfect opportunity to ask the right questions, provide possibilities and help guide the story to a solid structure – all of which greases the writer’s creative wheels – the give and take nudging them to the path they want for their story.

 

Shitty First Drafts

 

The problem was the writer didn’t want to write a draft; she wanted to work with me to get the story full blown in her head then sit down at the keyboard and spit out a finished novel. Oh dear. I imagine there are writers who can do that but they’re as rare as the ivory-billed woodpecker. As Anne Lamott put it in her essay, Shitty First Drafts: “I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much.”

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” (TY Terry Pratchett.)

 

All first drafts suck. It’s a universal law. But it’s where you have to start. “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” (TY Terry Pratchett.) So give yourself permission to just spill it, write the most vapid dialog ever if that’s what comes out. It’s OK – it’s a draft. Just get the story out. If you find yourself using more adjectives than Danielle Steele and Judith Krantz combined then this is the place to do it. It’s a draft -no one will ever see it (except me but that’s all right ‘cuz I’ll never tell). Stewart Stafford hit the bull’s eye, “It’s okay to write a cliché in a first draft; it sets a marker that you can get far, far away from in the rewrites.”

The Rewrites

 

That’s what a draft is for – the rewrites. Here’s where the painful process of filling the blank page becomes fun. You see the flaws and get to slash and revise, hear the perfect dialog over the noise of what you drafted, maybe see a new direction in the wreckage. I’ve encouraged my client to write a first draft. I’ll happily work with her from that, but I bet she goes over it first – who could resist? Draft one or draft two, I don’t care. I can’t wait to see it.

Jenny 

 


Jenny Jensen | A Slice of Orange

Jenny Jensen

Editor

www.e-bookeditor.com

With a BA in Anthropology and English I pursued a career in advertising and writing and segued into developmental editing. It was a great choice for me. I love the process of creating and am privileged to be part of that process for so many great voices — voices both seasoned and new.

I’ve worked on nearly 400 books over 20 years, books by noted authors published by New York houses including Penguin, Kensington, Pentacle and Zebra as well as with Indie bestsellers and Amazon dynamos. From Air Force manuals and marketing materials to memoirs, thrillers, sci fi and romance, my services range from copyediting to developmental coaching.

Having worked in advertising and marketing, I am always cognizant of the marketplace in which the author’s work will be seen. I coach for content and style with that knowledge in mind in order to maximize sales and/or educational potential. My objective is to help the author’s material stand out from an ever more crowded and competitive field.

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Say What!?

September 19, 2017 by in category On writing . . . tagged as , , ,

Say What!? | Jenny Jensen | A Slice of OrangeEvery writer has to be an editor to some degree. Reading and revising what you’ve written is the first line of attack; the skirmish before an editor gets unbiased hands on the work. What are you looking for when you edit your own work? Search and destroy all worm words, cut down on adverbs and adjectives, delete extraneous dialog tags, trim unneeded prose; there is a ton of excellent advise on the web to help with a self-edit. But can it help you catch the muddle?

 

When you are on that heady writing roll where the words just flow and the story unfolds in your mind like a film then you write what you’re seeing — it’s a grand feeling. Just be sure you wrote what you meant to convey. When you reread those words you’re fixed on the meaning you intended. When an editor reads those same words they… just might laugh. Ah the consequence of the unintended.

 

I’ve encountered this muddle most where eyes are involved. Probably because it’s said that the eyes are windows to the soul. We’ve imbued two innocent organs with a near paranormal ability to transmit intent. And I think they can. The face is expressive but the eyes really can appear shifty, or soulful or hurt. And if you’ve ever really pissed your mom off, then you know that eyes can harden in anger.  But there’s a thin line between expressive eyes and hilarious word play.

 

He lied. His eyes gave him away, gaze dropping fast to the floor and remaining there. Well, pick that gaze up for heavens sake. It’s dusty down there. But I get it and it works beautifully in the context of the scene, if it just didn’t conjure an image that makes me chuckle. We went with: He lied. The eyes gave him away. He couldn’t look at us. It was a great thriller and the book did well.

 

A different author; the scene is tense, the captive character needs to scope out the situation, there has to be a way out. Her eyeballs skittered across the room. Oh my! That hurts — eyeballs rolling away like errant marbles. It isn’t pretty. Please, let’s try: She scanned the room frantically…” It fit the moment and the book sold admirably.

 

OK, maybe the eyeball fix wasn’t the deciding sales factor — each of these authors is very, very good — but, in the end, neither provided unintended laughter. When you self-edit pay heed to what you’ve written. Do the words convey what you actually intended?  Be vigilant of the muddle. No one wants to step on a skittering eyeball.


Jenny Jensen | A Slice of OrangeWith a BA in Anthropology and English I pursued a career in advertising and writing and segued into developmental editing. It was a great choice for me. I love the process of creating and am privileged to be part of that process for so many great voices — voices both seasoned and new.

 

I’ve worked on nearly 400 books over 20 years, books by noted authors published by New York houses including Penguin, Kensington, Pentacle and Zebra as well as with Indie bestsellers and Amazon dynamos. From Air Force manuals and marketing materials to memoirs, thrillers, sci fi and romance, my services range from copyediting to developmental coaching.

 

Having worked in advertising and marketing, I am always cognizant of the marketplace in which the author’s work will be seen. I coach for content and style with that knowledge in mind in order to maximize sales and/or educational potential. My objective is to help the author’s material stand out from an ever more crowded and competitive field.

 

 

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Voice, Style, Tone

August 19, 2017 by in category On writing . . . tagged as , , ,

Voice, Style and Tone | Jenny Jensen | A Slice of Orange

 

As much advice exists about how to write as about how to vote. TMI? Sometimes it makes me long for a cabin near Walden Pond, a quill pen and a stack of foolscap. (Not really sure what that is but I love the word!) In my experience the best approach is to just write – and then go back and right your writing. Edit.

Voice, Style, and Tone Are All Critical

There’s so much to be aware of when you edit what you’ve written. From the macro view voice, style and tone are all critical. Explanations of those elements vary but we all know they each impact our writing. Some definition is required to make the concepts applicable; for me, style and voice are like fraternal twins – really close but not exactly the same.

Voice and Style

As an editor I’m dialed into the author’s voice after the first three paragraphs of a manuscript. As a reader I know within the first three pages if I like an author’s voice – just like we all know what music we like. Voice is a reflection of the author’s mind and personality and like minds and personality, it develops and matures with age. Depending on the writer’s level of skill and experience I can hear a strong voice, or a well-emulated voice or a developing voice. If I hear a voice that’s not distinct and consistent the writer and I work toward finding her natural rhythm for word choice, phrasing, even punctuation – her voice.

Voice shifts from 3rd person narrative to dialog and differs between characters. Look carefully at the voice of each character. Does the language suit the character? A pierced and tattooed good time girl speaks differently than a buttoned up college professor. An author’s style often changes from story to story, but the voice is always there. I think voice comes from the gut and it grows and develops and gets better with use. Style is more a conscious effort and is changeable from book to book depending on what the story needs.

Tone

Tone is less ephemeral. It’s the mood. Every plot has an overall tone and under that umbrella each scene has a tone appropriate to the action; dialog reflects tone. Tone is what moves the emotions of the story. When you read over your 1000 words per day listen to be sure the tone is always appropriate. A cozy mystery has a murder, of course, but the tone is off if it is described in the tone of a gritty noir.

The body lay crumpled at the foot of the staircase. Pepper drew a sharp breath. There was so much blood.
Versus
Sgt. Pepper stared critically at the broken and bloodied body. The fall down the staircase alone was fatal; the twenty or so bloody gashes were overkill.

Edit

If, at the end of the writing day, you listen with a critical ear you’ll hear your voice, feel the style, sense the moods and know if each is clear and appropriate. If not, then this is the time to right what you write.

Jenny Jensen
Editor
www.e-bookeditor.com


Jenny Jensen | A Slice of Orange
With a BA in Anthropology and English I pursued a career in advertising and writing and segued into developmental editing. It was a great choice for me. I love the process of creating and am privileged to be part of that process for so many great voices — voices both seasoned and new.

I’ve worked on nearly 400 books over 20 years, books by noted authors published by New York houses including Penguin, Kensington, Pentacle and Zebra as well as with Indie bestsellers and Amazon dynamos. From Air Force manuals and marketing materials to memoirs, thrillers, sci fi and romance, my services range from copyediting to developmental coaching.

Having worked in advertising and marketing, I am always cognizant of the marketplace in which the author’s work will be seen. I coach for content and style with that knowledge in mind in order to maximize sales and/or educational potential. My objective is to help the author’s material stand out from an ever more crowded and competitive field.

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Conflict & Tension – The Ticking Clock

July 19, 2017 by in category On writing . . . tagged as , , ,

Tension
I read a lot. I devour books of all genres – Indie and traditionally published, new and old. I need to know what’s selling, what’s succeeding and what stories are breaking through the competition to become a hit (and I really love to read!). There are lessons to be learned in every book I read and those lessons always make me a better editor.

Lately I’ve seen a trend toward ratcheting up the level of tension. It’s not just serial killer thrillers where the plot is structured for the loudest ticking clock; I see it in every genre. There’s more than a clock ticking, there’s a nuclear device with a very short fuse. And the fuse is lit from page one on. Some of these tales are wound so tight I nearly get an ulcer fretting my way to the solution. It leaves me exhausted (entertained, but exhausted), and leads me to consider the element of tension.

We all know that tension is a required element of every story. It’s what draws the reader into an emotional engagement with the tale. Conflict and tension go nicely hand in hand but conflict alone doesn’t create tension. You need that emotional investment in the character’s fate so that the reader cares about the outcome. Tension is about anticipation. Phil and Philly flirt. What will this lead to? Will this bring out the monster in Philly’s father? Will Phil leave Dotty for the long legged Philly? What if Dotty won’t let go easily?

We care because you’ve created characters that resonate with the reader, characters worth rooting for. We need to know what happens. It’s the anticipation that draws us on. A conflict is just a conflict – two opposing forces on a collision course. Not very exciting unless it’s infused with an emotional content that makes us care about the outcome of the clash. And with well-drawn characters a story is richer with several elements of tension. Tension can be anywhere and everywhere – between characters, within a character himself, with the outside world. There are enough possibilities for an element of tension in every scene and that’s a great tool for moving the story forward.

But that golden element requires balance. The suspense created by tension should ebb and flow or you’ll burn the reader out. Down time from tension allows a place to let the characters develop further, build on the setting or background, weave in foreshadowing. Let the moments of tension grow in intensity as the story progresses until it stand shockingly tall as the blockbuster needed for the climax. Bring your reader along for the ride without always creating the need for a stiff drink.

Jenny


Jenny Jensen | A Slice of Orange
With a BA in Anthropology and English I pursued a career in advertising and writing and segued into developmental editing. It was a great choice for me. I love the process of creating and am privileged to be part of that process for so many great voices — voices both seasoned and new.

I’ve worked on nearly 400 books over 20 years, books by noted authors published by New York houses including Penguin, Kensington, Pentacle and Zebra as well as with Indie bestsellers and Amazon dynamos. From Air Force manuals and marketing materials to memoirs, thrillers, sci fi and romance, my services range from copyediting to developmental coaching.

Having worked in advertising and marketing, I am always cognizant of the marketplace in which the author’s work will be seen. I coach for content and style with that knowledge in mind in order to maximize sales and/or educational potential. My objective is to help the author’s material stand out from an ever more crowded and competitive field.

Jenny Jensen
Editor
www.e-bookeditor.com

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