I’m excited to share with you that I have a mini-season on my podcast all about editing in honor of all the first-drafting that went on in November for National Novel Writing Month. Five episodes of editors and agents talking about editing and giving you their best tips. Jennie Nash, my first guest, even gives you two handouts!
Check out the episodes every Thursday on WRITE NOW! Workshop Podcast. You can find it on your favorite podcast app or watch the episodes on YouTube. Be sure to subscribe, either way, so you don’t miss out! In 2021, I’ll be moving to seasons, which means there will be a couple weeks in between without an episode and I don’t want you to miss anything.
As we finish up a difficult year, I also wanted to share my Encouraging Words episode with you. I hope you find it uplifting and hopeful. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year!
My husband and I went driving through the hills of Palos Verdes last Sunday afternoon. He drives a too tiny for me sports car that he absolutely loves and that I find rather confining. It was a beautiful day outside. The California coastal skies were clear. The ocean waves were gentle and incredibly tempting. For October, it was surprising just how many people were still enjoying our ocean waters.
But the air was overly warm and all I really wanted to do that particular Sunday was to stay inside with a good book. I had just finished writing my latest book and was well into the editing process and I was pretty sick of the whole thing. I still had not come up with a title, although there were several roaming randomly throughout my brain.
As much as I knew that I had work to do, I had grown tired of correcting punctuation marks and hunting for run on sentences. And so, really and truly, the only thing I wanted to do was to read my copy of Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke – You Don’t Own Me. I had started it over a month ago and had just not found the time to get further into it. It had waited patiently for me on my desk for over a month.
So my husband convinced me that the best way to get my book fully edited was to take a ride, clear my head and find something else to think about. “You’ll be sharper after you spend some time away,” he said, not really caring about my head but more about having company on his ride past the beach and through the still green hills.
We started our journey off with me offering up potential titles for my book and him coming up with sillier versions to distract me. To my surprise, he also came up with a few good ones. I was just about to launch into a discussion of why I might actually like his last suggested title when a strange man in a most unusual white car drove into the lane next to us. Our car being a lower to the ground Pontiac Solstice, I found myself having to look upward at the driver. The man, apparently aware of my interest, pivoted his gaze down on me, tipped his hat, smiled and promptly drove off.
“What an interesting guy,” I said. “I love his fedora hat (it was a strange shade of blue), but what the heck is he driving?” I asked my husband, who is well versed in the automobile world and knows far more about cars than I could ever hope for.
“A Morris Minor. A 1950 something model, I think,” he said.
Hitting the gas, while hoping to avoid a P.V. cop or two, my husband took off after the beautifully polished white car. “It’s a British made car. Came out after the war. Think it’s named after the guy who designed it.” (See, I told you he knows a lot about cars!)
“That car is older than me!” I said. “And the guy driving it looked like he could be the original owner.” Okay, so maybe I exaggerated a little, but the gentleman did look really old and his style of dress did not speak of Southern California. I think he might even have been wearing tweed on a ninety degree day!
We followed the car and the interesting character chauffeuring it through the hills for a few more minutes before the man turned off on a side street and we lost him. But in that short time, the infamous Morris Minor driver was tattooed on my brain. My husband and I drove home and I raced to my computer to learn all I could about the car I’d just seen.
A few minutes later, my husband stuck his head in my office door and said, “You need to include that guy in one of your books. Stetson…”
“What about Stetson?” I asked.
“That’s what you should call him.”
And so I will. The man in the blue Fedora, wearing tweed and drive a 1950 something Morris Minor car. Hmm, can’t wait to start. And, of course, I’ll name him Stetson.
No! I’m not going to weigh in on the mask vs no mask debate. Really.
I am an inveterate people watcher. Sometimes I go overboard and get caught staring — awkward. Honestly, it’s not you I’m looking at, it’s the potential character the physical ‘you’ suggests to me. I’m pretty sure all writers do that to one degree or another. It can’t be helped. Some people just like a (too) kindly grandmother, or a shifty con man or a fairy princess or a sharkish accountant.
Faces reveal so much, from hidden agendas to unspoken feelings, spontaneous joy to suppressed fury. It’s fertile ground for the writer. Anne Perry uses the reading of facial expressions to heighten tension and create suspense. In her hands it’s a plot device and she’s brilliant at it. Add body language to that and a character comes fully to life. It’s also a great way to stomp down those unwanted dialog tags; showing the reader who’s speaking is miles better than telling.
Just watching the emotional beats revealed on the faces of two friends having coffee can jumpstart a story and the story can shift and morph if I switch genres in my head. (Yep, I start a lot of imaginary tales. It’s more fun than Sudoku.) Narrowed eyes and rigid lips mean one thing in a spy thriller and quite another in a romance. Add the tilt of the head and a clinching of fists and it could work for either the inciting incident or the denouement.
Now most of us are masked and I have to shift my game. We’re all consciously trying to keep a six-foot distance and it makes for some very stilted body language! A woman turned from the pasta aisle just as I was turning in, our carts nearly colliding. That’s a common enough occurrance at the grocery store and usually each party smiles and laughs and maneuvers on their way. I found myself braying an exaggerated laugh, shrugging my shoulders and my “oh sorry” came out a bit over bright. It was the mirror response of this woman. We couldn’t read each other’s faces. An apologetic smile doesn’t do it any longer.
They say we need to adjust to a new normal. I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean, but I can imagine all this maskedness and artful distancing will add some very intriguing elements to contemporary fiction. How will strangers meet and grow a romance? Is love at first sight a victim of the pandemic? How will antagonists make use of the fact that with a baseball cap, sunglasses and the compulsory mask one is virtually unidentifiable? Think of the wonderful mix-ups this could lead to. Great fodder for screw-ball comedy. Or great fodder for murder and mayhem.
It will be impossible to ignore Corvid in writing contemporary stories. At the very least it will have to serve as atmosphere, but there are elements of this awful reality that present nearly endless plot possibilities — as nearly endless as this shutdown feels. I can’t wait to read them.
We’re so lucky. The English language is like play dough.
Oh yes, we have strict rules of grammar, tense, POV, all the way to the minutia of intransitive verbs. We can choose from a number of eminent grammar and style guides to ensure conformity. We have stalwart English teachers to drill those rules into our heads so that we are all on the same page. (And bless them all – there is nothing better than order over chaos). But despite those rules a writer has so much freedom to shape our mother tongue into forms wry, brittle, silly, heartbreaking, snarky or just plain mad.
I don’t have much command of any other language; a smatter of German, a soupçon of French, about a third cup of Latin and a healthy plateful of Spanish. But I do know that the rules of those languages are not as forgiving as English — not as much room to roam before you run afoul of the language police. English allows us to mangle all the rules of spelling, meaning, and sentence structure to reflect dialect, or character traits, add color, shift perceptions or mood and anyone with a good command of English can understand — and only pedants ever complain. Of course, you have to use the rules of punctuation. Gotta have those traffic signs.
Anthony Burgess used bits and pieces of Russian mixed with Shakespearian English and other tongues to give us Nadsat, the terrifyingly unique argot of his dark characters in A Clockwork Orange. The reader may have had to work at it a bit, but it was intelligible and colored the story with an unforgettable feel. Fantasy and Sci Fi from J.K. Rowling to Ursula K. Le Guin play with all sorts of mixed up language that become magical words and when you’re reading in those worlds you understand.
Dialect and special vocabulary enrich a tale on many levels and I’m in awe of those writers who do them well, but my favorite form of play dough English is the portmanteau. Anybody can create one of these inventive combinations, and everybody does — usually with something faintly deprecating or ironically funny in mind. And with just one word a portmanteau can ooze with meaning. Frenemy speaks volumes — we’ve all had one and it’s exhilarating to give ‘em a proper name. Craptacular very neatly wraps up the verdict on so much of our over-hyped media. And then there’s pompidity, my own invention from University days when I struggled to describe the quality of politicians.
All writers love words. Words are paint, chisel, fabric, and clay for our creativity. If you can’t find that one word that perfectly reflects your intent, try cobbling a new one together — no one will take points away. Blog is a portmanteau (web log) so if you’re lucky enough to have your portmanteau go viral, you might wind up in the OED.
With a BA in Anthropology and English Jenny pursued a career in advertising and writing and segued into developmental editing. She has worked on nearly 400 books during her career. Her clients include both traditionally published and indie authors. She has worked in every genre from romance to horror and thrillers as well as edited Air Force manuals, commercial communications and memoirs. She offers every service from copyediting to developmental coaching.
*This blog is an oldie but goodie, originally published in March, 2018
Writing never gets easier… if anything, it’s more difficult.
Why? Because we expect more of ourselves. Even more so when you’re doing edits from your fab editor who’s really an angel in disguise. We want to make our story as perfect as possible and not disappoint her. She believes in you. Your characters believe in you. After all, their lives are in your hands.
But like a chocolate soufflé, a lot can go wrong.
Your computer screen goes blue… computer updates send your heart pounding as you pray you get all your pretty icons back…. a character keeps you up at nights because you’re so worried about how you’re going to save her butt and yours.
You go over your word count.
You can’t find your timeline/fact sheet for your heroine (when you’re writing about Paris during WW 2 this is crucial).
You ‘re so tired, you push the wrong button on your keyboard and everything in Track Changes disappears
You realize a secondary relationship ain’t working because the hero is based on an old boyfriend with a big ego. You dump him. Get a new guy for the part. And he’s an absolute dream.
You work from dawn-to-dawn the week before edits are due and have no idea what day it is.
And worst of all, you run out of coffee.
But I did it!
I sent my editor the edited manuscript at 7:37 a.m. on a sunny morning… and I felt numb. No whistles went off. No bells. Just the quiet hum of my computer.
I needed a hug.
Someone telling me ‘I done good’.
Yes, I’m totally proud of what I accomplished, but writing can be a lonely business. And it’s hard work, especially writing historicals. (My story follows a dual timeline from 1926 to 1950 and present day. Silent films, Nazis in Paris, the film business in Hollywood and France.)
So I did what I swore I wouldn’t after I sent the m/s: I opened it back up and read some of my favorite passages. Laughed and cried again with my characters… sat amazed at how they accomplished their goals… fell in love with them all over again… and cheered when they beat the Nazis!
And I got that hug.
From my characters. Reminding me why I write. Because I so love them, the stories, the chance to give them life.
So, merci beaucoup, mes bons amis! Thank you, my friends.
PS — I’ll keep you posted on my Paris WW 2 historical. Cover ideas coming soon…
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