Posts by Jen

Divas Rec: Creating Lean But Descriptive Prose

Posted by on Dec 7, 2015 in Divas Recommend | 0 comments

Divas Rec: Creating Lean But Descriptive Prose

Recently I was attempting to explain to an author that not all editors actually want authors to remove every bit of descriptive narrative. Nope, some of us actually want authors to find that happy medium between bare bones and fluffy fluff. So color me ecstatic when I stumbled upon this wonderful article, “Creating Lean But Descriptive Prose,” by Connie J. Jasperson at Life in the Realm of Fantasy. This article is great because it addresses the complaints I’ve been hearing lately from authors—editors say remove all adjectives and adverbs and the results are dry and boring. As a side note, I don’t know many editors who say remove all of anything. Well, except maybe shouty caps. Okay, maybe one or two can stay… but I digress.  Connie says, “Good prose requires choosing words that convey your ideas in the least amount of space. Modifiers and descriptors do that for us, but need to be chosen carefully, and used only when nothing else will do.” Yes. That, exactly. Choose all your words carefully for the best possible effect. Happy...

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Diva Spotlight: Debra Anastasia’s Poughkeepsie Begins

Posted by on Nov 16, 2015 in Diva Spotlight | 36 comments

Diva Spotlight: Debra Anastasia’s Poughkeepsie Begins

On November 22, 2015, Poughkeepsie Begins, the final installment of the Poughkeepsie Brotherhood series, will be released. I have been alternately anticipating and dreading this release, knowing that while I will surely love the book, I do not want this wild ride to end. I was fortunate enought to receive an advance review copy of the book and also to spend a few moments with Debra to ask her a few questions. Let’s start with the book, shall we? Summary: It ends with the beginning. This legendary, indie, cult-favorite series ends its tale with the story of the Poughkeepsie brotherhood before the tattoo. Before the train station, before the church, before a criminal empire, there was a foster home and three teen boys who weren’t related by blood. But damn if they aren’t closer than most blood families by their choice. Still in high school, Beckett is already laying the groundwork for a grander life ahead, one where his brothers want for nothing and get some respect for once. But even as he plans, Beckett must decide if he’s ready to make that choice—diving into a life that trades his chance at a future, his chance at something as simple as first love with a girl named Candy Cox, for the chance for his brothers to find happiness. Blake, Beckett, and Cole’s devotion to each other is forged by fists and the driving need to belong somewhere, to do more than just survive this life. Readers of the series know they each get there in the end, but before we count smiles, we must first shed tears. These early days of the Poughkeepsie brotherhood will play on your heartstrings before serrating them with a knife; they’ll lift your soul with music, only to leave you with nothing but a desperate prayer for hope. Review: It’s safe to say Debra Anastasia is one of my favorite authors, and the Poughkeepsie Brotherhood series has captivated me since the very beginning—reading the first story as fanfiction in chapters as it was posted online. Was it the love story that drew me in? Or was it the tale of a family held together by bonds stronger than blood? Perhaps it was the way she wove the tale with powerful imagery peppered with the most amazing and creative swearing I’ve ever read. I will venture to say it’s all of the above. Poughkeepsie Begins, while being the last book in the series, takes us back to the beginning, when the boys are foster brothers who learn to rely on each other to simply survive the nightmare that is their foster home.  Did you ever wonder what made Cole the quiet, spiritual soul who struggles with his own self-worth? Why did Blake always feel more at home outdoors, even though the sun was an enemy? What was the catalyst for Beckett’s life of crime? All the answers are here. The story focuses primary on the brothers’ struggle to make it through their senior year of high school while dodging the abuse at home, and Beckett’s relationship with good girl Candy Cox as he begins to build his dynasty. I was surprised at the first glimpse inside Candy’s head—I did not expect her to be a contributing point of view—but not disappointed. We learn so much about Beckett through her eyes. As a teen, he is already confident beyond his years; his “fake it ’til you make it” attitude sees him through many a situation. He’s got so much good in him, though. All three boys do. From the way they protect their little sisters to the secret gifts they leave for a widow to keep the memory of her husband alive. But he’s walking a fine line and he knows it. Once he crosses that line, there’s no turning back, and he’ll have to let Candy go. Can he do it? How does Candy feel about that? Will she let him go? Cole’s backstory is heartbreaking and makes you want to reach into the book so you can surround him in love and safety. He carries more pain inside...

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190 Ways to Say “Said” OR 187 Creative Dialogue Tags to Avoid

Posted by on Oct 27, 2015 in Featured Articles | 0 comments

190 Ways to Say “Said” OR 187 Creative Dialogue Tags to Avoid

Over the last few days, a picture has shown up in my Facebook timeline over and over again. The caption reads “190 Ways to Say ‘Said.’ ” Grammatical issues aside—the synonyms are actually all present tense, so they’re 190 ways to say say—it was causing a buzz in my timeline. If you’ve seen it, chances are you’ve had one of two reactions: 1) woo hoo, more synonyms or 2) oh no, creative dialogue tags to avoid. And after reading the comments, it seems like people are pretty much divided along those lines. There are those who believe said and asked are the only necessary dialogue tags ever required in a novel. Then there are those who feel they should be able to use whatever they want to describe everything in their written work. I’ve read comments from many students saying they’ve been taught that “said is dead” and they should try to be more creative in their writing. I absolutely agree with the second half of that statement. However, as an editor, I tend to lean on the “less creative dialogue tags” side of the equation. Editors like words like said and asked and replied—words that describe ways of speaking—as opposed to words that could—maybe, possibly, but not necessarily—indicate speech. Why? Well, like you’ve probably heard before, words like said and asked tend to become invisible to the reader, allowing her to focus on the dialogue… not the dialogue tag. But editors would also rather encourage the author to use creative, descriptive narrative to show the character sobbing and not state that someone cried. Editors will ask authors to describe why a character is angry and show examples of that anger in the narrative through actions and setting rather than use dialogue tags like screeched or howled. Sure, it’s easy to say he cried, she screamed, she ordered, or he agreed. And yeah, most times it gets the point across. But what’s better—harder and more work—is taking the time to create the scene, to write the character, and show the character’s body language ordering or agreeing. Imagine how that would look… Does any of this mean that you should never use words other than said or asked? No, of course not. The best part about being an author is choosing your own words. But what an editor wants you to do is to stretch your writing, think outside the box, and draw a picture for your reader instead of handing them the details on a silver platter. With NaNoWriMo starting soon, I’d like our readers to think about their dialogue tags. Focus on one scene and write the narrative so that your readers will know exactly how your character says his words, even without a dialogue tag. How would your character act? What does his body language portray? Do his words match his mood? How can you describe this to the reader? The more you do this, the more automatic it becomes and you’ll rely on creative dialogue tags less. Happy...

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What Your Editor Expects From You

Posted by on Oct 5, 2015 in Featured Articles | 0 comments

What Your Editor Expects From You

We often talk about what to expect from your editor during the editing process, but how many of us have thought about what the editor should be able to expect from the author at the same time? Sure, I know what some of you may be thinking. Authors pay editors to do the work, so why should they have any expectations at all? The words “that’s what I’m paying you for” come to mind. But the truth is, the better shape your manuscript is in when your editor gets it, the easier the edit will be—on both of you—and the faster things will go. So here are a few things you should consider having ready when it’s time to edit your book: A completed manuscript that has been read through at least twice and self-edited accordingly. First drafts are not ready for editing. First drafts are called drafts for a valid reason. Most of us do not self-edit as we write. Therefore, all drafts should go through several revisions, and definitely some beta reading, before they’re ready for editing. An open mind. There are generally two kinds of editing, objective and subjective. Objective editing is the technical editing—the spelling, punctuation, and grammar that is, for the most part, rule driven. An editor says, “No, the closing quotation marks go there,” and you’re probably going to nod and smile and follow along. However, there is a lot to editing that is subjective, or based on opinion. One man’s poetic narrative is another man’s wordy prose. All editors may agree on the stages each novel should have, but they may disagree as to when they must occur. As an editor—and reader—I happen to enjoy descriptive narrative. Other editors may see it as a waste of words or find it excessive. All of these things are subjective based on the situation and the manuscript. No two editors edit exactly the same, even those who work closely together. So the open mind is necessary when disagreements happen. Keep in mind that your editor has only one goal. To make your book the best book it can be. There are no ulterior motives to her changes. When you come across a suggestion or a change you disagree with, step back and look at it from a different angle, trying to see where the editor is coming from. Talk to your editor about the change. Walk away and sleep on it. If you still disagree, reject it. You know your book best. But don’t simply reject changes you disagree with without giving them a chance. An open line of communication. During any edit, prepare to speak with your editor several times. Most editors will try to anticipate questions ahead of time, but no one can anticipate everything. A lot of conversation happens after the edit is returned to the author and the author is going through the changes, additions, deletions, and suggestions. You may want additional clarification on a change your editor has asked you to make, or you may not understand the reasoning behind the change. By all means—contact your editor.  Absolutely. I tell every author I work with to email me if they have any questions or concerns about anything to do with the edit. If they disagree with something and want to discuss it. If they don’t understand something and want clarification. If they see something I may have missed—nope, I’m not perfect. No editor is. But your editor is there for you. Your work ethic. Just because you’ve handed your manuscript off to your editor doesn’t mean your work is done. Sometimes it means the hardest part is about to begin. Your editor will ask you to cut scenes—perhaps even some of your favorite words. She’ll expect you to rewrite dialogue when your character’s voice isn’t right, she’ll ask you to expand on scenes where there’s a lot of tell with not a lot of show, and she may even suggest you cut a beloved extra character. Don’t be afraid to jump in and do the work. The more willing an...

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Start With A Bang! Opening Scenes and First Chapters

Posted by on Sep 14, 2015 in Featured Articles | 0 comments

Start With A Bang! Opening Scenes and First Chapters

There! Got your attention, didn’t I? Now that I have it, let’s talk about opening scenes and first chapters. What makes an opening scene great? What is it about an exceptional first chapter that makes a reader want—or need—to continue on with the story? What should an author include or stay far, far away from in her opening scene to engage the reader and give her the need to continue reading. I read somewhere that the opening scene is the bait an author uses to draw the reader to the hook, what makes this book worth reading. By the end of the first chapter, I know whether I want to continue reading or flip that book into the not-for-me pile. That’s what I mean by bang in the title of this article. I don’t necessarily believe that all books should start with an action scene or high drama. There are many other ways of pulling a reader in without a huge action sequence. First, you must start with a protagonist your readers can care about or an antagonist whose actions are a cause for worry. Your reader doesn’t actually have to like your protagonist—that’s what character development and growth throughout the story are for. And your antagonist doesn’t have to be the epitome of evil and evoke hatred from all for your reader to worry about how her actions will affect the story. Antagonists should be more than one-dimensional wicked witches or ax-murderers. That makes them more fun. But if your reader cannot connect with the character at all, you’ve already lost her. Feel free to throw a little dramatic arc into your opening scene or your first chapter. It doesn’t have to necessarily mimic the arc of your story, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Stories that begin with conflict or mystery draw the reader in with the need to find out, sooner rather than later sometimes, what’s going to happen. Make sure to start the scene right at the good part; don’t add too much lead-in or backstory or your reader can become bored quickly. A bored reader won’t continue to chapter two. If the conflict in your scene is the slamming of a door in your protagonist’s face, don’t begin your scene with the drive to the house. Start with the knock. Or better yet, the slam. You have the rest of story to explain to the reader what happened. Just make sure you don’t regurgitate all that information in chapter one. Take your time and weave your story—add bits and pieces of backstory as the tale unfolds so your reader can infer the information and not assimilate an info dump on page seventeen. Part of this weaving includes dialogue. Not just banal, everyday dialogue, of course, but from-the-heart, gut-wrenching dialogue that gives your reader the feels. Take that door slam from the last paragraph. Dialogue with that slam could include something like, “I hate you!” Yeah, okay. Boring, right? But something like, “Do the words restraining order mean nothing to you?” might make your reader more inclined to keep reading. Keep opening scenes and first chapters brief. Long scenes with gobs of detailed description, narrative, and backstory are going to bore your reader. Think of the first scene as the one that grabs your reader by the lapels and slams him—figuratively speaking, of course—against the wall. And now that you have his attention, you’re ready to introduce yourself and tell him your story. If you think of your first chapter or opening scenes as your only chance to make a first impression, it will help you start with a bang. Remember to engage your reader with significant characters and compelling dialogue, creating tension or conflict early on to make her want to continue. And don’t overwhelm the first chapter with excessive details or backstory. You’ve got the whole story to make your point. If you’ve got more tips to writing an exceptional opening scene or first chapter, leave a comment and let us know. We’d love to hear from you! Happy...

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