FIRST STEP: OWN YOUR MISTAKE
Not every writer or author is forged with the basics of the English language. We all grow up learning the rigors of grammar, but sometimes, our training falls to the wayside. We read books, we write, we talk, we listen to the patterns of normal human speech, we read more books, and we pick up bad habits along the way. I sure did.
But it turns out, at least when it comes to book publishing, mechanics and grammar still matter. Quite a lot. If you want to sell a manuscript or become a pro copyeditor, the best way to achieve either objective is to get back to the basics.
Sentence structure is one of those key basics. And one of my most common sentence structure errors was the dreaded comma splice. At some point along the way I picked up this nasty habit. In my writing brain, the one rushing to get all the words down on paper, it just sounds right. It sounds better and makes the most sense coming from my fingertips. But what sounds correct in our heads, isn't always what reads well on the page. So I'm here to confess to my comma splicing ways and help everyone else guilty of comma splicing to learn the error of their ways before it's too late. Just kidding. It's never too late to learn something new or re-learn something old.
SECOND STEP: RECOGNIZE AND REPAIR
A comma splice is the result of a writer using a comma to connect two independent clauses. A clause is a group of words that includes a subject and a finite verb, and an independent clause is a clause that can stand as a complete sentence. This means comma splicing is piecing together two separate sentences using only a comma. It's not the end of the world, but it is bad grammar.
Even with all that description a nasty habit can be hard to recognize at first. It needs to be seen for what it is.
EXAMPLE: This is a comma splice, it can be hard to recognize if you aren't looking for it.
Now, how does something like this get fixed? As with most writing faux pas, there are usually several solutions to revise.
THIRD STEP: RESOURCES
In the hot heat of writing, especially in the rush to meet a deadline, it can still be challenging to find those pesky comma splices hiding among the shining pearls of those otherwise perfectly formed sentences. And maybe, like with me, those are the grammatical issues you are most blind to -- the sort of natural error that your editorial or revising eye just glazes right over.
Luckily, there are resources to help hone that editorial eye. There are the obvious ones like The Copyeditor's Handbook and The Chicago Manual of Style to relearn all those pesky sentence structure rules and refine them.
Once the studying is complete, then it's time to move on to testing. There are several online quizzes that satisfy the requirements, but the best of the bunch were created by:
Other options include online and digital grammar checkers like:
Being guilty of using comma splices doesn't make you a bad writer. But knowing how to recognize and revise them, especially before an editor gets ahold of a manuscript and points them out anyway, will definitely make you a better writer.
This was written for and originally appeared on the Ooligan Press blog.
As a springboard from a previous blog post on writing "show AND tell," I'm in the midst of the arduous process of surgically editing the language in the Iron Curtain manuscript. Yes, I'm to the point where the major plot elements are locked in, and now I'm cleaning up and refining all the over-used phrases and terms to make the words sing off the page in order to evoke emotion and empathy in the reader. Gotta paint those mind pictures!
This the part where more of my "telling" becomes "showing." Nearly every writer has this stage of the process where they're taking a serious stock of the language level issues in their own writing and figuring out how to make it better. Or maybe that's just me? Whatever the case, do your thing, writers!
Find Your Weaknesses
By far, the biggest issues for me are touch-related sensory elements. I spend way too much time on lingering glances and hands/fingers DOING THINGS. But I didn't initially know that. It's a leftover from taking two terms of screenwriting and TV scriptwriting. There's a lot more "stage direction" involved in that writing style and once mired in it, the bad habits were hard to shake when it came to novel writing. It took some poking, prodding, and carefully analysis of words/terms in my manuscripts before I realized just what my biggest crutches were.
You've got to spend time with your manuscript. I suggest printing out a paper copy, busting out a red pen and highlighting, underlining, or circling words that you know are "weak" or that you see popping up over and over again. It also might help to "listen" to your manuscript read by someone else or out loud to yourself or with the aid of technology. The cringe phrases will start to pile up. Right them down, make a note or a list, and vow to return for another pass.
How To 'Fix' Filler Words
Once you know what your filler words are, you then have to spend some time figuring out how to fix them. I started with honing in on repeated words/phrases and using the "search/find" function in my word processor to spit back a tally, and then I'd determine what seemed like a more appropriate number (let's shoot for 50 instead of 100). After that, it was just a matter of clicking through each use, analyzing it in the context, and creating better phrasing.
And once you start to see the tally decrease, knowing that you're swapping in more creative descriptions and phrasing in their stead, it gives you a better overall feeling about the manuscript itself. You've got solid plot and characterization and setting and pacing and structure... and now you have THE WORDS to match the beautiful, amazing, wonderful story you've put your heart and soul into crafting.
I'll also often look at the "spread" of the words too. Readers are INCREDIBLY SENSITIVE to overused words, terms, and phrases and they'll become especially attuned to them if they're used close together. You absolutely MUST mind your gaps. Unless there are reasonable/extenuating circumstances, try to separate at least two or three pages between each instance and see how that feels.
So, what phrases and terms should you be on the lookout for when you're getting down to the third or fourth revision pass on your manuscript and you're ready to put on the spit-polish?
Common Words To Lose
Everyone has their different and unique writing quirks, so my specific language edit lists tend to be longer and filled with more of my usual suspects (eye, heart, hand, mouth, face, lip, smile -- I love you guys!). I told you. Stage direction is my weakness and my first love and it takes an actual effort and labor of love to reel it back in.
I was surprised, as a writer with nearly four decades of experience under my belt, to learn during my MA program, mostly through discussion and reading that creative writing programs are often peddling some BAD writing advice to their students. And this same bad writing advice is repeatedly offered as legitimate critique in all writing mediums.
You know you've heard it before. The infamous and chronically over-rated: Show, don't tell.
So, what do people mean when they say this? And why is it important for writers to understand this concept?
What it means to "show" the reader.
Showing a reader a scene, often means investing the reader in the five senses (sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell) that the protagonist is using to experience a scene. It's inspiring and appealing to the reader to invest the same level of emotion and sensation in the imagined experience as the protagonist. It engages a readers empathy muscles. This is an important feature of writing, to be sure. Many scenes are often heightened by just sprinkling in a few sensory details and descriptions.
For Example: Jane edged her toe across the threshold leading into her new seventh grade homeroom, but hesitated to enter. The drab colors of the room and the sterility of the desks made her stomach clench as bile climbed her throat. She swallowed back the acid on her tongue with a sense of dread. She missed the bright colors of Mrs. DeSouza's classroom, paneled with rainbows and motivational posters. This room lacked any kind of sparkle or personality. It seemed almost designed, with it's traffic jam of desks and chairs, to trip someone up. How long before she made a spectacle of herself?
It wouldn't be long now. She was certain everyone around her could smell the acrid sweat clinging to her shirt. She tugged on the straps of her backpack and chewed the soft inside of her cheek in contemplation. What if she tripped on her way to her desk? What if she accidentally brushed too close to someone's papers and they scattered everywhere? She only had one chance to make a first impression here and there were so many opportunities to mess this up. The school bell rang on the wall near her head, startling her out of her reverie. Here we go, she thought. It's now or never. Consequences be damned.
By touching lightly on many sensory details and diving closely into the mindset of the protagonist, the writer has fully activated the empathy engine in the reader. "Showing" boosts empathy, and that's one of the more common ways that a reader begins to full immerse themselves in the world a writer has created.
What it means to "tell" the reader.
That's when an author is imparting information, usually crucial and important data that the reader needs to know in order to understand the context of the scene, or properly parse out what's happening on the page. It often sits at one level of remove from the reader, as it relays important details, but doesn't allow the reader to fully invest themselves in a scene.
For Example: Jane walked into her seventh grade classroom. It was the first day at a new school and she was nervous. She missed the comforting sights of her colorful elementary school classroom. She felt sick to her stomach and was sweating profusely underneath her jacket. She paused at the door, worried she might trip or crash into someone on the way to her desk and embarrass herself in front of everyone. She heard the sound of the school bell ringing, and realized she couldn't wait any longer to enter. She had to take her seat.
The reader is still accessing all the most important and crucial details of the scene, but we feel somewhat removed from the situation. We can't fully invest ourselves in the character. We can sympathize with her plight (many folks have been nervous on their first day at a new school), but we're not yet fully walking in her shoes. Telling is writing shorthand, and it does work on some level. It's crucial to use this tool to relay data that is not critical for readers to "experience."
What does it mean to "show AND tell" then?
When writers receive feedback about their work, claiming that they were "telling" instead of "showing" that often makes them feel inadequate or that somehow, "telling" is to be avoided at all costs. All "show" all the time, right?
No. Not at all. All writers should be doing some combination of the two. Showing AND telling, in order to give the reader the fully immersive experience that they so desire.
The combination of these two is most easily noted in journalism feature writing. Journalists will start out a feature story, hooking the readers in, by "showing" them a scene. When a journalist interviews a celebrity at their sprawling mansion -- they might describe the sights, the sounds, the feel, and the smells of the estate. Or in a sports article, they might "set the scene" by describing the pitcher on the mound, about to throw the most important ball of their life (the sting of sweat in their eyes, the smell of freshly cut grass, the gritty taste of dust in their mouth, the glare of the spotlights, etc). But then, in the next few paragraphs, they bust into the "telling" aspect of the story. They give you the facts and data, the logistics you need to understand WHY this scene is so important and crucial.
The bias against "telling" is similar to the constant derision of exposition. The reader NEEDS exposition in order to understand the plot and narrative. Do they need all of it at once in a large chunk at the beginning of the book, or at the end? No. Exposition works best when it's sprinkled in and woven throughout the text, usually in a way that compels the reader to keep turning the page because they just NEED to know what happens.
Does the reader need to be CONSTANTLY experiencing all five senses at once and accessing all information only via being "shown" rather than told. Also, no. You can "over show" just as easily as you can jam excessive amounts of exposition or scenic description or bantering dialogue into your writing.
Think of "show AND tell" in the same way that good writers know to vary sentence length and structure. Readers crave variety. We like short sentences juxtaposed against long ones. We like over-description to set a crucial scene paired with description that provides just enough detail to move us on to something more important.
"Showing" and "exposition" are often the worst enemies of another major element at play in writing (especially books): pacing. Books rely on pacing to keep readers engaged. Sure, we love a good flashback and a strong immersion experience (especially in an action scene fraught with peril), but we also need time to cool down. "Showing AND telling" is a way to respect the reader, and serve the pace of a story, without bogging it down in needless details.
How do you "show" when you've already "told?"
The best part about writing is that you can always fix it and make it better. To boost your writing (or even to add to particular scenes where you really want to punch things up), you should review your crucial scenes for the use of the five senses. It's really THAT simple. And of course, the sixth sense is not to be overlooked either. Characters in your book SHOULD have an awareness of themselves. Being allowed into a character's internal world, where they are reacting in thought to the scene is also a crucial element of showing. Characters have things to say when big stuff is happening to them.
Writing Exercise: If you're getting the constant feedback that you're "telling" more than "showing" then grab your favorite scene and inject sensory detail. Add all five senses (plus a bonus sixth sense) to the scene, just for funsies. Too much? Scale it back. Not enough? Get internal with your characters.
How do you "tell" instead of "show?"
The biggest indicator that you're over-relying on telling is by doing a simple search for the following terms: is, was, are, were, have, had. For example: Jane was nervous. She was sweating profusely. She had to take her seat. The more you can eliminate those terms in your writing and pepper in colorful verbs instead, the more enjoyable it will be to read. It will evoke more emotion in the reader. Those terms are functional, to be sure. But they are also lifeless and dead to a reader on the page, a simple means to get from one part of the sentence to the next.
Another important note: "Telling" can also over-use key sensory words in an attempt to seem more like "showing."
Writing Exercise: If you're still worried about an over-reliance on "telling" you can also do a word find across your whole book for terms like "is, was, are, were, have, had" and tally up the results. While you're there, also search for terms like "feel, see, hear, taste, smell" and see if you can rewrite sentences without those sensory indicator words.
It's the difference between: The taste of bile was on her tongue vs. acidy bile lurched onto her tongue.
And in conclusion...
The thing is, neither sentence is inherently wrong, and both get the reader to where they're going. And, depending on the importance of the character or that moment to the scene (context!), you might choose to "tell" rather than "show." The point is, most books function with an interplay between those two styles. Pick any book off the shelf and I can guarantee you that no writer is "showing" you 100% of the time.
And you probably wouldn't enjoy a book written in that style of prose either. Or maybe you would? If so, enjoy!
"Show, don't tell" is just lazy critique/review short hand that actually means a lot more than just the simple phrase, but reviewers/critique partners are often ill-equipped to provide writers with the tools needed to improve. "Just show me don't tell me" is feedback that is often SO DAMAGING to writers because it's nonspecific. Those leveling it often don't really understand what elements are at play and how to help the writer improve. They just know, something is missing and they want "more." The good news is, writers CAN improve their writing if someone is willing to, you know... be more specific and empathetic in explaining their reasoning behind deploying that statement.
The more you hone in on shedding some of your tendency to "tell," the easier it becomes to "show." Or, to add the "showing" parts in the revision. You'd be surprised at how many first drafts feature more "telling" than "showing." It turns out, a lot of us go back and add the good stuff in later. But you should never, never discount the need to "tell" in a story just because someone once gave you this banal and inane piece of feedback.
After the great Nanowrimo November writing bust of 2020, I am somewhat hesitant to lay out my writing goals and resolutions for the New Year. However, I am coming up close on completing at least one of my larger writing goals I'd set in place for 2020 (another editorial pass at Iron Curtain) and it seems like the best time of the year to hunker down and plot the course for the next year.
In terms of writing accomplishments, 2020 had a lot to offer. I submitted Tin Road and it was accepted into the 2020 Multnomah County Library Writers Project collection. I graduated with an MA in Book Publishing from Portland State University, where I served as Managing Editor at Ooligan Press, helping to usher half a dozen books through the editorial gauntlet. I am now working as a full-time editor AND doing freelance editing gigs on the side.
Perhaps the biggest 2020 takeaway, was the print publication of both Metal Heart and Tin Road. Are they completely perfect? No, not really. Would they both benefit from some professional copyediting and proofing? Probably. But I kind of love them for all their imperfections and I'm pretty emotionally attached to these stories and not really willing to turn them over to anyone else at this point. I'm never going to make a million dollars on this simple little trilogy, but for the sake of my love of these characters, I'm excited to see these books through to conclusion and to have them available in print for posterity. ;) Especially for those out there who love my imaginary friends as much as I do.
So, what's next for 2021?
Resolution #1: Publish Iron Curtain (Spring 2021)
While I am loathe to say a final goodbye to my favorite idiots, the Universe is telling me that...it is time. I've been working on these books and these characters for a decade, and so it seems fitting that 2021 is when I finally write "The End" and part ways with them. I spent summer 2020 writing the ending to the trilogy, and now, after getting notes back from my beta readers, I'm doing an editorial pass where I write fun notes to myself like "This scene has entirely too much blocking. Fix it, it sucks." I even took out the entire first chapter because I usually always start the story just one chapter off from where it needs to be.
Once this round of editing is completed, it goes back into the willing hands of my beta readers (who I made cry last time around, I MADE THEM CRY) and then, after another copyediting and then proofing round, it will be submitted to the Library Writers Project collection for 2021. No matter what happens (whether it is accepted into the collection or not), the book will go into print publication by mid-to-late Spring 2021.
Resolution #2: Finish Astrid vs. the Asteroid (Winter 2021)
My burning secret and shame is that I still haven't finished my first lovely little stand-alone, Astrid vs. the Asteroid. It needs an ending and I guess maybe I'm bad at endings or I just avoid them because I know it means I am saying goodbye to the dear, dear characters I spent months and years creating. Whatever the case, they are most deserving of a good ending and I want to do good by them, so I will be giving Astrid the send-off she so richly deserves very, very soon.
Resolution #3: Draft Rosita Ruins the Heist (Summer 2021)
A memory stealing bank robber. This one has been kicking around in my brain for a few years and I've been itching to put her down on paper. I figure if I can log 1,000 words a day for three months, that should put me around 90k words which would be a very sweet spot indeed for this simple little caper.
Resolution #4: Draft Untitled Horror Novel (Fall 2021)
I have a handful of different horror novel ideas, and it's about time one of them floated to the surface and saw the light of day. My biggest beef with most haunted house stories is that they take place in these GIANT labyrinthine mansions with endless spooky corridors with doors that open to giant dusty rooms. They're almost always situated on huge sprawling estates with tunnels and trapdoors and haunted greenhouses or something. I say thee nay! Give me seedy, creepy little houses in a neighborhood littered with needles and condom wrappers and graffiti and poverty. I want a story set where the bus line ends and drug dealers hang out on the street corners and everything smells like weed.
OR I might end up drafting a book based on this dream I had the other night about a girl who quits her job on her birthday and adventures with a coworker (named Michael Anthony, a very specific dream detail), which just so happens to be the first night of the apocalypse. You know me and a good apocalypse story. ;)
Those are all the writing goals fit to print at the moment. As always, they are probably loftier than their practical and realistic application. I will be lucky if I get Iron Curtain published, finish Astrid, and draft Rosita.
And that's, of course, not counting any of the other goals I have for my editing gigs and we can't forget the writing workshops and critiques and social media marketing, blog posts, eventually putting out that newsletter I keep teasing/talking about, maybe some book club appearances, and maybe a digital reading of some kind plus thinking about converting some of the books to audio...
There is always a lot to do. But without the writing first... none of that other stuff matters as much.
Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson mingled fantasy, horror, and grief in a contemporary tale of raising the dead. The focus on the witchcrafting elements was what hooked me at first. Mila Flores has a strong voice and a chip on her shoulder, and isn’t afraid to do what needs to be done. But at the same time, she has a soft marshmallow side that she mostly only reveals to her long-time crush Xander.
It was a great Halloween-time read, but the end mystery kinda fizzled for me because it came out of left field. Even when I looked back on the killer reveal, I don’t really SEE it. Readers want to be in on the fun and instead I felt a little gut punched. Luckily the humor and the unlikely camaraderie between the witch and her zombies carried the book through its somewhat rocky conclusion.
I honestly wouldn’t mind spending another book in Mila’s world.
I am pleased to announce that Tin Road, the exciting sequel to Metal Heart, is now available on Amazon for purchase via paperback and ebook. For those who loved the first book and want to continue following the journeys of our intrepid heroes, you don't have to wait!
Tin Road is the second book in the Metal Heart series that follows the exploits of young women and men conscripted into "national service."
This installment focuses on Scarlett Buford and Rabbit Santiago as they escape from the Fort Columbia base and travel to Mexico City, carrying with them a cure for the nanovirus. At the same time, a mysterious clone awakes on the East Coast and joins forces with a super artificial intelligence with the same goal of eliminating the nanovirus. But do all of their purposes truly align? Who will get to the cure first, and who will get lost along the way?
AND it's been newly revised and streamlined for print, which makes this the SECOND edition. I spent Fall 2019 and Summer 2020 reducing word count and otherwise cleaning up errors and fitting it better into the overall continuity of the trilogy. It's the second book in the series to be included in the Multnomah County Library Writers Project collection.
The third book in the series, Iron Curtain, is in production now and will be available in Spring 2021! You don't have to wait long. ;)
PLEASE NOTE: If you decide to purchase a copy, shoot me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org and I will mail you a signed book plate to attach to your book (yagirl has a jobby-job now and signed special deliveries won't fit in the holiday schedule).
Purchase your copy today!
Hey Everyone! Another Ooligan Press book baby is entering the world!
Please join me at the Laurel Everywhere launch party on Nov. 10 at 6:30pm via Zoom. Along with the editorial team, I'll be interviewed by author Erin Moynihan about the behind-the-scenes book making process.
You can pre-order a copy of the book or register online for the event at: https://linktr.ee/ooliganpress
About the Book: Fifteen-year-old Laurel Summers couldn't tell you the last words she spoke to her mother and siblings if her life depended on it. But she will never forget the image of her mother's mangled green car on the freeway, shattering the boring world Laurel had been so desperate to escape. Now she can't stop seeing the ghosts of her family members, which haunt her with memories of how life used to be back when her biggest problem was the kiss she shared with her best friend Hanna.
After the accident, Laurel and her dad are left to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. Her dad is struggling with his grief and depression, unable to cope with the loss of his family. He seeks a way out of his pain, leaving Laurel behind while he struggles to cope with his own mental illness. She is desperate to find a way to hold everything together again and help her father come to terms with the loss so he can come back to her.
Laurel tries to make sense of her pain with the help of her grandparents, her two best friends, and some random strangers. As she struggles to understand who she is without her family, she must come to terms with the items on her List of Things Not to Talk About, learn to trust her dad again, and on -- on top of it all -- keep her heart open to love in the wake of her immense loss, eventually learning that it's OK to not be OK.
Hope to see you there!
Last year I did a reverse Nanowrimo and cut 30k words out of a manuscript. It was a bit of a grueling process, but actually felt really, really good and resulted in a version of Tin Road that I was confident enough to submit to a local library collection. And it was accepted! It's now available in paperback form for purchase.
I haven't officially announced it yet (I'm going to do a promotional/fundraising push to raise some book and food funds for my Little Free Library closer to Thanksgiving) but for anyone who actually reads my blog and wants a copy, you can purchase now on Amazon. If you show me the receipts, I'll even send you a signed bookplate! I know, Amazon is the devil. But it's allowed me to fulfill one of my meager life goals, which is getting my books in print.
This year, for Nanowrimo 2020, I am torn. I finished the draft of the third novel: Iron Curtain. I got feedback from beta readers. I am in the process of applying some changes and angling to submit to the 2021 Multnomah County Library Writers Project. If that doesn't happen, I still plan to publish it in Spring 2021.
So, I could spend all of November 2020 cleaning up this manuscript.
Or, I could write something new. I have a story that's been burbling in my brain for a while now and it really, really, really wants to get out. I even went so far as to make it a playlist, so you know that's when things are getting really serious. If this brain book and I were dating, making a playlist is the mental equivalent of going Facebook official. I don't really know if that metaphor worked...
Anywho. If I decide to tackle Iron Curtain, the main things I'm looking at are cleaning up the last 12 chapters (out of 32) and overall beefing up the language. Basically, a back-section DE and a line edit. That seems doable in a month. Then I could pass it off to my beta readers for one last review before it goes the MCLWP in early 2021.
BUT if I decide to tackle the new project, that is starting over entirely from scratch. I have a rough outline, a rough character sketch, I know what she wants (and what she REALLY wants, and what she needs). I don't have all the specifics mapped out, but I have a general idea of where it's going. I have to admit, the idea has appeal and some merit. I've been embroiled in the Metal Heart world for months now, and taking even a week long pause to ACTUALLY read a book (bless you Undead Girl Gang for being the one) really helped me approach the manuscript with new eyes. Why, just yesterday I unearthed a fun little plot swivel that will make the ending much more interesting and dynamic.
I'm quite prepared to enact either plan. OR BOTH. I think both will probably be disastrous, but hear me out. No, really.
What if I took half the month to vomit out 25k words of a story that's been taking up a lot of my brain space lately?
And then what if I took the other half of the month to finish cleaning up Iron Curtain so it can FINALLY see print and the fates of my favorite idiots will FINALLY be secured properly?
These are the very questions that have kept me up the last few nights.
And I'm still not clear in what order those things would best fall together. Part of me says: Iron Curtain first. Then take a breather. LET IT BREATHE. Work on this new book and get it out your system. And then come back to Iron Curtain with EVEN FRESHER eyes.
I know. It's too much. Yagirl is always in danger of doing TOO MUCH.
The pragmatic, realist side of me says: You'd better just get this damn book FINISHED. Like, all the way finished. No more distractions. No other WIPs and fun side stories. Iron Curtain is the end of a writing era and it deserves my full attention until it is the best possible version it can be.
I think you can tell which side I am landing on. But when it comes down to November 1... I still have no idea what I'll ACTUALLY do. Here goes something...
Confession time: I haven't read a single book in my To Be Read pile since the pandemic started.
I know. Bear with me. At first, there was a totally reasonable excuse. I was in the midst of my final term of graduate school and there was no time. When the pandemic first kicked off, it was consuming my whole attention as we are a multi-generational household and we had to figure out our "new normal" in order to keep everyone safe. Everything went online. Shopping became a scary undertaking. Exercise regiments were established. Sanitizing protocols were put in place. It was A LOT.
But then the MA program ended and I was jobless and home bound like many other unfortunate Americans.
Sure, I started freelance editing. I was job searching. I was formatting my books for print. My hometown of Portland, Oregon was thrust into the spotlight due to our nightly protests. We were occupied by federal agents. A Proud Boy was shot and killed downtown. My entire state of Oregon was on fire. We acquired a new pet. My daughter started online kindergarten. The election drama has been INTENSE this year and fractured my personal relationships. I started a new job. The holidays are coming up. Financial stress is real. The list goes on...
For a lot of the country, things leveled out or went back to normal or never changed much to begin with. For my particular nook in the Pacific Northwest, we've been bombarded with hit after hit and strangely enough, for me, pleasure reading has been the most impacted by this near continuous "state of emergency." Constant vigilance is EXHAUSTING.
There were and still are a lot of things, BUT I also have A LOT of books. And in the past few months since our lovely Little Free Library opened, the pile has only grown bigger.
I have resorted to purchasing books in multiple for the library, especially the ones that appeal to me, because I haven't been able to fulfill my mental promise of "reading this book quickly and then adding it to the library." Nope. The books intended to hit the library shelves AFTER I read them are now are stacking up and collecting dust alongside all the book presents and impulse splurges from the last year.
I literally haven't even been able to finish a pleasure read I started over winter break back in 2019. My track record for books read in 2020 (that weren't school, work, or craft related) is a big fat zero. I'm not sure what the deal is. I seem to have some kind of mental block when it comes to reading books that has persisted throughout the entire pandemic and resulted in stacks of unread books, even ones that desperately appeal to me, just moldering on my nightstand and dresser and end table and book case.
It doesn't help that I've been working so diligently to FINALLY wrap up the Metal Heart trilogy and get all of those books available in paperback and ebook formats (*fingers crossed* for audio format one day). Whenever I want to selfishly pop open a book for pleasure reading, some weird voice in the back of my head takes over and says: Not today! Finish YOUR book instead.
It made sense at the beginning of the pandemic that all my excess resources were consumed with "solving this problem." There wasn't extra brain space to dive into an alternate reality. I concede that point. Many others have commented on just this phenomena. There's even science to back me up.
But we're eight months in now. There are constant adjustments and shifts, but nothing quite like the massive upheaval in Spring 2020. And I've also been letting myself slip into other realms. My free time is filled with Netflix and Pokemon Go and stupid puzzle/narrative games on my phone. Those alternate realities are OK, apparently.
I'm feeling itchy and antsy and mentally stalled and incredibly GUILTY. I've started multiple books, thinking: This is it! This is the one! This is going to break the cycle! And then read about a chapter in and can't seem to focus any further than that. Books that I was stoked to read. Books that I NEED to read for craft purposes or just to be a better human in general.
It's becoming problematic that someone with an MA in BOOK PUBLISHING, who WRITES BOOKS, and regularly stocks a COMMUNITY LIBRARY full of books is struggling to read them. I can't even blame doomscrolling as I've worked over the last month or so to purge that habit.
I'm buoyed up by my continual interest in the idea of reading. I believe that there will be a time in the future, possibly even the near future, where I can redistribute my headspace and pleasure read a book again. In fact, the one that's been sitting on my end table and calling my name for the last few days is Undead Girl Gang.
What's holding me back from tearing into it right now? That depressive dip, that weird sense of loss that hits when I get about a chapter in and realize that I can't go any further. I am now afraid to start a book because I fear that I won't be able to finish it. Anxiety sometimes be like that.
I will mark it a victory if, in the next few weeks, I can crack open this fun YA novel, read it, and churn out a review. No pressure on this book, but some pressure. I need a win here.
Until then, happy reading, my friends -- if you are able. If you're not able to read, you're not alone, and we're in this together. We'll get back there one day. Your TBR pile is not a negative statement about you as a person. It's more of a condemnation of the times. It's been a rough year and however you've chosen to survive it, and whatever thing you had to let go of to be here today... it's OK.
The books aren't going anywhere.
Dialogue can make or break a story. Dialogue can infuse excitement and intrigue into your novel or it can fall dull and lifeless onto the page. It's so crucial to storytelling and characterization and world-building and it's such a tricky balance to have it achieve all three at once.
Ten Quick Tips for Editing and Improving Dialogue
Of course there are many more that just ten things to talk about, but this will be hopefully be a helpful springboard to managing those mistakes that nearly every writer runs into when it comes to capturing authentic, but compelling dialogue for our readers.
There's always the debate of how much dialogue is TOO MUCH dialogue, and I would say that really depends on two things: the writer and the reader. Some writers are always going to include more dialogue because that's their writing style. They like to have their characters interact often on the page. Some readers are more engaged by dialogue than by descriptive prose. I have a sibling whose eyes glaze over when they encounter too much landscape description, so they'll skim sections until they hit a patch of dialogue and pick up from there.
The onus is on the writer to determine where their strength lies, and just how much dialogue is too much.
I'm a victim of over-dialoguing (I LOVE TO HAVE MY CHARACTERS TALK TO ONE ANOTHER) and so my editing and revision process for my own writing is usually to go through and cull out huge chunks of dialogue. I weed through the thorns to find the beautiful sparkling roses within, and cobble together the best dialogue for the most engaging and natural sounding interactions.
My relationship with dialogue has really changed over the years I've spent writing and revising. I originally was opting for more "natural" sounding dialogue which included pauses and filler words and stammering, but it's just quite cumbersome to read, to speak aloud, and just doesn't work as well on the page as it does on the screen. So I've revised my attitude towards dialogue (but not the frequency of use) and I find it much more exciting for me to write and for others to read.
Stay tuned for the next blog post on the exciting perils of dialogue punctuation! ;)