Archive | May 2013

Love Your Characters, But Not Too Much – you might have to kill them off one day…

killingI don’t know about other writers, but when I write a character in one of my novels, I’m already infatuated with them. Even if they’re a one chapter, throw-a-way character. I’ve thought about them, I’ve created a profile, traits and quirks and depending on their story arc, a whole back story… But, I’ve learned that I can’t get too invested in these characters because they might just be killed off. And not by me, but by my editor.

Let me explain. In my most recent WIP, I started the novel with 3 main characters, 6 supporting characters, and a host of other minor characters.

By the time my editor went through the first 3 chapters, I received a little note… “Lyse, I’d like to talk to you about Sean…” Sean was a main character and a sidekick of the main detective in the novel, who helps my main protagonist, Kelsey. My editor and I had a few conversations and I realized that Sean didn’t need to be in the book. He was only in the beginning and while I had devoted whole chapters to him, he wasn’t going to be integral to the climax of the novel. Into the trash he went, along with 2 chapters… (Character #1)

Then came a scene where my protagonist is having dinner with all her friends… People important to her life… 3 of them only show up in that chapter… Into the trash they went… (#2, #3, #4) along with an entire scene of them.

Then my protagonist has a flashback and we get to see what she was like as a teen… for me this was an integral scene where she is confronted by 4 bullies and has to protect her friends and we see her strength and resilience… My editor’s take? “Now, don’t let your emotion sway you on this chapter. The reader knows that Kelsey is beautiful, powerful and a force to be reckoned with. You don’t have to pound it into their heads. Too much attention to the childhood is going to turn off the readers who want a thriller, not heavy on the kids.”(#5, #6, #7, #8 characters… gone)

And then, I lost two boyfriends… sigh… I wrote two flashbacks about her growing up, two (what I thought) were great scenes, but just background fluff. Into the trash they went along with their two chapters. (#9 and #10). I’ll be honest, I argued about this for at least 3 days and refused to let them go. I thought they were important, and I LIKED them! My editor’s advice? “Delete them. It slows the scene down. Get rid of it.” I know that sounds harsh, but she was right. I thought I might want to bring these characters back at some point in a future book and that’s why I needed to have them in the book. Her advice? “No, you don’t have to mention them in the first book. There is no law that says every character you ever want in your series has to be foreshadowed. Just trot them in there when you need them. What would prevent your character from recalling this fellow when he shows up in book two?” My editor let me “mention” them somewhere else in the novel. Two lines as a side note. But you know what? It worked. The book is a thriller and those scenes would have simply slowed down the pace.

Now, I won’t lie, deleting characters and chapters are a killer for me, as I’m sure it is for others. Know what I do to lessen the pain? I save them in a file called “Deleted chapters” and I feel like I haven’t entirely killed them off. They’re still sitting there in all their lovely glory… just not in the story. Hey, if their back story is sound, maybe I can bring them back one day… right? Right?

My editor is doing a special until Labor Day. Normally she charges $4 a page, but she’s only charging $2 a page, doublespaced, for your manuscript. If you wish to take your writing up to the next level and have a fantastic writing coach work with you, with the work personalized specifically to your novel, I highly recommend her. Here’s her website: http://www.thomas-talks-to-me.com/editing/index.html

Editing Beyond Grammar – Let’s talk Details and Realism

You think when you edit a novel, you’re looking for grammar, inconsistencies, POV switches and spelling errors. Those are the most flagrant crimes that authors deal with at first. But then, when you really delve into the book, you find the “other” errors.

I’m one of those people that can edit a novel into the next millenia. It’s never good enough for me and I know that each time I re-read the novel I can add something to make it better. And if it’s printed and I re-read it? I try not to cringe when I see things that I’d definitely want to change.

My recent WIP is finished and professionally edited. The story is flowing, it works, my rules all line up. The last part of this process will be for me to delete unecessary chapters, but that’s for another blog – one I’ll probably rant about next week where I feel like I’m killing my babies by deleting scenes. (I’ll admit, I’m having a hard time) But, I’ll leave that bloodletting to next week’s blog.

This week I want to talk about details and realism. I’m going line by line in my WIP and I’m still finding a few inconsistencies. Or, at least details not added that should be. In one chapter, it’s February, my main character is on a job outside at night, in winter, and she has to dress provocatively for an assignment. Um, where’s the coat she was wearing while she staked out the place? Why doesn’t she have goosebumps after a bit once she changes? Can she see the breath of her “target” as they parole the perimeter? I realize I have to add those tiny details to keep the realism in the scene.

In another segment I have her on the run in a jungle, her partner with her. They are being chased and hide behind a huge kapok tree. She hugs the tree, her partner flush against her as they try to make themselves as small as possible. I just remembered, this morning, she’s wearing a backpack. How can he be flush against her and she can feel his breath on her neck? I need to have her either drop the backpack or reword how he’s holding her. Will the reader recognize this? Maybe, or maybe not, but I did and so now I have to fix it. I’m still figuring out how to fix it though… the backpack is loaded with stuff and I have to decide is it one of those that clip around your waist or is just a standard fare? It will change how I fix this scene.

Editing goes beyond just grammar, missed words, spelling and POV switches. Things have to make sense and must be realistic. The last thing I want to do is have my reader stop and get confused by anything I say. “Hey, that doesn’t make sense” is something that will make me cringe.

So, my one word of advice is this… take the time and care after your novel is done and put to bed to do that one last line-by-line read-thru… or two line-by-line read-thrus. Don’t rush. Your book will be better for it.

Why I Need an Editor, Part 3

bali_gold_buddhaI’m finishing up the final touches on my WIP and I’m left with a few final thoughts from my editor. Let’s talk “engagement.” The last thing an author wants to do is “lurch a reader out of the story” because we’ve done something keenly wrong, like switch up the POV, spelling errors … or… the worst… inconsistencies. We don’t want our readers to suddenly stop and have to figure out what we mean and why something doesn’t make sense. We want to keep them engaged in the tale, continously reading and not “startling them” by including things that don’t have relevance to the story.

My book is about a girl avenging the deaths of her parents who were on a quest to find the mystical land of Xanadu. It’s an international thriller, has deep Buddhist elements to it and I’ve interweaved a fantastical aspect. But, apparently there are levels of fantasy and we must remember that no matter what fantastical elements we add, they must be written within the confines of the story. NOTE from my Editor (which I’ve “edited” myself to not give away any spoilers):

Denise/Editor: “Elyse, I’ve been sitting here for three days trying to figure out why when I start reading your “Fantasy” sections, I’m lurched out of the story. I think I’ve figured it out. You have this whole dark, Tibetan/Indian/Far East thriller going on with lots about Buddha and living in these exotic locales. But when I read about “your fantasy land” I feel like I just walked onto the set of Lord of the Rings. The fantasy is too high.”

You see, I made up names for crazy little animals, I had castles and glittering cities of diamonds, I had Kings and Queens in these segments. Fact is, this is a Far Eastern thriller, so these segments should have the same flavor as the rest of the novel. Maybe the King and Queen are Emperors and Empresses (they are now), maybe the castle is a monastery fashioned like an imperial palace (it is now), maybe the animals no longer have names like Snowflake and Torch (can we say Ishu and Dorje?)… you see what I mean? Instead of a town hall, the village has thatched huts, the city doesn’t glisten like diamonds, but is rimmed in gold. Add an Asian feel and keep the story consistent.

This is what I need an editor for. She beta reads for me as she edits – and the story is much better for it. For anyone interested, Denise is doing a special until Labor Day. Normally she charges $4 a page, but she’s only charging $2 a page, doublespaced, for your manuscript. Here’s her website: http://www.thomas-talks-to-me.com/editing/index.html

Why I Need an Editor Part #2

As I slowly move through my recent WIP (work in progress), my editor, Denise Vitola, is pointing out things that I never really thought about before. For instance, the word “very.” I like this word. If I’m happy, I’m usually very happy. If I’m tired, I’m usually very tired. Maybe I’m a girl of extremes, but I use this word to make my adjectives stronger and to show that “I’m really serious about this feeling.”

Alas, I’ve been instructed to “banish the word ‘very’ from my manuscript.” This word, along with other descriptive words like “extremely, ridiculously and amazingly.” Why? Because these words don’t give the reader any sort of real visual. There is always a stronger word to use. My thought to my editor was, “but why must we explain everything? Can’t we let our readers figure anything out for themselves or create whatever description they’d like themselves?” Her answer? “No.”

Her explanation and suggestions are this: If I say “the girl is very beautiful.” Denise says “the girl is either beautiful or she’s not. You can use a much better word.” Hence, if she’s THAT beautiful, well, “the girl is stunning.”

Along these same lines: “He is ridiculously funny.” Nope, he’s either funny or he’s not, or he’s HILARIOUS. “She is very cold.” If she is very cold, isn’t she “freezing? “She is very smart.” Actually, that means “she’s brilliant.” You get the idea.

Denise believes that as writers we must find ways to describe the situation visually to our readers. We must choose words that are stronger and have more description to them.

I agree and I’m very happy about her comments… Actually “I’m ecstatic!”

For anyone interested in working with a great editor – Denise is doing a special until Labor Day. Normally she charges $4 a page, but she’s only charging $2 a page, doublespaced, for your manuscript. If you wish to take your writing up to the next level and have a real writing coach work with you, with the work personalized specifically to your novel, I highly recommend her. Here’s her website: http://www.thomas-talks-to-me.com/editing/index.html