Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Killing Your Ands

The other day I told you about The Great Editing Lock down and how I managed to cut over 12,000 words. I thought I would take the opportunity to tell you about some of the words I cut.
Specifically: ‘and’.

And is a sneaky little bastard. And wants to be in every sentence you write. And thinks he’s the shit. And needs to get a life.

When you’re writing you of course need to have descriptions about what’s going on in the scenes around your characters. You also have to tell your readers what your characters are doing. But And wants to be all up in the middle of all of that. When you’re in the groove of writing, getting lost in the flow of words, you don’t really notice how often And sneaks in there. Your sentences start stringing along until, before you know it, And has snuck in there two or three times before a new period ever shows up. This is bad.

Now of course, I didn’t notice this right off. Most writers don’t until someone points it out. And thank goodness one of my betas did. I think it was probably one sentence too many and she finally realized some of the sentences were starting to drag on so she started crossing out the Ands, shortening a few sentences, figuring out they were stronger that way. Now, of course she stopped herself because she felt like she was doing it too much so she just made a note of it for me to consider. Boy was she right. Now that it was pointed out to me I couldn’t believe how many And’s had found there burrowing way into my sentences.

So while I was working through the great word killing spree I made sure to focus on And to see how often he showed up unnecessarily. Before I put these edits on the computer I did a search through the whole document for the word “and”. I found that there were 4,064 ands in my book. Now, remember, the book was over 98,000 words, so there are going to be a lot of “ands” but then, after I did the edits I did a new search. Do you know what I found? 3,508 “ands”. Oh yes, that means I cut 556 “ands”.

So there’s your writing advice for the week; go through your work and see where you can trim the fatty ands. Make those sentences stronger boys and girls!

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Great Editing Lock Down

If you were following me on Twitter, then you know in the beginning of the week I was using the hashtag #greateditinglockdown. I have been working furiously on my upcoming release, Water, the third book in my Elemental Series.

I got the manuscript back from my editor and proofreader and promptly changed a few things in the plot and then sent it off to my beta readers. The thing about this book is that I finished it almost a year ago and I had read it so many times that I got sick of reading it. The other thing about this book? I didn’t sit down and write it straight through like I normally do; I left it and came back to it a couple of times while I was trying to edit Earth and Air. So what does that mean? At some point the damn thing went off the rails and I didn’t notice.

So off to the betas, now my two betas are very similar in some ways and so different in others, which is why they’re a good combo to read my books. For one beta this was her first time being a beta so she was really worried that she didn’t have the right to make corrections to the book so she mostly focused on her reaction to the story and characters. My other beta, the loverly Juanita, has done this twice for me now so she was much more comfortable being a little more analytical and editorial about it. Luckily the first beta really enjoyed the book as a whole, she had a few comments about wishing some stuff happened that didn’t but that’s about it. Juanita on the other hand let me know that the book lost its momentum at some points, though she wasn’t sure what I could cut because everything seemed important.

Well she was half right – the book did lose its momentum but not everything was important. Thanks to that one little comment I was able to take the book back, whip out a red pen and start shredding my book. My editor had the book for a very long time because I told her there was no rush and I knew she had other projects to get to. So this gave me enough time away from the book to be able to read it again and not hate it. Though I did kinda hate it because I finally saw where the book went off the rails.

So began The Great Editing Lock Down. Monday morning I went through each copy of my beta reader’s notes, page by page, agreeing or disagreeing with the suggestions. Then I made my own notes about how to correct the plot and the characters’ decisions. Then I went through the book and re-read the entire thing, word by word, page by page, with my trusty red pen and ripped it apart, hand writing paragraph after paragraph to knit the story back together. Then it was time to put those hard copy edits to the computer.

My book was originally complete at 98,220 words. After I got it back from my betas and went on a word killing spree, even with adding new scenes and paragraphs, I finished again with a new word count of 86,098. If we do the math that means I cut 12,122 words. Oh yeah, you read that right. I’m a very type-A personality and in order to get my books done I had to come up with a formula which is 5,000 words per chapter, 20 chapters per book. Obviously there’s a little give and take on those numbers, but those are my averages. So kids, what does that tell you? Yep, I cut over 2 chapters from my book by the time I was done with The Great Editing Lock Down. The book is still 19 chapters, but the original chapter 17 and 18 became one chapter.

The other big change in the book was fixing the characters’ behavior and decisions. Now that I’m published and have readers following the series and making reviews, I got a little hung up on reader reaction. I wanted to please you guys, or at least a lot of you guys. But that’s not fair to me, to the characters or to the story. Yeah, I’ve read plenty of books where I am mentally screaming at the characters but that doesn’t mean I don’t like the book any less, or even that I like the characters any less. At the very least the story and characters drew out an emotional response from me. And that’s very good. If writers start getting into the habit of people pleasing, for the sake of people pleasing and at the risk of hurting their book, then they aren’t really writing; they’re pandering. I don’t want to pander. After going into that place in the book and letting my characters be themselves I think I came out with something much stronger, cathartic and real. I know some of you may be disappointed, but hopefully you’ll forgive me and will still enjoy the book.

So, after spending nearly 18 hours a day for two days locked in my office with red ink smeared on my hands, I was able to come out with a nearly brand new book. I was exhausted. My body ached all over and my eyes were swollen, but it was worth it. At least, I hope it way. Luckily both my betas and my editor were willing to re-read the book after having so recently read it. I’m praying they agree with me and come back with good news: that I got it right this time.

Lesson of the day? Make sure you have different personalities reading your stuff with a critical eye. Make sure your betas know if they worry about hurting your feelings while they review your book, they risk hurting your work which would hurt a whole helluva lot more than being honest with you.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Sympathizing With Villains

Recently my husband and I watched “Warrior”, a movie we had been meaning to see since it came out in theaters. When my husband was younger he was a full contact fighter and then after a couple of years in college he joined the Marines. So when we saw the preview for this movie and saw the rows and rows of Marines in their full dress singing their support for one of their own entering the ring, there was no question about us seeing this movie.
But that’s not why I’m writing about this.

I’m writing about it because of the two main characters’ father, Paddy, played by Nick Nolte.

When the movie starts we see Paddy driving alone, living alone, watching old fights of his sons alone. When his son comes back into town, looking for a coach to get back into fighting he finds his father. Paddy is so happy to see his son but his son is angry and bitter towards him, making you feel like he’s just using his father. Then Paddy goes to see his other son to tell him his brother is back from the war but this son isn’t any happier to see his father. Paddy sees his grandchildren, who have no idea who he is and the desperation in Paddy’s face, his voice, his outstretched hand just breaks your heart.

Paddy’s sons hate him because Paddy was an abusive alcoholic that ripped their family apart when they were kids.

Up until this revelation you are sitting there, watching Paddy suffer and you suffer with him. You are filled with compassion for this character, knowing all the while something happened to make his kids hate him but not really caring what it was that he did.

That is what struck me; feeling compassion and suffering with, basically, a villain. It was just amazing. I can’t remember a time where a character I was supposed to hate made me feel for them. I wanted his kids to forget what he had been like when they were younger, let him hug his grandkids, let him talk to his kids like regular people. I know if I had been introduced to this character during his drunken, abusive days, I wouldn’t have felt this way about him; I would’ve cheered his sons’ decision to live happy, healthy lives without him.

This was not message of the movie, whatsoever, but that’s what I was left with. How introducing a character on stage changes your perception and reaction to them. And I think I better understand the varying reactions I get to my own characters from different people. Some love Jodi, some hate her. Jensen drives me nuts; most of my readers love him unconditionally.

I think, thanks to this movie, I am going to take a much harder look at how I introduce characters on stage, especially the villains.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Fishwives Book Club

I am proud to be a nerd. I have always been proud to be a nerd. I have always loved to read. I wanted to get good grades. I go to the Renaissance Faire, in costume! And I have more than one costume. Yeah, I try to be cool, to a point, not everything I do is totally dorky, but I enjoy my nerdiness and I fly my nerd flag with pride. So it should come as no surprise that I have always, always wanted to be in a book club.

It’s always so disappointing to read a great book, or a horrible one, and have no one to talk to about it. Even when you’re browsing the shelves at bookstores, where booklovers and readers come together, people don’t want to talk. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve offered a piece of advice to a wandering teen or answered a question the clerk couldn’t only to get a quirked eyebrow and an awkward silence. My husband tries to read, and he reads a lot more than most of my friends’ husbands, but he’s not going to want to read everything I do and he doesn’t read as fast as I do so I can’t chew his ear off.

Then we moved to our cute little beach cottage in Mid-town Ventura and about two years later we got new neighbors, almost at the exact same time. Luckily all of the men were social little butterflies and they met and became friendly. So I decided to have a bar-b-que to get to know some of our neighbors better. Yeah, very domesticated of me, I know. But as a rule I’m an introvert and, while I can put on the public smile, I prefer to keep to myself. I enjoy throwing parties, but I like to be the hostess because you have so much to do you aren’t really expected to be social. You have to tend to the food, the drinks and move around constantly so you don’t leave anyone out. But this didn’t work out at a bar-b-que. The food is done when it’s done and the drinks are all in an ice chest. Not much to do.

So I had to sit and be social. And I know this is going to be shocking to you, but the men and women split and separated so I felt obligated to be with the girls. Very 1950’s of us. I just kept thinking about I Love Lucy reruns. Anyway. One of the new neighbor couples came over but the girlfriend stayed with the guys. How I envied her. The women that had shown up were moms, one of a toddler and one soon-to-be. I am not a mom. These two ladies just went on and on about kids. I did not have much to add to this conversation. Then the wife of the other new neighbor showed up. This poor girl was eight months pregnant and not in a good mood, but she felt like she had to come and she did not talk about kids, even though she had one and one on the way. I liked her. She was a hairdresser and worked out of her home, two doors down! Score for me.

Then finally, the girlfriend I mentioned wandered over to the henhouse. My husband had told her I was a writer and had just published my first novel. She wanted to talk about books. I was gobsmacked. She wasn’t a baby-maker either, which was why she was hesitant to come over, and really, I couldn’t blame her. It was starting to get late and people wanted to go home so I let everyone know we were ordering the MMA/UFC fight that night and everyone was welcome to come back. And wouldn’t you know it, these two girls wanted to see the fight! What?! Now, unfortunately the preggers of the two couldn’t make it, but the other one did and she didn’t just come because her boyfriend wanted to see the fight. She wanted to see it just as much as I did. Madness, I know.

A week went by and I met preggers for a haircut and color and found out she had all of the same reading tastes as I do. I mentioned that I would love to have a book club because none of my friends read and lo and behold she said she’d love to be in a book club! Later that week the boyfriend and girlfriend neighbors invited us over to watch the girl MMA fights, which we never watched; my new friend and I sat at her kitchen table, eating and drinking wine, talking and laughing for hours and hours. She had read my book and enjoyed it! Of course she was my new favorite person.

Now the three of us are in a book club together. We laugh, talk, eat and drink for hours into the night. We’ve just finished up The Mortal Instrument series, planning to discuss City of Fallen Angels this Friday and it’s been a month since we’ve had a meeting and I tell you, I am going through withdrawals. My book club has become something amazing for me! I have two new girlfriends who share similar interests as I do and who I can talk candidly to. We gossip about our neighborhood, we bitch about our men and we laugh enough to cry. And somewhere in there we talk about books.

So that’s how my book club came to be.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

One Month Into Our Stupid Diet

So you’ll remember I blogged at the beginning of the month about a 90 day diet challenge that my husband and I were embarking on. Well I’m proud to say we made it through the first month. Now, my husband’s birthday is at the end of January and I had already planned to take him out of town for a long weekend before we started this stupid diet so we agreed we could have some cheat meals while we were gone, so looking forward to that for four weeks was very helpful. But now we’re back on the wagon.

I told my husband that I wanted to throw a Saint Patrick’s Day party this year since it’s on the weekend and I want to celebrate with my people. So we have to get through the whole month of February and half of March for one day of good times. But, let me tell you, short term goals really help.

So what am I doing to make it easier to consume copious amounts of brown rice, grilled chicken and steamed veggies? Making them taste different, duh! My two favorite things to do is to cut everything up and throw it in a bowl and either make it Asian or Mexican. Luckily with Mexican salsa is just more vegies and herbs so that’s not cheating. With Asian, you have to be more careful with your sauces because of the sodium, sugars and sometimes calories. So I usually use Siracha (the awesome red chili sauce found in Chinese food restaurants) because a little goes a long way and it gives it a new and interesting flavor and then I usually use one serving of sauce between two meals by thinning it out with water.

Also, just a little tip for you: if you add spice to your food you spike your metabolism. So add some peppers, add some hot sauce, add some salsa, make it spicy!

We haven’t lost a ton of weight yet, but we area steadily loosing. One big accomplishment for me is my cardio. I grew up with environmental asthma so I don’t have very strong lungs and I’ve never, ever been able to run. I could do sprints in P.E. class but when we had to run the mile or the 2 mile I had to walk over half of it and could only run very short distances. But in the last week I’ve managed to run for ten minutes. This is a huge accomplishment for me. Usually once I’m creeping up to just 1 minute of running (though I imagine most would call it “jogging” and to those people I stick my tongue out at them) I’ve got a stich in my side and can barely breathe. So to be able to run for ten minutes I feel like a super hero! My goal is to be able to run for 30 minutes. My husband likes to run for his cardio so it would be nice to be able to go for a run with him. Thank goodness for treadmills.

I’ll let you know how it’s going the closer we get to St. Patrick’s Day.