5 More Simple Writing Tips From Your Editor: Character

In honor of NaNoWriMo, I thought I’d start this series to add a bit more to the ‘writer’ part of A Writer Cooks. If you want to see more after November, please let me know you liked it by leaving a comment! Or suggest what topics you’d like to see tips on. 

Characters carry your book. If you have a book without any characters, it will be very boring and nothing will ever happen. Here are a few tips on how to make more interesting characters.

1. Description

Every character needs to be unique, but it’s way less important how they look than how they act. It’s best to give your characters a bit of description so we can have a general idea of what they look like, and then let us fill in the blanks. We don’t want to read a whole paragraph about how their eyes are blue-black like coal and how flawless their skin is (real description from a book I edited). Work the description in naturally, such as when the character is getting ready. ‘I brushed my long red hair.’ And remember, less is more.

Don’t go cliche either and have your character describe themselves while looking into a mirror. No one actually does that. If you must, pick one or two characteristics that are important and have your character focus on them as part of their character. Which brings us to:

2. Flaws

Don’t write a Mary Sue character: a character that is perfect in every way and everyone falls for them and they know how to do all sorts of obscure hobbies that just happen to be useful. Give your character at least one good flaw. Maybe she’s vain (see above). Maybe she’s insecure (also above). Don’t write a Disney prince for your love interest, give him the insecurity or even anger problems. Maybe he smokes but wants to quit.

Give your character at least two defining traits and one flaw and you’re on your way to a more well-rounded character.

3. Consistency

This goes for the basic stuff (don’t change her hair color halfway through your book or change his name) as well as more complex things. If she stood up to a bully in the beginning of the book, don’t make her scared of a similar situation later on (unless it is important to the story). If she’s brave in one area of her life but completely cowardly in another, that makes for an interesting inconsistency to explore.

Always remember things like how many siblings they have and what their names are, and all other details about their pasts. I am very displeased when I’m editing a book and have to search back through it when I’m sure they mentioned the sister’s name earlier and it has changed. Keep notes if you have to to make sure every detail stays the same throughout the story.

4. Names

You don’t have to break out a name dictionary, but be careful when selecting names for your characters. Readers aren’t as likely to identify with a heroine whose name they can’t pronounce or remember, or a name that doesn’t match the character. Imagine a romantic heroine with the name Hortense (no offense meant if that happens to be your name). You don’t have to go super cliche with a name like Juliet either. Just pick a name that’s believable for your character’s age and situation. If you’re writing historical fiction, try to keep your names appropriate for the time period as well.

Also, try to keep all of the names in your book distinct. In an earlier draft of one of my books, it turned out that the three main male characters were named Joe, Joey and Jay. It wasn’t confusing for me, but I had to think about how other people could be confused. As Jay and Joe weren’t in a lot of scenes together, I left their names alone, but changed Joey to Ryan.

5. Make Your Villain Human

I recently came across a quote I really like that says “There isn’t a person you wouldn’t love if you could read their story.” Your villain or antagonist is a person too. Give them a personality that goes beyond ‘baddie that is pulling the strings to make the hero’s life miserable.’ Give them a moment or two of weakness. Find out why they want to ruin the hero’s life. Give your villain a backstory, even if it doesn’t appear in the book. Make good vs. evil a little more complicated.

 

Want some clarification? Have a specific question? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts about my tips. Please subscribe to be notified of next week’s writing tips.

5 Simple Writing Tips From Your Editor: Dialogue

In honor of NaNoWriMo, I thought I’d start this series to add a bit more to the ‘writer’ part of A Writer Cooks. If you want to see more after November, please let me know you liked it by leaving a comment! Or suggest what topics you’d like to see tips on. 

If you’re writing the average novel (not that your work is in any way average), your characters are probably going to speak once in a while. Knowing how to write dialogue is a great skill. Anyone can write decent dialogue with a few simple tips.

1. Dialogue Tags

I get it. Dialogue is hard. It can be intimidating to give each character a distinctive voice. Plain dialogue is always okay. It’s not amazing, but there’s nothing wrong with it. Focus on everything around it though, and eventually your characters will come into their voices.

‘Said’ is okay. It’s okay to write ‘Joe said’ and ‘she said’ and ‘he said’. This kind of dialogue tag disappears and lets the words speak for themselves. Try to keep yourself from attributing adverbs to every ‘said’. “How dare you!” she said loudly. That’s what the exclamation mark is for. We can guess that she said it loudly, or shouted it. ‘She shouted’ would be a better dialogue tag, if a bit redundant.

It’s okay to not use dialogue tags at all. “How dare you!” Sam’s eyes grew wide and she stamped her foot. We can infer that Sam did the yelling from her body language. Use a mixture of simple dialogue tags and actions and your dialogue will be much better.

Lastly, don’t use actions as dialogue tags. “I love you,” she smiled. You can’t smile words out. If you mean she was smiling as she said it, say so. She smiled. “I love you.” OR “I love you,” she said smiling. Also, please never use the word ‘grated’. “You’re dead to me,” he grated. All I think of is grating cheese, and I lose the effect of the dialogue.

2. Punctuation

This is a major major problem I see when I edit. If you’ve read a few books in your life and paid attention in English class, you probably know the basics of how to punctuate dialogue. Here’s a crash course.

Always use double quotes when your characters are speaking. This is not the time to break out the single quotes. Single quotes go inside double quotes when needed.

Always punctuate dialogue inside the quotation marks, even if it doesn’t come at the end of a sentence. Never put “How dare you” she shouted! OR “How dare you,” she shouted. The dialogue itself is a shout, it needs the exclamation point. “How dare you!” she shouted. Likewise with question marks. “How are you,” he asked. If the actual quotation is a question, finish it with a question mark.

The exception to this rule is periods. Don’t end a quotation with a period if it’s not the end of a sentence, use a comma instead. “She promised me,” I said.

What comes before the quotation is important too. You’ll usually use a comma, such as: I said, “She promised me.” A colon can also be used, but stick to commas most of the time. Don’t leave out punctuation unless the quotation isn’t directly being said. For example: Everyone said she was “the belle of the ball.”

3. Names and Titles

Please don’t have your characters repeat each other’s names over and over. “Joe, you can’t mean it.” “I do mean it, Stella.” “Please don’t go, Joe.” People don’t talk like that. If you want to slip it in now and then for emphasis, that’s okay. Don’t do it several times a scene, for example.

Also, in dialogue or out of it, make sure you have titles down correctly and capitalized or not. For example: The doctor walked into the room. “What’s wrong with me, Doctor?” ‘The doctor’ is not capitalized. When you are speaking to the doctor, it is replacing his name so it should be capitalized. Same with moms. ‘My mom’ is not capitalized. Talking to your mom or using it as her name, it’s Mom.

Titles like Doctor or Mrs. as part of their name can be abbreviated (always with a period!). Dr. Hart. Mrs./Ms. Smith. Never use just the abbreviation in dialogue. “Hey, Dr.” “Excuse me, Ms.” Something like “Paging Dr. Hart” is okay, but it looks better all spelled out.

4. Making It Clear Who Is Speaking

The purpose of ‘he said’ and ‘she said’ is, of course, to make it clear to the reader who is currently speaking. While they do disappear into the text, it’s extremely boring to read a conversation where every statement begins or ends with ‘he said’. Mix it up a bit and you’ll elevate your writing without doing much extra work.

Instead of a dialogue tag, preface the dialogue with what the character is doing as or before he speaks. John pulled up a chair and sat in it before looking at me. “What did you want to talk about?” We can infer by his actions and the fact that the dialogue followed the action that John pulled up the chair and then spoke.

Another dialogue trick is to leave the dialogue alone with no action or tag at all. This can create a bit of tension and a faster paced scene. Using the above conversation as an example:

“Joe, you can’t mean it.”

“I do mean it, Stella.”

“Please don’t go, Joe.”

Obviously you want to leave out their names, as we discussed in the last tip, but it’s easy to tell who is speaking when there are only two characters in the scene.

However, don’t let this go on too long with only dialogue and nothing else. It makes it seem like the lines are being spoken in a blank space with nothing to ground them, no character or setting or anything. Let’s mix things up a bit:

“You can’t mean it,” Stella said.

“I do mean it, Stella.”

She blinked back tears and touched his hand. “Please don’t go.”

Joe was silent, looking everywhere but at Stella’s face. “I have to,” he finally said.

See? A couple of saids, a couple of actions, a much more fleshed-out piece of dialogue.

5. Formatting

I just wanted to touch on this quickly because a lot of the authors I edit seem to struggle with it. Every time someone new speaks, you begin a new paragraph. No exceptions.

You can indent or not indent, but keep all paragraphs, description or dialogue, at the same level of indent. No exceptions.

If your character has a monologue, it’s okay to break their speech up into multiple paragraphs. That will make it much easier to read. In that case, don’t put an end quote at the end of any of his paragraphs of speech until the end. Begin every paragraph of speech with a quote though. Here is an example, borrowed from the Emancipation Proclamation:

“…and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.

“That the Executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States,…”

 

Want some clarification? Have a specific question? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts about my tips. Please subscribe to be notified of next week’s writing tips.

5 Simple Writing Tips From Your Editor

In honor of NaNoWriMo starting, I thought I’d start this series to add a bit more to the ‘writer’ part of A Writer Cooks. If you want to see more after November, please let me know you liked it by leaving a comment! Or suggest what topics you’d like to see tips on.

No, I’m not technically your editor (though I can be, just click the ‘Hire Me’ link at the top!) but if you want to write and be published, your work will need to go through an editor at some point. Knowing some things to work on will really help you out and save your editor some time.

I am a freelance editor, have been for 2–3 years now, and I edit a lot of terrible stuff. Harsh, but true. So many people just finish a first draft and send it off, thinking it’s the editor’s job to fix it. Well, technically it is, but I can’t see the big picture of your work if I have to fix dialogue tags and commas every few paragraphs. It’s the writer’s job to make their work the best they can, and then it’s the editor’s job to polish it up some more.

Here are five simple tips for things to watch for before you send your work to an editor.

1. Consistency

Nothing brings me out of a story faster than inconsistency. That goes for story, dialogue, grammar and formatting. When you make a choice in your story, stick with it. If you have your character in a foreign country arriving somewhere by taxi, don’t have her leave the scene driving her own car. I’ll be going, “Wait, what?” (true example from a book I edited). If you call the character’s car red in one sentence then blue in the next one, it just looks sloppy (another real example). And if your characters are drinking scotch, don’t say a few paragraphs later ‘they raised their wine glasses’ (ditto).

Formatting and grammar are other things you really need to be consistent with. Don’t indent some paragraphs and not others. Don’t use italics to denote thoughts and then use quotes later on. This is one of the areas where you don’t have to be correct, for example with indenting. Just make it all the same and it can be fixed later.

2.  Word Choice and Vocabulary

I lied. Word choice can bring me out of a story faster than inconsistency. Don’t bring out your thesaurus while you’re writing except in an important case (I’ll explain later). If you use a big word that the majority of your readers don’t understand, you lose something. You’re going for a very specific meaning by using that word, and your readers won’t get that meaning if they don’t understand the word. I’m not saying dumb your writing down by any means. Just keep your writing understandable for the most part. Most readers aren’t going to put your book down every other page to look a word up in the dictionary (though I do, to make sure the word really fits the context). This is a stylistic choice though, so I don’t edit big words out (unless they don’t mean what you think they mean).

I edit a lot of romance. And I mean a lot. Clean, steamy, whatever, it pays the bills. It’s thanks to this that I can’t read romance anymore for the most part. When writing a sex scene (or any scene really), word choice matters, it sets the tone. Something about clinical terms for the naughty bits takes me out of the scene. There’s a fine balance between crazy euphemisms (true story, I edited a book with more than 40 different names for male parts: don’t do that) and an anatomy dictionary. In my personal opinion (others may differ), it’s better to leave them out altogether and leave a little more to the imagination.

3. Repetition and Monotony

For the love of all that is holy, pick up your thesaurus once in a while. Not to find a new way of saying something, but to make sure you’re being varied in your language. I’ve worked on several books by one particular author who is in love with the word ‘gaze’, and eyes in particular. In a book of about 130 pages, just the word gaze was used 81 times. The characters were always locking gazes and throwing gazes and cutting gazes and meeting gazes. Their eyes were stormy or electric or heated depending on the current mood. Please don’t do this. I know the eyes are the windows to the soul, but body language says a lot too. Use more senses, don’t remind us of the hero’s amazing green eyes on every page. We get it.

This goes for anything that appears in your story. Don’t use synonyms for everything, just make sure you’re mixing things up a bit. Don’t have every character use the phrase ‘oh man’ or ‘oh boy’ in their dialogue or thoughts. If you want to repeat something like that, especially if it’s the way you yourself talk, give it to one character to repeat as a catchphrase. If everyone does it, you’re not letting your characters have unique voices.

4. Basic English

This is farther down the list because it’s something that most people get right, but it is incredibly jarring to see when it goes wrong. This can happen because the writer has English as a second language, or they just slept through English class a bit too much. Please make sure that you’re using words correctly. Malapropisms happen a lot. This is the kind of thing like ‘for all intensive purposes’ or ‘doggy-dog world’ (for all intents and purposes, and dog-eat-dog world, respectively). It comes down to basically knowing what you’re trying to say and understanding the common phrase for it instead of parroting what you think it might be.

Also, every editor’s pet peeve is probably the common words used interchangeably, like to/too, they’re/their/there, accept/except, and etc. It’s important to brush up on these if you want to write seriously. No one really cares if you use them wrong online, but you might form bad habits that carry over to your writing.

5. Proofreading

I know editors are also called proofreaders sometimes, but please don’t send us your first draft that you haven’t even read through once yourself. It’s clear to us when you haven’t done it. I recently edited a book where every other paragraph had words missing, usually ‘the’ or pronouns, and some sentences just made no sense at all. One read through before you send it in can make a huge difference, even better if you or someone else reads it out loud all the way through. You’ll hear any mistakes loud and clear.

 

Questions? Comments? Clarifications? Please subscribe if you want to be notified the next time one of these posts go up, and leave me a comment about what you think about these tips. If you have a writing or editing question for me, feel free to ask. And be sure to check out my ‘Hire Me’ page to see what I can do for you.

New Year’s Resolutions 2016

Happy New Year!

I’ve been looking forward to the new year for quite a while. I’ve already made my plans for what I want to accomplish. It’s quite a list, so I’m hoping overachieving will at least get a few things done.

  • My overall goal is to be more productive this year. I’m as guilty as anyone about falling into the YouTube/Pinterest/Facebook trap while online. I want to set up my website blocker to be useful and actually turn it on when I need to work on stuff.
  • I want to write every day. Even if it’s not 500 words a day, I want to make some progress.
  • Read every day. I have a large book list to get through this year, since I want to revisit the books that really inspire me to write. I’ll post the book list later on.
  • Study. I want to take 20 minutes every day on each of the subjects I want to study and hopefully be quite good at by the end of the year. These are French, nutrition and web development.
  • Speaking of web development, I have big plans for my blog so keep an eye out.
  • I have a list of food goals I want to work on, found in the second list of this post.
  • Watch a huge list of movies I’ve missed out on over the years. These are mainly cult favorites or just interesting movies I’ve wanted to check out over the years. Movie list posted later as well. I knocked one off already last night.
  • Work more on home care. I want to get on a cleaning schedule, or at least complete one task every day.
  • I also want to work on keeping up with personal care things a bit more than I do already. These are things like keeping up with exercise routines, drinking more water, grooming tasks I put off more often than not, stuff like that.
It’s a huge list, but they’re all pretty small goals overall, like devoting less time to watching YouTube and more to personal development. I just need to schedule my time better.
Food goals for 2016:
  • Stock up around $5 every week. We’re planning a huge purchase of stocking up on food this weekend, so I won’t need too much week to week for a while.
  • Eat more fruit. With a lot of food stocked up, we’ll have more money to spend on healthy snacks.
  • Try to eat veggies at every dinner if not more than once throughout the day.
  • Food prep weekly. I really felt very prepared the week that I chopped and stored tons of ingredients and snacks for the week. This can include making rice in a large batch for the week.
  • Make more things from scratch, like bread, dried beans and veggie burgers.
  • No food waste. Make sure I use up all things like fresh greens and potatoes before they go bad.
  • Try new foods often. Self explanatory.
  • Hit nutrient goals. I’ll be tracking my meals for my weight goals, along with vitamins and minerals in them, and I’d like to work on getting the nutrients I’m more deficient in, like folate and B vitamins.

What are your goals for the year? Am I crazy with too many?

My Key to Surviving 2016 – Bullet Journal

You’ve possibly seen these before. I stumbled across these on Pinterest and fell in love. I’m not the most organized person ever, even though I make a ridiculous amount of lists. I’ve tried countless apps to organize my life and keep up with my habits. Finally, everything is in one place, neat and organized, and I’ve been getting so much done!

For an in-depth look at how it is done, check out the official website and the video explaining it. For now, here’s mine.

I’m using a heavy-duty spiral bound notebook that my husband brought me from work. It’s nothing fancy, just a dark red with the name of the college he works for on the front.

The index and page numbers are key. You number each page as you get to it and log it in the index. Then, when you need to find your Christmas list, you can turn to the index and find that it is on page 18.

Next is my future log. I only made it for 2016 months so I haven’t had much use of it so far, except to mark down the date of my good friend’s wedding under April. When April comes around, I can check out my future log and write down her wedding in the proper spot in my monthly log. And, of course, it’s good for marking anniversaries and birthdays.

This is my monthly log for December. Write down all the days of the month down the side with the day of the week next to them, and mark important events. I wrote down events like shopping and a concert (both didn’t happen), plus Christmas, New Years and what days I needed my baking to be done by.

On the other side is my habit tracker. I wrote down things I want to make a habit off and I color in a box for every day I complete it, like exercising, taking my vitamins and reading before bed. I’ve been pretty good about doing most things. The Xs are for my planned exercise rest days, on Sundays.

This is what my weekly and daily spreads look like. On my weekly pages, I mark down the dates, my meal plan, my cleaning chart, my planned blog posts, and what I’m reading. It can also be weekly specific like for all of the Christmas baking I need to do.

On my daily pages, I write down the day of the week, the date, and all of the tasks I need to do. I also have a cute little countdown to Christmas on the side. I’m still working on how I want this to look, plus I change up the color of the divider and date box for each week.

There you have it. This is how I’m planning out my next year, I think I’m going to keep up with it unlike every app I’ve tried. There is so much freedom to do whatever you want, like making a page for a wishlist, reading list, list of goals, anything you like, while also providing a bit of structure.

Have you ever heard of a bullet journal? Do you keep one?

Thursday Thoughts – April 16

There’s really not much going on right now besides work. Doing freelance work, I always go through cycles of having no work and then having two or three projects at once.

This week:

  • Edited a short romance novel
  • Wrote an article on lemon water
  • Looked at a recipe book to see if the recipes fit the Whole 30 diet and now I have to edit the ones that didn’t
  • Started editing a novel about shapeshifting cat people
  • Need to edit a short article on probiotics

Looking at that list makes me feel exhausted. But it’s really not that terrible, it’s a much less stressful job than retail and I get to do what I love, write and edit. Plus I get to stay at home, saving money on gas and I don’t have to get all dressed up every day. It has its cons of course, no steady paycheck and I have to deal with paying self-employment taxes, but I really enjoy it.

Today I have to make my grocery list and meal plan and tomorrow I do laundry. But I’ll have some interesting things to talk about soon.