Agent, Editing, Feedback, Fiction, Novel, Query, Revision, Words, Writing

What a difference a word makes

I promise this is the last post on my query letter woes—that’s because I have no more woe. I have relief. I have joy. And I owe that to one three-letter word.

Wednesday, after I ordered myself to suck it up and write the danged query, I panicked. It was all well and good to commit to write, but I still didn’t know what to write. I opened the Word file compiled of my one billion previous query attempts and read each of them, hoping to spark new inspiration.

None of them were horrible, some were too long, one too short, all of them a bit boring … although the last version did garner two partial and one full requests. (Still no word on that full.) But the major change to the beginning of my novel, necessitated a new query. So for a couple of hours, I cut and pasted, and added and deleted, and ended up with another “almost” version.  It still needed a better hook, a sharper focus.

By then, it was time to make a drive across town and back. I decided to make the trip in silence—okay, I did offer occasional helpful advice to lousy drivers. I threw out a challenge to my characters. Pitch your story to me. Nothing. I distracted myself by wondering if anyone in my family would read my book once it’s published. When I considered one of my sons and his wife, I thought, They would read it for sure, if I’d written a book about running.

Run. R.U.N. Zowie!!!

I did write a book about running. In both the literal and figurative senses, Jalal runs. With that smack to the forehead, I had the perfect focus for my query. I spent the drive home drafting variations of opening hooks. As soon as I could, I sat down and wrote the new query in about twenty minutes. Then I sent it off to my “editors.” Yes, I know, I vowed in my last post to trust my writing, but I’m not stupid. Even the best writers need feedback.

Typically, while I waited for their responses, I edited the query.  Yes, I’m sure I do I drive them a little crazy with this habit. After they sent me their advised tweaks, I considered those that still applied and edited again. Now—ta da—I have a brand new query!

I’m excited to find out if it’s a winner. I think it just might be.

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Advice, Craft, Editing, Fiction, Revision, Tips, Words, Writing

Words you don’t need

Since I finished a round of editing two days ago, I’m going to mention something I looked for in the final polish—overused words. Eliminating unnecessary words strengthens your writing. I’ll mention the two main ones I had a problem with. They may or may not be a problem in your writing.

I expect you all know about Wordle, which I’ve blogged about before here and here. It’s a great tool to spot problem words. I copy and paste my whole novel into Wordle to identify the most frequently used words. If I see a word larger than I expect, then I know I need to eliminate as many instances of it as I can.

My after editing Wordle. Click to enlarge.

In my case, one word that loomed large was JUST. Often the word is redundant as in this case where the word started is sufficient:

“Meredith laid the clothes destined for the cleaners on the passenger seat, but just as she started to back her car out of the garage, another car drove in through the gate.”

Sometimes you can replace JUST with another word, such as only. But sometimes I like its precision as in:

“How had she given this man such power over her that with just a look, or a word, he broke through all her defenses?”

Of course, only would have worked in that sentence, but I prefer the sound of just. So use your judgment. By using Word’s find feature, I reduced my JUST count by more than fifty uses.

(Tip: if you enter the search word in Find and then click Reading Highlight > Highlight All, you can see your usage count.)

Another word to watch out for is THAT. I thought I had broken myself of the habit, but a check revealed I had still misused it too often. I eliminated as many as practical, which again was more than fifty. It’s a perfectly good word, and one that will be used correctly more often than not, but it has a way of sneaking in where it’s not needed. If you’re not aware how it slips in needlessly, here’s an example:

“Are you telling me that you never noticed that your book is prominently displayed in the gift shops here—local celebrity, and all that?”

I removed two instances of THAT without changing the meaning at all. But sometimes removing the word can confuse or change the meaning of the sentence. For example:

“Why had she let him skip years of his life without telling her anything that happened during them?”

If you deleted THAT in this sentence, it would mean she would be satisfied if he had given a vague answer such as, “Yeah, something happened.” However, what I wanted to convey is her dismay he hadn’t told her at least one thing.

Again, use your judgment. Most of the time you’ll find THAT is used correctly.

(Tip: In my writing, I’ve never found an unnecessary THAT at the beginning of a sentence, so you might try your search using lowercase spelling and selecting Match Case to cut down on the number of uses you need to check.)

A final word: I often make a distinction between dialogue and narrative when I edit. Dialogue should sound natural, and since we probably all use too many THATs and JUSTs in our casual speech, I am more lenient in their use in written dialogue.

Your turn: Try Wordle on a sample of your writing. Did you find any unexpected prominent words? It looks like I need to investigate my usage of BACK!?

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Imagination, Inspiration, Music, Words, Writing

Seeing the music

I sometimes forget to view song lyrics as writing—stupid, I know. This morning I had a nearly ninety-minute “commute.” By that, I mean I drove my husband to work, my granddaughter back to her house, and then drove myself back home. On my return trip, I plugged in my iPod and listened to Suzanne Vega’s Solitude Standing. (Yes, it’s old—1987!)

For several months back then, I listened to this and her debut album (on repeat) while I worked in my art studio. For the first two songs, I was lost in memories of that place and time, but then I clued in on some of the lyrics for the third—”Ironbound/Fancy Poultry.”

Instantly, the same mental picture of the scene I conjured long ago popped into mind. That visual effect always happens when I reread a novel or story, but usually when I listen to familiar music, I only have the memories associated with the time or place I heard it before—like in my art studio circa 1987. Why was this song different?

I restarted the song and listened closely. Here are the opening s:

In the ironbound section near Avenue L
where the Portuguese women come to see what you sell
the clouds so low the morning so slow
as the wires cut through the sky

The beams and bridges cut the light on the ground
into little triangles and the rails run round
through the rust and the heat
the light and sweet coffee color of her skin

Such beautiful description. Is it any wonder I “saw” this song? Today I have housework and more driving to do. I think I’ll listen for more description.

Note: There is an interesting subtext on the subjugation and objectification of women to this song. Here’s a video with lyrics. (Warning: a few words are wrong.)

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Craft, Doubt, Editing, Fiction, My Books, Narrative, Novel, Revision, Tips, Writing

Spaghetti Gone Wild

Yesterday, in a Tweet to Kayla Olson, I described the state of my chapter-in-revision as spaghetti gone wild. Switching the order of the scenes had seemed a simple task. I had four scenes to deal with: one moves down, two move up, one stays in last place. No big deal. Next step: write/revise the narrative to link these scenes.

That’s when the mess began. I wrote words. I deleted them. I wrote different words. I deleted those too. Nothing felt right. Desperate, I thought maybe the fault lay within the scenes. Even though I’d loved them when I wrote them, I began to edit. I highlighted words, phrases, whole sentences I could improve, but I knew there was no sense working on those until I was sure they wouldn’t be cut. But then, the more I read the more I became dissatisfied. (If you’re a LOST fan, this is when I nicked the dural sac. :-))

Suddenly, none of it made sense to me. Everything was wrong. The writing was mediocre, the story silly, and I questioned why I wrote the chapter in the first place. When I realized I would rather play games than even open the file again, I knew I was in trouble. I now hated the chapter I once loved. Where had I gone wrong?

Without a clue, I gave up and played TextTwist, and as I did, I was reminded of way back when I first wrote about Jalal. I would write until I was out of words, and then I played Bejeweled. I don’t know why, but the background music brought Jalal’s voice to me, and I would play until I knew what to write next.

So, yesterday, as I sat there playing TextTwist, the fog lifted. This chapter was about Jalal, from his point of view, but I had ripped the heart out of it by trying to revise without him. I barged right in and started hacking away and shoving in more, without “getting into character” first. That’s how I totally screwed it up.

I must now step away (Or count to five? :-)) and listen until I hear Jalal’s voice. Then I’ll get this mess untangled.

Now, your turn: Please tell me I’m not the only one who’s done this.

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Photo credit: Susan at Timeless Gourmet

Author, Dream, Fiction, Goals, Motivation, Musings, My Books, Novel, Publish, Reader, Words, Writing

The why of want

I want to be published. I really want to be published. I talk about it. I dream about it. I fantasize about it. I hope, pray, and wish on stars for it. Below is what I wrote in the small notebook I carry in my purse:

“It is 2:49 pm on Wednesday, 21 April, 2010 and as I sit in a McDonald’s Playland full of squealing children I feel certain I will be a published author.”

Yes, I want to be published. I don’t care about fame, in fact I’d just as soon not have that. Money would be nice, but that’s not my motivation. I want validation. I want to know that all the time I spend writing has a better purpose than avoidance of housework. I want my words to mean something to someone besides me.

I have no illusions of grandeur. I’m fully aware that nothing I write is important. It has no power to change the world. It will never be studied in a classroom. Yet it could transport readers into a time, place, or circumstance other than their own for a while, and there is worth in that. To see through another’s eyes, feel through another’s heart, think through another’s mind has purpose. I want someone to experience this through my words. I want to share the stories given to me.

I want to be published.

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