How writing fiction helps us confront the uncertainties of life

None of us knows what the future holds. Writing fiction is one way to grow more comfortable with the uncertainties of life.

None of us knows what the future holds. Writing fiction is one way to grow more comfortable with the uncertainties of life.

One of the most common arguments against reading fiction (and especially writing it!) that you’ll hear goes something like this:

  • What is the point? Isn’t the real world interesting enough?
  • Fiction is just escapism. Live your life.
  • Fiction has no real value. It’s pure distraction from real problems and issues.

Now, I don’t think any writer (or person who understands the value and importance of story to human nature and to human beings) thinks that we should lose ourselves completely in fiction and devote our lives entirely to it.

That said, it  saddens me when people make comments like those above. Fiction does SO MUCH for us as people who live and move and contribute to the real world.

For one, writing increases our capacity to empathize. It makes us more aware of other people and their struggles.

Writing can be a form of therapy, allowing us to externalize and thus more easily confront our personal demons and struggles. Analyzing our “monsters” from outside ourselves can make them less frightening, enabling us to take action against them.

It can shed a light on how much we truly have and how blessed we truly are, making us feel grateful rather than entitled or disappointed and impressing us with the fact that we are only one among many (unique and irreplaceable as each of us is.)

For those of us who write, fiction can also do something more, which is what I want to discuss today: It can help us come to terms with how uncertain life is, and teach us to be adaptable and to make adjustments.

This is especially helpful and useful for me, because I have never been comfortable with change and don’t like when unexpected obstacles or problems crop up, as of course they sometimes do.

WRITING MAKES US “FOLLOW THE CHARACTERS”…. AND THEY DON’T ALWAYS GO WHERE WE WANT.

My personal approach to writing involves getting to know my characters and their situation, and then sitting back while I let them be themselves. I try not to force them to act in ways that are unnatural for them, but I ask myself, “Given what this person knows at this point, what would he or she do next?”

I understand that not everyone writes that way. But for me, it works. I don’t usually know when I start a story how things are going to end. There are lots of twists, turns, and surprises along the way.

And not all of them are easy to accept or to deal with. Some make me uncomfortable. I don’t always know where I can take one of my stories after this or that happens. But hey, if I know something’s got to happen, I write it and then I focus on the next thing. If I need to, I go back and tweak what I’ve written to allow for a progression.

Think of all the skills that teaches a person:

  • To try to anticipate how other people will respond/act.
  • To accept that we don’t, and can’t, know what the future holds, and that that is okay. We don’t have to.
  • To adapt to unforeseen and difficult situations (problem-solving)
  • To avoid worrying about “tomorrow” so you can focus on “today”

Writing fiction does teach us these things. Sure, there are occupations and hobbies that force people to confront the limitations of the human condition in a physical, tangible way.  Writing forces us to confront the limitations of the human condition psychologically.

That has its own value and its own purpose. It is a good thing. A healthy thing.

I’m not really sure why I wrote this today…. A comment a while back on an older post of mine got me thinking about this.

I just know I’ve had a troll on Twitter before attack me repeatedly about how pointless and worthless fiction is. To the point that I had to block that person. I think every writer faces that kind of attack from time to time, and it can be disheartening and discouraging if we don’t understand why that point of view is oversimplified and essentially flawed.

RELATED POSTS:

How fiction is about the truth behind the lie

How my characters inspire me to improve myself

Victoria Grefer is the author the Herezoth trilogy, which begins with “The Crimson League” and has new editions coming out this Fall. She also has a writer’s handbook out, titled “Writing for You: A Novelist’s Guide to the Craft of Fiction.”

You can also sign up to follow this blog by email at the top right of the page.

Why “Balance” in Fiction Rarely Means a 50/50 Split

balance-875413-mBalance in creative writing has been the theme of my last few posts, and today I wanted to start one more discussion about balance. In particular, I wanted to explore how  in fiction “balance” between two things doesn’t necessarily mean a 50/50 or 33/33/33 split between two or three aspects of a novel.

It also doesn’t mean the same thing from author to author, from genre to genre, or even from one person’s novel to the next one she writes.

Muddying the picture even more is the fact that all the aspects of fiction we try to balance: “action” with “depth,” “world-building” with “story” (at least in my genre of fantasy) are extremely wide-ranging in terms of definition.

THE IMPORTANCE OF TARGET AUDIENCE

What I consider exciting, gripping action might not be enough to keep someone else’s attention. What I consider sweet and romantic about my novels will definitely not interest people used to reading romance novels or people who want a paranormal romance.

Heck, I have reviews up that literally say there is a heart-pounding moment in every chapter of “The Crimson League” to keep readers enthralled, next to reviews that say I bored a reader so much she stopped reading.

So that’s one thing I wanted to reflect on today…. no matter what your ideal personal balance is, it’s not going to please everyone. It can’t. People are just far too different from one another and read for far too many reasons.

You are not necessarily a bad author or far, far from your balance if some people can’t get into your book. What matters is the reaction from your target audience.

Spend some time thinking about who your ideal reader is.

  • What does he or she like in a story?
  • What’s MOST important in a story to him or her? (Your balance will weigh those things more heavily).
  • Why does he or she read?
  • What things are absolute deal-breakers for that person?

This shouldn’t be too hard. Why? Your ideal reader should share a lot in common with you. That’s why I don’t believe this post is conflicting with my overall philosophy of “writing for you.”

After all, the most important thing is for you to enjoy your story: to find some kind of fulfillment in it, to grow as a result of it. It would never make sense for an author to write a story that he or she can’t connect with, about characters he or she doesn’t care about.
By default, we’re all writing for people (largely) who come to stories for similar reasons that we do. This is why focusing on your ideal reader is most helpful  in the editing phase:

  • When we’re trying to weed some things out and need to determine what makes most sense to cut.
  • When we’re trying to determine what we might not be explaining clearly enough, or in contrast, are emphasizing too much.
  • When we’re trying to view our characters and their decisions from “other” eyes, to get a picture of how readers with no innate emotional connection with them will judge them and/or make sense of what they’re doing.

There a lot of things that make balance difficult to achieve in fiction. In a lot of ways, balance is more of a goal and an ideal than a result. We’ll never write a “perfect” story. Every author has things they do well and things they are not so good at or things they find more difficult…

I personally strive to AVOID my weaknesses as much as I can, and make great use of my strengths. That’s how my personal style develops. That’s how everyone’s style develops, I think. It’s how we discover what “balance” means to us

RELATED POSTS

Victoria Grefer is the author the Herezoth trilogy, which begins with “The Crimson League” and has new editions coming out this Fall. She also has a writer’s handbook out, titled “Writing for You: A Novelist’s Guide to the Craft of Fiction.”

You can also sign up to follow this blog by email at the top right of the page.

 

Creative Writing: The great balancing act of crafting fiction

scales-art-1046106-mI have been thinking a lot about balance in fiction: about how often good writing boils down to keeping between two extremes, or simply not saying something too emphatically or too often.

On that note, I’d like to write today about balance, and some of the different things we writers are always trying to balance. There’s a LOT of balancing going on…. and that’s perfectly normal.

As writers, we can feel disconcerted or doubtful when we stop to consider how many things we’re actually juggling at the same time. But it’s nothing to freak out over or to cause us to lose confidence.

This epic act of balancing is why writers do multiple editing passes. We can always read through and get one aspect of balancing right before we concentrate on others. This can prevent us feeling overwhelmed and help us achieve, in the end, as close to the ideal of what we want our story to be as we can.

We also pull in beta readers and editors to help us recognize when things are out of whack.

Now, with that disclaimer set forth… Let’s bring out our inner gymnasts.

1. Plot (action, story) and Character (backstory, characterization) in the first chapters of a novel.

I’ve struggled with this one a lot, particularly in regards to one of my discarded novels….. I even wrote a post about it. It can be tough to advance the story fast enough to keep readers interested, while also giving them a reason to care about the characters and what happens to them by portraying said characters as deep, real people.

2. Emotional Responses and their Stimuli.

As people, we are sometimes prone to overreacting. Sometimes prone to rumination and dwelling on things that we really don’t need to obsess about. So it makes sense that, perhaps, a character might do these things.

Still, presentation matters. It matters a great deal. As I talked about yesterday in a post about balancing internal conflict, when a character (particularly a point of view character) is overreacting to something or obsessing about something, even something important:

  • You run the risk of that character alienating readers.
  • Your character can come across as petty, selfish, and arrogant.

Of course, this may be the whole point. You may want that. Don’t forget that a subtle wink and nod, letting the reader know you understand how frustrating a character is, helps readers invest.

It’s easier to put up with an off-putting character when we understand that the author agrees with our judgment of him or her and doesn’t want or expect us to judge that character to be likeable.

3. How often we use the same words and phrases

Much of editing (or at least, a surface level, proof-reading kind of editing) involves balancing the words, phrases, and sentence structures that we employ from paragraph to paragraph, chapter to chapter.

Repeat words or structures too often, and your writing will sound stilted. I can say that, personally, after having an interesting and cohesive story, there are few things that I need more to invest in a novel than a basic variety of vocabulary and sentence structure. Otherwise I feel like I’m reading a child’s writing. It’s just TOO basic. TOO simple.

And believe me, I like short, simple sentences in my own writing. In fact, I prefer them more often than not. I have a minimalist style. Even keeping to that end of spectrum, though, you can introduce variety.

4. How many times we repeat a concept or plot point, rephrasing it, for emphasis.

Sometimes we do need to repeat an idea for our readers.

  • It might be complex, so we introduce it in chunks and rehash a bit of what we’ve already revealed.
  • It might be that one character is out of the know, and needs to be clued in.
  • It might be that something is simply important enough–or will be important enough later–that we want to give it some emphasis via repetition.

All that’s fine. Totally fine. The key is to balance how often we’re repeating or emphasizing something. Even if we vary the way the topic is repeated, using different phrases and different tones, it can get to be too much, especially in early drafts.

So, what do you find it difficult to balance when you write? What comes naturally to you? Do you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the great balancing act?

Victoria Grefer is the author the Herezoth trilogy, which begins with “The Crimson League” and has new editions coming out this fall. She also has a writer’s handbook out, titled “Writing for You: A Novelist’s Guide to the Craft of Fiction.”

You can also sign up to follow this blog by email at the top right of the page.

AUTHORS: on balancing personal struggles with action in creative writing

girl-in-black-clothes---balancing-1189552-mMy last post about 5 psychological struggles that can enhance good plot was one of my best received ever; because of that, I wanted to follow up with a reflection on how those useful, real, and powerful personal demons characters face can turn against an author.

EMOTIONAL STRUGGLE AND BALANCE

It’s true that our characters might struggle for redemption, or to forgive someone. We all find it difficult to let go of the past, even when we know that letting go and leaving the past behind will be to our benefit. None of us likes to face our fears, or make a difficult choice between two equally wonderful or terrible options. None of us LIKES to sacrifice.

And yet we do these things, because we know that’s what life is truly about: change, and growth. We sacrifice for those we love because love means putting others first. Our characters will do these things too. And that’s good.

Here’s the thing, though: fiction is always about striking a balance. And when you’re dealing with inner struggles, with emotions, that is no less true than in any other case.

If you pay too little attention to, or focus too little a character’s personal issues, he or she will come across as stale, lifeless, or even robotic. Your readers won’t understand or relate to such “people.”

Yet, it is possible to harp too much on emotional and personal struggles, or to present them in the wrong way.

  • Perspective is always key. When characters blow insignificant things out of proportion, they can come across as petty, immature, or self-centered. (Scarlett O’Hara in the first chapters of “Gone with the Wind” is a great example of how an interesting character might be just those things.)
  • When you harp on emotional conflict to the detriment of action, your pacing stiffens and you might bore readers.
  • When you give the impression that the emotional struggles are more important than everything else, your story comes across as cheap and forced; as a vehicle to manifest the struggles, not as lives real people could be living.

LET THE STRUGGLES YOUR CHARACTERS FACE ARISE NATURALLY FROM WHO THEY ARE AND WHAT THEIR LIFE SITUATION IS.

More than anything else, this post is a reminder to me that most aspects of fiction can, and should, be character-driven. That includes emotional struggles and personal growth.

The way to avoid personal struggle getting out of balance–whatever “balance” means based upon your individual story and your style–is not to force it on your characters. Don’t push it…. Let it develop as a natural result of who they are and what is happening to them.

Can you set yourself up for some specific emotional turmoil, though? Sure. If you know you want a story about redemption, you can give your characters a sordid past. If you know you want to write about recovering from loss, your protagonist can be a widower or a widow. An author can always manipulate, to some extent,  circumstances in order to create a specific, natural-feeling result.

There is a difference between crafting a character whose personality lends itself to jealousy, and forcing a character to be jealous of someone else without real cause just because you want that to factor in to your story.

There is a difference between crafting a character whose situation realistically and plausibly could force her to make a difficult choice or sacrifice, and twisting events in a crazy way to put her in that place.

That’s what I mean by balance. It’s not something to fret over…. Generally, if you get out of balance as an author, you’ll feel it. You won’t be happy with what you’re writing, and you’ll give it another shot.

At least, that’s my personal experience. That’s the thing about balance…. when you lose it, you fall flat on your face. And that’s hard to miss. :-) Even if you don’t catch it, beta readers and editors are there to get you back on track.

So, how do you balance emotion, and the personal struggles of your characters, with the stories of what they do and achieve? Have you struggled with this?

Feel free to comment on your thoughts… and make sure to come back if the topic interests you, because I feel like I’ve just hit the tip of the iceberg here talking about balance in creative writing. I’ll have two or three more posts on the subject coming.

RELATED POSTS

The “Come, Cliche, Crackdown approach to character development

“I almost let him die,” or a reflection on why our characters whisper to us

On character traits, part I: self-pity

On character traits, part II: fear

Victoria Grefer is the author the Herezoth trilogy, which begins with “The Crimson League” and has new editions coming out this fall. She also has a writer’s handbook out, titled “Writing for You: A Novelist’s Guide to the Craft of Fiction.”

You can also sign up to follow this blog by email at the top right of the page.

5 Psychological Struggles That Enhance Great Plot in Fiction

shiny-brain-1254880-mI used to study literature professionally, so you could say I feel very connected with, and know how to appreciate, the psychological depth and intensity of fiction.

Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE books with heavy action, and I definitely believe writing should be about the characters. Some of my favorite novels–Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Les Miserables–involve deadly struggles or social uprisings. That means “ACTION.”

The thing about action, though: while it might work on its own for some people, it’s not enough on its own to attract me as a reader. I have to know the people who are behind that action and being affected, deeply, by what is happening as their world threatens to fall apart.

Otherwise, things feel cheap. I can’t invest in or care about what’s going on. And that’s what I mean when I talk about “following the characters” in my writer’s handbook: when I claim the vast majority of good fiction is character-driven.

We are human. We want to read about HUMAN BEINGS, not robots. Not personifications of a political philosophy. Not unbelievable creatures who say and do one thing one moment, then with no explanation contradict themselves the next.

For me, the biggest enhancer of strong, engrossing action, or plot, is psychological struggle on the part of the characters. This can take any number of forms, but some of my favorites are:

1. REDEMPTION.

Guilt and the struggle for redemption are powerful, powerful forces. This theme, centered upon the paroled thief Jean Valjean, is honestly what makes “Les Miserables” my favorite novel of all time.

How does one overcome a troubled past? Forgive oneself even after being forgiven by others? By God? WHY is this so difficult for us, and what does that difficulty symbolize? Is it, in its way, a form a pride? This subplot or theme can add a LOT of depth and fodder for reflection.

2. THE DIFFICULT OR IMPOSSIBLE CHOICE.

How do you choose between two goods? Especially when each usually involves sacrificing something, and most certainly involves giving up the OTHER choice?

Opportunity cost…. Yep. Opportunity cost. The one thing I learned in economics in college. Every choice involves the “cost” of the other choices you could be making, of how else you could be spending your time. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

On the flip side of this, there’s the ever-engrossing choice between two evils. How do you determine the lesser? What MAKES one “lesser”? And how can we be sure?

3. SACRIFICE.

Another of my favorite themes, simply because the meaning of love–all forms of love–is sacrifice. When you come down to it, that’s the heart of it all. If you’re not willing to sacrifice, even sacrifice really big, for something or someone, you can’t truly say that you love it.

It is very true what St. Paul says in the Bible: love is not selfish. I think that’s something everyone can recognize, no matter what their religious beliefs are. This doesn’t mean loving sacrifice come easy, of course. That’s why this can be such a powerful enhancer of strong action.

4. GROWTH

This is related to redemption, but it is not quite the same thing. Redemption involves trying to overcome and move past something specific. It is always intentional. Growth is overcoming, perhaps even unconsciously so, general tendencies that are not the healthiest.

  • self-consciousness or self-centeredness
  • jealousy
  • arrogance/pride
  • an instinctual avoidance of our fears or our problems

Growth can be subtle. In fact, it often is most powerful when portrayed subtly, rather than heavily focused upon. I promise, your readers WILL pick up on how your characters are evolving and naturally maturing without you pounding them over the head with it.

5. LETTING GO…

Letting go of the past. Of someone we’ve lost. Of a situation in life that simply can never return to us….

The one sure thing about life is that it is always changing. Nothing is secure. Nothing is a guarantee from one day to the next. That is terrifying, and it is something every person on the planet has to deal with.

We all have to let go of different things at different stages of our lives. Our characters should as well.

Connected with “letting go” is “accepting an obstacle or a harsh truth we’d rather not have to deal with.” This is especially and powerfully true for the class of character–often involved with heavy action–that I call the reluctant hero. This is the person who has “greatness thrust upon him,” to quote Shakespeare

Think Frodo Baggins. Harry Potter. Luke Skywalker. Even my protagonist in “The Crimson League,” Kora Porteg, is a reluctant hero. Very popular in modern fantasy and sci-fi, this character-type gives you a LOT of options to personalize and has a lot going on beneath the surface to tap into.

RELATED POSTS:

On the reluctant hero

What ogres, onions, and parfaits have in common with a good novel

Victoria Grefer is the author the Herezoth trilogy, which begins with “The Crimson League” and has new editions coming out this fall. She also has a writer’s handbook out, titled “Writing for You: A Novelist’s Guide to the Craft of Fiction.”

You can also sign up to follow this blog by email at the top right of the page.

On Continuity in Creative Writing

diary-srb-1118480-mOne necessary component of engrossing, readable fiction is always cohesiveness: and today, as I edit “The Crimson League” for its second edition release this Autumn, I am thinking more and more about the role continuity plays in cohesiveness.

There are so many forms and levels of continuity. A large part of editing–not the whole, certainly, but a large chunk–involves keeping track of and maintaining, or improving, continuity. You could dedicate an editing pass or two JUST to continuity issues. And that’s what I want to discuss today: continuity issues.

What are the major things we authors can look out for as we edit a draft for continuity?

CHARACTER CONTINUITY: PHYSICAL TRAITS

Personality cohesiveness–asking yourself, “would this character, believably, say or do these things?”–is a different issue. I am talking more basic, surface-level things here.

  • Does a character’s eye color change from scene to scene?
  • Does a character, mid-scene, shift from standing by the door to sitting in a chair?
  • Does the way you describe hair length, or height, change without you meaning it to?

Keeping detailed character sheets, and referencing them, is a great way to handle these kinds of issues. If you’re like me and you don’t generally outline before a first draft, such sheets become all the more vital to draw up AFTER the fact, to refer to every time a character is physically described.

SETTING CONTINUITY: WITHIN SCENE

Setting continuity within a scene involves basic things like not transporting characters across the room unintentionally, as mentioned above. It also involves a lot more:

  • It’s easy to forget a character is holding something.
  • Sometimes a door or window just closes of its own accord. Ghosts! Ghosts I say! Unless you’re writing paranormal fiction, you might not want that. (So who you gonna call?)
  • Sometimes furniture, or trees and flowers, or a rug, can appear or disappear without you noticing.
  • Doors can change location, or lead to different rooms than you mean them to. (I have totally mixed up left and right in my writing, although I know that in the League’s headquarters, the washroom is to the right. To the RIGHT of the main room….)
  • The color, shape, or material of man-made items–carpets, chairs, walls–can also change.

SETTING CONTINUITY: ACROSS SCENES OR EVEN NOVELS

This is perhaps the most difficult kind of physical continuity: keeping track of room arrangements across scenes. All the things that you have to keep track of within scene–wall color, furniture, where doors lead to and how many there are–you need to keep track of across scenes as well, each time a setting is repeated.

If you are writing a series, you might even have settings repeating over novels and across years. This can be a  fun opportunity (at least I’ve found it so) to show the passage of time and the marks it leaves over people and places. I really enjoy changing one or two memorable aspects of an important building or room from novel to novel after ten or fifteen years have passed!

A fantastic example: Hogwarts from year to year in the Harry Potter series. How the school is different under new management in book five, with all of Professor Umbridge’s notices getting plastered ALL OVER the place. Or how the Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor’s office–physically the same room–looks, smells, and feels entirely different based on who the teacher is that year.

PERSONALITY CONTINUITY

This is always heavy, heavy content editing, so it’s very different from the quick, surface-level details we’ve been talking about so far.

We all know characters, like people, need to change, grow, and develop as they progress through their stories. But those changes shouldn’t necessarily happen all at once, and they should make sense. They should be sensible progressions from who they character is at the start and how he or she adapts to changing circumstances.

ITEM CONTINUITY: WHERE IS THAT THING????

Where did my characters leave that spell book? More importantly, their horses? Do they suddenly have them with them again, without ever going back for them?

And did they just leave a location without taking their sacks with them? My characters, at least in “The Crimson League,” are on the move a lot. So making sure they don’t leave necessary things behind them, when an exit or departure is clearly described, is important.

How has continuity been tough for you to tackle? What mistakes do you find yourself on the lookout for, because you know you’re apt to make them?

Victoria Grefer is the author the Herezoth trilogy, which begins with “The Crimson League” and has new editions coming out this fall. She also has a writer’s handbook out, titled “Writing for You: A Novelist’s Guide to the Craft of Fiction.”

If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy Victoria’s other posts about editing. You can also sign up to follow this blog by email at the top right of the page.

4 Reasons Typos Matter In Your Published Novel

No, not really. Not with a typo. Still, though.... Keep an eye out for them!

No, not really. Not with a typo. Still, though…. Keep an eye out for them!

The dreaded typo…. I think we authors sometimes have nightmares about them. They chase us, horrible monsters spouting terrible grammar.

Truth be told, I think we all understand that perfection is near unattainable, and that the best proofreader is going to miss a couple of things. Even with multiple people going through your novel, some typos will probably slip through, and that’s all right.

It’s not my goal here to wake your inner anxiety demons.

Readers are human too. They understand. As long as the typos are few and far between and not endemic and indicative of poor editing or sloppy writing, most people are going to overlook a spare, random typo or two.

Still, the fewer the better where typos are concerned. There is no contesting that. And while perfectionism to the point of anxiety is not healthy, it’s not good to get complacent about typos either. To think, “Oh, it’s just a typo. Who cares?”

Here are some major reasons why.

1. TYPOS CAN BE EMBARRASSING IF THEY READ A SPECIFIC WAY.

Sometimes the difference in one letter makes a huge difference. A single letter. I used to be a Spanish teacher back in my days of grad school grudgery, and the example I would always use with my students was “año.”

You see, you give your age in Spanish by literally saying, “I have this many years.”

  • “Tengo veinte años” means “I am twenty years old.”
  • “Tengo veinte anos” means “I have twenty anuses.”

These kinds of situations exist in every language.  And even though your intent is clear, it’s still embarrassing to have a typo that serious in something you’ve written.

Never forget… English is not immune.

The words “public” and “pubic” are one letter off. And since “pubic” is a legitimate, correctly spelled word, no spell check is going to flag it for you.

Having nightmares yet?

2. TYPOS CAN CAUSE CONTINUITY ISSUES.

I want to talk more about continuity in my next post. Continuity is  important in fiction; that’s the major key here where this post is concerned. And typos can mess it all up.

Mistakenly typing one character’s name for another can transport one character nonsensically across a room or have him say something that doesn’t make sense. It can ruin your dialogue.

The difference between “he” and “she,” and the possible reference to different characters, is a single “s.”

An unneeded negative can also cause lots of problems. And they’re simple enough to create…. You reword a sentence while editing, forgetting or overlooking that pesky little “not” or “n’t,” and you’ve got a sentence saying the opposite of what it used to say.

Final proofreads are always good to catch mistakes like that. Because mistakes will get edited INTO your novel. I guarantee it.

3. SPELL CHECK PROGRAMS AUTOCORRECT INCORRECTLY.

Just ask anyone who owns an iPhone about “autocorrect.” It’s a nightmare. You type what you want to say, the program changes it, and suddenly what you literally typed is not what the message says.

Many word processing programs have settings to do this same thing.

4. A TYPO CAN LOOK LIKE A GRAMMAR ERROR. EEK!

I have always hated this. I mean, I’ve always loathed the fact that it’s true, but alas…. a typo can make the most informed grammar guru look like he or she doesn’t know the rules.

“To” and “Too” are one letter off. So is “Two.”

“Who” and “Whom”? Same thing.

“It’s” and “Its.”

Again, not a major deal when all is said and done. If you use the rule consistently 150 times, readers aren’t going to think you don’t know the rule because of a typo on time 151. But it’s better to get it right the first time than have to worry that you are representing yourself in a poor light.

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On Authorial “Frauditis”

1000622_worried_man_against_white_backgroundFeeling like a writer fraud…. I think this happens to all of us authors, for various reasons. A big case of frauditis struck me this morning, and it’s all because I needed to look something up in one of my Herezoth novels.

That happens when you’re writing a companion novel. I’m only a chapter or two in, so this is the first time I’ve gone ahead and pulled up the file for one of my older books.

FRAUDITIS

I got to reading a page or two of “The Magic Council,” and I felt like some small changes in wording could make a positive difference. Some reviews of “The Crimson League” mention it’s a little wordy. So now I’m feeling very, very tempted to put this new novel on hold while I fix up the first novels, then hire an editor to do more work.

Yes, I am feeling the effects of “frauditis” very strongly. Every artist knows the symptoms:

  • that unnatural warm tingle down your spine as you think, “What have I done, thinking I could publish? That I could write something worth reading?”
  • that longing to go back in time and write things differently, or go about the process a different way
  • that tendency to compare your work with the great success stories of history
  • that overall cloud of doubt, shame, and self-criticism that yells at your inner perfectionist to come out and play

FRAUDITIS AS COMMON WRITER’S COLD

I figured comparing frauditis to the common cold works on a number of levels. And those levels exemplify the major takeaway points of this post:

First, frauditis is COMMON. It afflicts all of us. It doesn’t mean you aren’t a good writer. And it doesn’t mean, if you’re not quite there yet, you don’t have potential. It’s part of the process, part of being an artist, and it even has some positive results: it keeps our egos in check.

Secondly, frauditis takes a toll. Like the common cold, when we have it we’re not at 100%. We might not get quite as much written, or feel quite as excited or energized about our ongoing projects. The quality of our writing might drop.

That is okay for a short period. We can write more later. We can rewrite. The side effects are nothing to beat yourself up about. Get wrapped up in self-judgment about how much you’re producing, and you might find yourself starting a vicious, self-perpetuating circle that further depletes you as well as your writing.

Thirdly, like the common cold, frauditis should be something short-lived. At least, it’s nothing to be alarmed about if it flares up once in a while, and then fades as natural, wonderful excitement about your story and characters takes over. That’s how it SHOULD work.

Extended, chronic frauditis that impedes productivity is something else: an entirely different issue that could well have serious underlying causes, such as depression or anxiety disorders. That isn’t what I’m talking about here (though you are definitely not alone if you’re in that boat. I’m right there with you.)

MY NEXT STEPS

Despite my frauditis, overall I have pretty good reviews. I worked extensively with beta readers and wrote for years before I published, so it’s not as though I put out a first draft or something like that. But I still think I could represent myself better.

More importantly, perhaps, I think I could do my characters greater justice. Time to get a second edition together, I think! Reviews of the first editions are strong enough that I plan to keep them available for purchase on Kindle. This is for a number of reasons:

  • Anyone who downloaded an older version can download a future, updated version for no charge. Amazon has that awesome policy.
  • I updated the book’s description so that it notes an updated version is coming. So people should know to hold off buying if they don’t want the first version. (Looking forward to a BIG re-release celebration!!!)
  • My reviews are largely positive, and I don’t want to lose record of them or what aid they are responsible for prompting Amazon’s computer system to give me in terms of promotion.
  • I’m not really marketing or selling my trilogy right now anyway. Sales are so slow they’re pretty nonexistent, so this is largely a non-issue anyway.

I’ve been considering putting together second editions for a while. Now that I have a job, I can do that in my off time and not be stressed about finding work.

I think the extensive distance I have from my trilogy–not to mention my experience writing this blog–will help me a LOT. Returning to it will help me refresh my knowledge base about Herezoth while I work on my companion novel. And it will be crazy fun to return to my characters!

RELATED POSTS

How a Focused, Limited “Baby Edit” Can Help Improve A Writer’s Style

businessman-with-the-notebook-3-1362248-mWhen it comes to the quality of our writing–especially our fiction–it’s easy to overlook how even a small change can constitute a drastic improvement. Yes, this post is about that dreading editing phase!

But don’t worry: I’m not talking about in-depth, nitty-gritty content editing here. (That’s another post.) Not every editing pass needs to be, or should be, all about the structure of the story, continuity, and whether your characters are making believable choices.

Sometimes, “baby edits” are just as helpful. There are three times I personally would recommend these simpler, less drastic editing passes, although obviously, everyone writes differently, and your process might not match up with mine.

  • I write on pen and paper first sometimes. I’ll get a “baby edit” in while transcribing to the computer.
  • After a first draft, but before that read-through where I don’t change a thing (I take notes instead), is another opportunity for a “baby edit.” A baby edit here could make my read-through less distracting, allowing me to focus on story, on cohesiveness and plot/character development, rather than lack of polish. (NOTE: I have never done a baby edit here, but the idea makes sense.)
  • As part of a proofread after editing, in the final stages of things.

Particularly during transcription or at the end stages, baby edits are tremendously helpful to me. However, the downside to any editing before that read-through: I always end up cutting and rearranging a lot from my first drafts. This might render baby edits made before those cuts ineffectual, though practice editing and strengthening my sentence structure is never a full or true waste.

WHAT IS A “BABY EDIT”?

A “baby edit” is exactly what it sounds like: an easy, surface-level edit that shouldn’t be too invasive or too timely. If it’s either of those things, you aren’t doing a true “baby edit.”

A “baby edit” is meant to adjust and improve the flow and sound of your writing, without really affecting the story or its structure. Some examples of things I clean up during a “baby edit”:

  • WORDS REPEATED IN A SENTENCE OR PARAGRAPH. If I use the word “wall” three times in a short space, for instance, I try to find some way to reword my writing that is more varied, less bland.
  • GETTING RID OF EXTRANEOUS DIALOGUE TAGS AND DIRECT ADDRESS. Because I totally overuse both.
  • VARYING TRANSITIONAL PHRASES. I have a limited number of transitional phrases, like “then,” “next,” and “after that,” that I tend to beat into the ground.  This is why, even better than trading out one phrase for another, is:
  • ELIMINATING TRANSITIONAL PHRASES AND OTHER WORD CRUFT. When possible, I try to get away from such phrases altogether. Especially at the start of a sentence.
  • QUICK GRAMMAR FIXES. Dangling participles especially. I hate those suckers. If you’re not familiar with how to recognize them, here’s a fast and easy guide.
  • MAKING PASSIVE VOICE ACTIVE. Because this never weakens your writing.
  • MAKING A MORE PRECISE WORD CHOICE. Just yesterday, transcribing from my notebook, I changed the sentence, “That took their attention” to “That claimed their attention.” Much cleaner and more specific.

Baby edits don’t have to be permanent. They generally serve, for me, to fix the most distracting of my bad style tendencies in a first draft so that I can then go on to focus on big picture stuff a bit more easily. After that, of course, I always return to the nitty-gritty of grammar and “how things sound.”

Do you like “baby edits”? Have you found that you do an editing pass at some point focused on those things?

Here is a quick list of some of the writing tics, or grammar issues, you might want to focus on in a baby edit:

“Being a Martha”: Christ’s advice about anxiety

Victoria Grefer:

This reblog does not take the place of my regularly scheduled Sunday post, but I hope it might enhance it.

On my faith-based blog, “The Female Chestertonion,” I recently posted about anxiety, and where I go as a Christian to find peace when I get anxious.

There is SO MUCH that causes anxiety in writing….

-The fear that our writing isn’t good. Or that people won’t like it.
-The fear that we just don’t match up to the skill of other writers.
-Bad reviews.
-The reluctance to share what we have created.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Inner editors cause a LOT of stress. Because of that, I wanted to share this post. If you happen to be a faith-filled kind of person, these resources might prove as helpful to you as they have to me to quell the anxiety that comes with being an artist.

Originally posted on The Female Chestertonian:

thinking-kid-1409438-m Hi. My name is Victoria, and I’m a “Martha.”

Are you a Martha too?

When I was a kid growing up in/around New Orleans, I attended weekly Mass at a parish called St. Martha, so needless to say, I know a lot about her. Turns out we have a lot in common: namely that whole “running around, doing this and doing that, and being constantly anxious” thing.

Every year around St. Martha’s feast day we would get that Gospel passage in which Martha features front and center. You might know the one; it’s a beautiful story about Jesus visiting his friends Martha, Mary, and perhaps their brother Lazarus (whom He later raised from the dead).

As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary (who) sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him…

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