Your Next Great Idea

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Whenever you’re feeling stuck, the worst thing you can do is sit at the computer. You’re far better off getting up and walking around. Movement creates a sense of energy. Try getting up and acting out what your characters would do. Better yet, say what your characters would say. Become the character unless you’re surrounded by lots of people who will think you are crazed.

An hour later, you’re back in front of the screen and waiting for the end of a chapter to hit you.

Another drill I regularly do is reading my stories from the beginning in order to get in the character’s frame of mind. Grab your I-Pad, find a different location, and read aloud from the beginning of the manuscript. Ignore the urge to edit.

Writing and Rewriting, Revising and Editing

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“Good stories are not written. They are rewritten.” Phyllis Whitney

“The first draft is a skeleton….just bare bones.

The rest of the story comes later with revising.” Judy Blume 

Judy Blume knows a lot about writing for children and understands that revising is part of the writing process. Do check out her site as she has a lot to offer new writers.

The topic today is revision or rewriting. From books for the very young to fiction for adults. All writers share one common practice–rewriting. I have learned this first hand with the publication of my new book Stink Bomb.

Telling you that a book must be rewritten, revised, edited, etc. is one thing. Doing the hard work of rearranging the words is another task entirely. Revising seems like a daunting task, but in the end the well crafted manuscript is worth the effort.

Elmore Leonard put it this way- “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

In my book Stink Bomb, the rewriting process meant seeing the story more clearly through the main character’s point of view. Often, that’s what the process of rewriting entails–following your POV character more closely as they wander through each of your scenes. Revising can also mean removing a minor character, changing the setting, or making the dialogue sound more relevant for your audience. Revising usually means cutting parts of a story as well.

A tip if you’re about to do some rework on your current novel or essay. Print it out, grab some colorful pens, and go to a different location. In other words, get out of your normal work environment as you attempt to look at your writing piece with fresh eyes.


The Work of Writing

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First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!- Ray Bradbury

Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he’ll eventually make some kind of career for himself as writer.- Ray Bradbury

These quotes really speak to me. We often talk of inspiration as writers, but it is easy to forget that writing is hard work. Ray Bradbury knew this well.

Ray Douglas Bradbury (August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012) was an American fantasy, science fiction, horror and mystery fiction writer. Best known for his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 (1953) and for the science fiction and horror stories gathered together as The Martian Chronicles (1950) and The Illustrated Man (1951), Bradbury was one of the most celebrated 20th-century American writers. Many of Bradbury’s works have been adapted into comic books, television shows and films.

After a story is conceived and a first draft is written, the work begins. Although my book Stink Bomb is only 17,572 it has been a challenge to hone every chapter and sentence to make the book click. I do no think of myself as a great writer, but I am persistent. I actually was telling my wife this the other day. It is this quality of hard, constant labor that will hopefully take me to some type of career in children’s fiction.


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– Look closely at each chapter. If you can take out a chapter and the plot will still make sense, is it really necessary? Should some events be folded in with others?

– Do the relationships between your characters develop and change and become more complicated as the book goes on?

– What do your characters want? Is it apparent to the reader? Do they have both conscious and unconscious motivations?

– Do you know what your writing tics are? Do you overuse adverbs, metaphors, facial expressions, non-“said” dialogue tags, or interjections? Have you removed them?

– Do you overuse certain words or phrases? Is your word choice perfect throughout?

– Does your book come to a completely satisfying conclusion? Does it feel rushed?

– Do your main characters emerge from the book irrevocably changed?

– Are your characters distinguishable? Does it make sense to combine minor characters?

– Do each of your scenes make dramatic sense on their own as well as move the overall plot forward?


The Revision Checklist

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Let’s face it, we all need to revise. Whether we’re editing a short story or reworking that novel, there is always plenty of editing to do. Writing is really about rewriting and revision.  These revising tips can help.

-Does the plot arc start close enough to the beginning that you won’t lose the reader?

– Does your protagonist alternate between up and down moments?

– Are you able to trace the major plot arcs throughout the book?

– Do you have enough conflict?

– Does the reader see both the best and worst characteristics of your characters?

– Do your characters have backstories? Do these impact the plot?

– Is the pacing correct?

– Is your voice consistent? Is it too chatty or sarcastic?

– Is the tense completely consistent? Is the perspective consistent?

– Is there enough description to help the reader feel grounded in the characters’ world?

– Are momentous events given the weight they deserve?

Editing Tips

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Another editing trick is looking at your chapters in terms of whitespace. Look at the whitespace to text ratio on the printed copy. This is a great way to identify with the reader.

Whitespace is where the reader’s eyes take a quick break or where they absorb what they’ve read.

Our eyes instinctively search out whitespace. Being able to recognize a good text to whitespace balance is almost an art form.

When in doubt, find a book you really enjoyed reading and examine the balance. You will find that your eyes need a rest, especially when reading children’s books. It matters.

You want a mix of both whitespace and dark text. Too much whitespace on a page means that you wrote too much dialogue and one-liners and not enough paragraph narrative. Too much dark text causes readers will start skimming.

Paragraphs should be broken into readable chunks.

Editing Tips

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Format your manuscript like a published book.

I usually make quite a few files of my book depending on how many edits I do on a book, but it is a good idea to set the margins correctly on all the books in case you want to self-publish. I learned this the hard way.

Format it so it looks like a book you’d find in a bookstore, one of similar genre. Single spaced. Sized according to trade paperback (5.5 x 8.5 or 6 x 9). 1/4 to 1/2 inch margins. Then print it out when you’re ready to do a final edit. It is always a good idea to do at least one paper edit.

Seeing your work resemble an actual book is the first stage of your final edits. You need to see how it physically looks. After you’ve completed all editing, you can reformat the layout and size.

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