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General fiction

re: When Is It Wrong to Use Real Place Names in Fiction?

in General fiction/Promotion by

Dear Editor…

If I’m trying to make Los Angeles like a main character in my novel, can I use real names of places in Los Angeles or should I use fake names? There are some autobiographical undertones to this story and there’s a restaurant that I wanted to use. It’s been open for eight or nine decades and has multiple locations….but maybe I should give it a fictional name?

Sincerely,
L.A. Scribe

Dear L.A. Scribe…
In most cases, real-name it. With public spaces like parks or neighborhoods, landmarks like The Beverly Hills Hotel, chains like Starbucks, getting real is a must-do when setting is essentially a character. I’m less gung-ho about real-naming small businesses or other more personal places if the setting involves uncomfortable fictional circumstances. A fictional assault in Starbucks is one thing; it’s very different in John Smith’s muffler shop. I worry about the impact on the people involved with those places. It seems invasive. Legally it’s unlikely there’ll be an issue, but fake names protect the innocent, as the saying goes. Do consider: While small places make for rich detail, they can be transitory, which dates a book. Are fake places wrong for your story? Then relocate to places you can comfortably real-name. The restaurant you cite sounds landmark enough, but why not ask? The owners will probably love having their place in a book. Advertising for them, promo event possibilities for you, fun for all!

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: How Much Time Would an Editor Give Me to Revise?

in Creative Process/General fiction/Publishing Biz by

Dear Editor…

How much time would an author be given to revise a novel manuscript after receiving editing instructions from her editor? Let’s say the manuscript’s about 75,000 or 80,000 words. I want to make sure I’m mentally ready when I do get a contract!

Sincerely,
Mac

Dear Mac…

Every revision is unique, of course. A rushed book isn’t in anyone’s best interest, so your editor will plot a schedule that lets you be successful. They’ll take your writing style into consideration. (Easier to do after your first book with your editor.) They’ll adjust for the depth and complexity of the revision. (The editorial notes require rethinking characterization or major plot points? You’ll get elbow room.) Other factors aren’t transparent to you at home awaiting your notes and deadline. Like the time needs of your whole book team (designer, copyeditor, production manager) and the production needs of the books sharing your pub list. And like outside factors that impact your marketing campaign. (Got a royal wedding in your story? Your publication may be timed for a real-life royal wedding!) For the sake of numbers, I’ll assume the most generic scenario: I’d expect a novelist to get a month for a straightforward revision, and up to two months for a more complicated one. Let’s flesh this out by getting real: Readers, how much time did you get to revise your pubbed novel(s)?

Happy writing revising!
The Editor

re: Blasting Best Friend Stereotypes

in Characterization/General fiction by

Dear Editor…

Some readers say my main character’s best friend is a stereotype of best friends. She’s supposed to help her friend and that’s what she does. It’s not like this is her story. I’m frustrated. Can you help?

Sincerely,
Anonymous

Dear Anonymous…

Ah yes, the bestie stereotype. There are a few of them, like the boy-crazy pal to your blossoming-flower protagonist. Try this: Imagine sidelining your protagonist and giving Bestie the ball. It’s her book now. Write scenes with her as the lead. What new traits, interests, flaws, and goals would she reveal when it’s all on her shoulders? If she’s not revealing any, push her harder. Ask her questions with no right answer and see which shade of gray she picks. Move her to a new scenario, or even to someone else’s book. Write a pitch for a novel about her and her problems. Apply what you learn to your original story. Let her motives and distractions show up. People tend to be self-interested, so besties shouldn’t be all about the protagonist. Bestie would still reflect, amplify, or provoke your protagonist, but a separate life would be evident. She’ll be a richer, unique character—and her contribution to your star’s arc will be stronger.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Choosing When to Chuck a Joke

in Creative Process/General fiction/Narrative Voice/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’m seeking confirmation. If a joke/gag doesn’t advance the plot/story, is it best to chuck it? As I revise my middle grade fantasy manuscript, that’s what I’m inclined to do, especially if the gag/joke, while possibly funny enough, stalls the advancement of the story. Got to keep things moving, right?

Sincerely,
The Jokester

Dear Jokester…

I say that’s mostly right. Plot advancement is a crucial gauge for keep-it-or-chuck-it choices. Just don’t let good intentions regarding plot advancement take you on some joke-axing rampage that squelches your humor in service of brevity and focus. As with all things writing, revising humor is about finding balance. A joke that doesn’t directly advance the plot can stay if it’s organic to the story, evolving from the character or situation. That contributes to the personality of the project, which is essential, too. Be tough with these criteria. The jokes that don’t pass the test with room to spare—the funny-for-funny’s-sake gags—should get the ax.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: The Dreaded Flashback

in General fiction/Plot by

Dear Editor…

In my outline, my main character finds out my supporting character has been manipulating her from the beginning and wants answers. Initially, I was going to write a flashback chapter to explain how that came about, but I’ve read readers and writers hate flashbacks. The flashback was going to be his explanation. How else could I achieve this?

Sincerely,
J

Dear J…

Just as there are anti-prologuers, there are anti-flashbackers. Don’t let them dictate your storytelling choices. I hate the thought of writers avoiding devices that’re right for their stories because they fear knee-jerk rejection of the device itself. What bears consideration is what causes anti-flashbackism: Sometimes flashbacks slam the brakes on a story’s forward momentum because they throw us backward. Sometimes they feel too pat. Now consider that in real life, demanding answers from one’s nemesis requires a present-day showdown, with accusations, denials, miscommunications, and missed opportunities for clarity, recompense, and reconciliation. Juicy stuff! Why not experiment with such a scene? Even if it feels scary to write, stay with the experiment since those feelings could be a sign you’re avoiding “pat” and writing something rich, cathartic, and thoroughly satisfying.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Revision Week: Marie Force

in Creative Process/General fiction/Revision Week/Romance Novels by

Dear Readers…

Revision Week ends with a flourish thanks to the fabulous Marie Force, author of some of our favorite contemporary romance series. Marie has sold more than five million copies of her books worldwide, some self-published, others traditionally published. She is talented, prolific, and here to give us a glimpse into her process. Today also brings us to the grand finale giveaway: a Free Full Manuscript Edit by the Editor. Read the full post for giveaway details and Marie’s interview.

Marie ForceMarie Force is the New York Times bestselling author of over 50 contemporary romances, including the Gansett Island Series, which has sold more than 2.3 million books, and the Fatal Series from Harlequin Books, which has sold more than 1.2 million books. In addition, she is the author of the Green Mountain Series as well as the new erotic romance Quantum Series, written under the slightly modified name of M.S. Force. For more intriguing insights, pop over to Marie’s website and read her full bio to learn about her experiences as an author who works with traditional publishers while also self-publishing to great success. The tenth book in Marie’s Fatal Series, Fatal Identity, comes out July 26.

Marie’s interview follows the Rafflecopter form/entry link for today’s Free Full Edit by the Editor giveaway. Scroll down for her full interview.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

You’ve told me you work toward a publishable first draft. How does being a “pantser” affect your efforts to reach “publishable” in a one draft? I write from the beginning and go straight through, going back repeatedly to the beginning to edit, tweak, refresh, update, and remind myself of what I need to get done in the remaining pages. Re-reading is a huge part of my process and usually sparks new plot ideas. I just did a re-read on my work in progress today to get back in the writing groove after the weekend.
FatalAffair
At what point will you typically stop to re-read? I stop to re-read whenever I feel the need to remind myself of where I started. Sometimes I do it frequently during the writing of a book and other times I only do it once or twice. It’s always a good reminder of where I’ve been and where I’m intending to go with the story.

MaidforLoveWhat role do critique partners, beta readers, or professional editors play in your process? I’ve never had critique partners. I don’t want another writer’s voice inside my head when I’m writing. I have three longtime beta readers and one of my team members acts as a front-line reader, too. They are helpful in identifying missing words (my specialty), questions that need to be answered, and any plot holes that might need to be addressed. I have a copy editor and proofreader for my indie books. My traditionally edited books get some minor developmental edits and line edits, but they are never much.

Treading WaterYour first book took you three years to write. Can you share a key insight or change in your process that have contributed to your current ability to write books in weeks and months? I learned all the biggest and hardest lessons with my first book, Treading Water, which I massively overwrote. I ended the first draft with a bloated 155,000-word manuscript in which I was highly indulgent of my muse. I’ve roped her into submission since then, and that’s never happened again. My second book, the follow-on to the first one, was written in 90 days and came in at 90,000 words. I’ve hardly touched a single word of it in the nearly ten years since I finished it. Whereas I continued to tweak and fine-tune the first one until I published it six years after writing The End. By then, it was a much leaner, meaner 92,000 words, and it was the same exact story. Those are the kind of lessons I didn’t need to learn twice. Now if a scene I want to write doesn’t move character X’s story forward in a meaningful way, it doesn’t get written. I’m pretty ruthless when it comes to getting rid of the bloat and keeping my story zipping forward.

VirtuousNewHow do you know you’ve got the final draft? The last thing I do is read the manuscript on my Kindle, the way a reader would. By the time I get to The End, I’ve already edited the first half numerous times, so final edits tend to focus on the second half. Once I am able to read the book all the way through without stopping for any reason, it’s done. That usually happens fairly close to actually finishing the writing, because I’ve been fine-tuning all along. That’s how my first draft becomes a finished book.

Thank you, Marie!

You can follow Marie on Facebook, Twitter @marieforce and on Instagram, join one of her many reader groups, and get on her mailing list for news about new books and upcoming appearances in your area. Contact Marie at marie@marieforce.com.

FatalIdentity

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Re: How to Not Annoy Readers?

in Characterization/Creative Process/General fiction/Plot/Point of View by

Dear Editor…

I have a story idea: Two strangers’ lives tragically collide in a hit & run accident, leaving the DRIVER with haunting visions of the VICTIM. Driver’s visions of Victim become more desperate and her guilt more debilitating, so she decides to return to save Victim—and herself. My question: What do you think of this non-traditional structure: Book 1: Victim’s POV pre-crash; Book 2: Driver’s POV post crash; Book 3: Victim’s POV & resolution of Driver’s story. I worry about leaving Victim’s story in limbo for all of BOOK 2. Readers won’t know if the protagonist they just spent 100 pages with is dead or alive. Is that enthralling, or just plain irritating? I know I could do alternating POV chapters, but I don’t care for that style. Ideas?

Thanks!
Plotting Author

Dear Plotting Author…

The unknown fate could be cool. Try it! Your awareness of potential irritation means you’ll strive for a story that nails “enthralling.” I have two recommendations for your proposed structure: 1) Keep Victim present in Book 2. Not physically, but through Driver’s story. Perhaps this is a small town and after the crash Driver encounters people that readers met in Book 1. These people are doing business that somehow relates to Victim, none knowing Victim was in an accident. Perhaps Driver discovers a link to Victim, or a hint as to Victim’s identity. The point is to make Book 2 as much about Victim as it is about Driver. Don’t abandon Victim yourself. Keep her with us and even advance her story, building readers’ desire for her rescue beyond basic justice. Then the unknown fate isn’t gimmick but an essential contribution to both characters’ arcs. 2) In Book 1 Victim must have her own story of struggle substantial enough to carry the book to its cliffhanger. Victim’s plot and character arcs in Book 1 should then stoke Driver’s arcs in Book 2, with all arcs merging in Book 3. Like those ideas?

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Am I Locked into a Character’s Nickname Once I Use It?

in Characterization/General fiction by

Dear Editor…

When giving your character a nickname, should you use that after it’s introduced or can you go back and forth between names?

Sincerely,
H. S.

Dear H. S. …

I’m a big believer in consistency, which I think helps readers focus on what really matters in a story without distractions. Random name-switching is soaked in distraction potential. Once you introduce the nickname into the narration, stay with it. Now, if there’s a strong theme-, style-, or story-related justification for switching, okay, fine, do it—just make sure the switching contributes to the reading experience more than flusters it. Even devices intentionally deployed can hurt instead of enhance. If you want some elbow room on this, you’ve got it with the other characters, who can switch between the given name and nickname according to their personalities and relationship to your character, just as friends and family will do in real life. It all boils down to facilitating reader focus and enjoyment.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Word Count Intimidation

in Creative Process/General fiction by

Dear Editor…

As I understand it, a young adult novel needs to have a word count of between 40,000 and 60,000 words. The thought of having to write that much paralyses me at word one. I don’t know how I’ll be able to write that much, how I’ll be able to stretch my story and whether I may be wasting my time. What should I do?

Sincerely,
JC

Dear JC…

Well, at least you know your freak-out trigger. Now let’s take aim at it. I’ve got two assignments for you. First, be done with numbers. Pledge not to count words until you type THE END on the final scene. Do not set word count goals for your writing sessions. Do not set a word count goal for your finished manuscript. Word count means nothing to you if you haven’t even written the story, so you don’t care about it anyway. Second, stop thinking about “completing the manuscript.” Shift your entire concept of writing this book to scene-writing rather than manuscript completion, then make each writing session goal be about working on a specific scene. “Today I’m going to write that fight between Max and Bob… today I’m going to see how Jane reacts to Joan’s news.” Scene are conversations, and conflicts, and action. Scenes are story, not stats. You can outline your story by viewing it as a sequence of scenes; you can revise your story by attacking scenes and scene sequences. None of that requires counting. Trigger eliminated, and story unleashed.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Why Does My Action “Read Slow”?

in Formatting/Punctuation/Grammar/General fiction/Narrative Voice/Plot by

Dear Editor…

The feedback on my mystery manuscript was that it has lots of action but “reads slow.” The reader gave one bit of elaboration: “Some of the paragraphs ‘feel’ long even though they aren’t.” I’m not sure what to do with that. Suggestions?

Sincerely,
Confused

Dear Confused…

You might be overstuffing sentences to get it all in quickly. The action. The info. The setting. The revelations. This can lead to long, complex sentences with multiple actions, heavily modified nouns, interruptions, and copious commas, em-dashes, and parentheses. Example: “Digging my hand into my pocket, I ran to the huge, double-bolted, metal doors—just installed last week by my ultra-paranoid, hippie parents—hoping desperately that I could dig out the ancient bronze key in time.”  That might be fine amongst a variety of sentence lengths and styles (such as a direct statements or fragments). But sentence after sentence, page after page…. It’s a lot of work for a reader. Slow work. And it’s hard to pick out the most important action; everything has the same weight. Thus, dense text can feel flat. Increase sentence variety to create rhythmic ups/downs. Make some things stand out while others float in the background, creating depth. If a detail isn’t vital, ditch it. When using opening clauses, avoid repeatedly piling action upon action. Lastly, go easy on the adjectives. Inform, don’t bury.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: How Can I Make Readers Cry?

in General fiction/Romance Novels by

Dear Editor…

I cried when I wrote my romance manuscript. My beta readers aren’t crying. What am I doing wrong?

Sincerely,
Boo-Hoo

Dear Boo-Hoo…

A cathartic cry is a whole story in the making; no single plot event triggers it. Examine your entire story to be sure every plot point amps up emotional tension. Since plot serves character arcs in romances, events should pierce the characters’ deepest fears and most passionate hopes repeatedly. Does Female Lead hope to vanquish Bad Guy by herself but fear that Male Lead wants to take over? Have her misread his offers to help as attempts to control. She fears being insignificant or thought incapable. Then let her reconsider, get hopeful about him, only to doubt again because she always returns to that fear. Each time she opens up, sock her in that fear so she scurries inside herself again. Keep the characters hopeful or determined enough to keep opening up until finally you don’t sock them but let them have what they’ve earned. In this case, Female Lead will see that her guy wants to be a partner, not the power holder. Hopes and fears are universal, so readers relate to them. Emotion lurks in that link— attacking it is to attack readers, making them vulnerable and game for a good cry.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Does Paragraph Length Matter?

in Creative Process/Formatting/Punctuation/Grammar/General fiction by

Dear Editor…

Do paragraphs have to be the same size?

Sincerely,
Adele

Dear Reader…

Unless we’re talking about a deliberately stylized narrative or something text-booky or manual-like where paragraph uniformity can be an organizing tool, I recommend variety in your paragraph lengths. Your story’s rhythm is on the line. Pages full of uniform paragraph blocks can create a staccato feel that may wow at dramatic moments but overwhelm across an entire book. Variety relaxes readers, helping them sink past your words and into your story. Try to think of paragraphing not as a technical decision but as a rhythmic tool. Do you want the story to energize? Lay down a bunch of short paragraphs. Bam, bam, bam! Do you want it to calm down? Time for some long, rich paragraphs. Ahh…. Time to shake things up or reveal or shock your readers? Flow out a succession of long paragraphs then kick in good and hard with a single-sentence punch of a paragraph. Embrace the power of rhythmic storytelling and manipulate your story’s tone, tension, and impact.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: How Come If I Stay’s Opening Works?

in General fiction/Openings/Plot/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Readers…

Last week a writer—Diane—asked me why some current bestsellers that start with backstory or as the day is dawning can make those slower beginnings work so well? She specifically asked about The Fault in Our Stars and If I Stay. I posted my answer about The Fault in Our Stars last week. I think this is such a useful exploration of story beginnings that I’m taking up that same question today, this time parsing out If I Stay‘s opening.

The Editor

Dear Diane…

Gayle Forman’s If I Stay opens with what looks like a no-no: the protagonist joins her family for breakfast and they discuss plans for the day. Too often such “dawning day” openings just introduce the protagonist and show her “home base” as a reference point before she leaves for adventure. A strong opening doesn’t just introduce and ground—it intrigues readers in ways that prompt further reading. Forman intrigues by triggering and stoking anticipation. Her chapter header is “7:09 a.m.”, setting up the expectation that a big thing will happen any minute. Then the first two sentences tell us some big “it” is pending. Next, the family debates whether to stay off the icy roads. By then, readers—who know they’ve chosen a book about a girl deciding to live or die after she’s the only survivor of her family’s car crash—have their metaphoric hands over their eyes, thinking, “No! Stay home!” Forman stokes anticipation even as she shows the loving family her protagonist will lose, setting up the heroine’s emotional anguish. Dawning day, yes, but that dawn is loaded.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Should Chapter Titles Be Banished?

in General fiction/Narrative Voice by

Dear Editor…

I recently heard that some editors don’t like chapter titles, saying they give things away. Should I not use chapter titles?

Sincerely,
Anonymous

Dear Anonymous…

There’s no anti-chapter title movement simmering within the editorial ranks. It’s very much a book-specific call. Chapter titles can convey vital context, set moods, tease forthcoming content, and enhance stylized narratives. If your WIP doesn’t need those things, skip the titles. I recently advised an author to remove chapter titles from her fantasy because it was a high-action story and the titles did give away plot twists without adding benefit. By contrast, I’m reading The Ballad of Lucy Whipple to my sons at bedtime, and I can’t imagine that book without luxurious chapter titles and subtitles suited to the Gold Rush-era setting: “Chapter 1, Summer 1849: In which I come to California, fall down a hill, and vow to be miserable here.” While that telegraphs events, the compelling voice makes us yearn for the spitfire narrator to entertain us with the details. Each night before turning off the light, I read the next chapter’s title out loud then close the book and leave. My boys shriek at the delicious tease.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: How to Balance High Action with Deep Characterization

in Characterization/General fiction/Plot by

Dear Editor…

I’m writing a teen thriller, filled with lots of action. Beta readers say I’ve got the action but that the characters aren’t interacting enough. I don’t really know what they mean, since the protagonist and her protector are in every scene together. They talk all the time! Ideas? Can you recommend some books that do it right?

Thanks,
T. E. S.

Dear T. E. S….

It may be that all their chatter is plot-related fact delivery, backstory delivery, or action-steeped stuff like, “Run! … Is he gone? … We’re safe.” That doesn’t do much to deepen characterizations. Give characters something to talk about and bond/conflict over that isn’t directly related to the plot. Then, to make sure that Something doesn’t feel random and unconnected, work it into the resolution of the story. Kenneth Oppel’s Michael L. Printz Honor Book Airborn balances high action and character interaction. His characters both bond and clash over social class and gender inequality, constantly stumbling over their internalized prejudices even as they both sincerely reject those prejudices. These issues have nothing to do with the pirate raids that make up the major action, yet they create characterization opportunities and eventually factor into how the characters work together to escape the pirates. What say you, Readers? What are your favorite books that balance high action and character interaction?

The Editor

re: What To Do When Your Story Feels “Rushed”

in Characterization/General fiction by

Dear Editor…

My readers are pretty unanimous in their love for my characters, but some say the story feels rushed. I don’t know what to do with this feedback. Any advice?

Thanks,
Anon.

Dear Anon….

Consistent positive response to the characters tells me you’ve developed your character arcs well, so the events in the plot are probably well chosen and executed, and your characterization must be strong to engender such loyalty. I suspect your storytelling is heavy on dialogue and action but lacks depth that makes readers feel fully satisfied when they reach “The End.” It’s the difference between a sweet dessert and a rich one—both are yummy, but only the latter has you walking away from the table feeling full. You can enrich your story by doing a world-building revision pass. I don’t mean dropping in a bunch of setting descriptions to slow the reading. Rather, work in setting details with language that conveys an atmosphere, have the characters act upon and react to props unique to the spirit of that place, and include smells and textures that engage readers’ senses. This enriches the reading experience, making it feel full instead of breezy.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Is the Vietnam Era a Publishing Black Hole?

in General fiction/Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’m writing a MG novel set in 1965 in Midwest America. While the story is about a little girl who wants a dog, the background story touches upon her brother, and the neighbor’s son, both in Vietnam. We learn about the war through letters written by her brother. Recently, I was told that 1965 isn’t historical, and that the Vietnam war is a black hole in the publishing world. Well, then! Is my novel doomed even though the story isn’t non-fiction, and isn’t only about Vietnam?

Sincerely,
Rachel

Dear Rachel…

Deborah Wiles’ award-winning MG novel Countdown (The Sixties Trilogy) proves there’s a place for historical fiction set in 1960s America. And yes, 1965 is “historical”—it’s three generations removed from your target readers, with a distinct cultural landscape. Not that I’m sure you have a historical fiction project. It could be general fiction, with your focus being on the girl and her dog wish rather than on the war. To Kill a Mockingbird isn’t officially “historical fiction” even though it’s set in 1930s Deep South. It’s a story about people, race, class, and coming of age. Lead with your themes and craft strengths when submitting, not your time period. As for “black hole,” don’t look a gift horse in the mouth! An unexploited spot in the market could be gold. Just ask J.K. Rowling, who shopped a wizard book when wizard books were barely a market blip. You may have a better shot than those in a genre that’s hot but saturated. Doomed? Hardly.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Help! Unromantic Me Can’t Write Romantic Scenes

in Characterization/General fiction/Romance Novels/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’m trying to write a romantic scene for a YA novel that I’m writing but I’m the most unromantic person I’ve ever met. Do you have any advice as to how I can get over my unromanticness and write good romance scenes?

Sincerely,
Taylor

Dear Taylor…

Freeze! Put the flowers down. Back away from that box of chocolates. This isn’t about you, it’s about the characters. A great romantic scene grows out of the characters’ emotional connection with each other across all preceding scenes. Ask yourself what each character needs emotionally, then find ways for the other character to satisfy the need. Work this into each shared scene until, finally, a situation arises that brings that need to a climax. That’s when the romance rolls out. A girl who feels epically misunderstood will go weak in the knees when a boy shows that he knows her. Maybe he reads to her from her favorite book when she’s sad. The sound of his voice as it embodies her beloved characters is a turn-on. The way he holds the book in his hands—those gentle yet firm hands she so wants to hold her—is a turn-on. The way he trips over words yet plods onward shows his vulnerability … and is a turn-on. She can’t help it, she reaches out and makes the physical connection. Build up from emotional to physical and your characters (and readers!) will be putty in your hands.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: What Is Speculative Fiction?

in General fiction by

Dear Editor…

I just met someone who told me she’s writing “speculative fiction.” She then described a WIP that I would call paranormal. Would you please explain speculative fiction to me?

Thank you,
T.

Dear T….

Both labels are correct—yours is simply more specific. If your bookstore had a “speculative fiction” corner, you’d see shelves filled with fantasy, paranormal, sci-fi, horror, alternative history, dystopian fiction, and plenty more. These genres all have one thing in common: They explore fantastical versions of reality. What if Abraham Lincoln hunted vampires? What if wizards roamed modern England? What if North America got nuked? What if humans colonized Mars? That writer used the umbrella term, as many agents and editors will do in their short bios. Some people dislike this term, criticizing those who use it as putting on airs. Others object to its occasional use as an alternate term for “science fiction” because that extends the sci-fi label beyond its purest definition as stories based on scientific facts and technology. I find “speculative fiction” a handy term to toss out when referring to fantastical stories in a general way.

Happy writing!
The Editor

 

re: Scare Readers with Your Mind, Not Your Monsters

in Creative Process/General fiction by

Dear Editor…

I want my WIP to totally scare readers, but it hasn’t scared even one of my Beta readers. They agree that the monsters are cool and the chases are exciting, but scary? Not so much. I’m frustrated. Advice?

Sincerely,
Wannabe Scary

Dear Wannabe Scary…

I bet you aren’t digging deeply enough into readers’ psyches—or your own. Readers will never be in physical peril when reading a book, so you can’t rely on monsters jumping out of corners to get them jittery. Instead, trigger a psychological sense of peril in your audience. Try tapping into your own deep-rooted fear, because if something scares you, you’re primed to convey your discomfort in your writing. What scares you about your monsters? Their jaws and claws? Their immortality? Make an actual list. Now consider what makes those things scary for you. Do they symbolize something else, something that’s out of your control? Do they evoke a problem from your past? A fear for your future? Your monsters need to tie into a deeper fear that can resonate with readers. Then focus your plot decisions on pushing that fear relentlessly. That, not the monsters, will freak folks out.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Guest Editor Robin Cruise: When Do You Put “and” Before “then”?

in General fiction/Guest Editors by

Dear Editor…

When you use “and then” in a sentence, is it more clear to use either “and” or “then” versus both? Why would you need the word “and” before “then”?

Thanks,
Natasha

Dear Natasha…

Ah, the best answer for your first question just might be … yes and no! It’s like asking whom you like better—or who is ultimately more useful—your hip, hot aunt Mimi or your deliberate, precise aunt Prissy. Ultimately, it might be that in a pinch each of them is just right in her own way. OK, Mimi-of-the-purple-hair is a little loosey-goosey, and a casual vibe is fine by her. She’s all about rhythm and ease, and she’d be likely to blurt: “I gobbled, burped, and bolted!” As for Aunt Prissy-of-the-sunscreen-and-sensible-shoes? Well, she likes her proverbial ducks lined up in a tidy row—and a clear, linear order for things. From Prissy’s perspective, things don’t tend to happen all at once, in an avalanche, and she prefers a slower, first-things-first mode. Prissy would be more inclined to advise: “I yawned, stretched, and then slowly opened my eyes.” Ultimately, your question is about pacing—and the answer/choice is all yours. You don’t need the word and before then, but … you just might want it, to apply the brakes!

-Guest Editor Robin Cruise
Red Pencil Consulting

Robin Cruise is committed to literacy and has been involved, as both an author and a publishing professional, in creating books for young readers for the past twenty years. Her experience includes more than 15 years with the children’s books division of Harcourt Trade Publishers. Robin lives in Kirkland, Washington, where she is the founder and principal of Red Pencil Consulting. In that capacity she works closely with authors, editors, and others to develop and deliver manuscripts, books, and additional high-quality content for publication and other uses. Contact Robin through her website, www.robincruise.com.

Guest Editor Taryn Fagerness re: Are U.S. Readers OK with International Settings?

in General fiction/Guest Editors by

Dear Editor…

How essential is it to place your story somewhere that’s familiar or, alternatively, exciting to readers? My story demands that it’s placed in either British Columbia, Canada, or Scotland in the UK, but I’ve read that U.S.-based readers mostly want to read stories based in places that they know or are familiar with (anywhere within the U.S.), or they want something exotic (e.g., Thailand, the Philippines). Is this really true? Would an editor ask me to change the location of my story? Has this ever happened to you or anyone you know of?

Sincerely,
Franziska

Dear Franziska…

I think plot matters MUCH more than setting, although, of course, the two are often intertwined. Stephanie Meyers chose Forks for her Twilight series for no other reason than it’s the rainiest town in the U.S. and her vampires sparkle in sunlight. If she had pitched her book solely as being set in Forks, I doubt people would have been excited, but it’s the plot that made the books great. Many authors choose a setting because it’s their hometown, they are familiar with it, and they feel they can write it convincingly. And if you’re writing historical fiction, the setting is chosen for you. But in the end, if you choose your setting for a good reason (and it sounds like you have one), write your setting well, bring the reader there, and your plot is dramatic and gripping, I don’t think it matters if your book is set in a tiny Southern town, Thailand, or Timbuktu. I’ve never heard of an editor asking an author to change settings, although I do know of a Canadian author whose work never sells in the U.S. because the books are just TOO Canadian, obviously written for a Canadian audience, and filled with nuances only Canadians would “get.” On the flipside, as a foreign rights agent, I often hear foreign publishers tell me books are “too American.” For example, YA books set in American high schools tend to get this label—foreign publishers don’t “get” American teenagers. So keep your audience in mind. As long as you write your Scottish/British/Canadian setting in a way that brings your American reader there, it should be fine.

Happy writing,
Taryn Fagerness
Taryn Fagerness Agency

Taryn Fagerness represents foreign rights on behalf of North American literary agents. Before opening the Taryn Fagerness Agency in 2009, Taryn spent five years as the Subsidiary Rights Manager and an Agent at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. She’s sold hundreds of books to foreign, audio, and film markets, and has sold subsidiary rights for New York Times bestselling authors, first time authors, and everyone in between, in nearly all genres including literary fiction, thriller/suspense, commercial fiction, romance, history, self-help, business, and children’s. She has exceptional relationships with foreign co-agents, foreign publishers, and scouts, and she handles all aspects of selling foreign rights from international fair-going to submission, negotiating, and tracking titles through publication and beyond. The territories to which she sells are: Albania, Arabic, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Catalan, China, Czech, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, UK, Ukraine and Vietnam. www.tarynfagernessagency.com

re: When Is Too Many Words Too Many Words?

in Creative Process/General fiction by

Dear Editor…

My fantasy is at 126,000 words; I can probably cut to 115-120K but maybe not to 100K without ruining plot. In a market in which short is seen as more viable, should I worry about this?

Lorie

Dear Lorie…

It’s telling that you think you can cut 6,000-11,000 words. Do it! If you can see those cuts so easily, they’re probably necessary. Avoid indulging in nonessentials (or over-writing), especially when length is an issue. FOCUS is a writing mantra. As for what the market will bear, there’s no definitive “FULL” line. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix clocks in at 257,000 words (766 pages), yet even kids read it. But of course Harry defies most publishing norms. For the rest of us, size matters. Readers are generally daunted by a thick book block, and there’s only so much interior design and paper tweaking can do to slim it. Maybe e-books will change that since we don’t see a physical hunk of paper and ink, but for now, thick can thwart. Can you break your story into two or more episodes? Consider tying up subplots or phases of your story in separate books even as you keep greater character and plot arcs going across multiple installments.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Fictionalizing Real-Life Settings

in Creative Process/General fiction/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

My mc attends a design school in LA closely based on the Fashion Institute (FIDM) there, a fairly well known school. Should I change the name? Details regarding curriculum, location, and the facility will play into the story and her decision to be a student there. Am I allowed to use the material I received in my research trip to the school and NOT call it by its real name and not be “plagiarizing”?

Thanks,
K. R.

Dear K. R….

I see two issues here. Regarding plagiarism, don’t pull words from their promo materials, class materials, or even course titles. Summarize or write fictional materials and course titles. Most readers probably won’t know the difference—or care. More murky is the potential risk in using a private school’s name and staff. Must you be so real? Anybody can sue, forcing you to spend money and time defending yourself, even if their claims ultimately have no legs. Do you want to go down that path? Sure, writers do set stories in private institutions like Yale, using the school’s real name. It depends on how your particular institution feels about its portrayal in your story and how litigious it is when it comes to protecting its “brand.” If the school will get a good or an even portrayal in your book, why not ask its permission? Then you’d have a definitive yes or no. The school might love it! If you don’t want to ask, your safest bet is to fictionalize the elements.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Free Giveaway of Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies & Guest Post by The Editor

in General fiction/Giveaways/Uncategorized by

Dear Readers…

Laura Howard of the blog Finding Bliss has just posted a free giveaway of Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies to go along with a guest post by The Editor. To learn about “chunking” your revision as well as the details of the giveaway, visit ow.ly/dLkfr.

Good luck!

“Revision can be daunting. . . . Why not give your brain a break by breaking your task into focused chunks? With this approach, you’d pick a writing element, say plot, and ignore everything but that. Working Big Picture chunks to small detail chunks rather than page by page, you’d focus not on revising the story but on honing single elements. Gone is that scattered, overwhelmed feeling.”

To read The Editor’s full guest post “Chunking Your Revision,” pop over to Finding Bliss. Don’t forget to enter the book giveaway!

re: Pitching a Novel as Multicultural

in General fiction/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor . . .

Can you refer to your novel as multicultural if only your secondary characters are from a different background, but not your protagonist?

Thank you,
T. J.

Dear T. J….

Readers of diverse cultures want to see themselves and their experiences in a book—and who wouldn’t love to be the star of the book? But if your secondary characters’ specific cultures factor into your plot or themes in significant ways, or if you offer substantial, meaningful looks inside their cultures, then multicultural lit fans will feel satisfied. Teachers, librarians, editors, agents, awards committees, and reviewers seek stories that expose readers to diverse cultural experiences. If you’ve got racial diversity but haven’t done anything significant with it, then “multicultural” is misleading for all. Google a multicultural literature list such as the CCBC’s “30 Multicultural Books Every Teen Should Know.” Can you truly see your book’s title alongside the others without feeling the need to justify its presence? If so, you’re good to go.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Making Sense of “High Concept”

in Creative Process/General fiction/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

There are so many definitions for “high concept” floating around. Can you help me understand what this really means?

M. Moon

Dear M….

Imagine a novel about two best friends in an all-girl high school. In this novel, the protagonist learns an agonizing lesson about true friendship, and she falls in love for the first time but is unable to tell the boy the truth about herself. There are juicy universal teen themes in the book, and it’s wonderfully written. NOW imagine that same story of friendship set in an all-girl school for spies, where each girl speaks 14 languages and knows 7 different ways to kill a man, and the protagonist’s love interest is an “ordinary” boy who thinks she is just an “ordinary” girl. This book has juicy universal teen themes and is wonderfully written, but the spy school adds a distinct, easily articulated concept that pops it out of the pack in a big way. That’s the difference between a “quiet” book and a “high concept” book. The book? Ally Carter’s fab I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You, from the Gallagher Girls series.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: The RIGHT Way to Read a Novel

in General fiction by

Dear Editor…

I can’t be in the room with my husband when he starts a new book. He reads the last chapter first. It’s like nails on a chalkboard to me. It’s wrong! I’m a writer, so I know the author worked hard to lay out the story as she or he did. You should start the story where the author started it, right? Right!?

Slowly Going Crazy in Carlsbad

Dear Slowly Going Crazy in Carlsbad…

Arguments over the correct way to squeeze the toothpaste are the cliché reason for divorce. You may have hit on the real reason. My husband reads the last page first, and, yeah, it’s hard to watch. He says: 1) he wants to know where the story’s going, 2) he wants to know what happens in case he dies, and 3) gosh, what’s the big deal?, it’s not the climax of the book. I’ll let When Harry Met Sally field #2. But 1 and 3 send me back to something my tenth grade English teacher said: enjoyment of a story is not defined by a surprise ending. There’s still much unknown adventure in store for your husband, and he will savor the language, the relationships, the tension and conflict and emotions that build to the climax. As a storyteller, you can appreciate that. If not, keep looking away. This is just a detail—don’t try to change the love of your life. Just buy your own tube of toothpaste and squeeze it however the hell you want and let the man enjoy his book.

Happy reading!
The Editor

re: Are Prologues Taboo?

in General fiction by

Dear Editor…

Are prologues taboo? Some writers have told me just to call it Chapter 1. However, it’s a different format than the rest of the book. Someone else said a prologue has to be a different time period. What can you tell us about prologues?

Sincerely,
Sue

Dear Sue…

A prologue is a valid literary device—but use it knowing that some readers will skip it. Some claim prologues force them to start books twice. Others have been jaded by prologues that convey backstory that should’ve been worked into official chapters. Others swear prologues set in the future are simply teasers stuck in when Chapter 1 isn’t gripping enough. These real pitfalls give prologues a bad name. Be sure your prologue provides setup that readers truly need and that truly can’t be worked into the chapters. Be sure you’re not teasing a future event because you fear your Chapter 1 starts the story at too quiet a moment. Experiment. Dump your prologue and see if the story is fine without it. If the opening is now too quiet, put the blame where it belongs and rewrite Chapter 1. If you really do need the backstory info, work it into the main story. Don’t dump it all in Chapter 1, though. Tease out the details, if you can. That makes for fun reading.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Writing Height in Dialogue

in Formatting/Punctuation/Grammar/General fiction by

Dear Editor…

How should we write height in a story when the height is either in dialogue or a thought? Verbally we often say someone is five four, leaving out the word foot, but should it be written correctly either as five-foot-four or 5’4″?

Thanks,
Sue

Dear Sue…

People speak in words rather than numerals. That’s why you wouldn’t type, “Dude, I called you 2 times!” into your fictional dialogue. Same thing goes for typing a measurement into dialogue. The height measurement in your example should be spelled out in this manner: “five-feet-four.” For a character with a more casual speaking style, “five-foot-four” or “five-four” will do the job nicely. Since internal thoughts are essentially unspoken dialogue, they get the spell-out treatment, too.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Revision Week: Mark A. Clements

in Creative Process/General fiction/Guest Editors/Revision Week by

Dear Readers…

DearEditor.com’s Revision Week continues with award-winning author Mark A. Clements. In addition to being a horror and suspense novelist, Mark has ghostwritten numerous books, giving him a distinct view of the revision process.

Please join Mark and The Editor for Day 5 of Revision Week, and find out how to win today’s “Free Partial Edit” from The Editor.

Mark A. Clements’ first horror novel, 6:02, was nominated for a Bram Stoker award. It was followed by the horror mystery Children of the End and the mystery thriller Lorelei, both of which received multiple nominations and awards. Mark’s The Land of Nod earned the Theodore S. Geisel “Best of the Best” award. All of Marks books have been optioned for film, and he also wrote the script for an original short, Dreamweavers. Mark is widely loved for his tireless work running critique sessions at writers conferences—often staying up to the wee hours to make sure every writer gets the chance to read and field full feedback.

*After Mark’s interview are instructions for entering today’s Free Partial Edit Giveaway.

How many drafts does it typically take before you feel confident about the character and story choices you made?

For me at least, the use of word processors pretty much destroyed the meaning of the word “draft.” Back in typewriter days I did about four drafts of each novel…now I write 30 or more versions of some portions, and five or six versions of other portions. I insist that there’s a correlation between quality and all the extra dinking around. I insist, I tell you!

Which draft typically gets shown to your editor?

The one I’m satisfied with. I always prefer to give an editor as little work (i.e., interfering) to do as possible.

How much revising happens after the editor sees that draft?

Typically not much.

Do you use critique partners?

“Partners?” No, no, no. I belong to a read and critique group with which I share portions of the work to see if it’s doing what I want, but I never share even slightly rough material and I don’t seek out advice on how to “fix” something. I don’t believe in writing by committee.

How does revision work in ghostwriting? How do you strike a balance between your judgment as a writer and the preferences of the person you’re writing for?

I never did strike that balance; I usually wanted to strike the person I was writing for. So I don’t ghostwrite anymore.

Can you share an experience of having a story problem you didn’t think you could solve but eventually did?

My current novel features an organism that is alive but does not become conscious or self-aware until a third of the way through the story. I shuffled through two dozen openings before I realized that conscious or not, the organism needed its own point of view in order for the book to work. Getting there was a difficult but in the end very satisfying process.

What’s the most drastic thing you’ve done to a story while revising?

Thrown out 75 pages of stuff I originally thought was essential. Big lesson there….

How do you know you’ve got the final draft?

There’s no other way to put it: the story feels done.

TODAY’S GIVEAWAY:

The Editor is giving away one more FREE PARTIAL EDIT of your manuscript. Note that the winner of today’s giveaway IS eligible for Saturday’s grand prize Full Manuscript Edit Giveaway. Here are the rules, with a bonus entry available to DearEditor.com subscribers:

  1. Your manuscript can be of ANY GENRE or CATEGORY (for adults or children, fiction or non-fiction), including picture books.
  2. The partial edit will cover the FIRST CHAPTER of your manuscript. In the case of a picture book entry, the edit will cover the entire manuscript—but the manuscript cannot exceed 7 double-spaced, 12-pt font pages.
  3. Deadline: MIDNIGHT tonight, March 9, 2012, PST.
  4. Winner will be randomly selected using Randomizer.org and announced on March 10, 2012, in the DearEditor.com comments section and on the DearEditor.com Facebook page, and the winner will be notified directly via email.

TO ENTER:

One entry –  SEND EMAIL to DearEditor.com using the “Write to The Editor” button at the top of the blog or by clicking here. Type “Free Partial Edit Giveaway” in the subject line. In the body of the email, include the TITLE of your manuscript and YOUR FULL NAME. (If you have any difficulty with the contact button, send an email entry directly to dear-editor@hotmail.com.) Do not attach or embed any part of your manuscript in the entry.

Bonus entry – SUBSCRIBE. DearEditor.com subscribers get a bonus entry by sending a second email with “Subscriber’s Bonus Giveaway Entry” in the subject line and your title and full name in the body. (Note: the Editor will verify!) Not a subscriber yet? Then subscribe now by clicking on the “Subscribe” button at the top of DearEditor.com and then email your second entry.

Anyone who doesn’t follow these rules will be disqualified, at the Editor’s discretion.

Disclaimer: The Editor does not share or in any other way use your contact information; it’s collected solely for winner contact purposes at the end of the giveaway.

Good luck!

re: Use Modern Dialogue for Historical Fiction?

in Dialogue/General fiction by

Dear Editor…

In writing an historical fiction novel about an immigrant boy in 1911, how would you handle dialogue—should it be true to the time or more modern for today’s readers?

Roz

Dear Roz…

You’re writing dialogue, not a dictionary. Most people prefer accessibility to precise adherence to “the way people really spoke back then.” Alice Hoffman’s popular, highly acclaimed The Dovekeepers is set in Ancient Israel, 70 C.E. No one’s putting up a stink because her dialogue uses modern contractions: “It’s good you don’t want it.” Use time-specific phrases, yes, but even better: inject accessible dialogue with authentic flavor by recreating the way people of 1911 strung their words together—the syntax. Read as many first-hand writings of the time as possible. Train your brain to mimic the cadence and flavor of the syntax and work that rhythm into accessible character confabs.

Happy writing!
The Editor

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