Recently I did some crit work for friend. As part of that, I found myself finding similar errors repeated and rather than bleed all over her wonderful work, I compiled a list of what I've learned and placed in my writer's tool box.
Rules are meant to be broken, however as Ms. Amy Boggs recently discussed, "Know them before you break them, and know why you decided to break them."
Here are my rules for discussion or to have you add your own. These are the ones that lend themselves well to lists. As to character development, plot development, tension, climaxes etc--I yield to JB's writing postings.
First drafts are difficult little toddlers… Writing Craft Rules According to Meg
Stolen from too many sources to remember.
*Avoid word repetition & action repetition (see how irritating the 'repetition' is? And yep, I did it again.)
*Seek out the simple verb: I ‘needed to hurry’ vs. I ‘hurried’.
*Seek out white space—whenever possible. Many times you ‘report’ through exposition what is said, when the actual dialog might be the better choice. This rule comes from too many sources to name. Mark Nieson lays out his pages on the floor, stands on a chair, and takes a look at the physical black and white on the pages, Darcy Patterson (sp) recommends the shrunken manuscript, i.e. literally shrink your manuscript to 20% or less and look at the black and white on your printed pages. Myself, I like easy and am occasionally OCD, I highlighted dialog one color, exposition another, and then I shrank it on the monitor. I mean WOW! Too much one color—get busy! You double click on the culprit and fix it, then shrink it down and move to the next. Shrinking gives you tons of pages on your monitor to see at once.
*Seek Out the long sentence. 90%, or what feels like 90%, of revision is tighten, tighten, tighten. One trick that I learned was to look for them. (Yes, I highlighted them and researched where and why I used them. I even shrunk the manuscript to see their positioning. Then I reviewed the best novels I had on hand to see how they used them. Meg Roskoff uses the most beautiful long sentences to end her chapters.
Long sentences can be beautiful and elegant; they can be the signature of an excellent writer.<--yes, I love this sentence that I wrote. (I took a long sentence Univ. of IA Great Courses class on the subject.) My take in YA, use long sentences as a contrast for emphasis, not as routine practice. In YA, use them when you can truly construct that beautiful, perfect, well-written sentence, but don’t lie to yourself about the quality. Edit 90% of long sentences to the core reason for it to have been written.
*’ly’ adverbs-never use them. (Yet, remember, there are no nevers in writing! ) Learned from Brett Anthony Johnston, Harvard-creative writing & also Browne & King, Self-editing for Fiction Writers –As Brett said, when you use ‘ly’ adverbs, you haven’t found the right verb.
*Avoid re-capping at the end of a paragraph. Either you wrote it well the first time, making the re-cap un-nesessary, or you didn’t. Trust your writing. Trust your reader. Then keep your main character from re-capping inside the paragraph or in dialog.
*Pimp the senses--all the time. Use them to further plot, character and to set the scene. I took a workshop at Univ. of IA with Mark Nieson and spent an entire year exploring ‘how to write with senses’. Time well spent.
*Know when you write tension, and then don’t stomp on it with extemporaneous exposition—simply nail it. Yeah, this one is actually mine, probably borrowed from my debater coach daughter. I’m defining tension as applicable to romance, to action, and to high emotion packed scenes.
*Every chapter, every paragraph, every sentence, and every word has to earn its place in your writing. Better yet, scenes must earn that right for two, three, even better four or more reasons that further your plot/character. If they don’t cut them. This is an old and tried rule. Even elegant exposition is only good if it is there for a reason. Literally ask, ‘how does this sentence meet the goal of this scene?’ And ask it for every sentence. If it doesn’t, then you have to pull it or edit it to do so. Or with your historical information that you wish to impart, you must tie it to furthering the plot.
*’my mother’, ‘my father’, ‘my parents’ In 1st POV you are inside your character’s mind; your character will say, “Mother.” You might have an historical conscious decision to do this. If so, be aware that editors see it as a ‘beginners’ error. Jill Santopolo, author, editor, goddess.
*Use the most active verb possible to ‘brighten’ your writing. ‘I heard’, ‘I felt’, ‘I saw’, ‘I helped’ are reporting verbs, not ‘showing’ verbs. Use instead the direct, simple verb that follows. Never use 'seemed'. It either is or it isn't. Don't play word games without a reason.
Example: “I heard the sound of horses.” You are telling the reader what they are supposed to hear rather than showing me the sound. Alternative: “Horse hooves clopped—one, two, three, four and then one scrapped off rhythm like it had stumbled, struggling as it climbed.” See the strength of my poor example? You get the idea though.
*Be conscious of your beats. Uhm, I can’t really explain this one. This is my rule, but it is similar to what was taught in the long sentence Great Course. It’s something you know when you read it. Here is an example of great beat use in your work (with one minor edit on my part).
“Off to my left was the men’s dressing room where I never went. (5 beats) Off to my right was the women’s dressing room where I went twice a day. (6 beats) In front of me was the Earl’s bedroom where I was never to go. (7 beats after I edited)” And it’s in the classic story telling three sequence! Simply delicious! Well done!
*Kill all modifiers. Browne & King. (remember, rules are made to be broken) ‘most’ ‘still’ ‘just’ ‘only’ ‘almost’ 'always' weaken your writing.
*Search ‘I’ and when you see several in a scene, rewrite until the majority disappear. Scott Tremble’s comment, ‘Your character is full of herself.’ Ouch, hurt and learn.
*Seek out and judge your chapter endings. These are crucial and I think they terrify editors, because every ending is a spot the reader will possibly put down the book—and they may not return! Make sure they are special in some intimate way so the reader is ‘involved’ with your character.
*Book and Chapter beginnings: Dialog best. Action next. Dialog and action together is outstanding! Sorry, I can’t remember who gave these to me. I think it was an author panel at MiHi that included Connie Willis, Patricia Briggs, Tim Powers, among others.
*Protagonists must protag! Protagonists must be reactive and then proactive to their circumstances. Make your main character react! Writing without that reaction is reported, not emotionally rich. Sharelle Byars Moranville – children’s author, NBA nominee, but I think she stole it from another author/teacher at U of I. That was the title of the other author’s class. See my scary, scary bones note later. (She referenced the instructor.)
*Use metaphors. They are your friend—just don’t mix them.
*Go for the jugular. When you are in touch with your character’s internal feelings, dig deeper and get more out of them. This is my rule.
*Look for the beauty in your writing, and then emphasize it through conscious artful decisions from your writer’s craft toolbox.
*English editing uses ‘s’ on toward, forward, backward, etc. American editing doesn’t use the ‘s’. Jill Santopolo, author, editor at Philomel, instructor.
*Do not personify body parts. Anj Sachdava, but it’s an olden goldie.
*’ing’ verbs are weaker than ‘ed’ verbs. Always chose the strongest verb. Chris White
- May - 2016: Upcoming, I'll be participating in Desert Sleuth's Donald Maass Workshop. I'm afraid it sold out months ago, but if you have questions, contact me.Apr - 2016: A 2nd Kami Short will release in the Malice Domestic anthology in Bethesda MD. I'll also be moderating a panel with authors Karen Pullen, Sue Cox, and Gretchen Archer. Don't miss the fun! I'll have special edition signed copies of the 1st Kami Short from the SinC - Desert Sleuth anthology to hand out for free.Apr - 2016: An adult short story, Big Horn Mountain Carnivores, was selected as the adult category winner in the Tempe Community Writing Contest loosely associated with Arizona State University! The e- & print release where I read a portion of the story was the greatest fun. Thank you everyone who came by! Free download here (scroll to bottom):Aug - 2015: Politics of Chaos was released at an event attended by the awesome NYTimes best-selling author Sara Paretsky! Also, a flash fiction entitled, "Lightning" was 3rd runner up in the national 2015 Writers Police Academy's contest.
July - 2015: NYC FBI headquarters. Many thrilling authors were there, the presentations were fantastic, and the experience was a solid 15 on a 10 point scale. Thank you to the International Thriller Writers for inviting me. Thank you to the men and women of the FBI.
MAY - 2015: The Poisoned Pen submitted Chaos Theory for the 2015 Edgar's young adult novel award. Please note that submission is NOT a nomination. Still, it is an exciting development.
MAR - 2015:Tucson Festival of Books booksigning! Great time by all.
FEB - 2015: CHAOS THEORY, released by The Poisoned Pencil, an imprint of The Poisoned Pen Press - one of the nation's largest publishers of hard-back mysteries.
MAR - 2013: Meg was honored to receive a year long mentorship from author Jan Blazanin through the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators - Iowa. Ms. Blazanin praised Meg's multiple characters' distinct and age appropriate voices.
Her writing blog is located at megevonne.blogspot.com contains reviews and writing craft tools.