Category Archives: How to Edit

On Writing World Weekly Round-Up: 3/18/12

I present to you my attempt at a weekly round up, that is, a conglomeration of good posts from the last week. This will be too long because I follow too many blogs. It will also be too much coolness to handle in its entirety, so just scroll through and open whatever catches your eye. 😀 If this isn’t too painful in the creation, you will get more.

 

  • News & Noteworthy

(As if every single one of these links isn’t noteworthy. My headings need work.)

The eye-popper of the week award goes to A Follow’s Not a Book Sale (Though It’s Really Nice), which asks “Does social media affect sales AT ALL?” via The Intern

Maggie Steifvater with lotsa From Rough to Final links! There is so much to learn from watching the pros edit.

I found Erin Morgenstern’s Flax Golden Tale wonderful this week. Read the flash fiction Monitoring System.

Alison Cherry runs a pretty entertaining blog as a rule, but you know The Things We Do For Research will be a real gem just from the title.

Luke Alistar offers sobering thoughts for writers on The Power You Hold.

Why Finish Books? Yes, this is every bit as odd-ball as it sounds. via The New York Review of Books

  • Advice

Ready to Submit? Think Again is a very comprehensive checklist to go through before, well, submitting. via Fantasy Faction

Pretend you don’t need 3 Ways to Keep Social Media from Taking Over Your Writing Time. Just pretend. I dare you. via Author, Jody Hedlund

8 Tips For Getting What You Want (out of industry professionals). via Go Teen Writers – not just for teens. 😉

Lessons from the Strictly Objective Critique Partner. via YA Highway

  • Writing Advice

We’ll start this off with a good old-fashioned “how to beat writers block.” Creativity Blocked? Here’s the Solution. Write a letter to yourself. Through the MAIL. No, really. via Write to Done

Here’s something with the provocative title of Writing Multiple Books in a Year– It Doesn’t Take as Much as You Think. via Mystery Writing is Murder

Done to Death: A New Trope questions how much original plots matter. via Speculative Faith

This is about changing the way you view subplots forever and Grey’s Anatomy. via Novel Rocket And to continue mining TV shows, Lessons from Downton Abbey.

The Art of Poisoning Your Characters, because we all know there is nothing a little poisoning couldn’t make worse, and worse is better, right? via Fantasy Faction

We were gifted with two brilliant pieces on Io9: How Not to Be a Clever Writer and 8 Unstoppable Stories for Writing Killer Short Stories.

EditTorrent talks about what three varied writers need to start. Once the push from what you need to start a novel wears off, Janice Hardy has So Where Were We? Finishing Manuscripts. She also has Under Development: Ways to Create Characters.

Want The Scoop On Agents? via The Kill Zone Authors

  • Resources

Nifty little things that have been around since the dawn of time I am only now discovering because I live underneath a rock. It’s dark here.

Solving the “I don’t have the money or the oomph to travel” excuse for not attending writer conventions is WriteCon, an online conference for KidLit, MG, and YA authors. It’s free.

102 Resources for Writing. Just in case you didn’t have enough links. This is one to bookmark, ladies and gentlemen. via Here to Create

Donna Macmeans has compiled a list of Rooting Interests, the things that get readers behind characters.

I present to you The Michael Hauges Story Concept Template. In fact, this is going to be the All-Important Reader Engagement Moment of the Week. Fill in the blanks with your novel and post it in the comments below so we can see what each other is writing! iva Jill Williamson

  • Fun

My twitter stream was filled by people tweeting their Hunger Names this week. It gives you your precinct, the number of your game, and the way you die, too. Yes, this is under “fun.”

“NASA has released videos shot from onboard the Space Shuttle’s Solid Rocket Boosters in the past, but you’ve never seen one prepared as masterfully as this.” via Io9

St. Paddy’s Day Writing Prompts – what it says on the tin. via Creative Writing Prompts for Writers

A fellow aspiring writer takes the amusing route in announcing a vacation. Which I should do instead of not posting for a month without notice.

 

Enjoy. Don’t forget to leave the your Michel Houghes Story Concept Template in the comments so we can learn about each other’s plots!

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How to Write a Spy Novel

A few days ago, a friend (who will probably be among the first to comment) shot me a message, wondering how to write a spy novel:

Hey Katty!

So… you said you really like spy stories, and I just got an idea for a spy story. 😀 The problem is, I know diddly squat (er… my mom says that; I’m not sure if anyone else does! 😀 ) about spies and spy stories. 😛 Is there anything I need to know about them… or should I just wing it and see what I end up with? 😉

Love in Christ,
Abby

Plotted
First off: DON’T WING IT! Whatever you do, do not wing the spy novel. I winged my first spy novel plot and ended up with so many twists and subplots with no resolutions that you couldn’t see the main plot (OK, slight exaggeration). If you get an idea that will change everything mid way through, great, but plot it out first and see if it’s vaguely plausible.

A spy novel needs to be thought out beforehand, even more so than novels of most genres. Unlike, say, a quest fantasy, where plot points can be shuffled or cut out or added without too much trouble, everything needs to be compactly connected to the main plot. (Unplotted) whims simply do not have a place.

I know you’re very excited and want to sit down and start writing right away, but you shouldn’t. If you start before you have your twists and ever-so-important plot points planned, you will be tempted to throw in twists and sidetracks and obstacles at every turn. This breaks the pace and spell, not to mention you run the risk of losing the main plot. No matter how big a panster you are (I’m right there with you), you need to accept this. Plot your major points. Plot your major twists. Plot your ending. Make a dreaded outline.

No James Bond coppies, please.

Cliches
While plotting, make sure you do not lapse into a dreaded cliche. This is generally true for all genres, but in a spy novel you simply can’t get away with it. Ever since the spy novel was invented, people have been searching for plot twists and uniqueness. I’d say “There isn’t much left,” but imagination is boundless, so there is plenty left. You just have to find it.

A rule of thumb: if you’ve seen it done once, there are a lot of people who have seen it done a thousand times. TVtropes has an excellent list of spy tropes, many of which are cliches or have cliche versions. I highly recommend it.

Thriller
There isn’t much unique to spy novels as a genre. First and foremost, they are thrillers. Knowing how to write fight scenes, chase scenes, and standoffs (ooh, I’m getting future post ideas) is imperative. That was one of my goofs in winging a spy novel: I didn’t know how to write a fight scene. I figured that out at the first one that came along and quickly searched for the information now contained in the above link.

But those are not the defining element of thrillers. Suspense is, and it is made in many ways.

Pacing is key. There should never be a relaxing moment for your characters. This doesn’t mean you should annoy your reader by keeping the pace racing ahead at headache speed. But something should always be happening. If there is a “dull” moment it needs to be peppered by the fact something else is going on at the same time and the point of view character knows it. In other words, keep scenes tense either for the characters or the reader.

You keep the reader tense by keeping secrets from them. Never, ever let the reader know everything. Give them just enough information to keep reading, wondering what the whole picture is. Scatter the hints naturally. Kill every single info dump and spread the information through a scene or two in suspenseful snippets.

For example, if you start a scene with a man hiding in a room, the reader wants to know from whom he is hiding, why they want him, and what his plans are. In that order. So give the answers in the reverse order. The man loads his gun. His plan. He positions himself. In between text. Next the man destroys a piece of paper, thinking he can’t afford it to fall in the wrong hands. Why his enemies want him (and a new question – What was on the paper?). There are noises, and the man prepares himself. In between text. KGB agents walk in. Who he is hiding from. The entire scene can end without the question of what was on the paper being revealed.

This tension and suspense would be completely destroyed if the man curses his enemies at the beginning of the scene, reads the contents before destroying the paper, and is then forced to action when the agents walk in.

Never do the expected, either. This is hard, because we want to go with the first scenario that comes to our mind. Thing is, the first scenario that comes to our mind has been done before. A lot. Take the time to think of unique and different twists. Think about what is expected in a situation – what would normally happen, what would a person normally act – and take an opposite route. This is fresh and new and most importantly, different. The reader wants to know how this different thing will turn out.

Accuracy
Some genres can get away with bending facts. Soft science fiction comes to mind. But a spy novel can not. The basic premise of spy novels – daredevil heroes running around on wild, exciting, adventuresome missions – is less than factual. Everything else must be, otherwise you lose the world, reader, and trust.

If you are going to use spy gear and guns, research them. If your spy is hopping around countries and borders, research and create plausible political scenarios (Don’t have your spy running to North Korea when they need a break.). It pays to do your geographical and cultural research. Little real details can make an incredible difference.

In short, plot it, be unique, know what you’re doing, be suspenseful, and be accurate.  With a healthy dose of writing knowledge, these will help you write a spy novel that stands out.

Have you ever written a spy novel?  Do you have any other tips about how to write them?  Do you read spy novels?  If so, what do you look for in a new read?

Related Posts:
Writing Prompt: Spy
How Long Should a Chapter be in a Novel?
How to Outline a Novel
How to Write a Fight Scene

Step-by-Step Edit No.1: Second to Third Draft

For the third draft, I put the story on a critique forum.  This is the clean second draft:

Mirage stood stiffly on the cliff as the fiery ball of day drifted beyond the horizon. He grasped his sword hilt, clenching so violently his knuckles whitened. Every night he stood here. He, a warrior, captive to a simple spell.

There is one way to conquer anything.

Mirage closed his eyes as tightly as he could, trying to block the words. The last rays danced along his chest before dying. As they left his body, a tiny splotch of gray rock appeared over his heart. It rapidly grew, branching fingers all over Mirage’s body. Mirage didn’t struggle. Years had taught him movement did nothing.

The cold stone encircled his body, covering most of it. As the last stone tentacle wound around his face, freezing his expression, locking his hair, the words came to him again.

There is one way to conquer anything.

No! His eyes flashed with desperate anger seconds before he lost his sight to the advancing stone. He was a warrior. He was his own man. He had no need for others, much less some god that let this happen to the world!

Others. Curse them all, the Complacent who had given up their freedom for comfort. His body contracted. Surely there were more options; stone most of his life or hazy submission to the Dark Land. . .

There is one way to conquer anything.

. . . or that woman’s God. Mirage’s body contracted a second time, with a desperate struggle to remain flesh. He could still feel the fading warmth of the sun, the only thing in which he ever found comfort. Ironic that God was supposed to govern the light. But a comfort would not even stall the process. How long could he remain his own man? Each night something gave way to the Dark Prince. If he did nothing . .

No! his mind screamed. But something else had a voice, something special ripped at his soul. Mirage’s lips began solidifying. In a sudden first of resolve, he forced the words off his tongue. “A servant of Your’s told me to ‘Seek the Majestic One while he may be found, call out to Him while He is still willing to answer. . .’ Are you still willing to answer? I need You. . .” Mirage choked on the words. “. . . and I can’t do this on my own.” It was done. Even as the petrification completed, relief soothed his mind. But did the Majestic One truly hear him, this puny creation who had fought The Way of Light for so long? Mirage’s mind slipped into a stone-sleep with that last conscious thought.

In short, here are the responses I received:

Critic1:  Mirage didn’t struggle. Years had taught him movement did nothing.
Is that because this has happened to him before, or from seeing it happen to other people?

Critic2:  Thisisfantasticwillyoupublish?

Critic3:  Wonderful, I loved your imagery, but you might want to check your spelling again.

Critic4:  Mirage’s conversion seems to happen too quickly.  One minute he’s resisting, the next he’s calling on the Majestic One.

There was much more, of course, but I am only showing you the critique relevant to this scene, not the entire story.  Throughout this critiquing stage, I learned two major things.  Number one, even after reading the hard copy you will not catch all the spelling mistakes.  Number two, not everything the author thinks is clear is clear to the reader.

Mirage stood stiffly on the cliff as the fiery ball of day drifted beyond the horizon. He grasped his sword hilt, clenching so violently his knuckles whitened. Every night he stood here. He, a warrior, captive to a simple spell.

There is one way to conquer anything.

Mirage closed his eyes as tightly as he could, trying to block the words. The last rays danced along his chest before dying. As they left his body, a tiny splotch of gray rock appeared over his heart. It rapidly grew, branching fingers all over Mirage’s body. Mirage didn’t struggle. Years of experience [It’s a simple phrase and answers Critic1’s question.] had taught him movement did nothing.

The cold stone encircled his body, covering most of it. As the last stone tentacle wound around his face, freezing his expression, locking his hair, the words came to him again.

There is one way to conquer anything.

No! His eyes flashed with desperate anger seconds before he lost his sight to the advancing stone. He was a warrior. He was his own man. He had no need for others, much less some god that let this happen to the world!

Others. Curse them all, the Complacent, who had given up their freedom for comfort. His body contracted. Surely there were more options; stone most of his life or hazy submission to the Dark Land. . .

There is one way to conquer anything.

. . . or that woman’s God. Mirage’s body contracted a second time, with a desperate struggle to remain flesh. He could still feel the fading warmth of the sun, the only thing in which he ever found comfort. Ironic that God was supposed to govern the light. But a comfort would not even stall the process. How long could he remain his own man? Each night something gave way to the Dark Prince. If he did nothing . .

No! his mind screamed. But something else had a voice, something special ripped at his soul. Mirage’s lips began solidifying. Something special ripped at his soul, an urge, a calling. No, Mirage repeated to himself. He was his own man. The words fell hollow as Mirage’s lips began solidifying. [Critic4 was quite right. This is my redo.] In a sudden firstburst [“First” may rhyme with “burst” but that’s all they have in common.] of resolve, he forced the words prayer [More specific.] off his tongue. “A servant of Your’s told me to ‘Seek the Majestic One while hHe [we’re capitalizing the pronouns referring to the Majestic One, aren’t we?] may be found, call out to Him while He is still willing to answer. . .’ Are you still willing to answer? I need You. . .” Mirage choked on the words. “. . . and I can’t do this on my own.” It was done. Even as the petrification completed, relief soothed his mind. But did the Majestic One truly hear him, this puny creation who had fought The Way of Light for so long? Mirage’s mind slipped into a stone-sleep with that last conscious thought.

First in the series:  First to Second Draft

Next, we get nit-picky.

Step-by-Step Edit No.1: First to Second Draft

I should be posting the second in my series on world building, but after I wrote the post, I realized it simply didn’t have life.  So it’s archived until it decides to get a life (the weekend should help it).

In the mean time, I’m going to show you that step-by-step editing process I was talking about.

To start, here is a scene from a now-finished Christian fantasy short story of mine.  Note it’s awfulness.  Yes, it’s a first draft.

Mirage stood tall, straight, unmoving on the cliff as the fiery ball of day drifted beyond the horizon. He grasped his sword hilt, clenching so violently his knuckles whitened. How infuriating. He, a warrior, captive to a simple spell.

There is one way to conquer anything.

Mirage closed his eyes as tightly as he could, trying to block the words. The last rays danced along his chest before dying. As they left his body, a tiny splotch of gray rock appeared over his heart. It rapidly grew, branching fingers all over Mirage’s body. Mirage didn’t struggle. He knew that did no good. Years had taught him that.

The cold stone encircled his body, covering most of it. As the last stone tentacle wound around his face, freezing his expression, locking his hair, the words came to him again.

There is one way to conquer anything.

No! His eyes flashed with desperate anger just before he lost his sight to the advancing stone. He was a warrior. He was his own man. He had no need for others, much less some god that let this happen to the world!

Others. Curse them all, the Complacent who had given up their freedom for comfort. His body contracted. Surely there were more options; stone most of his life or hazy submission to the Dark Land. . .

There is one way to conquer anything.

. . . or that woman’s God. Mirage’s body contracted a second time, with a desperate struggle to remain flesh. He could still feel the fading warmth of the sun, the only thing he ever found comfort in. Ironic that god was supposed to govern the light. But a comfort would not even stall the process. How long could he remain his own man? Each night something gave way to the Prince of Darkness. If something didn’t happen. . .

No, no, no! his mind screamed. But something else had a voice, something special ripped at his soul. Mirage’s lips started to solidify. In a sudden first of resolve, he forced the words off his tongue. “A servant of your told me to ‘Seek the Majestic One while he may be found, call out to Him while He is still willing to answer. . .’ Are you still willing to answer? I need, You. . .” Mirage choked on the words. “. . . and I can’t do this on my own.” There. He said it. Even as the petrification completed, relief soothed his mind. But did the Majestic One truly hear him, this puny creation who had fought Him for so long? Mirage’s mind slipped into a stone-sleep with that last conscious thought.

I then printed it.  I always make hard copies of drafts to edit them.  I see so much more on paper than a glowing screen.  Redundancy, grammar, spelling, weak words, and clunkiness are fixed in my second draft.  Supposedly.

Mirage stood tall, straight, unmoving stiffly [Redundant, and easily summed into one word.] on the cliff as the fiery ball of day drifted beyond the horizon. He grasped his sword hilt, clenching so violently his knuckles whitened. Every night he stood here. How infuriating. [Not only does the new sentence give more back story, it shows his feelings instead of telling them.] He, a warrior, captive to a simple spell.

There is one way to conquer anything.

Mirage closed his eyes as tightly as he could, trying to block the words. The last rays danced along his chest before dying. As they left his body, a tiny splotch of gray rock appeared over his heart. It rapidly grew, branching fingers all over Mirage’s body. Mirage didn’t struggle. He knew that did no good. Years had taught him that. Years had taught him movement did nothing. [I try to eliminate demonstrative pronouns, since they are weak words. “That” is changed to “movement.” “Did no good” is changed to “did nothing” because I felt “did no good” approached a cliche.]

The cold stone encircled his body, covering most of it. As the last stone tentacle wound around his face, freezing his expression, locking his hair, the words came to him again.

There is one way to conquer anything.

No! His eyes flashed with desperate anger just seconds [“Just” is a weak and unspecific word.] before he lost his sight to the advancing stone. He was a warrior. He was his own man. He had no need for others, much less some god that let this happen to the world!

Others. Curse them all, the Complacent who had given up their freedom for comfort. His body contracted. Surely there were more options; stone most of his life or hazy submission to the Dark Land. . .

There is one way to conquer anything.

. . . or that woman’s God. Mirage’s body contracted a second time, with a desperate struggle to remain flesh. He could still feel the fading warmth of the sun, the only thing he ever found comfort in in which he ever found comfort [Pesky preposition at the end of the sentence.]. Ironic that god God [I realized that he is talking about the true God (at least, allegorically in my story) at this point, not a general god.] was supposed to govern the light. But a comfort would not even stall the process. How long could he remain his own man? Each night something gave way to the Prince of Darkness. If something didn’t happen. . . If he did nothing. . . [I needed to be more precise than “something”]

No, no, no! [Unnecessarily redundant] his mind screamed. But something else had a voice, something special ripped at his soul. Mirage’s lips started to solidify began solidifying. [Never use three words when two will do. When the word “to” is in your verb, it can usually be eliminated] In a sudden first of resolve, he forced the words off his tongue. “A servant of your told me to ‘Seek the Majestic One while he may be found, call out to Him while He is still willing to answer. . .’ Are you still willing to answer? I need, [Don’t split a verb and it’s direct object with a comma.] You. . .” Mirage choked on the words. “. . . and I can’t do this on my own.” There. He said it. Even as the petrification completed, relief soothed his mind. But did the Majestic One truly hear him, this puny creation who had fought Him for so long? Mirage’s mind slipped into a stone-sleep with that last conscious thought.

Yes, I know, spelling and grammar mistakes still abound. I’m showing you how I actually edited a story, not how I was supposed to. After this and the rest of the story had been edited, I proudly decided to show it to a few cyber-friends. Next post – tomorrow – I’ll show you the initial critique I received and how I edited the scene in response.

A word on how this step-by-step editing series will go. I have four drafts.  The next two posts will demonstrate my further edits.  And yes, eventually I will pick up the world building series again. I promise.

Second in the series:  Second to Third Draft

For now, what do you (try) to fix in your second draft?

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