Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Photo credit: jdurham from morguefile.com 
I'm not here today, I'm guest posting over at Jami Gold's blog on honing your observation skills in order to better portray characters' emotion in fiction.

Reading others' emotions is something you do every day.  It's a skill one begins to develop from infancy. But like other kinds of reading, it's a learned skill, not an entirely inborn one. So if you feel like this is a weakness, never fear, you can improve with practice.

And it's worth the effort to observe people's natural emotional reactions in natural settings in order to better represent human behavior in your fiction.

So please swing by to say hello and, I hope, pick up some useful tips for turning your ordinary trips to the grocery store, your kids' swim meet, the dentist, the gym into an emotions laboratory.
Tuesday, November 17, 2015 Laurel Garver
Photo credit: jdurham from morguefile.com 
I'm not here today, I'm guest posting over at Jami Gold's blog on honing your observation skills in order to better portray characters' emotion in fiction.

Reading others' emotions is something you do every day.  It's a skill one begins to develop from infancy. But like other kinds of reading, it's a learned skill, not an entirely inborn one. So if you feel like this is a weakness, never fear, you can improve with practice.

And it's worth the effort to observe people's natural emotional reactions in natural settings in order to better represent human behavior in your fiction.

So please swing by to say hello and, I hope, pick up some useful tips for turning your ordinary trips to the grocery store, your kids' swim meet, the dentist, the gym into an emotions laboratory.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Dear Editor-on-Call,
Photo credit: diannehope from morguefile.com

My critique group always argues about how you should write time. 5 o'clock or 5:00 pm? And do you have to write out numbers, as in five thousand, or can you go with 5,000 (in fiction?)

Yours truly,
Counting on you


Dear Counting,

Unfortunately, there isn't one hard and fast rule for this. These sorts of decisions are what industry pros call "style." Every publisher has its own style guide dictating its preference for handling things like numbers. No one will expect you to know this information ahead of time--they'll likely just ask for changes during the editing phase if you chose something other than house style. However, if you don't handle numbers consistently, you won't be making fast friends with the editorial department.

For many years, I worked on publications that used Associate Press (AP) style, so I've had that pretty deeply ingrained in how I approach this question. Its style choices will feel more right for some genres than others.

Clock time

AP usually handles time like this-- 4:43 a.m. or 11 p.m. (Note the letters are lower case with periods after each. AM and PM is right out.) If your story is, say, a mystery, thriller or SciFi full of time references, this is the format to go with. It's pithy and official looking.

In most other fiction, I typically see times written out as four o'clock or eight-thirty or half past two. For occasional references, spelled out numbers read more fluidly. The a.m. and p.m. distinction can be handled better through descriptors like morning, afternoon, evening, night.

I'd recommend against combining the two formats. Both "four forty three a.m." and "5:02 o'clock" just look stupid.

Quantities, amounts and ages

AP style says to spell out numbers under ten and use numerals for everything else. I can't think of a single novel that follows that rule. Quantities should be spelled out. Hyphenate a compound number when used as an adjective.

He came in sixth place.
Joyce won fifteen million dollars.
The kidnappers are demanding thirty grand.
I can give you twenty-two reasons to stay home. (note hyphen)
When Kit turned twenty two, she bought an electric bass.
The victim was an eleven-year-old male. (note hyphens)
I haven't been back to Viperville since I was eleven years old.

Dates

Calendar dates are another sticky area you didn't mention. AP handles them like this--May 5, 1999; June 13; Summer 2014. Commas are used only between day and year. Ordinal numbers are a no-no (notice it's NOT June 13th in AP).

I haven't seen any clear preference in fiction for how one handles numbers for the purpose of naming a date. Obviously spelling out the year will be too wordy, so I'd avoid that. As far as using the word or numeral, go with whichever looks better in context. Ordinal numbers will generally look better spelled out--and sound more like natural speech.

Kyle left for camp on June 23.
Which day should we go, the sixth or the seventh?
Joe-Bob remembered that awful lynching in April 1952.
Who wants to hike on February third?
The ambassador's letter was dated September 9, 2012.

The most important thing is to pick a style and follow it consistently. I'd suggest making an index card with your personal "style guide" and posting near your computer for quick reference.

If anyone knows of a definitive style guide all the major houses use, please me know!

Which of these areas have tripped you up? Would you argue against any of my recommendations? Why?

Have a burning editing question? Feel free to leave it in the comments, and I'll cover it in a future post.
Wednesday, November 11, 2015 Laurel Garver
Dear Editor-on-Call,
Photo credit: diannehope from morguefile.com

My critique group always argues about how you should write time. 5 o'clock or 5:00 pm? And do you have to write out numbers, as in five thousand, or can you go with 5,000 (in fiction?)

Yours truly,
Counting on you


Dear Counting,

Unfortunately, there isn't one hard and fast rule for this. These sorts of decisions are what industry pros call "style." Every publisher has its own style guide dictating its preference for handling things like numbers. No one will expect you to know this information ahead of time--they'll likely just ask for changes during the editing phase if you chose something other than house style. However, if you don't handle numbers consistently, you won't be making fast friends with the editorial department.

For many years, I worked on publications that used Associate Press (AP) style, so I've had that pretty deeply ingrained in how I approach this question. Its style choices will feel more right for some genres than others.

Clock time

AP usually handles time like this-- 4:43 a.m. or 11 p.m. (Note the letters are lower case with periods after each. AM and PM is right out.) If your story is, say, a mystery, thriller or SciFi full of time references, this is the format to go with. It's pithy and official looking.

In most other fiction, I typically see times written out as four o'clock or eight-thirty or half past two. For occasional references, spelled out numbers read more fluidly. The a.m. and p.m. distinction can be handled better through descriptors like morning, afternoon, evening, night.

I'd recommend against combining the two formats. Both "four forty three a.m." and "5:02 o'clock" just look stupid.

Quantities, amounts and ages

AP style says to spell out numbers under ten and use numerals for everything else. I can't think of a single novel that follows that rule. Quantities should be spelled out. Hyphenate a compound number when used as an adjective.

He came in sixth place.
Joyce won fifteen million dollars.
The kidnappers are demanding thirty grand.
I can give you twenty-two reasons to stay home. (note hyphen)
When Kit turned twenty two, she bought an electric bass.
The victim was an eleven-year-old male. (note hyphens)
I haven't been back to Viperville since I was eleven years old.

Dates

Calendar dates are another sticky area you didn't mention. AP handles them like this--May 5, 1999; June 13; Summer 2014. Commas are used only between day and year. Ordinal numbers are a no-no (notice it's NOT June 13th in AP).

I haven't seen any clear preference in fiction for how one handles numbers for the purpose of naming a date. Obviously spelling out the year will be too wordy, so I'd avoid that. As far as using the word or numeral, go with whichever looks better in context. Ordinal numbers will generally look better spelled out--and sound more like natural speech.

Kyle left for camp on June 23.
Which day should we go, the sixth or the seventh?
Joe-Bob remembered that awful lynching in April 1952.
Who wants to hike on February third?
The ambassador's letter was dated September 9, 2012.

The most important thing is to pick a style and follow it consistently. I'd suggest making an index card with your personal "style guide" and posting near your computer for quick reference.

If anyone knows of a definitive style guide all the major houses use, please me know!

Which of these areas have tripped you up? Would you argue against any of my recommendations? Why?

Have a burning editing question? Feel free to leave it in the comments, and I'll cover it in a future post.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Monday night I wrote the words "The End" on a manuscript I have been working on steadily for roughly three years. I should be ecstatic, right?

Instead I'm scratching my head about why it took me so freaking long when other people can draft an entire book in a matter of weeks.

Photo credit: deegolden from morguefile.com
My process is such, however, that my "first draft" is more like a NaNo participant's fourth draft. It's not a mess or full of holes. Though I'm an organic (aka "pantser") rather than planner type, I don't draft fast and sloppy. I meticulously research and interview experts as I draft rather than run amok with some half-baked ideas that don't bear out in reality. I revise as I draft, doing big structural changes to earlier chapters when I find I've written myself into a corner. I also do some editing as I draft because I can't seem to not tinker. And because I let my critique group look at a few chapters at a time, and some of them nitpick more than look at structural issues.

From what I can tell, this latter issue is the linchpin of my process problem. I don't stay consistently motivated generating material only for myself. I have a terrible weakness in wanting feedback while I draft. I really don't know how to break myself of it or if I should.  I see a lot of benefit in others with some emotional distance telling me, "hey, your story took a wrong turn at chapter 4" while I'm only on chapter 7, because I don't have to throw out and redo from scratch as much material.

I'm also not sure if I should abandon my method of "draft-ivizing" as some call it, because many other organic/pantser writers I know also stop when a plot problem appears, go back and fix what needs to be fixed, and only then continue moving forward. Steven James's Story Trumps Structure (one of the only books I've read that works with rather than tries to change pantser process) makes clear that pantsers' creativity doesn't work in a linear manner. If it did, we'd be plotters.

This particular story went places I'd never imagined, especially for what is ostensibly a sequel with mostly existing characters. Because a venue change brought to light new things about them. And some of the plot ideas that excited me most required a lot of research, research that opened up some pretty interesting horizons. I now have a lot more knowledge about HIPAA and hip fractures, personality disorders and protocols for EMTs, military re-enactment and draft policies, aphasia and vericella zoster, anti-vax trends and 60s fashion, chemical properties of artists' oils and French idioms, weasel hunting and Pennsylvania driving laws. It's a weird list, I know. I'm not sure what the NSA would make of my Googling habits.

I suspect one of these days, I'll end up writing historical fiction, because I really grooved on all the research. Writing what you know is boring. Writing what you want to know is where it's at. Learning and discovery fuel my creativity. But I suspect I would have just as much fun with my research if I were doing it more methodically, during set periods, instead of chasing down facts as needed.

I know how you readers come to me expecting tips, but we're all learners here, folks. The best I can give you is some of my lessons learned and questions I'm grappling with that I hope will enable me to be progressively more productive with future projects.

  • Be willing to let go of preconceived ideas about existing characters. Otherwise, they rebel.
  • Be willing to live with ambiguity and notes to yourself so that you can do batches of research at one time rather than constantly stop to look things up.
  • Be willing to change your process if it isn't getting you where you want to be
  • Consider whether your desire to tinker with a scene is helping your imagination open more or if it's just holding back your forward motion.
  • Consider when you seek feedback. Would other eyes sooner help or hurt your forward motion? Perhaps there are other ways to gain accountability and encouragement besides critiques on an incomplete project. 

What parts of your writing process do you want to change? 
Wednesday, November 04, 2015 Laurel Garver
Monday night I wrote the words "The End" on a manuscript I have been working on steadily for roughly three years. I should be ecstatic, right?

Instead I'm scratching my head about why it took me so freaking long when other people can draft an entire book in a matter of weeks.

Photo credit: deegolden from morguefile.com
My process is such, however, that my "first draft" is more like a NaNo participant's fourth draft. It's not a mess or full of holes. Though I'm an organic (aka "pantser") rather than planner type, I don't draft fast and sloppy. I meticulously research and interview experts as I draft rather than run amok with some half-baked ideas that don't bear out in reality. I revise as I draft, doing big structural changes to earlier chapters when I find I've written myself into a corner. I also do some editing as I draft because I can't seem to not tinker. And because I let my critique group look at a few chapters at a time, and some of them nitpick more than look at structural issues.

From what I can tell, this latter issue is the linchpin of my process problem. I don't stay consistently motivated generating material only for myself. I have a terrible weakness in wanting feedback while I draft. I really don't know how to break myself of it or if I should.  I see a lot of benefit in others with some emotional distance telling me, "hey, your story took a wrong turn at chapter 4" while I'm only on chapter 7, because I don't have to throw out and redo from scratch as much material.

I'm also not sure if I should abandon my method of "draft-ivizing" as some call it, because many other organic/pantser writers I know also stop when a plot problem appears, go back and fix what needs to be fixed, and only then continue moving forward. Steven James's Story Trumps Structure (one of the only books I've read that works with rather than tries to change pantser process) makes clear that pantsers' creativity doesn't work in a linear manner. If it did, we'd be plotters.

This particular story went places I'd never imagined, especially for what is ostensibly a sequel with mostly existing characters. Because a venue change brought to light new things about them. And some of the plot ideas that excited me most required a lot of research, research that opened up some pretty interesting horizons. I now have a lot more knowledge about HIPAA and hip fractures, personality disorders and protocols for EMTs, military re-enactment and draft policies, aphasia and vericella zoster, anti-vax trends and 60s fashion, chemical properties of artists' oils and French idioms, weasel hunting and Pennsylvania driving laws. It's a weird list, I know. I'm not sure what the NSA would make of my Googling habits.

I suspect one of these days, I'll end up writing historical fiction, because I really grooved on all the research. Writing what you know is boring. Writing what you want to know is where it's at. Learning and discovery fuel my creativity. But I suspect I would have just as much fun with my research if I were doing it more methodically, during set periods, instead of chasing down facts as needed.

I know how you readers come to me expecting tips, but we're all learners here, folks. The best I can give you is some of my lessons learned and questions I'm grappling with that I hope will enable me to be progressively more productive with future projects.

  • Be willing to let go of preconceived ideas about existing characters. Otherwise, they rebel.
  • Be willing to live with ambiguity and notes to yourself so that you can do batches of research at one time rather than constantly stop to look things up.
  • Be willing to change your process if it isn't getting you where you want to be
  • Consider whether your desire to tinker with a scene is helping your imagination open more or if it's just holding back your forward motion.
  • Consider when you seek feedback. Would other eyes sooner help or hurt your forward motion? Perhaps there are other ways to gain accountability and encouragement besides critiques on an incomplete project. 

What parts of your writing process do you want to change?