What makes a book unremarkable? One author/reader’s views – very well stated!

This link came to me from one of the writer’s in the local writer’s group I used to attend, who I believe follows this blog. The author who wrote this article came up with a way to review other author’s books, and what about them makes him lose interest. He has evaluated those reasons for losing interest in this blog post in a very effective manner, which could give any author an opportunity to look at their own work with an eye to seeing if those flaws are present. Not surprising to me, poor editing is in the top three. Show, don’t tell is another – also not a surprise. The lion’s share of the top issue concerns goes to story building, which is also not a surprise. Here is something that should not surprise us either – good beta or alpha readers can help resolve the first two, a good copy editor or developmental editor can also help with the first two, but no one can help you produce a good book if you don’t have a good underlying plot, strong characters, and consistently believable material to begin with!

http://creativityhacker.ca/2014/08/26/the-5-most-common-writing-mistakes-that-break-reader-immersion/

Now – being a scientist, I am aware that you can make statistics tell you just about anything you want it to tell you. Also, being aware of the nature of statistics, I am aware that this fellow is working with a very small data pool and using highly subjective analysis. However, given those limitations I believe that he has been forthright in his presentation and representation of what data he has accumulated thus far, and has limited the subjective nature of his research with multiple checks to the point that the material is extremely valuable. 

It will be interesting to see future results with more data available, or to see if the process could be replicated. Anyone else out there interested in trying this? Or know someone using a review process similar to this so the results can be compared?

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What exactly do they mean when they say “show, don’t tell”?

As a copy editor who does a lot of developmental editing with indie authors, Show Don’t Tell is one of the things that I find myself mentioning a lot. Problem is, a catchphrase like that is so easy to say and so hard to explain in only a few words without using examples and re-writing material so the author can see the difference – and I find that authors can sometimes be extremely touchy about someone rewriting their pages for them (they are, after all, that author’s creation – and therefore offspring of a sort – and parents have been known to go to battle over something derogatory said about their child).

When authors ask me how to go about showing instead of telling this is the advice I give them:

Use more dialogue to get the material moving along if you want things to move quickly, rather than using short sentences and paragraphs that tell us what you want us to know.

Don’t be afraid of adding lots of volume to your manuscript by adding descriptions (and remember that descriptive passages should engage all our senses, not just the eyes and ears), but do maintain a balance.

Letting the reader figure out what you want them to know on their own engages the reader more fully – don’t be afraid to add information later on instead of loading it on the front end of the story. Making the reader wonder about what is going on increases tension and therefore is likely to make them want to read more to discover the answers. This does not mean adding lots and lots of flashbacks – it means providing back story in small doses as you write the material, rather than all at once in the first chapter.

Along with the notion of adding tension, self-reflection on personal issues adds tension and allows a writer to tell rather than show when writing in first person, specifically because of that aspect. If an author has a very difficult time with the ‘show, don’t tell’ dilemma, changing writing style to a first person point of view can alleviate that somewhat.

Anything that is passive is usually ‘tell,’ so avoid passive writing – more about that in another post, but basically anything that uses forms of the verb is (was, be, has been, etc.) is usually passive in nature rather than active. Writers who have written a lot of non-fiction tend to use passive voice frequently since that is what is properly used in reports, or textbooks. It is sometimes harder for a technical writer to write fiction than it is for someone who has never written anything at all to do so.

I also usually direct people to a couple of websites for examples and information, so here are a couple of those.

Grammar Girl is always great at giving good examples and clear explanations: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/show-dont-tell?page=all

This site is for grade school teachers, teaching writing to young students, but it is very clear and concise because of that: http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/show-dont-tell-whiteboard-writing-lesson

I also like the Purdue OWL, but was disappointed on this subject – the links were not opening for me or were imbedded in general advice:

https://owl.english.purdue.edu/sitemap/

And here are a couple of other links:

http://www.dailywritingtips.com/show-dont-tell/

http://www.sfwriter.com/ow04.htm

http://users.wirefire.com/tritt/tip1.html

In fact, if you search “show don’t tell” you get a lot of links – even a very nice explanation from Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Show,_don’t_tell

Perhaps it is not surprising to find that having references for the information I am providing is probably reassuring to authors. It may surprise you to know that I find a great deal of comfort in being able to point to a reference and say: “See, they said it too.” After all, knowing I am right about something doesn’t PROVE I am right about it, it is just my opinion in the end – but pointing at others whose work is respected and being able to say they said it too (or sometimes, they said it first) gives information more credence. Something for non-fiction writers to remember, even if what you are writing is a blog.

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Editing oopsy to share

So, I got in a msp to edit with the directions to “just accept all the corrections” which makes me nervous as a hen faced with a hungry fox – I don’t like the author skipping the approval stage, but I can live with it. I queried anything that was too iffy or major, but was fine with accepting corrections in punctuation and any errors introduced from integrating old material and new (duplicate words, grammar or tense mismatches, etc.).

I got to the last page of the msp, and there were the acknowledgements from the previous edition…

Right in the middle of the paragraph, there was my name, thanking me for catching a lot of typos – in a paragraph that had a typo in it! Oh my! First, to feel good that I had been signaled out for mention in the acknowledgement at all, but simultaneously to feel embarrassed that a there was a typographical error glaring out at me in text that I had supposedly edited.

I know it had been added after my edit had been turned in or how would they have gotten my name? After all, the only way to get my name associated with anything in any of the textbooks I sub-contract with is to see it in the corrections in the Word document when they are looking the correction suggestions over, and I don’t usually see msp after it has been turned back in to the author unless it needs an editorial read after the fact – which doesn’t happen that often.

But just because I know that doesn’t mean anyone else would know – so anyone who bought that book and was paying attention when they read the acknowledgements, knows that there was an error right there that I must have apparently missed! They didn’t even have to buy it – if they just leafed through the first few pages, and skimmed into that page, there it was!

So, an ah well for it – at least my name is out there.

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Search yourself lately?

I have lately done a lot of internet searches for a multitude of reasons (fact-checking for manuscripts, research and background for specific topics, refreshing my memory, etc.). I have found myself checking websites to ensure they are still available/actually exist (another form of fact-checking). I also found myself trying to relocate a website about a specific person…

Then, for a lark, I decided to check on my own name and see what came up.

The only things that came up on Yahoo, Google, Bing, and even Ask.com (though there wasn’t much on that one) all seemed to relate to me or my family. All the links looked unremarkable, although there were even some that were promising (there were a few acknowledgements in books that I hadn’t been aware of being acknowledged in floating around out there – one from years and years ago), so I was breezing through the little mini-blurbs that pop up with the keywords highlighted without actually clicking on them, and was getting some warm fuzzies from all the nice things being said (and grimacing at the photos of me, ew…). I saw one place and then another that said something along the lines of “We found 1 people with the name of Ronda Swolley…” and discovered that, unlikely as it may be, I think I am the only Ronda Swolley in all the internet – at least it sure seems that way, LOL!

Everything that popped up was about me, except one odd little bit about an arrest report in Council Bluffs, Iowa. When I first saw that I was a bit peeved, thinking someone had falsely given my information to the police. I don’t recall ever being on the wrong side of the law – or at least getting caught on the wrong side of the law. My misspent youth probably had a few minor infractions I may or may not recall under pressure, and there was a parking ticket deluge that was my ex-husband’s fault which resulted in a warrant of appearance on me because the vehicle was in my name (his sneaky way of getting me to sign the title over to him). However, the way search engines work made it seem as though that link was about me when it wasn’t even about my name! When I tried to track that police report down to see what it said I had been arrested for it was actually a list of reports with my first name and another last name on one report, and then a few lines down someone else with my last name but a different first name had been charged with a misdemeanor violation involving having too many dogs. At least that is what it sounded like. I know who it was (a relative of my husband) but have no idea why she would have had enough dogs to be charged with any kind of violation!

I wonder how many people have seen something like that about another person and jumped to conclusions about it without ever taking that step of clicking on the link to investigate the information. I know that I will be less likely to jump to conclusions in future, bad or good, and more likely to actually investigate the links I find!

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personal stuff

I know that I am not doing a great job of blogging at least once a week as I resolved to do, but things always happen that make it difficult to get everything I wanted to do in a week done. Usually it is work that is eating up my time, but I haven’t really had a lot of work in the last couple months. Which is just as well…

This last couple of months has been actually about four months long, and extremely hectic and tedious.

My adult stepson’s car is dead, dead, dead – so dead it is now a neat little cube on someone’s scrap metal pile – so he is without transportation other than friends. Actually his friends have stepped up and done right by him so he is not asking me for much by way of ‘taxi service’ which is a relief, but there is the occasional run during bad weather. He at least remembers to say thank you!

My adult but disabled daughter has never had a license due to her seizure disorder never being completely controlled, so I have always been driving her all over creation. More so lately as she has had a lot of appointments – some of which I hope will result in her getting transportation assistance to medical appointments at least. But also more running her around because she is spending a lot of time at her boyfriend’s place, and he also does not have a vehicle. He sometimes will ask for a ride to work if I am over there picking her up anyway (it is only a few blocks the wrong way so not a big deal, though he did quit asking me to run over and drop him somewhere after I had a disagreement with him over issues unrelated to transportation).

My youngest is having some medical issues as well, and is not able to drive at night. That means I have to go pick her up and run her to the ER if she is having a problem at night, but she needs it so there it is.

My husband can’t drive for a few months – he had an unexplained seizure-like episode in October and then continued to have seizures up until he quit smoking in late November. Doctor said “No work, no driving until six months after last seizure” so he is stuck with no driving until the day after his birthday. I have almost always done most of the long distance driving (on visits to relatives or if we are going to anything more than thirty miles away), but now that he is not ALLOWED to drive, he is complaining non-stop about my driving (in town or on the highway) and comes up with at least one errand every day that I need to take him on simply because he is bored out of his skull with sitting around the house. This is on top of the fact that he has had a doctor appointment either here in town or over to the VA hospital clinics in Iowa City (seventy-six miles away) at least twice a week since October. I understand his boredom, but I am tired of his complaints, and am just not used to all this running around.

Under normal conditions I would run my daughter to appointments and out on errands a couple of times a week, and not go out much more than that. All of these errands and appointments and just DRIVING people around is really impacting my time management! I spent nine hours just sitting in my car one day, taking one person after another to one place or another – and that was just one day!

Arg!

Oh well – with hubby not driving I finally got him to trade in the older van and the pickup he hated driving (big old Ford F250), and got a smaller car with better mileage. Even brand new it has half the payment that the pickup had on it. It is good for now, and when he can start driving again I have him convinced that we can get a much smaller pickup that won’t cost as much and will be more economical (I hope so anyway). This just goes to prove that every dark cloud has a silver lining – you just have to look for it!

Maybe I will be able to post a real blog soon. Something about reading, writing, or publication!

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Heartland Book Design, HBD

This company is VERY good at book design and I really enjoy working with them. If you are considering self-publishing, you may want to contact them. The website focuses on textbooks, especially mathematics, as they are set up to develop formulaic material better than most design companies – but they really are versatile and can work with most topics as well as with indie authors of novels.

 

http://www.heartlandbookdesign.com/

 

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Jason Tesar and Awakened series

Posted on Jason Tesar’s thread about his Awakened series, but wanted to post it here as well:

I have read a lot of books, edited a lot of books, and studied a lot of theories, ideas, and books – including religion, humanities, and theology text books. I have read religious books (including, among many others, different versions of the Bible).
I want to say that I have never come across any better description of angels then what Jason Tesar has come up with for this series, and setting it in a sci fi book was just a huge bonus.
It has made me reevaluate my own internal expectations of what an angel ‘should’ be like. Thank you for giving me some food for thought, and a great read at the same time.

Visit jasontesar.com to see more information on this established and simultaneously up and coming series of books that are progressively improving over time as Jason moves to spending more time on honing his writing skills in order to present his vision in a clear and effective way. Kudos Jason Tesar!

 

https://www.facebook.com/pages/jasontesarcom/122369167814373

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