Tag Archives: editing

Writing Better: Call for Editing Exercise Suggestions

editing exampleOne of the most popular blogs on this site is the one where I took a page from The Hunger Games and explained why the writing needed a lot more work to be considered quality. I’d like to do another post like this, and need your help in picking a piece to go through.

Therefore, if you’ve read a book lately and thought, “this really could have used another draft or two,” I want to know about it! Grab your phone, snap a photo of the page and email it to contact@rlbrody.com; I’ll choose from the entries I receive and do another blog entry like that one. Here are the guidelines for submission:

1. Only traditionally-published books, please.
While I’m sure there are plenty of self-published books that could use another round of editing, the point here isn’t to pick on indie authors who are trying to make a name for themselves, and while I think using  an editor is a critical step in self-publishing, I don’t think it’s fair to go after those who may not have the resources to hire a professional editor.

2. I have to be able to read the page you submit.
For obvious reasons. If the book (and page) you pick is available via Google Books, that’s fine – in that case, just provide a link!

3. Please include the title and author of your selection.
Also, I hope, for obvious reasons.

4. Recent, popular books will be given preference over older submissions.
Because I want to talk about books read by the widest possible audience.

Looking forward to receiving your recommendations!

Looking forward to receiving your submissions!

Want to flex your own critical muscles? I’m accepting beta readers/advance reviewers for my upcoming short story collection SHORT FRICTIONS and would love to see your name and email address on the list!

 

 

Want to flex your own editing muscles? I’m accepting applications 

Please Verify Your Humanity

2013-01-20 13.41.42We’ve all seen them – verification captchas that ask you to type a handful of letters and numbers – usually quite difficult to read – in order to create an account or access information. “Prove you’re human.” Lately, the wording of these has started to get to me.

Maybe it’s because I spend so much time with my head in science fiction, but “Prove You’re Human” seems like a great way to piss off either an artificial intelligence singularity or an alien species that comes into contact with our internet. Or, maybe they wouldn’t want to access our stupid information anyways.

Today I registered for STEAM in order to get a copy of ACTUAL SUNLIGHT, an incredible and insightful game that deals with themes of depression and suicide (the original demo version was amazing, if intense), and was prompted by a new wording of the usual question: “Please Verify Your Humanity.”

While my quibble with the usual wording of this question might be pretty out there (and yes, I admit that they’re pretty out there), “Prove Your Humanity” makes me cringe. Why? Because there are plenty of humans capable of answering the question whose “humanity” I would call into question. (Example: the terrorists responsible for the kidnapping and subsequent “forced marriage” – i.e. sex trafficking – of over 200 young women in Nigeria on April 15th – they could probably answer the question, but I seriously doubt their “humanity,” per se.)

Google defines “Humanity” as:

hu·man·i·ty
(h)yo͞oˈmanitē/
noun
  1. 1.
    the human race; human beings collectively.
    “appalling crimes against humanity”
    synonyms: humankindmankindmanpeople, human beings, humans, the human race, mortals; More

  2. 2.
    humaneness; benevolence.
    “he praised them for their standards of humanity, care, and dignity”

 

 

But plenty of people guilty of crimes against humanity are still capable of typing a few letters and numbers, and all that says is that they can read and recognize letters – not that they treat others with humaneness or benevolence, and certainly not that they’re collectively human beings or “the entire human race”.

While I doubt this phrasing (or the original phrasing) bothers anybody but me, I thought it was interesting that in this case, not only is “humanity” being held up as the standard one should meet in order to participate in Steam’s community, but also that the test they give is no measure of humanity at all.

Thanks for indulging this minor digression into semantics. I appreciate your patience with my editing brain, and leave you with this video of humans kicking Big Dog, videotaping it, and putting it on the internet for our future robot overlords to see. Robot mistreatment starts around :40s.

Your Mind Is Beautiful, Your Notes Need Not Be

IMG_20140428_003107One of my favorite things about writing is how entire worlds, full of connections and characters and meaning, can simmer in your head right up to the moment when they burst out onto the page (or screen, as the case may be). Even so, thinking about stories, and eventually writing then down – especially once your life has reached a point where you’re snatching minutes from other obligations – can make keeping a train of thought difficult.

While I’ve never been one for formal outlines, over the years I’ve come to realize that making some kind of lose structural notes can help me both keep a story on track and make sure it’s tightened up before I have to restart it too many times.

My toolbox has a few basic methods in it, and today I’m going to share it with you.

1. Whiteboard/Visual Outlining
This is one of my favorite ways to outline a writing project. Whether you’re working in prose, film or theater format, I find that visual representations of ideas can be a great way to get ideas out of your head and down on paper.
Pros: fast, informal, fun, free-form. You can follow your gut and explore new pathways easily, with fewer lasting repercussions. Want to change a theme or an action, or foreshadow something happening later in your story? Just go back and add in another layer of your thought-web.
Cons: can be tricky to transcribe easily, leaves you looking like you went all BEAUTIFUL MIND if you happen to use a whiteboard wall. VERY unstructured, usually requires another round or two of thinking through what you want to say before you have something you can really work from. Hard to share with others.

2. The Save the Cat Beat Sheet
Last year, a friend introduced me to this tool during a too-infrequent visit. Based on Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat model, which is geared towards screenwriting, the adaptation I’ve been using is from a site called Liz Writes Books, and lets you plug the length of your project in, then adjusts for length. This is the method I’ve been using on the project Sareliz and I are working on together, and it’s been nothing short of brilliant. Using this excel sheet, we can easily communicate ideas and plot lines, and once I finished the sheet for the first novella in our series, the first draft was finished inside of a week.
Pros: Organized, helps make sure you’re hitting every note on your way through the novel.
Cons: The last time I tried to share the link with someone, the Excel sheet had been taken down. It looks like it’s back up, but who knows for how long, so I’d advise you to save a copy to your hard drive. The names of the steps can be a little misleading, but there’s plenty of additional information on Snyder’s theory out there to read up on.

3. Step-by-step Guide
Most of my notes for stories wind up being in this format. The other day, for example, I went all Beautiful Mind on my whiteboard; in transcribing the ideas over and making them into something I could coherently share, the ideas fell most easily into this form. An example would be, “Jane talks about her feelings. John doesn’t want to hear it, he leaves, she follows him, they argue. Everything blows up in her face.” Nice and succinct, gives you a general throughline on the story.
Pros: Easy to write organically, easy to keep up with your thoughts.
Cons: Hard to share in raw form, since specifics are rarely spelled out. Requires you to keep the specifics in mind as you work – what are Jane’s feelings? Why doesn’t John want to hear about them? 

4. Formal Outline
I hate formal outlines. I probably only use them when writing feature scripts and TV scripts, since those are two of the most structured forms of writing I know. If I’m writing a play, I rarely use an outline at all until I’m at least halfway through and have learned a bit about the characters. Anyway, a formal outline goes scene by scene and details what’s going to happen in each. Usually, they require several drafts themselves. What I find is that where feature films and TV scripts are concerned, they’re absolutely necessary, because you need to be able to adjust the story in major ways before you commit to writing a 50- or 120-page script. With short films and shorter episodic stories, however, I find they’re kind of a waste of time. In the time I can write a formal outline, I can work through two or three drafts of a short film script.
Pros: You pretty much must write one for a longer filmed project, and it’s good to at least know your way around putting one together. If you can keep focused, they make the actual writing of a script go much more quickly than it might otherwise go.
Cons: They’re bloody boring to write and then iron out, and in some cases you run the risk of getting tired of the project before you’re even at a first draft stage.

So, there are four methods for gathering your ideas and turning them into a coherent piece of creative writing. There are plenty more options – index cards, for example, though I’ve never been able to get the hang of using those – and these are just my preferences.

What method do you use in working on your creative writing pieces? Have you heard about other ways of working that I haven’t listed here? I’d love to hear about them if you have, so feel free to leave a comment!

“Passing” versus “upholding” a law.

First: I am thrilled that today the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as Obamacare) was judged by the Supreme Court to be constitutional.

Second: The Supreme Court did not “pass” this act.

Third: The Supreme Court did uphold this act.

Fourth: “Uphold” and “pass” are two different things, and in fact it would not have been possible for the Supreme Court to “pass” this legislation. As much as we talk about legislating from the bench, the court has to have a law presented to them before they can rule on it, and Congress is where this law was actually passed. If it hadn’t been passed, then there would have been no way to challenge it. I’m sure the lawyers out there will correct me on that if I’m wrong. But I’m pretty sure I’m not wrong.

As happy as I am that many many people will continue to get health coverage and not fall victim to pre-existing conditions, discriminatory premiums and more, the writer and editor in me is dying to take a red pen to all those tweets talking about how the court “passed” the law.

What the court did do was uphold the law, i.e., agree that it was constitutional (although not on the grounds that most expected it to be upheld upon). Alternatively, it could have struck down the law.

But the law had already passed. In Congress. Which is where laws get passed. They do not get passed in the Supreme Court.

Thus ends today’s civics lesson. Thank you.

An Exercise in Editing, or, Why The Hunger Games Makes My Eyes Bleed

From the back cover of THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins. The following quotes, from other writers in what one might call “related genres,” are meant to draw attention to the positive features of Collins’ work.

Go ahead. Read ’em.

Note that each of these quotes, from luminaries and sources including Stephen King (Entertainment Weekly), Stephanie Meyer (OMG she’s OBSESSED), and John Greer (The New York Times Book Review), talks about the plotting and structure of THE HUNGER GAMES.

Not a single one of the back cover comments brings up the question of the quality of the book’s prose. 

There are many reasons this might be the case: the marketing team may have learned that putting quotes about suspenseful page-turners sell more copies and left out things like “Collins’ prose challenges some of the greats of our era with its artistry and subtle evocation of the stresses that authoritarian governments manufacture to maintain control of their populations.” They could have left out, “Her words added an emotional depth and clarity to this packed, well-paced story.” They could have left out lots of things. I haven’t looked up the full reviews.

My personal feeling is that they cherry-picked quotes about pacing because THE HUNGER GAMES suffers from a case of seriously bad writing.

Which brings us to this blog entry. Collins is an author who presumably worked with an editor to get her words to this pointI presume they both considered it publishable. (And charge-for-able). Editors do a lot of different things when it comes to getting manuscripts ready for publication. One of those things is language. And I think both Collins and her editor fell down hard on that front.

My background with THE HUNGER GAMES:

I read chapters 1-4 on my Kindle when @tyyche gifted me a copy. I was at the tail end of two weeks of intensive editing work on Hot Mess, and while I could certainly see why Collins’ story was an entertaining one, the actual quality of the writing made it impossible for me to continue. I said at the time, and continue to maintain, that my guess is the book translates better to the screen than most adaptations. If I ever see the film, I’ll make sure to let you all know.

Anyways, fast forward to the end of May. My roommate’s copy is lying on the kitchen counter and it’s Memorial Day Weekend and after walking past the book a few times, I think, well, maybe I should pick that up and just breeze through it, so at least when people start defending it on Twitter I can come back with a more informed opinion than the one I have now, which is based on reading four chapters of the thing on a Kindle.

There was no way in hell I was going to start reading the book from the beginning again. I backtracked about a paragraph into chapter 4, then continued with chapter five, which was badly written but at least kept moving, then headed into chapter six. It wasn’t until the last page of chapter six that I became aware of a string of paragraphs I probably would have let go through without too much rewriting: page 85 in my edition, from the point where the Avox girl is picking up Katniss’ unitard (UNITARD!) to the end of the chapter. This was the first time that the spare, simple voice beneath Collins’ prose really came out to me, and one of the first times (only 85 pages in!) where I felt like Collins had really hit her stride.

Then it was into chapter seven, and that wasn’t any bloody fun at all.

By this time, half of Twitter had figured out that I was actually reading the book I’d been complaining about for months, and I started getting snarky comments from my co-writer, Eric, particularly because I’d given him such a hard time back when he did the reviews of the first book for The Masquerade Crew. One thing led to another and when I started talking about how what I actually want to do is a top-to-toe rewrite on the entire thing, and I half wanted to do red marks all over a page from the book and show people what my editing process was like, Eric challenged me to do precisely that.

So everything after the break is his fault.
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Huge Writing Announcement: “Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change” – Kindle, Smashwords & Nook

Welcome to my 100th post for rlbrody.com.

I didn’t realize I’d have something significant to say when I hit this blogging milestone. Imagine how excited I was when I realized. (Actually, if you follow me on twitter, you probably don’t have to do much imagining.)

So here it is. Huge Writing Announcement.

A few months ago, I posted about an anthology I was putting together: short stories about global warming and climate change, and their effects on humankind.

Today that anthology – Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change – went live on Amazon.com.

Over the next 36 hours or so, it will populate to Amazon’s international sites. Over the next couple of weeks, Nook, Smashwords and CreateSpace (a print service – that’s right, actual books) will join the Kindle version of Hot Mess for sale.

But today, it’s just there for Kindle. If you’re a Kindle owner, or if you’ve downloaded one of their ten billion Kindle apps for your smartphone, iPhone, iPad, or desktop, you can click on this link right here and you will be able to download your very own copy of Hot Mess. And you should. Because not only is it a piece of work I’m over-the-moon proud of, but it’s work with a grassroots-level charity angle: each author has agreed to donate a portion of whatever earnings they have from Hot Mess to a charity or awareness-raising organization close to their heart,  involved in dealing with climate change.

So go buy Hot Mess. What will you be getting?

The anthology starts with She Says Goodbye Tomorrow by Eric Sipple, a story about wine and family and loss and memory.  From there, my super-short Haute Mess takes a whimsical, fashion-based look at how visual and physical climates interact. Miranda Doerfler gives us In Between the Dark and the Light, an action-filled tale about a father and his daughter, followed by Sare Liz Gordy‘s Traditionibus ne Copulate, which (I think, and I know she’ll correct me if I’m wrong) translates to “Don’t fuck with tradition.” Next, my piece Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. is a domestic coming-of-age tale about a boy, his mother, an industrial accident and the house computer. Finally, RJ Astruc brings the anthology’s central questions back to the forefront with her fictional travelogue, The World Gets Smaller, and Things Get Left Behind.

Hot Mess features hand-drawn illustrations by musician/ecologist Hannah Werdmuller as well as a fashionably modern – and eye-catching – cover design from Sarah Hartley. Mere Smith’s assistance with proofreading and Jason Derrick’s with formatting were (and continue to be) very much appreciated. This book wouldn’t be out today without your work. Thank you, so much, to each of you.

A little over seven months ago, I approached four writers and asked them if they were interested in writing a short story anthology about climate change. They were. The project started. Now it’s over.

Except it’s not. There’s still loads to do: more uploading, more formats, more reviews, more readers, more awareness. I will talk about all of that more later – in another blog entry. Earth Day is next month; I’ll definitely talk about it before then. I hope you will, too.

For now, please read Hot Mess.

Then start talking, posting, retweeting, and facebooking about it.

 

UPDATE (3/21): You may have noticed that some of the above links are now directing you to Smashwords! You can now buy the book directly there; in a few weeks it will have populated out to sites like Kobo, the iTunes store and more.

If you’re reading on Kindle, I would still recommend you purchase the Amazon version, as that has been optimized for your platform. Nook users, Smashwords does a lovely job of converting to a Nook-friendly format.

Click Here to Buy Hot Mess

 

UPDATE 2:  This morning, I got to send my dad a text: “Your daughter is currently outselling Isaac Asimov in her category.” (We’d just pulled ahead of “I, Robot”).  The book rose to just over 9K in the Amazon store rankings. Within our own category (sci-fi anthologies), “Hot Mess” shot to #20 on the top #100 list, climbed up another few spots before topping out at #15, and lingered there overnight. (EDIT: Hannah has just let me know she saw it at #14 at 2am! Not sure if that’s EST or PST, but either way!) Not bad for Upload Day, right?

Things Are Hotting Up – On Climate Change, Speculative Fiction, and Short Story Anthology HOT MESS.

http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=345

Carlos Porto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My first summer in New York City was hot. Not “better put on flip flops and a tank top” hot. 105 in the shade hot. Born and raised in Buffalo, New York, and having just spent four years living in Scotland, I remember calling my mom as I walked home from work one day. She could probably hear the sweat in my voice. “What was I thinking?” I asked her. She had no answer.

Most of the year, NYC is a climactically pleasant place to be.  But every summer I’ve been there, without fail, has included one or two miserable days – at the least. And every winter has been a little bit less extreme. In 2011, those miserable summer days came in mid-July, and with them an idea for an anthology of short stories that could examine the idea of climate change and its impact on the way people live in and relate to their world.

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