Category Archives: Client Discussions

General notes to and from my editing clients.

The Problem with First-Person Narratives – Beware the I-Bombs! (Part 2 – Practical Examples)

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

This post is a follow-up to one I did some time ago: The Problem with First-Person Narratives – Beware the I-Bombs! If you haven’t read that one yet, this would be a good time to do so.

I’ll not repeat what I said in that post. Rather, I shall move right on the some practical before and after samples, identifying both the problem and at least one potential fix. I’ve used actual examples from pieces I’ve edited/reviewed/read, so as always, I shall not mention any writers’ names, so as to protect the not-so-innocent.

~~~

BAD: When I was young, I pointed out the inconsistencies as if I caught him cheating at cards, which he also did quite often.

Notes: The new opening below is a simple turn of phrase to not make it appear all about “I” at every moment. The second key change was making it not about “I” catching the cheating, but about “he” doing the cheating. Focus on the characters and actions around “I,” making it about them as much as possible, relying on the fact that we’re in the POV of “I,” and trusting the reader to react as “I” would want them to react.

BETTER: As a youngster, I pointed out the inconsistencies, as if he’d been cheating at cards or something—which he did quite often.

~~~

BAD: I used to think I could make a living as a skier, but then I realized that I was wrong.

Notes: This option, with its 4 “I” in just 20 words, is all telling and rather… well, dull. The second option takes us deeper inside the character’s true motivations, and concludes with a striking self-admonition (and commentary) in the form of monologue.

BETTER: I’d imagined skiing bringing me wealth and fame. Yeah, money and girls—a life to make most folks bristle with envy, at least the guys. I’m such an idiot!

~~~

BAD: I hear a sound from behind the garage, and I wonder what it might be. Maybe I should investigate.

Notes: Blah! Ick! Phooey! Where to begin? 1) It’s all telling; nothing actually happens. 2) Yeah? Well, we wonder too, so please give us something. What kind of sound? A prowler? A dog? An alien invasion? 3) The narrator suggests doing something, but again… nothing actually happens. Seriously, haven’t you always wanted to read a book in which nothing actually happens? No? Shocker! In fact, elsewhere in the story, the author suggests (again weakly) that the character is fearful of a stalker. Okay… so…? It’s time to engage the reader.

BETTER: I spin around as a loud crash echoes from behind the garage. It seems those tottering, beat-up old garbage cans are still good for something. I waste not a second in bolting for the back door, zipping inside the house and throwing the deadbolt firmly into place. Next stop: the phone and a 9-1-1 call.

~~~

BAD: I thought I’d be able to figure out how I got here in the first place, but I still couldn’t believe I was lost.

Notes: “But enough about me. What do you think about me?” That’s how these I-Bombs often feel, as if it’s just all about “me” and nothing else matters. Also, this violates almost every rule of Show vs. Tell, failing to bring the reader into the moment. Remember those 3 words: “in the moment.” The best fiction brings a reader in and allows her to experience the story right along with the characters, as it happens. Ah yes, 3 more important words: “as it happens.” In this particular scene, the author attempted—and failed—to paint the character’s fear at being so completely lost. She simply didn’t paint the scene for us at all.

BETTER: How did I get here? For that matter, where the devil was here? What a ridiculous situation, to be so utterly lost. I glanced around again, mindful of the knot growing in my stomach—churning, rumbling, threatening to seek escape at any moment. I spun around and… nope, no toilets out here. Well this is just great!

Another Note: I’m a huge fan of the writer’s directive to “make every word count.” However, you must create the story for the reader. This is a classic case of under-writing. As an author, you can’t keep critical secrets. It’s not enough that you see the image in your mind; the reader must see the image in her mind. So share!

~~~

BAD: I thought I might make her understand. I thought I could appeal to her feminine wiles. I thought I’d probably get lucky, in the end. I guess I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did.

Notes: At this point, it seems as though I shouldn’t have to say anything. You should be jumping all over this and in your best Arnold Horshack voice (for you fellow old-timers out there), yelling, “Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! I know it, Mr. Kotter.” Nonetheless….

First, if you’re writing a first-person narrative, make it a point to use the Find function in MS Word, and type in “[space]I[space]“, and check the box that says “Highlight all items found in:”. This will highlight with a black box every instance of “I” in your manuscript. In time, you’ll want to do the same for variations: I’ll, I’m, I’d. Then, with the selections highlighted, scroll down and look for instances where those black boxes appear like a swarm of flies. Yep… time to revise.

In the case of the example above, the word “I” appears 10 times in 38 words. Umm… no. Just no.

BETTER: She’d come around in time. After all, how could she resist my manly charms, my smooth moves, my irresistible… well, me?

She didn’t respond at all. She just turned around without a word, and left.

~~~

BAD: I saw smoke rising over the downtown district.

Notes: This is the simplest of all remedies, and it falls smack under the heading of “Show, Don’t Tell.” The first-person narrator, the character, is telling the story, so if he conveys some action, we know it’s because he saw/heard/felt it, etc. So just paint the picture for us.

BETTER: Smoke rose over the downtown district.

~~~

I hope those examples will help guide you in trying to eliminate your own I-Bombs. Of course, my alternatives above are just a single example, in each case, of how you might fix the problem. Ultimately, your own style and voice will dictate the fix, and that’s fine. Just fix it! No carpet-I-Bombing allowed. :)

~~~~~~~~~~

Lane Diamond Is Now Offering “Mini-Edits” for Writers

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

As a writing coach and longtime freelance editor, I know that many writers yearn for assistance, but don’t quite have the financial means to hire the help they need. Well, what if you could get help for just $20, or $10, or even $5?

Yep, you heard right.

It occurred to me that many writers might find helpful “mini-edits” of short segments that are giving them some trouble. As a writer, you might learn what you need, at least for one pesky little problem, by getting edits and helpful notes on 500 words or less – maybe even as little as a couple of paragraphs.

What would my mini-edits include? Well, I would do the actual edits in your MS Word document, using their Track Changes process, so you would see what I deleted and what I offered as an alternative. If you like it, you can simply ACCEPT the changes and – Voila! – your segment is fixed. I will also include helpful notes where appropriate, and possibly even links to additional resources to help you address your issue(s). In other words, I give you everything I give any client, or any author with Evolved Publishing, for example – just in smaller bursts.

If this sounds like a service that will benefit you, just visit my Writing Coach page, and you’ll find the purchase options for mini-edits right near the top of the page.

~~~~~

An Opportunity for Aspiring Writers to be Published Authors

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

Over at the Evolved Publishing website today is a post about my services as writing coach. Specifically, I’m looking for that one “special project” to help an author achieve his or her dreams, and to help make Evolved Publishing that much better.

If you’ve created a good novel-length story but your actual “writing” still needs some work, and you think I can help coach you up to “publishable,” then stop by and check out the post linked below.

Would a Writing Coach Make Sense for You?

Butterfly - Mark Twain

~~~~~~~~~~

“I have a Kindle Paperwhite, and I love it! It’s so easy on the eyes that I can read on it for hours, just like a paper book, in any light.” – Lane Diamond

CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW FOR DETAILS:

~~~~~~~~~~

Grab Your Readers Right from the Start, and then Hang On!

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

I think it’s safe to say that most folks have a short attention span these days, distracted by a million things going on all at once. Readers are getting harder and harder to find, as the percentage of people who say they read less than one book per year continues to climb. And those readers who are still in the game have approximately 7,629,954,813 books to choose from, and those are just the books self-published in the last 24 hours. :p

Seriously, as writers, our job is to grab hold of the reader quickly – certainly on the first page, hopefully in the first paragraph, and best yet, with the very first line. And yet, too many authors give short shrift to that opening line. These days, they do so at their own peril.

When I set out to write Forgive Me, Alex, my psychological thriller, I recognized the importance of the opening. Indeed, I obsessed over it. I wrote one I thought was quite good… and trashed it. I wrote a new opening that I though was truly excellent… and trashed it. Then I wrote one that was nothing short of brilliant… and trashed it.

I finally figured out that, while it was so critical to come up with a grabber of an opening, I was simply trying too hard. It took me far too long to realize that a literary jab would be the best option, like Mike Tyson throwing a series of lefts – Pop, pop, pop! Furthermore, I liked the idea of not just a quick jab on the first line, but an even quicker jab on the second line, which functioned as something of a punchline (pun intended). Here’s what I settled on:

—–I never expected to be a killer.

—–Who does?

Now, is that stunning, extraordinary prose? Not even close. It’s quick and simple, my version of the Pop, pop!

Reader response has been pretty good, as several have indicated they saw that first line and thought, “Oh, what’s that about?” Perfect.

In my sequel, The Devil’s Bane, (assuming I ever finish the darn thing) this is my planned opening:

—–Not the typical Saturday night out; Maria Molinari would always remember this day, if only she lived through it.

—–Not likely.

Once again, I tried to use the second line as a quick punchline to the first. And once again, I hope it will raise in the reader’s mind a question that he simply must answer. We’ll see.

Quite often, writers make the mistake of starting out with setting, painting a vivid scene for the reader. The problem is that without context – some story that takes place within that setting – the scene becomes irrelevant. Dear writer, please… start with action, drama, intrigue – something that makes the reader sit up straight and yearn to see what comes next. Do it right away, right out of the chute, in the fist paragraph. If you can, give it real punch, that Pop, pop! we talked about.

Of course, you’ll then want to roll right into a scene that keeps the reader engaged, anxious, excited. If you can provide that thrill of anticipation right from the start, all else being equal, you’ll have a much greater likelihood of attracting readers. Remember: many readers nowadays sample a piece online to determine if they might want to buy it. Don’t squander that opportunity.

~~~~~~~~~~

Dear Author: Is Your Editor REALLY an Editor?

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

I’ve been working the last couple of days to catch up on submissions at Evolved Publishing, where I, as managing publisher/editor, am responsible for such things. I always wade into our submissions queue with a sense of hope and optimism, though that doesn’t usually last long. I hate to say that, as it sounds so negative, but it’s the harsh truth.

One of the most frustrating things for me is to have to review a submission for which the author has clearly spent little time revising and polishing. Nothing irritates me more than seeing someone’s rough first draft. I always want to fire off a harsh note, but I refrain out of simple courtesy and professionalism — traits I wish those authors shared.

Equally as frustrating, but aimed at a different target, is the piece that has been “professionally edited” prior to submission. My first reaction to seeing that in an author’s email is to thank the heavens. However, what I find upon opening the manuscript is often discouraging.

A recent submission mentioned this editing, and even included the editor’s name and links to Facebook and website pages. After reading the first paragraph of the manuscript (1 simple mistake and 2 bad choices), then the rest of the first page (2 more obvious mistakes and several more bad choices), I had to go to that editor’s pages to see who this person was. It was another writer who, apparently not having a lot of luck as an author, decided to hang up a shingle as editor. This person’s qualifications? I don’t know. I can’t seem to find any.

Now, I’m sure the author in question paid for this editor’s services in the hopes that she would have a final manuscript that was clean, polished to a fine sheen — a true professional presentation.

She should get her money back.

I’ve also recently received inquiries from authors who stated that they paid for editing services previously, but that they still felt their manuscript needed some work. They wanted to know if I was available to edit their piece, and if so, at what rates. When I told them, they gasped a little, having already paid for editing once. I understand; I really do. However, it’s not my job to work for less than minimum wage to clean up another editor’s poor work.

This — editing or writer coaching — is like any other product or service: you get what you pay for.

The problem seems to be that, just as anyone can publish last week’s grocery list and call themselves an author, anyone can hang up an online shingle and call themselves an editor. In this internet age, the old “Buyer beware!” adage is more relevant than ever. So what is an author to do? How can you be assured you’re getting good work from your editor? The simplest answer is to get a second opinion, and maybe even a third.

Before hiring an editor or writing coach, get a sample edit. The sample should cover at least 1,000 words, and it should offer enough in the way of edits and instructional notes to make you feel comfortable that the person knows what he’s talking about. And then? Get a sample from another editor/coach, and compare the two. Is one apparently far ahead of the other in terms of skill and insight? Well, there’s your choice. Are the two really close? Then maybe a third opinion is needed.

At the very least, hop on the phone (or Skype, as I use) and talk with the editors/coaches, and get a feel for them. Which one sounds like you’ll be able to work with her? Which one can offer you concrete answers to your questions? Which one can point to previous success stories?

REFERENCES: This one is tricky, because I think it’s entirely possible for someone to be both relatively new and very good. Hey, we all started somewhere. However, when in doubt, and lacking any other method for deciding between candidates, let those references guide you. Get contact information on those references, and a blessing from the editor to contact them. Hey, this is a job interview, after all!

Finally, if the editor in question is one of the many who first came to the industry as aspiring writers, then switched modes and became an editor, read their work. If they have a book or two published, at least take advantage of the free sampling available at retail sites. If their work seems less than stellar, not up to your standards, then you know that’s an editor to avoid. Yes, editing and writing are, in many respects, two different skill sets. Just because someone is a great editor doesn’t mean they’ll be a great writer, or vice versa. However, if the editor’s own writing is laden with errors, bad prose and structure, and utterly clichéd stories and characters… do you really want that person editing your work?

So please, be careful in choosing your editor, lest it be money down the drain. No editor can guarantee you success, of course, but a good one will help you grow as a writer, and make your finished product one that you can be proud — and certain — of. In this internet age, there are a lot of unqualified people passing themselves off as something they’re not. Exercise caution and due diligence, and remember: you get what you pay for.

What Does a Writing Coach Do?

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

Every writing coach is the same, and each one is different. Wait… huh? Yep, all writing coaches seek to dig deep into a writer’s needs, to help them reach the point where they’re producing professional-grade material that’s worthy of a broad reading audience. However, each coach may have a unique mix of specialties and focus.

And so, as an author (or one who aspires to be an author), you should always analyze what your coach/editor has to offer, engage in a candid discussion BEFORE committing money, and perhaps get a sample analysis/edit of your writing. If a coach/editor balks at providing one, run. Run fast.

I’ve seen writing coaches advertise that they focus on content: plot, characterization, setting, etc, but that they don’t spend too much time on the “technical” aspects of writing, such as grammnar, strength of prose, structure, and so on. To me, that’s like saying to the new marine recruits at boot camp, “Okay, this is a gun. You use it to kill the enemy. Let’s move on.” …and then not showing them how the gun functions, how to break it down and clean it to keep it in good working order, and how to reassemble it.

My opinion: There are a million decent storytellers out there, but there are precious few “writers.”

Thus, my approach to coaching is to say that it makes no sense to try to separate the trees from the forest. Of course content is important, but if you can’t write professionally, yours will be just another amateur book. (I know… I’m such a hardass!)

Seriously, though, my approach has always been that if I can’t help you become the best writer/author you can be, then there’s really no sense in us working together. It’s not all about the money. If I can’t stand up and shout to the world, when you’re done and your book is available, “Hey, everyone, go buy this book, because it’s awesome!” …then we (meaning you and I together) haven’t done our job.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

However, unlike as in the image above, you’re not a kid. You’re a professional (or soon will be), and you deserve the appropriate respect and consideration.

Want a touchy-feely-please-tell-me-how-wonderful-I-am support system? Yeah… I’m not your guy. Want someone who will tell it like it is, and work tirelessly to address every issue that affects your career? Then maybe I’m your guy. Don’t get me wrong: I try to keep it as upbeat and positive as I can, because I think that’s important, but not if it ever interferes with the end goal. Hey, I know we creative types can be a bit… er… touchy. *smiling* But sometimes, a little tough love is the best kind.

So what is my focus as a writing coach?

CONTENT: Yes, of course I address the essential elements of plot, characterization, setting, a proper climax, etc. However – and this often surprises people – it may not be the first thing we address. Let’s face it: if readers can’t find the forest through the trees, because the trees themselves (your prose) are impossible to navigate, then the forest (your story) becomes irrelevant. Thus, we may need to address at least some of that before we get too far into content.

GRAMMAR: Look, professionals know the rules, so if you’re going to be a pro, we need to address even this mundane stuff. Don’t break into a cold sweat about this. The truth is that if you have a good teacher, one who’s focused on your specific needs, you’ll learn it more easily than you think.

ESSENTIAL STRUCTURE: It’s not just which words you use to tell your story, but how you choose to place those words that will determine how well readers respond. Use structure to ramp-up the tension. It’s often critical to choose just that right place to break a sentence, or a paragraph, or a chapter. I’ve been told by readers that this is a particular strength of mine, and I’d like it to be a strength of yours by the time we’re done.

STYLE: This will be uniquely yours, as it is with every writer, and a Writing Coach’s job is to teach you how to enhance your writing while remaining true to who you are. We all grow, and learn, and progress… but we remain who we are. That’s important, yet you must be ready to grow as a writer, willing to say on occasion, “Well, that’s not the me I want to be. I want to be this me.”

PRIMARY COMMANDMENTS OF EFFECTIVE WRITING: The first two of these you’ve no doubt heard countless times before; the third, maybe not (since it is, I believe, a Lane Diamond construct): 1) Show, Don’t Tell; 2) Make Every Word Count; 3) Keep It Strong and Direct. What do each of those things really mean? Well, we’ll certainly talk about that if we work together.

CONVERT YOUR BAD HABITS INTO GOOD HABITS: All writers bring some mix of bad habits to their work. Those can vary greatly from one writer to the next, yet certain bad habits are more universal than others. Here are just some of those: 1) SOBs (State-of-being Verbs); 2) Passive Voice; 3) Infinite Verb Phrases (An Act without an Actor); 4) Wordiness; 5) Excessive Proper Nouns; 6) Awkward Dialogue Tags; 7) I-Bombs. There’s more, of course, and we’ll tackle each issue as we encounter it.

So what is your next step?

If you think you’ll benefit from working with a coach, and you think, based on what you just read, that I may be able to help you, send me an email at Lane@LaneDiamond.com. Please put “Writing Coach Needed” in the Subject line.

I’ll arrange to to have a one-on-one talk with you (no charge), and I’ll look at your work to give you an idea of where our focus would need to be (no charge), and we’ll talk about the ultimate cost, of course, should we decide to move forward. I’ll be selective, and I typically only work with one student at a time, but even if I can’t help you right this minute, I may be able to get you on the calendar in the near term.

Here’s to your writing dreams becoming a reality!

Writing Coach for Hire: Lane Diamond

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

Are you looking for a Writing Coach? Do you need someone to provide highly-customized, one-on-one training? Do you need help with plot development, creating great characters, ramping up the power and efficacy of your prose, where to find resources to help you advance your writing career, formatting and uploading files as a self-published author, building a social media presence? All of the above?

I can help. To learn more, please visit this page: http://lanediamond.com/writing-coach/

~~~~~~~~~~