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Is your plot limping along? Do your characters need a shot of believability? Do you have an overdose of adjectives and adverbs? If the answer is yes—or worse, you don’t know what I’m talking about—then you need a book doctor.
An award-winning author, Sandi Rog has been editing since 1999 and has given writing workshops in various venues. She enjoys teaching the craft to aspiring authors. Learn more about Sandi by clicking on her photo or by visiting her blog at http://sandirog.blogspot.com/.
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MEET THE DOCTORS (Click on the picture to get to their website)
EDIE MELSON is a freelance writer and editor with a passion for life’s stories. She loves to share her 16+ years experience in the field of writing through mentoring and teaching others.
Pam Zollman is the award-winning author of 40 children’s books and numerous short stories and articles. She’s an experienced editor and a charter member of Romance Writers of America. She also speaks regularly at writers’ conferences across the country, critiques manuscripts, and judges in writing contests.
WENDY CHOROT will pull out her stethoscope and diagnose your manuscript's symptoms. She'll write the correct prescription and follow up on rehabilitation. She's the type of book doctor who says, "Take two of these and I'LL call you in the morning."
SANDY TRITT is a writer, editor and speaker, as well as the founder and CEO of Inspiration for Writers, Inc. Her fiction has appeared in many literary magazines and anthologies. She teaches creative writing and gives writing workshops.
Award-winning author and speaker, DARLENE FRANKLIN has six books and novellas in print (with six more on the way) as well as numerous nonfiction articles. Aside from her experience in publishing, Darlene is available to help you with your editing needs.
DAVE KING is the co-author of "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers," a best-seller among writing books. An independent editor since 1987, he is also a former contributing editor at "Writer's Digest." Many of his magazine pieces on the art of writing have been anthologized in "The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing" and in "The Writer's Digest Writing Clinic."
"There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."
W. Somerset Maughm
If you’re reading this, then you’ve probably already read a lot about the art and craft of writing – how-to books, articles in both magazines and online, writing blogs. Maybe you’ve joined critique groups to trade feedback with other writers or taken writing classes. Maybe you’ve even read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.
These various sources of information can often be a lot of help. They can open your eyes to writing techniques you didn’t know about, or help you see problems in your writing that you might not have otherwise noticed. But there’s a danger to all of them – not in the sources themselves, but in the way you approach them. Taken the wrong way, even the best of them can damage your writing. You can avoid this danger, though, if you remember one simple truth.
Sometimes, you need to ignore even the best advice.
A client struggling with his dialogue once asked me how long his sentences should be. He'd heard a writing teacher say that ten words was the limit. I replied that shorter sentences often increase the pace and tension of a story, which is usually a good thing – that’s probably why the teacher gave the advice she did. But it was far more critical for him to listen to his characters. If they were deliberate or rambling, they should speak in longer sentences. The terse or dimwitted should use shorter ones. He was in trouble because he was putting the advice he’d gotten ahead of the people he was trying to create.
The techniques you use in writing your story can’t be separated from the story itself. For instance, if you use more interior monologue to convey a character's reactions to events, your character will seem more introspective. Nor can you write shorter scenes without changing how your plot tension builds. A rule about the right way to structure a plot won’t help when what you need is the right to structure your plot. The best way to convey characters is always whatever is the best way to convey your characters. You need to find the advice that will let you tell your story rather than adapting your story to the advice you’re getting.
Of course, you do need to get advice. Your story may not be working because you're using a particular writing technique in a clumsy way through inexperience or inattention. You may be using an approach that doesn’t fit your story or ignoring another that does. But you can’t treat what you learn as immutable law: "Thou shalt not use dream sequences," "Thou shalt have no narrative summary," "Thou shalt not commit omniscient narration for it is an abomination." Instead, think of writing techniques as tools that let you perform certain tasks as you write.
The key to using any tool intelligently is to understand how it works. So as you’re reading about how often to paragraph, try to see how your writing changes if you paragraph more or less frequently. As you learn ways to work a character’s past into the story, ask yourself how the different techniques would affect the way your readers feel about that character. Then, once you have a feel for what the different tools can and cannot do, focus on your story, on your characters, on the particular vision that is your novel. This will help you choose the tools that will best create your story.
Above all, never follow advice blindly – not even my own. Some of my clients have become clients because they took the advice in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers as if it were commandments from on high – automatically eliminating all –ly adverbs or never writing anything that wasn’t an immediate scene. Sometimes the right thing to do is to ignore advice, even the best advice.
So how do you tell what to ignore? Inspiration. When some piece of advice inspires you, makes you say, “Of course, that’s what I’m doing wrong!” or leaves you itching to start on your rewrite, then you've just learned something you really need.