Monday, November 30, 2009

Choose Your Words Carefully

When I first started writing, I had no idea how difficult the journey was going to be. Thankfully, God sent me a few talented and gifted writers who willingly and graciously shared their expertise, and helped me to learn and to grow. In my articles here on The Book Doctor, I’ll tackle many of the topics I’ve dealt with in my own writing, and many that I see on a daily basis from my editing clients.

Today, we’ll focus on three topics related to words.

Overused Words

One weakness in most first drafts is the use of pet words and phrases. Recognizing this weakness gives us the opportunity to make more of our writing, and create a stronger story for the reader.

I’ve compiled a list of words that I provide to my clients, and I’ll share it with The Book Doctor’s readers, too. Just visit this page, and click on the link for the free “Overused Words List” download in pdf format.

Learning to spot those weak words gives us an opportunity to show, instead of tell; an opportunity to be active with our story, rather than passive. Author Jeanne Marie Leach provides some excellent examples in her book Writing Basics for Beginners.

First, she offers a simple sentence, and shows how to reword it to eliminate the overused (and passive) word “was”:

She was tired.
Her body ached as she climbed the stairs to the house.

She offers another example:

Jane was angry at her brother for telling her parents she was the one who’d caused the stain on the carpet.

Then she shows us how to eliminate the “was” and pull the reader right into the middle of the story, with words that show, rather than tell:

Jane frowned and stomped her foot. “You little brat! You had no right to tell Mom and Dad I spilled my juice on the rug. I’m going to ring your stupid little neck when I catch you.”

The difference is amazing, isn’t it? It's much more powerful, and we feel like we're right there in the middle of the scene.

Repetitious Phrases

After you’ve scanned your manuscript for the list words, be sure to check for repetition of favorite phrases concerning your characters. Does your heroine regularly tuck her hair behind her ear, chew her bottom lip, or tap her fingernails impatiently? Does your hero crack his knuckles, toss his head back, or wink? The reader will catch these phrases faster right away, so you’ll want to add variety. If you need help coming up with different traits, just pay a visit to the coffee shop or bookstore for observation. (Any excuse, right?) Watch how people interact, then watch their movements when they’re sitting alone. You’ll be surprised at how much fresh material you can gather in just one trip!

Word Usage

Many writers like to share their knowledge of big words, but sometimes simpler is better, especially when we discover that we’re explaining ourselves every other paragraph. I’m not saying “dumb-down” our writing – I’m saying we need to be wise with our word choices to best convey our meaning, keeping the reader in mind as we write.

Eliminating overused, passive words and phrases, avoiding repetition, and choosing the right words can make our stories stronger, and can make us better writers overall, but we must work at it. Anyone who thinks a writer is “lazy” must not be a writer himself. Don’t you agree?

P.S. Don’t forget to hop over to Write Integrity to get your free Overused Words List!

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Monday, November 23, 2009

From Contract to Publication: The Editing Process

Since I have achieved the lofty status of being multi-published (tell that to my bank), Sandi suggested I begin by sharing the editing process with you.

Author’s caveat: All my books have been published by Barbour Publishing. There will be some minor differences among publishing houses, but all manuscripts go through a similar process—the author just gets more or less input.

With my first book, Romanian Rhapsody, I thought the editor would tell about any needed changes before I received a contract. When that didn’t happen, I assumed that meant my “baby” was perfect.

So I was caught by surprise when a few months later, I received requested revisions from a copy editor that she needed to have returned within in a few days. I had spent a year writing the book and now I had less than a week to change it. Gasp! Not to mention a request that I delete 3,000 words! (Or was it 300?)

Now as a seasoned veteran, I expect changes and set aside time in my schedule when the publication date approaches.

Steps in the editing process: (These steps aren’t set in stone, but are fluid, and may be called by different names.)

1. The editor receives the author’s manuscript, reviews it, makes comments, and passes it on to a content editor.

2. The content editor adds her comments to the editor’s comments on the overall book: plot development, character development, pacing, dialogue, POV, etc. She returns it to the author for changes. Steps 1-2 are repeated until the author gets it “right.”

3. A line (or copy) editor checks the manuscript for formatting, grammar issues and word usage and returns it to the author for changes. This is the author’s last chance to make major revisions.

4. Once the manuscript has been typeset, the galleys (either hard copy or electronic) are returned to the author for proofreading. Only actual mistakes in the text are corrected in this step.

The author’s response during the editing process can make or break her continued success with the publisher:
Is she flexible enough to accept editorial direction in the manuscript?
Is she able to make the requested changes?
Does she work within the requested turnaround time?
Does she present clean copy, with minimal need for line edits?
Does she request major changes once the galleys have been typeset?

Every manuscript needs the help of a good editor; and I’ve been fortunate to work with some great ones at Barbour.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Call for Submissions

Do you need an extra eye to take a look at a section of your work? Did someone tell you your scene was "off," but you don't know how to fix it? Do you have questions about writing in general?

If so, pop us an email and we'll be happy to diagnose the problem.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Please welcome Tracy Ruckman and Darlene Franklin

Allow me to introduce two new contributing editors recently added to the Book Doctor Blog.

Tracy Ruckman is a full-time freelance writer, editor, and photographer. She offers full editing services through her company Write Integrity Editorial Services, and earlier this summer began coordinating WIES Workshops – online writing courses for anyone interested in writing for the Christian market. She also owns the popular Pix-N-Pens blog where a team of writers, editors, and photographers offers book reviews; freelance writing, editing, and marketing advice; photography tips and assignments; writing prompts; and even frequent contests!

Her story, “Miracle of the Nativity,” is included in the book Christmas Miracles by Cecil Murphey and Marley Gibson. The book, released last month by St. Martin’s Press, is headed for bestseller lists and will also be published in Swedish.

Tracy is happily married to her very own Prince Charming and they live in the boonies of Alabama, with their spoiled dog and a host of wild critters. She’s the proud mom of two grown sons who live in metro Atlanta.


Award-winning author and speaker Darlene Franklin has recently returned to cowboy (and cowgirl) country—Oklahoma. The move was prompted by her desire to be close to family—mother Anita, son Jaran, daughter-in-law Shelley and three beautiful granddaughters. Her daughter Jolene has preceded her into glory.

Darlene loves music, needlework, reading and reality TV. Talia, a Lynx point Siamese cat, proudly claims Darlene as her person.

Darlene has published four books and two novellas previously, all with Barbour Publishing: Romanian Rhapsody, Beacon of Love, and two mysteries, Gunfight at Grace Gulch and A String of Murders. Dressed in Scarlet, which appeared in the Christmas anthology Snowbound Colorado Christmas, has finalled in the 2009 Book of the Year contest sponsored by American Christian Fiction Writers. Lucy Ames, Sharpshooter (in Wild West Christmas) is available in bookstores now. Look for Darlene’s next historical romance, Prodigal Patriot (book 1 of Green Mountain Brides) next summer.

Visit Darlene’s blog at Darlene Franklin. Darlene offers editorial services under Franklin's Pen Editorial Services. Contact her at for further information.

If any of you would like more information on these two talented ladies, scroll down the sidebar on the left and click on their pictures. This will take you to their websites or blogs.

Thank you Tracy and Darlene for joining us.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Overview of "The Beach"

Anita (and others), I apologize for the delayed response to the latest submission. I simply got swamped, and because of that, I'll be involving more editors to keep the blog moving. Thank you (especially Anita) for your patience.

Since we're talking about children's fiction, and the author is clearly British, please keep in mind, the rules for British children's books may vary from American rules. The American books regarding children's fiction are located on the left sidebar; however, Anita, since you're in the UK, you might more easily get your hands on a British title: Writing for Children and Getting Published by Allan Frewin Jones and Lesley Pollinger. In my opinion this doesn't cover as much ground as Tracy E. Dils' book You Can Write Children's Books, which is American. Another helpful book is Alijandra Mogilner's Children's Writer's Word Book which is a handy thesaurus and lists the appropriate age group for each word. Yes, another American book.

Folks, the general population believes that writing for children is much easier than writing for adults. I beg to differ. There are many aspects in children's fiction that do not apply to adult fiction. In adult fiction, we don't have to worry about whether or not a word might be too difficult to understand for the reader, and sentences may be as long as we wish. With children's fiction, there are strict guidelines regarding sentence length and vocabulary. As far as picture books are concerned, that's a whole different story. No "pun" intended. With picture books, the illustrations tell as much of the story as the text. Finding the right balance isn't easy.

Now to begin: Because of the length, I assumed this was a picture book text. However, based on what Anita shared in the comments (this being for the 6-10 year age group), that would mean, this is actually a chapter book. (Well done, Victoria!)

What is a chapter book?

A chapter book bridges the gap between picture books and novels.

They have fewer illustrations than picture books and some may not have any illustrations at all. So Anita, your wonderful descriptions may stay.

Chapter books may vary in length, anywhere from 1500 to 15,000 words.

They have one main character who has a problem and that character needs to find a solution to his or her problem, overcoming obstacles on the way. (Not much unlike a novel.)

Chapter books also have shorter sentences than what you'd find in a middle reader or novel. Sentence length should be no longer than 10-15 words. If you go over this, it's not the end of the world; however, I would definitely make an effort to shorten the sentences in the piece below. Most of them are too long.

Difficult (and foreign) words should be defined in the text. Anita, I didn’t find any words that I felt were unsuitable for a chapter book. Still, I'll provide an example of how a word can be defined in the text by using its context (the following is taken from my novel; take note that the same rule can be applied in adult fiction): Titus ordered David to stand in the center of the room next to the impluvium. David ran his hand along the smooth edge of the large marble fountain that collected rainwater from an opening in the roof. Here we learn that an "impluvium" is a "fountain" without "telling" the reader or having to set up a "dictionary" in our book (one of my pet-peeves in fiction). A reader should not have to stop mid-story to look up an unfamiliar or foreign word. The story continues to unfold without stopping the action.

It was mentioned that this is one story in a series. Series books tend to be for "middle readers" which is just a step above chapter books. However, since this is one story, you can probably combine all of them, creating one book. Remember, they can be as long as 15,000 words, so "The Beach" would be one chapter. Keep in mind, each publisher will have their own specific guidelines for length.

Anita, your writing is excellent. The only thing to avoid are the "telling" words, such as "warned." A person can't "warn" a statement. I'm sure you're tired of hearing me say this, but I have to so others can learn. See explanation of "attributions" below. And we all know, rules are meant to be broken.

I didn't edit the manuscript for a number of reasons:

The writing is excellent, and I dare not touch it to shorten the sentences for fear I'll intrude on Anita's voice. She has to do that herself. Most of the sentences need to be shortened, and by my attempting to do that, the rhythm will change, not to mention the vocabulary that Anita would likely choose. This particular rhythm and vocabular is uniquely Anita's and can't be immitated. It defines her voice.

There's also too much introspection for a chapter book. Kids need stories with "movement." In other words, we need a lot of action and dialogue.

The ending should be the beginning; therefore, I suggest a complete rewrite, starting the story at the end when Rhy's discovers the first of the Sandelves. The ending of the story is excellent. It was my favourite part. Problem is, it's your "hook" and should be in the opening paragraphs.

The story needs a "plot" as Janet suggested. Each chapter should have a beginning, middle and an end. Establish Rhys' goal and create the conflict. You've done well to do that by having Mum interrupt his discovery. Another reason that part needs to open the story.

Anita, I love the idea of Sandelves! I realize, suggesting that you revamp this entire submission is a bit daunting, but I believe you're onto something unique and fun for children.

Whatever you do, don't give up on these stories!

Monday, November 2, 2009


Normally, I would have posted the edited version of the lastest submission. I apologize for the delay. I'm wrapping up a client right now, so I'm afraid that has to take priority.