One Writer’s Journey

November 21, 2018

Picture Books: Rewriting a Problem Spread

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:41 am
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Recently, I had to polish up a picture book and get it out now.  This wasn’t something I was drafting.  These were fine changes.  Fiddling with word sound and rhythm.

I read my manuscript out loud. After all, a picture book is like a poem.  It has to work when read aloud. Most of my manuscript was fine but two spreads felt off.

I always suspect when I am doing this kind of rewrite that I change something, let it rest, and change it back again.  And then I do it again.  And again.  Maybe if I could keep track of my various versions there wouldn’t be so many.

Do not say “track changes.” NO.  I despise that Word feature.  I use it with my editors at RedLine.  Some areas of the manuscript will have very few marks.  Others have lots and lots of text struck out and added.  While it can be good to see what was removed, a section that has been worked over multiple times can be almost impossible to read in part because I’m mildly dyslexic.  It gets too busy and I can’t follow it.

When a single person uses track changes, it doesn’t always track all of the changes.  That means I can’t go back and see what the manuscript said before.

Fortunately, I found a trick that works for me. I opened up a clean Word document and copied the problem text, pasting it at the top of the page.  Then I pasted it in again and made changes to the second version.  Then I pasted it again and made changes to the third version.  There was no back and forth.  And I never had to rewrite a passage more than three times.

When I was done, I let it sit and then reread all three versions.  There was no guess-work.  No wondering if maybe the first version was better.  I had them all right there in front of me.

Try it and see if it works for you.

–SueBE

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October 30, 2018

Outside Readers: Helping You Create Solid Content

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:39 am
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It’s been a while since the publishing world went crazy over the thought of sensitivity readers.  Was it a great idea or was it censorship?  And whose pocket was this going to come out of anyway?

If you missed last year’s debate, the idea was that people writing outside their own experience need sensitivity readers to review their books.  These readers will help determine whether or not these authors have “sensitively” portrayed people from different groups.  

In my work for packagers, I often find myself rewriting based on comments from at least two editors, possibly a rep from the customer who wants the content, and a consultant.  Hopefully you will understand when I say that I found the idea of yet another layer of comments to reconcile with all of the others less than thrilling.  

Then I read this post from The Horn Book.  Jason Low, publisher and co-owner of Lee and Low Books explains that Lee and Low has employed content readers for years.  They just call them expert readers.  

What are they experts in?  It all depends on the book.  For one book, the reader will be an expert on a particular culture and that group’s history.  For another the reader may be an expert in a scientific field.  It varies from book to book.

When I read this, I laughed out loud. I already work with these kinds of experts.  At Redline, they call these people content consultants.  

My message?  Don’t panic.  Take a deep breath.  Publishers are not your enemy.  They just want to help you create the best, most accurate, book possible.  Is that really a bad thing?

–SueBE

September 18, 2018

Reading Level: Taking It Down

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:31 am
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Most of the books that I write for RedLine have a reading level of about 7.5 to 8.0.  That’s good news for me because my natural writing level is in that range.

The book that I’m working on now has a reading level of 4.5 to 5.5.  I expected to have to play with things to achieve this.  RedLine always wants the first chapter and an outline before you proceed.  When I drafted the first chapter I was a little surprised to hit 5.2 with no fiddling required.  Whoa!

As I finished chapter 2, the online reading level calculator was down.  No big deal.  I’d just test them all once I was done.

Maybe my early success had made me bold but every single chapter tested too high.  Most of them weren’t even close.  I tried fiddling with chapter 2 several times but just could not hit the right level so I set it aside until Monday.

It helps to understand how reading level is calculated.  Most often, it involves word length, sentence length and possibly paragraph length.

Part of the problem is that when you try to adjust a chapter at a time, you make numerous changes early in the chapter and then . . . that should be good enough.  Right?  You quit making substantial changes.  I solve this by going through the book section by section. Each chapter has at least one subheading and two sidebars.  I reworked a single section and then tested it.  By the time I finished a chapter, I knew that each individual part worked.

One of the things that I do is look for more complicated words that can be swapped out for simpler words.  Apparently journalist tests higher than reporterExplained may be more specific but it tests higher than says.  Don’t dumb things down because your reader is going to want some of those fantastic words but explained really wasn’t that important.

When your editor asks for a reading level range, hit it.  It may take some work but better you work to write it than your reader struggle to access the information.

–SueBE

September 14, 2018

5 Minutes a Day: Testing Your Characters and Your Setting

Are your characters unique?  Is your setting woven into your story? These are the kinds of things that can make a story top-notch instead of ho-hum.  Here are some simple thing you can do to test how well you’ve done.

Change the setting for your story.

If your story is contemporary, consider resetting it 100 years ago.  If it is set in modern New York, move it to San Antonio.

If this is easy to do and nothing changes, you need to weave your setting deeper into your story.  The time period needs to be seen through the culture, the artifacts, and how people get around.  The environment needs to impact people’s clothing and outdoor activities.  The culture of where they are needs to come into play.

If your story can take place any-where and any-when, sadly you have work to do.

Swap one character for another.  

Two of your characters are about to confront the antagonist.  Swap the secondary character for a different secondary character.

Or your main character has just discovered who the informant is.  Swap this sneaky so-and-so for another secondary character.

Does your main character have two sidekicks?  Find a scene with both of them in it.  Can you cut it to only one sidekick?

Or find a scene with only one sidekick.  Can you swap this sidekick for the other.

Love interests, adversaries, and mentors can all be tested in similar ways if there is more than one.

You’ve probably guessed by now but if you can swap one for the other or eliminate one altogether, they are too much alike.  They are probably also two-dimensional. Contemplate what you can do to make them both interesting and integral to the story.

If you’ve discovered that your setting and/or your characters are ho-hum, don’t panic.  Rewrites are a great opportunity to fix problems just like these.  Speaking of which, I have a two-dimensional sidekick to bring into a three-dimensional world.

–SueBE

August 8, 2018

Writing Nonfiction: The First Draft, One Hot Mess

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:45 am
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I’m drafting a new book this week.  This isn’t a picture book.  I can actually create a picture book first draft that isn’t terrifying. I’m not saying it is great but it doesn’t make you want to hide.  A first draft of a 15,000 word nonfiction for tweens?  Oh, what a mess it is.

I have an outline which my editor approved so the basic structure is there.  In draft #1, I fill in the information.  This is everything the young reader needs to learn about this aspect of the larger topic.  That’s it.  I solve the rest in subsequent drafts.  Note the S.  Drafts.  There will be more than one.  The things that I fix include:

Filling in the gaps.  When I wrote the first draft, I mark all gaps WITH NOTES TYPED IN CAPITAL LETTERS AND OFTEN HIGHLIGHTED IN YELLOW.  These are places that I need to add information I couldn’t find.

Double check the order.  I always try to get things down in the right order in the outline but sometimes something that looks perfectly functional in the outline doesn’t work where it is in the manuscript.  I don’t do much moving of sections but this is where it happens.

Cut duplicate information. Sometimes I end up repeating myself.  Often this is because I forget something will be covered in a sidebar and I write it into the main text.  Now is the time to decide where it belongs and get rid of the other.

Creating transitions.  In the first draft, I go from topic to topic.  I don’t worry about it being smooth.  Why? Because I can fix it now.

Fix the word count.  Normally I’m pretty close.  Sometimes I have to cut.  But that’s okay because most everything we write can stand to be tightened.

Reading level.  Because this is educational and part of a series, I have to hit the right reading level.  I’m usually close.  Fortunately, I’ve found which reading level is my natural writing level so I can get by with minor tweaks.

A first draft doesn’t have to be perfection.  It just has to pull information together so that you have something to work with.  Make a mess, then fix it.

–SueBE

 

August 3, 2018

Rewriting

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:06 am
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rewriteAt the moment, I’m slapping down two really rough first draft.  Seriously rough. One is so bad that tomorrow I’m going to start this chapter all over again.  But that’s okay because I don’t have a deadline.  This is a something I’m writing for fun.

But the other one? Once I get a draft down, it is time to rewrite.  When I have to rewrite and it just won’t come, I know that I am most likely trying to do too many things at once.  I can’t make sure the order is logical, add more examples, punch up the language, and cut words all in the same pass.  When I try, something gets neglected or I get frustrated and quit.

To keep this from happening, I may a super detailed to-do list.  If you decide to do something like this, make a list and then get to work.  Normally it takes me about five minutes to make the list.  Then I take the rewrite chunk by chunk.

  1.  Fix problems and holes that you marked while writing.  You know the ones.  The note you left yourself says something like – ADD A TRANSITION HERE or COME UP WITH A WORTHWHILE EXAMPLE.
  2. Opening hook of whole manuscript.
  3. Opening of each subsection/chapter.
  4. Conclusion.
  5. Make sure there are enough examples/details.
  6. Punch up those verbs.
  7. Do what it takes to get rid of the adverbs.
  8. Check the main character’s emotional development/story arc.
  9. Repeat #8 for secondary characters.
  10. Is the setting clear and present?
  11. Do the setting details fit the tone/mood of the story at that point?
  12. Are there several sensory details on each page?
  13. Read the dialogue aloud. Does each character sound unique?
  14. Check your dialogue tags.  Can you replace them with beats of action.  This is one of my favorite tasks.
  15. Read the manuscript aloud to double-check voice and flow.
  16. This one is optional but I also check the reading level.  Most of my nonfiction has to be written to a certain range so this may not be essential in your own work.

It looks like a lot, and it is.  But if you want your writing to be top-notch, you need to find a way to work through a rewrite.  Ultimately, you need to find the method that works for you.  Give this one a try.  It just might work.

–SueBE

July 27, 2018

When What You Write Isn’t Great, Don’t Ignore That Nagging Feeling

Honestly, you could pour me into a bucket tonight. It isn’t that I’m that relaxed.  I’m that wiped out.

As I write this on Thursday evening, I’ve just met a deadline for an outline and sample chapter.  Easy peasy mac-n-cheesy as my friend Renee says.  I write for Abdo.  I know what they want.

Usually.

This series is different from their others.  So different and new that it is new even to my editor. In fact, I’m writing the first book in the series. I’m the guinea pig . . . trend setter.  Who am I kidding?  Guinea pig.

My husband read the chapter for me and pronounced it “fine.”  But something was nagging at me.  “No.  It is not.  It kind of stinks.”  I wanted to listen to my husband.  I wanted to package it up and send it in and let me editor find the problem.

So first I did a hard copy-edit on the outline.  Then I finished the bibliography.  Finally, with the deadline hard behind, I pulled up the chapter.

Yep, still stinking.  But this time I could tell what was wrong.  I’m writing about a topic that, while important, is less familiar to me than some others.  As I wrote about it, I realized that I actually knew quite a bit but I still felt insecure.  I needed to sound like I knew what I was talking about.  Heaven save us from all that is overwritten and purple.

Instead of doing the hard copy-edit I had planned on, it was back to my computer.  Three of the four sidebars only needed minor tweaks.  The feature at the end of the chapter lost only a few words.  Working with the main body of the text, I moved phrases, cut sentences and smoothed, smoothed and smoothed some more.  By the time I was done I had bumped up the reading level, which I needed to do, and crafted a much more coherent, readable piece.

When you have that nagging feeling that something stinks, don’t take the easy way out.  Go on a hunt until you find the source of the problem.

–SueBE

 

April 11, 2018

Revision: Taking Advice and Reworking Your Manuscript

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:41 am
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On Monday, I posted about Kansas Missouri SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators) Agents Day. As part of this event, you got a paid critique from an agent.  Mine was with Adria Goetz from Martin Literary.  She critiqued Drip by Drip, Cave Below, a nonfiction manuscript about a cave.

While she had positive things to say about my manuscript, she also had a big change that she wanted me to make.  Parts of the manuscript were very lyrical.  Yay, me!   But there was also a lot of science.  And I do mean a lot.  She wants me to separate the two so that I have lyrical text and science rich sidebars.

I like this idea a lot.  In fact, I like it so much that it is the way that I originally wrote People Pray.  That said, I took the sidebars out of that manuscript at the advice of an editor who then passed on it.

This is one of those moments when I have a big decision to make starting with Drip by Drip, Cave Below.  I can keep it as is – lyrical bits and science together. Or I can take Adria’s advice and keep the lyrical bits in the main text and separate the science into sidebars.  Or I can just reduce the science which is not going to happen although I am going to create separate sidebars.

But I am also going to take Adria’s advice and use it to rework People Pray.  Why?  Because I’ve been invited to send that one in and I want it to be lyrical and full of the kind of information that will make it a great social science text.

Rewriting based on what you learn at a writing event.  It’s never fast but if you take what you’ve learned and apply it?  You’ve got a much better chance of getting your foot in the door and finding an agent.

–SueBE

 

March 22, 2018

Tighten Your Text: Cutting Excess Words

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:41 am
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Yesterday my post on Writing Nonfiction that Sings appeared on the Muffin, the blog for Women on Writing! One tip involved cutting excess words.  I working on a hard copy.  One reader asked if this really makes a difference.

Yes, I really do.

Monday and Tuesday I rewrote a nonfiction title, working on a hard copy. My goal was a final word count of 15,000 words down from the 16,870 I had. I knew how many words I should have in each chapter. Some were fine. From others, I only needed to cut 40 words. That I could do on-screen without much trouble.

But another chapter had to be cut by about 400 words or approximately 25% of the the chapter’s length.  A word here and there wasn’t going to accomplish it.

As I read the hard copy, I spread it out on the dining room table and noticed that most chapter sections were about one page long.  One was closer to three making it easy to see which section needed the most radical tightening.  I reread, identified one topic that touched on each important point, then highlighted what I wanted to keep and x-ed out what needed to go.  I did the rewrite on-screen but it still wasn’t tight enough.  I printed it off and went back into the dining room.

When you are looking at a hard copy with only a couple of words crossed out, you can’t lie to yourself.  Not much has been cut. That’s vital when 25% of the total word count needs to go.

A word to the wise – cutting something in half often results in something that feels clunky and doesn’t flow.  When this happens, I open a brand new file and start from scratch. It may seem like a lot of work, but I know where I need to go and what I need to say.  The excess never makes it onto the page and writing it again helps it flow.

But once I’ve keyed it in?  I print it out and head back into the dining room to see what I can cut.

–SueBE

February 12, 2018

Revision: Overhauling a Manuscript from Top to Bottom

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:31 am
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Rewriting a manuscript is a lot like cleaning out and redo-ing your office.  You have to believe that in the end it will be magnificent because before it gets better it will be a disaster.

I say this because last week I finished cleaning out the freestanding book-case in my office.  My husband and son took it downstairs on Sunday but only after I hauled everything into the dining room.  I know it will be worth it in the end, but not I have an even bigger mess than before.

When I rewrite fiction, I work through Darcy Pattison’s Novel Metamorphosis.  Darcy’s method is highly analytic.  In one chapter, she has you fill out a narrative arc worksheet.  In another, you survey beats of action as a way to study pacing.  Another survey looks at the variety of emotions in each scene.

One survey after another, takes you through your novel.  But this also means that one survey after another yields a variety of things that you need to change to create the best possible version of your novel.

Some of the fixes will be relatively easy. Two of your characters look too much alike.  One of them will mostly likely need to be changed.  You discover that you include visual details as well as sounds but no details of motion.  Unless your POV character doesn’t perceive motion, this will most likely need to change.

Other fixes will take a lot more work.  You need a new first chapter.  A character has to be completely cut.  Your balance between dialogue, action and narrative?  Simply put, there is no balance and that is going to have to change. Making these changes is going to take time and they won’t be easy.  Add to that the fact that things are going to get super messy along the way.

But that’s okay.  Because when you have your newly jazzed up novel completed, it will all be worthwhile.  My office?  I’m watching my husband noodle over the anchors for the bookcase even as I type.

–SueBE

 

 

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