Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Importance of Editing

Editing is not the creative fun part of writing where you let your imagination run wild. However, it has it's own pleasures. I find it satisfying to cut and polish a a piece of writing until it says exactly what I want. I don't always succeed, but it's challenging to try.

Editing has three phases. The first phase takes your rough draft and hones it into a story that carries the reader into your fictional space. This phase can be unsettling because it may require cutting large hunks of your manuscript and reordering scenes. In this phase, one pass may not be enough, but you can move on to the second phase and come back. There are no rules for how many times you should run through a manuscript. Even ten or fifteen times may not be too many. On the other hand, two or three passes might be enough.

In the second phase, you reword clumsy sentences, find the exact word you want to express your thought, and flesh out scenes and characters. For me, this phase takes several passes. I suspect it does for most people and can lead to a return to phase one after you decided exactly what you want to say and what sequence of events works best.

The third phase is copy editing. This is the time to perfect your grammar, find typos, and correct format issues. In some respects, it's the most tedious phase, but perhaps the most important for the sake of your reader. Readers typically don't like to reread sentences several times because you've left out a comma that would make the whole thing clear.

I recently reviewed a book, APE – How to Publish a Book by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch. They consider this phase so important they suggest you hire a copy editor. This is good advice, if you can afford it, but first I suggest you polish up your grammar and spelling and give the book a good pass yourself. Copy editors are not perfect, and you need to know whether you've hired a pro, or someone trying to make a buck by fooling the unwary. It's also true that there is a certain amount of flexibility in punctuation rules. Commas, for instance, seem sometimes to be a personal preference, at least that's my observation on the basis of the books I've read, many of them by major publishers. However, there are some rules for commas that do apply to all writing.

So editing may not be classified as fun, but there's something tremendously satisfying when you hold your book and know it's the best you can make it. By the way, Kawasaki and Welch have written an extremely useful book, it's worth a look.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pantsers Need Timelines, Too

I'm a pantser; I admit it.The easiest way for me to write the first draft of a new novel is to simply do it. That doesn't mean I do no planning. I spend time working out the plot in my head and getting to know the characters. Most important I decide on the endgame. I have to know where I want the characters to end up, but in the middle I find it easiest to let each day's scene evolve from the day before.

This method works well for creating the first draft, but it comes with a penalty. Often my time sequences are off. This is a serious problem in the mysteries I write. Events must happen in a particular sequence so that the ending is believable and comes as something of a surprise to the reader, but is buttressed by clues along the way.

I solve this problem by making a detailed timeline once the draft is finished, and I've had a chance to get away from it for awhile. It sometimes takes a bit of rewriting to assure that all the events happen in the proper sequence, but by then I know my characters, setting, and plot so fixing the details is easier.

This is the season of Nanowrimo when writers are encouraged to just write the novel. I think it's great advice. At least at the end you have something to work with. So, pantsers, enjoy the creative month of November. January is a good month to step back and work on the timeline of your novel.  

Friday, October 12, 2012

Read Book Reviews to Improve Your Writing Skills

By reading reviews, I don't mean just your own, although those can certainly be helpful. I suggest you go to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Christian Books, or any other good review site, and pick several books. Don't pick books that have several hundred one line reviews saying they loved it. You won't learn anything.

Pick books where there is a substantial spread in the rating. Both the five star reviews and the two star reviews for such a book can be helpful. I recently reviewed Fallen Masters by John Edward. The reviews ranged across the board. Some people loved it, primarily because the plot interested them. On the negative side, some people said there were too many characters, another was disturbed by the consistent use of POTUS for President of the United States. The book was very long and some people thought it dragged in the middle.

So what can you learn from reviews like this?

  • A strong plot can carry a book for many readers. This is particularly true if the characters are well drawn and interesting.
  • Long books, 400 to 500 pages, can turn readers off unless the action is consistent. Slow moving sections designed to present information turn readers off.
  • Unless handled very well, following more than one or two characters can be confusing. With too many characters, readers often go back and forth to remember what the character was doing several pages ago.
  • Use of unusual acronyms, particularly in capital letters, can stop the forward motion of the story. Some readers are so annoyed they give up reading.

Almost any series of reviews can be mined for ideas of what makes a book work readers. It helps if you've read the book, but if not, there's still plenty of food for thought.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Pitfalls in Writing Historical Novels

Writing historical novels can be fun, particularly if you love research. There are many wonderful stories from the past waiting to be told. Not only do you have a plot ready-made, but you have background material to enhance your descriptions and allow the reader to enter a different time. Unlike the science fiction or fantasy novel, you don't have to make it all up. There are pitfalls, however.

Wooden Characters

The main characters may be real people if you're using a historical plot, or at least many of the supporting characters can be. It sounds easy, but the problem is making the characters come alive. I recently read a historical novel where the author used the characters like puppets to act out the story rather than having the action driven by their thoughts and feelings. It's not easy to get inside a character who lived hundreds or thousands of years ago in a different time with different cultural constraints. The best historical novelists do it, but not everyone has that facility.

Too Much Research

Doing research is fun. You find all sorts of facts and incidents that just have to be part of the story, but beware. You can lose the impact of the story by surrounding the plot with too much history. I recently read a historical novel in which the author threw in chapters about a secondary historical event. These chapters served to take the focus off the main plot line and dilute the impact of events on the main characters.

Too Much Description

Each time period has it's own background that makes delightful paragraphs of description. Since you're describing a previous period of history you need description to allow your readers to visualize the scenes. The pitfall is too much description. One author, whose books I've read, goes on for pages with lyrical description that makes the time come alive. The problem is that on the first reading (and there may never be a second reading) the reader becomes frustrated and skips over the description trying to find out what happens next. If the description goes on too long, the reader may close the book and not finish even the first reading.

I love well-written historical novels, but I've read too many lately, usually by first time authors, that have the pitfalls I've described. The books get published, but reviewers are savvy. They pick up on these problems. A book that could sell well gets panned and readers avoid it. If you're writing a historical novel, I hope thinking about these things helps. I'm sure it will help your sales.  

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Review of Mormon History, But So Much More

Mansfield gives an excellent review of Mormon history from the beginning in the early 1800's in the “burnt-over district” near Palmyra, NY, the scene of repeated religious revivals, through the westward movement first to Jackson County, Missouri and finally to Salt Lake City Utah. He gives a detailed account of Joseph Smith's meeting with the Angel Maroni and later with John the Baptist, as well as Peter, James and John.

Although retelling the history is important to get an idea of who the Mormons were, the most important contribution Mansfield makes in this book is telling who the Mormons are today. Mansfield, according to the introduction, has taken time to meet the Mormons and learn first hand what they think about their religion and their beliefs. He starts each chapter with a vignette based, he says, on real life stories. These glimpses of Mormons defending their faith, telling what they believe, and struggling with life's problems are the best part of the book. We can see the real people behind the popular ideas of strange underwear, unusual beliefs, and prophetic visions.

What emerges from this book is a picture of the Latter-day Saints as:
  • People who strive for success, believing that life is a series of tests that must be passed. Their credo is progressing, achieving and moving forward.
  • People who believe that family is important above almost everything else. How many other religions require families to meet once a week to discuss problems and successes.
  • Education is extremely important to Mormons. It begins at an early age and most Latter-day Saints are very well educated, many doing graduate work.
  • Patriotism is inbred in the Mormons. They believe in the free-market system, and more important view, the Constitution as of Divine origin.

When I started this book, I knew a few Latter-day Saints and thought well of them, but I didn't understand their religion at all. I have to admit that I still find their beliefs a bit unusual, but everyone in our country is free to believe what they want from Pentecostals, to Catholics, to Mormons, Jews and all Protestant congregatons.

I highly recommend this book. It's very readable and will give you a much better idea of who these successful people are. At the end of the book Mansfield deals with several problems the Mormons face by becoming more prominent. One is the concern that Mormons are bound by the revelations of Saints in positions of power. I don't think this is a serious concern. I remember the Kennedy election. People painted horror stories of the country becoming subject to the Pope. That didn't happen. I very much doubt that Mormon revelations will guide anyone in charge of the country either in the military or the government to perform acts that are not in the best interests of the nation. Church and State are separate and should remain that way.

I reviewed this book for Worthy Publishing.

Monday, August 13, 2012

How Can a Writer Get in Involved in Current Events?

My husband recently asked me, what can I do to get involved in the election? This is a more difficult question than it might seem. We live in a very rural area. Most voters are from the same party and already decided. Going somewhere to answer phones, or prepare mailers isn't an option – at least more than once, so what does that leave? The Internet.

Here are a few suggestions, the same ones I gave him:
  • Write a blog. Getting access to the blogger community is very easy. Blogger from Google is simple to use and to get started. Wordpress is likewise ease to get involved with. I'm sure there are other options, but those two are readily available. Once you've set up your blog you have a platform from which you can expound your ideas. You may worry that no one will come, but I've found that over time people find you.
  • Review books. A wide range of books on almost any topic is available. Once you've read the book, you can give others your thoughts. You can do this on your own blog, but Amazon and Barnes and Noble, to name just two, are eager for reviewer input. Sometimes this even leads to an interesting exchange with readers.
  • Comment on other people's blogs. This is an easy way to get your opinions out and to start a conversation. I don't guarantee that everyone authoring a blog post will respond, but if you come to my blog Nancy Famolari's Place, I promise to respond.
  • Comment on book reviews on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. This is another way to get your views out. Besides the reviewer will be interested to hear what you think, not to mention the author.
I'm sure there are other things you can do on the Internet. All the social medial opportunities come to mind: facebook, twitter, and pinterest. It's the greatest opportunity in this century to get your voice heard. It's not hard to get started, and it can be very rewarding. Let me know if you start a blog or do a review, and I promise to visit.  

Friday, July 13, 2012

Beach Reads

Accredited Online Collages has an interesting article on beach reads. Although many of their recommendations are old standbys, it's fun to look at what they suggest. Perhaps if you haven't read some of their selections, it's a good time to check one out.

Enjoy the sun and surf.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Why You Should Be a Writer

I recently read a post by Susanna Breslin on Forbes (6/12/2012) about why you shouldn't be a writer. Susannah has one excellent point. If you want to get rich, writing is not the way to do it, unless you have some other accomplishment to your credit, or you've been involved in a terrible disaster. There are so many books available today, both published by the traditional press and self-published, it's amazing that anyone is selling well. However, becoming a millionaire isn't the only reason to become a writer.

One point she makes that I disagree with is that you shouldn't write because you're not good at it. Many, many people aren't really good writers. In my estimation, that includes a fair number that are published by large publishers. Writing is a craft that can be learned. The problem is that a great many writers think a creative imagination is plenty, stick words on paper and you're done. It doesn't work that you. If you want to be a writer you have to spend time learning how to do it well. If you wanted to be a brain surgeon, you wouldn't start by cutting people's heads open. (Thankfully, there are laws against that.)

A second point that I agree with is that writing is hard. Yes, it is hard to write well, and it takes time to craft a story, poem or even a non-fiction piece that accurately portrays your view of the world and is something another person would like to read. However, the fact that it's hard is not a reason not to do it. Many worthwhile things are hard to do. In fact, in my experience most worthwhile things are difficult. That is no reason to not attempt them. It's a call to recognize that you have to work that much harder to succeed.

Finally, my own reason for being a writer is that it makes me happy to create something. I feel wonderful when, as happened this weekend, my neighbor, who I'd give a book to, told me he'd give me an A+. He felt the book gave him an experience he wouldn't have had otherwise, and he enjoyed the ride. If you want to please other people and yourself, you have to be ready to work hard and learn your craft, but it's not a reason to give up your dream of being a writer. Just don't expect to get rich.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Importance of Consistent Details

Ever wonder why someone would stop reading your novel? There are several reasons, but one is inconsistent details. This is particularly destructive of reader trust in a mystery or thriller, but it can turn readers off in other genres as well.

In my first novel, I had an inconsistency that once I spotted it drove me crazy. I missed it after numerous readings, my husband missed it and so did my editor. I had a horse out on the racetrack and in the stall at the same time. The discrepancy drew reader's attention away from the dramatic events that were unfolding in the stable, because the tendency is to reread the paragraph and preceding paragraphs to find out whether you've missed something.

I recently reviewed a book that purported to be a mystery. The reason for killing one of the victims was that the person witnessed a scene. The problem was that the scene was also witnessed by several thousand people on television. It make the rationale for the killing to keep the scene secret very weak. At that point, I became much more critical of the novel. It I hadn't been reviewing it, I would have stopped reading right there.

For me, the issue of consistency pertains to trust. You are trying to build your reader into the fictional world you're creating. If inconsistent and obviously impossible things happen (Unless this is fantasy of science fiction.) your reader stops trusting that your world is real.

It's hard to find all the detail slips. After a certain number of reads, we tend to skip right over them because we know what's going to happen. There are some tricks to avoid this. Put the manuscript away for several weeks or a month before rereading. This technique is what allowed me to find my own inconsistency. Other readers can help, but don't count on anyone else to find your mistakes. Editors are wonderful, but it's up to the writer to make his or her product the best it can be.  

Friday, April 13, 2012

Brainstorming: A Way to Rescue Your Novel

My novel, The Yellow Diamond Caper, wasn't going anywhere. I couldn't get the sequence of the plot the way I wanted it, and I was having trouble fitting in all the technical information without doing an information dump. I stewed for awhile and then enlisted my favorite critic, my husband.

I prepared for the brainstorming session by writing a detailed plot summary. This helped with some of the places where things weren't working right, but it wasn't there yet. My husband is a wonderful, long suffering, collaborator. My next step was to read him the plot summary. He identified the places where it didn't work for him. Then we talked about how to fix them.

Two heads are definitely better than one. It would have taken me a long time to see the gaps he identified. I took notes while we talked and then rewrote parts of the summary. Now I feel like I can move ahead.

If you plan to use the technique, preparation is important. I couldn't have gotten good responses without a very detailed plot summary. It's also good to have someone who thinks slightly differently than you do. My husband understands technology better than I do. He could easily point out areas where what I was suggesting wasn't feasible. As soon as he pointed them out. I knew he was right, but I wouldn't have seen them as quickly.

When we hit a place where neither of us was quite sure how to procede, we talked about a variety of ideas, listed them and then analyzed how they contributed to moving the plot forward. The whole process took about two hours, but from my standpoint it was worth every minute. I'm a firm believer in working through most of the plot by yourself, but there comes a time when you need help. The only caution is: Don't feel threatened by what your collaborator suggests. Nothing is set in concrete. Feel free to explore ideas and reject those that don't fit your image of the story. After all, you are the one in charge.   

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Magdalena Ball, Author of Black Cow

Today my guest is Magdalena Ball, author of Black Cow. Magdalena Ball is the author of the newly released novel Black Cow, Sleep Before Evening, Repulsion Thrust, and a wide number of collaborations, anthologies and poetry chapbooks. Grab a a free mini flip book of Black Cow here:
For more information on Magdalena visit:

I asked her some questions about writing the book.

How did you get the idea for Black Cow?
Moving to an inexpensive house in Tasmania and becoming self-sufficient was actually something my husband and I looked at doing a number of years ago.  In the end, we decided not to pursue that, but the idea stuck with me as rich fodder for fiction (especially since I still get the odd real estate brochure from an agent that has yet to remove my mailing address), and I do sometimes like to intellectually play with taking a different path in my fiction. I’ve always been a fan of the BBC show The Good Life as well, and although I didn’t model James and Freya on Tom and Barbara Good (though I definitely pictured them in my head from time to time as I was writing), I liked the black comedy aspects of the self-sufficient dream.  For me too, I was drawn to their desire for simplicity, for cutting down on rampant consumerism, and for getting back to a more coherent and less chaotic lifestyle.  For a long time my working title was the “secret greenie book.”

Did you have any problems writing the book, ex get stuck somewhere? have to change the plot? characters wouldn't behave the way you wanted?
For me the problem is almost always about time management.  There were times when I got distracted away from the writing altogether – to poetry (my favourite diversion), to short stories, to plotting a different novel, but whenever I sat down and forced myself to focus, to set time goals, and to write to schedule, I didn’t have too many problems. 

You chose a traditional publisher. I know you've also used self-publishing for your poetry. Could you discuss your reasons?
Though there are strong reasons for self-publishing today and I’ve enjoyed self-publishing my poetry books, I do find that traditional publishing still offers some significant benefits that I wanted for my novel.  One of the key ones for me was distribution.  It’s certainly not impossible, but it’s hard to get decent distribution channels if you self publish.  With big, time consuming labours of love like a novel, I felt that the need for this kind of mainstream distribution/exposure was important.  My publisher BeWrite Books ( has a strong distribution network, particularly for ebooks, and I certainly didn’t want to have to try to recreate that myself.  Quality control was a key issue for me as well.  Having professionals edit, format, and pull together the book was important for me.  Yes, you can buy much of that these days, but not only is it expensive, it’s time consuming and I didn’t want to spend my time doing that (would rather spend the limited time I have writing).  I did choose a relatively small indie publisher (the same as for my first novel Sleep Before Evening)that I knew would provide the kind of attention that authors like me who aren’t celebrities would rarely get at a large house. 

My Review of Black Cow

The Archers are ensnared in the golden chains of their affluent life style: designer clothes, an expensive home, luxury cars, private schools for the children, and it's killing them.

Black Cow is a beautiful story of changing gears in midlife. On the surface, James and Freya have everything. But their world has turned upside down. The recession has hit both their industries, James , the CEO, has to lay people off. Freda can't sell expensive houses. Finally, health concerns, their failing marriage and out of control children force then to reevaluate what constitutes happiness.

Ball presents a sensitive picture of a family struggling to stay together and find fulfillment. The characters are well drawn and believable, the kind of people you know. They could be your family. This beautifully crafted story explores the question of whether changing your life can bring the happiness you seek. You can change where you are, but you can't change who you are, or can you? Can you get back to being the person you once were?

I highly recommend this book. It presents a modern dilemma in very readable terms that will allow you to look at how one family solves their problem. It could change your life.

Buy Black Cow on Amazon

Black Cow Trailer

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Can This Story Be Saved?

Years ago, I wrote a short story that I liked very much. I couldn't find a publisher, so the story sat in my drawer for a couple of years. An opportunity came along to write a romance novella for inclusion in an anthology. I still liked the story, so I dragged it out and revised the word count upward by adding a new ending.

When the anthology project fell through, I began to think the story was jinxed. I liked my revised plot, but it needed more excitement, so I added a different ending and turned the romance into a romantic thriller. Still there were no takers. So the novella went back in the drawer for a couple of years.

I just finished a major project and didn't want to start a new book immediately, so I pulled out the novella, printed it out and reread it – not bad, but not great. So now the question is to spend the time revising it or to let it go.

My choice right now is to revise. It promises to take more time than I expected, but I think in the end it will be a good project. Some of the faults I found in the manuscript are:

  • The opening is slow and doesn't have enough foreshadowing to pull the reader forward. I hope to solve this by putting more of the mystery up front.
  • The middle of the story doesn't work well now that I've changed the ending. Some of the scenes and characters are superfluous.
  • The ending is too skimpy. I rushed it because I didn't have a good handle on the outcome. It need significant changes.
So can this story be saved? I think so. Al least I will try. The first tasks are to make a good time line. The events have to lead into each other since this is now a mystery. The second task is to revisit the character profiles and make sure the characters fit. This includes adding some new characters and deleting others. I also need a good plot summary. It should fall out of the other two tasks.

It's going to take work, but I think it will be fun. I'll keep you up to date on progress.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Liebster Blog Award

What a thrill to receive the Liebster Blog award from Annie on her blog (The Slow and Steady School ofWriting). I'm honored. Check out Annie's blog. She has wonderful articles on writing, writing competitions and writing picture books, plus good interviews.

The Liebster Blog award originated in Germany.Liebster means dearest or beloved, and Liebe is love. The award is meant to encourage readership of small, lovable blogs with fewer than 200 followers.

In accepting the Liebster Blog Award, the recipient agrees to:

*Thank the person who gave them the award and link back to that perosn's blog.

*Copy and paste the award to their blog. I'm putting it in a permanent place on my sidebar.

*Reveal five snippets about themselves that readers may not already know! So here goes:

    1. I love rain and cloudy skies.
    2. I have six grandchildren and another coming in April.
    3. I love palm trees and have about 150 of them.
    4. I love mystery novels, particularly writing them.
    5. I love figuring out how to do things with the computer, like make address labels!

Thanks, Annie, you made my day. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Some Thoughts on Proofreading

I'm thinking about proofreading today because I”m doing a final read of the next book in the Montbleu Murder series, A Dead Novelist at Canterbury Falls. Proofreading well is probably one of the most important things you can do for the success of your book. Of course, you need an intriguing plot and likeable characters, but many people are turned off by a poorly edited book. In saying this, I can't claim to have conquered the problem, but I'm working at it.

I review books and belong to several book review sites. It's amazing how many people comment on the grammar and poor editing of books. It turns some people off an author completely. I have to admit that it's not fun to be distracted from reading by finding errors. They tend to leap out at you. So here are a few suggestions.

  1. Finish your book, put it away for awhile then take it out and do a thorough review. I thought my latest book was finished until I put it away for three weeks. The errors just leaped off the page.
  2. Proofread in a different format. If you wrote the book, or article on 8x10 double spaced pages, try 6x9 single spaced. The new format doesn't let your eye skip words the way it does when you're familiar with the text.
  3. Read the piece aloud. This does two things. Reading aloud lets you hear as well as see the awkward places. It also slows the eye so you're more likely to catch errors.

Proofreading is particularly important for self-published authors. Readers are more likely to consider you incompetent, if the book is riddled with errors. I have seen books published by major publishers that contained a fair number of errors, but somehow people tend to forgive this more easily, possibly because they're supposed to be experts.

I hope these tips are helpful. I'd love to hear your tips. I could use them on my next book.