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How to Edit Characters

As we continue this editing series how we can develop a great story, I hope you’re able to see that the elements of storytelling hinges on more than concept and characters. By having all the layers in place before actually writing, you can have a clearer idea of where your story is going. Or if you’ve already written your book, how to make sure all the layers are in place so that you give your readers a delightful reading experience.

The sixth layer in developing a great story is developing your character within your story, whether nonfiction or fiction.

Your character is your readers’ best friend. Your character makes or breaks the story. Your character helps readers grow. Your character has influence on all other characters in the story. Your character must create empathy in your readers.

How to Edit Your Characters

  • What does your character want most?
  • What are winsome/lose-some qualities about your character?
  • How is your character motivated?

What does your character want most?

As you know, in storytelling, it’s really what drives the main character. What do they want? And the best way to show that is to show the character interacting with themselves, other characters, and the events of the story.

As I’ve said before, the greater the need, the bigger the story. So if your character wants to fly around the world, not in eighty days, but in ten, how on earth is this possible, and why do they want to do something so impossible? If your character wants to fulfil a promise to a dying loved one, then what is the internal satisfaction they’ll gain from it? Don’t just have your character want to go out on a date for the first time in twenty years; give your character a reason for wanting to do so, and maybe the motivation for waiting so long.

We must ask ourselves the following potential questions (not exhaustive, by any means):

  • Does what your character want stem from their past experiences, even before the book opens up?
  • Does what they want stem from something that just happened within the story itself? For example, the want changes. (For this to work, you’d have to have a really good reason, and you’d have to set up the story really well.)
  • Does what your character want leap off the first page, or within the first five pages?
  • Why does your character want what he/she wants?
  • Is your character’s desire from someone else’s expectation or from their own?
  • What would your character do if he/she didn’t get what they wanted?
  • What would he/she do if they got what they wanted?

What are winsome/lose-some qualities about your character?

I say winsome or lose some because if we had a character that was Goody Two-shoes all the time, I think we’d be throwing the book at the wall.

It’s better to have a character with a deep struggle that they grapple with throughout the book, and come to accept by the end. Maybe that deep struggle becomes their saving grace. If your character’s winsome qualities can somehow compliment their lose some qualities, that is even better, because it’s the constructive qualities that present the greatest challenges and victories.

These qualities can be internal, external, philosophical, esoteric, or however you choose them to be. And the more you mix them up or the quirkier they are, the stronger your character will be.

How is your character motivated?

Propelling the character forward through the plot is tough. Not gonna lie. It’s that delicate balance between stop, listen to the birdsong, and go, race through the sun-splashed woods.

In making the most of your character throughout the story, it’s important to understand why he/she is doing what they’re doing. It’s important to dive deep into the outer and inner motivations. If they want to make a trip cross country but are delayed by a snowstorm, do they drive forward anyway? What if your character doesn’t get what they want in the first place … do they flip the coin to see what their next option is, or do they sit and stew for days and days, until someone helps them snap out of it?

Whatever your character’s motivation, readers should be on pins and needles on your character’s behalf—because you have created a winsome character that tends to lose some sometimes. It’s all part of the character journey.

Secret Sauce to the Best Character Development. Ever.

“You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one.”

–Henry David Thoreau

“We become the books we read.”

–Matthew Kelly

The books we read. The characters we create. Both of these speak to the integrity and endurance of the fictional characters we create, or the real-life characters we write about in our nonfiction.

Each writer and author benefits from exploring their characters inside and out, while asking “why?” at every turn when crafting their character’s reactions and responses throughout the story because it’s really the secret sauce to writing a great story that captivates agents, editors, readers, marketers, and the person who wouldn’t necessarily pick up a book and read it.

Questions? Comments? I’d love to engage in the conversation with you! Drop your question or comment in the chat below, and I’ll look forward to responding!

Your Turn!

What is the best quality or trait about your character, and why?

What is your favorite character in a book or movie, and what makes you like or dislike them?

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How to Edit the Plot

february-2020-fiction-102- editing-plot-tisha-martin-editor

As we continue this editing series how we can develop a great story by having all the layers in place before actually writing, or if you’ve already written your book, how to make sure all the layers are in place.

The second layer in developing a great story is developing your story’s plot.

Surprisingly the story’s plot extends beyond points of action in your story and reaches into the area of the characters and how they interact with the story’s trajectory.

How to Edit the Plot

  • How well do you know your characters?
  • How do your characters interact with the story events?
  • How well do you create suspense, conflict, and context throughout plot?

How well do you know your characters?

Knowing your characters is more than knowing their outer attributes. Knowing your characters internally is key to mapping out a rock solid plot. Let’s explore some ways we can really get to know our characters.

If we describe our characters in terms of physical appearance, that’s great because it gives readers a visual representation; however, if we describe our characters by what drives them, then we open the door for readers to understand how our characters live and breathe. Which, by the way, enhances the plot.

For example, a librarian who doesn’t particularly like books, but is simply driven because of the patrons who frequent the library might offer an interesting plot and chain of events.

How do your characters interact with the story events?

Every story has that one character who makes the story shine, much like the key actor in a film. Which character comes to your mind? I’m thinking of D.C. Morse in the BBC series, Endeavour, and Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice.

With our librarian, perhaps she feels remorse from an event in her past, and she seeks to cover her own feelings by paying attention to the library patrons. What if this self-serving action sends her on an adventure as she gets to know each person, therefore helping her through her own inner struggle? What chain of events would have to happen for this to be resolved?

How well do you create suspense, conflict, and context throughout plot?

Alfred Hitchcock said, “Emotion is an essential ingredient of suspense.” And, I would also add, an essential ingredient of conflict and context in the plot as well.

Back to our librarian. Would she argue with one of the patrons, or go out of her way to help another reunite with a family member? What if she was suspicious of one but not of another? If one of the patrons was homeless, would she let him sleep in the library, sneaking him in after closing? What if a young patron checked out the same book week after week, and the librarian was reminded of her own childhood fascination with books and experiences anxiety from the memories? What happened back then? And what would happen if someone found out now?

And if another patron, who did not have enough money for a library card, possessed sticky fingers, would she turn a blind eye, because she knew they were researching for something important, and this person always returned the books? What would happen if they didn’t, and the library director found out and confronted the librarian about this employee infraction? And really, why did the librarian feel motivated to let the patron take books home without a library card?

A Few Examples

Lillian Avery in Anchor in the Storm (Waves of Freedom series) by Sarah Sundin wants to prove herself by getting a job as a pharmacist. But when she gets the job, she’s thrust into more than just working at the pharmacy—by mistake she’s discovered a drug ring. How she reacts to each situation sends her deeper into the events, until she’s caught right in the middle of the struggle. . .

In Lady Jayne Disappears by Joanna Davidson Politano, Aurelie Harcourt struggles to find a home with her deceased writer-father’s wealthy family, she embarks on the adventure of finishing his last story, and is thrown into a whirl of trouble with her new family—who seem to thwart her every effort of finding out what happened to her mother.

Secret Sauce to the Plot

My favorite editor, Maxwell Perkins (who worked with F. Scott Fitzgerald and other authors of that time), said to “just get it down on paper, and then we’ll see what to do with it.” I love that because it brings home the reality that if we don’t write, we’ll be staring at a blank page. And heavens, we can’t edit a blank page!

Each writer and author benefits from exploring their characters inside and out, while asking “what if?” at every turn when crafting their novel’s plot because it’s really the secret sauce to writing a great story that captivates people, agents, editors, readers, marketers, and the person who wouldn’t necessarily pick up a book and read it.

Questions? Comments? I’d love to engage in the conversation with you! Drop your question or comment in the chat below, and I’ll look forward to responding!

Your Turn!

What is something unusual that your character possesses that could enhance your story’s plot?

What are three ways your character interacts with the plot?

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How to Edit the POV

fiction 103_ editing the pov

As we continue this editing series how we can develop a great story, I hope you’re able to see that the elements of storytelling hinges on more than concept and characters. By having all the layers in place before actually writing, you can have a clearer idea of where your story is going. Or if you’ve already written your book, how to make sure all the layers are in place so that you give your readers a delightful reading experience.

The third layer in developing a great story is developing your story’s point of view.

Point of view doesn’t stop with characters, but also comes through in inanimate and animate objects like setting and weather. Let’s discuss some possibilities!

How to Edit the Point of View

  • Who has the most at stake in this story?
  • Whose perspective offers the best story in this scene?
  • How will your chosen POV impact your characters, the plot, your readers?

Who has the most at stake in this story?

In storytelling, it’s really all about what’s at stake for the main character. And it’s not what they’re grilling, either. Unless, of course, it’s a camping novel, and then it works.

Which character has the higher stake? The butcher who is forced to sell his butcher shop because his wife is sick, or the daughter who must leave her school to travel with her family so they can get medical help for mother? It depends.

We must ask ourselves the following potential questions:

  • Who is your audience?
  • Which character is speaking to you the most?
  • Which character has the most to learn by the end of the story?
  • What is the takeaway for your readers?

If it seems as if storytelling is comprised of asking lots of questions, you’re right. It is. As writers, we must don our analytical hats and comb every journalist-style question as we map out the story basics.

Whose perspective offers the best story in this scene?

Perspective is everything. It’s the difference between telling the story from Boo Radley’s eyes or from Scout’s eyes; the old man’s eyes in UP or his wife’s eyes; or Turnley Walker’s eyes.

Even if you are not familiar with the characters I just named, you might have noticed that the perspectives are all very different from each other. There’s first person, third person, and second person.

First Person

To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee tells the story from Scout’s perspective in first person. Everything that I experience in this story is as if I were viewing the world from Scout’s vantage point. I get inside Scout’s head and notice everything, feel everything, do everything, and think everything that Scout does. I’m affected by the arguments of the era, the racial disputes, and the events around me.

Writing in first person is a great way to share cultural and social issues with readers because of the depth of voice you can write from. You can also write your story from a first-person heroine and a third-person hero (in separate chapters, of course), if you’d like to switch it up a bit. Additionally, teen readers often relate to stories written in first person, as my friend Kara Swanson has done in her amazing, Pixie sparkling Peter Pan retelling, Dust (July 2020, Enclave Escape, a division of Enclave Publishing).

Second Person

Writing in second person is often discouraged. I’m not quite sure why, other than it can feel a bit clunky on the page. My friend Angela Hunt, author of biblical historicals, says that writing in second person “is the bubble gum flavor of ice cream. It’s delicious, but a bit annoying because you have to work on holding the bubble gum in your mouth while trying to swallow the ice cream and cone” (Unmasking the Mystery of Point of View, Angela Hunt, 14).

But sometimes I think that second person (you) tends to sound narrative in tone, which can be a fun way to tell a story. So if your story feels narrative in nature and your characters aren’t good at telling their own story, you might consider writing in second person. Or if your story has an ultimately unique perspective or subject matter, then maybe telling the story in second person works. Keep in mind, second person also requires the present tense verb. Let’s read an example from a book published in 1950.

Rise Up and Walk by Turnley Walker. It’s the personal story of a man who contracted polio, a crippling flulike virus, and he chose second person voice to tell his story. I think it’s effective because it puts readers in an empathetic mood. Turnley opens the story like this,

“The regulation hospital bed is thirty-four by seventy-four inches. In the beginning that much space is allotted to each polio—the new name you get after Infantile Paralysis slugs you. That thirty-four-by-seventy-four inch area is a place that poliomyelitis allows  you, and even though you have been a much-traveled man in the outside world, you learn to live in it” (Rise Up and Walk, Turnley Walker, 7).

There are a few things I notice about this opening and the second-person viewpoint:

  • The subject matter is interesting
  • The tone is reflective and conversational
  • The tone displays empathy

Now, lest you think second person is a great idea, please think again. It’s not often used, and when it is, it can be difficult to manage because it also requires writing in present tense. Still curious? Go ahead. Give it a try. See how it works for you—and then ask a beta reader or skilled editor to ensure the story’s worthy of second person.

Third Person

Writing in third person is the most-used option for POV for several reasons. It’s easy. It’s fun. And you get to explore the world through multiple characters’ eyes. Besides, most authors write in third person.

Telling the story from the viewpoint of she or he or they or it adds life to a story because it allows readers to experience the story from a bird’s-eye view while also getting inside the head of the main character in the story at the moment.

Nan, in Elizabeth Berg’s The Pull of the Moon, sets off to adventure the world at fifty. As she gets into her car and drives across the country, she explores places, meets people, and discovers herself along the way. And I imagine the author wrote this book from Nan’s perspective, making this book an exceptional insight into the life of one character.

Writing in third person requires using the five senses and the journalist’s five W’s and H, and for the best reading experience, showing readers the world from that character’s POV. This means—what they see, hear, feel, say, think, do—whatever they experience is only told from their eyes. Only. Head hopping is not an option here. It’s more confusing for readers to experience the same scene from two characters or more. (Watch for a future blog post on that topic!)

How will your chosen POV impact your characters, the plot, your readers?

Choosing the correct POV is as important as choosing the correct plot trajectory or characters to act out the story. The correct POV is the mood of the story, the flavor you want readers to taste, the mountain you want them to view.

If you’re writing in a voice that seems “off,” try switching gears and write in another voice. There isn’t a wrong way to write a story, but there is the right viewpoint that tells the best story.

Secret Sauce to the Best Point of View

Elizabeth Berg, author of The Pull of the Moon, says, “I have wanted you to see out of my eyes so many times.”

And let that be true of your manuscript, however you choose to tell your story and whomever to use to tell your story—whether first person, second person, third person, deep point of view … or if you choose to let an animate or inanimate object tell the story, so be it.

Each writer and author benefits from exploring their characters inside and out, while asking “what if?” at every turn when crafting their novel’s plot because it’s really the secret sauce to writing a great story that captivates people, agents, editors, readers, marketers, and the person who wouldn’t necessarily pick up a book and read it.

Your Turn!

Who is your audience, and what do you hope they gain from reading your book?

Which viewpoint do you think is best to tell the story you’re writing, and why?

Drop a comment in the comments, I look forward to hearing what you have to say…

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Fiction: How to Find the Felt Need

fiction 101 finding the felt need

This is the first post in my editing series in 2020 for how to develop a great story by having all the layers in place before actually writing, or if you’ve already written your book, how to make sure all the layers are in place.

The first layer in developing a great story is finding the felt need.

We all have needs. We have a need for sleep, sustenance, and sunshine. Your readers have needs, such as reading a soul-stirring good book. Your characters have needs like how to move forward in a relationship or making it through a congested highway in time to punch the clock. And do all those needs need to match? Not really, but they should at least mesh in some way. If you don’t know why your readers are reading your book, then what’s the point? You don’t have an engaged audience, you can’t sell books, and you just aren’t going anywhere, eh? Well, I want you and your books to go somewhere! 🙂

Recently, one writer lamented that the qualities necessary for a good nonfiction book were clearly not the same as the qualities necessary for a fiction book. Readers of fiction, they said, do not specifically read to meet their “need.” Okay, so I can see what they’re saying, but I respectfully disagree.

While it’s somewhat true to that fiction readers don’t read because they have a flaming need, readers of fiction read because they enjoy a good story. And as writers who care about writing good stories, we must give readers what they’re looking for, what they’re craving. The next few paragraphs presents several ways to easily find the felt need in your fiction manuscript.

How to Find the Felt Need

  • why are you writing this particular story?
  • what do you want readers to come away with at the end of the story?
  • how do the answers to the above questions play into your characters’ lives?

Why Are You Writing this Particular Story?

If you’re writing for the sake of writing, that’s a good cause, but if you’re writing because you have an urgent message to share with the world, that’s an even better cause.

Sometimes a book explores an issue to seek to uncover the lie and expose the truth, as in To Kill A Mockingbird. Sometimes a book is meant to show the reader what is most important, such as in Where the Red Fern Grows. And sometimes a book is just fun and lighthearted, with a loose message threaded throughout, like Cranford.

What Do You Want Readers to Come Away With?

Every story has a “so what?” factor, whether it’s an essay, article, nonfiction, or fiction. Every story has a purpose, even if it’s to have a good, hearty laugh (like the ladies do in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford) or to integrate the romance factor as in The Great Gatsby.

In my essay, “The Meaning of an Heirloom,” in The Horse of My Dreams (Revell 2019), I wanted readers to come away with the idea that an heirloom extends beyond the space of something tangible; an heirloom could be intangible—and have a lasting impact on the world and others.

Each author benefits from exploring this “why” question when crafting their novel because it’s really the secret sauce to writing a great story that captivates people, agents, editors, readers, marketers, and the person who wouldn’t necessarily pick up a book and read it.

A Few Examples

In The Baggage Handler by David Rawlings, the characters are on a journey of discovery about who they really are and the baggage they carry. I believe the author wanted readers to be at peace with their relationships in all kinds of spaces.

Under Moonlit Skies (Prairie Skies series) by Cynthia Roemer seeks to empower readers that self-acceptance is more powerful than romantic love.

The theme of Sarah Sundin’s Sunrise at Normandy series is about forgiveness, and each main character (The Sea Before Us [2018], The Sky Above Us [2019], and The Land Beneath Us [2020]) must forge their own forgiveness path as they interact with each other and experience different situations that speak to their own needs.

So … as you’re editing your manuscript’s “felt need” and crafting your novel and its purpose to better serve your current readers and your future readers, I hope this bit of explanation is helpful to you.

For those interested, I’ll also be giving a talk later in January 2020 about self-editing your fiction. We’ll dig into two basic elements of fiction that are key for powerful storytelling. Be the first to know details by signing up for my editing newsletter, click here!

(Psst … this isn’t just to get you to sign up for another newsletter. This is a free online conference and I’ll have a few practical gifts for you too! Details forthcoming…) Love to join? Click here!

Questions? Comments? I’d love to engage in the conversation with you! Drop your question or comment in the chat below, and I’ll look forward to responding!

Your Turn!

What is your character’s felt need? What is your story’s “why”?

What do you want your readers to come away with by the end of reading your book?

(Please, no retelling what the book is *about.)

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How to Edit Like a Director

editing-like-a-director-tisha-martin-how-to-edit

Hello! How’s your editing been going for you? I hope you’re seeing great improvement, but if you’re at a loss for how to edit or even what it consists of, take heart.

Editing is as much an art form as writing, so the more you practice, the better your results will be. Last month, we looked at three ways to think like an editor. This month, we’ll switch gears and look at how to edit like a director. Rather, we’ll transform our story into the stage and our characters into actors. You enjoy a well-done performance, don’t you? Consider what makes up a stunning stage performance . . . and we’ll incorporate a few tips for how to edit like a director.

Three tips for how to edit like a director

  1. Captivating dialogue

I understand. Dialogue is hard to craft because as in life, there’s emotion, nuance, and subtext in our characters’ dialogue. When crafting my own dialogue between my characters, I must reflect on the general goal I want my hero and/or heroine to accomplish. And whatever that goal is the dialogue should mirror that goal. For instance, if my amateur detective heroine wants to get admission into the exhibit so she can scoop up clues from last night’s painting theft, but no one will let her in because that section of the museum has been closed off, she’s got to convince the ticket master that it’s important to let her in. What might that dialogue consist of?

Amateur detective: “Sir, I’m with the police. I’d like to be let inside the exhibit hall, so I may conduct my search.”

Ticket master: “I’m very sorry. Only the private investigators are allowed in there.”

Amateur detective: “But I am a private investigator.”

Ticket master: “Hardly, miss. Where are your credentials?”

  1. Strong character actions

Outside of dialogue, strong character actions is the most important element on the stage because it connects the audience with the actors and endears them to the entire story. Likewise, giving your story characters specific movements throughout each story scene will entice our readers to want to engage with the story. Let’s take the dialogue we crafted between the amateur detective and the ticket master and incorporate some strong character actions.

Lily Nash stepped inside the museum’s expansive lobby, searching for the ticket counter. Ah, there, near a huge marble column. “Sir, I’d like to be let inside the exhibit hall, so I may conduct a search from last night’s robbery.”

“I’m very sorry, but that’s closed to the public. Only private investigators are allowed in there.” The ticket master stamped a few papers and filed them.

Gripping her handbag, she said, “But I am a private investigator.”

The ticket master cast a scorning glance down at her over his thin metal spectacles. “Hardly, miss. Where are your credentials?”

Did you notice yourself envision the scene, what the characters might look like, and how their voices might sound, based from this scene? Does it seem like Lily isn’t as prepared as she should be, and the ticket master is a stern fellow? Do you hear the desperation in Lily’s voice and the disbelief in the ticket master’s? Can you see the lobby’s high ceiling and the large, stone columns? We have not included anything but character actions and dialogue, and perhaps you are connected with the scene already.

  1. Strong transitions between scenes

Incorporating strong transitions between your story’s scenes will help your readers connect the dots and stay on track with the story as it ebbs and flows, leading to the climax and the ending. Now, we’ll take the last scene, with dialogue and character action, and create transition scenes before and after.

Looking up at the front of the art museum, Lily Nash clutched her stomach. Her first assignment alone.

She stepped inside the museum’s expansive lobby, searching for the ticket counter. Ah, there, near a huge marble column. “Sir, I’d like to be let inside the exhibit hall, so I may conduct a search from last night’s robbery.”

“I’m very sorry, but that’s closed to the public. Only private investigators are allowed in there.” The ticket master stamped a few papers and filed them.

Gripping her handbag, she said, “But I am a private investigator.”

The ticket master cast a scorning glance down at her over his thin metal spectacles. “Hardly, miss. Where are your credentials?”

“I have them, sir.” Lily dug through her handbag. Fear gripped her throat. She’d had it at the station. Without another word to the ticket master, she turned and fled the building.

Transitions don’t have to extend to several sentences or even paragraphs. Just mention enough to get your characters from one place to the next so it will be clear to your readers how your characters are moving throughout the story as it progresses, hopefully, from good to bad to worse to a climactic ending with a satisfying end.

Just as each theatrical production has its own style, theme, and tone, your story has its own style, scene exchanges, dialogue, and tone so that the message truly reaches the reader’s heart. The bottom line is to make sure your writing shows an entire story being acted out as if it were a theatrical production. Now, take a small scene from your current WIP and see how you can transform it into a scene that fully engages readers in dialogue, character actions, and transitions.

Please join in the discussion! I’d love to hear from you!

Take a few minutes and ponder. What is one self-editing tip that’s helped you recently? 

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Three Steps to Editing the Beginning

[This post first appeared on Almost an Author. February 22, 2018.]

Three Steps to Editing the Beginning

With my cursor at Chapter 1 in my WWII historical fiction novel, I hit Ctrl+Enter and sighed. Beginning a book all over again wasn’t what I had in mind. I liked this chapter. I mean, really liked it, even though everyone else said it wasn’t quite right. Forever, why? Why must I abandon these pages and start fresh, like erasing a favorite drawing of a flower but one petal was lopsided.

Two contests, a writing conference, and two agents later, my intuition solidified into a clear direction of where this chapter needed to begin. None of the critics’ comments were overly negative, and most of them enjoyed the few chapters I had submitted. But my first chapter lacked … heart, GPC (goal, problem, care), and solid reasons why things were happening the very moment the story began.

Beginnings

How many of you have revisited this elusive beginning, struggling to create a first chapter that pops! off the page?

I’ve always struggled to write beginnings. I’m sure I’m not the only one—and there are writers who dislike middles and endings, too.

Who are these characters, what is their goal and problem, and why do you want readers to care?

In addition to Goal, Problem, and Care, here are three things I learned about editing the first chapter that helped me introduce the GPC:

  1. Introduce main characters and continuing action early in the first page.Your readers must have a reason to continue to the second and third page and eventually the last page in as few sittings as possible. Maybe your character is afraid to drive over a bridge but must because her boyfriend sent her on a scavenger hunt, or perhaps your character must capture a rattlesnake because his friend dared him. Your first page should pop! with action that includes a huge goal with a problem your main characters must overcome by the book’s end.
  2. Give your characters lively dialogue. You want your readers to laugh and relate with your characters. The old “How are you?” “I’m fine, how are you?” type of dialogue doesn’t work anymore.
  3. Don’t overwrite. Simple is always best. Make Strunk and White proud of you!

Simple writing is sometimes hard for me because I love to describe things; however, too much is not good and hurts your writing and may frustrate your readers. I love reading Anne of Green Gables, but I have a hard time staying engaged with the verbose descriptions; in Ms. Montgomery’s defense, her readers enjoyed lengthy descriptions. Today’s readers want a read they can enjoy quickly.

After taking an honest and humble look at my first chapter based on the judges’ and agents’ comments, I’m glad I started over. I spent a few days pounding out a new first chapter, and it’s stronger because I’ve given my characters a goal to look forward to, a problem that stands in their way, and my readers something to care about.

Now, excuse me while I edit this post to ensure I’ve engaged you, helped you relate, and caused you to want to continue reading it.

Let’s Discuss!

What is your WIP’s first chapter about? Can you describe it in Goal, Problem, and Care?

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Punctuation Series: How to Edit Hyphens

Punctuation-Series-How-to-edit-hyphens-tisha-martin-author-editor

This is the last segment on exploring how to edit punctuation in the Dash Family. Next month, I will have yet another easy, effective article for how to edit other useful punctuation so that your manuscript shines like a brand new car. That should wow the agent or editor, right? So without further ado, let’s dive in!

In the world of grammar and punctuation, there are three types of dash (hyphen, en dash, and em dash). “So what?” you say. “Ah,” but I say, “presentation is everything, especially when it comes to the publishing world. And your presentation of such a small thing as a dash is crucial to your book’s success.” It’s one of the ways that separates a professional book from an amateur book. Editors—and readers—know when the punctuation is off, which *could throw your story off too. And we wouldn’t want that!

Working with the dash can be tricky, boring, and downright distressing at times. As a writer and an editor, I completely understand your frustration with grammar and punctuation altogether.

And it may seem like the dash is not important, but they are, especially if you use a lot of extra information in your prose or poetry. And that’s nearly every piece of writing, so I invite you to stay for this little journey. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but merely to give you a tool to use in your self-editing journey, should you choose to do so.

Why Paying Attention to the Dash Is Important

  • Appearance is everything, appearance is everything, appearance . . . yeah
  • The difference is subtle, like missing the road sign on the highway
  • Using the dash correctly shows you care about your story, your editor, and your readers

In this blog post, let’s look at one of the dashes, the hyphen. The plain and simple hyphen. And my text for today is The Chicago Manual of Style, chapter six.

The hyphen is part of the Dash Family, which you can read about em dashes and en dashes here.

Let’s differentiate the hyphen and the dashes, as I’m sure it gets confusing. I know you’d rather not focus on them at all, but it’s super easy once you have the tools! (Chicago Manual of Style 6.75).

  • Hyphen is one little tic: –
  • En dash is two little tics –
  • Em dash is three little tics —
  • *But you can find the dashes in the Symbols box in the Home ribbon (for PC users).
    Don’t make the mistake and insert two hyphens (–) for the en dash and three hyphens for the em dash (—). It. Does. Not. Work. That. Way. 😊 If you want to know how, then finish reading this blog post and head on over the other two articles that talk about how to find and insert the en and em dashes . . . you’ll be glad you did!

Use hyphens with compound words. (Chicago Manual of Style 6.76).

  • Chicago 5.92 uses these hyphenated compound words and calls them phrasal adjectives.
  • Yep, this is where grammar tips collide with other grammar tips! So that means
  • Two hyphenated adjectives before a noun to describe it.
  • Like, yellow-bellied toads, slick-sliver rats, purple-tongued snakes. . .

A few rules about using phrasal adjectives . . .

  1. If the phrase comes before the noun, then hyphenate the words to avoid misreading or misunderstanding. Clarity is key!
  2. If the phrase is connected to a compound noun, then the entire phrase is hyphenated, such as chocolate-coffee-infused writers. This makes the relationship between the words clear, not to mention that commas would not work between the words at all.
  3. If there are more than one phrasal adjectives that describes the noun, then each phrasal adjective needs to be hyphenated because each element is super important: twentieth-century historical-element writingstate-inspected assisted-living home.
  4. For two phrasal adjectives that share the same noun, each phrase needs a hyphen between, showing that both phrases are related to the same noun. For instance, middle- and upper-classmen students (middle-classmen and upper-classmen); lower- and upper-elementary readers (lower-elementary and upper-elementary).
  5. If the phrasal adjective includes reference to amount or duration, then don’t use the plural. For example, toddler stage is about two years, but for the phrasal adjective, two-year toddler stage. Or a bookstore that is open 24 hours a day would have a 24-hour-day schedule.
  6. Have a confusing phrasal adjective? Don’t fret—just rewrite the sentence! There’s no pressure or misunderstanding or going round the Merry-Go-Round when you simply rewrite the sentence. And it might even sound better too!

Exceptions, exceptions, exceptions! (Chicago Manual of Style 5.93).

If the phrasal adjective is after a linking verb, then the phrase is *not hyphenated because then that phrasal adjective is acting as a noun.

  • The athlete is well trained.
  • My writers’ group is a mix and match of genres and skills.

If the phrasal adjective begins with a Proper adjective, do not hyphenate!

  • Glouster Beach goers.
  • Clinton Anderson horse trainers.

If the two-word phrasal adjective includes an adverb, don’t use a hyphen.

  • A timely appointed meeting.
  • A roughly made coffee table.

Use Hyphens as Separators (Chicago Manual of Style 6.77).

  • Separate numbers that are not inclusive. Telephone numbers, social security numbers, or ISBNs.
  • Separate words and spelling out words.

    This is also helpful when your character is dictating over the phone. Or with spelling out words if a character uses American Sign Language.

    For example,

  • Your number is 123-555-4321
  • Tomorrow we hike Mountain R-a-n-i-e-r. (American Sign Language fingerspelling.)
  • My name is Tisha, that’s Tisha with an i, no r. Spelled T-i-s-h-a.

How’s that for a very brief introductory into using the hyphen that’s widely used but so often tricky to use?

Using the well-placed hyphen is important because your overall presentation makes a world of difference to your editor, agent, publisher, and readers. That may seem counterintuitive because the writing is equally important, but it’s the presentation that tends to enhance your credibility as a writer. (Especially if you self-publish and are doing your own first-draft editing.)

Pro Tip : I’m creating a few cheat sheets and a video series on some of the topics I’ve covered so far, and if you’d like to be in the loop for when they’ll be ready, just go to my website and email me, letting me know you’d like to be added to my Grammar List!! I look forward to seeing you!

Please take a minute and join in the discussion! I’d love to hear from you!

Conversation Time!!

Of the three Dash articles, which has been your favorite, and why? Let me know in the Comments!

(If you haven’t read the other two articles, go read them!! You might find them useful. Click here.)

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Punctuation Series: How to Edit Em Dashes

Punctuation-Series-How-to-Edit-Em-Dashes-tisha-martin-author-editor

Continuing from last month’s instalment on editing the dash. . .

In the world of grammar and punctuation, there are three types of dash (hyphen, en dash, and em dash). “So what?” you say. “Ah,” but I say, “presentation is everything, especially when it comes to the publishing world. And your presentation of such a small thing as a dash is crucial to your book’s success.”

Working with the dash can be tricky, boring, and downright distressing at times. As a writer and an editor, I completely understand your frustration with grammar and punctuation altogether.

You’d rather write, right? Right! So let’s continue our focus on a simple, easy-to-understand punctuation series that I hope will be a help and encouragement to you—allowing you more time to write well.

If you feel like you’re back in grammar school, please take heart—and know that this isn’t going to be a boring, stuffy ‘nother grammar lesson.

It may seem like the dash is not important, but they are, especially if you use a lot of extra information in your prose or poetry. And that’s nearly every piece of writing, so I invite you to stay for this little journey. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but merely to give you a tool to use in your self-editing journey, should you choose to do so.

Why Paying Attention to the Dash Is Important

  • Appearance is everything, appearance is everything, appearance . . . yeah
  • The difference is subtle, like missing the road sign on the highway
  • Using the dash correctly shows you care about your story, your editor, and your readers

In this blog post, let’s look at one of the dashes, the em dash. And my text for today is The Chicago Manual of Style, chapter six.

Using the em dash instead of using commas, parenthesis, and colons (Chicago Manual of Style 6.85).

If you ever hear just the word “dash,” the speaker most likely will be referring to the standard em dash, so please don’t be confused. Em dashes can be used for abrupt insertions of information in a sentence, or important side elements that an author wants the reader to notice something.

Em dashes set off or amplify an element in a sentence, or function in place of parenthesis, comma, or a colon. Please notice examples one, two, and three below, respectively:

  • Parenthesis. Tim Shoemaker’s keynotes at the Write-to-Publish conference in June, 2019, centered on several biblical characters—Nehemiah, King David, and David’s mighty men—and encouraged writers to produce great content that fills readers with hope in a fresh and exciting way.
  • Comma. The encouragement of three people in my life who were an inspiration to me in different stages of my writing journeya journey that, much to my surprise, spanned twenty years, include my mother, my grandfather, and my writing mentor.
  • Colon. Even though I had many people who inspired me to write, it was a novel written by a British author that set my pen on firepure bliss.

*Avoiding confusion. (Chicago 6.85.)

  • Don’t use two sets of em dashes in the same sentence because it causes confusion for your reader, not to mention makes the sentence really clunky. In this case, you would use parenthesis or commas instead.
    (I have bolded the parenthesis and commas, as they add extra, extra information. Notice where the em dash is placed in relation to the other punctuation as well.)
    A few examples:
  • The Write-to-Publish conference—which met for four days in June near Chicago (and is a perfect balance of emerging and skilled writers)—featured in-house publishing editors and excellent subsidy publishers for writers of all levels and genres.
  • The Write-to-Publish conference—which met for four days in June near Chicagoand is a perfect balance of emerging and skilled writers—featured in-house publishing editors and excellent subsidy publishers for writers of all levels and genres.

Use the em dash for sudden breaks or interruptions (Chicago Manual of Style 6.87).

You may use an em dash if your sentence decides to go on a jaunt or a jolt, or entertain an interruption in dialogue or thought. Hey, no worries—that’s okay! Just plug in the em dash and you’re all good.

Here are some examples:

  • My friend jiggled the car keys still in the ignition, the steering wheel, the H-emblemed car horn, the door locks, anything to silence the deafening screech. “I—I can’t seem to deactivate this—this alarm.”
  • A woodpecker rap made me jump. The man shot two fingers in my direction on the other side of the passenger window. “If you don’t stop messing around with that alarm,” he shouted over the blaring sound, “I’m gonna call the cops—I mean it! People are tryin’ to sleep!”

The em dash is used instead of quotation marks

(Chicago Manual of Style 6.80). *This is mainly for European manuscripts. If you have read any international works or are getting your books published with foreign rights, you might have seen the em dash.

Okay, so this is a fun one, and I might add, an interesting rule to keep in mind. I’ll make it as simple as possible for you. 😊 Don’t use any quotation marks or spaces after the em dash. Ask your agent or editor or publisher if this method is still used in today’s books, because. . .

I’ve seen the em dash used in older novels, but haven’t seen them in recent novels. Have you? I’d sure love to know! So—please leave a comment on the blog, telling me where you have seen this rule used.

For example,

  • —Oh Henry, isn’t this a lovely party?
  • —Yes, Louise, and it’s lovelier with you here.

How’s that for a very brief introductory into using the em dash that’s widely used but so often misused?

Pro Tip for Finding the Em Dash

  1. Make sure your cursor is at the place where you want the en dash to be placed.
  2. In Microsoft Word (version 2016), go to the Insert tab.
  3. At the very end of the icon list, you’ll see Symbols.
  4. Click the drop-down menu, and you’ll choose the Symbol option.
  5. Mouse over the symbols, until you find the Em dash.  
  6. Click, and insert into the place where your cursor is located.

Using the well-placed en dash is important because your overall presentation makes a world of difference to your editor, agent, publisher, and readers. That may seem counterintuitive because the writing is equally important, but it’s the presentation that tends to enhance your credibility as a writer. (Especially if you self-publish and are doing your own first-draft editing.)

Next month, we’ll look at the final way to edit the dash in your manuscript, but for now. . . just remember, There may be three types of dash, and one of them is not Dasher.

Please take a minute and join in the discussion! I’d love to hear from you!

Choose between the questions to engage in the conversation:

1. Why do you use em dashes?

2. Have you seen any em dashes in place of quotation marks in dialogue? Which title/author uses them?

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Punctuation Series: How to Edit En Dashes

 

Punctuation-Series-How-to-Edit-En-Dashes-tisha-martin-author-editor

In the world of grammar and punctuation, there are three types of dash (hyphen, en dash, and em dash). “So what?” you say. “Ah,” but I say, “presentation is everything, especially when it comes to the publishing world. And your presentation of such a small thing as a dash is crucial to your book’s success.”

Working with the dash can be tricky, boring, and downright distressing at times. As a writer and an editor, I completely understand your frustration with grammar and punctuation altogether.

You’d rather write, right? Right! So let’s continue our focus on a simple, easy-to-understand punctuation series that I hope will be a help and encouragement to you—allowing you more time to write well.

If you feel like you’re back in grammar school, please take heart—and know that this isn’t going to be a boring, stuffy ‘nother grammar lesson.

It may seem like the dash is not important, but they are, especially if you use a lot of numbers and dates and prose. And that’s nearly every piece of writing, so I invite you to stay for this little journey. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but merely to give you a tool to use in your self-editing journey, should you choose to do so.

Why Paying Attention to the Dash Is Important

  • Appearance is everything, appearance is everything, appearance . . . yeah
  • The difference is subtle, like missing the road sign on the highway
  • Using the dash correctly shows you care about your story, your editor, and your readers

In this blog post, let’s look at one of the dashes, the en dash. And my text for today is The Chicago Manual of Style, chapter six.

Using the dash to mean “to.” (Chicago Manual of Style 6.78)

Many times the dash is a stand-in for “to,” just like “to be” is an understood for a sentence like “We elected Jane [to be] president.” Nonfiction and Bible study / devotional writers, take a look here, as this will apply to you because you use a lot of Scripture verses.

“To” simply means “up through” or “including up through.” And to write all that is really truly wordy. So we use the en dash to simplify. The point? The en dash connects numbers together (words, not as much).

Here are a few examples:

  • Scripture reference. In John 3:15–17 we learn about God’s love for us.
  • Chapters. Let’s continue our study of Lessons from To Kill a Mockingbird. See chapters 3–4.
  • With scores and directions. Congress voted 100–1 on the new bill.

*Two exceptions. As always, there are exceptions.

  • If your sentence uses from before the number or date element, then do not use the en dash. You would say, “from July to November.”
  • If your sentence uses between, do not use an en dash. For example, “The baby sleeps between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.”

Use the en dash with unfinished number ranges (Chicago Manual of Style 6.79)

If the number range in your sentence is ongoing, then an en dash is appropriate. This would include things like serial publications or the birth date of a living person. No spaces required.

Here are some examples:

  • Scriptmag (especially 2019–) is an excellent magazine for anyone wanting to dig into writing screenplays.
  • Jude’s grandfather (1927–) served in the Korean Conflict.

Use the en dash with compound adjectives (Chicago Manual of Style 6.80)

Okay, so this is a fun one, and I might add, a very important rule to keep in mind. I’ll make it as simple as possible for you. 😊

When the compound adjective has one element that is an open compound or when both elements are hyphenated, then use an en dash in its place.

It might be more helpful if explained this way as an example:

A regular hyphen joins two words (smoke-filled room), but an en dash joins a collection of hyphenated (a multi-published–multi-genre author); see the en dash between “published and multi”).

(Examples to follow so you are not confused.)

  • I write mostly about WWII and the post–WWII era.
    (The distinction here is a proper compound.)
  • We are headed toward Nashville, the music–influenced city of the US.
    (This distinction here is, The city influenced by music.)
  • The singer had an Elvis Presley–style voice.
    (The distinction here is a proper compound.)

How’s that for a very brief introductory into using the en dash?

Pro Tip for Finding the En Dash

  1. Make sure your cursor is at the place where you want the en dash to be placed.
  2. In Microsoft Word (version 2016), go to the Insert tab.
  3. At the very end of the icon list, you’ll see Symbols.
  4. Click the drop-down menu, and you’ll choose the Symbol option.
  5. Mouse over the symbols, until you find the En dash.
  6. Click, and insert into the place where your cursor is located.

Using the well-placed en dash is important because your overall presentation makes a world of difference to your editor, agent, publisher, and readers. That may seem counterintuitive because the writing is equally important, but it’s the presentation that tends to enhance your credibility as a writer. (Especially if you self-publish and are doing your own first-draft editing.)

Next month, we’ll look at some more ways to edit the dash in your manuscript, but for now. . . just remember, There may be three types of dash, and one of them is not Dasher.

appearance cred: first appears as part of a series on Almostanauthor.com, June 22, 2019;
photo cred: canva

Please take a minute and join in the discussion! I’d love to hear from you!

Do you use en dashes? If you haven’t before now, what do you think about using them?

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ACFW: June 2019 Indiana Meeting

acfw, indiana chapter, june 2019

First pages are challenging. Wouldn’t you rather not have to go it alone? The June 2019 Indiana Chapter ACFW meeting is here to help guide and shape the first chapter of your manuscript.

Writers, if you’re near Kokomo, IN, you’ll not want to miss getting your first page evaluated by professional editors in the industry. Kind, gentle, but honest professional advice here. Oh, and lunch beforehand is available too! Click the link below for more details . . .

ACFW IN June 2019 event announcement