MJ on Writing: Viewpoint Tips and Tricks

WritingOne of the first things I learned about writing was the correct way to write a scene. After years of reading I had become accustom to what is known as ‘head hopping’. For those who may not be aware of what that is, ‘head hopping’ is where two characters point of views are shared in the same scene. This is not to be confused with conversation. I am referring to the scene starting with the heroine’s POV and then in mid scene, it switches to the hero’s POV, and back again or to another character without a change in the scene or start of a new chapter. Sound confusing? Imagine how it feels to a reader!

That style of writing is no longer accepted in manuscripts today, unless of course your one of the old school authors who were allowed to do it years ago. Chances are they haven’t been forced to change. In fact, I know they haven’t. One of my favorite romance authors who have been around for years still does it in every new book. But for the new author, agents and publishers are looking for a more polished style of writing, starting with characters whose POV’s are the only one featured in a chapter. Even if you plan to self-publish, taking these extra steps to polish your writing will make your work stand apart from the rest!

So how do you make this happen? Here are a few tips and tricks to make sure you stay in one viewpoint from the beginning to end or your scene! (I write in 1st Person POV, so I will write these examples in both 1st and 3rd POV when needed.)

Make sure your reader knows who is speaking.

The easiest way to have this done is by having them addressed by name by another character in the scene. Doing this in the first few lines of the chapter will let your reader know who’s speaking:

Example:

(1st Person)

“Hey, Sara, how are you doing today?” my brother asked.

“Things could be better.” I grimaced while holding my stomach.

Or

(3rd Person)

“Hey, Sara, how are you doing today?” John asked.

“Things could be better,” she said while holding her stomach.

As mentioned above, NO HEAD HOPPING!

Doing so destroys the tension your building by staying in one character head. You know the saying, ‘the right hand can’t know what the left is doing?’ When sticking in one POV, it’s the same way. If Phil has a secret that he is trying to hide from Bob, his actions and what he says should say that to the reader, but the reader can’t know that Bob already knows that Phil is guilty.

Example:

Correct:

Phil’s eyes darted from side to side in an effort to keep from looking Bob in the eye. There was no way he would admit to eating the last slice of grandma’s apple pie. He tried his best to ignore Bob when he asked another question, and continued to stare out the kitchen window.

Incorrect:

Phil’s eyes darted from side to side in an effort to keep from looking Bob in the eye. There was no way he would admit to eating the last slice of grandma’s apple pie.

Bob knew Phil was guilty, because he refused to look at him. It didn’t matter if he answered his question or not. He was going to tell grandma.

Phil knows he’s guilty, but tries his best to hide it. If we are only in his POV, he can’t know what Bob is thinking, only assume, or in this case ignore Bob all together. What he thinks Bob knows or doesn’t know is not important. You only want to share Bob’s thoughts if/when his POV is addressed in another chapter.

Describing your character from their POV.

Every now and then it’s necessary for a character to tell the reader what they look like, what they are wearing, or describe their expressions. You have to be careful their voice does not slip into the voice of another character that may be looking at them. Try some of these tricks:

  • Have your character stand in front of a mirror and talk about what they see, but don’t be technical (and it should be relevant to the scene!)
  • Use feelings and descriptions to guide your reader into visualizing what the character is trying to say about themselves.
  • Quote another character’s thoughts about their appearance.

Example: Here’s how my character, Ebony Campbell, describe herself in the opening chapter of A Heart Not Easily Broken: (1st Person)

I smirked (facial expression) before sipping my margarita. Yasmine’s light-skinned complexion, slender ballet dancer body, long legs, and B-cup breasts suited her personality. There were times I wished my body was more like hers, though. It would make shopping for clothes a lot easier. As it was, I had been blessed with the shapely figure my Nana called ‘bootylicious’. According to her, and her photo albums, I looked just like her when she was my age, with caramel-colored skin, perfectly proportioned hips, a butt that drew major attention, and D-cup breasts, making it hard for a man to look me straight in the eye. (Opinion of others)

And last but not least, select ONE character to focus on in a scene!

In other words, don’t split up your chapter into two different points of view. Extend the scene, or shorten it, with chapter breaks instead of scene breaks. Doing so will keep the reader from missing the POV switch at the break point, because sometimes inserting *** just doesn’t do it. Doing so generally means there is a change in the scene itself, not POV.

I hope this helps! For more tips on writing, check out my page with links to previous articles on writing. Until next time, Happy Writing!

MJ

#WritingTips- Use Your Microsoft Word Doc Tools to Make Writing Easier!

When my Muse wakes me up in the middle of the night, or I have an epiphany of a new scene to add more life to my manuscript, the first thing I do is search for any means of recording my thoughts. Paper and pen, notes on my iPhone, voice recordings if I’m driving, or sometimes I just grab my laptop, open up a blank word doc, and let my fingers fly over the keys. Then I file it away until I’m ready to work on it again.

I am a plotter with a hint of panster. I take my time when I write, letting my stories marinate as I decide what trials to put my characters through. I spend even more time discovering who they are. When my research is complete, my outlines written, and I’m ready to add dialogue, the last thing I want to do after spending hours bringing my story to life, is have to go back and reformat the entire manuscript before editing it.

Let’s face it, authors, the mere thought of the words edits, editing, or editor are daunting, especially if you are new to writing!

I remember those days! But, have no fear! Since then, I have learned when you put in the work, the editing process can run so smooth, it’s nearly as fun as watching your story come to life from the blank page!

Okay, okay, stop laughing!  Let’s keep it positive people! 🙂 I’m about to share a tip that will have you grinning from ear to ear! (If you had no idea about it, that is!)

Did you know there are tools built into Microsoft Word that can cut down the amount of editing you or your editor need to do if used while you write?

I learned this while working on my first manuscript, (A Heart Not Easily Broken), and my dear friend and fellow author enlightened me to these amazing settings. I can’t lie; I am NOT a tech savvy person. What I’ve learned to do with my laptop, be it building my webpage, (the one you’re visiting now), or surfing the web, all of this has been because of being pointed in the right direction by people who discovered these shortcuts and shared them with me, or by taking the time to keep hitting buttons and trying over and over again until I figured it out. In other words, HOURS of frustration mixed with patience, coffee, and chocolate!

Now it’s my turn to reciprocate!  If any of this is new to you, I hope you find this information useful, and that it makes writing easier!

***NOTE: The following directions and screen shots are based on Microsoft Word 2010. Similar functions can be found for 2007, though they will not be as detailed. For more advice, I suggest searching Google or YouTube for instructional videos on how to use your editing/proofing features.***

Unknown tricks to Word 2007 and 2010 to avoid unnecessary editing issues (AKA – Quick Access Tool Bar). Let’s face it, we all didn’t sit down to read the manual…

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Screen shot of the steps below. Daunting, but well worth the work!

Use of this function will allow you to set up Word to point out common editing issues as you type, allowing you to rethink your sentence before you continue, or make it easier to find some of the editing issues that make your writing passive. To customize this feature, follow these steps:

  • Open up a blank Word Document
  • Select the REVIEW tab at the top of your screen; Right Click and select CUSTOMIZE
  • Select PROOFING. (Here you can choose what kind of typing issues you want Word to ignore or point out to you).
  • Look lower in the box marked: WHEN CORRECTING SPELLING AND GRAMMAR IN WORD
  • Select WRITING STYLE, then click on the drop box, choose GRAMMAR & STYLE, then click SETTINGS. (From here you can have Word point out EVERYTHING!!! From punctuation issues, misused words, fragment and run-on sentences, to the use of cliches phrases, and so much more. Using this feature to help point out issues you need to correct before submitting your manuscript to an editor will make the editor quickly fall in love with you!)
  • Be sure to select OK before exiting to save your settings.

***By the way, once these settings are saved, they stay that way  for every document you create, until you go in and reset them.***

I touched on this a few posts ago when sharing tips for writing query letters, but again, putting this simple step into practice BEFORE you write one word will make the rest of  your writing experience pleasant.

The Universal Settings for your Manuscript (or Prepping you MS for Query Letters and you Editor)

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Your screen should look like this when selecting your font type and size.

Set your Font:

  • Open a blank document.
  • Select the HOME tab.
  • Choose TIMES NEW ROMAN Font with a 12 Point  size.
  • Save and exit

***Check these settings for each new document created! They do not always stay the same!***

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This is the easiest fix!

To Set Page Borders/Margins:

  • Select the PAGE LAYOUT tab.
  • Choose MARGINS.
  • Set to NORMAL. (1 inch border on both sides and top and bottom)

***This usually the normal setting, but it never hurts to make sure it’s set correctly. Technology is funny, and can revert back to the original settings  without warning!***

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Set your page to automatic indent and line and paragraph spacing.

  • From the HOME tab, select PARAGRAPH.
  • In the INDENTION box, choose HANGING.
  • In the SPACING box, choose DOUBLE, and change the  AFTER PT to ZERO (O)
  • Check the box below to avoid  spaces between paragraphs
  • Select OK to save changes.

***Again, check this feature with the start of any new document. The default settings are not the same as what you need when writing. Any new document created will not have your new settings.***

 Other Advice:

Here are a few more things you can do to make your writing cleaner:

  • Make sure you have clean chapter breaks. In other words, when Chapter 1 ends halfway down the page, Chapter 2 should start on a fresh page. The final page of Chapter 1 should not have the first part of Chapter 2 .
  • Italicize words meant to stand out for emphasis, do not highlight or underline.
  •  When inserting a scene break in a chapter, use ### or *** to show the break in time, or the start of a new scene and/or location. Which ever one you use, stay consistent throughout the MS, do not flip-flop.
  • If you have already written you MS and have not used these settings, there’s no need to type it over again! Simply go to page one, hold down the CTRL + A buttons; it will highlight the entire manuscript, from page 1 to 1000+. Follow the steps to set PAGE MARGINS and FONT while highlighted, and it will fix all of your work. Be sure to scroll through in order to separate your chapter headings on fresh pages, or else, some of them may find their way into the previous chapter. Don’t forget to save and back it all up when you’re done!

I know, I know, if you are technically challenged, the whole idea of learning how to properly format your work is daunting. But believe me; editors appreciate working with authors who take the time to learn how to use their writing programs. It cuts down on the amount of tedious stuff they need to do to get your work up to par, and allows them more time to focus on the real work, the mind-numbing technical side. And who knows, less work may end up saving you money!

Happy Writing!

MJ

 

Character Descriptions – Creating a Picture With Words

Fat? Skinny? Tall or Short? What category does your character fit in?

Some of us have over-active imaginations which allow us to ‘see’ what a character looks like. Translating that picture in our heads to paper should be easy, right? Not always. What about when you have several characters floating in and out of scenes throughout the manuscript?

 How do you hammer out each description while ensuring none of them are alike? It takes planning, plain and simple.

One of my favorite things to do is have a working picture chart for each major and minor character for quick reference. I got this idea from a critique partner and I will never write without one again. My favorite place to look for character references are on the Internet, movies, and television. When developing a new character, I already have an idea of their physical attributes, the sound of their voice, and the way their body moves. Finding a picture I can study makes a world of difference when writing a full character description. If you only go by what you imagine, there will be things missing, such as, subtle quirks like the way a character stands, a twitch of the mouth, or that hidden mole. Your eye may not notice at first glance, but after studying a photo, you can add an extra layer of ‘life’ to the character.

Let me demonstrate.

In A Heart Not Easily Broken, there is a chapter where Ebony Campbell, the heroine, has the opportunity to study her future love interest, Brian Young, from a distance. He’s standing in her back yard trimming the grass along the fences edge with a weed whacker and not wearing a shirt.

Here’s the way that scene was written without having a visual reference to refer too (rough draft):

          Brian stood with his weed whacker, swinging it along side the fence. My eyes widened; the man was shirtless. The man had an incredibly strong looking back. His shorts hung off his hips and made his underwear visible, while a damp shirt hung from his belt buckle. Hmm, boxers or briefs? Sweat ran down his back to his shorts. 
          None of that compared to the way he looked when he turned around to one of the guys working with him. His body was free of body fat, with a little hair on his chest. Tight abs shown a ripple of muscles so tight I could barely see his belly button. 
          Brian’s tanned skin reminded me of a Greek statue, he must work outside a lot. His baseball cap was turned backward, hiding the blond curly hair I’d seen at the club. His damp hair hung below its edge, showing off his square facial structure and the angle of his nose. His blue eyes were bright.
          Brian was unbelievably sexy.

Could you visualize what Ebony sees? I’m sure you were able to get a decent idea. Brian’s working outside, he’s sweating, it’s hot, and Ebony’s attracted to him. But how about the version found in the book? (after a  picture reference, a thesaurus, a multitude of edits, rewrites, and an over active imagination!) This is what I finished with:

           Brian stood with his weed whacker, swinging it in a controlled arch along the fence. My eyes widened; the man was shirtless. The man had an incredibly strong looking back. His shorts hung loosely from his hips, exposing the top of his underwear from the weight of the sweat-stained shirt stuffed under his belt. Hmm, boxers or briefs? Sweat ran in heavy rivets down his shoulder blades, trickling to the already damp shorts. 
          None of that compared to the way he looked when he turned around to speak to one of the guys working with him. His long torso, free of unwanted body fat, sported a light sprinkling of blond hair between his pecks. A tight abdomen showed every cut of muscle I’d seen in high school biology textbooks. His abs were tight, his belly button nearly nonexistent. 
          Brian’s bronzed skin reminded me of a Greek statue, a testament of many hours spent working outside. His backward baseball cap hid the thick blond curls I’d seen at the club. The damp ringlets hung below its rim, accentuating his square facial structure and the shape of his nose. His blue eyes seemed to glow from deep within his skin. 
         Brian was unbelievably sexy.


Visual descriptive, right? Both had the same idea, but the second one took the time to describe every single detail Ebony saw. Because of this, the reader is guaranteed to feel one of two things, ‘wow, it’s hot, he’s sweaty, and could use a shower’, or since your deep in Ebony’s POV, your right a long with her thinking the sight of a hard working man tunes her on!

Perfect character descriptions do not usually appear while writing your rough draft. A Heart Not Easily Broken had so many rewrites and drafts I stopped counting at number eight, and believe me, there were still a few after that. But with each scene, I forced myself to take the time to write the descriptions of the characters in as much detail as possible. It didn’t matter who’s POV the description came from.

Since my books are written in first POV, one of the first things I had to learn was how to have a person describe themselves without it sounding clinical.

Here’s an example of Ebony describing herself physically when comparing herself to her best friend, Yasmine:

Not so creative writing (first draft):

          Yasmine’s light colored skin, skinny body, long legs and small breast suited her personality. There were times I wished my body was like hers. It would make shopping for clothes easier. I had a body like my Nana did when she was my age. If I looked at her photo albums, I looked just like her . We both had brown skin, shapely hips, big butts, and large breast. 

Oh man was THAT boring!

Now, here is the book version:

          Yasmine’s high-yellow complexion, slender ballet dancer body, long legs, and B-cups breasts suited her personality.  There were times I wished my body was more like hers, though. It would make shopping for clothes a lot easier. As it was, I had been blessed with the shapely figure my Nana called ‘bootylicious’.  According to her, and her photo albums, I looked just like her when she was my age, with caramel-colored skin, perfectly proportioned hips, a butt that drew major attention, and D-cup breasts, making it hard for a man to look me straight in the eye.

So much better, and (if you are a lady!) can probably visualize yourself as either character, right?

A word of advice: when writing a characters description (especially if being done from first person POV), it’s best to have them compare themselves to others, or stare into the mirror and describe what they do or don’t like, as a suggestion. Having them say, “I have long hair, brown eyes, and dark skin,” is not being creative. “My hair reached the top of my bra strap, my eyes were coals of molten like my mothers. I had her rich coco-colored skin, too,” sounds much better. Okay, I threw that one together, but hopefully you get the point.

So, with visual aid (come on guys and gals, searching for that perfect pic can be fun!), lots of imagination, and the ever handy thesaurus, you can write descriptive scenes, too!

Until next time, WRITE WELL!!!!

MJ

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To Hire an Editor or Not to Hire an Editor…That is the Question!

Editors. In the world of writing, we all need one. The question is when.

During my writing journey, I’ve heard various tales, feedback, and opinions.

No, don’t hire an editor to read your work before submitting. You’ll be wasting money. Let the publisher pay for it.

Yes, hire an editor; it could increase your quality of your product and give you an opportunity to actually find and agent and/or publisher.

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

When it all comes down to it, the true question is: how much money do you want to invest?


Two years ago, the thought of an editor reviewing my work scared me. The idea of someone ripping it to shreds, and spitting it back at me, demanding that it be re-written because it wasn’t good enough, had me cursing the profession. I pushed that thought aside and focused on writing a story I wanted to tell. Next, I focused on learning as much as I could about sentence structure, setting up the paragraphs, scene breaks, chapter breaks, and POV changes. Then, I built the infamous repeated/passive word list to tighten up my prose. I’ve gone over my list so many times while doing my own edits, I rarely have to pull it up to know what words to avoid. In fact, when I write a scene, I now catch those words and change them before they hit the screen.

However, that doesn’t cover everything. There are still the annoying details of correct grammar usage, using the right word tense, and spelling. Unless you were a serious English major in high school, college, or took a class specifically for this type of detail, there’s no possible way you’ll ever be able to catch every errorl. To be honest, no one ever will, even if that’s what he or she does for a living. Why? Because we are all human. And humans make mistakes, whether we want to believe it or not.

A perfect example: how many times have we as readers picked up a novel by one of our favorite New York Times Bestselling authors who have the backing of a big name publishing house, only to discover a major editing error? Come on, we’ve all done that. Why? Human imperfection. No matter how many hands and eyes touch a manuscript is read, no matter how many attempts are made to dot all the ‘Is’ and cross all the ‘Ts’, humans make errors, especially if it is your own writing.

So, what does that mean for the aspiring author, or for an author who is self- published?

It means you have a decision to make. How much do you want to invest in yourself?

The investment is not only about money; it’s also about time.

If you decide to use an editor, how do you know you’ve found an editor you can work with and who is qualified? Of course, the first thing everyone looks for is reputation. Word of mouth from other authors in your writing network is great, too. Nevertheless, in the end, it comes down to one-on-one communication. Does the editor understand your type of writing ? Do they edit a lot of work in your genre? Will they be able to understand the rules of the genre you’re writing? What time-frame are you looking for? Will it take a few days or a few weeks before they return your work? What type of editing are you paying for?

Type of editing? If this is new to you, then it’s something you must know. There are several types of editing available. What’s the differences?

Copywriter or Copy-Editing:
Their job is to be sure your story is written well and logically structured. Correct grammar and spelling is checked, as well as ensuring the manuscript fits the publishers ‘style’. They ask questions of the author and check story facts.

Content Editor:
Their job is to ensure your work meets the standards for accuracy and style. They check for spelling, grammar, coherence, consistent style. They also proofread to be sure copy-editing work has been completed.

Proofreader:
In the publishing world, a proofreader is generally the last person to see your manuscript after it’s been through other editors’ hands and before it goes to print. Their job is to do a final read through to catch any mistakes the first editor may have missed. This is generally the most affordable.

If you are not shopping your manuscript around and have decided to self-publish, you should seriously consider having at least one of these editors review your work. Depending on what phase of your writing career you are in, it may not be in your budget. If you go the proofreading route, then know, you MUST review your work again after it is returned. If you don’t and there are issues that were pointed out and you don’t review them, it is on you, not the editor.

So, what route will you choose?

Here’s what I’ve learned. Today’s agents are meticulous. Not only does your story have to engage them and keep them interested for at least the first three chapters, the quality of your writing has to as well. Sending them an unedited copy – and by that I mean, work you haven’t spent time searching for errors yourself – makes a difference. The cleaner the read, the more focused on the story they will be, not the plethora of errors littering the pages. Taking that amount of time, or money, also lets them know that you, the author, are willing to put in the work it takes to make a better product. With the current economy, every business is looking for ways to cut down their expenses. If you walk in the door offering a product they can spend less money on before making it available for sale, you increase your chances of them choosing your manuscript.

Sell yourself.

Here’s another fact you must remember: if you decided to use an editor…don’t just pay them and expect what they send to you in return doesn’t need to be reviewed. Any editor, especially a professional, will tell you that after they do their magic, it’s up to you, the author, to review your manuscript. Just because they make changes or suggestions does not mean you have to accept it. It’s up to your discretion. But, you still have to re-read your work from beginning to end. It’s up to you to put that stamp of approval on it before sending it out into the world . That requires more work on your part. If you don’t do the work, then you will have to deal with the consequences of any un-corrected errors. The editor’s job is to work with you, which means you in turn must work with them.

I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a proofreader many of you may have seen on Facebook or Twitter, @TJProofs. She shared some helpful information on how to determine what type of editor you need, depending on the amount of work you’ve put into cleaning up your manuscript.

“A proofreader, which is my specialty, is generally the last person you see. They focus on clean manuscripts, after they’ve run their gamut (through a publisher), but many people try to skip the steps. The fact of the matter is, if you are horrible at punctuation, you choose a copy-editor. If you feel you’ve got punctuation licked, but your story needs a scouring for consistency, you may choose a content editor. If you have a great idea, but need someone to go through your MS with a fine-toothed-comb – rewriting sentences for clarity, passive statements, content, and punctuation – then you need a full-scale editor.” 


To learn more about TJ and the services she offers, visit her at www.ManuscriptProofing.com. Other places where she can be found are:

Facebook, Twitter
Blog: manuscriptproofing.blogspot.com
Email: TJProofs@gmail.com or TJ@ManuscriptProofing.com

I hope this information has been informative. Whether or not you choose to use the services of any of the above editors, I wish you the best on your writing journey!

MJ