Invisibility is good

shocked“The story in this book is fantastic!” Rowlf exploded. “I can’t put it down.”

“Oh really?” Cyndy interrogated. “I found it annoying to read because of all of the oddball speaker attributions.”

“That’s because you have no vision,” Rowlf interjected. “This writer is being experimental.”

I’m proofediting a book right now for a publisher that is full of attributions just like these. It also has no discernible POV, switching within scenes to whatever character is most convenient at the time (head hopping)—or even to omniscient.

So why do I like the book? And what lessons can you learn from it? See my post today at Seriously Write, one of my favorite writer’s blogs.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

__________________________________________

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Mike-9Michael loves to play with words and as editor of the ACFW Journal, he is enjoying his playground. He also plays with words as a freelance editor here at WritingOnTheFineLine.com, where he often takes a writer Into The Edit, pulling back the veil on the editing process. He has edited several nonfiction books, played with words as a corporate communicator, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.

In The Edit! Peter Leavell

In 2011, Peter Leavell was one of five finalists for the Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest with his manuscript, Songs of Captivity.

Peter Leavell, author of Gideon’s Call

Over the next nine months or so, as I watched him navigate the waters of publication (his novel won the contest and was renamed Gideon’s Call by Worthy Publishing), Peter has become a good friend. He told his story to the world with an article in ACFW Journal, the member magazine of the American Christian Fiction Writers, and subsequently gave his testimony at the organization’s conference last weekend in Dallas TX.

He has let me use his Journal article for In The Edit, and I’m happy to introduce you to Peter today.

Read his original, unedited article.

Peter’s edit

When Peter sent me this article, I knew few of the details he shared. When I read it, my jaw dropped—but that’s not unusual when I read personal stories of how God shows up in our lives.

After picking my jaw up off the desk, I read the article again. That’s when I first started seeing things I could do with it that would increase its impact. For this article, the three main areas I’ll focus on are:

  1. Clarity and consistency
  2. Extra words
  3. Emotion

See my edit in Track Changes mode.

Be clear, be consistent

You don’t have to get too far into this article to find some clarity and consistency issues. Look at the first sentence.

  • I stood between two towering infernos.

First of all, get past the idea of Jerry B. Jenkins and Byron Williamson standing there on fire. I’ll admit, I giggled. Since I read all of the way through the piece before beginning to edit, I knew that later Peter refers to the two men as giants. So, for clarity and consistency, I extinguished the infernos.

Clarity is not just about word choice, however. It also pertains to focus. Reading Peter’s article it was clear to me he was communicating his writing journey as it connected to his spiritual journey. While the information in the sixth graf about how driven he is was interesting, I thought the bit about running 15 miles for fun and writing 10,000 words a day (seriously? C’mon, seriously?) detracted from the overall point he was trying to make—which was how he learned to rely on God.

Trim the fat

Back to the top of the article. In the second graf, Peter plays up nicely the image he’s already given us of being placed between two literary giants.

  • “Standing tiptoe to see over the top of the check, I smiled.”

But then he describes for us what we can see in the photo. When he does that either the photo or the description becomes redundant.

I chose to cut the description. As a result, I was able to move the reader more quickly to the “money line” of this introduction.

  • “Three months earlier, I thought I was going to die.”

Other examples:

  • “Even writing an email was difficult.” He already said he couldn’t write.
  • “…even to my wife and children.” We already know he had little to say.
  • “…leaving me alone in the house. If they’ve gone off without him, then he must be alone.

Each of these cuts clipped unnecessary information and improved the pace of the story.

Make me cry

In personal stories like these, the purpose of the piece is to make God known. To give God glory. But a secondary purpose is to break down walls in others’ lives so they can more fully experience God.

One great tool for that is emotion. Sometimes this means adding something, sometimes it means cutting. Let’s look at some examples.

  • Before:“Diabetes was a possibility, as was cancer. I started my will, a sad thought at age 35.”
  • After:“Diabetes was a possibility, as was cancer. I started my will—at age 35.”

We all know death at an early age is sad—heck, death is always sad from a human perspective. But by telling us it was sad, Peter short-circuited the emotion by not allowing our brains to jump to the connection.

  • Before:“My memory is blurry, but I remember my son and daughter going off to soccer and ballet without me, leaving me alone in the house. Their lives had to go on, even if mine couldn’t.
  • After: “My memory is blurry, but I remember my son and daughter going off to soccer and ballet without me. Their lives had to go on, even if mine couldn’t.”

Not only was the cut material unnecessary, but it also killed the emotion of the graf’s closing line.

See the article as it appeared in ACFW Journal.

Peter, thanks for your friendship and for letting me use your article on my blog.

Would you like to see your writing In The Edit? Send me a short sample. If I use it, you’ll be eligible for a discount on my freelance editing services.

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

The Glow

Recently, I attended the American Christian Fiction Writers annual conference in Dallas TX. I always come away from these gatherings with renewed creativity and an appreciation for just how tough this business is.

But I also come away with a glow.

If you’ve been to a writer’s conference, you probably understand. If not, and if you consider yourself a writer, you need to get to a conference and experience it. The ACFW conference is one I highly recommend, whether you’re new to writing fiction or a multi-published author.

I—intentionally—did not pitch a writing project in Dallas. Instead, I focused on promoting this website and my services as a freelance editor. This freed me to mostly relax and enjoy the conference.

When I did, I realized a few things:

  • I like the company of writers, editors, and agents. In an informal lobby gathering one night we had a laugh-fest—as creatives, yes, but also as people.
  • You can inhale creativity. I had more new ideas—for my business, my novel, the ACFW Journal—in those few days than I had in the previous three months. Not all are gems, but I think some of them are.
  • You can be alone in a room with hundreds of people. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing because you’re really in the world of your novel and everyone there understands.

What’s next?

Now I’m back home, back at work trying to build this business, back in my everyday world—and I’m enjoying the glow.

The keynote speaker for this conference was Michael Hyatt (left), former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing, and the author of Platform: Get Noticed In A Noisy World. He said many things worth remembering, but two pieces of advice stuck with me:

First:

Do not ask, “Where have all the good times gone?” Wisdom knows better than to ask such a thing (Ecclesiastes 7:10, The Voice).

“We often get stuck in a version of how things were and we pine for the old days. But they aren’t coming back. In the future you will look back on this day and think of it as the good ol’ days. You are living in the good ol’ days. God is doing a new work today and you have the privilege of being a part of it.”

Second:

“One of the reasons your role (as a writer) is so important is we live in chaotic times. People desperately need stories to sort out the meaning of what they’re experiencing. (They need) a way of thinking about the world to help them make sense of it.

“What do you choose to do with the gift—the future—you’ve been given? Will you lean into it and believe that God is with you?”



What is your response? Share—or simply ponder it in your heart.


Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Man in glow image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Choose the Right Words

While I’m watching mental fireworks (no real ones, too much fire risk), enjoy this post from the past. I think the advice is still good.


Earlier, we looked at ways to be more clear in your writing by eliminating redundancies and overwriting, and choosing simple words when appropriate.

Now, let’s look at how the right word also helps your reader grasp your meaning.

Alive or dead?

Perfect words are the difference between writing that leaps off the page and writing that just lies there, waiting for resuscitation. Words that show are more powerful than words that tell.

Many times using words that evoke the senses (taste, sight, hearing, touch, smell) adds much-needed pizzazz to your writing and engages readers. In the July issue of ACFW Journal, award-winning author Deborah Raney offers great advice on how to make your readers’ senses come alive in your writing.

As important as sensory involvement is, there is more to choosing the perfect word. Or, as Mark Twain said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

Sometimes the right word will fall naturally into your manuscript—particularly if you’re an avid reader. Writers who read a lot (note: the word alot does not exist and is therefore never correct) have a greater storehouse of words to draw from.

But more often than not, writers have to search for the perfect word. Here is great information from the website, On Blogging Well, that provides six ways to do that.


Do you have tips for enhancing clarity? Share them!


Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Images: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In The Edit: Jim Hamlett

In these posts, with the author’s permission, we look at their work pre-editing and post-editing—and at what I did to improve the piece.


Jim Hamlett,
author of Moe

This week we get a first glimpse at Jim Hamlett’s follow up to his novel, Moe. Moe was a finalist in the 2011 Operation First Novel contest, which is run by the Christian Writers Guild.

The second book is tentatively titled To Find A Life and not, Jim assures me, Mo’2Moe.

Jim has a great character in Moe, as you know if you’ve read the book. This is a character who could live on in book after book. You care about him—and not just because he’s a dwarf (of the medical kind, not the Tolkien kind).

Jim’s edit

Read Jim’s original.

In this short 350-word sample it’s hard to get a sense of where the story is going, but the opening interested me enough that I’d want to read more. In my edit, I addressed three issues:

  • Repeated information
  • Sentence construction, and
  • Unnecessary details/Backstory

See my edit with Track Changes.

I get it, I get it

Sometimes writers worry the reader won’t get it—so they explain. There’s a little of that here. Since it occurs in the first graf, which you want to be a grabber, I trimmed it.

In the opening, Jim starts out great: A rumbling cannonade of thunder reached through Moses Mackenzie’s open window and snatched him from his dream. Great word picture! But then right after, he writes: With a jerk, Moe awoke. Really? Isn’t that what “snatched him from his dream” tells us, only with better words? Later at the end of the graf, Jim repeats the information that the window was open.

Best, which way is?

The construction of a sentence has much to do with a writer’s voice, so I tend to tread lightly here. But things do happen chronologically, unless you’re writing time travel. That’s why in the first graf I suggest rearranging the second sentence.

But sentence placement is often just as important, if not more so, than sentence construction. Your strongest sentences, as a guideline, should appear at either the beginning or the end of a paragraph. In Jim’s third paragraph, I thought the sentence “Few people understood how soothing a storm could be” was better used at the end of the graf than buried near the beginning. Why? Because it provides insight into who Moe is and I don’t want the reader to skip it.

Do I need to know that?

It’s a fine line. When do the details add to the story rather than distract? It’s fair to say this varies with the reader, but some things to bear in mind are the context, how obvious the information is, and whether it’s truly extraneous. Let’s look at one sentence to illustrate all three: Moe glanced at his bedside clock and read 4:07 in pale green digits.

  • Context: The setting for this scene is Moe’s bedroom. Therefore, we can do away with saying his clock is “bedside.”
  • Obviousness: If a character glances at a clock it’s a fair bet that character is going to read it.
  • Extraneous: Knowing that the clock has pale green numbers rather than amber or blue adds nothing critical either to the story or the setting.

A word about backstory: Paragraph three seemed out of place as written. It fit with what was happening just fine, but it read like backstory—which, of course, you want to avoid early in a novel. So I reworked it to try and get it more into Moe’s POV.

See my edited version without Track Changes.

Jim, thanks for coming Into The Edit with me! (Learn about Moe.)



If you would like to see your writing in a future In The Edit post, send a maximum of 350 words to michael.ehret (at) inbox (dot) com. Please send in Word format (.doc). If I use it, you’ll be eligible for a 10-percent discount on any editing services.

On Thursday, we’ll look at another self-editing writing tip. See you then! Then on Saturday, drop by for a quick writer’s quote and to share what that quote means to you.

Michael Ehret, for Writing On The Fine Line

In The Edit: Terrie Todd

In these posts, with the author’s permission, we look at their work pre-editing and post-editing—and at what I did to improve the piece.

Terrie Todd

This week’s In The Edit is a little different. For one thing, Terrie Todd submitted a piece I hadn’t seen before. Exciting!

Previous posts in this series (Ane Mulligan, Larry Timm, Linda Rohrbough) featured writers who submitted articles I’d already edited for the American Christian Fiction Writers magazine ACFW Journal.

But this week I’m also going to include some comments from Terrie on the edit job I did of her piece. Not because she said really nice things—though she did—but because her comments illustrate some key points about the editor/writer relationship. Another note: Because I asked for a short submission, Terrie reworked a longer blog post of her own to fit my request. There’s a link at the end of my post to her full article.

I first came to know Terrie through The Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel Contest, where her manuscript, The Silver Suitcase, semi-finaled in 2010 (that’s Top 10) and finaled (that’s Top 5) in 2011. That’s a pretty good upward progression.

Terrie’s edit

View Terrie’s original.

Terrie has an engaging sense of humor. While this piece is not a laugh riot, it does have her trademark “snicker-out-of-the-side-of-your-mouth” feel. You get that from the beginning. So one goal, obviously, was to keep that intact—and even enhance it, if possible.

Secondly—and this is a goal of any piece an editor works on—reduce the excess verbiage. I wanted to do this, one, because it’s a good thing to do and, two, to bring a little more focus to the piece.

Finally—and this is where Terrie will comment—I felt like something was missing in the piece that, to me, was so obvious I was surprised she hadn’t included it. More on that later.

View my track changes edit of Terrie’s article..

Funny girl

Before Terrie starts singing, “Don’t tell me not to live (write), just sit and putter. Life’s candy and the sun’s a ball of butter,” I’m not talking about the Barbra Streisand movie from (gasp!) 1968. In person, and in writing, Terrie is a hoot.

Take a look at the opening. She is right there in her voice’s sweet spot, but then lets the gag go. We can’t have that. She went from Terrie to some Mary Poppins-ey voice and a “delightful education.”

If you start a gag, finish it. That’s why I added, “So, I’m still cooking, but I’m also learning…” to better segue from the quirky opening to the life lesson that follows.

Trim, trim, trim

Note the unnecessary details in that opening graf. We don’t need to know it’s a venetian blind or that it’s between Terrie and the nest—where else would a window blind be?

In paragraphs three and four, there’s a lot to trim. Some principles:

  • Don’t hedge: Even then, it would be shaped all wrong and probably fall apart in the first wind. When you hedge, you actually weaken your comparison point.
  • Me, me, me: In writing personal opinion pieces, there’s no need to write “I believe” or “in my opinion.” Anything not attributed to someone else is assumed (though one does hate to assume) to come from the author.
  • Echo, echo: The point about being hard-wired to do something is great, but I thought it was stronger to save the phrase for the human.
  • Vive la différences!: Terrie’s original said “the difference between robins and humans,” but the list of differences between the two species is long, so a rephrase kept the idea without ruffling Terrie’s feathers.

Audience considerations

As I said earlier, I know Terrie a little. We hang out in the same cyber-writer places. Because of this, I made an assumption about the audience of this piece that I shouldn’t have. I assumed the audience was Christian, when—well, let’s have Terrie tell it:

I like all your edits. I realize we didn’t discuss target market. Adding in the Job reference is okay if this is a devotional. Since it’s for my column in a mainstream newspaper, I think it’s a) too much “religious stuff” – many readers wouldn’t know about Job; and b) creating a whole new metaphor that seems to come out of left field. I’d rather end with a reference to the robins.

When I edit, I normally talk about audience with the writer before I start—it’s a critical consideration. But I didn’t this time. As a result, I made an addition to the piece that seemed a natural enhancement—and in the right situation, would be—but actually worked against the author’s intent.

What I love about this example is that not only do I get to use it to remind editors and writers to talk together about audience, but I also get to illustrate a vital part of my editing style.

Regardless of how well I know an author, I never make substantial changes without running them past the author. I hold my Prime Directive—first, do no harm—in mind. Because that’s true, even though just for my blog, I ran my edit by Terrie. And I’m glad I did. Given the market/audience, and her heart, her idea for the ending is the best.

See my edited version of Terrie’s article.

Finally, check out Terrie’s full post at her blog, Out Of My Mind.

Terrie, thanks for coming Into The Edit with me!



If you would like to see your writing in a future In The Edit post, send a maximum of 350 words to michael.ehret (at) inbox (dot) com. Please send in Word format (.doc). If I use it, you’ll be eligible for a 10-percent discount on any editing services.

On Thursday, we’ll look at another self-editing writing tip. See you then! Then on Saturday, drop by for a quick writer’s quote and to share what that quote means to you.

Michael Ehret, for Writing On The Fine Line

Choose the Right Words

Last Thursday, we began looking at ways to be more clear in your writing by eliminating redundancies and overwriting, and choosing simple words when appropriate.

Today, let’s look at how the right word also helps your reader grasp your meaning.

Alive or dead?

Perfect words are the difference between writing that leaps off the page and writing that just lays lies there, waiting for resuscitation. Words that show are more powerful than words that tell. (Thanks to Terrie Todd!)

Many times using words that evoke our senses (taste, sight, hearing, touch, smell) adds much-needed pizzazz to your writing and engages readers. In the July issue of ACFW Journal, award-winning author Deborah Raney offers great advice on how to make your readers’ senses come alive in your writing.

As important as sensory involvement is, there is more to choosing the perfect word. Or, as Mark Twain said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

Sometimes the right word will fall naturally into your manuscript—particularly if you’re an avid reader. Writers who read a lot (note: the word alot does not exist and is therefore never correct) have a greater storehouse of words to draw from.

But more often than not, writers have to search for the perfect word. Here is great information from the website, On Blogging Well, that provides six ways to do that.

Beware the sound-a-likes

One last thing. Watch out for homophones. Homophones are two or more words that have the same pronunciation but different meanings, origins, or spellings.

As writing becomes increasingly informal what used to be common knowledge is not so common anymore. Your and You’re, as well as there, their and they’re, and even to, too and two, are frequently used incorrectly.

So, if those common homophones are confused, be sure to look out for:

  • air/heir
  • aisle/isle
  • brake/break
  • cereal/serial
  • complement/compliment
  • flour/flower
  • hear/here
  • made/maid
  • morning/mourning
  • peace/piece
  • pray/prey
  • principal/principle
  • sew/so/sow
  • stationary/stationery
  • and the like.

If these confuse you, bookmark this page.

Do you have tips for enhancing clarity? Share them!

Next Thursday: Get your writing up and moving!


Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Images: FreeDigitalPhotos.net