Tag Archives: writetip

Pantsing or Plotting: What’s Your Poison?

Do you plot your story down to the last detail before you ever pick up a pen, or are you one of those writers who starts writing with barely a clue of where you are going and fly by the seat of your pants?

Click here to check out my thoughts about plotting versus pantsing  on writer Sherry Soule’s blog.

Hooking the Reader Effectively: What Is A Hook?

Hooks. How many times do you hear people ask the question – what’s your hook?

Do you know what your hook is? How many hooks do you have, and how many do you need? Are they in the right places? And for that matter, what the hell is a hook anyway?

For answers to these questions and more, check out my guest post for Sherry Soule (@WriterSherry) here.
Not this kind of hook – although I suppose it might work!

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Editing Software: Pros and Cons

Editing Software

As those of you who read this blog are well aware, I am an avid proponent of writers using editors. Real editors, flesh and blood people, with qualifications and experience in the publishing industry, who can review and edit your work with a human touch and exercise discretion in the way they apply the writing ‘rules’, such as they are, to your work. Editing software is not a replacement for a human editor. 

But that is not to say it doesn’t have its uses, as long as it is used appropriately.

I recently subscribed to the AutoCrit editing wizard, so I’ve had reason to become acquainted with the advantages of the software, and the places where it falls down – and it’s the places where it falls down that mean you still need an editor afterwards. I regard this software as a tool for use during my last set of revisions before the WIP goes to my editor. 

So what is the software good for? I recently did a workshop on the editing process which suggested using extensive checklists for each aspect of the editing process e.g, setting, characterisation, sentence structure, word use etc. I find this a cumbersome process. I can’t possibly remember to look for everything in one checklist on one pass through my manuscript, never mind everything on all the checklists. If I make one pass for each item, I’d be re-reading my 100,000 word WIP forever. 

This approach may be feasible when reviewing a ten page legal document for compliance with a dozen requirements. I don’t find it helpful for editing a 100,000 word fiction novel for dozens of requirements, many of which likely occur on nearly every page. 
I don’t know about 5 minutes… it’s a bit time-consuming!

Even when I do focus on one requirement, such as overuse of words like was, were, there, is, that etc., I miss some. I know I miss some. I know because I find some of them, but not all, on my next pass, and I sit there wondering how I missed them. 

So the CritMe software is helpful in finding some of (but not all) of these issues. It can’t find characterisation problems, plot holes, or setting problems, but it does:

  • Generate a list of overused and redundant words, like was, were, it, there, that, hear, heard, knew, know etc. and give you an indication of how many of each should be removed;
  • Identify use of clichés – and boy was I surprised to realise how many there were;
  • Identify sentence length to help you find where you’ve fallen into a rhythm that might hypnotise your reader to sleep;
  • Identify repetitious use of pronouns to start sentences so you can mix up your sentence openings;
  • Find repeated phrases – this is useful since most authors have a favourite phrase they knowingly repeat, and this can help you find them, even if the instances of repetition are quite far apart;
  • Find instances of repeated words close together – I was surprised to see I’d repeated the same word in sentences or paragraphs and not noticed;
  • Identify sentences starting with conjunctions or ‘ing’ words;
  • Identify overuse of adverbs.
This helps me to fix some of those problems before it goes to the editor. It won’t fix all of these kinds of problems, and there are other problems it won’t help with at all, but it’s a useful tool when I’m trying to weed out these issues.  

However, there are some drawbacks to the software:

  • It can’t distinguish between dialogue and narration, so it will identify words as overused or inappropriate, when they may be completely natural and fine in a dialogue context;
  • It generates a pacing report, but doesn’t explain, only marks the paragraphs it considers has a problem. I have no idea what to do with this information (such as it is) as I can’t identify the specific issue. This one I’ll leave to my editor;
  • It doesn’t distinguish between unintentional repetition and deliberate repetition to create more impact;
  • It doesn’t suggest alternatives, where an editor often will;
  • It applies rules rigidly, and can’t assess the actual impact on a human reader – only the likely impact based on its rules, which isn’t always accurate.

So while I would recommend this kind of software as a tool to help you in your final revisions, to help you weed out some of these problems, I would strongly urge you not to consider this a replacement for your editor. It’s not. It can’t exercise the discretion and judgement of your editor, and it can’t offer the advice of your editor. It’s a tool only; a kind of complicated checklist to help your limited human eye spot patterns and problems you might otherwise not discern in your own work. 

By all means, make good use of editing software; but make sure it’s good use, and use with caution. 

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might as well join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign up for the newsletter.

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POV Rules: To Break or Not To Break

POV Rules
A little while ago, I did a post on POV (point of view) on my other blog, Flight of the Dragon, which was fairly well received. As a result of that post, Laura Howard has asked me to do a guest post on her blog.

You can find my guest post, POV: Playing by the Rules, here. It expands on my original post by considering what a rule is and why it is important, touching on the most important POV rules, and then discussing when – and how – it might be appropriate to break the rules.

Please do stop by and comment!

The Four Stages of Learning and What This Means In the Era of Self-Publishing

Four Stages of Learning
I am all for self-publishing. It gives writers a viable alternative when publishers say things like ‘We’d like to publish your work but…’

But it’s too risky.

But it’s too hard to market/we don’t know how to market it.

But it’s not fashionable right now. 

There are a lot of buts, but… the one thing they have in common is all these type of answers imply (or expressly state) the quality of the work is good, and there are other commercial considerations in play. We all know publishers have acted as gatekeepers in the past, and sometimes they were gate-keeping excellent work for business reasons, and self-publishing neatly solves this problem. 

If the publisher no longer acts as gatekeeper, for any issue, including quality control, it falls to the writer to act as their own gatekeeper for their own poor quality work – self-regulation is required.

Now I know what you’re likely to say next – but publishers do publish badly written books. There are a couple that spring to mind at the current time, and I bet you’re thinking their names right now.


50 Shades of Grey.

Both hugely popular books that, from a technical standpoint, aren’t all that brilliantly written. And yet they were published.

But there is just as much a business reason behind publishing these books as there is behind the excellently written books that weren’t published. Because a publisher is, first and foremost, a business. A commercial enterprise. We as writers, as artists, like to conveniently forget this fact when it suits us. But they are. And if you’re a self-publisher, you are now a business.

Usually what makes money is good books, and a good book is a well-written book with a good story. Excellent writing won’t make up for a bad story. But publishers also know that sometimes a really good story will make up for mediocre writing – although not really bad writing. And if you think either of those books is really badly written, go check out the first draft of a first book by someone who has just picked up a pen to write fiction for the first time, then come back and we’ll talk. I still remember my first book. It made Twilight look like a Pulitzer Prize winner.

So in the traditional model we get mostly well-written books and some mediocre books which, for reasons that are hard to finger, really set fire to the imagination of readers and go viral.

In the self-publishing model, each writer gets to decide what he or she will publish.

The problem with this is the Four Stages of Learning.

The Four Stages of Learning is a model for learning suggesting individuals are initially unaware of how little they know, or unconscious of their incompetence – in more colloquial terms ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ which I’ve always considered to be a fairly inarguable piece of wisdom.  

Unconscious Incompetence
The first stage is when a person doesn’t understand how to do something, and doesn’t even know they should be doing it. If I go back to my very early days of writing, this includes just about everything. I had an idea about plot and characterisation, but I didn’t even know what POV stood for, never mind what they were, how they differed, or how to use them.

Sometimes this stage is characterised by the person denying the usefulness of a skill if it is pointed out to them. Again, an excellent example is POV. May new writers head-hop, and use defences like ‘But I want to know what everyone in the scene think’ or ‘But Stephen King does it’.

Well, I wish I could do what Stephen King does, but I can’t. Most of us can’t. Most of us never will.

At this level of ignorance, the person doesn’t even know enough about the skill (POV) to know why it’s important, or how to intelligently break the rules (like King does) or why intelligently breaking the rules is even different to just breaking through them like a bull at a gate.

Conscious Incompetence
The second stage begins when the person begins to realise there is something they need to know – and don’t. There is some self-awareness that the person’s work isn’t particularly great, and a writer is more likely to learn from their mistakes.

Conscious Competence
At the third stage, the person has learned how to do something, but the process is laborious and requires concentration. The skill may need to be enacted in conscious steps.

Unconscious Competence
At the fourth and final stage, the person is so good at the skill it has become ‘second nature’ and can be performed easily, or even while carrying out other tasks. The person may even be able to teach it to others.

So, what has this got to do with self-publishing? I believe it affects the quality of what is self-published.

Not many writers in the fourth stage will be self-publishing, except for business reasons. Most of these writers can (and will) be traditionally published – and in fact the process of getting traditionally published is a learning process in itself, equipping the writer with a thick skin. Not many writers in the second stage will self-publish either, because they are painfully aware of their own shortcomings and don’t wish to expose them to the light of public scrutiny.

Some writers from the third category may self-publish, some may be working to improve further (into stage four) before they publish under any model, and some will still be pursuing traditional publishing.

Which leaves us with the first stage. People who don’t know what they don’t know. I’m betting a lot of people in this group are self-publishing, and what they are publishing is bad.

I’m not criticising their ignorance. I remember how great I thought my first book was. And my second. And my third. And hey, even my fourth. I didn’t have the lure of self-publishing to tempt me, for which I am grateful, because I look back at that work now and I cringe. I cringe, and no one but me can see it. How much more would I cringe if it had been made public?

But I wonder, how many self-published writers will look back at the first book they published and regret it? I know one or two who have pulled books from the market for exactly this reason.

So if you’re thinking about self-publishing, maybe stop a moment, consider which stage you think you’re at, and ask yourself seriously if this work is something you’d be embarrassed to admit to in the future.

If you missed it, check out the latest in my Mythical Creature series – the truth about the vampire myth.

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might as well join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign up for the newsletter.

Don’t forget to share the love and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this. 
Thanks for stopping by and visiting with us!