May Day Coupon

May Day Discount

From 1 May 2018 through 31 May 2018, we are offering 10% off of *all editing projects.

*Coupon can not be used for an Emergency Edit

How does this work?

  • $50 payment must be paid within May 2018 to secure the 10% savings.
  • The $50 payment is credited to your total due.
  • 10% savings apply to the total of one single project.
  • Only one May Day savings is permitted per client.
  • Can not be combined with additional discounts
  • Only applies to rates equal to or greater than $0.005

 

Holiday Coupon

Happy Holidays!

From 1 December 2017 through 31 December 2017, we are offering 20% off of *all editing projects.

*Coupon can not be used for an Emergency Edit

How does this work?

  • $50 payment must be paid within December to secure the 20% savings.
  • The $50 payment is credited to your total due.
  • 20% savings apply to the total of one single project.
  • Only one holiday savings is permitted per client.
  • Can not be combined with additional discounts
  • Only applies to rates equal to or greater than $0.005

 

Pacing

Pacing makes or breaks a story. No matter how good the story is, or how well the author rights, if the pacing is off, the story will die. Go too slow and the reader will put down the book and ne’er return. Go too fast and the reader will get frustrated, confused, and feel cheated. Usually so much so that they won’t read any of your future books.

Pacing is simply how fast or how slow the story moves. Too slow and the reader is bored and stops reading. Too fast, and the reader isn’t given time to enjoy the adrenaline rush and tension. An author’s job is to build the pacing with a balanced ebb and flow much like the waves coming into shore. Too slow and the reader abandons the book. Too fast, and the reader feels cheated.

Pacing is 100% controlled by detail and action. Detail slows. Action speeds up. Too much detail and the pacing drags. Readers will become bored and stop reading. Too much action and the reader will feel cheated out of a story. Too little detail and the story feels rushed. Too little action and the story just drags. Never confuse action for detail.

Example: One romance novel I read got to the ending when the big battle scene comes. I was revved up, ready to go! I was so excited! And then: “I don’t want to bore you with the details.” Cut scene. (The author really wrote that. “I don’t want to bore you with the details.”) WHAT! I screamed, “No! Bore me! Bore me!”

This author called an intense action scene “details” and skipped the blood bath that broke out between two Scottish clans in the middle of the Highland moors. I’m still sitting here waiting for my battle scene.

Pacing is all about the right balance between details and action.

Generally, there are three modes in a story:

  • Time passing
  • Exchange of information
  • Events unfolding

We will review each of these in turn.

Time Passing

Naturally, time passes in a story. Characters will eat, use the bathroom, sleep, and pour themselves a cup of coffee during their time with your reader. In Fantasy novels, characters could be travelling morning, noon, and night for months. In romance novels, characters could be sitting through a social event thinking for hours about their loved one while wishing the event to end. In Harry Potter, Harry sits on the train to Hogwarts for how many hours? How much an author decides to reveal can make those empty hours drag on forever.

The problem with passing time is its slow reading. Painfully slow. “Do we really need to see this?” was wisely asked in Mystery Science Theater 3000 when we watched a man open a folding stool and position his obese buttocks just so on the stool. Really? Do we really need to see this? Details is the culprit. Detail slows story.
I defer to my favorite author, Victor Hugo. M. Hugo wrote no less than 50 pages detailing every last balustrade and flying buttress in the Notre Dame Cathedral all before starting the story of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. It made for some insanely slow, dry reading. In Les Miserables, Hugo spent no less than three pages laying out this gorgeous walled in garden. Why? Because Gavroche leaps the wall. That’s all. All that detail for one brief fleeting moment. The most painful thing I read was the 50-page chapter in A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. It took me six months to read through that 50-page chapter. What happened in those 50 pages? I don’t remember. I remember it was dry as hell and hard to get through. I remember hating it. I remember very little else about that book. For the record, nothing happened in those 50 pages. It was all just mundane details and information.

Pacing here is all about balance. If the story is slow, limit the details and move on. Never keep a slow scene for the sake of characterization. When time passes or things happening are the things we all do every day (that morning bathroom routine), skip it. Most of the things spelled out for readers can safely be assumed. I know Harry Potter woke every morning and used the bathroom. I know he showered regularly and probably took two to three bathroom breaks during school every day. Thank god, JK Rowling skipped those parts. If you have a scene you’re hanging onto just to build on your character, scrub it. Develop your characters “in the moment” when things are moving along.

What is it: When you need to communicate to readers that time has indeed passed, but nothing relevant to the story has taken place within that time.

Problem: Laying out too much information during an already slow moment in a book can drag that already dull moment out longer making it a painfully dry read. Most readers stop reading and don’t come back.

Common error: Characterization. Many authors fill in dead scenes with the mundane actions to build on “characterization.” Unfortunately, unless the character is REALLY ECCENTRIC (Not even the Doctor from Doctor Who or Howl from Howls Moving Castle received this kind of attention) no character is so interesting that their mundane actions will keep a reader hooked. Build on characterization in other scenes where plot unfolds, action occurs, or information is exchanged.

Fix: Cut scenes. Limit details or skip these moments altogether. Only write what’s relevant to the plot. Ask yourself: “If I cut this scene, will the story/plot suffer? If your story remains unharmed/unchanged, cut it! It’s not important.

Exchange of Information

The hardest thing I’ve ever written was the 6,000-word chapter that provided my characters and my readers with the backstory. It took months to cut this 6,000-word beast down to 2,000. All the research I had done of the 10th century kings of Norway went into this chapter to give readers the “why” to all their questions. For me, it was fascinating. For readers…it was a massive, unnecessary information dump that dragged the story down.

Nothing is more important than bringing a character (and a reader) into the light. Answering those “why’s” that you built up. Unfortunately, if this is note done with care, you’ll lose the reader.

If you’re going to drag your pacing and lose your reader, most likely, it will be over the Exchange of Information. When done poorly, information is usually done with nothing happening. Nothing…is already not happening. Chances are, your characters are sitting down, relaxing, eating, resting, drinking, showering…already dull and mundane. Now you’re going to throw in some information that alters the plot. They find a note, uncover an artifact, are told of some argument a king had with a wench 30 years ago that altered events. For the author, it’s always a “big reveal.” They’ll pause and throw in all the right pauses. Clearly the author understands the weight of the situation, but will the reader? Here’s the problem, if your pacing is off, and it already is at risk of being off during an information exchange, you’ll bore the reader who will check out before you’re “big reveal.” You can’t cut the scene like you can with the passing time scenario. Exchange of Information contains vital information that alters or moves the plot. Pacing is your friend and your enemy here. Get it wrong and you’ve bored the reader who stopped reading your book or your “big reveal” was lost on the reader.

Keep this in mind, when you have information to reveal to your reader, keep things short, simple, and moving. Pacing is already not on your side. Keep the story moving with tension by avoiding unnecessary details. Get to the point and move on. Have that information revealed as quickly as possible: enough to keep the reader engaged, not so quickly that the big reveal is lost, not so slowly that the reader stops reading. Never combine “big reveal” with characterization. Think Star Wars. That “Big Reveal” of “No. I am your father,” was done after Luke lost his hand, after the confrontation between Luke and Darth Vader, and while Luke was hanging, just barely, on the satellite millions of miles over space. And just before he let go and fell.

Big Reveal Harry Potter: Book #1. Harry gets through to the Mirror of Erised. There stands Quirrel. The “OMG! It’s not Snape!” happens, oh! And he has Voldemort fused to the back of his head. You know that moment. Harry just fought a life-sized chess game and they were nearly eaten by Fluffy.

One more example: In Dolor and Shadow (sorry for using my own book, but it’s a great example), the “Big Reveal” is when Kallan is told by her vile enemy, Rune, that “Ooh! by the way. We’re in Midgard, thousands of miles from home. An entire Dvergar army is on our tale. A crazed king is hunting you. And the only way you have of surviving this is by trusting me, the man who killed your father. Stay here and die, go it alone and die, OR try…TRY to team up with me.” This big reveal comes at a slow moment in the story, but immediately follows a battle where Kallan may be dead. Just when the reader comes down off an adrenaline high, just when the reader is given a moment to rest from the action, then they are giving the plot twist delivered in a heated conversation between enemies…if they don’t kill each other first.

What is it: Balancing important plot reveals and information with pacing so as to not lose the reader.

Problem: Already too slow scenes are used to reveal important information, or information is lost between intense action scenes that drown out the need-to-know information.

Common error: Authors cram important information into an already slow scene.

Fix: Cut the detail and condense on the slow scenes, or cut the scene altogether and relocate your “important information” or “big reveal” to a scene or next to a scene with action.

Action

Action naturally is fast.

James caught the knife, dropped to the floor, and rolled just as Victor dropped his foot down.

Ironically, phrases like, “Suddenly,” or “As quickly as James turned around” or “Within a few breaths,” slows the pacing and do the exact opposite the author is wanting: to convey speed. Action, when poorly written, can be too fast or too slow. Too slow? The manuscript is watered down with modifiers meant to convey speed, or too much detail (AKA imagery) is given to paint the scene. If you need to paint the scene, do it briefly as soon as the scene starts. Preferably, as the character enters the room. If there is dialogue in the action scene, limit it. No one, no one really monologues mid-fight. Really. Save that for screen plays. Bad guys don’t monologue. If your characters do get into a discussion mid-fight, keep them fighting…or talking. Remember Pirates of the Caribbean 3: Worlds End? William and Elizabeth get married right there on deck…mid-fight. Best. Wedding. Ever.

Fights are fast. Escapes are fast. Tension and adrenaline come from speed and fast pacing. You want the reader to hold their breath with each page turn. Here’s another problem. Make them hold their breath too long and your reader will feel mentally fatigued after. They will stop reading if they find the book too stimulating. Let your reader breathe.

A properly paced book will have moments of mystery, action, adventure, and pauses. Let’s return to Mr. Potter. The first book launches into a mystery. Who is the boy who lived? How did he live? Why would a grown wizard attack an infant? What are these letters? What is Harry? Who is trying to talk to him and why? Mystery.

The mystery quickly turns to an adventure. Uncle Vernon buys a gun and sails them through a storm on the lake to a run-down cottage where they hide out. I always wanted to know what this place was and how Vernon came to own/rent it. Then Hagrid appears. We receive our information following that adrenaline rush and our mystery. But the information keeps us engaged. A gun is fired. Magic is used. Dudley gets a pig tail. Exciting stuff despite the slow pacing. Then we’re on to Diagon Alley. Wonder fills us and Harry. We hold our breath hoping Rowling lets us peer into every window. We’re like children condemned to riding in a cart and Harry (Rowling) is driving that cart. If Harry doesn’t look, then we don’t get to see.

The wonder continues to enfold, until we learn of strange things happening. Never a dull moment at Hogwarts, although we’re giving plenty of down time, which is always guaranteed to be interrupted with trolls in the dungeons and illegal dragon eggs and trips into the Forbidden forest. The mystery continues as we noticed some odd things happening and some really horrible things such as a creature drinking unicorn blood and Voldemort’s brief appearance.

A well written book will have a bit of every genre. Mystery, crime, adventure, action, and romance. Only fantasy, science fiction, and horror are optional.

Limit the detail. Provide detail only when it’s needed to paint the scene. Provide detail only on a need-to-know basis. Cut everything else out. During the action scene, take a page out of E.B.White. Drop the reading level down to a 4th grade reading level. Keep sentences short and brief. But pepper the paragraphs with long sentences.

Sentence structure goes a long way with pacing. “I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them Sam I Am. I will not eat them in a boat. I will not eat them with a goat. I will not eat green eggs and ham. Leave me! Leave me Sam I Am.” Green Eggs and Ham provides a lot of action, tension, and is well paced, building adrenaline to the very end when finally, FINALLY he tries the green eggs and ham. Readers are worn down just as much as the protagonist. FINE! I’ll try your bloody eggs and ham! And then, relief. Writing is poetry. It truly is. And the words we use to form sentences create a rhythm. Change up the rhythm. During action scenes, use brief, clean sentences. Avoid complex words…and always…get to the point! Never miss important details. You want clean, precise sentences that provide speed and clarity. Avoid modifiers. Action scenes are the time for telling, not showing. Never, NEVER, embellish on emotions during an action scene. And if you do, it had better be as intense an emotion as the action. Like Luke learning just who his father is. The torment is just as intense as the lightsabers.

Be sure you don’t cram action scene after action scene into your book either. Let the reader stop for a rest along with your character. One of my favorite examples of this is in Lord of the Rings.

Right after Gandalf falls…we have a goblin attack and a cave troll. We have a narrow escape. And then, we are given a Balrog! The wizard and the Balrog face off. Another narrow escape, and Gandalf falls. But the author has mercy. We get a brief moment to breathe when the hobbits emerge from the mines. They fall to the ground and cry. Although inappropriate as goblins are right on their tails, we are still granted that moment to breathe.

“Let’s move,” says Aragorn.
“Give them a moment. For pity’s sake.”
“By nightfall these hills will be crawling with orcs! We move.”

The action continues, but briefly. The hobbits enter the woodland realm where things slow down and they can rest properly and mourn their friend. During our rest, when we welcome the slow pacing to catch our breath, we gain some vital information. We see just how evil the ring is, and how much it can corrupt even the best of people. Galadriel.

What is it: Bogging actions scenes with too much detail or giving too little detail as to lose clarity.

Problem: Action scenes that are meant to be fast are watered down with too much detail. Or, in an attempt to create speed, too much detail is omitted.

Common error: Authors try to use imagery and emotion to paint the scene at a time when the scene needs to be told and not shown.

Fix: Use short, clean sentences. Avoid large words and tell. Don’t embellish. Be sure every action is clear and you don’t omit so much detail as to lose clarity. Be sure you give the reader time enough to break after the action scene. Let readers catch their breath with a slow-paced scene following the action. This is a good time to let your characters (and your reader) reflect on what just happened and their feelings about the events.

Dialogue: One final word

I am huge on writing dialogue. Unless you can’t write dialogue, use this as your primary method for delivering information, emotions, and tension. Nothing builds characterization, tension, and pacing better than dialogue. Nothing shows the story more than dialogue. But mundane “small talk” in a book will kill your pacing. **cough** Jane Austen **cough**

Never…NEVER…put small talk in a book. Unless you’re trying to paint a tense/uncomfortable situation, never have your characters discuss weather. Everything you write must have a purpose. It must have a reason for being in the book.

One of my favorite examples is this. If your book were made into a movie, would the scene/character get cut? If so, then cut it. If the scene/character isn’t worth the budget, then it isn’t needed in the plot.

Dialogue has its place. Use it sparingly in action scenes.

Book Building

When an author starts out, one of the hardest things to decide is what kind of edit they need. They’ll ask their friends. They’ll ask their family. But many sources lack the knowledge to make a professional opinion. And many authors don’t know an editor. To know the difference between types of edits, you first must know the stages.

Stages of Editing

The book is done. You’ve spent months…years going through the stages of writing. Let’s review them, shall we?

  1. Idea
  2. Brainstorm
  3. Outline
  4. Rough draft (First Draft)
  5. Revisions (Second Draft)
  6. self-edit (Third Draft)
  7. Beta readers
  8. self-edit (Fourth Draft)

… … …

Now what?

Now, an editor reviews. Several things can go wrong with a story. What is wrong is based on a number of things: how well does the author write? How much experience does the author have? Has the author gone through the eight stages of writing? Has the author used beta-readers? Did the author edit? Did the author attend school? Is the author a plotter? Does the author read?

Book building

Building a book is like building a body. There is the skeleton, the tendons and organs, and the brain and nervous system.

The skeleton is the form. This is the order of the story and the layout. This is the order of events. So long as the nervous system and tendons are in order, it’s pretty simple to break and reset a few bones. Some work will be required to be sure the nervous system isn’t damaged, but as a whole, the skeletal frame requires the least amount of correction.

Fixing the skeleton is called a developmental edit. We’ll be checking the book’s frame and be sure that everything is in the right order. Be ready to cut characters, rearrange scenes, and write up entire chapters. We’ll be breaking bones and resetting them. But when we’re done, you’re book will shine…

The tendons and organs are the grammar. This is your syntax, spelling, punctuation, and misplaced modifiers. This is your antecedents and missing transitional sentences. Redundant words, purple prose, and contradictions…This is the working machinations of you manuscript.

Anyone of these organs be transplanted and traded out with some work. Depending on the damage, depends on how much work is ahead of you. Damage to the tendons and organs can be fatal, but most of the time, it’s manageable. Unless…

 This is your line edit. The line edit will require a copy edit later: cosmetic surgery to clean up the mess. Expect some follow up surgery. A line edit may be extensive. Now we’re getting into heart surgery…

If your manuscript requires heart surgery (if the author is not educated on misplaced modifiers, antecedents, and head hopping), the author will most likely require grammar lessons and should probably conduct an entire rewrite of the book before hiring an editor.

Line edits reflect the author’s grammatical knowledge. We could be talking about spelling, missed commas, and redundant usage (minor). This is a proper line edit. But we also could be talking about an author who does not know what a clause is, or what an antecedent is (major).

If the author is grossly uneducated in grammar, the manuscript is beyond an editor and the author really needs to attend a grammar class or two prior to hiring an editor. This kind of work precedes a developmental edit.

The nervous system is like your plot, characterization, and setting. Any damage done to the nervous system may not be salvageable. A broken nervous system is fatal and will most likely reshape the story beyond recognition. A broken nervous system may require a full scrub on the project and a return to the white board. This may set you back a few years.

Does your character lack character? Is your setting invisible? Is your story lacking plot and movement. Does it take half the book to get to an event?The nervous system is damaged and you need to return to the white board and index cards and start over. An editor is a long ways away (depending on how fast/well you write).

A superficial wound? Skin graphs? Cosmetic surgery? Second-degree burn? Welcome to copy editing.  We’ll be looking for misspellings, redundancy, and commas. We’ll be polishing this manuscript for an agent or publisher.

Need a band-aid? That’s proofreading. This is done by the publisher. If you are the publisher, this is when you mail a physical copy of your novel to an editor for review. When we are done, we mail the book back to you.

 

Back to School Coupon

Back to School

From 1 September 2017 through 30 September 2017, we are offering 15% off of *all editing projects.

*Coupon can not be used for an Emergency Edit

How does this work?

  • $50 payment must be paid within September to secure the 15% savings.
  • The $50 payment is credited to your total due.
  • 15% savings apply to the total of one single project.
  • Only one Back to School savings is permitted per client.
  • Can not be combined with additional discounts
  • Only applies to rates equal to or greater than $0.005

 

Subjects and Objects

Subjects and objects. One would think they are the same thing, or are irrelevant, but most of the problems I see regarding sentence structure, wordiness, and clutter is credited to treating the object like a subject.

Learn the difference and improve your writing by leaps and bounds.

Why should you learn this?

Knowing the difference between a subject and an object in a sentence not only improves your writing. It makes writing easier. So much easier. So what is an object and a subject? Simple.

A subject is what or who the sentence is all about. Every sentence revolves around a noun. That is key, so I will repeat it. Every sentence is about a subject. Whether Max goes to the store, I lost my watch again, or my mother is flying in from Arizona, not one person can form a single sentence without  focusing on a noun: the sentence’s subject.

 

Rewind and simplify.

Let’s talk about Max’s ball.

Max threw the ball.

Max and the ball are both nouns, but Max is the subject. The ball is the object. He is our hero. Max did the throwing. That is who we are talking about. The ball is the object. The object is what the subject interacted with.

The object is what the subject verbed… every time.  No exceptions. That is really the secret to all of this. The object is what the subject verbed. When you tell me that the subject was verbed by the object, that is a passive voice that unnecessarily adds extra words. Don’t do that. Be direct. The object is what the subject verbed.

Max threw the ball. 

That is pretty straight forward. The object is what the subject verbed. Now let’s place the object into the subject role.

The ball bounced when Max threw it.

The object is now verbing and our subject has been reduced to an afterthought. Seven words later, we’ve made the same point of four words.  Compare:

Max dropped the ball.

(The subject verbed the object)

The ball bounced when Max threw it.

(The object verbed, and the subject is introduced as an afterthought)

Here is one of my favorites.

Max’s hand dropped the ball.

In this case, the subject (Max) has been completely removed from the sentence and an inanimate thing has replaced our hero, Max. Here’s the other problem with this set up. Hands are not sentient.

Sentient: Able to perceive or feel things.

Sentient things must have a brain. Max has a brain. He has a consciousness. This is very important in sentence structure. Max’s hands do not have a brain, nor do they have a consciousness, ergo they can not throw. Max can. Hands are just the tools Max uses to throw. Max makes the conscious effort to throw the ball. Action through verbs implies choice. To say Max’s hands threw the ball is like saying Max threw the ball with his hands. Let’s try this example.

The hammer pounded in the nails.

Really? That’s one impressive hammer. Remember: Action through verbs implies choice.Can you see anyone holding the hammer? I don’t know about you, but I see no one holding the hammer. I see a magic hammer randomly pounding in nails. Let’s add a sentient subject…one with brains.

The zombie used Max’s hammer to pound in the nails.

Now we’re stating the obvious. Unless the zombie is using a rock to pound in the nails, we don’t need to state that the zombie is using a hammer.

The zombie pounded in the nails.

“The zombie used Max’s hammer to pound in the nails” is a cluttered mess that states the obvious.

 

How do I fix this?

Keep your subject in the limelight. Always present your subject before the object. When editing always look for the subject. Identify what the subject is “verbing.” Practice simplifying those sentences by always putting that subject before the object. Now, that’s not to say an adverbial clause, modifier, or preposition won’t lead a sentence.

Last Saturday, Max threw the ball.

As I was walking to the store, Max threw the ball.

Under the bridge, Max threw the ball.

In every case Max came before the ball. Every time.


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Head Hopping

There is very little out there that successfully explains head hopping. Many explain head hopping as referring to point of view. But when writers hear point of view, we think of 1st, 2nd, or 3rd point of view. This is why it is so hard to teach and understand head hopping.
Head hopping is not about point of view. Get that out of your head. Head hopping is about perspective. You can change perspective while in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd point of view. You could be a master in point of view, but struggle at head hopping.
Why should you learn this?

 

Head hopping confuses readers and pulls them out of story faster than ill-begotten grammar. It always forces the reader to crunch up their face and ask, “What!?” They will go back and re-read the passage several times before they realize just what happened. Head hopping is one of the leading causes of story death.

Let’s talk Harry Potter

The Harry Potter series is almost always shown in Harry’s head.

Let’s examine Book #5. Harry is lounging in Aunt Petunia’s flower bed outside the window. He’s listening to the television for clues about Voldemort. The story is written in 3rd person–he, Aunt Petunia, Dudley, they–But we are still experiencing the story in Harry’s head. We are reading his thoughts, sensing his feelings, experiencing his views on the events around him.

Harry is rarely alone (ironically). He is almost always surrounded by Dudley, Vernon, Snape, Ron, Hermione, and the Weasley’s. That’s a lot of heads to be around. We could experience the story in any one of those perspectives. But Rowling chose Harry’s head. Why? Because he is the most interesting. Because the series is called “Harry Potter.”

Let’s jump ahead to Book #6. The first scene is told in Mrs. Malfoy’s head. We experience her despair, her worry, her fears. We can only guess at what Snape is feeling.

Anytime a scene is played out, we can experience the events in anyone of the characters present. By the first sentence, an author has communicated to the reader which head we are in.

Now, here is where the writing can lose us. It is an unspoken rule that once you enter the head of a character, you can not leave the head for the remainder of the scene.

Books are not like movies. In a movie we are in no one’s head. We are in our heads witnessing events. We can’t identify the emotions of anyone in the scene. We can witness clues.

Let’s look at Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back. The grief in Leia’s eyes when Hans is frozen in carbonite. They courage of Hans as he looks lovingly upon Leia. The agonizing roar of Chewy as Hans is frozen. We have no idea what anyone is thinking. We can only guess at what everyone is feeling based on the faces we see. We are in no one’s head.

In books, we are in someone’s head. Not being in anyone’s head is called omniscient. The book is like a movie and we are reading no one’s thoughts. We are experiencing no one’s feelings.

Books are like pensieves. They allow us to enter the minds of characters. Back to Harry Potter Book #5. We slide into Harry’s mind. We can feel the heat on that summer day. We can feel the panic, the worry, the anticipation. We have the added bonus of hearing his thoughts because, hey, we are in his head after all. We listen as Harry ponders about Voldemort, thinks about Ron and Hermione, feels relief about hiding from Vernon and Dudley.

Let’s change perspective (not point of view). What if Rowling had written the scene from Petunia’s perspective? She’s in the kitchen making lemonade. She passes the glass to Vernon who she admires lovingly, thinking how handsome and muscular he looks. She sits down into the perfect furniture of her perfect home and fans herself while the news hums in the background. She then thinks about how precious Dudley is and what she’ll be making for dinner. She may be concerned about her gardens in the heat and curses the water ban. She may be preoccupied with the latest gossip from next door. Suddenly, she sits up and starts talking to Vernon about how so-‘n-so from next door has just planned a holiday to Bermuda that summer. She feels pleased when Vernon grumbles about not having to hear their lawn mower all summer. On a whole, Petunia’s perspective is rather mundane and boring.

There is a crack outside. Petunia jumps, spilling her lemonade all down her front. She looks out the window and there is “that boy” holding out his… oh, I can’t say it, she thinks. Vernon is up, strangling the boy. “Put that thing away!” Meanwhile, all Petunia can think about is her precious flower bed being crushed by that boy.

A moment later, the boy is gone, Vernon has settled back into the chair, and Petunia sits the day away fanning herself in the heat. A few hours later, Dudley comes through the door and vomits.

On a whole, Petunia’s perspective is uneventful. So we follow Harry’s thoughts instead. We settle into his mind. We take in the emotions and worries. We hear the crack and know its a wizard apparating. He has his wand out before anyone can swoop down and kill him. Where is he? Harry thinks. Is it a death eater? Is it Voldemort? Has he come for me?

Oh, no! My flowers, Petunia thinks, pressing her hand to her mouth. That boy’s gone and crushed them all.

It’s jarring to settle into one mind, one perspective, then to be ripped out of that head and dropped into another… Most transitions aren’t smooth or clear. We keep reading thinking it is Harry who has said, “Oh no! My flowers!”

Wait! What? Now we’re thinking about the writing and the grammar, and not what that sudden crack was. We stop being on Privet Drive. We’re back on the bus, holding a book, while the driver pulls over and a group of people shuffle off.

How do I fix this?

A common trick authors use is to write the character’s name at the top of the scene. This serves as a reminder which character you are experiencing. It will be easier to spot when you stray from that character.


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Showing vs. Telling

When I started out writing, I was lost with the concept of showing and not telling. Of course I was showing. I had said it didn’t I? The words were right there.

It wasn’t until I saw an example online that finally cleared everything up. Looking back, showing vs. telling is still one of the hardest things to learn for writers.

Why should you learn this?

Showing brings your story to life in a way that telling just can’t. Whenever an author tells, something has been skipped. Showing affects pacing. It emerges your reader into the story. Showing keeps your reader in the story so they can forget where they really are.

Let’s talk Harry Potter

Almost everyone has read or seen Harry Potter. For this reason, I love to use samples from J.K. Rowling.

Do you remember Tom Riddle’s diary? Or the pensieve in Dumbeldore’s office. Voldemort said it himself.

“Can you tell me about the Chamber of Secrets?” Harry writes in the diary.

“No,” Voldemort replies. “But I can show you.”

What happens next? Voldemort pulls Harry right into the pages of the diary. He is there. He witnesses the look on Tom Riddle’s face when Tom looks at the dead girl. We see Dumbledore stare down at Tom as he asks, “Is there something you would like to tell me, Tom?”

This is showing. Showing kept us in the story.

How different would the story have been if Tom Riddle had said, “Yes. I will tell you about the Chamber of Secrets. Fifty years ago, I found Hagrid housing an acromantula in Hogwarts. It killed some girl in the bathroom.”  The end. When an author tells, readers can sense that we’ve missed something.

Crime mystery shows and novels tell you what happened. They spend the rest of the book/movie trying to find what they missed. We would find the girl in the bathroom. We hear the investigators say, “Girl. In her teens. Found her dead in the bathroom. From the look of things, I’d say something scared her to death.”

They would investigate the school children.

“What can you tell me about the girl in the bathroom?”

“It was Myrtle,” Tom would say. “I don’t know much…But I did see Hagrid with an acromantula in the dormitory.”

By the end of the mystery, we have the full picture. If we’re lucky, the movie/television show goes back and shows us what did happen.

Want another example of showing vs. telling? Have a look at Boondock Saints. The first ten minutes of the movie is a perfect example of showing and telling. The investigators all standing around talking about a serial smasher? Telling. Conner ripping the toilet out of the floor and dropping it off the roof to save his brother? Showing.


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