I Want Proof!

In fan fiction, you often see new writers posting things they’ve written without anyone else looking at it.  And, often, they themselves have weak writing skills.  No money is lost by posting such things online, but you do lose readership if people can’t get past the first page for all the mistakes.

Proofreading (or copy editing) is all the more critical if you intend to publish something professionally.  If you send a mistake-riddled manuscript to a publisher, I very much suspect they won’t bother reading it to completion either.  Your story may be great, it may be the next bestseller, but the reader won’t be able to find the story for all the errors.

Part of the problem is that writers often write in a vacuum.  They write it, they edit it, they proof it and then they’re “done”.  It gets sent to a publisher or self-published online and they wait for the readers and money to flow in.  I can’t even count the number of times I’ve read Amazon reviews that remark on how poorly written stories are – structure, editing, spelling, grammar.  Usually the reviewer couldn’t bring themself to even finish the book.  And those are NOT the kinds of reviews you want.  They certainly won’t encourage new readers to give your book a chance.

So, what do you do to hopefully clean up most, if not all, of the mistakes?  Read it, read it again, and again and again.  Then have at least one other person (that you know has strong English language skills) to read it over also.  No matter how good we are, we will always miss some of our own mistakes.

One of the things I do when proofreading for a friend is to do the first reading ‘straight through’.  Why?  Because I want to see the big picture, and I want to check for continuity and story progression.  I usually prefer to read a print copy and so I might circle in red any errors I spot along the way, but I keep reading.  I don’t stop and give lengthy notes about the problem then and there.  That disrupts the flow.  This can also be done on a computer screen – I simply highlight something and move on.  When I’m done, I can note general, overall impressions of the story, and then I can go back and give specifics for cleaning up any issues I spotted.

I recently proofed a book for a friend who self-publishes.  There were instances of repetitious use of a phrase (without a specific reason to do so).  They weren’t close to one another so they weren’t readily seen unless you read straight through.  There were also a couple of places where she seemed to change her mind on a certain element of the story (a door being opened), but in three separate places, the action varies:  it is opening, it isn’t opening.  All of those needed to be reconciled with each other.

What about dropped plot points?  I wrote a story once and was cranking right along, but this story tied to other stories I had written.  I had failed to check the timeline.  So I have a story going that is totally ignoring a significant event (a wedding) that would be taking place when and where the new story is occurring.  Luckily, I noticed before I finished the story, but it meant going back and rewriting a lot of pages to work that detail in.  As it happens, I am very good at proofing my own stories (I once worked as a proofreader so I tend to see mistakes before I see the whole picture, but I don’t publish professionally).  That being the case, I rarely have anyone else read my stories before I post them.  That slip-up of omitting a plot point would have shown up in the “finished” product, and I’m very sure one of my astute readers would have called me on it.  Embarrassing, yes, but it would also mean pulling the story down for a rewrite – not ideal.

You’ve been staring at your story for a long time.  The ideas and words have been written and rewritten several times (presumably).  Maybe you’re really tired of looking at it and just want to be done.  If so, set it aside for a while (a week, a month or whatever suits you) and then read it from scratch and see how it strikes you.  And, if at all possible, get a trusted friend to read it and give you feedback.

Your work will be the better for those final efforts at tidying it up.

If You MUST Write About Horses (or Monarchies, For That Matter)

PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE learn the difference between ‘rein’ and ‘reign’!

I know, everyone has mistakes that really get under their skin, and this one is probably mine.  I can’t even count the number of stories I’ve read where riders pull on the ‘reigns’ of their horses, while Kings ‘rein’ over their people.  (I suppose it is something that those writers at least seem to realize neither one is spelled ‘rain’…)

If these words, or any others, give you problems, LOOK THEM UP.  Make lists of words you commonly misspell or confuse, and REFER to the list whenever you use those words.  I do that for further/farther and lay/lie.  You can do it too.  Don’t slap someone out of the story you are weaving by allowing junk mistakes to creep in.  You want the reader totally immersed in your tale, from beginning to end.

Spellcheck is nice, but using the wrong word though spelled correctly won’t cause it to alert you.  Grammar check probably won’t catch it either if you use the wrong word.  You are on your own for your word choice.

Details like that can make a difference.  Besides, you want to end my misery, don’t you?

Addendum:  If you want to see the parts of a horse labeled with their correct name, here is a place you can start:  https://www.merriam-webster.com/art/med/horse.htm

Or you can Google for more.

Creative Writing

I don’t know if they still do it, or even if anyone did it beyond one class I had when I was young (grade school?), but in that class, they had us envision “My Life as a Pencil” or some such thing and then write about it.

On the surface, it’s a rather silly notion, and maybe best aimed at children, but it isn’t without merit as a writing exercise.  Aren’t we all trying to gain a new perspective?  Present ideas in new ways?  See the world from another person(thing)’s point of view?  Starting with an inanimate object or an animal forces us to veer greatly from the common views.  Does a dog worry about politics and wars across the globe?  Does a pencil care anything about world hunger?  And if they don’t worry or care about those things, what DO they think about?  Okay, so maybe pencils don’t “think”, but if they could what would be their concerns?  “If I have to write one more sentence without being sharpened, I swear I’m just going to break!”

Perhaps if you practice writing about those kinds of things, it may spark new ideas about what your characters might say or do or think.  It may push you to take a closer look at the world they live in and how that might affect them.  I knew a girl once who told of her life before she came to America.  She had lived in a Communist country (I forget which one – at the time there were more of them than there are now).  Her reality was that you eagerly sought to be a better “junior Communist”, sort of like being a good Scout and advancing in the program, earning badges and recognition.  She had no reason to question the “rightness” of that because it was all around her and everyone believed similarly.

Many of the characteristics of an individual are born of the life they have led, the environment in which they have grown up, their experiences and what they have been taught.  One child grows up racist while another does not.  They learned that in “their world”.  Similarly your characters draw from the world around them.  Someone saying mean or cruel things might never have been taught anything else.  What would it take for them to change their thinking and behave differently?  Another person telling them “Stop that!  It isn’t nice.  You shouldn’t do that anymore.” isn’t likely to work.  “Oh, okay, sorry.  I’ll stop right now.”  Uh, no.  People aren’t like that.  Your characters aren’t like that.

By the same token, few people are identical in spite of similarities.  Even “identical” twins tend to have something that differentiates them, even if it is just their color preference or favorite food.  Not all black men are the same, not all professional women are the same, not all stock brokers are the same.  Having race or gender or occupation in common isn’t the sum total of who they are.  Those differences are what make life, and people, interesting.  If all of us were carbon copies, life would be very dull.  No surprises, nothing new, every single day just like the last.

So, what is your cat thinking about as he gazes out the window?  How does your house like the way you decorate it for Christmas?  Are the stars laughing at us for wishing on them?

Find out!

Repost: This Might Interest Some of You

I posted this back in Feb, but was reminded of it by being made aware of a lesson on Story Structure now up.  While focused on how Pixar created their movies, the basic storytelling principles can apply to other mediums.  And they’re fun little videos to watch, filled with examples and activities for you to do to practice each part of the lesson.  The new lesson is at:  https://www.khanacademy.org/partner-content/pixar/storytelling/story-structure/v/piab-storystructure

 

This Might Interest Some of You

via Pixar Rolls Out Free Online Storytelling Course | Mental Floss

Noticed this on Mental Floss.  Those of you who write might want to see if it offers anything you can use.

In case the link doesn’t work:  http://mentalfloss.com/article/92367/pixar-rolls-out-free-online-storytelling-course?utm_campaign=newsletter&utm_source=mf&utm_medium=02_21_17-grid_1-92367

https://www.khanacademy.org/partner-content/pixar

https://www.khanacademy.org/partner-content/pixar/storytelling

A word about writing fan fiction (or anything else)

People have different views about writing.  Some turn up their noses at certain genres or writing forms (say, perhaps, graphic novels).  Many “serious” writers think fan fiction isn’t worthwhile, and to some extent they are right.

Yes, I know, that’s an odd thing to say coming from someone who primarily writes fan fiction.  The truth is, much of the fan fiction out there isn’t worth reading.  It’s poorly written, and far too many of the authors start stories that they never finish.  If a “serious” writer does that, no one knows but them, but fan fiction authors post chapters as they go along – it’s painfully obvious when they fizzle out and stop writing.  Sometimes there is a valid reason for this:  perhaps writing is a hobby and life gets in the way, but most of the time the person loses interest and just never finishes.  And it isn’t always because their story was bad – I’ve seen several that I wish the author would finish.

Despite that, though, there are true gems out there.  Just as I reread favorite books sitting on my shelf (written by well-known, acclaimed authors), I reread some fan fiction stories because they are so well done.  And, what many don’t realize is that some of those fan fiction writers go on to publish professionally with original works.  They used fan fiction writing to hone their craft first.  I know of at least one New York Times bestselling author who fits in that category, though there are probably others.  I have a friend who self-published on Amazon and her story is excellent (in my opinion), and had a lot of creative ideas.  She was a good writer of fan fiction and she still is now that she is writing original material.

There is, of course, a drawback to writing fan fiction.  Another friend writes for children’s television and animated series.  She is well-known and highly regarded in her profession.  Often fans will want her to look at their fan fiction stories.  While understandable, she can’t do it, even if she wanted to.  She would put herself at risk of accusations of plagiarism if a story she later wrote closely mirrored one of those stories.  Some ‘ideas’ are so general that there is no copyright on them, but if you get too specific in using that idea in the same way that someone else did, you are at risk.

Someone who read one of my fan fic stories, wanted me to read a story she was writing.  I did and as I went along, I grew increasingly concerned – her story closely mirrored one of mine that was already posted in its entirety.  Since I’m not a professional, I wasn’t worried from a copyright standpoint, but I knew that if she posted this story, some of my readers would read it and possibly accuse her of plagiarism.  Fortunately, she eventually veered it off in a different direction, but I saw my story very clearly in hers.

Another writer was concerned that one of her characters had a personality too much like mine (we were both using the same character in our stories, taken from Tolkien’s books).  But our both envisioning this person in the same way didn’t make it plagiarism.  How we used the character might have been, but as I told her, the story she was writing was completely unlike anything I had done.  I did not see my work in her story just because the characters were almost identical in personality.

Why do I mention this?  Perhaps to help other writers understand why some people write fan fiction.  If I’m not going to publish something professionally, why not write something for my own amusement?  And if I enjoy the world that someone else has created and want to play in it, why not?  For the most part, these stories are intended as an homage to the original author and their work – it sparked creativity in someone else.  True, those writers likely would not want to claim the fan fiction works as their own or up to their standards, but it usually is just harmless fan admiration.

But the greater purpose of this post is to make note that every writer has something to contribute, the story only they can tell in a certain way.  Many people can write stories about young witches and wizards attending school somewhere in the British Isles, but none will be written quite the way J. K. Rowling wrote hers.  They might be similar, but unless copied verbatim, there will be differences in the telling of that story by another person.  There are some brilliant ideas being expressed in comic books, graphic novels, fan fiction and even blogs.  Great tomes in the largest libraries of the world are not the only worthwhile reading.

Here’s hoping you share your stories, ideas and creativity via whatever medium best suits you!

Question of the Day

What defines a battle scene as “epic”?

We sometimes see the warning on movies “Epic Battle Sequences” – so, what does that mean?

  •         If there are 5 battles in the movie, are they all epic or are only certain ones? 
  •         Is it sometimes just part of the battle (“a sequence”) while the rest of battle is just a battle? 
  •         What determines that it is epic – number of people fighting (say, at least 1,000)?  Number of people killed or wounded?  The methods they use for fighting? 
  •         Does a modern battle scene not count as epic unless it has a tank or a fighter/bomber airplane?  Is a medieval battle scene not epic unless it has has lots of arrows?

A Google search tells you of numerous battle sequences deemed “epic” by someone, but they are all over the map as to what is included in those scenes, so how is “epic” decided?

There, now if you’re stuck in a waiting room somewhere, I’ve given you something to ponder to pass the time!  You’re welcome!

Caricatures

[I wrote this a while ago, but am just now posting it.  More recently I’ve been putting in long, stressful hours at work – and then was sick – so I wasn’t accomplishing much of anything at home.]

Have been watching old DVDs, deciding which ones I want to keep and which to give away.  I hadn’t watched the three Crocodile Dundee movies in quite some time, so they were on the list.  These movies are enjoyable fluff, at least in my opinion, but I was reminded of their biggest problem – they have more caricatures than characters in them.

The parts that focus on Australia and the people there are pretty good, but once they head off to New York or Los Angeles, they don’t seem to know how to write the other characters.  All the “players” are stereotypical:  black guys, hookers, gang members, petty criminals, gays, etc.  None of them have any depth and despite different clothes and hair, they are all interchangeable with one another.  Everyone is extremely clean and their toughness is revealed mainly through crude language.  The scary thugs/gang members aren’t particularly scary, the hookers are just sweet girls who are nice as can be, and all the blacks talk in jive speech patterns.

Yes, if you ignore all that, you can enjoy the movies and just go with the silliness of it all.  But my point is, how much better would they have been if the characters were real?  If we believed they were what the credits or other characters said they were?

Similarly, do the stories we write suffer in that way?  Not all young black men are basketball-playing, uneducated, gangbangers.  Some black boys grow up to be Neil DeGrasse Tyson or Denzel Washington.  Most gangbangers aren’t cool, pleasant, clean people that you’d love to hang out with.  Etc., etc., etc.

Too often we see, and then follow the example, of stereotyping people – whether by race, religion, political party, occupation or even gender.  But if you look around at the world, things don’t line up.  Little girls might prefer playing with trucks rather than dolls.  Boys might rather practice the piano and write poetry than take up a sport.  Not all Chinese or Japanese children are scientific or musical prodigies.  You can probably think of a lot more examples.  When you write, you don’t have to do what is expected just because the world of literature/art/movies/tv have said it’s expected.  If your character doesn’t fit the mold, guess what?  They don’t have to!  And your story will be the stronger for it.  Don’t push to make it happen, but why can’t the person in the wheelchair be good at sports?  Why can’t the Muslim and the Jew be best friends?  Does the girl have to always be smarter than the boys?  Do all the boys have to be insensitive to others?  Why can’t there be a ‘cat guy’, with 15 cats?

You probably fit into numerous “categories” yourself, but are you identical to all the other people who fit into any or all of those categories?  Probably not.  So don’t fall into the trap of letting it happen to your characters.

Our ‘B’ Side, Baby!

Unless you’re ‘older’, or really into retro music formats, you may not recognize the term ‘B Side’.  The old 45 rpm single records had two sides to them.  The A Side was the primary song expected to be the money-maker.  The B Side was more ‘filler’ – a song of lower quality, less interest, experimental or whatever.  For the most part, the B Side was rarely listened to and most people couldn’t tell you what was on the B Side of their favorite records.  A notable exception to this was the Beatles, who often had hit songs on both sides.

Back in the 1970s, a group called Three Dog Night, for whatever reason (out of ideas, no songs written, or just being creative), actually released a song on the B side called “Our ‘B’ Side”.  Yes, it was a humorous take on the second side song practice, but it was a fun song nevertheless.  If you are interested in hearing it, check out this link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0lMo3nm3JM

Enjoy!

Question of the Day

I keep seeing this and every time I wonder.  Why, on books, do they put a book title followed by “a novel”?  Are they afraid we’ll think it’s a comic book?  There might be some rare, specific instances when that would need to be clarified, but it seems like the bulk of the books out there any more feel they must make that absolutely, unequivocally known.  Does anyone know why?