Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Let's Edit a Story, Part 2!

Here’s another look at the story discussed in my previous post, with a little more information added. (Remember, major editing will wait until the story is fully roughed out.) 

 The day my mother put on Dad’s work boots, our life changed. I held my hair up off my sweaty neck and peered out the dusty glass. Mom stomped through the muddy yard, carrying a rusty hammer and cardboard sign on a wood stick pointed at the end. 

Here’s my take on this rough start of a story: The repetitive rhythm of adjective-noun and repeat, is annoying. 

Sweaty neck 

Dusty glass 

Muddy yard 

Rusty hammer 

Cardboard sign 

Wood stick 

Break the pattern. Keep a couple adjectives and kill the rest, or arrange the sentence differently. 

Which adjectives to keep, and which to lose? We can assume the character is hot, or she wouldn’t be holding up her hair. We guess without being told that her neck is sweaty. Cut sweaty. Next, a dusty window reveals something about the house and/or the people living there. Maybe it has to do with the amount of time for cleaning the family has, that they’ve been gone a while, or something about their priorities. We get an idea about the place just by the mud in the yard and the dust on the window. Those details create mood. For now, I’d keep muddy and dusty. 

 Mom stomped through the muddy yard, carrying a rusty hammer and cardboard sign on a wood stick pointed at the end. Look at this. Too many images weaken the focus. I’d omit the highlighted part highlighted. It’s awkward, and when you read about someone carrying a hammer and a cardboard sign, you’ll assume the sign can be hammered to stand in the ground. Don’t waste words creating an image the reader will get, anyway. 

Now we are left with Mom stomped through the muddy yard carrying a rusty hammer and cardboard sign. I doubt if deleting the word rusty will affect the story. Get rid of rusty for now, but you may grab it later if you decide the hammer being rusty is important. Also, consider the word cardboard. You can bet that if the sign is elaborate, the fancy details would be mentioned. Otherwise, it probably doesn’t matter if it’s made of cardboard, tag board, or a sharp scrap of metal. Wanting to know what the sign says is what will keep us reading. House for sale? Eggs for sale? Free stuff? Everything must go? 

Last, change glass to window, because dusty glass could be that of a china hutch. Here, it’s best to be specific. 

Before continuing the story, consider the fact that Mom stomped through the yard. No grace in her walk here. This might suggest she’s in a specific mood. Maybe what the sign says explains that mood. Chances are, after you’ve made these changes, you’ll see something else needing attention. For instance, in––I held my hair up from my neck and peered through the dusty window. Mom stomped through the muddy yard, carrying a hammer and cardboard sign––there’s an echo on the word through. 

Echoes are repeated words that do not sound lyrical. They sound loud and distracting. The text could read, Mom stomped across the muddy yard … 

Write and edit along with me. Watch for new lines and edits in two weeks. Until then, happy writing! Also, I’d like to use your work for future posts. Young writers welcome! Send me your family-friendly short story for a free edit. Use the little envelope icon in the right margin to contact me. Stories 300-1200 words will work best. No picture books, please, and let me know if you are under 18. 

Note to readers: I recommend finishing a story before tackling any major editing. Look for the biggies first––weak character arcs, pacing problems, voice, and plotting problems––before weeding out extra words and accidental rhymes. It makes no sense to labor over a page you eventually delete. For learning purposes, we’ll do some minor line editing on this story as we go along and developmental editing once we have a beginning, middle and end.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Let's Edit a Story!

 

Good idea, but first we have to make up a story. As a panster (a writer who wings her way through a story without a plan or outline) I vote we whip one up from nothing. Here goes!

One day I was looking out the window and saw my mother in the yard.

Stop!

OK. It’s true you should get the bulk of your story out before you start editing, usually. But when your brain is already kicking you, it’s hard to get a good idea for the next sentence. An opening doesn’t have to be good at the gate, but don’t let it feel rusty, either. Clear it up now and start your story off inspired, rather than anxious.

If you handed me this sentence, I’d immediately ask why you began with “one day?“ If it doesn’t matter which day it is, then leave that out. If it is a specific day, but the actual date doesn’t matter, then tell us what does matter about that day, or why that day matters. Here’s my go at it. (Write your version with me.)

The day my mother put on Dad’s work boots, our life changed.

Look at the improvement the specifics make. It’s no longer just any old day. Here, the day does matter. Why? Because it changed the lives of this narrator’s family. That’s a big thing. That’s the kind of thing stories are made of. It has more meat to it than “one day…”

The new opening creates questions. You’ll want to know why Mom put on Dad’s work boots, why isn’t Dad wearing them, and in what way that little action changed their lives. Now there’s some muscle to push the story along.

Next, consider the passive sentence in the original opening ––>... I was looking out the window...

An easy way to know it’s passive is the word “was.” Was looking. My, my, my. You can’t get much weaker than that. To make that passive sentence active, write I looked rather than I was looking. Naturally, that brings up another problem. Who is the “I?” Who is this narrator?  Male, female? Adult child or teen child? Preteen?

Don’t come right out and say a __-aged boy or girl. Show the reader this information in other ways. For instance, a girl may flick her long hair back. That’s actually quite common in stories (and in life!), and I’m guilty of using it too often myself. It’s a go-to phrase. Make your description more unique. Flicking long hair gives us the idea that the character is female, though males can have long hair as well. Regardless, what other way could we show that this female character has long hair?

How about if she lifts her hair off of her neck as she’s watching out the window? That lets us know not only that the character’s hair is long, but also that it’s a hot day, or at least that the room is hot. If a description can tell us two things instead of one, great. Always go for the description you don’t think everybody else is using. You can describe something everyone will relate to it and still not use a phrase you’ve seen in thousands of stories. You could also show the sweltering temperature by saying sweaty hair or sticky neck.

Try your hand at finishing this story. Until you reach the end, use whatever opening gets the story going. You may not keep your original opening, and that’s okay.

Watch for my next blog post and see what other changes I find for this beginning.

Also, I’d like to use one of your stories for future posts. If you’re interested in getting a family-friendly short story edited for free, please use the little envelope icon on the right to contact me. Stories 300-1200 words will work best for this study. No picture books, please.

Note to readers. In your own work, I recommend finishing a story before tackling any major editing. Always look for the big problems first, weak character arcs, pacing problems, and a lack of logic before weeding out extra words and accidental rhymes. It makes no sense to put a ton of work into a page you later delete. But for learning purposes, we’ll do some minor line editing on this story as we go along and developmental editing once we have a beginning, middle and end.

Happy writing!

 

 

Friday, March 19, 2021

Spring is Here!

 


Most people know spring is here by the buds sprouting on the trees, flower shoots peeking through the ground, birds singing in windowsills. Dying eggs and buying Easter dresses. Wondering about the size of last year’s swimming suit.

I’m not talking about the calendar date of spring. I’m talking about real spring. The kind a last-minute snowstorm can’t erase for any lengthy time.

To me, spring is here when my husband starts sorting through his rods and reels, checking online prices of new ones, ordering planting soil to make sure we are stocked up, and planning out new flowerbeds. The gleam in his eyes comes out of hibernation. He orders more plastic Easter eggs to fill for the big scavenger hunt. I’m not exaggerating when I say we have around 200. If he keeps adding to the collection year after year, we’ll soon have to move the hunt from a backyard to a park.

I have witnessed all of these signs over the last week, and I’m so excited. He’s been checking out sporting equipment, looking at the layout of our yard with a gardener’s eye, and he just bought more plastic eggs! (But no, I am not looking at or even thinking about my swimsuit.)

What are your tell-tale signs of spring?

Happy writing!

Psst! Watch for next week’s post on how to edit a story, and watch future posts for a chance at getting your story edited for free!

Monday, February 17, 2020

Early Spring or a Twisted Mind?


 



Reports state that the groundhog did not see his shadow this year; thus, we’ll be blessed with an early spring.
I think the sadistic brat lied. For all I know, the little devil was holding a red apple when he or she made the announcement.

There’s a meme on Facebook with the groundhog admitting he lied, but I’d hoped the post had been fabricated by someone trying to be funny, or cruel. After all, if the little bugger actually saw his shadow, we’d be stuck with another six weeks of winter. Even suggesting this may be our fate rings of cruelty, don’t you think?
And yet, here in the winter wonderland known as Minnesota, we’re going to be showered with a freezing rain this evening. What kind of early spring is that? Rain, yes; freezing, no!

Isn’t this sort of undeniable proof that the groundhog is guilty of: false advertising, cruelty against animals and the human race, and depraved indifference, resulting in who knows how many crimes­­ as extended winters force people into depression which can induce negative responses and actions.
I say we put that groundhog behind bars!
Any bounty hunters out there willing to catch the culprit? I’ll put up a $1 reward payable through PayPal immediately upon delivery.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Back from the Anti-Wonderland!

Hello everyone! I do not have any tech-blood running through my veins, so when my blog quit working eons ago (wouldn’t let me edit old posts or add a new post) during a time I was undertaking a grief sabbatical (lost a few loved ones), I decided to let the blog rest. And rest it did, but for way too long! I’m very sorry about the extended absence, and I hope I can make it up to you.
I read some great books during my time away: the Al Capone series by Gennifer Choldenko and Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator by Jennifer Allison (MG books you’ll love!); Tagged, a great YA book by Diane C. Mullen; Home by Harlen Coben; The Crossing by Michael Connelly; and Every Breath by Nicholas Sparks.

I read a number of other books as well, actually stacks of them, but the above come to mind in a blink.

When I wasn’t reading, writing, or editing, I was painting. Sometimes on canvas, sometimes on wood, sometimes on metal. I had emotions to get out and managed it with both the printed word and paint.
 
Currently, I have two novel-length works battling for attention in my brain. My solution? I’m working on the preliminaries for each. I’m drafting rough chapter/plot outlines and character sketches with GMC’s clearly stated and very thorough character charts. I’m also drawing a few maps of fictional towns covered in the novels, blueprints for houses (filled with art and furniture) so that once I get around to writing the novels, I’ll know where a character is at when he or she is tiptoeing through a house or neighborhood.

Realistically, once I’ve got all this info down, and once I know the characters so deeply that I even know what their favorites of just about everything are and what they think about their toenails, putting the actual novels together will go a little smoother than it would go without these assists. Revising will be the brow-sweating task––it always is.

I’m not planning on writing both novels at the same time. I have faith that one novel, or one character from either, will eventually tug at my heart and the recesses of my brain more than the others. That’s the one I will trust to help me plow ahead to those wonderful words, The End.
And if that doesn’t work, you know what they say––fake it until you make it!

What helps you get through your goals?

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

SUE'S REVIEWS--A PIECE OF THE WORLD


A Piece of the World 
by Christina Baker Kline

Reviewed by Sue Ellis

For Readers:

Christina Baker Kline's latest novel, A Piece of the World, is a fictionalized account of the  life of Christina Olson, subject of the famous painting, Christina's World, by Andrew Wyeth.

Christina Olsen was crippled by a virus at age three. Local doctors had no idea what caused the progressive wasting of her limbs, but she eventually had to crawl to leave the house, refusing the use of a wheelchair. Late in life she met Andrew Wyeth when he became enthralled by the old farmhouse in Cushing, Maine, where she had always lived.

Wyeth's place in the story is as important as Christina's, his dogged determination to paint what he feels at the place that greatly moves him. At first it's the location that calls to him, the land and the buildings in their coastal setting, but his attention eventually falls upon the people he comes to know.

Her parents are a salt-of-the- earth couple who expect more of Christina than seems reasonable. They refuse to baby her, even when she is very young, but she rises to the occasion in one gripping chapter after another. While still in her twenties, a relationship springs to life when the crippled girl  meets a student who summers in Cushing.

Here's an excerpt where Christina overhears her parents discussing her and her boyfriend:

"She's no beauty, but she works hard. I think she'd make a fine companion," Papa is saying.
"She would," Mother says. "But I'm beginning to wonder if he's toying with her."
My face tingles as I realize they're talking about me. I lean against the wall, straining to hear.
"Who knows? Perhaps he wants to run the farm."
"Mother laughs, a dry bark. "That one? No."
"What does he want with her then?"
"Who knows? To fill his idle time, I suppose."
"Maybe he really does love her, Katy."
"I fear . . ." Mother's voice trails off. "That he will not marry her."
Papa says, "I fear it too."

By the time Wyeth appears and installs himself at the farmhouse, Christina's scars, both physical and mental, have honed her into a person who is both admirable and pitiable (and ultimately paintable).


William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers
ISBN 978-0-06-2356277

For Writers:

Many of you will have read Orphan Train, a well loved work by this same author, so you know Christina Baker Kline is a writer of considerable talent.

Using Christina's relationships with her family and friends, she enables us to see into the soul of a woman gone bitter with her insistence that people ignore her physical plight and treat her like anyone else. The story is told by switching back and forth between Christina's early life and young adulthood to her meeting with Wyeth when she's an old woman. It's an effective way to focus on her relationship with Wyeth while gradually revealing her past and the forces that have shaped her into the person that piqued his artistic interest.

So much of the story is based on fact that it's easy to be fascinated by the history, but even more beguiling to let the author take us to that atmospheric plane between fact and what she imagines for us. This one's a winner.

 

 
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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

SUE’S REVIEWS––THE NINTH HOUR


The Ninth Hour
by Alice McDermott

 Reviewed by Sue Ellis

For Readers:
Alice McDermott's newest novel, The Ninth Hour, is an easy pick after reading the back jacket. Three of her previous novels were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize.

The Ninth Hour is set in Catholic Brooklyn in the early twentieth century. The story opens with the suicide of Jim, an Irish Immigrant fired from his job at the railroad. He urges his pregnant wife to do her shopping early, then turns on the gas in their apartment and blocks its escape by jamming a coat under the door.

Sister St, Savior, making her way home following a weary day of tending an alms basket, encounters the sad scene and takes charge of the grieving widow, Annie. She oversees a quick burial for Jim in the church cemetery before objections can be made, and arranges work for Annie in the laundry of the Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor.

When Annie's baby girl, Sally, is born, she is cherished by her mother and the doting nuns, and grows up a carefree and obedient child. Here's an excerpt:

The days in the laundry grew longer for the two women when Sally started school, but when she returned, she brought her mother and the nun tales from what they called the wider world. She could capture her classmates' broken English, or their solid brooklynese, with perfection. She had the pastor's nasally Latin down to a T. She was a good and quiet child in the classroom, polite and shy on the street, but in the basement laundry of the convent, every impulse toward silliness, every outlandish pantomime or adolescent misfiring of elbows and feet, not to mention wickedness, was set free, and utterly indulged by her mother and the nun, provided--they were always reminding her, that she kept her voice low.

Sally decides she'd like to be a nun herself, having helped visit the sick and poor with the nuns on many occasions, but none of that prepares her for the people she meets on the train that carries her to her new assignment, their coarseness and greed. She returns home immediately only to find her mother at home with her lover, a man whose crippled wife Sally has helped care for.

 
Farrar, Strous and Giroux
ISBN 978-037-428014-7

For Writers:

The characters are fascinating, likeable mostly, admirable and real. The story is told in part from the persepctive of Annie's grandchildren, so we get a sense of the repercussive results of a family touched by both tragedy and compassion. This author can set a scene authentically and believably, a real bonus for everyone.