Monday, 25 January 2016

Are You a Healthy Writer?

Are You a Healthy Writer?
As a freelance editor, it’s common for me to spend up to twelve hours a day at my workstation. No real surprise in that, you might think, especially if you’re a writer slogging through your day to develop your novel into something that has the legs to take it out into the big, bad, self-publishing world.
As writers, editors, etc., spending hours at your keyboard is par for the course. It’s what we do and, to be honest, it’s not something we complain about. No too much, anyway. No, the problem is how detrimental such a sedentary regime is to our overall health. How many of you are battling with your weight? What about all those back and muscle issues you’ve developed since you became what equates to a full-time writer? Have you had to struggle against the darkness due to heightened stress levels?
I’ve always been a physically active individual. I like cake a bit too much so recognised the importance of getting out there to keep the ‘happy inches’ off, and more times than not I succeeded in keeping relatively trim and healthy.
That all changed when I became a freelance editor. With no shortage of work, it wasn’t too long before I discovered that my favourite clothes weren’t fitting me as comfortably as they used to. And because the workload was constant, I found that I now had to drag myself out to get a bit of fresh air and light, never mind actual physical activity.
I thought I was doing okay, getting out most days, even if it was just to scoot over to the shops, or to sit on a bench at the river and watch the swans and ducks doing their wonderful thing. But building the business was the priority and my full focus slipped from myself to my work. A week after Christmas, my partner and I weighed ourselves, and it was with shock that I realised the weight had just piled on during the past year - I was a stone and a half overweight.
That was a month ago. My workload is still heavy, but now I’m adamant that I get active at least once every day. I’m up and out before 7.30 each morning, pushing through a five mile power walk through the local woods and along the lake that ends in a pretty serious stretching routine. Once I’m showered I get down to work, but now I ensure that I take a few minutes break every half hour or so where I walk through my house, stretching and bending (and making tea) and doing my eye exercises.
Instead of sitting all day, I now spend every second hour standing, with my laptop on a sturdy pile of books on my kitchen table (got that great idea from a writing friend who almost seized up from too much sitting). I move from my trusty armchair at my favourite window to my kitchen, and back again, getting my stretches and shoulder rolls in as I go, guaranteeing a solid flow of activity through my working day.
Best of all, I’ve cut back on my working schedule and now have a few hours to enjoy socially each evening. I love my work, but life’s way too short not to have that bit of time for yourself and your loved ones. And best of all, I’ve lost several pounds each week – some more than others – and many of my favourite clothes no longer evoke groans of discomfort.
Because writing and editing require constant high focus, it’s essential to control stress that we might not always be aware of. I’m a laid back kind of guy. I’m into things that encourage me to chill out, which is why I’ve joined a tai-chi class, a discipline I practised years ago but allowed fall by the wayside. It’s the best thing I’ve done in years. I’m so relaxed after it, I almost don’t know myself, and I’d recommend it to anyone who spends much of their day at their computer. It not only stretches the body in a gentle way, it also invigorates the internal elements.
As a writer/editor/artist, do you keep physically active to ensure you remain relatively fit? Have you any tips you’d like to share below?



Friday, 15 January 2016

Proper Dialogue Structure and Punctuation

Proper Dialogue Structure and Punctuation

When characters speak, the reader should be trapped in the moment, hooked, not pulled out of the story by unwieldy phrasing, words that simply don’t fit, or punctuation that distracts. When reading your dialogue aloud, which you should always do, if it sticks out or trips you, rework it so that it does what it’s supposed to do. If that doesn’t work, cut it out.

Dialogue must have an objective: advancing plot; increasing tension; developing character. If it doesn’t do any of these, if we don’t learn something about the character, it should be cut. Harsh, but it’s the only way your story will work.

Create a short scene, with two characters, and make it a scenario that carries a high percentage of dialogue.

We use everyday dialogue in real life, but when we’re speaking to a friend, or a sibling, we’re not trying to sell a book or push a reader to turn to the next page. That’s why all fiction dialogue must be filled with intention; an action or reaction to further an objective.

When an obstacle is placed in front of an objective, conflict arises. This conflict will ensure dynamic because it heightens tension. Tension lifts the story from the everyday and keeps your reader hooked because they like to see characters challenged. It’s the only way a character will change.

In your scene, have one character strive to achieve an objective, with another standing in their way, obstructing progress.

The objective could be as simple as wanting to get into a club to find friends lost during an earlier pub-crawl, or trying to hire a taxi to get across town to meet a lover, but there’s only one taxi and someone else wants it just as bad (going the other way).

Once A’s objective is being thwarted, the ensuing tension provides loads of scope to use dialogue to convey frustration, spite, fear, passion, need and, of course, sub-text – the underlying meaning of a phrase or statement.

When writing a dialogue-heavy scene, don’t bog your reader down with expository telling. Don’t have your character spew out information that’s already known because you’re afraid your reader will run away if they don’t know what’s going on. Reveal detail in a way that elicits response – action/reaction – short and concise, or at best not dragged out. This rat-tat-tat ups the dynamic and ensures your reader is fully involved. Of course, you can’t keep such a pace up forever, but in a short scene, there’s no point in long flowing speeches full of information that will drive your reader into the kitchen. Keep it terse and crisp.

In order to convey such a scene so that it will be fully understood by your reader, an accepted standard of punctuation must be adhered to. While there are more complex rules of style, the few basics will get you through any club door or into any taxi. It’s just about remembering what goes where.

Write your scene, and don’t worry about being right or wrong. Once the scene is written, you can view the dialogue rules and apply them in your second draft.

First rule: The complete spoken phrase is enclosed in quotation marks. This includes your full stop, comma, exclamation mark, or question mark. The dialogue tag that follows is still part of the dialogue equation, so the first word is not capitalised unless it is a personal pronoun (‘I’ – John/Mary).

“I need to get in to find my friends,” Mary said.

Or – Mary looked at the bouncer, steadying herself against the pillar. “I need to get in to find my friends.”

If you place the dialogue tag before the dialogue, the comma goes before the quotation marks…

He stared at her, as if she was something he’d wiped off his shoe, and said, “Sorry, love, not a chance.”

You can also have it as a discontinued phrase, placing a description/action tag between dialogue beats. –
“Sorry, love,” he replied, staring at her as if she was something he’d wiped off his shoe, “not a chance.”

You could also have this as two complete sentences, with the first dialogue phrase ending in a comma, but with the following observation tag ending in a full stop.

“Sorry, love,” he replied, staring at her as if she was something he’d wiped off his shoe. “Not a chance.”

An em-dash (named because the dash is the length of an M) denotes interrupted dialogue. There’s no need to explain the interruption because the m-dash is an accepted convention.

“Look, love, I already told--”
“But you don’t understand. I have to--”
“Don’t interrupt me, love.” He straight-armed her away from the door. “I told you, you’re not getting in.”

When a character’s dialogue trails off, an ellipsis is used. It contains three dots before the quotation mark, or next word or thought.
“But you don’t understand. I need to…” Shit, what am I going to do?
“But you don’t understand. I need to… Shit, what am I going to do?”

Readers like to know who is speaking, so it’s not good practice to reveal the speaker’s identity at the end of a paragraph or several sentences. Such ‘hanging’ dialogue tags create imbalance. Consider these examples…

“I won’t have it. You’ve known me over a year now and you won’t get away with treating me as if I’ve just turned up begging your last penny from you,” Frank said, his face a deep red.

“I won’t have it,” Frank said, his face a deep red. “You’ve known me over a year now and you won’t get away with treating me as if I’ve just turned up begging your last penny from you.”

The second example works for me because it reveals the speaker after the first clause/sentence so I don’t have to guess, and the paragraph isn’t weighted down by that dialogue tag at the end.

Be sure to separate each character’s dialogue into a new paragraph. This makes it easy for your readers to distinguish who the speaker is.

Said-bookisms are where a writer uses something other than said in a dialogue tag. Your reader is blind to ‘said’, once it’s not used in a series. Their focus remains exclusively on the story. You don’t have to use it all the time because you’ll be using pre and post-dialogue action tags, or untagged dialogue where the identity is unambiguous. To be extreme, the likes of replied, answered, asked, told, and remarked are acceptable, but most others like snarled, laughed, responded, snapped, elucidated, etc., etc., pull your reader from the story because of their telling and redundant nature.

So, with that in mind, only use dialogue tags that denote speech. “The joke’s on you,” she laughed - is not acceptable, because you cannot laugh dialogue, or at least not in a manner that will be understood. Considered writing will get you places. The first draft is the place to make such mistakes, whereas the second-on is the arena for revision and putting things right.

Make every word count. Have confidence in your writing, and never be afraid to tweak and revise as needs be. The tighter your writing, the less work your editor has to do. If you have any questions, feel free to pop them below and I’ll do my best to answer.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

The Folly of Taking Shortcuts (have your work edited)


The Folly of Taking Shortcuts

A bit of a professional’s rant today. I’ve had indie writers ask me to proofread their manuscripts when it's patently obvious that their work hasn’t actually been edited in the first place. A proofread is not an edit, in any way, shape, or form. Yes, it will point out and correct grammatical errors, cleaning your copy for the reader, but it will not tackle beneath-the-skin issues that stifle lifeblood to the heart of the novel.

Why be content with a ‘clean’ copy when your novel may be plagued with a plethora of structural problems that will come to notice once the book is released? Readers don’t like being hoodwinked, and will lose no time in letting others know that a specific book should be given a pass due to its many plot holes, poor syntax, and weak characterisation, just to mention some of the many issues they’ll come across.

I’m a hoary old sceptic at heart, which isn’t such a bad thing, and find myself wondering about the underlying reasons a writer would be satisfied with only a proofread before release. Not even a copy edit! Maybe they’re under the illusion that a proofread constitutes an edit. Can that be put down to lack of experience? But what writer goes through the long and often arduous process of writing a novel and doesn’t know about peer feedback/Beta readers through contact with other scribes? Are there many who aren’t members of writing forums where they post one or more chapters and have elements pointed out that need work? Even then, they’d have to reciprocate and would gain experience from the process of peer-critting, so would know, or at least would have an idea, when something needs reviewing.

Then again, even with the growing levels of quality releases in the ever-expanding self-publishing world, there’s still a substantial amount of what can only be described as muck out there. My problem isn’t that it’s badly written, because anything can be worked out and improved through rewriting and editing. No, my problem is that writers ‘in the know’ decide to do it on the cheap by releasing something ‘hot-off-the-press’, more than happy with the knowledge that punctuation, spelling errors, and repeats have been cleaned and rectified by a professional proofreader.

A proofreader of worth will point out that a manuscript needs editing, but won’t dig deeper than the fa├žade. Why should they, it’s not their job, and they definitely don’t get paid enough. Either do I, for that matter – but that’s another story. A line-edit, or substantive edit, ploughs a furrow through every word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, page, scene, chapter, character, action/reaction, setting, conflict, tension, drama, emotion, timeline, style, plus a zillion other things that might lurk beneath the sheets. Everything is ironed out, but always only as a suggestion for the author’s consideration. It’s he/she who will ultimately decide what makes the grade, though that often comes after some serious ‘interaction’ between writer and editor.

The distance between proofing and editing is close to the difference between night and day – they stand apart because the former comes nowhere near the latter for the way a novel turns out. A proofread blows the dust off, while a line-edit mends broken limbs, stitches gaping wounds, and salves all lacerations with a level of empathy and compassion you’d only get from your mother. A line-edit ensures that your novel stands firm on its own two feet, and that its cheeks are flush from a healthy flow of blood around its body. It’s a holistic process that delves into all levels and heals all ailments.

After the author returns their ms for a second edit, I switch into copy-editing mode to ensure all upper layers are working, and once this edit is returned I slip into proofreader mode. Yes, all three levels of editing are incorporated into a modern editor’s service – a full-on edit that cuts no corners.

Why in that event would you be satisfied with a simple proofread? It doesn’t prevent the rot, and believe me that rot will spread once your novel is released and your first flush of readers react, most likely online, through the broad platform of social-media. If your work is below par, there is no escape from the discerning eye of the reader. Be warned. Have your work line-edited and reap the benefits on release.

If you don’t believe me, send me a sample chapter from your work-in-progress and I’ll do a free line-edit for you with absolutely no obligation on your part. Contact me at: or visit my website for further details.


Sunday, 3 January 2016

New Year Recommended Reads

I know we all have a pile of to-be-read books beside the bed, some gathering dust as they snooze within easy reach, others screaming out for attention, but there are always a couple more that deserve to be there, that may need a little nudge like this to catch the eye of potential readers.

The first is a contemporary romance, from up-and-coming author, Amy Tierney. The first in a series, based in Ireland's Dublin and Wicklow, it's both quirky and lusty, with characters who will have you hungering for the second in the series, which I believe is being written as I type. It's been doing great in local shops and online, so is well worth a look for anyone interested in the genre.

Mary Bradford, a prolific writer from Cork in Ireland, is building a reputation as a multi-genre author. Her oeuvre covers a novel and novellas in romance, horror, erotica, western, thriller, as well as a collection of short stories. All these can be viewed on her Amazon page, as well as across her broad social-media platform.

Frank Parker, a veteran of the novel form, has recently released his latest, a complex and intriguing look at the consequences of a sexual transgression. His characters and scenarios are so deftly drawn they remain with the reader long after the reading journey has been completed. Highly recommended.

Carol Ervin's collection of historical novels - the Mountain Women series, is based in the harsh environment of 19th Century Winkler, a fictional logging town in West Virginia, where her characters have to survive in a harsh environment governed by men. She's also ventured into contemporary thriller and science-fiction novels that provide riveting reads, not least for their originality. All her work is recommended by this reader.

Susan Nicholls has one novel out right now, but is currently prepping for release the first in a series of crime/comedy capers. Definitely worth keeping an eye out for this American writer's work.

Last but not least is one for horror lovers. It's a vampire story by Daniel Kaye, but nothing like you've experienced before. I Vladimir has the potential to steer the genre in a completely new direction, and you don't come across too many novels like that. Buy it and see for yourself.

So, be sure to check out these authors, and if you do read any of their novels, please do share your impressions, or even better, leave an honest review on their Amazon page.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Warriors of The Word - New Beginnings

As we begin the new year of 2016, our focus turns to new beginnings where we endeavour to channel our energies into the likes of health and personal development that will see us grasping the thorny vine of projects that may have slipped from our control over the past year or so. For many, especially writers, that will mean getting out and about to lose a few unwanted pounds. Writers, spending many hours of each day harnessed to a chair, working through the warrens of a fictional world, often find themselves piling on the weight.

But not just physical weight. No. Though committed to working their projects through, regularly to the detriment of family and social life, scribes can find themselves overwhelmed by issues such as the immensity of story; the barbed hurdles of grammar and dialogue; trying to capture an elusive voice; pinning down the hoary specifics of point-of-view, or grasping the complexities of active voice, to name just a few. The struggle to overcome the technical aspects of such projects can prove so discouraging that, even though several drafts may have been completed, the writer often finds herself cast adrift, without the energy to make it to the solid ground that will see the work brought to its next stage where real progression is seen and appreciated.

I’ve provided constructive feedback to writers for twenty years or more and know how beneficial a considered opinion can be, especially during a challenging phase when the wrong response - a wayward comment - could see a project, and the desire to continue, destroyed. Writers need to know how things stand, and while they welcome honesty, they don’t want to be battered with the hard edge of reality. There has to be hope – light that provides access to the next step.

That’s what I do. Writers send me a chapter from their work-in-progress and I return a sample line-edit where everything is reviewed, from each word to style and structure – anything really that needs looking at, I get in there and tackle it until the writer knows exactly what the options are that will see issues worked through and those dark clouds parted so the broader perspective can be appreciated. The main thing is that the writer has a much stronger idea where he or she stands in relation to the problems at hand.

The writer can then decide if they want to go the rest of the journey alone – applying lessons learnt from the sample edit to the rest of the work, or join in a collaborative affair by commissioning me as their editor. A first edit is a two-week journey to begin with, where everything is laid bare. Everything. With the writer’s vision taken into account, voice and style retained, I wade in and leave nothing unturned. When the manuscript is returned, it resembles a battlefield with the mass of notes and suggested edits. ‘Battlefield’ is apt because if the war is to be won by the author, the enemies of progression must be annihilated. One of my clients recently said that she felt like a warrior of the word when tackling my first edit. She was correct, all writers are warriors of the word. When it comes to the editing process, the author is the soldier on a quest to fight and defeat the monster that is the undeveloped manuscript, while I am the Special Forces mentor, there to advise and guide, and between us we ensure that our side comes out of the fight in the best condition possible, ready to step into the light on release to the world at large.

The author, now seeing that light, applies my editing suggestions as they see fit and returns the manuscript to me for a second edit that will bring the work, once applied, to its proofing stage. It’s all part of my package. I know the story – I know the author – I’m in a perfect position to recognise where things still aren’t quite right, or where they’re just perfect. Two edits and a proofread will see the writer out of those horrid doldrums and into the heady glare of pre-publication.

I haven’t met an author yet who hasn’t appreciated the benefits of a solid line-edit. It’s not easy seeing your work put under the microscope, with every element reviewed, but bringing your novel to a ready-to-go level, with the aid of your editor, is one of the most progressive things you can do as a writer. If you’re in a position where you’ve brought your work-in-progress to a point where it requires professional help to bring it to the next stage and beyond, all I can do is recommend that you choose a chapter, preferably from the middle of your novel, and send it to me for a free sample edit. You’ve nothing to lose and everything to gain. Send it to and I’ll get back to you asap.

Visit my website for further details about my services.

Good luck with all your endeavours in 2016.