A to Z Challenge: Verbs

I know I know. V is for Verbs is not very original when it comes to the A to Zs of editing and revisions. Still, it’s way too important to skip. In fact, the way I think of verbs in edits is sort of a massive category, so we’ll have to see how much ground I can cover. I think to keep things… relatable, I’m going to do this by function – according to my convoluted thinking, at least.

Firstly, verbs indicate action. Actions by your character, actions to your character. Yes people, I’m talking about active vs. passive sentences. Far be it from me to say that passive tense must NEVER be included anywhere in a story. (I guess I should have mentioned with every post that nothing is written in stone… oops.) But. Too much passive tense will have the reader wondering why they’re rooting for a hero that lets the universe randomly do stuff to him when the baddie is out there doing things. If you read through your work and notice too many: “Something WAS done BY someone/something else.” sentences, you might want to work on getting more active tense in. Remember: put the emphasis on the most important thing. More often than not, that will be your characters. So put them first in the sentence.

No. I am not saying “‘was’ is evil and should die a slow death”. In fact, ask my CPs. I adore “was” in all its forms. But verbs also describe actions. And sadly, “was” is… somewhat generic. As are verbs like: look, walk, have, say and so on. Yes, these verbs tell us what someone is doing, but are they telling us how? No. And that’s why adverbs sneak into writing, because suddenly they’re necessary to describe how the character is doing something. Do you say something angrily? No. You grind it out between your teeth. Do you walk insolently? No… you saunter. So make sure as many verbs as possible carry enough weight to describe as well. Get it? Got it? Good. Next. (Notice: I’m not saying adverbs are evil.)

Next, verbs can indicate time. Yep… There is more than one way to use a past tense. So if your story is written in past tense, make sure that things happening before the exact point in your story are referred to in past perfect. I.e. not “I ate” but “I had eaten.” Or better. “I had munched.” if that’s exactly what your character did. There are many other little changes that happen when characters or narration have to refer to something happening in the past, so I strongly suggest that you familiarize yourself with them when editing.

In addition, verbs agree with their subjects. So no “He say’s” or “They does’s” unless it’s in dialogue or you’re going for a specific flavor in your narrative.

Verbs also lend meaning to a sentence. So sometimes, the way you use a verb can change what a sentence means. For example: “I remembered to do my homework.” and “I remembered doing my homework.” Yes, they might look like they mean the same thing, but depending on context, the first implies that the homework isn’t done, while the second implies that it was done (possibly at some point in the more distant past). This can depend on context and feel a lot, so keep an eye out.

Finally, verbs can indicate things happening at the same time. “Doing one thing, he did another.” Nothing wrong with that, but I find that sentence structure addictive. It’s a lazy way to show things happening at the same time. As supposed to being more inventive. So… those sentences can riddle a writer’s works like weeds. Another one (and I’ve heard that it can be a red flag for agents) is when a writer indicates two things occurring at the same time, when they’re physically impossible. “Standing with his cup of coffee, he sat down.” or “Driving home, he got out of the car.” Those ones, you have to look out for, because they’re incredibly annoying to read.

Look Out for These:

1) Generic verbs and repetition that lessens the depth of your words.  

2) Passive tense and gerunds changing the meaning of a sentence or story.

3) Tenses and concurrent happenings that don’t make sense.

What is your vice when it comes to verbs?

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A to Z Challenge: Use All Senses

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There’s more to telling a story than simply relaying events to a reader in chronological (or whichever you prefer) order.

No, readers need to be drawn in. They need to share experiences with the story’s characters. That can’t really be done if the reader can’t get a sense of what’s going on around the characters.

Where are they?

What are they seeing?

Touching? How does it feel?

What are they smelling?

What are they hearing? How clearly?

I’m not saying that I’m looking for five pages of pure description. But still, hinting at a characters surroundings would be good. Otherwise we readers have nothing but a thick white mist around the characters in our mind.

So how does one do that? Especially since writers can’t use pages of description?

By having the character notice things. Not a million things at the same time. Just the most immediately pressing ones in tense situations. So seeing and feeling, most likely.

If a situation is more relaxed, people tend to notice more. And so should your character. Only don’t make it obvious. Think of how you perceive things. Do you make a point of making a list of every single thing about a new room? Most likely not. But certain things will catch your eye. Like a window glinting. Or a scatter cushion being out of place. Something like that.

The same for the other senses. Your character won’t try to take stock of every tiny little thing. But something will stand out. A high pitched whistle. The smell of unwashed bodies. The dry, almost gritty taste of smoke.

Always remember two things:

1) It’s about balance. Never focus on only one sense at a time. But don’t use all of them at the same time either, unless the situation is overwhelmingly strong. Or if you character has keen powers of observation.

2) Quality over quantity. Too much description can slow a story to a halt, so rather go for well chosen and well blended moments that mean more and put a reader firmly in the story.

Look Out for These:

1) “White” scenes where the characters don’t react to or interact with their surroundings.

2) Pages and pages of meaningless description.

3) A lack of certain senses in description. Especially taste and smell, since they seem to be neglected the most.

Which senses do you forget about in description? Do are you a minimalist when it comes to description? Or do you have to restrain yourself?

A to Z Challenge: Telling

Depending on your style of writing, telling can kill the reader’s experience. After all, if the reader is trying to immerse him/herself in the world of a book, having the writer tell them how or why something happened can be singularly annoying.

To my mind, there are two ways to tell in writing. Both are bad for my style, although I know that having an omniscient narration changes things. Point is, if you don’t, these two are definitely priority things to fix.

The first way to tell is in the way you describe things and actions. In a story, the reader needs to experience everything through the point of view character. So suddenly having a generic sort of sentence telling them something doesn’t work.

What will fit better? (Assuming that the character isn’t a boring sort of person.)



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The plate had a blue pattern on it.

Or…

The plate’s rich blue pattern told the age old story of star-crossed lovers fleeing together in search of a chance together.

Yeah yeah, I know that neither is Shakespeare, but I think you get the point.

The other tell would be in narrative. Don’t tell everything. Account for everything, yes, but not in such a way that reveals everything immediately. Because if you do that, you lose a lot of tension. And as you know, tension is one thing you don’t want to lose.

So if something important is happening, make sure that you make the event noticeable, but it’s usually quite important that the reader can’t figure out what will happen because of that event. Predictability is not your friend.

When editing both types of tells, the secret is in wrapping the information in a lovely veil of words that will either decorate or disguise what you’re trying to say. But for heaven’s sake, don’t be obscure.

Look Out for These:

1) Phrases like: he saw, he thought, she felt, it tasted. Anything that puts a distance between the character’s and reader’s experiences of the same thing. Also: something was (insert description) or he/she/it had (insert description).

2) Having a character over-narrate, revealing the importance of something before its time.

3) Back-story that’s dumped in huge chunks that aren’t naturally flowing from the story.

Got any tips for cutting telling out of narration?

A to Z Challenge: String Theory


No matter how we write, at some point, we will have a completed draft that will require revisions and edits. Multiple rounds.

And this is where string theory comes in (and yes, I know it’s not the same as its use in physics). It’s incredible how much everything in a draft is connected

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So, if you change something in the story, it might have an immense impact on the rest of what you’ve written. Or maybe it’s just in my writing, but everything I write down either directly or indirectly means something later. Because of that, when you need to add something in, I strongly suggest that you put a lot of thought into how far that string goes. Otherwise, the reader might be pulled out of the story for one of hundreds of reasons, depending on the nature of the string.

Conversely, if you take something out, you need to make dead certain that every sign of its existence is removed from the story. For example, if you take a character (let’s call him Jim) out. Anything that Jim did has to be removed or reassigned to other characters. And every sign of the remaining characters ever being aware of Jim’s existence has to be taken away.

And removing things that characters did can really weaken the plot, so tread carefully. Don’t assume that one round of edits will be enough. Changing things to the plot after rewrites are done can have a huge impact.

I was still finding loosened strings five edit rounds after I added things or took them away.

So keep an eye out for strings that came loose because of previous editing rounds….

Look Out for These:

1) Names of characters no longer existing in the story being mentioned.

2) Orphan chapters. Chapters that no longer connect fully to the plot because of changes you made.

3) Plot holes forming because you took the explanation away.  

Do you keep track of the strings of your story as you edit? How do you do it?

A to Z Challenge: Raising Stakes

On N-day, I mentioned that raising the stakes make a huge difference to the middle of a book, but that I’d do another post about it. Well, today is that day.

Stakes make a difference, because stakes keep the tension in a story as tight as you want it to be.

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Think of it as a poker game. The more you put into the pot, the greater your stake will be in winning the game. It becomes more important to you. If you put $500 into the pot,  the game will be really tense, but not as tense as putting $50000 in. And DEFINITELY not as tense as putting in the last $50000 that you own. The first is pretty big situation, the second bigger. The last is life changing.

Ideally speaking, you want the story to start as the poker players (your characters) are about to start playing. And then, with every game, they increase their bets, increasing their stakes in each game (chapter). If you really want to get things tense, you can lock each player in and let someone else (the bad character, perhaps?) increase the bets for them.

The reason why I say this is ideal is because the reader gets to know the character before all hell breaks loose. So they know who the character is. Then as the stakes increase, we get to know them better. We learn to care about them and how they react to challenges. And then just as the reader gets to the middle and thinks the character can’t take more, that final $50000 game starts. The life changer. The one that will ultimately change that character – for better or worse – forever. That’s good reading.

Sometimes, though, the poker game is longer than others. For example in a series, there might be a few big rounds towards the end of each book. Rounds so big that the reader thinks that it’s the life changer. But the real life changer will occur in the last book. Otherwise, why would the reader bother sitting through the stories after that?

So, if your middle is sagging, odds are that it’s because none of your characters are making any bets. There’s nothing happening to make the reader worry about what the character stands to lose. And that’s a huge problem when your story is about to go towards the climax. After all, the climax is about where the character wins or loses the most.

Make sure that the reader can sense what’s at stake. You don’t need to spell it out. Just make it big enough to spot. Hint at the possible results of failure. And of success. And above all, give them a feeling of the odds.

And then for maximum tension: In the life changing round of the poker game that is your character’s story, force them to go for the royal flush.

Look Out for These:

1) Middle sagging because you either put the stakes too high too early, or didn’t raise the stakes.

2) Undefined stakes.

3) CPs and betas doubting why they should be caring.

What’s your approach to stakes in a story?

A to Z Challenge: Quarrels and High Emotions

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Stories without changes in emotion really feel bland and monotonous when you’re forced to read through it.

And nothing spices up reading like a scene with tension and high emotions between characters. It just makes things more interesting.

BUT if done wrong, a tense scene can really annoy the reader.

The best way to create a tense scene the wrong way: contriving the tension. If the characters are screaming/punching each other for a stupid reason, the reader will not be amused. There’s one good way to describe a scene like that: Melodramatic. Another way to describe it: a terrible waste of perfectly good paper and ink.

So if you read through your work and find that the characters’ reactions are out of proportion to what they should be, it’s time to tone it down.

Look Out for These:

1) Arguments about something insignificant, that amounts to the main conflict of the story.

2) Reactions out of proportion to what it should be.

3) Characters arguing with each other when everything points to the fact that they should get along. EXCEPT if there’s a good reason.

How do you catch melodramatic moments?

A to Z Challenge: Plot-Holes

Has this ever happened to you? You’re done. Finally. All those months spent writing and rewriting a story. You even took a month off, living off your finishing-high so that you get distance from the story. Today is the day you do a fast read on the story you (!!!) wrote. At first a few cringe-worthy phrases, cliches and repetitions stand out. And there’s a niggle. A tiny little crack.

But as you read, it grows and grows until it looks something like this:

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And then you realize that you have a gaping plot-hole in your story.

Yeah, that’s happened to me. It. Sucks.

I went into fix it mode, but nothing I thought of worked to fill the hole. There was aways something that defied solution. Something that I knew could potentially become another huge hole if I let it be long enough. After all, four books make more than enough opportunity for it to grow.

I panicked for a while and then sat down, realizing one thing. If I thought of the story that it exists in, the solution had to exist as well. And probably in such a way that it would come from the story. Knowing that, and that I’d never find it since I had no clue as to what the solution looked like, I finished reading Doorways and left it alone for another two weeks. What else could I do? The whole story hinged on the existence of a solution.

And you know what? I was waiting for a movie to start when the solution occurred to me. It was simple. So much so that I challenge any reader to find it one day, because it’s so tiny that you’ll never notice it’s there. It fit. Perfectly.

So if you do have the misfortune of finding a plot-hole in the story, here are some steps to follow.

1) BREATHE! It’s not the end of the world. Nor is it remotely close to being the end of your project.

2) Remember that you got this far with your story. So if the plot-hole is in it, your solution is as well. You just don’t know it yet. Yes I know what a pantser-y trick this is, but it really works. Why? Because it opens your mind to out-of-the-box possibilities. You’re not limiting yourself to thinking of the obvious. You’re exposing yourself to genius.

3) Do something else.

4) Keep doing something else until your mind goes: A HAH! or whatever it does when it gets a brilliant flash of inspiration.

5) Fit the solution to the hole.

6)
a) If it fits, celebrate and revise to blend it into the story.
b) If it doesn’t, go back to step one and do it again.

Do NOT try to cram something that you contrived into the hole. It won’t fit, so it will take a lot more work to camouflage it from a reader. And you know the thing about camouflage? A trained eye will still see it.

Look Out for These:

1) When you ask how/why/when/where to anything and you don’t know because the answer doesn’t exist. As supposed to how/why/when/where answers you don’t know because you haven’t explored them yet.

2) Anything you glossed over in the drafts – not wanting to think about it right at that moment – that accidentally grew to incredible importance as you wrote.

3) How/when/why/where questions whose answers are negated by an edit you did, but can’t undo because of more important reasons. See S-day’s post to see what I mean.

What do you do when you discover a plot hole?