I don’t see that I need to expound on John Scalzi’s post at all.
I don’t see that I need to expound on John Scalzi’s post at all.
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getting your reader into your character’s head
A fellow writer asked recently how to get deeper into your character’s point of view.
As I answered the query, I thought, why not share this in my column?
One thing many writers do is inadvertently distance their readers from their characters while striving to get their readers closer. They don’t realize they’re shooting themselves in the foot. And here’s one of the main ways they do it: thought tags.
Thought tags are just that. Tags used to mark a character’s thoughts: he realized, she thought, he supposed.
He realized it was getting late.
He blinked at the sun. It was getting late.
Also, such things as ‘she heard’ and ‘he saw’ often fall into this category.
Her gaze swept the room and she saw her bracelet on the floor by the fireplace.
Her gaze swept the room, ah, there was her bracelet – on the floor by the fireplace.
If we’re in that character’s POV, why do we need all the tags to remind the reader? Use them sparingly, because they do distance the reader from the character.
originally published in The Sword Review 2007-05-26
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how this editor does what she does
Yes, me speaking as an editor again. Is this getting old? You tell me. But it says something that despite the writing I’m doing (yes, I’m writing and being editor – I gave up sleeping), the things that are hitting me come from the editorial side.
To the point: I came across some interesting remarks lately about submissions editors and the rejection process, questioning how it was done.
I can’t speak for all, but I will give a few insights into how I handle a story.
First I look at any info in the cover letter. Name, title and size of story, teaser, previous stories published. This, hopefully, gives me some indication about the story and author. Or not.
Then I look at the story itself.
I’ve nagged about this before, but the first thing I do is look at the formatting of the story. Am I anal? Yes. But besides the fact that formatting a document with one-inch margins (what is it with the 1.25″ margins – doesn’t anyone know what one-inch margins all around means?), standard font, double-spaced, et al, makes it easier for my poor, old (literally, I’m old, folks – a grandmother) eyes to read, when I see a submission properly formatted, then I have a good first impression. Why, you ask? Glad you did: it shows the author pays attention and can follow directions.
Next I start to read. Do I read each submission all the way through?
Depends. I’ve been a submissions editor on three different zines now, and I don’t force myself to keep reading – if the story doesn’t catch my attention in the first page or two, I close it and mark it off, whether from bad writing, hokey dialogue, plot – or perhaps what plot, or when-does-the-infodump-stop-and-the-story-start. When that submission queue gets long, believe me, you aren’t going to waste your time with a story that doesn’t hook you. And if you don’t believe that, then go back to Fiction Writing 101 and look up The Hook. So, no. I don’t necessarily read the whole thing.
When I do read it all the way through, I go by my gut impression as a reader. Now, I admit, I’m not a reviewer type, or a ‘true’ editor. I can’t go into a story and say, ‘This smacks of the irony of Author B, and has a quaint feel of Author K.’ Or launch into some grand dissection of the use of theme or this or that. Sorry. I’m not cerebral enough. I go by my stomach and my spine. Does the story make me yawn, or make me feel ill, or make me roll my eyes, or does it make my spine straighten with a ‘Wow!’ reflex that makes me want to read the story again?
If the last, then the process is done, I put in my vote to buy. But if not, then I have to analyze my impression, try to figure out the ‘why?’ Sometimes I do. I can go back and see the characters were flat, or the plot was clichéd, or that the writing was too flawed even though the story was decent (probably ask for a rewrite on that one). Sometimes I can’t put a finger on it. The story just doesn’t work for me.
And that’s how I work as a submissions editor. I hope it might help writers just a bit to know how at least one editor approaches submissions. Others may do things differently, and I’d love to see feedback from other editors on the Sword Review Forums.
originally published in The Sword Review 2006-11-02
let’s get active
In my last column, I discussed Passive Voice.
This time, we’re going to review what some writers call “Passive Writing.”
“Passive Writing” can include passive voice, but sometimes when fiction writers refer to “Passive Writing,” they’re not talking about active voice vs. passive voice sentences. They’re talking about showing not telling.
The verb to be is often involved in telling sentences:
it is, it was
he is, he was, she is, she was
there is, there are, there was, there were
this is, this was, that is, that was
This is also where some writers growl at the to be plus -ing construction, marking it as Bad or Wrong. (Sometimes it is, sometimes not. Read Past Verb Tenses to find out more.)
Words like ‘started to’ and ‘began to’ are often culprits as well.
Look for all these in your writing. Be aware of them, and use them limitedly, correctly, and wisely.
Let’s give an example of telling vs. showing:
She was afraid to walk down the hallway.
She swallowed, her heart pounding, as she gazed down the hallway, her feet frozen to the floor.
Okay, time for some fun. I’m going to list some telling sentences:
It was a dark and stormy night.
She was scared.
The sun was bright.
It was raining.
He began to cry.
There was a strange noise.
She started to walk away.
This was a sad day.
Now, take one or more of the sentences above, rewrite it, and, if you’re brave, post it in the Cutting Edge Forum on The Sword Review.*
Granted, not every sentence, every scene in a story needs to be shown, minor points can be glossed over to keep action moving toward a goal, but know and choose to tell consciously and purposefully.
* since those forums are no longer in existence, if you wish to do the above exercise, you could post it as a comment below.
originally published in The Sword Review 2007-02-14
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