As a writing instructor and coach, I deal with manuscripts that may have received passes by agents, or are too long, or don’t seem to have a “voice” yet. As a writer, too, I often over-write by 10,000 to 20,000 words in search of my novel’s story. (My cozy mystery/romance manuscripts need to stay around 80-90,000 words.) Cutting 20,000 words is about 66 pages! (Using 300 words/page/12-point Times New Roman.)
To Polish Voice and Trim…Look at 1) Scene Hooks and 2) Clutter.
After your manuscript is done (or while writing Draft 1!), outline your scene hooks. Write the nugget of the hook on a single line of ruled paper, or highlight things on your screen. Find where momentum kicks in for each scene. Look for the spot where the character commits to their goal. How far into the scene do you find it? First line? Or two pages in? Circle those pages for possible condensing later.
Move on in this task…
You may have an action start for a scene. Good, but do you mess up the hook with too much info dumping or character thoughts interrupting the action? Too many usages of “said” and adverbs embellishing the action? Mark that area. Later, you’ll cut or move some or all interruptions into what’s called a “summary” area after an exciting stretch of action occurs.
Look for repetition or “reminders” of what occurred in a previous chapter. Sometimes a reminder is necessary, but overall, readers don’t forget as much as you fear. Keep going through the manuscript making your scene list. Once done, go back and challenge yourself to a few cuts or rearrangements of information.
Cut clutter. This is a fun exercise for a group to do. Bring the word counts to your next meeting or lunch and compare. Cutting clutter improves “voice” in an instant. Cut clutter even if your word count is good.
It’s typical for writers to remove 5,000 clutter words in a 300-page manuscript!
A recent client removed 7,000 words. That’s removing 20 or more pages of waste. Editors and readers don’t want to buy 20 meaningless pages, and agents know that, too. Tote up what you have for each word in the list below. Remove 80 percent. You may need 20 percent to retain or create the voice you want or to impart clear information.
But (Too often used to start sentences.)
And (Look for too many compound sentences stacking up on a page. (Also look for too many sentences starting with “And.”)
Common Clutter Words to Cut Easily:
Said (and substitutes)
Christine DeSmet is a founding member of WisRWA, a past Golden Heart finalist and winner, and the author of several novellas and mystery novels with romance. She also writes screenplays. Book 4 in her Fudge Shop Mystery Series set in Door County, Deadly Fudge Divas, is forthcoming this winter. She teaches novel master classes and online courses at University of Wisconsin-Madison Continuing Studies. firstname.lastname@example.org
Congratulations to the following WisRWA members on their new releases this month.
When the Dead People Brought a Dish-to-Pass by Christine DeSmet
Red River Crossing by Maxine Douglas
Movie directors and cinematographers work with Image Systems to deliver a story and character that entertain and offer meaning.
For those of us writing novels, creative nonfiction, memoir, and short stories, working with an “image system” can “deepen” or improve crucial aspects such as Point of View, characterization, momentum, and theme. Some writers also use an image system as a plotting tool.
Image System tip 2: Create better and more accurate distance and visual perspectives, as well as sound and smell perspectives.
Image System tip 3: Contrasting textures signal emotions.
Image System tip 4: Interior versus exterior—create momentum.
Image system tip 5: Objects matter in every story and help you sell.
Christine DeSmet is a writing coach and instructor with University of Wisconsin-Madison Continuing Studies. She also teaches an online course in novel writing. A past Golden Heart winner and finalist (3 times), her books include three in the Fudge Shop Mystery Series (Penguin Random House) set in Door County, Wis., and the re-issued light romantic mystery novellas When Rudolph Was Kidnapped and Misbehavin’ in Moonstone (Writers Exchange Publishing).
Each month, WisRWA will announce the new books our members have published. We call it New Release Tuesday.
Congratulations to the following WisRWA members on their new releases this month.
A Christmas Kind of Perfect by Christine Schimpf
A Touchdown to Remember by Seelie Kay
The Wrong Groom by Maggie Rivers
Z-Bot by S.C. Mitchell
Mrs. Claus and the Moonstone Murder by Christine DeSmet
Rich information for writers, rich food and experiences–that’s what Bouchercon was about in New Orleans, September 15-18, held at the Marriott Hotel on Canal Street in the French Quarter. This is the same hotel where RWA held a conference several years ago.
Bouchercon is what everybody calls the Boucher conference, the worldwide event sponsored by Mystery Writers of America.
About 1,800 or more authors, new writers, and reader fans attend every year, including many authors of romantic suspense and romantic mysteries, including me. I have to admit it made my conference when a fan tracked me down in the book sales room to get an autograph. Then in a panel workshop, I sat next to a fan of fudge from Minnesota, so we had a nice chat, too.
What I love about Bouchercon is the easy access you have with famous authors (not me yet!), publishers, and reader fans. Everybody mills about in the casual break room, or book rooms (sales and freebies) and autographing areas, hallways, and hotel lobby. I had breakfast, for example, with this year’s guest of honor Harlan Coben. He sat down at the open chair at my table. (He fuels his writing of suspense and thrillers with fruit, mini-quiches, juice and coffee.)
During the conference Harlan shared a lot of wisdom. The just-published Home is his 30th novel. Harlan didn’t get on the bestseller list until his 10th book.
“Don’t get caught up in marketing. Your sales are gonna suck until they don’t.”
You’re also not going to get rich at first. He received a $5,000 advance for his first book, and by the fourth book he received a whopping increase to $6,000.
How do you know when your book is ready to send out? “You don’t. Your kid [your book] will get knocked. You learn through experience when it’s ready to go.”
He also said, “You can’t fix no pages; you can only fix bad pages.” In other words, write, write, write and then revise.
Do less research. Researching delays the writing. It also avoids allowing you to use your imagination.
“Believe it’s your best book yet or don’t write it,” he told the crowd.
He also doesn’t tell people what he’s working on. “Save that energy and use it to write and finish that book.”
Coben is currently working on two TV series’ deals in Europe, one of which will likely end up on Netflix in the United States soon.
One of the delights of this conference was going to the annual Sisters in Crime breakfast on the 41st floor, in the River Room, at 7:30 in the morning. Champagne flowed for several toasts.
I highly recommend Sisters in Crime and its Wisconsin group if you’re writing romantic mysteries or romantic suspense. The information you receive via emails is astoundingly good. Celebrating 30 years, Sisters in Crime is a support group leading the cause on issues such as more and better reviews for books by women writers and more diversity within the publishing industry.
At the breakfast, you sit down next to great authors–and fun coincidences sometimes. At my table, I introduced myself to Brad Smith–who turned out to be the husband of Nancy Raven Smith. She was a script finalist over 15 years ago when Peggy Williams and I won the Slamdance Film Festival. We hadn’t been in contact since then. Brad and Nancy and their daughter Lynn–all of them at my table–have written a new comedy memoir together called The Reluctant Farmer of Whimsey Hill. I grew up on a farm and had picked up “Bradford Smith’s” delightful bookmark by chance prior to Saturday, not knowing who he was, or knowing I’d be sitting next to him and Nancy at the breakfast.
Nancy also got her time in the limelight with Harlan Coben at one of the Mardi Gras-themed parties during Bouchercon, one of which was hosted by Heather Graham. She’s familiar to us in RWA for historical romances and over 100 novels of every kind it seems. Heather moderated the final panel on Sunday.
Some other tips from the many panels over the four days:
Humor–push it further. If you’re subtle, the reader won’t get it. Let the editor decide how far to take it.
What makes a novel cinematic and worth selling to a TV or movie production company? It has to have a “rich stew” including rich emotions, surprise potential in the scenes, and universal themes that speak to audiences.
Create more characters who might be in a wheelchair, or struggling with PTSD or autism, or other things. In general, don’t call the character “disabled.” Focus on how they’re living and coping and taking action.
Editors are looking for more multi-cultural diversity in stories and characters.
In YA books, avoid specific social media references because they change too fast. YA books have to feel current.
New forms of novels are more acceptable now, such as using a prose poem as the format for a crime novel.
On the issue of professional jealousy, Harlan Coben said, “No one has to fail so you can succeed. We’re all in this boat together.”
When you don’t have an outline, how do you start your novel? Ask “Why?” That’s the key question to push plot. Why are they where they are and why now? Start the page there.
Think only one page at a time. Otherwise, it’s too terrifying to think of 300 pages.
What makes a good book? It’s entertaining; has a main character with “voice”; and has a truth in it.
Besides the conference, Bob and I did sightseeing and ate our way around the French Quarter and on the waterfront. For those traveling to New Orleans for literary events or vacation, absolutely do not miss the World War II museum, which is one of the best museums in the country. This was our second visit to that museum and it seemed even more important to us than last time, considering the state of our world. There’s also a great narrated paddle-wheeler ride on the Mississippi, a terrific New Orleans history museum at Jackson Square in the French Quarter not to be missed, wonderful music down on Frenchmen Street, and of course we found a Packer Bar (The Irish Pub) on Decatur Street. Try the Hilton’s bar near the waterfront and convention center for happy hour; it has the best free munchies plus some say the best grilled seafood starters. We agreed!
There are endless restaurants and shops. And don’t miss the beignets at the popular Café du Monde near Jackson Square. There’s always a local band adding to the flavor of the warm, savory powdered-sugar treats.
Everything is within walking distance if you stay near the French Quarter. We stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott just two blocks from the Marriott. It was a quiet, sleek, contemporary and friendly place for much less dough. We didn’t rent a car this time and instead relied on the streetcars, which are cheap at $3 for hopping on and off all day.
The next Bouchercon is October 12-15, 2017 in Toronto. If you want to be on a panel, moderate, or volunteer in any way, get your ideas and registration in early. Also book hotel space early. This conference fills fast.
by WisRWA member Christine DeSmet
Christine DeSmet is a past RWA Golden Heart winner and finalist (3 times), and Golden Pen winner with her romantic suspense, Spirit Lake. She’s the author of the Fudge Shop Mystery series set in Door County, Wisconsin, and has a new mystery series being marketed by her agent. Christine just sold the rights to her 9 “Mischief in Moonstone” romantic mystery short stories set in Wisconsin to Writers-Exchange Publishing; those are forthcoming in late fall or winter. Christine teaches novel writing and screenwriting at University of Wisconsin-Madison Continuing Studies. (email@example.com)