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Writing Right: The Blog

RETAINING YOUR NOVEL'S ESSENCE

Can a person make revisions to a novel without destroying its essence? That's a question someone asked online recently, and the answers were eye-opening. I mean, they were horrible, if not outright harmful. Here's how I responded to the writer:

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I'm constantly amazed at the bad, offtrack, and irrelevant information people disguise as responses to serious questions. Contrary to what one respondent wrote ("Don't give editing a lesser weight in your efforts than the writing"), you didn't ask that nor did you imply that's what you intended to do. And, it's absurd that he said you can't revise a novel without changing its essence. I know it's tough to use such big words correctly, but that's what dictionaries are for, and he should buy one.

 

Ditto to another respondent who advised you, "The whole purpose of revising a novel is it isn't working as it is. If your novel isn't working, revising the essence of it may be exactly what you need to do." In addition to being at least partly erroneous, I don't see how that answers your question at all.

 

A third respondent, talking about art school and "one shot" prints, missed the mark by a country mile.

 

Here's the real deal: Read More 

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SETTING YOUR NOVEL "RESPONSIBLY"

A writer grappling with how to write a novel responsibly while placing it in Incan/Mayan lands received a suggestion from a "College/University" respondent to travel there to research the locality personally. My advice to the stymied author?

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Wow, leave it to a person whose credentials for answering a serious question are "attended some College/University." That's the person I'd want giving my friends and loved ones such life-altering advice as "travel to Mayan/Incan land" where you can learn firsthand how to write ethically while "thriving in context." You know, I have a piece of advice of my own for Mr. College/University: Go back to school and learn how to think things through practically.

 

The truth here is twofold. First, as for ethics, approach your subject ethically by being aware that we're all real human beings, some of whom are fortunate enough to be citizens of the United States of the Real World. In other words, don't worry about being politically correct. Do worry about portraying people and their cultures without bias. Treat all people equally, both in your writing and in your life, no matter what their culture is, and you're sure to be a winner. Don't talk down; write up!

 

Second, as for your book thriving in context, do some research. Travel there if Mr. College/University will pick up the tab. That's assuming you're not averse to the gangland murders and cartel mayhem spreading throughout the land. (Wow, good choice--Mexico!) Otherwise, listen up, because I have an alternative. It's called research.

 

Don't know how to research? Then either 1.) learn or 2.) set your fantasy culture in Detroit or Pittsburgh or someplace with which you're more familiar. Read More 

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SAVING YOUR BOOK'S LIFE

When I began writing five decades ago, I found editing my own work a painfully difficult experience. I agonized over what to change and why, mostly because I didn't know a dangling particple from a split infinitive. After taking a few college journalism courses, I picked up a book on etymology and studied several classic works on how to write better. I began stringing for a local newspaper before landing an entry-level job as an editorial assistant for a national magazine. And, do you know what? Editing suddenly got easier.

 

Thank goodness, too, because even the most poorly written books can be improved with effective editing. Unfortunately, not all editing is "effective."

 

A case in point: I wrote a nearly perfect book a few years ago. No surprise. I'm a perfectionist. I've worked as a professional editor for most of my life; I've taught analytic grammar and creative writing workshop at the college level, and I ghostwrite, book-doctor, and edit for other authors. And, I'm a perfectionist. (I know, I know. I just wanted to hear it again).

 

My publisher assigned my manuscript to an editor who introduced herself in an e-mail. Not having worked with her before, I told her I was looking forward to any substantive suggestions she might make but that I didn't want her editing my work to change the book's voice or style to meet her own literary preconceptions and preferences. She said she understood. Read More 

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AFRAID OF BEING BOXED IN?

As far as the public is concerned, neither one will box you in. So, by all means, start with the memoir. It will give you a solid financial base, a cushion to fall back on when future novel sales slow to a trickle, and name recognition. All this is assuming that "Kari" is a pen name and that the real byline you're going to use rhymes with Odell Ohama. If that's true, then you can't miss!

 

Seriously, memoirs sell poorly. Period. That's the sad reality of it all. Unless you have a HUGE name and are actually in the news cycle every night, a recognizable name alone won't pull its weight, as most publishers have learned. The name has to belong to someone interesting, lovable (forget it, I'm not in the running), controversial, and responsible for important breaking news on a nearly daily basis. Anyone else, and you won't find a publisher within this universe who will take a chance on it.

 

Since I'm guessing that your goal is most likely to begin writing more "fiction novels" (please do me a favor and research "novels," "fiction," and why all novels are fiction whether or not you specify so), why not go for that from the start? Read More 

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NOVEL COLLABORATION

If you've been thinking about collaborating with someone on writing a novel, think again. Here's why.

 

First, collaborating means coordinating, and that's a step you wouldn't need to take if writing solo. It's not easy to get two different people to work together on any project, let alone a conventionally solitary one such as writing a novel.

 

Second, collaborating can be a prolonged and tedious job. The chapter that you might have pounded out yourself in a day or two could take a week or more when working with someone else.

 

Third, what you may view as some of your best work won't end up in the book—not, at least, if your collaborator strongly disagrees with your judgment. That could lead to hurt feelings and disappointment. Read More 

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