Before You Submit: Tighten Your Sentences

Do you have a draft of your novel or short story and are thinking of submitting to an agent, publisher or writing contest? My series called Before You Submit might help. This series contains hints and tips I’ve received from professionals in the publishing industry. Each week I’ll share a new tip.

This week I’ll write about Sentence Tightening.

The sentence I’d written in my manuscript was:

A dense wooded area lined both sides of the ski run.

The editor changed the sentence to:

Dense woods lined both sides of the ski run.

The meaning is the same, but of course, uses fewer words. This type of change must be done carefully. In Before You Submit: Sentence Length I wrote about varying sentence lengths. Your change has to be made in context with the sentences around it. You want to ensure your writing still flows.

Just to illustrate at little more, the second sentence to be changed was:

The roar of the avalanche swallowed a scream that escaped from his lips.

The editor suggested the following:

The roar of the avalanche swallowed his scream.

Of course it’s his scream, and where would it come from but his lips? The first sentence didn’t even make sense, and now it uses fewer words.

See Before You Submit:Likeable Characters for the first blog in this series and an introduction the benefits of submitting even if you get a rejection letter.

I hope this helps improve your writing.

Thanks for reading . . .

 

Before You Submit: Questions in Dialogue

Do you have a draft of your novel or short story and are thinking of submitting to an agent, publisher or writing contest? My series called Before You Submit might help. This series contains hints and tips I’ve received from professionals in the publishing industry. Each week I’ll share a new tip.

This week’s topic is Questions Within Dialogue Tags.

The advice:

Don’t end a sentence containing a question within dialogue with said. Use asked. A kind editor pointed out this easy fix to me. For example:

“He’s blaming me?” Kendra said

Should be

“He’s blaming me?” Kendra asked.

I hope this helps improve your writing.

See Before You Submit:Likeable Characters for the first blog in this series and an introduction the benefits of submitting even if you get a rejection letter.

Thanks for reading . . .

Before You Submit: Time Qualifiers

Do you have a draft of your novel or short story and are thinking of submitting to an agent, publisher or writing contest? My series called Before You Submit might help. This series contains hints and tips I’ve received from professionals in the publishing industry. Each week I’ll share a new tip.

This week I’ll write about Time Qualifiers.

The question is: do you need a time qualifier or not? You might want to use a qualifier for style, but you might not need it for clarity. The choice is up to you. I’m only giving you something to think about.

The following sentence includes the time qualifier, At that moment.

At that moment, Kendra heard rustling in the bunk above her. A pair of bloodshot eyes appeared over the edge of the mattress and peered at her.

Of course, this is happening at the moment. When else would it be happening? The easy fix . . .

Kendra heard rustling in the bunk above her. A pair of bloodshot eyes appeared over the edge of the mattress and peered at her.

In the example, I think the writing is faster and more interesting without the qualifier, so I chose to remove the first three words. Of course, I can’t take credit for the change. The editor suggested tightening the sentence and I agreed.

I hope this helps improve your writing.

See Before You Submit:Likeable Characters for the first blog in this series and an introduction the benefits of submitting even if you get a rejection letter.

Thanks for reading . . .

 

Before You Submit: Job Titles

Do you have a draft of your novel or short story and are thinking of submitting to an agent, publisher or writing contest? My series called Before You Submit might help. This series contains hints and tips I’ve received from professionals in the publishing industry. Each week I’ll share a new tip.

This week I’ll write about Capitalizing Job Titles.

Until a professional edited my work, I hadn’t thought about job titles and whether I should capitalize them or not.

An editor corrected a sentence by changing the first letter of a job title to lower case. Hmm? I used my handy Chicago Manual of Style to check the rule. It’s hard to know what to check if you don’t even know you should check something. This is where an editor comes in.

The rules for capitalizing job titles (and this is me summarizing so check a grammar manual for details):

If the job title is part of the name, then use a capital.

President Stanley likes grammar rules.

I decided I should be the president in this example 🙂

If ‘the’ is written before the job title or the job title follows the person’s name, then don’t use a capital.

Ms. Stanley, the president, likes grammar rules.

It’s not a hard rule. Job titles are sometimes capitalized for style or emphasis within an organization, and so we get used the look even though it’s incorrect. All I needed was an editor to point out my error, and I’ll never make it again. I can dream, can’t I?

I hope this helps improve your writing.

See Before You Submit:Likeable Characters for the first blog in this series and an introduction the benefits of submitting even if you get a rejection letter.

Thanks for reading . .

 

Before You Submit: Sentence Length

Do you have a draft of your novel or short story and are thinking of submitting to an agent, publisher or writing contest? My series called Before You Submit might help. This series contains hints and tips I’ve received from professionals in the publishing industry. Each week I’ll share a new tip.

This week I’ll write about Sentence Length.

My editor wrote: Simple declarative sentences are powerful but tend to lose power if repeated too often.  If all your sentences are the same length, the writing can come across as dull, and I’m going to guess none of us want to create a dull novel.

There are software programs that provide a graph of your sentence lengths. Autocrit and ProWritingAid are two of them. I haven’t reviewed either product fully, so this is not a product plug. If you don’t want to use another software program, you can take a section of your text, hit return after each sentence and “see” the sentence lengths on the page. This will give you an idea if you vary your sentence lengths.

If the text is shaped like a rectangle, your sentence lengths are too similar.

If all your sentences are short, try joining two sentences with a conjunction making a longer sentence. You can leave in or take our the subject if the subject is the same in both original sentences. This is a subjective choice. Just make sure you get the comma right.

If all your sentences are long, try breaking a sentence into two or even three sentences.

I hope this helps improve your writing.

See Before You Submit:Likeable Characters for the first blog in this series and an introduction the benefits of submitting even if you get a rejection letter.

Thanks for reading . . .

Before You Submit: Dialogue Tags

Do you have a draft of your novel or short story and are thinking of submitting to an agent, publisher or writing contest? My series called Before You Submit might help. This series contains hints and tips I’ve received from professionals in the publishing industry. Each week I’ll share a new tip.

This week I’ll write about dialogue tags.

Are you using too many dialogue tags? Does he said/she said sound repetitive? Here’s a tip on how to reduce the number of tags you are using.

Try using a character’s action to indicate who’s speaking. The following sentence uses a dialogue tag: Kendra said.

“You dropped this,” Kendra said. She held a crumpled piece of paper in her outstretched hand.

The editor recommended I rewrite the sentence as follows:

Kendra held a crumpled piece of paper in her outstretched hand. “You dropped this.” 

By  moving the character action to the beginning of the sentence, it’s clear Kendra is speaking. There is no need for the dialogue tag. When you remove a dialogue tag, you must update the punctuation. Don’t forget to change the comma to a period inside the dialogue quotes.

I hope this helps improve your writing.

See Before You Submit:Likeable Characters for the first blog in this series and an introduction the benefits of submitting even if you get a rejection letter.

Thanks for reading . . .

Before You Submit: Hyphenated Adjectives

Do you have a draft of your novel or short story and are thinking of submitting to an agent, publisher or writing contest? My series called Before You Submit might help. This series contains hints and tips I’ve received from professionals in the publishing industry. Each week I’ll share a new tip.

This week I’ll write about Hyphenated Adjectives.

If you’ve been reading Before You Submit, you’ll know I love getting feedback from an editor. Some of the tips I’m presenting are from the  early days of my writing career, and I’m almost embarrassed to admit I made these mistakes. I say almost, because we all have to learn, and not all of us remember everything we learned in grade school.

The editor corrected the following sentence:

Young people living in a dorm type facility . . .

to:

Young people living in a dorm-type facility . . .

Instead of trying to describe the nuances around hyphenated adjectives, I’m going to refer you to Grammar Girl for an explanation. If you don’t know about Grammar Girl, it’s an excellent site to look up grammar rules. The hyphen is a tiny mark on the page, but one that will show an acquiring editor you are serious about your trade if you get it right, or you have homework to do if you get it wrong. The lack of a hyphen when you need one could throw your novel back into the slush pile, especially if it’s on the first page.

I hope this helps improve your writing.

See Before You Submit:Likeable Characters for the first blog in this series and an introduction the benefits of submitting even if you get a rejection letter.

Thanks for reading . . .

Before You Submit: Point of View Goal

Do you have a draft of your novel or short story and are thinking of submitting to an agent, publisher or writing contest? My series called Before You Submit might help. The series contains hints and tips I’ve learned from professionals in the publishing industry that I’d like to share.

See Before You Submit:Likeable Characters for the first blog in this series and an introduction the benefits of submitting even if you get a rejection letter.

This week I’ll give you questions to ask yourself for each scene in your novel when you are thinking about your Point of View (POV) character. The POV may be the same throughout the novel, change per scene, or change within a scene. However you structure your novel, the following questions can help ensure you POV character is active and interesting.

  1. What is the goal of the scene POV?
  2. What hinders the goal?
  3. How is the goal important to the overall story?
  4. How does the goal move the story forward?
  5. What happens if the POV character doesn’t succeed?
By answering the questions you might surprise yourself and come up with new ideas for your plot. You may find areas where you can deepen the character, intensify the action, or dare I say it, cut a scene.
 
Thanks for reading . . .

Before You Submit: Scene Opening and Closing

Do you have a draft of your novel or short story and are thinking of submitting to an agent, publisher or writing contest? My series called Before You Submit might help. The series contains hints and tips I’ve learned from professionals in the publishing industry that I’d like to share.

See Before You Submit:Likeable Characters for the first blog in this series and an introduction the benefits of submitting even if you get a rejection letter.

This week I’ll write about how to start and end scenes throughout a novel without being monotonous.

Sometimes it’s easy to get into a habit and open or close scenes in the same manner.

A dramatic line of dialogue is a great way to hook the reader and keep them reading. But what if you do this every scene? The dramatic tension will decrease. The same goes for other ways to start a scene.

Here are your options for opening and closing a scene.

  1. Dialogue
  2. Narrative
  3. Action
  4. Thought

When you are reviewing your manuscript prior to submitting, make a list of how you enter and exit scenes. I do this in excel so I can graph how many scenes start or finish in each way. The result gives me an idea of whether I’ve used one technique to often or not.

Entering and exiting scenes in a balanced and thought out approach will make your writing more interesting and keep the dramatic tension flowing.

If you have any tips on entering and exiting scenes, please share.

Thanks for reading . . .