Content Edit 101

Ever thought about going back to school and getting a Masters in Creative Writing? I have, I just can’t do it at this point. Instead, I’m getting a crash course at the UAS (more on that in a moment). Consider the two week period of working on my content edit as a course on the subject offered by a Creative Writing University, and this was the FINAL EXAM. For your consideration:

20130620-192817.jpgNow that I’ve finished my first deadline-based content edit, I feel like a freshman after his first final; “dead week” is over and I feel just a bit “wasted” – and I don’t know if I flunked, passed, or maybe even got a good grade yet! I feel like I’ve just been through a very intense exam on the subject of my book, “South Pole Vendetta”. Here are my thoughts on the process.

My feelings about how I did on various parts of the exam I was asked to answer (addressed as essay questions on the test):

1. Question One: How well are you doing in creating a story that appeals to a vast number of readers?

You can learn a lot in a “lab-based class”. I’ve had a number of people critique my work, but getting the expectations of a “publisher-based” critique let me know that I have a lot to learn. Rather than just getting individual and biased feelings, emotions, and desires; I was getting what a professional wanted to make the book successful – so they’d be successful. I’m quite sure that the reason for these changes is to make the story as appealing as possible, so I trust that addressing those things will result in a better read.

My editor did a great job of explaining what I was lacking in the areas of POV, dialogue, character creation, and so forth. What I learned over the period of two short weeks was of great benefit. If I can remember what was wanted (it’s all written down, thankfully) my next story will be better to begin with as I make changes in my writing BEFORE the story goes to the editor.

2. Question Two: How advanced are you in the area of being a professional story-teller?

If I thought I was at the head of the class before, I feel like I’m at the back of the class now. There is so much to learn about this craft that you constantly feel a bit overwhelmed.

I could look at my story before the edit and say that it was very similar to a lot of books found on the shelves of libraries and bookstores, in the level and ability of the writing; I wouldn’t think there was more than a minor amount of differences. But, now, I find myself saying, “Most of those who are writing are going to be able to do it with a fairly high level of ability, it’s the five to ten percent difference that sets a piece apart. That small difference that speaks to professionalism.”

After finishing the edit I’m quite sure that my work is MUCH better than it was before, but I couldn’t see what I was missing until it was shown to me. Once I realized that there were several things not up to par, I could address them; but before that I couldn’t even change something I was unaware needed to be done.

3. Questions Three through (um) Ten?
There were some questions on the test that I know I got right. Yeah, I have the ability to be a writer. I may not be a senior, a junior, or even a sophomore – but I am in the University of Advanced Story-telling. The UAS has a ring to it, wouldn’t you agree?

My editor liked a lot of things I had done. I was told that I wrote about war quite well, my dialogue was basically pretty good, and I have a story that a lot of people are really going to enjoy. There were enough things in my story to interest Tate Publishing, so there are some people out there that want to read it.

So, what grade did I get?
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Let’s start with the questions I got right:
Story plotting – A (I think it’s a great idea; timely, intense, and exciting)
Dialogue – B (Got some good stuff going on, but I missed on some parts)

Questions that had some problems:
Character development – B (Main characters were good, but minor characters needed help)
POV – D (Big problem here. I was trying several different POV in the story, and didn’t do it well – now I have most of it in 3rd Person Limited, and some in 1st Person s the MC draws the reader into his thoughts and actions)

Overall grade: 95 – 85 – 85 – 70 divided by 4 = 83.75 (round up ‘just cause’) 84—C
I’m pretty sure I didn’t flunk, but I have plenty of room for improvement.

So, how about AFTER the edit? Using the same four scores 98 – 95 – 95 – 93 = 95.25—solid A
The indication of a good professor is the ability to assimilate knowledge (done), correct error (done), and encourage growth (done).

No doubt whatsoever, the class was well worth it. Now it’s time for Content Edit 201! We’ll see you in class next fall.

I don’t know if this is helpful or not, but I wanted to get some of my first reactions down before they fell into the abyss of my short memory. Content editing is so helpful, and an unbiased, outside voice is even better.

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Content Edit for “South Pole Vendetta” – Pressure’s on

Just want to let everyone know, I’m under a deadline to finish a content edit for “South Pole Vendetta”. More info to follow, as I have time. Thanks for your patience.

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The Value and Place of Critiques

or…

“What in the World is THAT All About?”

I would have to admit that I like to know what I’m doing, and for other people to know – or at least think – that I know.

I doubt if you struggle with that. Or maybe you do?

If that’s the case there’s a couple of things that have to be accomplished:
1. We have to have a working knowledge of the thing that we are supposed to be knowledgable about.
2. We have to make people believe that we know more than we actually do, in some situations.

Maybe that seems a little bit pessimistic, or a bit dramatic, but I think it’s probably more accurate than most of us care to admit. To do what we do, to try to make a life as a writer, we have to try to convince ourselves that we are at least somewhat expert in the whole area.

While you’re thinking about that, trying to digest whether you believe me or not; let me tell you a story.

I have the tremendous pleasure – most of the time it’s a pleasure – of teaching art to junior and senior high students at a local school. The joy of imparting even a little bit of knowledge to these young people is coupled with the opportunity of being around their infectious appreciation of life. In a word, I love working with young people.

The other day I sat across the table from a young exchange student who was working on a very impressive “Ironman” project. It combined paper mache’, acrylic paint, and lighting. The paper mache’ was done in such a way that Robert Downey Junior’s arm actually extended off the page.

I’m sure you’re incredibly impressed with this information, but that’s not what we really want to address. Later on the student had to perform a fairly simple procedure. What would have taken me about five minutes stretched to fifteen minutes or more; and this student has by no means a “do it on my own” personality.

Here’s the point we want to consider: When we believe we know what we’re doing, we have a tendency to develop a “blind spot” in areas we don’t have knowledge about!

Now, let’s go back to the idea of our desire to be “knowledgable” in the area of writing. We naturally will have a tendency to think that we have a handle on how to write. We just normally believe that our writing is superb until someone with more information lets us know that we’re wrong. Until someone points out a blind spot we will not know it’s there.

For that reason critiques become absolutely essential for every author, but especially for the pre-published writer. While every person who has done any writing needs to coontinue to address these blind spots, for the published author that has been partially accomplished by the company’s editors. Meanwhile, the self-published – or unpublished – writer will continue to have those same blind spots, and they may not be addressed. At that point, critiques become even MORE invaluable when self-publishing. If we don’t embrace a strong – even “harsh” – critique we will have a tendency to pass those blind spots on to the reader (a totally unacceptable practice if we desire to have that reader ever read anything else we publish).

So, the value of critiques cannot be overstated. But should we simply incorporate everything said about our writing into our work?

Time for another story…

Several months ago I submitted a small introduction to my upcoming book for critiquing to a very quality critique group. I received several very helpful responses, and one pretty painful one. This particular person proceeded to inform me that several ideas from the book had not been researched sufficiently. The words were along the line of “now you can see why research is so vital in one’s writing”.

This person, I think they had a desire to be helpful, had no idea that I had spent months researching the particular subject being addressed. I knew I was right, I just hadn’t included all of the information because I wanted the reader to discover many of the points this person had made as they read.

So, we have several points that must be considered as we critique our work:

1. Remember that the editor or one doing the critique is not omniscient. They should be willing to say that their information and ideas are limited. The truly professional people in this area always seem to make that statement, and the really good ones seem to be able to make you believe that the idea was really your idea to begin with.
2. Make sure that the one doing the critique is not trying to recreate your writing in their image. You have your own voice, and a critique should never destroy that. It seems to me that there is a tendency to see a particular approach, or audience, as the only one that matters in our current publishing environment. Just because 80% of readers are female doesn’t mean that all of those readers want only romances!
3. Play to your strengths while considering the possible improvements that an opposing voice can address. It sure seems that a particular author has plenty of room to write a work of staggering genius without that work having to fall within a certain parameter – it just has to be REALLY good.
4. Make sure that you end up feeling good about the story you have told.

So, there’s my beliefs on the matter of critiquing. Having said that you must understand that I am one month into the three month process of having my first book edited for publication. Check back in two months, these concepts may have changed greatly!

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A self-publishing diatribe

If I were to tell you that I have a doctorate in psychology would you believe me?

Yes or No?

If I were to go on to say that I have written – and self-published – a book on the psychology of pain, would you believe me?

Yes or No?

Regardless of your answer, my next question is a simple one — WHY DID YOU ANSWER THE WAY YOU DID?

What is there in anything you know about me that would give you reason to answer either positively or negatively about my being a doctor, or the chance that I have written a book on pain?

Your answer would be based on the little you know from my profile, what you have read of my blogs, and what others have said about me.

Would you buy a self-published book from me based on that knowledge?

Yes or No?

I think the answer to that question is something that anyone considering self-publishing should ask themselves. If you desire to sell a self-published book, what reason would a potential reader have for buying it?

As I was thinking about the situation with book publishing today, I began to ask the question of why anyone would read a self-published book. In the past the clout behind a potential reader’s willingness to walk into a store, pick up a book, pay for it, take it home, and read it, was based on the fact that the publishers had deemed the author an authority, a success, or someone with the ability to write in such a way that the reader’s time was worth the reading.

You could make the argument that there were plenty of books that weren’t worth the paper they were written on, but at least an “authority” had made the claim that the writing would be of a certain quality or level.

Today, anyone can write anything about anybody or anything – download it to Amazon, and have their work accessible to anyone or anything capable of reading it – whether they are dependable, qualified, authoritative, or not. We have little in the way of determining their capacity to write on any given subject.

I could – literally – write a book on the psychology of pain, make the claim that I know what I’m talking about, and publish the work – without cost – on Amazon.

Is there any possibility that someone would buy it; that someone would read it?

Yes or No? I really don’t know!

I’m pretty sure that the purchaser would never buy anything I wrote again, because I really have little authority to write on the subject to begin with; but there’s a chance that someone would say, “I’ve never heard of this author, but the title – “Pain is Temporary, Death is Forever” – sounds pretty good.” If I could come up with a good enough blurb, a good enough cover, and a good enough description, someone may buy my “book”.

Now, on the other hand, it seems to be getting clearer that the big publishers are willing to publish anything that they can be sure will make a profit. It’s all about the money! Because of this it seems that anyone with a reasonably good chance of selling a couple thousand books can probably publish traditionally. Whether the writing is any good or not, if you can sell the books, you can publish the books. At least that sure appears to be the case.

You might say that fiction is not as critical as non-fiction, and you would probably be right. The potential of someone not getting a painful condition looked at professionally because I made the assertion that “pain is only in the brain, tough it out”, is much more serious than the “heart-broken lover” from my amazing piece of science fiction. But how are we to know that something available on Amazon is going to be worth my time regardless?

What about those of us that haven’t gotten a look by a traditional publisher? What if you really do have a work of staggering genius, but no audience?

As I thought about all this over the course of the afternoon, the advice that many have given, about pursuing traditional publishers even as you continue to improve your skills, seems to make a lot of sense.

There was a day in the not-too-distant past when I would have said my writing was about as good as anyone I have read in the genres I like. Now I know that my POV, my dialogue, my plot creation, and so forth and so on – all need to continue to improve. And I think I’m a better writer for the truth I’ve learned about myself.

I realize today that my writing is better now than it was a few years ago – all I have to do is go back and look at some of my earlier stuff. But on a daily basis I just keep writing, studying what others are doing, and trying to include those things in my next piece.

Is there a case for me self-publishing?

I’m sure there is, but I need to make my work as authoritative and professional as possible. I need to have people – other than my family and friends – tell me that the work is publishable. And I need to find a way to better my work, rather than believe that I may be one of the unique and unusual people who came out of the womb with the God-given ability to write fantastic pieces. I need to take criticism in the spirit of its ability to improve my work, and I need to find a way to truly evaluate my work against others.

So, regardless of how good your piece may be, continue to try to get a traditional publisher to look at it. Whether you publish traditionally or self-publish, your writing will be better for the critiques, the denials, the comments, and so forth you get through the process.

And, by the way, my work is available through Amazon! Ha

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Help with a rewrite

I could really use your help.

In working on a second book in the “Judges of Israel” series, I am using a much stronger romance theme. That’s been one challenge. But my wife, a great proofreader and editor, made the comment that she struggles with following “who’s who” throughout the story.

I’m interested in getting some critique and feedback.

Would you be willing to help? I’ll post the story by chapters and partial chapters (approx. 1500 to 2000 words each). Any feedback would be appreciated.

Blessings

“For Such a Time” 21084 words

Chapter One

“Are you completely out of your mind?” Kirieth is up to his old tricks again.

I’m not even sure what he’s doing here. As judge of Israel, I’m supposed to be the voice of the nation of Israel, but this man is trying his best to take my place – and he’s doing it without any real authority.

While I have been given the position of prophetess and judge by Jehovah Himself, Kirieth has simply assumed the position of advisor to Barak, the military commander, by simple friendship. Worst of all is the fact that Kirieth seems to have no respect for my authority. If this is allowed to continue, my position could be affected to the point of making it completely ineffective.

Why Barak has such faith in this worthless man is beyond anything I can understand. He is far too smart to be taken in by this charlatan. Time after time Kirieth has shown himself to be without scruples. On one hand he tells Barak anything he wants to hear, and on the other gives advice that benefits Kirieth alone. Yet, despite all that, Barak seems totally enamored.

As I consider that fact I am forced to admit to myself that Kirieth is quite capable of convincing people of all manner of amazing things. The ability this man possesses to convince people that he is something other than he actually is never leaves my mind. As much as I would like to blame Barak for his indiscreet actions in trusting the man, any blame I find would be shoved right back in my face.

“Barak,” I decide to continue the message I have been told to share, rather than get immeshed in this vocal battle, “Jehovah has told me that we are to attack at this time. Hiding on this mountain is not how He will bring deliverance. The issue of numbers is of no consequence.”

“No consequence!” Kirieth springs to his feet as sweat trickles down his chiseled cheeks. “No consequence? We have ten thousand warriors. Sisera has nine hundred iron chariots alone. If we leave the mountain we give up the ONLY advantage we have.”

“Yes,” I shouldn’t respond – but I can’t help myself, “and they have thousands upon thousands more soldiers than we have as well. We cannot possibly win.” Sarcasm is often effective in this type of situation.

“And yet you say the numbers are of no consequence…” Kirieth obviously isn’t interested in hearing anything I have to say.

“Jehovah wonders where our trust is,” I respond again.

“Don’t give me that religious…”

“Kirieth, if you are wise you won’t say another word.” Barak speaks for the first time. “You are on thin ice. We are here because Deborah heard Jehovah say we were to come. If she tells us that He is giving us the command to leave the mountain, we leave the mountain.”

“I don’t know why I even give my opinion,” Kirieth can’t seem to keep his mouth shut. “You always take her advice anyhow. The advice of a woman.”

“I don’t remember asking for your opinion.”

I have to turn away to hide the smile on my face. To watch the reaction of Kirieth is a study in emotional dichotomies because Barak didn’t say things like this to him, and the resulting expressions range from surprise, to shock, to anger, and back to shock like the waves moving on the sea off to our east.

Without another word he leaves the tent – and I wonder if that isn’t even more dangerous. I remind myself again that I have an unexpected, but very genuine, enemy that I need to keep a constant eye out for; but that has been the case for many years now.

“Deborah,” my focus is forced back to the matter at hand, “is there anything in particular that we are to do as we leave the mountain?”

Addressing that question to me as prophetess is a legitimate thing to do even if I would rather not be asked to answer. The fact that I have also been appointed judge simply complicates things. And, finally, the fact that I had called Barak to raise the army of men from his tribe and the nearby one of Ephraim muddies the waters yet further. Ten thousand warriors against the horde of deadly assassins in the valley below makes little sense. I can respond in a number of ways, and must choose my words with care. The message I heard while meditating told me that we were to attack the Canaanite forces, but hadn’t given me anything about how that was to be done.

“No, Barak. I was simply told that we were to leave the mountain – and that we would be victorious.”

“Nothing more?”

I can understand his feelings, they’re similar to my own; but I can’t tell him what I haven’t been told myself. It isn’t like the commands of Jehovah come with little signs explaining why He is making those demands. “I’m sorry…”

“You know I trust you…” He glances at me out of the corner of one eye, and that look makes me wonder if the phrase is more of a question or a statement. “We’ll leave at first light.”

As I wander out of Barak’s tent and move toward my own shortly after that, my mind is filled with questions, and I try to set them aside to enjoy the evening. The top of Mount Tabor has always been one of my favorites, so I’m in no hurry to leave it behind. Even as a young girl I would come up here with my father. The Sea of Galilee sparkling like a diamond off to the east is heady; in the moonlight it mesmerizes me with its similarity to the beautiful ring of my mother’s dowry. The “wedding diamond” – gathering every bit of available light to reflect its love to anyone who cared to notice – held nothing to the beauty of the waters reflecting the light of the sunset.

The wind blows my hair in embracing ripples around my head as it rushes from its home in the northern mountains toward its destiny with the heat of the Dead Sea to the south. There are enough wildflowers in the area to give the breeze a pleasant scent that rivals any perfume. The night would be intoxicating, if not for the looming battle.

Even as I drink in the cool, gentle air I wonder, Is it preparing to storm? I can’t tell in the darkness, but one must always consider it in this location. The ability of this area to spawn storms on the moment is legendary. Thinking of the ways in which Jehovah has used storms in our nation’s history I wonder if that might be the answer for what is to happen this time. I struggle to catch sight of any small cloud in the northern hills, but simply find myself marveling at the full view in any direction.

I imagine the Canaanites preparing to light the fires for their evening meal. I shiver knowing that we will soon be able to see those tiny flames from Hades reaching out to destroy us.

The peace of the moment is instantly gone as the thought of the coming storm floods my mind. I suck in my breath attempting to rid myself of the terrible thoughts that come with the image, but the attempt is only marginally productive. Why would Jehovah ask us to leave this place of natural advantage? I quickly remind myself that He is in control, and has asked this type of thing on numerous occasions in our history. Why should we expect anything different?

The images of attacking forces are replaced by memories of childhood as I try to embrace one last pleasant thought before bed and the conflict that will commence when I awaken. My eyes close for just a moment, and the memories come flooding back as if it were yesterday.

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