Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Good Editing Is Your Ticket To Success

What is the definition of an editor?

According to Miriam-Webster Dictionary: One who edits especially as an occupation.

What does it mean to edit?

Again, according to Miriam-Webster Dictionary: To prepare (as literary material) for publication or public presentation. Also: To alter, adapt, or refine especially to bring about conformity to a standard or to suit a particular purpose.

In both cases, this relates to editing a manuscript for publication. And it requires a professional editor.

What do editors do?

"Book editors are responsible for one of the most important steps in book publishing. They take a manuscript and turn it into a polished product ready to be printed. This requires many things of an editor, as there are several aspects of editing that go into producing a market-ready book." {WiseGeek}

This does not mean turning on the text editor on MS Word. This means doing a word-for-word, line-by-line eyeball read of the work to ensure the work is as well put together as possible. This includes but is not exclusive to ensuring correct word context (eg: they're, there, their), correcting run-on sentence structure, basic grammar repairs, overall tightening, correcting plotting structure errors, ensuring continuity, etc.

A good editor will even tell you if the plot just isn't working, ie: segments are too cliché, plot devices don't work to move the story forward, segments which have too much narrative or description which slow the story, etc.

The job of a good editor is NOT to rewrite your story, but work with you to tighten the story and polish it until it shines.

"People ask me all the time, "How can I be successful?" Well, aside from the usual stuff, like show up and keep promoting, the one key to success is to publish a book so good, your reader can't put it down. But to take it a step beyond that, I would say publish something that has been edited often, and by someone who knows how to edit a book and isn't afraid to tell you the things you may not want to hear. It's amazing how, over the years, I've heard time and time again that "Well, my neighbor/mother/wife/husband edited my book." You should never, ever have your book edited by someone who is a family member, friend, etc. Why? Because if the book is really horrible, they may not feel they can tell you. Also, are they really professionals? Do they have a business?" {Penny C. Sansevieri, Marketing Experts, article at Huffington Post . . . an excellent article on editing so be sure to read it all.}

I have been saying this for years. NEVER have family or friends* edit your book. They will not tell you the truth and you won't get the much-needed information you need to tighten your work.

*The ONLY exception to this is if your friend is in the business and has a reputation as a good editor.

A good test of how well your family or friend edits are helping is to take that 'edited' work and send it to a professional editor to see what your family/friend missed. It may delay the time when you can submit the work for publication, or if you're self publishing, delay your own publication date. But won't it be worth it to see the book looking its absolute best when it's finally submitted or hits the market?

A well-edited book is your calling card, just as word of mouth is the best advertising. A great story that's presented to the best of your ability are the two most important things to selling well (as is a great cover). If you're self-publishing, this is even more important.

If it seems like too much work, then ask yourself how important it is for you to be published. Is it publication you want or just to write for yourself? If the answer is that you want to write AND see it published, then find a good publisher, as their editorial team are professionals and will work with you to make your book shine.

A good publisher will assign you an editor who will work WITH you through the edits of your book. As the author, you have final say on things, but the editor is there to give you his/her professional recommendations on making your story ready for publication.

And a good editor will assign you a cover artist who will work off your cover art sheet and to some degree with you to ensure the cover is attractive, suits the market you're writing for and best represents your story.

Whether your goal is self publishing or going through a publisher, be SURE your work is as well presented as you can possibly make it. Be patient, be thorough and be positive.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Seven Basic Plots

When considering what kind of story you want to write, does the idea of the Seven Basic Plots every come to mind? If so, do you know what they are?

Here's the basic breakdown of the Seven Basic Plots put into context, using some of today's best loved movies --

The Quest -- Think The Lord of the Rings. The protagonist, Frodo Baggins, goes on a journey with a seemingly difficult or impossible goal . . . collect a few magic rings. He must overcome obstacles and opposition before emerging victorious.

This plot can also be called The Search because the protagonist is looking for something. Consider the movie Taken. Liam Neeson's character goes in search of his kidnapped daughter.

Let's not forget the classic Somewhere in Time. Here we see Christopher Reeve's character, Richard Collier, *going back in time* to find the woman he loves. Tell me there aren't difficult and impossible obstacles Collier has to go through to reach Elise McKenna!!

Voyage and Return/aka Coming Home -- Think The Wizard of Oz. Similar to the Quest, the protagonist must endure a journey, but must also find their way home and return to their previous life, as Dorothy did with her journey through Oz and her eventual return home . . . even if it was only in her mind!

Similarly, in a way, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is the tale of a man living backwards. That is to say, a man who was born old and as he aged he grew younger, very nearly to the point of returning to the womb. The ultimate coming home tale.

Comedy -- Think Castle (the tv series). Castle and Beckett must work together so solve crimes, but these stories are told with humor . . . even some of the most serious moments are broken by one-line gags and monotony is cut with character pranks.

Must be easy writing comedy, since we laugh so readily with each gag. But ask any comedian or screenwriter and he/she will tell you comedy is serious business. Some will say it's even harder than writing sex!

Tragedy -- Classic example here is Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. This plot evokes sympathy and pity on the reader's part while watching the protagonists continually fail in their search for happiness. The failure in this case isn't down to Romeo or Juliet, but their feuding families bent on keeping them apart. Even as these young lovers plot leaving their families so they can be together, Fate's hand is firmly around their futures.

On the same line, let's look at The Bridge of Madison County. This is an amazing love story, but in the Romeo and Juliet style, the lovers are fated to be apart. Perhaps this is the ultimate classic romance . . . a deep and heartfelt romance that is destined to end poorly.

Overcoming the Monster -- This is the ultimate battle of good and evil. The protagonist battles demons, real or imaginary, which seem impossible to overcome. Think of Batman and the Joker, Superman and Lex Luthor, and in a twist, Shrek and Lord Farquaad . . . who was the real monster in that story?!

Like I said, monsters aren't always ones we see. They can also be emotional ones, such as in A Beautiful Mind. This movie tells the story of real-life mathematician, John Nash, who eventually succumbs to Schizophrenia. Part of Nash's downfall is the secret job he's taken in his imaginary world and how it effects his real life. This story is his battle with the disease and how he overcomes, or rather learns to live with, his condition.

How about a twist on the monster theme? Highlander. John Nash's monster is that he cannot die. He is immortal Connor MacLeod. . . unless someone takes his head. In an ironic twist, while he desires a normal life span . . . he protects his life by becoming a master swordsman to protect his neck. He could die in a split second, yet continually protects his life until he can find a way to reverse his curse and end his days to die naturally . . . from old age.

Rebirth -- Think of Cinderella. The protagonist is often imprisoned, either physically, emotionally, spiritually, or even a mental break. The story is about confronting what's holding the character back and gaining freedom. Cinderella is at the mercy of her evil step-mother and bullied by her equally evil step-sisters. With the help of her Fairy Godmother, Cinderella gets to attend the ball where she meets a man who frees her from her 'prison.'

Let's also look at Clint Eastwood's character, Walt Kowalski, in Gran Torino. Walt is a man who battles his own monster . . . prejudice.This tale is about how a man with ingrained feelings for non-whites learns the ultimate lesson in life . . . unconditional love . . . and is reborn in a very personal way. OK, technically, the movie ends in tragedy, but it's also the ultimate love story if you consider what Walt gives up for those he's come to love.

Rags to Riches -- Think The Pursuit of Happyness. Will Smith's character is down on his luck and trying to support his young son. Through hard work and some good luck, he pulls himself up off the streets and becomes a successful businessman, and maintains the respect of his son.

And let's not forget the classic, Pretty Woman, the story of an escort who falls in love with a rich man. Or was this a tale of a rich man falling for an escort?! Either way, she makes our really well in the end.

Yes, yes, yes, many stories include one or more of each of these elements. Mixing elements is what makes an even greater story . . . the classics we'll watch over and over again. Similarly, the books we'll read over and over . . . and over and over and over . .  .

Other versions of the Seven Basic Plots exist. One of the most famous is from Arthur Quiller-Couch who listed them as:

Man vs. Man -- Taken
Man vs. Nature -- A Beautiful Mind
Man against God -- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Man vs. Society -- The Pursuit of Happyness
Man in the Middle -- The Bridge of Madison County
Man and/vs. Woman -- Pretty Woman
Man vs. Himself -- Gran Torino

So, now you know. And now that you do, what movies, or indeed books, can you add to this list?

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules For Writing A Short Story

Back in 1989, I had the pleasure of attending one of Mr. Vonnegut's lectures. It's been more than twenty years now so I don't remember the whole lecture. But I do remember where I was, where I was sitting, and the feeling Mr. Vonnegut gave me as I listened to him pour out his innermost thoughts and secrets. He talked about his life, his work and what inspired him. I learned the truth behind Slaughterhouse Five and why he chose to write Breakfast of Champions. It was an incredible experience that would have been made even more incredible had I the chance to actually speak with him.

Sadly, he passed away in 2007, at the peak of his 85th year. Gone in the physical form he may be, but he left a lasting legacy behind him. Not just with his Humanistic involvements, but mainly with his writings and his advice to would be writers.

To that end, one of his most famous pieces of advice comes from his book, Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction, in which Mr. Vonnegut listed eight rules for writing a short story. I believe they work for most fiction writing. I thought I'd share them here.
  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things: ­reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them ­in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.