Category Archives: editing

Creating a book map


https://plottr.com/features/

As a determined pantser writer, I resist the outline and prefer to thrash out a mini version of my opus in the format of the 3DayNovelContest. Then, once I get it all down, I go back and create a structure around the blathering I’ve just completed. It takes a long time, but eventually I get everything laid out.

With my latest book, Spit and Polish, I found I was getting mired down in the historical tidbits and varied storylines. I had my main character’s arc, but it was…thin. I needed some other story arcs to wind about it to make the plot and characters more dimensional.

So I logged in to Plottr, something I highly recommend for this sort of thing. They have a variety of templates of story structures in the program that guide where you put events, show you where you need events, indicate whereabouts crises and climaxes and resolutions and so forth should fall. It is infinitely adaptable, has separate sections for character descriptions, location descriptions (good for if you forget what that place looks like by page 50), other notes, research, images, etc. You can create timelines for each character or even local/world events, helpful when writing historical novels. It is fantastically rich, though I wish I could easily print off the timeline.

Normally I use Scrivener for all things writing related. It’s way cool, and allows for separation of your project into sections that can be easily moved about or edited, and even eventually compiles all your precious thoughts into an acceptable format for submission. But I find the timeline feature of Plottr was terrifically helpful to have open along with Scrivener so I could slot in various events (historical, for ex) and then take them down to Scrivener to write the actual section. There are note cards in Scrivener, but I wanted a timeline that wasn’t all included in the text.

In Jane Friedman’s excellent blog, she recommends creating a book map for both fiction and non-fiction. The article, and indeed everything on the blog, is worth a read. Book maps help keep you from the dreaded middle languishing, a common problem with longer works. I’d like to have a plot wall with stickies all over it as illustrated on the blog, but a. I live in an apartment with limited wall space and b. I have tiny T-Rex arms that limit my reach and don’t relish all the step-stool climbing I’d have to do to include everything. So Plottr and a second display it is.

In other software I find helpful, I am seriously in love with ProWritingAid as it finds all of the times I write the same phrase, identifies my tendency to passive voice, catches my bad typing, and tells me gently when I’ve started the past several sentences the EXACT SAME WAY. It gets pushy, sometimes, and occasionally I have to push back to maintain my voice, but it’s a good serious look at what I’ve written.

Sweetly, all of these programs can work together, though it’s best to start with Plottr, go to Scrivener, run everything through ProWritingAid, then back to Scrivener or Word for assembly. With my pantser approach, I go back from the first Scrivener round to Plottr, which can get confusing. I plan to change that approach for my next book. Maybe it will save me some time.

So why not try a book map for your next writing project, if you aren’t already? I have to admit, a book map sounds more fun than an outline. It seems more adventurous somehow…like you are heading somewhere exciting with dragons around the edges…

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Learning editing, or squeezing those little grey cells until they weep


Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Photo is of course not me as I currently am perched at my desk in my bedroom, curled onto a footstool so I can reach the keyboard, dressed in my writing gear of my son’s LCVI class of 2008 sweatshirt and loose pants. I dream of being well-put-together and smiley, but instead I squint and growl alternately as I wrestle with the document I’ve been assigned for my structural editing class at Queen’s University. Occasionally I get up to walk to the printer which will no doubt be my step count for today.

Sometimes you just have to have a hard copy of a document to make any sense out of it.

It’s early days for the course and I suspect my classmates are equally wobbly as we try to figure out what is wanted from us, but the instructor is one I know and like, so I am relying on past positive experiences to get me through these early periods.

One of the things we learn in these courses is where to find resources to guide our practice. In the very second class, we’ve been directed to the very helpful website, The Book Designer. I highly recommend the site if you are looking to self-publish or working with a smaller publisher. It honestly is FULL of goodies. It’s a motherlode of useful information about all sorts of things, from how to put together a book cover to how to write out that little thing at the end of the book that talks about the font you’ve used and its history – ah yes, the colophon!

And this is where I am finding a bit of a challenge with my Multiply Sclerosed brain. I used to be able to remember things well. Of late, the little grey cells are a bit overtaxed and things keep falling off the edge of my memory table. How this is going to work with editing practice is anyone’s guess, but I have hopes that, as with all things, the more I do it, the more I will remember.

I do find that if I focus on one thing at a time things go better. Unfortunately I have overcommitted myself in every direction and now race to catch up, holding onto errant grey cells as I dash. Feel a bit White Queen in Alice in Wonderland-y, to be honest. Definitely feeling this vibe. Even dressed a bit the same.

art by John Tenniel

Or perhaps I am more like the sheep she turns into: “The meeting ends with the Queen seeming to turn into a bespectacled sheep who sits at a counter in a shop as Alice passes into the next square on the board. The Sheep is somewhat different from the Queen in terms of personality and gets “more like a porcupine every time [Alice] looks at her” because she knits with several knitting needles all at once.” from Wikipedia.

Ah well, they say using your brain to learn new things keeps us young, refreshes the pathways in the brain, creates new side roads and byways. Perhaps all this frazzled thinking will turn out okay in the end.

After all, it did for Alice.

Cutting cutting cutting


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It seems to me a lot of my life is spent cutting – physically, as I clip threads and cloth, virtually as I edit my writing and try to help others with theirs. I like to to throw a bunch of material on a table, pull off a long stretch of fibre, toss as many words around as possible.

Trimming at first seems easier, once the ideas are in place. But that’s deceptive. It’s easy to end up with too much to handle, to have threads and yarns and stories get tangled in knots as you try to work with them. Teasing out sense from the resulting mess can take longer than choosing words, threads, fabric properly the first time. Hard to do when you are just learning, difficult habits to break even as you gain experience. Thank heavens for editing, and the chance to rework.

Just ran across an excellent article by Jason Hamilton with the Kindlepreneur folks, listing the words you can and should minimize if you want to be read (writing for yourself is always a good idea, but some of us don’t feel validated until our reading is read by others and cheered or booed), and it threw a bit of salt on my writing wounds. I just know I simply use too many of these words all the time, repeatedly, inappropriately, and when I sit down at my computer I can hear them trying to escape into my writing. (as they just have, by way of an example).

“Just” is a pernicious weed in my writing. I pluck it out, it creeps back in. I overuse “felt”. Looking over my recent creation my ever helpful ProWritingAid told me I had my poor heroine say, “She couldn’t help herself” do something many many times, surely not the approach I wanted for a strong female character!

I have trained myself to flinch at adverbs, but I kindof like playing with run-on sentences. They are dangerous friends, though, easily transforming themselves into sets of wrongly linked clauses. Unplanned hilarity can result. And while I am all for unplanned hilarity, it is hardly appropriate in a death scene. Well, most of the time.

And so, and so, like the boy in Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, I must grab my Vorpal sword, gird my loins, and get cutting.

One, two! One, two! And through and through 

      The vorpal blade went (goes) snicker-snack! 

It’s going to take me awhile, and golly I do wish I hadn’t sent my inelegant MS out to be looked over already. I have hopes, though, that one day, like the aforesaid boy, I’ll be able to cheer “Oh frabjous day! Callow! Callay!” and chortle in my joy.

And maybe, just maybe (she says, violating already her hard fought principles) someone else will chortle with me.

(On a side note, I highly recommend ProWritingAid. It catches the most amazing things, like when I start every sentence in a paragraph with the same thing, or when I babble on vaguely. It’s worth the investment, IMHO. Of course nothing helps more than a good editor, an outside set of eyes, particularly an understanding set. If you’re looking for one, check out Somewhat Grumpy Press, where I work with another great editor to help others avoid these problems and others.)

Happy writing!

Learning Editing


I’ve recently decided to use my writing and editing experience and years and years of writing classes and conferences to start a side hustle of editing. Well, it’s not really a side hustle. Since I’ve been sidelined by MS, my regular hustles have faded into the mists of time, and while I’m just finishing up my second novel, that doesn’t bring in the millions I’d envisioned as a writer in grade 4. Royalties are somewhat less…

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

So editing will have to be a main hustle.

I’m the sort who wants to ensure I have the right qualifications to do a job, so I’ve been taking classes from the Editorial Freelancers Association, and I’d like to highly recommend them. They make my brain kick over and that’s a good thing.

Those of you who do editing know how lovely it can be to edit someone’s writing who writes well. Just a couple of nudges here and there, mainly facilitated by the fresh set of eyes, and it’s all happiness and light. I love that.

But editing the bad writer – well, I’ve had experience with that, too, and it isn’t as happy as the above. It’s so hard to apply correction without sounding like that Grade 8 teacher who demanded you copy their discussion exactly. It’s also hard not to take over sometimes, try to fix things, especially when the writer you are working with is begging you to do so.

Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva on Pexels.com

I edited a friend’s book recently and inserted in the document this comment, “Consider adding more to this activity to raise the tension”, only to get the revised document back with my exact words typed into that space. Sigh.

Of course this is an easy way to see whether the author you are working with actually is reading your comments, I suppose. And there is the joy of taking a manuscript forward to make it better, especially when the writer sees it themselves and charges forward on their own. I love that, too.

In any case, this course I’m taking on Developmental Editing has given me all sorts of tips about how to tackle stories good and bad. It’s changing my own novel, too, as I apply the techniques to it. I’m adding the things I’m learning to those I’ve gathered from my existing experience writing several published articles and stories, editing several novels, and judging contests for Bony Blithe, the 3day Novella, Atlantic Writing Competition, and more. Outside of my fiction work, I’ve written and edited non-fiction, research reports, press releases and media campaigns. I’m also a retired nurse and epidemiologist.

Need some writing edited? I’d love to help you out! Contact me at dorothyanneb at gmail.com or through Somewhat Grumpy Press.