Saturday, April 13, 2013


Today's free resource for writers is a web based program called WordCounter.

Like one of the functions of SmartEdit, WordCounter provides a list of repetitive words in a document. However, unlike SmartEdit where there are so many lists to capture your attention, WordCounter specifically tracks repetitive words. You can modify it to exclude small words like "the" and "it" as well as specify the number of words to list by 25, 50, 100, and 200.

It is a pretty handy tool if you aren't interested in downloading a program. I have ran my MS through this program a few times. As a word of caution, I encountered a server time out when I tried to run my entire MS. It works much better with smaller sections of text so I stick to single chapter analysis.

Love is love, no matter the back story. <3 DS

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Writing Rules

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. ~W. Somerset Maugham
If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun. ~Katherine Hepburn
I see so many "how to write a novel in X steps" blog posts and how-to books. It really gets under my skin that there is such a market for that crap. There is no sure fast rules for writing a book. This is my advice: Write your story first. Then come back to it and make sure you have all the elements in place. What are those elements you may ask?

Well, grammar is one of the elements. Yeah, there are tons of grammar rules. When dealing with English, those rules are often arbitrary, attributed to a "style" preference, contradictory, and frustrating. It is worth learning the rules of grammar. It is worth learning those rules so that you can not only break them but also so that you can tap dance on their graves. English is a language that is always evolving so writers need to stay up to date on those rules- again, so they can gleefully break them later.

Another element is story structure. I'm not really talking about "introductory paragraphs, body paragraphs, and concluding paragraphs" that are taught in school. Those lessons may prepare an early writer to write from point A to point B but it is rarely anything interesting to read. Let's face it: Writers need to write something interesting or no one will want to read it. Writing is interesting because of the structure. The basic structure is this:

You start the introduction with exposition (or set-up), set the rising action with a conflict or obstacle (tech term: inciting incident), move on to the climax where the crap really hits the fan (or crisis if you want to be technical), drop into falling action where the pieces finally start to come together, and then even out in the resolution where you find out if everyone learned their lesson, met their goals, etc. that basically explains where everyone goes at the end of the story.

That is all neat and tidy. However, writing is seldom neat and tidy. This is my version of structure:

As you can see, my structure doesn't follow the traditional 5 step story. I like to lead with an introduction but then things get a little muddy. I like to vary the rising action with mini-conflict and mini-crisis just to keep the characters jumping all in an effort to get them ready for the big bad ultra-crisis that everyone else knows is coming. I usually tie my conclusion into the end of the falling action and then make sure there is wiggle room for one more story in the resolution.

A third element is industry standards. As an unpublished author, of course you can write a 200,000 word single volume space opera in the year 2732 where the reincarnation of President Lincoln fights the invading Atlantians over water rights on Earth That Was in iambic pentameter. Good luck getting it published though. Word count requirements vary depending on the genre, intended audience, and personal preferences of agents and editors alike. Another variable? Setting up the final manuscript. Some folks (meaning agents/editors at publishing Houses) don't really care too particularly about Courier vs. Times New Roman, .5" and 1" margins, etc. and others care very, very much. If you are submitting your manuscript for publication, you damn well better know the specifics for every single person you submit your manuscript and tailor each submission to suit.

The fourth, and last, element I'm going to discuss is writing. I'm not talking about commas and subject verb agreement here. I mean this- Are your characters tangible? Your characters don't have to be likable. They don't have to be neat and tidy. But they do need to feel real enough to touch. Everyone has a back story and has reasons for why they do what they do and needs and wants and goals and fears and dreams and... You get what I'm saying I hope. Is your story compelling? I don't want to read a story that plods along from point A to point B. I want a story that careens from point A into a detour that barrel rolls through points X, Y, and Z before finally railroading its way into point B. Stories, good ones, elicit emotional responses from readers. Take Harry Potter for instance. Readers were so emotionally ensconced in that series that some readers experienced genuine emotional anguish when Sirius died. And again when Dumbledore died. And again and again when all the others perished. Seriously, there were tears and angry words in my living room.

So in conclusion (see what I did there? :3), there are definitely rules for writing novels. But the rules are different for every writer. Write your story then worry about the rest after. That is why we have a 1st draft, a 2nd draft, and a 10th draft. It will all come together in the end.

Love is love, no matter the back story. <3 DS

Saturday, April 06, 2013

I Need an Editor!

Okay, I don't need an editor. I already have a fantastic editor, Booksteve. But...

Even if you have a wonderful editorial friend or pay for a professional editing service, that doesn't change the fact that you are the first editor of your MS. At least, you should be. My first drafts are Bad with a capital B. They are random meandering piles of run-on sentences, continuity errors, and repetitive words. In order to make Steven's job a little easier, I do an edit and a revision before he ever gets his paws on it.

Now, I am one of those people that hates editing. No, I loathe it. Really, I do. Why? Because it isn't fun for me. I like creating things, not tearing them apart. And that is how editing feels when I have to edit my own work. Steven doesn't have the emotional attachment to my MS as I have to it. Also, he is much better at editing than I am. However, I found a tool that helps take out a lot of the guess work for me.

SmartEdit is Windows-based software that is just oodles of help. The program, once downloaded, is easy to use. You copy and paste your MS into the window and then it does this thing not unlike a scavenger hunt: it finds the adverbs, repetitive words/phrases, cliches,  and monitored words (that you can set). It does not make changes for you (like the find & replace function of Word). It merely compiles the list of things for you to check against your MS and fix as you see fit. The free version can be found at the bottom of the download page. The full licensed version is pricey at about $50 but it may well be worth it for some of the items in the full version.

What SmartEdit can do for you (* indicates item available in the free version):

  • Repeated Phrases List*
  • Repeated Words List*
  • Adverb Usage List*
  • Cliché Usage List*
  • Dialog Tag Counter*
  • Monitored Word List*
  • Separate Dialog & Prose Checks
  • Misused Words Highlighted
  • Foreign Phrase Usage
  • Profanity Usage List
  • Suspect Punctuation List
  • Proper Nouns List
  • Acronyms Usage
  • Sentence Start Phrases
  • Sentence Length Chart
  • Straight & Smart Quote Checker
  • Dash & Hyphen Checker
  • External Reports

Not sure if the full version is worth $50? There is one way to find out- download the free version and use it for a few days. Then, go back and download the free 10 day trial of the full version. I personally use the free version because I have very little use for at least 6 of the 12 other items. That external report item does look neat though, as well as the misused words highlighting and sentence start list.

Before I found SmartEdit, I edited and revised at the same time. My desk (and kitchen table, and bed, and couch, and pretty much any other flat surface) was littered with pages covered in red ink. I am old school. I print my MS out and then have at it with a red pen. My ADD kicks in when I try to edit/revise on the computer. Plus, the screen kills my eyes after a while. I am much more comfortable doing a line edit on paper with a red pen and may as well do a revision while I'm at it. This process takes upwards of weeks with many hours a day invested. It is exhausting, boring, and downright painful.

I used SmartEdit when I finished my latest MS to go through and find a lot of the things I would have taken out in editing/revising. I used it to find the multitude of adverbs that sneak their way in every single time. I didn't have to discover the repetitive words used by shuffling 300 pages of paper or searching for random words and phrases that I think I might have used. By taking out a lot of the guesswork, I ended up editing directly from the Word file without the eye pain and ADD issues because I was constantly in motion while working on my MS. Surprise, surprise- when I printed the MS to do my revision, it only took a few days to work through it because the editing was pretty much done!

I hope SmartEdit is a beneficial tool for you too!

Love is love, no matter the back story. <3 DS

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Hand in Hand

I posted on Twitter about this a couple weeks back, but just in case you missed it, check this out.

There is a website called SharedWorlds from Wofford College that has started a photo listing called Hand In Hand with the goal of asking writers to give writing advice written on their hands. Here is the introduction letter:

Some days you just need a little nudge…

a simple reminder that you're not alone on this path you've chosen. Maybe you want help getting out of a plot hole or breaking through a block or you simply need to know that someone else has been there before--behind a different keyboard, holding a different pen, staring at a different blank page or screen.
Other days, it just might be cool to have someone who's been there walk hand-in-hand with you--to urge you to persist, to tell you to write something new, to remind you not to lose faith in your imagination.
Me, I often just need someone to tell me to calm down, sit in a chair, and write.
In preparation for Shared Worlds 2013, we have asked some of speculative fiction's finest artists, editors, and writers to write advice on their own hands and send us a picture.
We gathered up all this advice, all these helping hands, because that’s what we do a Shared Worlds. We bring people together; we bring writers together. For two weeks in the summer, students from across the US and around the world gather at Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC, for two weeks of collaboration with fellow students, interaction with professional writers and editors, and everything else that goes into the building of imaginary worlds.
Sort through these images and read through the text. Bounce this advice off your own writing experiences. Connect these words of wisdom like puzzle pieces.
If you enjoy this gallery of advice and images, please lend Shared Worlds a hand by telling your friends and sharing the link to this page. Also, if you'd like to help send a student to Shared Worlds or help with the operating costs, consider making a donation. With the generous support of, we are able to fund a variety of need-based scholarships, both full and partial, but there are always more students who'd love to come to the camp but whose families need a helping hand to do so.

Jeremy L.C. Jones
Founder & Co-Director
Shared Worlds @ Wofford College

How cool is that? As of this post, they have over 2 dozen writer contributions to their project, including (SQUEEEEEEEE!) Garth Nix and Neil Gaimon. Yes, I'm a fan girl. No, I'm not ashamed one teensy bit. I've mentioned before that I adore Garth's handwriting so his picture was awesome. I decided to make my own version of this concept. Check it out below.

Love is love, no matter the back story. <3 DS