Tuesday, April 27, 2010


This post is going to go out into far left field. I have no posted in a while, so I figured it was about time I made some progress on blogging. This will cover, once again, personal references so there will not be a lot of outside sourcing. This is what *I* do. Please do not judge what the rest of the writing world does based off of what I do. My methods may not work for you.

First, I will cover self-editing. This is a very personal matter, but a very important one. When you write a book, you need to know how to edit your own writing. A professional publication house is there to make you and them money. It is not there to clean up your poor writing. Do not just submit crap to an agent, editor or publisher. Before you even dream of submitting, it is vital that you do a lot of self-editing.

Self-editing should occur before you send to anyone for critiques. This is important because you need to grow as an author. In order to grow, you need to practice. In order to practice, you need to do.

It is very easy to fall into the trap of editing what people say you should edit. For this reason, you should try to self-edit on your own before you send it to even your first readers. First, you should be able to catch spelling errors by reading through your writing. You would not even begin to believe how many times I have typed 'and' when I meant to type 'had'. Spelling errors like this are often not picked up by spell and grammar checking programs. This is human error that a computer cannot typically correct, so you need to be on your guard.

When I self-edit, this is the process I take:

Step One: Read the piece.

I will read the section of writing anywhere between one to five times. It varies, really. If I wrote slower and had less stupid mistakes, I may not need to re-read it more than once or twice. If I was being sloppy as I was writing, I will need to re-read it several times. Mileage may vary.

Step Two: Correct Obvious errors.

Step Two occurs as I re-read it the first time. As I read, I will correct simple errors as I spot them. This may not work for everyone. It does not distract from my reading as I do this, so I can get away with it. Some people get distracted and cannot handle this. You need to find your own rhythm. Once again, mileage may vary. No matter when you correct the obvious errors, these need to be addressed. I like to get them out of the way first so I can focus on the more challenging things later.

Step Three: Correct the Not So Obvious errors.

I have to revisit step one to do this. Once I have corrected the obvious, easy errors, I read through the piece again. OUT LOUD. I will even record myself reading so I can listen to it. (Voice recorder in windows is a great tool if you have a mic.) There are several reasons for doing this. First, if you read your novel or story out loud, you can hear if your pacing is all right. If you run out of breath before you finish speaking a sentence, your pacing is wrong. Every sentence should be easily spoken. Length of a sentence is vital, as long sentences are often grammatically incorrect and difficult to read. Taking your time with this phase can make a huge difference.

Step Four: Allow your writing to sit for a day.

Taking a day off to work on something else or plot a different story helps me focus come editing time. This may not work for everyone. I will try to plan my drafting so that I finish on a Friday and start edits on a Monday. This gives me the weekend to relax and clear my thoughts, as well as put a little space between me and the writing.

Step Five: See Step One.

Rinse and repeat until you have a polished draft. Then send it off. If you can avoid first readers until you are DONE the first draft and polished, you can spare yourself a lot of anguish. So, you might have to do massive edits or a second draft... so what? You finished your draft. A bad critique can cause a new author to lose hope. Once you become a professional author, your editor or book publisher typically will NOT hold your hand every step of the drafting process. You will have a deadline you will be expected to meet. Accept this reality and work towards streamlining the self-editing process so that it works best for YOU. What works for me may not work for you.

Self-Editing will help you enhance your writing style while also improving the quality of your drafts. You do not have to write a perfect draft the first try if you can focus and put in the work to make it into a perfect manuscript.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Conflict - The Heart of the Plot

As a writer, I find myself working on various plot lines. Often, I have more ideas than I know what to do with. To make matters worse, I sometimes try to use too many ideas in one novel or series.

In order to combat my own ambitions, I decided to try something a little different. Instead of focusing on the random ideas, I decided to pursue more of the conflicts and less of the exact scene concepts and other mechanisms I enjoy working with.

This led to some interesting research. What, exactly, makes a good conflict?

No matter how many ideas that you have, all of them will be made worthless without a good conflict to make your story alive. You may have these excellent ideas on a character design. But, what good is a character without the conflict to make them grow?

In order to know if you have the necessary conflict, you must first know just what a conflict is.

There are several types of conflicts. Let us go into them:

Man versus Man
Man versus Himself
Man versus Environment

These are the basic types of conflicts. I am no expert on conflicts. This is the entire point of delving into this subject. As usual, this is my take on the subject. Do with it as you please. I will list some resources you can reference at the bottom of this post.

Man versus Man

This can be a lot of things. This can be society issues, wars, rivalries... anything where a man is pitted against another man. Political drama, for example, would fall as a man versus man conflict. This can also be physical struggles of a man versus another man.

Man versus Himself

This is the personal drama, the internal conflict. This is the hero who has to struggle with the morals of killing off an innocent in order to save the lives of man. Internal conflict is a very common type of conflict. In my opinion, it is almost necessary for a good story. Every novel that I have truly loved has had some form of man versus himself conflict.

Man versus environment

This can fit almost anything that doesn't fit himself or man. Be it fighting fate, fighting off natural disasters, or any circumstance that is outside of the control of man *or* himself would fit into this category. I tend to view fighting gods and fighting fate all a part of the man versus environment category.

Now that you have an idea of what the types of conflicts are, just what can you do with them?

I have made the error of writing stories without significant conflict. The stories were fun to write, but they really did not have any purpose. Conflict is what hooks a reader. A story with no conflict is a ship without water. It may be beautiful to look at, but it really would work a lot better if the ship had an ocean to sail on. Characters are the same as that ship.

I am going to use Harry Potter (JK Rowling) as an example of a story with conflict. No matter what critics may say about the writing style of these works, Harry Potter is full of conflict. This is a part of what draws so many people into reading these books.

Without spoiling the books for those who have not read the series, the conflict begins as man versus man. A boy with an unpleasant family. In this case, it is the boy versus his family. Then, it becomes a tale of a man versus himself versus man. He has to struggle with his own personal problems while dealing with his family *and* with the big bad guy of doom. This is dumbing it down as much as it can be, of course.

No matter which way Harry turns, Rowling throws problems at him. She throws him directly into problems. Whether he goes looking for conflict or not, it comes to him. Frequently. This keeps the story moving forward.

And, as she resolves one conflict, she naturally brings in another. Each conflict is a stepping stone towards the resolution of the major conflict. Best of all, the hero does not always win the battles.

Conflict should drive your stories. Ideas should not.

Some resources:

Short Story Elements

Literary Elements

Wikipedia on Conflict