Thursday, June 30, 2011

Writer's Wednesday

Editing your Manuscript -- Part Three 

Regardless of the type of writing you do, decisions regarding vocabulary and word choice are critical.

Begin by giving serious thought to vocabulary that is appropriate for your intended readers.  Are you writing for children -- elementary, middle school or high school?  Is your manuscript intended for the general reading public or is it meant for a professional audience?

Consider how the vocabulary is influenced by the genre and voice.  If you're writing something historical, you want to avoid language that doesn't fit the chronology of your story.  Writing YA?  Is your language accurate for the age of your characters?
The goal of any form of writing is to be understood.  There's nothing wrong with a reader needing to check a dictionary for a word or two, but deciphering a manuscript shouldn't be a chore.  Do you employ jargon or technical terms to express or impress?  
Choose vocabulary to communicate ideas and facts clearly rather than astound readers with your intellect.

The simplest way to insure that your readers understand you is by giving careful attention to word choice.

Be specific.  Find the precise noun or verb that expresses what you intend.
      Consider -- "He walked."  Clear enough, but is there a more precise word?

A quick check of the thesaurus produces these possibilities: saunter, amble, march, stride, pace, hike, toddle, totter, stagger, move, and stroll.  If I look closer, I discover that stroll has its own set of synonyms: amble, mosey, meander, ramble, wander, promenade.  As a writer, it's my responsibility to decide if any of these options would better express what I mean when I say, "He walked."

Be accurate.  Synonyms are not always interchangeable.  When consulting a thesaurus remember that the synonyms, although similar, have individual meanings.  If you are uncertain about differences, check the dictionary. 

Here are a few examples from the Merriam Webster online dictionary:
     Saunter: to walk about in an idle or leisurely manner.
     March: to move in a direct purposeful manner.
     Stride:  to move with or as if with long steps.
     Toddle: to walk with short tottering steps in the manner of a young child.
     Stagger: to move on unsteadily.
     Amble: to move aimlessly from place to place. 

Be thrifty: Avoid multiple words when a single one will do.
     I began to see. = I saw.
     They came to the realization that they were lost. = They realized that they were lost. or They were lost. 

Check for repetition.  Many people have favorite words or phrases in their spoken language that end up on the page and are overused. 
     These are some words I watch for -- just, now, really, like, even, very.  By the time I completed the recent revision of my novel, I had a list of over one hundred words that I had used multiple times.  In most cases the words could be eliminated without changing the meaning of the sentence.

Make every word count! 

I leave you with one of my favorite quotes --

"The difference between the right and the nearly right word is the same as that between lightning and the lightning bug." Mark Twain

Monday, June 27, 2011

Nonfiction Monday

Summer is the perfect time for a biography of Annette Kellerman. Corey's picture book focuses on the highlights of Kellerman's life. Having taken up swimming as therapy, Kellerman developed a passion for the sport and was well-known for her athletic accomplishments which included the creation of water ballet. She encouraged women to live healthy lives by participating in vigorous sports, a notion that was new in the early 1900s. Kellerman went on to revolutionize women's swimwear by discarding the heavy swimming costumes of the era in favor of more practical attire. Her campaign got her arrested, but she won her case and changed the face of women's athletics forever.

Corey combines powerful narration with quotations to give readers a clear understanding of how this early feminist faced her challenges in a time when women were more often criticized than complimented for being innovative, determined, and self-confident. Fotheringham's illustrations, a colorful mix of swirling color and spirited images, convey a clear sense of Kellerman's passion. The book concludes with author's notes and photographs about this extraordinary woman.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Poetry Friday

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Carol's Corner.

My selection is "Ellington was not a street" written by Ntozake Shange with illustrations by Kadir Nelson.

Drawing upon her 1983 poem, "Mood Indigo," Shange invites readers to share moments from her childhood when her family hosted such notables as Dizzy Gillespie, Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Dubois and of course, Duke Ellington.  Shange's name is familiar from her adult works, but here she has created a picture book for older readers that provides a glimpse into the heart of the Harlem Renaissance.   Most of these African American men, though well known from their contributions to the culture of the previous century, are familiar to children only as names in a book -- Shange brings them vividly to life.   

Nelson reflects the little girl's point of view in paintings that radiate with an energy that is all their own.  The book concludes with a group portrait of several of the men and biographical notes.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Writer's Wednesday

Editing your Manuscript -- Part Two

For this discussion we will focus on writing fiction or narrative nonfiction.

Your previous edits have addressed the major points of format, plot, character, and voice.
Your manuscript is successfully formatted in the correct style.
Your plot unrolls seamlessly. Tension builds from the opening scene to the climax via plot points and complications.
Your characters are fully realized, varied and believable.
You've found the appropriate voice for your characters and/or narrator.

Now it's time to address two more aspects of your writing -- errors of fact and consistency.

Errors of fact deal with references about actual or fictional people, places or things.

As author you are utilizing a real time and place or creating a fictional world for your story. It is essential that the facts are true to that world.  Real or imagined, your world must feel authentic. Geography, architecture, technology, clothing, foods, social conventions, attitudes and language are just a few of the areas that you will need to be aware of as you are editing.

Stepping outside the boundaries of your facts will jolt readers out of the story and if the occurrences are frequent they can even cause readers to question the entire work.

For example:

A reader critiquing a manuscript expressed concern about a particular horseshoe used in the story and wondered if it had been invented at the time in which the story was placed.

It would have been tempting to say the point was insignificant. After all, it was only a horseshoe, the work was fiction, and how many readers would actually know the difference. But clearly it was a matter of note for this person. Fortunately, the writer knew that the shoe had been used for some six hundred years prior to the time in which the work was set.

Not only must the facts of your story be accurate, they must also be consistent from beginning to end unless you demonstrate how, when, and why they change. Checking your manuscript for consistency means looking at attitudes, behaviors, speech patterns, and vocabulary to name a few.

Imagine a protagonist who sustained a crippling wound, but oddly enough the injury seemed to come and go at the writer's whim. When seeking sympathy for the character, the writer had the hero unable to care for himself. Moments later, when a hero was needed, the injury scarcely troubled him, only to leave him once again disabled a page later. The writer made no attempt to explain or qualify these random transformations and it made the entire story suspect.

Beginning with the first chapter, everything is based on what went before so consistency is essential.

Avoiding errors of fact and maintaining consistency can be particularly difficult if you are writing over a long period of time and/or taking frequent breaks from your work.

It can be equally difficult to identify errors. If you edit or workshop your writing a few pages at a time, it's almost impossible for you or your readers to remember all the details of your story and catch inconsistencies.

When you reach this stage of editing, it is a good idea to set aside a day, weekend, or even a week to focus on your story and read multiple chapters at a sitting.

Chances are you'll suddenly find these mistakes leaping off the page. If the needed changes are quick, easy fixes you can attend to them as you go. If the problems require some serious thought -- highlight the problems, make notes for correction later, and keep on reading until you've finished the manuscript.

Don't get in a hurry to make big changes early in the manuscript.  Wait until you have a clear understanding of how those changes will affect later chapters.
Enjoy your story, the process and remember you're getting another step closer to submitting your work.

Next time --

Editing part three: Word Choice and vocabulary

Monday, June 20, 2011

Nonfiction Monday

Nonfiction Monday is hosted today by Geo Librarian.

My selection is "Neo Leo" by Gene Baretta.

Addressing audiences in grades 1-3, Baretta does an admirable job of making the life and work of Leonardo da Vinci relevant to today's children by linking da Vinci's notes and sketches with modern inventions. 

 Most da Vinci fans may be aware of his imaginative renderings of airplanes, hang gliders and tanks, but these familiar devices are a mere taste of the man's genius.  Utilizing da Vinci's many notebooks, Baretta examines a dozen or so modern counterparts such as robots, contact lenses, even movie projectors.  The book artfully combines renderings that appear to be da Vinci's drawings with cartoon style portrayals of contemporary items.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Poetry Friday

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Check It Out.

My selection is "Falling Down the Page" -- an anthology of list poems edited by Georgia Heard. 

This is a collection of 32 works by such well known poets as Jane Yolen, Allan Wolf, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Lee Bennett Hopkins and editor Georgia Heard.  The book is formatted like a note pad, long, slim, and bound at the top which allows the poetry to be displayed vertically, and the poems do indeed "fall down the page."

The anthology is a celebration of childhood's everyday activities and the list poems are as varied as the poets: "Things to Do If You Are a Pencil" by Elaine Magliaro, "Winter's Presents" by Patricia Hubbell, "Good-Byes" by Eileen Spinelli, and "Chorus of Four Frogs" by David Harrison

Teachers will find this collection accessible and fun for their students and a great opportunity to invite children to create their own list poems. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Writer's Wednesday

I've been reading and offering suggestions for a number of writers this week. Their work varies from essays and short stories to memoirs and novels.

Regardless of their writing styles or goals they all have one problem in common: how to approach editing. Everyone expresses the same frustration with the overwhelming scope of an edit and the difficulty of knowing where to begin. I don't know why, but new writers always seem to feel they are supposed to solve all their manuscript problems in one massive rewrite.

That's just not how the process works. Editing happens in stages -- which explains why we go through so many rewrites on our way to creating a manuscript worthy of publishing.

Begin with the big items first:

  • Know your audience. Are you writing for a magazine or newspaper? Are you creating a book for a specific age or interest group? Every type of publishing has guidelines about format, word length, etc. Do your homework and have the criteria in mind before you begin to edit. You'll avoid wasted effort.

  • Structure your work appropriately whether it's nonfiction or fiction -- Is it logical? Can the reader follow your reasoning in an essay or the action of your plot without becoming confused or lost?

  • Are the characters distinct and multi-dimensional with clearly defined goals? Do their actions and motives arise out of who they are or are they dancing like puppets on a string at the whim of the author? Are their choices believable?

  • Find your voice. Identify your distinct style of expression as essayist, narrator or fictional character.

It is very likely that you will need to do a separate rewrite for each of these points to allow you to focus on each element. When you are satisfied with the results, it's time to look at some of the other essentials of good writing.

I'll explore those next time.

Meanwhile, remember that the object of critiquing your work is to create the best piece of writing possible. Your goal is to make your writing accessible to your readers.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Nonfiction Monday

Nonfiction Monday is hosted today by Books Together.

What will the future bring for today's students? The authors speculate on a variety of futuristic possibilities: a watch that sends the wearer's temperature, blood pressure and feelings directly to the doctor, holograms in the classroom, robots, and virtual reality sports are some of the highlights, but advances in technology aren't the only topics. Social, environmental, and cultural changes are also explored and there are discussions of overpopulation, starvation and health concerns. The cartoon-style illustrations depict a world that children will identify with as they follow one boy's activities through the day.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Poetry Friday

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Picture Book of the Day.

My selection is "An Egret's Day" written by Jane Yolen with photographs by Jason Stemple.

Yolen has created a "day in the life" that combines her poetry with clearly organized information and beautifully conceived photographs. Yolen makes use of a variety of poetic forms and a paragraph of scientific discussion to explore egret behavior, biology and habitat.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Nonfiction Monday

Nonfiction Monday is hosted today by Chapter Book of the Day.

My selection is "Claude Monet: the painter who stopped trains" written by P.I. Maltbie with illustrations by Joseph A. Smith.

The name Monet may forever be linked with water-lilies, but Maltbie has found an entirely new aspect of the renowned artist's work to celebrate in this narrative non-fiction book. Inspired by his son's love of trains and the need to silence his critics, Monet created a series of paintings of steam engines set in the first Paris train station, the Gare Saint-Lazare. His work brought him success with both the critics and popular audiences and encouraged other impressionist artists of the time. Information about Monet and the Impressionist movement is readily accessible to readers and the book provides another viewpoint of the man and the community of artists in his time. Smith's illustrations combine the techniques associated with Impressionism and his own sensibilities as an artist to create a visually satisfying complement to the text.

Artist and illustrator notes, a glossary, index to Monet's work and a list of museums and collections that house Monet's artwork is included.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Poetry Friday

Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted today by The Writer's Armchair with Toby Speed.

Award-winning poet X.J. Kennedy examines urban life in this mostly exuberant collection of child-friendly verses. His poetry is short and engaging and explores city life through places, experiences and characters. Subways, laundromats, museums, zoos, pollution, crime, street performers, a firefighter lost on 9/11, and the Leaflet Man all receive attention. Beha's colorful cubist style artwork complements the text's alternating intensity and light-heartedness.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Writer's Wednesday

It's a working writer's day for me.

However, let me recommend this terrific post from Author/Agent Mandy Hubbard titled: The Epic Post on Trends (YA & MG). This post has created a lot of buzz on the SCBWI list serve and is worth a read.

The Gingerbread Cowboy Book Trailer