Swing Tips Pt 3


As a joke I’ve said that I’m a literary slut – I’ll read anything. I know. That sounds trashy. LOL. But I’m also a literary…(um, how do I say this to bring this post back in line with the high moral tone of this site…? Ah!) And with my writing I’m also a literary call-girl – I do it for money. Sorry. Couldn’t resist!

Not that I view my writing as cheap or something to be abused in the name of the dollar (or gold, as the dollar is worth nothing these days). It is totally creative. But it’s also a creative way to make a living. Writing is my job. I get up and go to work pretty much 9 to 6 PM, just like anyone else. (Of course I work in my PJs half the time, though not silk PJs like a call-girl. Today I haven’t even combed my hair and I have toothpaste splattered on my sleep-shirt.) I have deadlines like any one else. (Of course, I sometimes work in manic bursts at 2 AM, like that call-girl, but never in stilettos. Bunny slippers, maybe.) I have bosses like anyone else. (Of course, the people who pay me live a thousand miles away and don’t care when I get my work done or what I look like doing it.) But it is a job. Really. Hang in there, this is going somewhere.


I view every bit of my own writing with an eye to meeting certain, specific goals. I keep those goals close to my heart, like a golfer will keep his swing thoughts in mind with every swing. My swing tips are my writing tips. Without them I screw up.

Once again, the list below is my swing tips. Explanations of this week’s follow.

Big List: BIC. Hero? Intensity and POF. Kill A Character. No Duh. BS (not what you’re thinking). Ruthless Words. Transitions. Five Senses. Immediacy. No Excuses. No Fear.

Week before last week I covered: BIC. Hero? Intensity and POF (presumption of failure).

Last week was: Kill Off A Character. No Duh. BS.

This week: ). Ruthless Words. Transitions. Five Senses.

1. Ruthless Words: Word are my tool not my captor. I use them, not get bound up by them. That is a hard thing to keep in mind when the words are flowing and the plot is moving along. But what happens when I get lost on a tangent and can’t find my way back to the original plot line? The writing is sooooo good, that I can’t toss it and go back to the place where I got off track. I can’t! Wrong. I can and I must be ruthless. What happens when a scene just flows off my fingers onto the file? When it is pure poetry, but isn’t right for the novel I’m writing. For whatever reason, the words, while brilliant, are not right, right now. That is when I use Ruthless Words. Unless I intend to self publish (and we have agreed that there are places and people for whom self publishing is the best method,) I need to keep in mind that a book is a one-size-fits-most product. Catie has, brilliantly, been working on this aspect in her blogs. I’ll say it in a more unsympathetic way. This manuscript? It ain’t my baby. It doesn’t live, it doesn’t breathe. Not really. If I want to make it in the commercial market, I have to get over thinking of my manuscript as a living being, and start thinking like a business peson. Writing is a commercial endeavor. A book is a product. It will be rewritten a dozen times according to the specifications of others. I have to be ruthless with my words. I have to be willing to cut and slash and burn them when they don’t work. I have to change the flow with proper punctuation. Not punctuation the way they taught it in school. (Sorry teachers.) I have to be willing to use the skills taught there and whip them and twist them and break them into what I want, with ruthless abandon. Punctuation becomes (within limits) improper in order to meet a specific goal—the emotional impact of a scene. But I have to be ruthless even there. Too many ellipses…? Cut them. Too many dangling fragments and participles and whatever? Cut them. Be ruthless. Make your prose clean and sharp as a blade. Really good prose cuts like a knife. Be ruthless.

2. Transitions: Are the most overlooked part of any book length manuscript. I must never ignore how my character gets from point A to point B emotionally, mentally, or physically. Showing the journey *is* the plot process. And it has to be logical!

a. Emotionally, I have to take a character from one feeling to another in a logical manner. That seems backward, but it isn’t. Most people in RL (not all I grant you) move from emotion to emotion for reasons that—if they really want to—they can eventually trace back to a motivational event (or series of them). A really good psychologist can take years working through some tangle of emotions to his client’s causative event(s). When they get there, it is a huge breakthrough. We have to be both our characters’ creators and their counselors, making their emotional paths clear to the reader. Unless you are writing a character who has a mental or emotional problems, the why (motivations), and the changing whys (motivations) of their actions, have to be logical.
b. Mental transitions are similar except it is easier to allow your character to make mental leaps, especially if the character is created that way in the first place, like the brilliant detective who looks at crime scene evidence in a different way, makes mental leaps, and solves the crime. But even here, it can’t be magic. The character has to see or understand something in way none of his coworkers do. It is still logical.
c. Physically, there have to be ways and means for a character to get from place to place, and his environment has to be logical. David has talked here at MW about horses and their stamina. In one of his worlds horses didn’t get replaced or changed out soon enough. There was a logical disconnect. Misty’s world is always about water. Her boats and ships and methods of transport have to make sense in terms of water. The closed environments of her ships and boats have to be self contained with everything she needs right there. I’ve had a problem writing a scene that takes place in the deep of the bayou. My character needed a lot of gasoline for the big scene to work. Well, she had to set a bayou on fire. It took a lot of gasoline. I had to find a way to get the gas where it needed to go. Logic, everywhere, in every transition, is a writer’s goal. And yes, even in a fantasy.

3. Five Senses: A writer’s world is—or should be—fully functional in terms of its physicality. Yet the senses are often overlooked in scene setting and, when added in, can bring a scene to life. The way the light and shadows interact, the sounds that a character would hear, the way the air tastes on his tongue, the *feel* of the place in terms of temperature, humidity, etc. all impact on how a reader perceives the writer’s world. The most overlooked sense is the sense of smell. The scents that are unique to a place, make me know I am there, with the character, experiencing it all. The scents draw readers in, make them one with the story. Like the memory of fresh baked cookies, the aroma warm and cozy on a winter’s day. Or the milky breath of a baby or a puppy. The evergreen scent of a forest on a snowy day. The unwashed body smell of a street person. You smell it, and it has impact. As writers we have to be aware of e senses.

Once again, do any of you have comments or swing tips you’d like to share? Post them here and let’s chat!



18 comments to Swing Tips Pt 3

  • Faith said This manuscript? It ain’t my baby. It doesn’t live, it doesn’t breathe. Not really. If I want to make it in the commercial market, I have to get over thinking of my manuscript as a living being, and start thinking like a business person.

    When Tor first showed interest in Mad Kestrel, the editor wanted a huge rewrite before any offer was made. I could have refused. I could have flounced off in a huff, insisting the book was perfect as it was and Tor didn’t know what it was missing. (And for a second, believe me, I wanted to!) Instead I let myself have a good, hard cry, and got to work. Because the editor’s suggestions made it a much better, more saleable book. Not my baby, not the glorious reflection of my eternal soul, but a product for sale.

  • Misty, I think that after the changes, your book MadKestrel was tougher, harder, darker, with an edgy feel that it had lacked before. It was still your story in every way, but…um…distilled somehow. Clearer and cleaner. That is what a good rewrite can do when good editor is involved in the process. Also, you prooved that you were easy to work with, willing to stretch your talent, and the editor tiook on your work when he was happy with it.

  • Honestly, if I get a company interested in my book, but I have to do rewrites before they take it I’m pretty darn sure going to do ’em. I know I’m a good writer and can put quality words onto the page, but I also know that not all tastes are the same and that everything could use improving. AND, I can be a little wordy. I think my thoughts would run more toward, wait, if I change this, this and this you’re gonna take the work? SIGN ME UP!

    Oh, I’m sure a part of me, that part that thought that song was about him, might be irritated, but that part can just go have a time out. If it gets me published I’ll listen. If it’s something I really don’t feel needs changed I’ll give my opinions on why, but if it’s a matter of not getting picked up if the changes aren’t made I’ll likely bite the bullet and do it.

    Although, I do have this thing where I have to explain why I did something the way I did it first, but I usually end up saying, but I’ll make the changes if that’s what you think is needed. Hopefully I’ll get an editor who doesn’t mind me sending back my explanations. I just feel like it helps with the process.

  • Daniel, explainations never seemed to bother my editors, though I always phrased it, “Whatever you want, I can and will do. But please note that chapter 24 page 245 – 256 will be vastly changed if it I do this change you want. Are you okay with that?”

    Sometimes they’ll offer a reasong for the change they want that is so locial you can’t help but make it. Like, “Your reasoning in the storyline is coincidental. There needs to be a logical for yoru character to do what he did. Leave the story line if you want but you have to back up what the character is doing with proper motivatino.” Or something similar.

    I’ve had lots of editors over the years and only one was an ego-driven maniac and difficult to work with. It took effort to negotiate with him! But I did and I won my discussion by use of logic. Logic works!

  • Another great post. Thanks Faith. Can I offer a friendly ammendment? Or rather a very slightly different way of thinking about the art/business divide? I think you are absolutely right about the way (in point 1.) you discuss editing with an eye to market and readership, but can we not also think of this as simply making the book qua book better? Don’t you think that when you find yourself straying down that wrong path that you have to cut it not just to make the book more marketable but because that path really is just wrong? Maybe I’m trying to cling (delusionally?) to a sense of the commercial writer as artist, maybe I’m just overwhelmed by all those call-girl metaphors, but don’t you think that the ruthlessnes you suggest might be as much about quality and generic coherence as it is about market?

  • Andrew’s point resonates with me, as well. I find that when I start down those tangents it’s a sign of a narrative thread gone wrong. In other words, when my plot starts to lose coherence, it usually means that I’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere. In the same way, when I sense one of my characters behaving in ways that seem wrong for him or her, it usually means that I’ve put him or her in a situation that doesn’t work in the larger scheme of the book. This is not to say that I don’t have to be ruthless in dealing with the problem. Absolutely I do. But I would agree that I don’t necessarily do this for reasons of marketing as much as to save the book from my own mistakes and simply make it work better. That ruthlessness Faith describes is something every writer needs to have — neither Andrew nor I is disputing that. But I also cling to that artistic ideal. I’m being ruthless to make my creation more effective, and if it makes it more marketable too, all the better.

  • Hi AJ! I like the term geneeric coherance! You make a valid point, and I think we are saying the same thing in different ways. (I tend to be brutal with my words and not nearly as artsy as I once was.) Let me give a bit of history as to why I think of writing in the call-girl images.

    My perception of my work as art vs. a product was finally and fully stripped away when my publisher asked me to move the Rhea Lynch, MD series to Chicargo. No reason eacept they thought it would be more marketable if the character moved there. I had never been to that city. I knew nothing. I told them no. They dropped the series even though it had respectable numbers.

    At the same time, I had friends who were asked to stop writing the characters they had invested years in and start to write mystery series based on antiques or cooking schools or whatever, because it was more *marketable*. Some did. Some didn’t. Some are no longer in print.

    I learned quickly that the writer has no power in the market except to write what is both within my (our) range of experience and is also marketable. I lost the art vision and began to see this as a business. This is where the call-girl image came from.

    But maybe this next image will make you feel better than the prostitution angle. I want to stay viable in a market where the the competition to publish is as fierce as anything in the boxing ring. I want to stay in print. The glory of writing is for people just starting out who haven’t been pounded on. I *have* to veiw it in terms of the marketplace or I am out of the ring.

    To be marketable, a book must be the best it can be. It can’t wander off in to lovely paths where my words make me sigh and weep with their beauty. My words have to follow the conflict of the novel; they, each and every one, have to contribute to the character / conflict interaction. It is as if they are hand-fasted, both lovely and practical.

    My writing is art in that it is totally creative, but it is harnessed to the logic and structrue of the story — all of which is about making it marketable. I’ve been in this biz since 1990. Perhaps all that time in the trenches has stripped my creative self of the *glories?* of writing. The act of writing is far less uplifting to me than it is fierce and brutal and intense. It is battle in my mind.

    When I write, I stop every now and then and reread what I’ve done. I think about the structure and the form and the way someone else will perceive it. Will they see what I see? Will they hear that author’s voice with clarity?

    Am I selling my soul? No. But I am selling my talent to the highest bidder. And frankly, so is every commercial writer.

  • >>But I am selling my talent to the highest bidder. And frankly, so is every commercial writer.<<

    Very true.

  • Faith and David. I agree 100%. And Faith is absolutely right that market plays a far greater role than writers would like to admit (or simply would like). In part this touches on what David was writing about the other day when he was talkign about the difference between being a businessman and being a writer. As this thread suggests, the gap between is sometimes one of perspective, i.e. different impulses (marketing and artistic) might lead to teh same effect (the elimination of a scene we like but which doesn’t fit, say). But sometimes, as Faith rightly says, they diverge and then you have to make a tough choice…

  • Let me ask a question… If any writer here got a $1,000,000 deal, providing you changed your book to meet the requirements, would you do it? If I had the ability to write what they wanted, I would. I’d have moved / changed Rhea Lynch to Chicago in a heartbeat, moved there myself and done enough research to make it fit and work and believeable and pocketed the money. They weren’t paying me enough to uproot my life and move.

    Commercial writing is a business. It hurts; it is agonizing to deal with the business end, even when you are at the top of the heap. And the longer you are in it, the more callous you feel toward the market, because you have taken so many punches. If you can do anything else in life — do. Would I? No. Dang it. I am contray to the end.

  • I figure so long as I *can* do it, then I will do what any editor asks of me. 🙂 I’m sure there are exceptions that I simply couldn’t do. (For example I do have a work contracts that I have to fulfill, and it would be hard for me to pick up and move and keep doing what I currently do…) But, if I could do it, I would do it. Well, okay, maybe I wouldn’t move to Alaska.

  • Faith wrote “Let me ask a question… If any writer here got a $1,000,000 deal, providing you changed your book to meet the requirements, would you do it?”

    Probably. Well, OK, almost definitely. But there are changes and changes? My story is set in the desert. “Can there be sharks in it?” says my editor. “Well,” I say, “it is, you know, set in the desert…” “Right,” says my editor. “How about mechanical sharks?”

    For a million bucks? Probably. But that’s all very hypothetical because most editors don’t actually want massive rewrites if they are prepared to offer big bucks, no?

    But I’m talking too much so I’ll stop 🙂

  • >>>Let me ask a question… If any writer here got a $1,000,000 deal, providing you changed your book to meet the requirements, would you do it?<<<


    I may be a Literary Prostitute but I am a high-priced one. *wink*

  • Totally unrelated and random question, but I’ve not had a novel published and my wife asked me how many pages of a novel 100 pages of manuscript came out to, give or take, and I didn’t have an answer. Is 100 pages of manuscript the same as 100 pages of novel or is it different because of the dimensions of the novel page, font, etc? A goofy question, but I’ve always wondered.

  • LOL y’all!

    Daniel, it depends on a lot of factors like what font and what size adn margins you actually use.
    I use NTR 12, one and a quater at the top, one inch all around, and my pages run about one to one.
    People who use NC get *very* different results. So do people who use larger margins.

  • I use one inch all around and courier new 11 pitch (don’t ask why; I just do) and my books wind up with fewer pages than my manuscript. 590 pp manuscript = 390 page hardcover = 480 page mass market paperback. But it all depends on what pitch the publisher uses in printing. It can change from book to book.

  • Okay. Yeah, I’m using Courier New 12 point and 1 inch margins because that’s what I’ve always read is wanted, though I have noticed some places asking for Times New Roman instead. It’s only single spaced, but I’ll change all the requirements to suit the publisher. Actually, I went with the default on Word, which it 1″ on top and bottom and one and a quarter on the sides. The Courier New, I recently noticed, is cleaner for me to read while I’m writing it and it’s helping me feel less bogged down. Odd, I know, but it’s true.

    Looks like I’ve got around 80 pages in Times New Roman and 110 in Courier New. I’m maybe 2/3 of the way done with the first draft, but plan on going back and expanding some things and adding some subplots I didn’t add because I was originally trying for novella length…which didn’t happen. My synopsis was a bit bigger in scope than I planned on.

    It’s not going to be a weighty tome, but it’s a fun read. 🙂