Round 3…My First 250

The first 250 words in your manuscript are important, and I’m having a heck of a time nailing it.  But, I’m not one to stay down long.  Here’s attempt 49…or 50…or 60…

The opening page, or in essence the first 250 chances us authors get to prove to readers we know what we’re doing, is critical.  Through my revisions I’ve learned the following things

  1. Make sure your writing gets readers to ask a question?
    1. Why is this happening?
    2. Who is following them?
    3. What is the deal with…?
  2. Avoid cliches at all costs.
    1. Don’t have your character look in the mirror, check the date, analyze the weather, etc.
  3. Is the character in the moment?
    1. Leave the backstory and flowery details for later.  We don’t necessarily need to know what he/she/it looks like either.  Avoid starting with a dream.
    2. Start with something in process.  Give the reader a feeling that something is about to happen, and it might not be in the best interest of the protagonist.
  4. Develop your character.
    1. Give the reader an idea of who they are going to be spending the next few hours hanging out with.

Critiques/Feedback from Round 2:
1.  Add the part about the “intervention,” it creates conflict.
2.  Get rid of the school report details, these words take up valuable space.
3.  Be careful about the cliche of starting a story in a car. (I couldn’t address this one)
4.  When talking about the “intervention” make sure to show that Sarah is sad instead of telling the reader she is sad. (I need to reread my post on Showing vs. Telling-this writing gig is hard work.)

Under Western Skies…Round 3
Inspirational/Sweet Romance

Tag Line:
When Sarah’s long-time boyfriend meets a tragic end she is left with a ring box, but no ring.  Despite ten months without him, Sarah remains faithful, until a green-eyed surfer threatens to challenge her devotion.

Chapter 1:  You Should Be Here

I’d been waiting for this moment since my fifth grade report on California.  My stomach fluttered around the peanuts I’d eaten earlier on the plane as my heart thudded rapidly against my chest.

“It’ll be a minute,” Brian said, noticing my tapping foot.

I made an effort to steady my leg.  “Sorry,” I said.  It had been a long time since I’d looked forward to anything.

The last ten months had sucked the life out of me.  I knew I need to take steps to get better, but I hadn’t anticipated my family throwing an intervention on Christmas Eve.  Eight days after opening the beach towel from my parents, I was on the plane to San Luis Obispo, CA.

Brian, my oldest cousin had been in on my emotional hiatus.  He was going to school in the college town that would be my new home, and got the lucky job of being my chaperone for the next six months.

Despite the disappointment I felt about being sent from Wyoming, I was still excited to see the ocean for the first time.  With each bend in the canyon road I expected it to come into view, but after rounding each bend my heart would sink.  It wasn’t until we reached the top of the canyon that it appeared, springing into view like a gigantic, blue, jack-in-the box.  Even though I’d been expecting it, the sight of the endless blue landscape took my breath away.

“So, what do you think?” Brian asked.

I brought both hands to the window, awestruck as wave after wave beat against the cliffs below.

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Crutch Words Become Active Verbs

Watching is just a really boring verb.  If you cut it, you can almost always use a cooler verb that paints a clearer picture.”- Naomi Hughes

Crutch words, we all have them, the problem is they are different for each writer, so how do we identify them?  What is a crutch word?  It’s our writing tic, the words we overuse.  In this post I will teach one way to identify crutch verbs and how to replace them with words readers will find more interesting.

Step 1:  Identifying Crutch Verbs
My go-to word is “back.”  My characters walk back, go back, look back, it’s plumb crazy, and honestly, boring.  How did I identify my crutch word?  I built a wordle at Tagxedo.  Just click “create” then add the text of your entire novel, or go chapter by chapter, it’s up to you.  Here’s a list of crutch words writers tend to repeat from Writers Helping Writers (scroll down until you find the PDF titled “Crutch Words).

This is embarrassing, but here is my wordle for my 7th draft of my work in progress.  What crutch words do you see?

Draft 7

My stomach just did a flip flop, I’ve got a lot to work on, but it appears I have fixed my “back” problem.  Now I will address the following crutch words:  looked, walked, and turned.

Step 2:  Replace Crutch Verbs with Active Verbs
1.  Use the “find” feature on your word processor and look up one of your crutch words.
2.  Refer to the Writers Helping Writers List to find another, more exciting verb and use it to replace your crutch word, see my examples below.

Example 1:  Looked
Crutch
“I stayed with him, watching the sun disappear from the sky and when I looked back to where he had been, he was gone and I was alone.”
Active
I stayed with him as the sun disappeared from the sky.  After the last sliver of light sunk below the horizon, I glanced in his direction, but he was gone, and I was once again alone.”

Example 2:  Walked
Crutch
“Behind her walked the surfer and I felt my heart fall straight into my gut, right on top of the cheerios I had just eaten.”
Active
“Behind her the surfer sauntered.  My heart fell into my gut, right on top of the cheerios I had eaten for breakfast.”

Example 3:  Turned
Crutch
“We had reached my door when I turned to look at him, curious if he really meant what he was saying.”
Active
“We had reached my door when I peeked at him, curious to see if he really meant what he was saying.”

May we all tighten our writing and make it more succinct, keeping our readers reading instead of getting hung up on overused words.

Self-Editing

self edit image

Being able to self-edit is key to writing, but how do we do it?  Ellen Brock, a freelance editor has a great YouTube video on the subject, I recommend giving it a view.  If you like worksheets like me, I have provided the following helps to assist you in your self-editing process.  May the odds, or elements, be ever in your favor.

Self-Edit Checklist-think Big Picture then work to Small Details

  1. Character Arc  Character Arc Worksheet  Character Questionnaire
    1. What is the story you want to tell and are you telling it?
    2. How does your character change? What does he/she learn?
    3. Does the journey make sense, will it hold up?
  2. Story Structure
    1. Are you plot points in place?  Story Structure Worksheet
  3. Scenes
    1. Does each scene have the following elements? (Conflict, Goal, Outcome)
      1. Editing Proactive Scenes Worksheet
      2. Editing Reactive Scenes Worksheet
    2. “Kill your darlings” -if it doesn’t move your story forward…”Let it Go”
    3. Improve weak scenes (add more conflict/improve sentence structure)
  4. Line Edit-this may take a few passes and another set of eyes
    1. Double Check “Show v. Tell”
    2. Identify Crutch Words
    3. Check:  word choices, phrases, organization