…somewhere, an author, sweating blood, decided to sit down and pour their creative guts out on cyber paper to bring you fabulous books.
Negative Nancys…who needs ‘em? Bah. And let’s face it, no one can have too many Behler books. They enrich lives, provoke thought…they’re literary brain hugs.
Race to your bookstore or online store and load up. Word on the street is that they create world peace, too. Check out our amazing lineup.
I love a good note. I write them to myself all the time. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t remember to buy chicken tenders and toothpaste. I even leave myself little notes in my writing. When penning Donovan’s Paradigm, I left myself love notes that were almost as long as the manuscript itself…”Insert heart attack scene here.” or “Ask about drugs used for patient allergic to morphine.” or “Insert screaming match here.”
I totally get love notes – you’re either creating a chapter foundation and don’t want to interrupt the flow, or needed to go back and research a bit more. But it might be a better idea to insert these love notes in the margin so it stands out. It’s too easy to miss a love note that’s in the manuscript. Even if it’s another color. I know because I see them in submissions. [Insert chess scene here], or [Change names of everyone in this scene]. This is like seeing a manuscript’s lacy Victoria Secrets. I don’t wanna see this. I want a finished manuscript.
Same thing goes for the Track Changes feature. Authors forget to Accept or Reject Changes and turn the Track Changes feature off. So I’ll see all the little love notes between the author and their beta readers or indie editor. “This part is really rough, you need to beef this up.” “An editor will skewer you if you leave this in.” Ouch. Talk about seeing lacy Vickie Secrets.
Don’t be in such a hurry to bang a manuscript out to an editor’s desk if she asks to read your full. Do yourself a favor and insert all your editorial notes in the margin…which is hideously easy. In Word, there is a Track Changes feature, which allows you to do all sorts of things, and inserting a comment is one of them. In later versions, you’ll find this feature in the Review tab.
Love notes and Track Changes are great, but they’re meant to be private. Oh, and that reminds me that I’m almost out of designer doggeh chewies…
Have you ever read a book and thought a chapter or three went on for too long? Or not long enough? Or worse, they seemed to be a confusing mish mash of information all piled on much like the old college prank of stuffing a VW bug? This aberration comes from a lack of proper organization. Sounds simple, no?
The answer? Re-organize, and you have great chapters. Okay, if it were that easy, we wouldn’t have this problem of wonky chapters, right? Here are some of the things I look for when I edit.
I look for chapters that are clear about what they’re saying. I want them to have a clear direction. It’s like the time when we first moved to Pittsburgh. We were trying to find a particular furniture store, and Zelda (what I’ve named my phone’s navigation app) took us on the wildest goose chase that I’m still shocked we didn’t end up in Ohio. Bitch. If she had just gotten rid of all the ups and downs, turns and twists, we would have gotten to the store in fifteen minutes, instead of forty-five.
It’s the same with chapters. If a chapter introduces a character, then zaps over to backstory, then teleports over to the history of the setting, I’m going to request the author’s bloodletting, because there’s no sense of direction.
A lot of us just sit down at the computer and barf out our chapters. It isn’t until subsequent drafts that we begin to refine and define. This is why an outline can be helpful at some point in the revision process. It forces you to stay on task and prevents you from wandering off the railroad tracks…or from going on and on and on and on…
A chapter should have a beginning, middle, and an end…which leads me to…
The Middle Stuff
If you’re clear on your chapter intent – example: “This chapter explains why I have Rescue Beagles in my employ, and why I won’t allow them to answer the phone anymore” – then the middle stuff needs to support that intent. If you keep it clear, then it makes it easier to know how and where to end your chapters.
There have been times when I’ve reached the end of the chapter and turned the page looking for the rest, because I didn’t realize I’d reached the end. Instead, the chapter left me hanging and had zero impact. I call that Endus Abruptus. To me, abrupt is only effective when the Rescue Beagles of Questionable Breeding breeze into my airspace to polish off my margarita. The only solution is to shout out an abrupt, “Get your own damn drink!”
Endus Abruptus shouldn’t be confused with a cliffhanger, which is equally abrupt. Oh nay nay. These offending chapter endings leave a scene unfinished. It’s like a punchline that makes no sense, and you need further explanation in order to get its meaning.
Conversely, I’ve read plenty chapters that actually ended two pages ago, and the authors seemed unaware of that fact. Instead, they rambled on and on until the ending sort of faded away – in much the same fashion as my imbibing one too many Fireballs.
There are all kinds of ways to end a chapter, but they have one thing in common; they make sense. Where and How to end a chapter is as intentional as the plot and character development.They satisfy whatever transpired in that chapter by giving enough information to keep you turning the pages. They have a Mini-Me version of rising action, climax, and falling action.
I’m big on transitions because I can be thick between the ears. You gotta lead me from Point A to Point B in a logical fashion. If one paragraph is about a character’s thoughts on the weather, and the next one goes into firing one of his employees, then you need a transitional sentence that leads into that next paragraph because, without it, there is nothing remotely linking those two paragraphs together.
Think of transitional sentences as couplers between railroad cars. They’re the magic that keeps the entire train together. Take out a coupler, and the train falls apart. Same goes for transitions between paragraphs of differing topics.
Being a native Southern Californian, I had no idea about the dangers of snow and freezing rain when I moved to Pittsburgh. I’m an idiot that way. Most I ever had to worry about was whether to put on short sleeves and bring a sweater, or just wear long sleeves and ditch the sweater. Weather meant looking at the surf report, not ice skating on my driveway in my best shoes. Though today, it looked like ice skating would be the main course of my work banquet, since I finally decided to fire the Rescue Beagles – their antics were taking a toll on my last shred of sanity.
“Rescue Beagles, you’re fired. You can’t type, you refuse to file, and your phone manners are dismal. I give you points on your margarita-making skills, but you can’t continue biting the pizza delivery guy and expect to collect a paycheck.”
The sentence in red is the transitional sentence. Without it, the reader would do the blink blink thing before hurling the book across the room. Avoid the book hurl.
This is where I go all feng shui and call people “Grasshopper.” Balance is a delicate internal gauge that ensures the information in each chapter has the proper weight. For example, if your chapter exposes how your main character discovers pygmy yaks have been eating all her Coach purses while she’s at work, then you need to put the proper amount of literary weight behind which element you feel is most important. Is it the discovery behind who’s eating the purses, or is it how your main character caught them?
It’s easy to throw off an entire book by giving more weight to inconsequential things, while paying less attention to the really important stuff that needs explanation. Recently, I read a manuscript where one chapter talked about meeting her long lost aunt, whom she thought was dead. It was quite pivotal. But instead of talking about that, the author chose to go into backstory, and paid scant attention to actually meeting the aunt. Grasshopper wrote that chapter completely out of balance.
So, dear Grasshopper, chapters are the building blocks of your book. If they’re filled with a clear intent, are well-balanced, have effective transitions, and come to a logical conclusion, then this makes it easier to edit (which makes me deliriously happy) into a bright package of fabulosity. Go forth and rocketh your world.
An acquaintance excitedly told me about the publication of her book and urged me to rush over to her website and look at her cover art which, of course, I did. The little gold seal on the cover caught my eye, and I asked her about it. What’s with this “ABC Publisher Romance Winner”?
“Oh,” she said with no small measure of pride, “I won the contest and was awarded a publishing contract.”
Um. Oh. “Okay, but why is it on your cover?”
“I’m an award-winning author, and this will sell books!”
There were simply no words. It’s ludicrous to think this little gold seal is an amulet whose power will sell books because this is a no-name publisher with no marketing or promotion, no distribution, and no store placement. The only people who will see her book are those who have a book pressed into their hands by…the author.
Stuff like this make my teeth itch because it’s puffery and has zero meaning. Store-front publishers do this stuff to capitalize on the real award winning competitions, like PEN Award, Pulitzer, Man Booker, National Book Award, Edgar Awards, and to a smaller degree, Ben Franklin, and IPPYs, thinking having a little gold seal will sell books.
And it may. I mean, readers could see my acquaintance’s gold seal and believe her book is very important and buy several copies – and for her sake, I hope they do. But this will be limited to those who know her and attend the talks she’s planned around town. There is no grander reach to the reading market by the publisher.
Meanwhile, this acquaintance is calling herself an award-winning author, which I imagine makes her feel like a million bucks. But how does this translate to sales if her publisher sits on their hands and forces her to do all the marketing and promotion?
Authors tell me they’re award winners in their queries, and I check them out. First thing I look for is whether the contests are so obscure that they have no meaning. Can I see how many writers competed in each genre? It’s impossible to give credence to these contests. Now, if you won a Pushcart, then I know you have some writing chops.
My feeling is that these “award winners” by unknown publishers are meant to puff up the author’s ego and to attract more
victims writers to their web. Without any marketplace presence, there really isn’t anything to crow about, right? We all love the feeling of being considered exceptional. When I was 10, I was voted “Smelliest Feet” at Y Camp. Now, one would think I’d be embarrassed, but oh nay nay. My distinction awarded me the top bunk, where there was a small rip in the tent at the foot of the bunk. Not only could my feet air out, but it was also the coolest place in the tent during a very hot summer in the mountains. And because it was such a goofy award, I made a lot of friends. Go figure.
But I digress…
My point is that if any of us are going to be awarded for being outstanding, shouldn’t it mean something? Shouldn’t we care about quality and depth, and not just the title? There are great publishers who hold contests from time to time and the winner receives a contract, so I’m not saying writing contests bite the big one. But talk is cheap, so stick with known publishers whose books grace the bookstore shelves.
Which would you rather have? A cover devoid of an Award Winner seal and widely distributed and promoted, or a pretty gold seal on a book that will end up sitting in your garage? …which is what I fear is the fate for this acquaintance of mine.
If you enter a publisher’s writing contest, please make sure that the publisher has the chops to distribute, promote, and market their books. How can you figure that out? Simple. Go to a bookstore. If you see their books on the shelves, then you know they’re walking the walk. Don’t let anyone appeal to your ego, lest you become their victim.