Category Archives: Editing

Different Hats for Fictional Characters

In my younger years, my mother, far ahead of her time, knew that working in the sun could cause cancer. She tried to make me wear one of her sunbonnets for protection while working in our backyard garden. I refused that hot covering. Later, she urged me to wear a large brimmed hat. Not for me. In my teen years, Jacqueline Kennedy inspired a small hat to complement dresses worn in public. I fell for that minimum style. I bought a few to match my Sunday church outfits. I had a full rack of various colors and materials for many years. Then the woman’s hat craze quit. Now, I wear a brimmed hat when I walk on sunny days.

Symbolically, I juggle several hats from writer to editor. Even editing has two hats different hat styles. As the publicity editor for Tri-Valley Writers, a branch of the California Writers Club, I’m required to use Associated Press (AP) style. As a writer and freelance editor of stories and novels, I have to follow the Chicago Manual of Style 17th Edition.

So what’s the difference? Many things from punctuation to capitalization. That made me think of the quirks of my main character. A detective with a sheriff’s office, she has a greater responsibility to solve major crimes than the deputies assigned to traffic duty, but she often forgets she’s part of the team. What attributes does she have that earned her that promotion? What quirks make the other deputies dislike her? After hours, what hat does she wear to distinguish her in the community?

I’ve crafted a resilient character filled with an inner turmoil that surfaces too often and creates external conflict with her coworkers. She prefers to work alone, keep her personal life secret, and fight her own emotional demons. That’s only resolved during a conflict when life is in danger, and she has to shuffle hats to let others help her.

Too bad she wasn’t an editor before she made a career in law enforcement. She could have learned to work with others, and I wouldn’t have had to put her in that life-threatening situation.

 

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Cure for Writer’s Procrastination

During downtime, resting from a tough manuscript edit, I read an article in Romance Writers of America (RWA), a magazine a friend gave me. Although romance isn’t my writing genre, one article about avoiding writing procrastination urged me to make a date with the characters in my book. I began with gruff Sergeant Gavin O’Sullivan, a Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, Arizona. He’s a pushover for coffee so he accepts without asking why I’m inviting him. Here’s the secret. I want to ramp up the tension between him and the main character, Detective Morgan Madrid, not smooth it over. I served him coffee, black like he prefers.


Me: “Sergeant, why do you dislike Detective Madrid so much?”

O’Sullivan: “Because she’s so uppity, trying to do things to get promoted to the next level.”

Me: “Uppity. Is that a Texas word? That’s where you’re from, right?”

O’Sullivan: “What’s wrong with uppity? Yeah, I lived in Houston. But you sound just like her. Always thinking you’re right.” He plops his cup down on the table and coffee splashes on my white damask tablecloth.

Me: “Didn’t she earn the promotion?”

O’Sullivan: “It shoulda gone to Maclin Jeffries, her patrol partner. He’s been here longer than she has. She got promoted because she’s a Latina. How can that be? She’s a blonde. Maybe it’s a bleach job. Still, she’s got blue eyes.”

Me: “Sounds like you’re prejudiced. Isn’t your job to treat all the deputies under your supervision equal?”

O’Sullivan: “There you go. Defending her, just because you’re a woman.”

Me: “Let’s move on.” I consult my list of questions. “You worked for Captain Rojas, the commander of your MCSO district, when he was Chief of Police in Houston. Detective Madrid says that’s how you got this job. What do you say to that?”

O’Sullivan: “There she goes again. Finding fault with everyone else and overlooking her own shortcomings.” He looks at his empty cup. “Got any more coffee?” I refill his cup and shift to another sore spot in the novel.

Me: “Madrid seems to be accomplishing her career goals. What about you? You could be Lieutenant Genesee’s replacement if she can’t return to work after her motorcycle crash.”

O’Sullivan: “That would be nice, more office time, but I’d still be Madrid’s supervisor ’cause she’ll push to be the next sergeant.” He drains his cup one more time. “Gotta get back to work. Thanks for the coffee.”


RWA is right. Now that I know more about this character, I can increase the tension between these two. I don’t tell O’Sullivan—he won’t like it now, but he’ll understand later—that he’ll change his attitude near the end of the book.

 

 

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Search and Replace

Larry Tesler (Lawrence Gordon Tesler) died on February 16, 2020. I didn’t know Larry, but he gave me several gifts I cannot live without.

Larry worked for Xerox many years ago creating computer commands to make life easier. Cut and paste, Larry’s brainchild, is easier to use now than when it was new. Copy and paste is similar, but the original text stays in place. Need to repeat a sentence, a paragraph, or a section of text elsewhere? Copy and paste it from one location to another, even from one document to another. My first experience with that feature took multiple keyboard commands. Then, Doug Engelbart invented the mouse. Someone in our office added a tail and a mustache and painted eyes on that rectangle chunk. I preferred keyboard commands until I realized a plain device, minus the enhancements, made my work easier. Now, if my manuscript doesn’t flow like I want, or I need to shift a character’s dialogue or actions, I highlight the text and drag it to the new location.

Larry gave the computer world the “Search” feature. All I need to do is click the “Find” icon, type the word, and enter. When I change a character’s name, the dual-action “Search and Replace” is a writer’s friend. Larry also created the full “Find and Replace” feature. Type the unwanted word in Find, type the new word in Replace, click Replace All. Shazam! Out with the old, in with the new.

Wouldn’t it be great if every time one of my crime fiction characters doesn’t do what I want, I could Search and Replace and add a different action? A few clicks could help Captain Rojas temper feisty Morgan Madrid or add motivation to Sergeant O’Sullivan.

Alas, even Larry Tesler didn’t have a solution for these two fictional characters.

 

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Beyond The End

My novel critique groups gathered for our annual January brainstorming workshop. With almost an hour each, the six of us—one member joined us by Skype—presented our individual 2020 writing agendas. Cell phones on silent except for lunch and short breaks kept us focused. Well, maybe one brief distraction when aromas wafted from the kitchen near lunchtime. All six members are authors, earning that designation by publications in short-story contests and anthologies. Five, including me, have published at least one book. My first two were nonfiction.

Even with that experience, getting beyond THE END in my first fiction novel has been like a soap opera. Do you remember the longest-running soap? (Cheat sheet: The Guiding Light) Every radio broadcast ended with a cliffhanger followed by “Stay tuned.”  Today’s workshop prompted me to reevaluate my word of the year.  Revisit doesn’t fit my 2020 goals.

I chose a new word of the year.

 

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Shaped by Choices

Writing a story begins with a choice. What does the writer-in-me want to tell? That is balanced with the question, “What does the target audience want to read?”

I’ve made a lot of good choices in my life—and a few that didn’t reach that level. Some of those decisions shaped me like homemade playdough in the hands of a preschooler. I was punched, squeezed, rolled, and manipulated. Just when I thought I had reached my destiny, slam, bam. More pounding.

Julaina Kleist-Corwin, a writing instructor, gathered short stories about choices for an anthology. She extended the competition to former students and writers who had been published in her previous anthology. She read each 500-word submission and suggested changes. No pounding, punching, or squeezing. Then the writers were given the opportunity to reshape their stories. Most were memoirs. A few were fictionalized.

My memoir, “Second Chance,” is about my submission to an anthology being published by a well-known New York publisher. The book theme was true stories about Christmas miracles. No problem there. I had a story to tell.  I submitted it. Hooray! It was accepted with minor suggested edits. The congratulatory email said the next step would be to sign a publisher release form. I waited a few days. No form. Instead, an email suggested I revise my story. Playdough again.

“But that isn’t what happened,” I wrote to the developmental editor.  She gently rolled my story into shape to keep the facts and told me to sign the forthcoming release.

Two days before the deadline to sign the release, I received an email from the main editor, the one whose name would appear on the book cover. He added more fiction. “It makes a stronger story,” he said.

Slam, bam. Playdough. Only this time, I had a choice. Accept the change or insist on keeping the story as I wrote it.

What did I decide? Read about it in The Choice Matters.

 

 

Disclaimer: Julaina doesn’t know I’m including her Amazon book link in my blog, but I’m sure she’ll be delighted. The print edition and e-book are on sale at introductory prices.

 

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Too Much of a Good Thing

Family stories shaped my life in hand-me-down stories of my French and Native American ancestry. DNA proves the French but disagrees on the other. That doesn’t erase the historical moment my mother blurted two full sentences in Cherokee, part of a conversation she remembered from her young years in Indian Territory, later Oklahoma. I can identify the colors and material of clothes my twin and I wore in aging black and white photos. Cloudy memories say I excelled in high school, but math transcripts disagree. I played shortstop a few times in physical education. I like to think I was good, but the truth is I was the last choice for the position.  True or false, these are part of my backstory.

My critique group often tells me to cut the backstory in my crime fiction novel. “But you need to know my character’s history,” I insist. “How else will you know why she reacts like she does.”

The most common statements my physicians repeat are backstory. “At your age . . .” and “With your history . . .” followed by how genetics and medical history affect a specific ailment now. Despite my poor athletic abilities, I jump like a pro reaching for a fly ball. I catch words preceded by high—high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high heart rate.  Imagine my surprise when a specialist lobbed me a slow grounder.

 

“Your sodium level is too low.”

My mind raced to backstory ten years ago when physicians, nurses, and dieticians counseled me to lower my salt levels. No more pizza. Go light on the bread. Ditch the cheese. It was difficult after a lifetime of enjoying salt, but I followed the advice. I switched to organics, bought no-salt-added canned vegetables or rinsed regular ones to remove the excess sodium. I substituted Trader Joe’s Rainbow Peppercorns for my spice-of-the-day. No more salt on watermelon or fresh sliced tomatoes. My taste buds refused to cooperate at first but eventually acclimated to the new taste.

“But lowering my salt intake was the goal,” I countered, back in the present where my new endocrinologist didn’t know my history.

She turned the computer screen my direction and pointed to the < sign before the sodium level.

“Dangerously low,” she said. “Increase the salt in your diet.”

That reversal echoed advice from my critique group when I revealed the antagonist in the last chapters. “You need to flesh out this guy,” they said. “Give us some backstory.”

At home, I made a sandwich with cheese. I sprinkled the sliced tomatoes with salt and ate a handful of potato chips—rare foods in my kitchen.

Backstory and salt. How do I balance the levels to avoid too much of a good thing?

 

 

 

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The Fugitive

An email from National Novel Writing Month (NanoWriMo) was a stark reminder that my first novel manuscript sleeping in my computer like Rip Van Winkle has many of the basics, but the reader wants action and a conclusion. That reminded me of the original The Fugitive TV series from 1963 to 1967.

Courtesy: Wikipedia

“That was just a TV show,” some say. To viewers, it was much more. Dr. Richard Kimball (David Janssen), convicted of killing his wife, Helen, escaped when the train carrying him to prison wrecked short of the destination. I watched those weekly episodes—Kimball’s unfruitful search for the one-armed man who knew the truth—while pursued by Lt. Phillip Gerard (Barry Morse) who was determined to put Kimball in prison. After a while, I lost interest. Not because there was no tension. It was there. Not because there was no action or emotion. They were there too. My interest waned when I realized the chase continued without a solution.

After four years, producer Leonard Goldberg realized the same thing. Solving the mystery would terminate the series, but the viewers wanted resolution. In years that followed, this pattern of conflict, tension, and resolution would become the basic for movies and TV shows.

Like Dr. Kimball in The Fugitive, I’m hiding while trying to solve a mystery.  The IRS is sending a constable to arrest me. Microsoft “technicians” are warning me that my computer has been hacked. The same voice leaves messages when I don’t answer a dozen unknown calls a day with warnings that I’m paying too much for health insurance.

But unlike the dramatic ending in the last episode of The Fugitive when the one-armed man was apprehended and Dr. Kimball was freed, even my long-time registration with the Do-Not-Call center brings no relief from my adversaries. I’m hiding from the robo-cops while I revise my crime fiction novel that began as a NanNoWriMo contest in a long-ago November while Detective Morgan Madrid of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office can bring closure to my story.

 

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Reach Out, Touch Base, Get Back, and Other Jargon

Remember when “get back” and “touch base” were part of most business conversations?  “I’ll get back to you as soon as I touch base with my supervisor.” What did that mean?

I don’t know. I have to ask my boss.

“I touched base with him last night at the Top of the Mark.”

We talked about business for five minutes so I can deduct it as an expense.

Thankfully, get back has moved out of the spotlight and touch base has hit its last inning and retired with put it on the back burner.

But “reach out,” the new kid on the block, is even more annoying. “I just wanted to reach out to you about a business opportunity.”

I need money for my new venture.

Or, “I’m reaching out to let you know that we were not able to gather the needed quantity of signatures to have that proposition added to the California election ballot.”

The people we hired to get the signatures didn’t do their jobs.

How about this one? “I’ll reach out to him as soon as I can.” This is a brother to back burner.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines reach as a noun. That resource also confirms out is an adverb. It means away from. So why do we say “I reached out to . . .” when we mean toward?

These phrases create a quandary for wordsmiths. I’ll get back to you after I touch base with a couple of other editors and reach out to my circle of grammarians.

 

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Once in a Blue Moon

I heard “Once in a blue moon” many times in my childhood. My family used the phrase to describe something that rarely happened, especially when trying to prompt someone to a specific action the second time. My child’s mind imagined an Indigo—or at least a turquoise—moon. The adults laughed at my expectations. Even though my father lived by the Farmer’s Almanac and knew every phase of the moon, he didn’t tell me that a Blue Moon was the second full moon in one month.

My superstitious mother kept me from staring at a Blood Moon in the mid-1940s. “It’s a curse,” she had said. “Something terrible’s gonna happen. Wait and see.” She never wavered from her belief to acknowledge the color was caused during a total lunar eclipse when Earth moved between the sun and the moon and created a reddish glow.

Tuesday evening, January 30, 2018, I stopped editing a manuscript to go outside and stare at the moon to witness something I’d never seen.  The bright light rose high in the sky looking much like any other full moon—not a deep cobalt or even a light sapphire. I went back inside, checked my printout of the promised total eclipse of the triple-decker treat of a Super Blue Blood Moon, and set my alarm for 3:45 a.m. Pacific Standard Time determined to witness the beginning of the umbral eclipse.

The alarm triggered the urgency to rise while it was dark. I staggered out of bed, slipped on shoes and pulled a long black coat over my pajamas. I hurried outside away from the lights of my apartment community and gazed upward. The excitement of the impending triple-header warmed me from the cold for a while. For the next three hours, I alternated staring at the marvel in the sky and returning inside for breaks, warmed by hot tea. The Super Blue Blood Moon was more spectacular than promised. When the eclipse ended and the Super Moon slid lower and lower until I could see only the top of the bright orb, I returned to my warm bed.

A second alarm reminded me that I had work to do on a manuscript edit. I clicked my way through and basic sentence structure and spell check. After a late breakfast, I traipsed through ninety screen prompts in a grammar program. If it disagreed with Chicago Manual of Style—the manuscript editor’s go-to book—I clicked ignore.

My next step, an editing program that claims to be “smart” enough to reveal misused words, punctuation inconsistency, and multiple other variances. Three popped up in the em dash category. My edited punctuation was correct according to Chicago Manual of Style. That’s when I looked up, waiting for the program to enlighten me like the Super Moon had earlier. I saw this instruction on my computer screen above the questionable areas.

 

 

Maybe this only happens once in a blue moon, but if this paid program isn’t smart enough to catch its own mistakes, how can it find mine?

In a spare moment between writing and editing today, I took a look at Super Blue Blood Moon Video, NASA TV. Now that’s  something I can trust.

 

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Type-ins for Writers

Type-ins are the newest writing frenzy according to Associated Press News (AP) . Writers, poets, and typewriter enthusiasts gather to click keys and roll out paper originals. Could this no-screen craze be the next eye-saver?

Mr. Clyde Quick, my high school typing teacher, agreed. He insisted that his students focus on an oversized keyboard poster centered above the chalkboard to learn touch typing. “Look up,” was his first mantra. His second was, “Keep your hands on the home row.”

My hands hovered above the keyboard of a manual Underwood desk typewriter, left index fingertip touching the “F” key and right index finger on “J,” ready for “Begin.” Later, when the tests were timed for Word per Minute (WPM) achievement awards, Mr. Quick held his stopwatch high and added a little frenzy to the race with “Go!”

Now and then I was fortunate enough to grab a seat behind a manual Royal —much smoother touch than the Underwood.  One morning, two new typewriters, one Royal and one Underwood, shined atop the table in the last row, strategically placed to avoid tripping over the cords plugged into a nearby electrical wall socket. The typewriters weren’t assigned, so the athletic sprinters beat me to those seats most of the time. One day, with an admonition from Mr. Quick to let every student have a chance, it was my turn on the Royal with green keys. No extra pressure for the pinkies to produce a clean, even text. The short return carriage lever made right margin end-of-the-line faster. I fell in love with my first taste of technology. Returning to the stiff manual typewriter was difficult, but it had a side benefit. The electric typewriters were off-limits for achievement tests. I was one of the few who received the coveted 60 WPM level with no errors on a manual Underwood.

Long after my school days, I bought a portable Smith Corona, then upgraded to a full-size IBM Selectric. I was fascinated with the interchangeable typeball fonts and added several to my collection. The Selectric self-correcting feature was fabulous. I pressed a special backspace key, and the letter lifted off the printed page, ready for the correct keystroke.

Thanks to Mr. Quick’s fairness and my few sessions on that electric Royal typewriter, I embraced technology. Now, decades later, I’ve abandoned paper markups to edit on screen with Microsoft Word tracking feature. I delete, insert, or move text and add side comments to the author with soft clicks.

I still follow Mr. Quick’s advice and keep my fingers on the home row of my Dell laptop. His advice to “Look Up” means keep my eyes on the screen.

 

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