Tighten Up Your Story: Dealing With Filler

One of the problems with amateur writers is that they tend to overwrite their narratives. Some of the bigger and more obvious examples are involving new characters who are undeveloped and don’t serve much of a purpose, a side arc that is introduced, but never resolved, unnecessary scenes, and purple prose used for mundane scenes. Those are the big problems. The small ones are using words that carry little to no meaning to the overall prose or narration of the story. Certain words can be filler too. In today’s post, we will discuss filler words. Note: this is in regards to the narrative, not dialogue. If your characters speak using the standard sentence structure of 21st Century English, it’s perfectly okay for your character to say, “Next thing I knew, this guy suddenly slaps me in the face!” But I show you how this is boring in the narrative.

Why get rid of filler words when it’s just a word here and there?

Simple. Imagine your reader enjoying one of your action scenes of a pivotal battle between a knight and the renegade king’s guards. You write this:

Suddenly, the knight let out a scream as the guard’s blade struck out, driving deeply. He gritted his teeth as he saw three more men unsheathed steel, joining in the battle. The knight countered and the guard let out a dying scream as the magical sword punched through the man’s armor.

Abruptly, the knight heard the sound of boots thundering down the hall toward him, the battle far from over.

Bad Adverbs of Instant Action

Suddenly, immediately, abruptly, slowly, and quickly are adverbs of instant action. And they are useless. Pathetically, unequivocally useless. In the above example, There is a battle being waged. Of course, everything will move as fast as possible. So the words “suddenly” and “abruptly” are pointless. Get rid of them.

Verb + out = filler

Cry out, let out, screamed out, shouted out, are examples frequently used by amateur writers and even some experienced ones.

“…the knight let out a scream…” Why use this? Why not, “The knight screamed as the guard’s blade struck”

“…the guard let out a dying scream…” Let’s replace with “…the guard howled his death throes as…”

I saw, I heard, I knew, I kicked butt

The words “saw” (and all its variants and synonyms), “heard,” and “knew” are useless words in about 99% of all cases.

“….the knight gritted his teeth as he saw three more men…” Replace with, “…three more men…”

“…the knight heard the sound of boots…” Let’s rewrite it to “The sound of boots thundered down the hall…”

Here are some more examples:

“Jack saw the man draw his gun.” Go with, “The man drew his gun.”

“Margaret heard a moan in the closet.” Go with, “Someone within the closet moaned.”

Let’s clean up our original example, shall we?

The knight screamed as the guard’s blade struck, driving deeply. He gritted his teeth as three more men unsheathed steel, joining in the battle. He countered, the guard howling his death throes as the magical sword punched through the man’s armor.

The sound of boots thundered down the hall toward him, the battle far from over.  

Happy Writing!

How to Critique & Edit Your Own Work

First off, understand that the first draft of what you are going to write is most definitely going to cause you to cringe and want to burn it on sight. I would not recommend this since editing it is fairly easy, and there’s no reason to give your neighbors a heart attack with squealing smoke alarms. You will have times when your writing flows as easily as a beautiful river. You will face times when you have to force the writing out. There will be filler words such as “that,” grammar issues, lack of descriptive imagery, characters so shallow you want to cry.

The first step is to just breathe. Once your first draft is completely finished, set it aside. Lock it away if you have to. Don’t look at it for at least a couple of weeks. Give yourself time to catch up on reading, watching movies, and schedule that spa day. You can work on another project, even if it’s the sequel to the first draft you just finished. Whatever you do, do not look at the first draft until two weeks has passed. That’s fourteen days for those that are stubborn. You know who you are.

The second step is to read your draft as though you were someone else. It should be fairly easy now that you’ve set it aside for the past two weeks. Be brutal. Reading from another perspective gives you the opportunity to find the plot holes more easily, the shallow characters who were never mentioned again, and more. Take your time reading it over.

The third step is the grammar. Make sure there are no run-on sentences (average long sentence length should not exceed 25 words), your homonyms(to/too/two) are correctly used, etc. Grammar is essential to making your story readable and enjoyable to readers.

The fourth step is checking the tense throughout the story. This means the past tense, present tense, future tense. If your wording is off, it will be difficult to read and will give readers different ideas than what you’re portraying.

The fifth step is to read the entire story out loud. This can be tiresome, but if you can’t get through the entire draft in a breeze, neither can your readers. If the sentences feel awkward to say, this means they are awkward to read. Definitely go through this step repeatedly until all of those errors are fixed. Normally it’s something that can be resolved by switching a couple of words around or deleting a word.

The sixth step is to read the entire draft with all of the steps above in mind. Fix any lingering issues you see. Make sure to use the spell checker in whatever program you are using to write in.

Hopefully by this time, you have found and edited everything. A word of warning: just when you think everything is perfect and you hit publish, you’ll find errors you overlooked. Don’t panic, don’t pull the book off the shelves in horror. Calmly document all of the errors, update the document, and upload the updated version. There may be a limitless amount of times you have to do this, so just accept your fate.

In conclusion, that is at least five times you need to read your first draft in order to edit it. If you just exclaimed negatively over that fact, this line of work is not for you. If you don’t want to take the time to read over your own work several times, why would anyone else want to take the time to read it?

The Good Short Story Tips and Tricks: Hook and Pacing

DSP typically plans and produces six to twelve anthologies a year with a short story word count ranging from 5k to 15k words. Technically, there is no sole right way to write a short story, but there are a lot of wrong ways. However, we’ll focus on a couple of methods used to entice your reader and get them hooked on your story for the next twenty to forty pages.

Let’s assume you know the components for proper characterization, tension, theme, POV, etc. For a good short story, you only need to place heavy emphasis on two aspects of your story; a good hook and your scenes moving at a face pace toward the climax.

The Hook

The hook is the opening line or scene to ensnare your reader. It’s a statement that makes them develop an interest in your story right off the bat. For a short story, you want them vested in your tale from the very beginning because you don’t have a lot of words to develop your character or theme. There are several easy ways to write a hook that will have your reader jump into your story; in media res, mystery, and disturbing.

In medias res means, “in the middle of the action”. Instead of starting out those teenagers having sex by the lake and then getting killed one-by-one by the psychopath in a hockey mask, you start the story with one of them running for his life while being chased by the psychopath. In my story, Malicyne’s Puzzle, the hook took place with a battle between a pirate ship and a naval frigate. Thela’s Angel started with poor Thela getting beaten to a pulp by her husband in the inn. Daughter of Darkness starts the story with the holy knight, Rhain, landing a killing blow through a demon lord’s heart in the temple of night elves dedicated to the worship of the Tri-Headed Queen.

Mystery is a very common mechanism. You start out with a profound statement or an enigma for your story. In my book, Fallen From the Stars, it opens with the following:

“Come with me.”

A gunshot rang out, followed by a woman’s scream and the world turned to utter darkness. That’s all I can remember.

Was the main character shot? What happened? Who said, “Come with me?” Readers don’t find out until Chapter 12 Bad Memories, but in a short story, you reveal the mystery of the hook usually at the climax or at the end.

Disturbing is a less common one but is great for grimdark fantasy, horror, or something in which you’re going for shock value. It makes your reader shout, “WTF did I just read?!?” and then they are compelled to read on just to figure out why you wrote that. The Disturbing method will typically contain triggers (again, for shock value).

A word of warning about using the Disturbing method – know your audience. If you’re a fantasy writer who typically writes YA epic fantasy and you want to try your hand at grimdark fantasy, your loyal fans are in for a rude awakening. Secondly, a lot of publishers have a “no graphic [anything]” rule (or rules on certain triggers in general), so don’t violate submission guidelines by writing something that will make people wonder if you’re sane or turn your editor off to you.

Pacing

After you’ve written your hook, all your scenes following should be paced as if racing toward the climax. You’re not walking or building up to the climax, you’re running to it. A perfect example of how you should pace your story is by watching the promo trailer for Dragon Age: Origins. Here’s the link (Warning: Violence and Blood):

What did you see here if this was a story? An intrepid band of adventurers on a quest in monster-infested mountains filled with ice, snow, and death. There is the brief pause by the main character, a weapon is thrown from the ice and then boom, we are running through the action building up to the climax of the sorceress Morrigan casting a powerful lightning bolt that lays low the dragon. Did you note how fast the action moved and how it flowed from one character to the next? This is how your short story should flow from one scene to the next, and then building up to the climactic battle with the dragon at the end.

Master this and you’ll sweep your reader up for an intense ride with only a few thousand words.

Happy writing!

Cardinal Sins in Writing

Amateur writers make a lot of mistakes. After all, writing is a learning process. You should always practice, practice, practice, and get your work edited, but what about during the process itself? What is it you should avoid as much as possible before you send your work out to the beta-readers? There are a lot of cardinal sins in writing. I will go over several here. Chances are if you have one or more of these in your story, your lit agent, or publisher will give your work a pass. In no particular order of importance, they are:

1. Tell, do not show. You tell me someone is angry, happy, or sad. You do not describe the body language to allow myself to make that judgment for myself. You use adverbs out the wazoo. A good rule of thumb, avoid using emotive words altogether. Also, avoid using descriptive dialogue tags when said and ask should suffice.

2. You use Passive Voice. The plane was exploded by a bomb instead of: A bomb exploded the plane. Was, were, had, to be, being, has been, have been, etc. All are passive verbs. Now you don’t have to try to eliminate all your passive verbs, but your action verbs should considerably outnumber your passive verbs.

3. Your Main Character is a Mary Sue / Gary Stu. Your character can do everything. They are smart, beautiful, strong, fast, sexually attractive (I’m talking h-a-w-t), can fight with just any kind of weapon, cast spells, the child of a god, (sigh!) the list goes on. Or maybe, they are not all those things, but you’ve constructed the story so that every challenge your main character faced, they just breezed right through.

4. Your story has no tension. Are the victories and arguments your character faced too easy? No setbacks? No twists? Everyone just goes along with the MC just because they are awesome? Yeah, don’t do this.

5. You pacing is disjointed. You put the climax in the middle of the book and the denouement is the wrap up from there on out. When gearing up for that epic battle, it completely fizzles or worse yet, it’s extraordinarily brief or doesn’t happen at all. Remember, your readers are conditioned to enjoy a completed story of beginning, middle, climax, denouement.

6. You switch POVs. Either choose First or Third Person. There are others, but uncommon and not really used effectively. If you choose First Person, then your story is told through your Main Character(s)’ eyes and by what they know. We don’t have the luxury to get into someone else’s head unless your MC can read minds. Third Person is quite common (and there are different subtypes), but if you switch POV’s from one character to the next, give us a scene break or chapter break so we know we’re hopping around. Second Person or other styles are very rare – use with caution.

7. You info-dump. If you write about the elves’ special coming-of-age ritual, we don’t need to know every single little detail about it unless necessary and especially if you tell it as if I’m sitting in History class. If we don’t need to know it for the story, odds are you didn’t need to tell us. Cut it out.

8. You did not research your story at all (or enough). You have a battle in the early 1800’s and your MC mans a Gatling gun, mowing down enemies. Except that the gun wasn’t invented and put into use until the American Civil War. Make sure you have done all the necessary research related to your story. If you set your story in an era where there is a lot of contention or debate among prominent historians/scientists, your safer bet is to go with the more popular accepted theory.

9. You did not write for the market. You love Twilight. You decide to write a love triangle with a sparkle vampire, a buffed werewolf, and a human girl who needs a boyfriend. Except no publisher wants a Twilight clone. They are done with it. They are also done with Harry Potter, Hunger Games, 50 Shades of Grey,and Game of Thrones. They are sick of the Chosen One trope. All of this is clearly written in their submission guidelines, but you wrote your Twilight story anyways. Was your story good? We won’t know unless you self-publish because that’s your only course of action from here.

In short, finish your story, and get it done. But after that, go through and look for all these areas of perceived weakness. Clean it up. Then gather your beta-readers to let them look for any weaknesses you missed.

Interview with Author Silvana G. Sanchez

Dragon Soul Press had the opportunity to sit down and interview Author Silvana G. Sanchez who is launching the second edition of her series!


 

What does literary success look like to you?

Literary success to me is the ability to reach out to the reader with my words, establishing the magical connection that allows readers to immerse themselves in the worlds of my creation. The complicity between authors and their readers is unique, without it you’ve got nothing. Success in all its forms stems from that first unique bond.

Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?

Perhaps more psychological than spiritual. There is only so much I can store in the archives of my brain. I’ve gone through several emotional hardships in the last couple of years. Losing my first-born son, Iker, and being myself so close to dying definitely reshaped all of my preconceptions and reaffirmed my belief in what’s truly important in life. To this day, I find myself still placing those thoughts and emotions in the right compartments of my heart; writing sometimes is a healthy way to cast them out of my mind and onto the page, where they serve a better purpose… I guess in the end, writing can be healing in a spiritual sense.

What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?

I try not to base characters solely on people I know, but there certainly have been major influences from friends and acquaintances in the building of my characters. If I told you how Ivan Lockhart came to life as the heart of The Unnatural Brethren series, you’d probably call me crazy…and you’d be right, lol. There’s a lot of crazy going on in my writerly mind.

But seriously, I am grateful to have such a rich assortment of personalities amongst my friends, and I owe to them portraying on the page those traits and quirks as honestly as I can.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

*Insert maddening laughter here* So many! I’m currently working on five projects, shuffling revisions, drafts, and editing between them. Hopefully, you’ll get to see the third installment of the Unnatural Brethren series by the end of this year!

As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

The dragon is a symbol that has accompanied me for years. In my view, the dragon represents strength, wisdom, and resilience.

I have a dragon tattooed on my back, two dragons actually. Each dragon symbolizes my past and future. Both are entwined emulating the Caduceus symbol, alluding to the fact that I’m also a doctor.

This interview is for Dragon Soul Press, so there you go: Dragons are the best!

How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?

I don’t know that I am too demanding on my readers, maybe my sole demand would be for them to keep track of the characters and their plotlines –since there are so many.

I take every comment seriously and I listen to my readers’ expectations. Oftentimes, their hopes will meet with the needs of the story, and when they do, it’s exciting to give them that special scene they’ve been waiting for, knowing they’ll be as thrilled as I was when I wrote it.

What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

It has to be Jane Austen’s Persuasion. The theme is brilliant, how Anne Elliot is persuaded to break off her engagement to Wentworth, only to realize later on she’d made a mistake. Of all of Austen’s works, Persuasion gets the least amount of love. But it’s truly a masterpiece, not only because of how Austen handles the plot but because her narrative style was more mature by then. She expanded the use of Free Indirect Discourse, blending the voice of the narrator and character seamlessly, which immerses the reader in the story. It’s simply wonderful.

How many hours a day do you write?

More than measuring time, I keep track of my daily word count. Lately, my minimum daily word count has been two-thousand words, sometimes I get to five or six-thousand. What’s most important to me is to write every single day, which is easy when you have so many ongoing works in progress like I do, lol.

Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?

I certainly have. There have been works which have reached best-selling status very quickly, even made it to the television or the silver screen, and by the time I’ve gotten around to reading them, they’ve proven painfully disappointing. I don’t want to start a whole thing about it, so I’ll keep those titles to myself. (It’s not you, J.K. Rowling, just in case you were wondering. It’s not you either, G.R.R. Martin, your books are brilliant!).

Where can readers learn more about you?

You can visit me at my website, Facebook, and Twitter. Looking forward to connecting with you there!