Editing Rant: NOT TO BE

Acquired from the internet Hive Mind

It’s baaack. The copula spider. (First post on the topic is Copula Spiders.)

The shiny wore off real quick on being a content editor. Two manuscripts and thousands (2% of the documents) from the “to be” family – mostly “was” and “were”.

           “Editors are to leave writers’ voices intact,” claims a would-be author. “My voice is passive.”

           “Your voice doesn’t sell.” I move to the next story in the slush pile.

I’m not the only editor, or writer, running into the problem. “Was” and “were” are easy to use. One of my friends fixing a returned manuscript, complained her editor (not me) marked all the “was’es”.

“Was! Oh bane of my existence! Stop tormenting me … (cries)” she posts on Facebook.

New to content editing, I reached out and I asked her about it, and her editor replied (I guess my friend was still busy killing the “was’es” or crying, likely both as she said she averaged 5 was’es a page in her opus). The other editor wrote: “Basically ‘was’ is either taking the place of or weakening a stronger verb.“

Copula is “a connecting verb, in particular the verb ‘be’ connecting the subject and a complement”. The “to be” family includes: am, are, is, was, were, been, has been, have been, had been.

A copula spider happens when you circle all the was’es on a page and connect them. If eight or more legs result, you have a spider.

Was / were / is – the most evils of evils making writing weak. The Copula Spiders must be burned. Kill the spider. Have no more than five “was” ”were” ”is” on a page (one if an action sequence). Six would be a copula insect – and even those are unworthy of your efforts. Remove any of them running through your manuscript. Kill the spiders – burn the house and rewrite the section if you must.

READING EXERCISE: Find your favorite writer, action-based is best but any will do, see how many pages you go before you count ten copula usages.

WRITING EXERCISE: Take an action scene out of your present work-in-progress (WIP). Remove as many was-were-is from the scene as you can. Compare the original scene and the resulting scene for pace and verbiage impact.

Other Cool Blogs: Magical Words April 1, 2017

Acquired from the internet hive mind

NaNo – Well, This Isn’t Going As Planned

So much for my science fiction thriller I planned in my head all of October and attacked the first day of National Novel Writing Month. The second day I did the “Butt In Chair – Hands on Keyboard” … and I got a blog posting. In fact I got several blog postings. Sunset and sunrise saw me return for the BIC-HOK, and, well, I have a blog for today.

If this keeps up, my blog for 2017 may get completed before the end of the month and 2018 could have a great jump start.

Novel, not so much.

It breaks the rules, and I hate breaking rules. NaNoWritMo is about writing Novels – fictional pieces, long-form. Most of my blogs, and that is what my brain is providing right now, are neither. 

On the other hand after nearly two years of brain-to-keyboard disconnect, I am happy with ANY production. I just would have been happier to have salable production.

The plus side is I will have the basics for the Writing Exercise non-fiction book I have been thinking about.

Writing is a weird thing. The biggest discipline is “Butt in Chair – Hands on Keyboard”. Forcing your mind to stop thinking about writing and actually doing writing requires will-power; depending on the day and how long the habit has been in place, a great deal of will-power. After directing the will-power to the initial task of BIC-HOK, discipline in directing your mind in specific writing tasks can be lacking.

Sometimes it makes magic. Rarely does it meet deadlines.

Melissa Gilbert-McArthur wrote a Magical Words on the combination of BIC and deadlines, and it can be found here: http://www.magicalwords.net/melissa-gilbert/friday-fundamentals-deadlines/. Power to her for having the will power to pull off both at once.

Me, I am going to take the writing bug and get a little more blogging done.

WRITING EXERCISE: Butt-in-chair. Sit in your writer seat for half an hour today and write something. Do it again tomorrow. Do it five days in a row. Half an hour in your writer seat. No internet, no facebook, no twitter. If you live with someone, hand them your phone and walk to your seat and start. BIC-HOK and write. There you go -the first five days of the twenty-one days to create a new habit. The rest is up to you.

Other Cool Blogs: Liana Brooks June 23, 2016

Break thru your writing goals

Writing Meme created by Erin Penn

Getting Ready for NaNoWritMo

Like many writers, I will be participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWritMo) in just a few short days. In preparation I visited the six-day Boot Camp Liana Brooks created in 2014 and republished in 2016 on her new blog, when I asked her if she could because it has been so useful to me.

The first Day concentrated on “Establish a Baseline“. In the thinly veiled co-operative Massive Online Game called NaNoWritMo, word count is king.

I like to point out writing 50 thousand words in a month and the techniques brought to bare to accomplish this are not exactly the professional process writers use, but NaNoWritMo does provide some of the skills, and the chance to test those skills, used by writers. It’s a game with lots of cool graphics, side quests, and companions; fun to play once a year. But if you go to it time and again and learn new “cheats” each time, the play becomes habit and the habit may become a profession.

Anyway, back to word count. Professional writers use metrics to meet deadlines; they learn the amount of pages or words they need to write each day. Establishing a baseline for NaNoWritMo develops the deadline/metric skills. Ms. Brooks provides four exercises to figure out your word count needs.

See the full blog post here: http://www.lianabrooks.com/nanowrimo-boot-camp-day-1-establish-a-base-line/

The upside of playing the NaNoWritMo game? At the end-of-the-month you have more to show for your efforts than the high score on a leader board. Even if you don’t “win”, you have words on paper.

WRITING EXERCISE: Do all four exercises as though you are thinking about participating in NaNoWritMo.


My results

  1. Ten-minute speed. While I type about 50 words per minute, writing speed is much slower as I think things out. Instead of 500 words, it’s more like 100 words if I have the basics in my head or 50 words if I am still sorting things out. Let’s go with 75 per ten minutes.
  2. Until you can’t write anymore. Somewhere between 2 and a half and three hours I need a break, brain feels like it is leaking at that point. I really should set things up so I stop every 2 hours.
  3. Days of writing in November: I have at least four days where I am not going to write, so let’s say 25 days I can write. Calculation – Word count needed is 2,000 per day. A 2-hour block produces 900 words; I need two 2-hour blocks.
  4. What I need: Just need quiet and no other urgent tasks. I can only work on one major project at a time, therefore must complete the tax training before NaNoWritMo.

Writing Exercise: Black or White Hat

Acquired from the Internet Hive Mind

ConGregate 2017 could have devoted a track to the Hero-Villain Spectrum. Panels included  “Bad is the New Good”, “Heroes, Anti-Heroes and Villains”, and “The Dichotomy Between Good and Evil”. With the Suicide Squad making villains into heroes, and Marvel’s Civil War and DC’s Batman vs. Superman where the heroes battle each other, keeping track of good and bad is no longer who is wearing the white hat.

In a world where we question our politicians, our parents, our police protectors, and our own morality, a simple black and white doesn’t apply. Writers get called out for the perfect good character (Mary Sues) or uncompromising villains (Snidely Whiplash); everyone is expected to have some shade of gray applied. Even when a person in real life appears to be pure, an investigation has to happen to find that one piece of dirt in their lives. Mr. Rogers can’t be real (*). Likewise everyone knows villains have a good, logical reason for their bad actions – within their own minds they are the hero of their life story. No one could possible look into the mirror and go, the black hat is the way to go. And even Hannibal Lecter has to have some good traits.

And yet … maybe not. Maybe this drive for everyone to be gray is as unreal as everything being black and white.

It certainly limits writing. Why does the bad guy have to be sympathetic? Why does the good guy have to be flawed? The Anti-Hero and Anti-Villain are becoming as worn out as the White Hat Hero and the Black Hat Villain.

My take-away from the convention is the Brightness Spectrum. Bright Hero/White Hat Hero; Dark Hero; Anti Hero; Anti Villain;  Gray Villain; Black Villain/Black Hat Villain. What does each of these people represent?

Bright Hero/The White Hat – Good hero. Righteous and true. Always acts above the board. Lives by morality. Examples: Superman, Captain America, the Lone Ranger, Hermione Grange, Rory Williams from the new Doctor Who series.

Dark Hero – Pushes the envelope but stays on the side of right and good. Lives by ethics and rules. Examples: Batman, Iron Man, Matt Smith’s the Doctor.

Anti-Hero – Straddles the line of good and evil. Breaks the law as needed. But at the end of the day wants the good to survive – the most people or the best government. Knows about morality, but those morals and their ethics may be traded in to help others. Often acts in a manner which would be consider bad if we weren’t on their side. Still they are the protagonist of the story, the one we are rooting for. Examples: Punisher, Captain Jack Sparrow, Oscar the Grouch.

Anti-Villain – Straddles the line of good and evil. Basically everything an Anti-Hero is, but we are not rooting for them. They are acting against the protagonist we are sympathetic with. But the fact is, if they were not acting against our protagonist we would be supporting their actions. Examples: The government in the Firefly television show, Magneto, Rob Pierre of the Honor Harrington series, Professor Snape.

Gray Villain – Has ethics, rules to live by which will not be crossed. Knows the actions are selfish or even bad, but kind-of likes seeing fear in people’s eyes so not going to stop doing bad – though will even act on the side of good on occasion. Examples: Draco Malfoy, Harley Quinn, Misty of the new Doctor Who series, River Song of the new Doctor Who series.

Black Hat Villain – Owns that Black Hat. Unrepentant in the villainy. Examples: Lord Voldemort, the Master of the Doctor Who series – all incarnations, Emperor Palpatine.

(*) – Reality check, yes, yes Mr. Rogers was really that good. He is a true Bright Hero.

WRITING EXERCISE: Choose two from the spectrum who must act together to accomplish something. Write a flash of at least 300 words.

READING EXERCISE: For your most recent read, where are the protagonist and the antagonist on the spectrum. If you were the government/legal system, where would you consider the characters to have fallen? If there is a difference, how did the author create a “hero” against “law”?

Writing Exercise: Expanding on Dialogue

Image courtesy of jk1991 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The most common mistake I run across while editing is something I call “Screenplay”, where the writer goes into dialogue-only mode – forgetting to add location cues, speaker indications, action, exposition, and other narrative. Other people call it “Talking Heads”, and it is about as exciting as watching stick puppet talk without the puppeteer moving the sticks.

Now, when you are writing the first draft, you may find only dialogue occurs. This is fine, spew the information in your head on the page. You can’t fix it until it is written.

For the flash Grass, which came in just over 2,000 words, the initial exchange was 100% dialogue. The alien visiting my head asked “Why do you dedicate so much land to non-food?” while I was mowing the lawn, and the conversation devolved from there. After getting stung by a yellow jacket, I retreated indoors and decided to type out the exchange. Initially I tried to add some narrative while typing up, but nothing wanted to happen. I knew the exchange was between a human and an alien ambassador and nothing else. Two hundred words vomited from my fingers onto the page in 28 lines of dialogue. That was it.

Then the hard part. Adding in the narrative. Yes, I could have left it in screenplay or movie script format – that is the point of flashes after all, getting things out quickly -, but I wanted to know more. The end result was ten times as long as the initial product, and I did not add a single line of dialogue. If anything the dialogue shrunk a little when I modified the alien’s vocabulary – just a word here and there. The dialogue is substantially unchanged from the initial voices-in-my-head moment while mowing.

Since you are going to write dialogue sans any narrative (and, believe me, you are going to write dialogue sans any narrative) you should practice adding narrative to dialogue. Preferably before you send your manuscript off to a content editor.

WRITING EXERCISE: Either take dialogue already written in play format or create five to ten simple lines of your own without thinking of the scenario at all. You can find dialogue online by searching “screenplay examples” and clicking on images. An example of five simple lines of dialogue is “Hello” “Hello, how are you doing today?” “You know.” “Yep.” “Any suggestions on how to get the red out?”.

If you are using previously created dialogue ignore who the speakers are. Now that you have some generic dialogue, pick a genre and two characters: Fantasy with an elf and orc; science fiction with a spaceship captain and crew member; a mystery with the murderer and investigator talking, anything you want. Add the narrative to your dialogue. It should at least double the length of the dialogue. 

Here is a secret, just between you and me, dear writers. You want to increase your word count for a document, go find those “talking head” areas in your Work-In-Progress and flesh them out. You can even try that right now as a second writing exercise for today if you want.


“Hello,” echoed through the empty store.

Jazz bit back a curse from popping her head against the counter top when she tried to stand. Stuffing bags underneath the cash register in preparations for next week’s sales had hid her from view. Standing, rubbing her head, she put on her best customer service smile and said, “Hello, how are you doing today?” before focusing on the customer. Correction, police officer. Who did not look happy at all; his uniform was a wreck. Another one stood in the open doorway of her little mall shop, her uniform pristine.

“You know.” He growled before glancing over at his female partner, who nodded and stepped outside.

Remaining overtly perky while reviewing her recent activities for any slipup which might have brought the officer to this particular store, Jazz replied, “Yep.

“Any suggestions on how to get the red out?” the officer asked, moving his right hand over his clothing from shoulder to waist in hovering indication.

Walking around the counter to lead him to the appropriate cleaning supplies, Jazz, sometimes known as the supervillian Prankster, smiled wide while no one was looking. (initial dialogue 19 words – final result 188 words.)