Gratitude, Hope and Squash Pie

I saw the movie “This Changes Everything” last week. Narrated by the author of the eponymous book, Naomi Klein, it painted a powerful and disturbing overview of climate change caused by our pursuit of growth and its resultant pollution. Klein’s ultimately hopeful premise is that people, working together, can reduce the impact of pollution through grassroots action. The imagery and the film’s message moved me.

I found hope in the full theater and in the volunteers from several environmental groups who handed out information before the movie. I am grateful for those volunteers and have hope that we can take action to combat the deniers of reality.

I also am grateful that President Obama and his advisors are, even if overdue, taking the threat of global warming as seriously as that posed by terrorists.

It’s often said that only the rich can afford to be environmentalists. But the effects of global warming will impact all of us, from farmers whose fields are flooded to those with second homes on shrinking, soon-to-be parched lakes. Each of us can take steps to reduce consumption of fossil fuel and slow global warming. Not everyone can afford to convert to solar power or buy a hybrid vehicle, but we can all use compact fluorescents or LEDs and turn off the lights when we leave a room. We can all encourage our utilities to implement alternative energy in their grids. If you have to rwild-turkeys_w520eplace an appliance, buy one with an Energy Star label.

Even eating wisely can reduce global warming. Try buying local products that haven’t been trucked for miles. Eat low on the food chain. Meat and dairy production contribute to greenhouse gases, so try a vegetarian meal once in a while.

Which brings me to my recipe! Enjoy, and have a Happy Thanksgiving!


butternut squash tartSavory Butternut Squash Tart

The recipe suggests using a tart pan. I find a pie pan works fine. This makes a great meal or a good side dish for leftover turkey or ham.

Start to finish: 45 minutes, depending on your skill at peeling winter squash.

9 inch prepared pie crust (I used to make my own, but have found those by Immaculate Pie Co. an excellent substitute, and a lot faster, if you remember to get it out ½ hour early to soften)

1 ¾ pounds peeled and cubed butternut squash (approx. ½ inch cubes)
3 eggs
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoons brown sugar (dark or light)
½ teaspoon dried thyme (leaves, not powder)
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Unroll pie crust and set it over a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Press the crust into the pan and up the sides. Crimp and remove excess dough. Refrigerate pie crust.

Steam the squash over boiling water, in a steamer basket, covered, until very tender, about 15 minutes.

Transfer squash to a blender or food processor. Process or blend until mostly smooth. Add eggs, cheese, brown sugar, thyme, salt and pepper, then process again until very smooth.

Remove the crust from refrigerator and set in on a rimmed baking sheet. I line mine with foil to save cleanup time. Carefully pour the squash mixture into the crust. Bake for 25 minutes, or until set at the center. (It takes longer if you use a traditional pie pan.) Cool slightly before cutting into slices.

I am grateful for readers, other authors, good food, friends, my dog, my cat, my spouse, my new home, the ability to read and so much more. How about you?


Rorters, spruikers and malarkey

While researching the art of the long con for a new novel, I came across an article from Australia and was introduced to two delightful words: rorter and spruiking. Exploring them led me farther astray. What a great way to procrastinate.

A rorter is generally considered Australian slang, and is a noun meaning a swindler, a small-time confidence trickster or cheat. Say it out loud, with or without the Aussie accent. It simply sounds cool, nicely insulting.hog in meadow

The same article referenced spruiking, which means speaking in public, especially to advertise. Ever visit North Beach in San Francisco? No doubt you’ve heard spruiking from the people trying to lure you into the strip joints. The term also is used—by the opposition, no doubt—to describe political speeches. Proponents call it orating.

A rorter might be found spruiking near a bank, hoping to snare a mark with a pigeon drop scheme. A pigeon drop is a confidence trick in which a mark or “pigeon” is persuaded to give up a sum of money in order to secure the rights to a larger sum of money, or more valuable object. In reality, the scammers make off with the money and the mark is left with nothing.

The wise—or bitterly experienced— passerby will recognize the con artist’s spiel as malarkey and keep passing.

Malarkey. Ah, yes. Love the word. Malarkey is defined as foolish words or ideas, or bunkum. Another great word. While the origin of malarkey appears murky, bunkum has a specific and colorful history.

Around 1820, U.S. representative Felix Walker, from Buncombe County, North Carolina, rose to make a spDSC01016eech during a debate. He spoke on and on. And on, refusing to stop, even though most of what he said was irrelevant and foolish. He maintained he was speaking for Buncombe. Because it was not used as an intentional delaying tactic, it was not filibuster, a technique and a term introduced a few decades later. It quickly transformed into bunkum and took on the general meaning of nonsense or balderdash. Balderdash originally meant a jumble of liquors but now means a senseless jumble of words, or claptrap.

Claptrap, according to an online etymology dictionary, originated showy stage action designed to trap applause or claps and has evolved to mean nonsense.

A quick search for synonyms reveals a basket of words—beans, blarney, blather, blatherskite, bosh, blither, drivel, codswallop, fiddlesticks, humbug, guff, taradiddle, and more. Is this because we encounter it so often?

Have you encountered a flim flam man (person) or written about one? What’s your favorite film about con artists? I figure watching several could extend my procrastination for weeks!


National Day on Writing

Today, October 20, is the National Day on Writing, a day championed by the National Council of Teachers of English to honor the role written words play in our lives.

If you tweet about it, the sponsors suggest using the hashtag #WhyIWrite write-2400px

For many of us, every day is, or we wish it would be, the day for writing. But not often do words get national attention, so, hey, let’s celebrate!

I found out about this day at my very first visit to the Tucson Writers’ Table. Writers get together and write in silence for two hours, no chatting. Another writer teaches at the University and mentioned it. The official hashtag (#WhyIWrite) prompted me to think about why I write.

Many writers say they have always known they were writers; that they must write. If that is true for me, why then did I need to come to The Writers’ Table to force myself to write for two hours? I am hoping that taking this weekly time will help me achieve focus when I’m away from the group; will help me at the very least get started on a few projects I’ve been pondering but have yet to commit to words.

Because, despite blithely professing, “Oh, I’ve always known I’d be a writer, can’t help but write,” few people accomplish the productivity and creativity that statement suggests. Even those born writers encounter blank pages, are interrupted by the responsibilities of daily life, or simply lose their direction and impetus in writing.

At a recent meeting of Tucson Sisters in Crime, two speakers focused on what keeps us from writing and ways to overcome those obstacles. One helped us probe and approach our fears in general and our fears about writing (and how writing what we most fear can strengthen our words); the other provided hints for achieving writing (and life) goals and getting into the “flow,” of our activities, whatever they are. In regard to flow, she cited Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who contributed pioneering work to our understanding of happiness, creativity, human fulfillment and the notion of “flow” — a state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play and work.

I can recall times when I’ve been in flow when writing: when I lose track of time, ignore distractions, and generate lots of words. Sometimes those words evoke tears or laughter. Ideas come to me as gifts instead of hard sought. Those times of flow are too rare for me, so I’m hoping my time at The Writers’ Table with a group of focused writers will help me find it more easily.

Book5Back to why I write: I love words and have enough ego to think others might enjoy the way I use them. I love lying with impunity. Writing about offbeat characters and their misadventures gives me a chance to explore behaviors the good girl in me won’t allow in real life. Because I was blessed with parents who read and who read to me and who loved words, I grew up with a love of reading and an ability to articulate my thoughts.

Silly me. I thought that’s all I needed to write great fiction: a facility with words and a few ideas. I’ve found learning the craft of writing novels and stories a lot harder than I ever imagined. Yet still I continue. I think one reason is the joy of getting into “flow.” Another is the desire to improve. I won’t ever be a great distance runner or a professional tennis player, but with hard work and practice, I might turn my love of words and story-telling into some passable writing.

Maybe it’s like parenthood. Women can give birth to children, with assistance from men or science, but parenting those children well takes dedication, practice, hard work, patience and wisdom, and arguably an innate propensity or talent for parenting.

Okay, celebrate the role words have in your life. And share with me why you write! It’s our day.

Point of View Pointers

kathymc_cover for twitter
Make me squeal with delight!

Before my post, let me remind you that my campaign on KindleScout for a contract with Amazon is coming to an end. I need all the nominations I can garner in these last few days. It ends on September 19th.  It’s easy to nominate books and if they’re chosen, you get a free pre-release copy. Just go to KindleScout and read more about my book and others.

Let me know you nominated Foul Wind, and I’ll be sure you get a free ebook whether or not I get the contract.

Okay, that’s my point of view. Now on to some thoughts on point of view. From, of course, my viewpoint.

Stories are told from some point of view. Somewhat like the different lenses of a camera, the viewpoint can be distant or very close. Omniscient point of view sees and reports on the characters and the action from some point where “all” is known and can be seen. Stories told in this point of view can share descriptions of setting and characters and the thoughts and opinions of all characters, because the narrator/writer knows all and sees all. This point of view can get up close and personal with a character’s emotions or remain distant.eyeglasses

Second person is written using you. “You go to the dermatologist and she tells you those ugly age spots are ‘wisdom spots,’ and you want to throttle the thoughtless tadpole.  Or tell her to wait until she turns into a frog.”

Third person point of view, and I am simplifying a lot here, tells a story as if one person is reporting on the action, in “he ate three potato chips,” style.

First person point of view tells the story from one person’s viewpoint. “I felt like a French fry among scalloped potatoes in my elegant family.”

The protagonist of a first person novel knows only what she sees or hears or is reported to her by others. The reader’s knowledge is also restricted to that which the POV character knows.

A strong, close point of view helps tell a stronger story.  When you reveal a scene through the eyes of the character who cares most about its outcome, the scene takes on power and emotion.

A story can talk about a hanging, let’s say. In omniscient point of view (POV), the narrator would describe a crowd of onlookers, andnoose[1] tell us they are watching because they’re pleased that a notorious killer is meeting justice. Tell us about this hanging  from the eyes of the daughter of the killer’s third victim, and we care more. Tell us from the eyes of a woman who escaped his knife and helped in his capture and we perhaps care even more. We’ll see different details and feel deeper, stronger emotions. If we’ve had the chance to meet the daughter or the would-be victim before, seen her do something that endears her to us, we’re likely hooked. She need not save a kitten. She could simply exhibit a few natural emotions and frailties that we can identify with. We’ll want to know what happens next.

Writing point of view can be tricky. You need to restrict what the point of view character observes only to what is outside that character, and through the eyes of that character. For example, if you’re in the point of view of a self-conscious teen, you might not want to write, “Cara shook her long, lush curls free from the restraining scarf.” More likely it would be something like, “Cara dragged the stupid scarf from her head, snagging her hair and leading no doubt to yet another mare’s nest of split ends in her mouse brown mess of curls.” And you’d have to consider whether a teenager would use the term mare’s nest.

To better understand point of view (and if you enjoy historical romance), you might want to read a few of Lauren Willig’s fun “flower” novels, beginning with THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE PINK CARNATION. Romance, espionage, history, and humor abound in the series.

What I found fascinating is how the shifting point of view of a character portrays an almost totally different person. I’ve always known that the villain is a hero in his/her eyes. In this series,  one character is “foiled” in achieving her goal in one novel, and appears rather frivolous and ill-intentioned from the point of view of the protagonist of that novel.  In the next novel, the “bad sister” becomes the heroine and the writing is from her point of view and she no longer seems villainous.  Behavior that seems tacky from one point of view becomes justified, thoughtful, normal from within that character.

Novelists these days take liberties with the old rule of choosing a point of view and sticking with it. They may include one section that’s in first person and add others that are in third person, or mix it up even more.

The objective is to tell a good story and not confuse the reader.

I’ll save my rant against head-hopping for another post.

I’d love to know the POV you choose and why.

I’d also love your nomination on KindleScout!

Kindle Scout: One Path to Publishing

Time’s running out to nominate Foul Wind on KindleScout! If you haven’t time to read the post, just click, nominate and run on to your next project, reading this after my deadline! Thanks. 

There-are-threeSince he died in 1832, I’ll forgive Mr. Cotton’s sexism. He makes a good point.

Right now I’m on a search for some sensible folks to read my first chapter and nominate me for publication on Kindle Scout. If my book is published, you’ll get a free pre-release copy. It’s fast and easy.

If you’re ready, here’s the link:

kathymc_cover for twitterWhy did I decide to try Kindle Scout? My path to published author has been long and crooked. When I began writing fiction, I naively assumed that someone who’d been a successful marketing communicator would quickly whip out several bestsellers and soon be on the road, exhausted by smiling at and signing books for, my many fans.

Oops! Lesson 1: writing fiction is NOT like writing data sheets or product brochures.

My first novel was a finalist in the St. Martin’s Malice Domestic contest. Hoorah! Agents wanted to see the whole manuscript. I’d soon be a published author on that exhausting book tour.

Not so. Some liked it, but no one LOVED it enough to want to take it on.

Lesson 2: The good grammar that thrilled the weary eyes of a contest judge is not enough to sell fiction. I needed to learn a lot more about creating interesting characters and presenting them with nearly insurmountable challenges that cause said characters to change by surmounting them.

Times changed. The publishing industry changed. Some of my colleagues found success publishing independently, others with small presses.

Several books and countless query letters later, I submitted my novel, Mustard’s Last Stand to a small publisher, L&L Dreamspell. They loved it! They published it. But sadly, soon after publication of my novel, one of the partners died. The remaining partner chose to close the company.Change-is-the-law-of

Instead of seeking a new publisher, I decided to independently publish my novel, the first in a madcap series of books set in North Idaho. I did. I also produced an audio book of the novel, narrated by JoBe Cerny, the voice of the Pillsbury Doughboy. Really.

Ready to vote? Yes! I nominate Foul Wind!

Times changed. The publishing industry changed. Those authors who’d found great success publishing independently struggled with declining sales. My sales had no declining in their future, only an upward path. That has been a rugged one.

When I completed the second book in the series, Foul Wind, I decided to try Kindle Scout. That’s an Amazon program where readers can read about a book, read the first chapter, and nominate it for publishing. Success means a contract with a nice advance and some help marketing the book from Amazon. If I don’t get the contract, I’ll publish it myself.

I would greatly appreciate your going to my page on Kindle Scout and taking a look at Foul Wind. While you’re there, nominate two others. You’ll get a free pre-release copy of any of your nominations that are selected for publication.

Let me know what you think of Kindle Scout. I think it’s a win-win in this changing world, at least worth a 30 day wait for independent publication. It was very easy to post my book, with some marketing information that will always be useful.

Now. Go. Nominate. Tell your friends and family about my books. And look for Mustard’s Last Stand to be free sometime during this promotion. I’ll let you know when.

Have any of you tried Kindle Scout? What do you think?

Don’t Needle Me: Sports and Sewing Metaphors

While traveling not long ago, I saw a woman toting a sewing machine as her carry-on luggage. No one stopped her.

99K Singer Hand Crank Sewing Machine
99K Singer Hand Crank Sewing Machine

What is the matter with the Transportation Security Administration? Don’t they realize the dangers inherent in sewing machines? Consider the terminology.

A needle is a small, slender, pointed implement used for sewing or surgical suturing. Have you never punctured yourself while attempting to attach a button or stitch a hem? I inevitably bleed on my blouse or skirt. It’s no wonder the verb needle also means to goad or provoke. I’m often provoked when attempting to sew.

This line of thought led me to consider the analogies used in business and wonder for a moment why sewing analogies don’t show up as often as sports. I assume it is because until recently the majority of business strategists were male, and the majority of sports enthusiasts were also male. “Let’s figure out our game plan so we’ll be in the catbird seat.” I’ve wondered where the catbird seat is and where the phrase came from. It apparently was used in the south to mean an advantageous position, high up where the group of birds that includes the mockingbird choose to sit to sing their tunes. The term was popularized in a story by James Thurber, who cited its frequent use by sports commentator Red Barber.

When things are going well, the company is batting 1000, perhaps with the assistance of a cleanup hitter.

Although these terms are easily understood by most Americans, even those who aren’t fond of sports, the full court press utilized by basketball teams and business strategists may be more obscure. Any of these could be misconstrued by those not familiar with the sport.

Some years ago, former Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice, urging patience to critics of a plan to shut down North Korea’s nuclear program, assured them we were only in the first quarter, with a lot of time left on the clock.

Rice’s language was familiar to others on the Bush White House team, but less to the Asians she was addressing. But that’s okay. Ms. Rice took one for the team and kept her eye on the ball. A good thing, else her gaffe might have become a political football for Democrats to kick around.

Let’s level the playing field and consider the other endeavors and hobbies that we employ to add spice to our words. Want to postpone making a decision? Put it on the back burner. Let your ideas simmer for a while. But don’t stew about the problem and by all means, don’t cook the books. However, if the issue rises to the top of the list, consider your opportunity to curry favor with your manager by putting some heat under it.

The phrase curry favor has nothing to do with Indian cooking. It comes from an old French morality poem about a vain donkey named Fauvel that deceived the leaders of the court and rose to power. Those who wanted to please him and gain political power stroked and curried Fauvel. A later English moralist changed the term and it evolved to currying favor.

Let’s end where we began, with sewing. Two basic stitches in knitting are the knit stitch and the purl stitch. Is it possible the word purl is related to purloin? Purloin, meaning steal or misappropriate, has its origins in Middle English, meaning to put away or set aside. I’d love to hear from knitters out there if there’s any sense in my thinking. One website referred to the purl as the opposite of a knit stitch. The purl stitch is yin, the dark, shady hillside, to the knit stitch’s yang, the bright, flat open space.

Or am I merely missing a stitch?

Starting Your Novel, With or Without Zombies

I’m sure there are authors who decide to write a series of novels who know the plot of each book in the series before beginning page one of book one. Anyone who knows me knows I am not among those authors. I simply cannot be that organized. Given the fluid nature of the publishing world, I’m not certain that’s always the best approach. After all, I might need to introduce a zombie in my next book.zombies

Just kidding. I shall stay true to my characters and my genre and write not to the market, but where my passion lies and what works for me. That’s a topic for another post.

As I begin book three in my series of humorous suspense novels, I’ve been reading and re-reading some great books on writing, including James Frey’s How to Write a Damn Good Novel, a few by James Scott Bell, and Write Away by Elizabeth George. I’ve also found a couple of books to help me get started faster.

The first is Novel Shortcuts, Ten Techniques that Ensure a Great First Draft, by Laura Whitcomb. Another useful one is How to Write Killer Fiction by Carolyn Wheat.20150713_103833

  1. Write with the end in mind. Figure out at least in a rough, written sketch how the book will end, who will triumph, who will be whumped on, who will laugh last.
    2. The essence of good fiction is conflict. Through conflict, characters and situations change. Write a character arc for the protagonist, the antagonist and any major secondary characters. What does the character want? Why? (Motivation) How hard will she try for it? Will she achieve it? What will she give up to achieve this desire?
    3. What’s the overall conflict in the book? Who opposes the protagonist’s achieving his or her goal?
    4. Every chapter and every scene must have a purpose or it shouldn’t be there. It must contain conflict and emotion and it must result in a change, in the main character or in the plot conflict or in a character’s plot arc (preferably in all of these).

Whitcomb recommends writing a three-part, one pager for each scene or chapter. First describe what will happen (narrative, Joe Friday style, “just the facts, ma’am”). Next, jot down some nuggets of dialog that fit the scene. Then use what Whitcomb terms “heartstorming” to come up with the emotions and the emotional transition that takes place in the chapter. The one-pager can be single spaced, with different fonts or boldface to distinguish the parts.
You might also mind-map each chapter, with the central event at the hub, with emotions, dialog nuggets and clues on the spokes.
Whatever your approach, include notes not just on the plot, but on the characters’ emotional states and how they change through the book.

Once you have these, start writing. I believe you’ll find that having a map before you go will shorten the process, improve the end product and preserve your sanity.

What have you found (books, techniques, tips) to help you launch your books?

Know Your Audience and Write for Them  

What do Janet Evanovich and Dan Kennedy have in common?

They both sell a  LOT of books.

I once heard Janet Evanovich speak about writing on a CD from the Mystery Writers of America. She mentioned that the success of her Stephanie Plum humorous mystery series is due in part to the fact that she understands who her readers are, and what they expect.

Dan Kennedy is an incredibly successful direct marketing and sales guru who has helped thousands improve their marketing messages and increase sales.

They both know the importance of studying their target market and writing for that market.

They know that if you create an expectation in your audience, and then you change the rules, you will disappoint that audience. The result is a drop in readership or sales.

Meet Their Expectations

Janet Evanovich knows that her readers expect Stephanie Plum to get into trouble and to lose at least one vehicle, they expect Lula to be hungry and Grandma Mazur to … well, be totally off the wall.exploding car

Dan Kennedy tells us that the more you know about your market, the better your message will address their needs. It can surprise them, make them laugh, move them, but it had better be something they can relate to. If not, they’ll stop reading.

Bloggers are also told to determine who their audience is and then write for our audience. To answer the questions we think our readers will have.

When I spoke at a Toastmasters district conference some years back about working wonders with words, the first point I made was to know who your audience is, and then speak to them. Their language, their needs, their expectations. Then you’ll have…their ears. They’ll sit up and pay attention.20150524_192603_001

So it pays to have in mind that “ideal reader,” as you sit down to write and as you edit.

Keep Your Reader in Mind

The point is to keep that reader in mind as you write, and strive to meet their expectations. Don’t cheat by creating an expectation for a frothy, humorous romp and moving into a serious, gut-wrenching diatribe. Don’t switch from language that’s direct and clear to elevated vocabulary and over-inflated sentences. You’ll lose your readers and you’ll lose their respect.

Worst of all, don’t drone on and on and on. And on.

How do you figure out who your ideal reader is?



New Book Shares Writing Tips, Lessons Learned

In nature, we sometimes find an incredible blossom springing from something ungainly and almost ugly. The same can be said for our writing. “Shitty first drafts,” a term made popular by Anne Lamott, can turn into word works of art.

20150504_080319 20150504_080312 (1024x576)Nature’s gift takes no effort on our part save the breath we gasp out in wonder and perhaps the minimal effort to snap a photograph. The flower in the photo sprang from a cactus I thought dead or at best struggling to survive in our garden.

To transform those first drafts into words others will read and on occasion gasp at takes persistence, the willingness and ability to learn, creativity, and at times, inspiration. Often it requires the help of writer friends or professional editors.

Romance and Mystery Authors on Writing is a fantastic little e-book that synthesizes lessons learned about the writing process, publishing and marketing from fifteen published authors. Royalties will be donated to public libraries. I contributed to the book. I also have learned a lot reading the contributions of the other authors.

Topics include dialogue, characters, story structure, editing, tips on finding an agent, editor or publisher, tips on promoting your book, light-bulb moments and lessons learned. Thanks go to J.Q. Rose for compiling and organizing our random thoughts.

I shared advice I heard years ago from Ridley Pearson (and since from many other successful authors), advice I wish I’d be more diligent about following. In essence, if you want to write, get your butt in the chair and write. Earlier this year I heard Ridley speak at the Tucson Festival of Books. The man has followed his own advice. He is now writing two series for children and a suspense novel or two a year! He writes from 7 a.m. until 5 every day in addition to going on book tours. He has written more than 48 novels and reports that he still gets a thrill when each new book comes out. Plus he somehow finds time to sing and play with The Rock Bottom Remainders, a group of writers who donate proceeds from their concerts to literacy. I attended their concert at the Tucson Festival of Books, and it was an absolute hoot!

Spend time each day writing. Editing time counts as writing. I think you also need to spend time filling the well of creativity. Edison said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” So too is writing. But I advise taking time to find inspiration in whatever ways move you—a visit to the art museum, a walk in the wilderness (a brief one!), listening to music, gardening, cooking.

IMG951830My creative and talented daughter turned mundane and tired metal trellises I gave her into works of art, painted a sparkly blue. If you want your words to sparkle, practice discipline, fill the well of creativity, and learn from others.

How do you fill your well? What’s the best advice you’ve received about writing? Oh, and if you know what that cactus flower above is, please share!

Wordslaying: How to Omit Unnecessary Words

Friends are generally surprised when I tell them I used to be a bird hunter. Using a .410 (small gauge) shotgun, I’d often limit oPheasantsut on doves before grown men using 12 gauge (larger pellets) shotguns.

My parents were avid bird hunters. After they died, I gave up hunting.

Now, especially recently, I’m a word killer rather than a bird killer. I’ve been slaying herds of words in an effort to create a leaner, meaner, funnier, faster-paced novel. Woo hoo! When you’re cutting words, there’s no limit.

However, it does involve pain. You’d think I was at the wrong end of the pellet gun for the agony caused by killing off my precious babies.

So how can we make the slimming down process less painful and most valuable?

To use bird hunting as my metaphor (for at least as long as I can stretch it), begin with your heavy 12 gauge, getting rid of the big stuff.

    • Can you eliminate entire chapters that are perhaps unnecessary?
      • Make a note of a couple of things about each scene/chapter: who your point of view character is, what she or he needs to get out of the chapter (objective or goal), the obstacle to be overcome, and (almost always or your book threatens to be dull) why/how that objective is thwarted. I also make note of the character’s emotions and what surprising emotion I might slip in.
      • Is the scene essential to the plot? Can you combine it with another, more interesting scene or chapter?
      • Does it advance your story AND develop your character/s?
      • If it is backstory, is it essential, repeat, essential information that cannot be sprinkled into other chapters (after the first 50 or so pages that should RARELY contain backstory)?
      • Is it a dream? If so, give it a blast with both barrels. I hate dream scenes. (Okay, that’s a personal bias)
      • Is it a traveling scene or a description of setting that is ONLY that? Even travel and setting description should reveal something about the plot and the characters living it.

1-IMG_8400After you’ve used the big guns, use a smaller gauge or perhaps a rifle to focus on sentences and words that can be cut. Again, your standard is whether or not the phrase or the word moves the plot forward, creates the tension and emotional conflict that keeps the reader reading, or develops character.

Some easy words that you can pop off with a pea gun (or a Word search):  very, much, almost, just, a bit, somewhat, sort of, probably, possibly.

Wordslaying  works best once you’ve gained a little distance from them. Wait for a second or third  draft before you aim to kill. By that time you may be less attached to each gem.

My best trick in convincing myself to cut unnecessary scenes is to save them in a file of cut stuff that I may use in another novel or be able to rework into a short story. Some people call that file, the Dead File or the Morgue. Recently, I’ve named it Basura (Spanish for trash)

Reality is, I likely won’t use these words again, but it sure makes the act of pulling the trigger easier. And saving them helps, too, in case it’s just one of those days when I think NOTHING works and I should use an Uzi on the whole dang thing. When reality and straight thinking return, I merely copy and paste them back in.

Another trick that helps me eliminate useless scenes, pages, words, is to work with a critique partner who can gently advise me that I’ve already established that my protagonist is nervous or jealous or whatever.

Try becoming your reader: which part would you skip? Cut it. Which part reveals the author’s brilliance with language (“Oh, what a lovely choice of words.”) instead of simply moving the story ahead?

Cut it.

I’d love to know your ideas for killing your precious words. And I’d also love to hear your opinions of dream scenes, and of those who hate them.

writer of humorous thrillers