Don’t Beat Up Your Editor

3D-female-characters--TLC_3DGal_37“I’m so mad at my editor I could…” The sentence ended in a growl. “All the advice says to hire the best editor you can afford, so I spent my budget on an editor who came highly recommended.”

“So what happened?” I could see tears gathering in her eyes as she moved from anger to helpless frustration.

“All he did for me was fix typos and grammar mistakes. The author who recommended him said he did wonders for her novel.”

This was time for sympathy and comfort. Over a cup of coffee and big slice of strawberry cheesecake, the author poured out her story:

She had just finished her first novel and was super excited. Her mother and sister agreed it was really good. She couldn’t believe her luck when the editor replied to her email saying he had a cancellation and could take her manuscript immediately.

My heart sank. It was a common beginner mistake. I’d made it myself. Getting a novel from a story idea to a finished product is a process. Just like building a house, things need to be done in the right order. You can’t move in before the roof is done. Typing THE END is only the beginning. It was great that she had her mother and sister in her corner giving support through the long writing process. But this type of support team already loves you and will admire anything you write.


First: Let the manuscript sit for at least a week or two. This is hard when you are so anxious to get your book out into the world, but you need to distance yourself from it to see it as a reader.

Second: Read it through as though you had never seen it. Try to see it as a new reader. Play the internal video and see how it flows. Watch for jumps, disconnects, or inconsistencies.

Third: Find some resources that can guide you through the self-edit process. This will be a little different for each writer, but having a guide is a great help. The Short & Helpful Online Writer Workshop for June is a great resource, but there are many others.

Fourth: Find beta readers that you trust to give you an unbiased opinion. Your mother and your sister are being truthful, but they don’t always see your flaws. Has a mother ever criticized a handmade Mother’s Day card from her youngster? It is beautiful, and every scrawl is precious. The novel may be more mature, but the sentiment is similar.


After you have polished your manuscript to be as near perfect as you can make it, you are ready to send it to a professional editor. If an editor receives a manuscript with typos, grammar mistakes, poor punctuation, and inconsistencies, he or she has to smooth those out before getting a feel for the story. Equally important, the editor’s opinion is that the writer needs a lesson in the basics before advanced plot structure, scene setting, character building, etc.

3D construction worker with hammerIt does no good to furnish the house if the roof isn’t finished. Unless you have more dollars than time, don’t use your editing dollars on things you already know how to correct. Take advantage of the editor’s expertise by hammering down those shingles yourself.






Self-Edit Your Work
June Workshop with
Maryann Miller

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Flashbacks: better in fiction than in life

3d construction cropped

Let’s get the jackhammers working, boys!

Have you ever ducked for cover when you heard a jackhammer? If you’re like me, one of the lucky ones, you haven’t. Combat veterans may not be so lucky. Traumatic situations such as those faced by soldiers in battle leave indelible memories.

In extreme cases, certain sounds or sights can trigger a flashback. The memories of the trauma surface with such strength that the victim literally relives the experience. Ready for fight or flight, the victim becomes disoriented and cannot tell memory from reality. and can inflict harm on others who are perceived as aggressors,

No one wants to live through traumatic situations, and those who have experienced trauma didn’t like it the first time (or it wouldn’t have been traumatic), and the last thing they want to do is live the experience again. Flashbacks are not good things in real life. Fiction is a totally different animal.

A flashback is a part of a story that moves the reader out of the main timeline of the story to experience something in “real time” that happened previous to the “now” of the story. Sound confusing? Yes, if the author does not handle the transitions well, the reader can be left behind, disoriented and disappointed. The flashback must be separated from the preceeding narrative by a scene break or chapter break. The new setting must be established immediately so the reader knows the where and when of the new timeline. Lost readers do not leave good reviews, nor do they come back to read your next book.

3d person running with USB flash drive

We all carry memories around with us, and our actions are influenced by the past experiences that formed those memories. Well-written fictional characters have a past, even if it is known only to the author. The character is often shaped by things that happened in their past. For example, an abusive father can color a girl’s view of men in general. Childhood poverty can lead to unusual attitudes about money in later life regardless of the wealth the character may have gained later. A bitter divorce can leave a person reluctant to form another relationship.

The ways past experiences influence present attitudes and actions are limited only by the imagination of the author. However, even if a past experience is relevant to the current story, it does not have to be included as a flashback. For a flashback to be effective, three things are necessary: 1) the scene from the story past must be traumatic enough to influence the way the character is acting in the story present, 2) the results of that influence must be vital to the plot of the current story, and 3) the event itself must be dramatic enough to grip the reader and make up for the effort involved in switching timelines.




It’s not too late to register for the May workshop, Backstory & Flashbacks with Maureen Milliken




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You Can’t Run All The Way


Winner Of Race 3d Character Showing VictoryMy grandson recently called to tell me he completed a ten kilometer race. Suitably impressed, I asked how he managed to run that far. I knew long distance runners trained for months to get in shape for a race. He had a very full schedule, and his running was confined to an occasional outing on the weekends.

“Oh, you can’t run all the way. You have to walk when you get tired, then you can run some more.” He went on to explain that he managed the run-walk-run sequence so he would be running when he hit the finish line. He knew his parents would be waiting at the finish line with a camera. “You have to make the finish line memorable.”

I am always and forever a writer, and my first thought was: of course, that’s exactly how all the best stories are written. I once picked up an action-adventure book that was recommended to me. “Every page is exciting!” was the recommendation. I abandoned the book somewhere in the second chapter and made a cup of tea. I was mentally exhausted. She was right. Every page was packed with action. It suited her style of reading because she read in small moments throughout the day. I like to sit down and devour a book in a few large gulps. I need the quiet, slower passages to get me ready for the next crisis.


Stop to take a breath after a crisis

However, the slower passages must be well written and keep the story moving steadily toward the finish line. This doesn’t mean the hero must be brandishing his sword on every page. The slower passages can deepen the characters, give snippets of backstory, show the unique settings, give a sense of the larger stakes involved, or any of the many facets of a story. Pause to smell the roses, but don’t give a lecture on the care and feeding of rose bushes. Pluck a rose for m’lady and it’s off for the next battle of good against evil. Vary the pace throughout, but remember to make the finish line picture perfect because that is the image that will remain with the reader.


It’s not too late to register for the April workshop, Conflict & Pacing by Anna Castle.


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Active Beginnings

begin pic2

Our post today comes from Tahlia Newland, author, editor, and artist. She writes a blog at and hosts the Happiness Hints podcast. She joins us to share her insights.

Tahlia says:  All aspects of a novel are important, but the beginning is the most important because no matter how wonderful the story is or how scintillating further chapters are, if the first pages aren’t riveting, the rest will rarely be read.  The beginning is where active writing is vital.

Active Writing

By “active” writing I don’t mean action in terms of plot—though a bit of action is a good way to start—I mean active in terms of prose; it’s using words in such a way that they paint a vibrant picture. You can have everything else in place for a great beginning, but if the prose is passive, it will still not have the punch it could have.

The terms passive writing and passive prose are not synonymous with “telling”. However, they do contribute to it and active prose is less likely to have a “told” feel even when you are telling. The important distinction is that the terms passive writing and passive prose do not refer to passive voice. Passive voice is only one example of passive prose.

Prose is particularly passive where the author does not specify the subject that does the begin picaction, or they place it after the action. Passive voice is not grammatically incorrect, but when used in fiction, it isn’t very exciting. Prose peppered with it soon becomes dull.

Passive writing is more than just the use of passive voice. Your writing can be free of passive voice as defined above and still be passive writing. The trouble with passive writing is that it doesn’t engage the reader. It isn’t immediate, it doesn’t seem to happen now, and it doesn’t draw the reader into the action. The scene itself may be dramatic, but the writing leaves the reader outside the characters and the events. Such writing is uninviting, or rather cold, like a blind date with nothing to say. If you’re reading something that, despite feeling as if it should, just isn’t holding you, it may be because the writing is passive.

Once you know what to look for, passive writing is easy to spot. Here are some things to watch for.

The verb “To be”.

The verb “to be” and all its variations (be, am, are, is, being, was, were, been) are known as passive verbs. Prose with a lot of such bland verbs lacks immediacy and is less engaging than prose that uses more active verbs. “Was” and “were” get the most overuse. Your prose will improve if you replace them with a specific, active verb, or restructure the sentence to avoid them.


He was after her like a shot. (Passive.)

He raced after her like a shot. (Active.)

She was at the lookout, staring over the railing. (Passive.)

She stood at the lookout, staring over the railing. (Active.)

When I’m self-editing, I search for all those “was”es and “were”s and see if I can write the sentences better without them. I usually can. This one tip made a huge difference to the quality of my prose.

The More Evil “was … ing”.

Using “was” or “were” or “is” or any other version of the verb “to be” along with a participle ending in “ing” is very passive. There are better alternatives. Replace these forms with a more active verb, or see how your sentence reads if you restructure the sentence to avoid it. Often it’s just a matter of replacing the “ing” ending participle with an “ed” ending one. The “ed” verb forms are more immediate than the “ing” ending forms.


She was running along the road.

She ran along the road.

He was skipping towards the car with Jacob’s hand in his.

He skipped towards the car with Jacob’s hand in his.

These examples of how to identify and fix passive prose are taken from my book The Elements of Active Prose: Writing Tips to Make Your Prose Shine. In this book you’ll find more tips on how to write actively.

Join Tahlia in the Short and Helpful Helpful Beginnings and Endings workshop for more insight on writing beginnings that will make readers want to read on, and endings that will make them want to leave a great review and read more of your work.signature-terry-small

Award-winning author Tahlia Newland has written seven novels, one book of short storiesTahlia-SM and a book of writing tips—The Elements of Active Prose. She writes fantasy and magical realism with a touch of romance, and her writing, in its emphasis on the power of the mind, reflects her extensive experience in meditation. Three of her novels have won a BRAG Medallion and an Awesome Indies Seal of Excellence.


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Where is the next page?

Has this ever happened to you? You get dragon-boyreadinginterested in a book; you bond with a character, hanging on every twist and turn as you approach the end. Then you turn the page, or swipe for the next screen…and nothing. It’s over.


As a reader, you sometimes need another page, or just a paragraph, to get closure. You have been living the story, taking the next step alongside the protagonist, rooting for the triumph of good over evil, and when evil finally collapses, there needs to be the moment of victory. You want to see Saint George with his foot on the slain dragon, or St. George and the dragon going off together to fight greater evils. You want to see the criminal pronounced guilty, the scheming villain publicly exposed… the calamity overcome.


Sometimes by the time an author writes the last page of the novel, his or her eye (and attention) is already on the next book and this final moment is skipped in favor of a cliff-hanger, an attempt to motivate the reader to buy the next book. Don’t be that author. If your book has no satisfaction for the reader, why would he want another book by the same author?


The moment of triumph does not necessarily mean having all problems solved. A series must have an over-arching problem that winds its way through the entire series. That problem can be unrelated to the main plot, as with a series of crime novels with a love interest that progresses slowly through multiple books. Sometimes the multi-book problem is the main focus, as with a fantasy series with a quest that is solved in stages, but each book has one major goal accomplished with its accompanying moment of triumph. Time to take a deep breath before beginning the next stage of the adventure.

Join Tahlia Newland in the Short & Helpful Beginnings and Endings workshop for tips on writing beginnings that will make readers want to read on, and endings that will make them want to read more of your

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