Proofing Checklist: Just Nod & Smile

I recently finished the latest revision of my novel, and after all the heavy lifting was done–you know, adding new scenes, tweaking character motivations, all that–it was time for one more proof before it goes back to my agent. Now I have a pretty lengthy proofing checklist that includes all kinds of things, from overused words, sentence structure bugaboos, adverb annihilation, dialog tag correctification, the works. What I want to focus on today, though, is body language and nonverbal cues, and more importantly the ones I tend to overuse.

As usual for these things, what follows is how I write, revise, etc. I’m trying for a specific style with my work that won’t be a good fit for everyone. So with that disclaimer out of the way, let’s nod, smile, shake our heads, and grimace this thing to death. 🙂

As I alluded to above, the prime suspects for overused body language in my work are nod, smile, and shaking heads. The first two, especially, can get pretty egregious, and I end up removing half or more of them in a given manuscript. I also tend to overuse frown, grimace, and, oddly, shudder to a lesser degree, plus a few others.

So how and why do I fix my nods and smiles and so on? Well, here are some examples.

1) It doesn’t make sense. Sometimes I’m just writing along, making everybody nod and smile, and for some reason I pop one into sentence where it doesn’t make sense. Case in point:

When are you going after them?” Everett asked.

She nodded. “Soon, and you’re coming with us.”

So, uh, why is she nodding there? No good reason. This one just gets nuked, and the sentence and dialog are fine without it.

2) It’s redundant with the dialog. This is kind of a stylistic choice, but I prefer to let the dialog do the heavy lifting when it comes to character emotions, intent, and so on. Often as not, the body language is just redundant. Example:

Everett nodded. “Yeah, that night.” He took a risk and lied. “I spoke with Howard on the inside. He saw the same thing.”

I don’t really need the nodded here because he gives the affirmative in the dialog and I don’t think it adds anything. I might rewrite this one as:

“Yeah, that night.” Everett took a risk and lied. “I spoke with Howard on the inside. He saw the same thing.”

Now there are times where the body language, a nod in this case, does add something to the dialog. Case in point:

He didn’t sit, but he put his hands on the back of the chair and nodded. “Go on.”

I could remove the nod here, but I actually like the three little bits of nonverbal communication here followed by the dialog. Your mileage may vary, but this is one I’d keep.

3) There’s a better word. Sometimes I’ll default to one of my go-to bits of body language even when there’s a better choice. Now, this differs from point number one in that I actually want some kind of nonverbal cue in the sentence. Just, you know, a different one. Example:

He grimaced. “They could have brought you at night to spare you that.” He remembered his own troubles with the sun.

Now a grimace is usually used to denote disgust or pain, but that’s not what the character is feeling here. It’s frustration or even anger, so something different is needed. Maybe it’s:

“Goddamn it,” Everett said through clenched teeth. “They could have brought you at night to spare you that.”

In this case I think that extra bit of dialog and the nonverbal cue sells the emotion I want better than just a facial expression. I also think it works better without the last sentence.


So how many of the offending words did a remove from my 103,000-word manuscript? Here’s the score.

Word Start End
nod/nodded/nodding 108 47
Smile/smiled/smiling 89 47
shake/shook head 88 38
shudder/shuddered/shuddering 23 11
frown/frowned/frowning 15 14
grimace/grimaced/grimacing 13 9

Not bad. As you can see, I removed half or more of the prime offenders while I was more lenient with the others. It should be noted that not all those nods, smiles, and shaking of heads were simply deleted. Like the examples I included, sometimes they were replaced with a more appropriate word or action.

Well, that’s a glimpse into my proofing process, and, again, this is just how I do it. You may use more nods and smiles than me, and that’s cool. Hell, I recently looked at a best-selling novel around the same length as my book, and it had 276 instances of nod/nodded/nodding. That clearly didn’t keep it from getting published or selling in great numbers.

What types of body language and nonverbal cues do you tend to overuse? Tell me about it in the comments.

A Week of Writing: 6/10/19 to 6/16/2019

Another week of writing and stuff.

Words to Write By

This week’s quote is another from Mark Twain.

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

― Mark Twain

I’ve been thinking a lot about productivity or more precisely the lack of it. A lot of folks call that writer’s block, but when I’m not productive it’s generally not because I can’t write, it’s because I’m terrified to start writing or editing or revising or whatever. Mark Twain’s quote describes almost exactly what I do to get out of my funk. Looking at something like a novel (or the revision of said novel) as one colossal task is completely overwhelming, so much so that I just spin my wheels and fail to get anything done. If I break down that huge task into a bunch of little ones, like Mr. Twain suggests, I can get on with it.

With a novel, those little tasks are writing an outline, then finishing the first chapter, then writing 2,000 words a day. Basically, I never let myself dwell too long on the overall task, I just complete the task(s) I assigned myself for the day. If I do that for like 90 days in a row, one day I’ll look up and have a completed first draft. For revision, it’s roughly the same process. I’ll assign myself one or two plot points to resolve and focus entirely on those, or if I’m doing a more general proof, I’ll assign myself a number of pages per day.

There’s a bit of self trickery in this process, but I’ll use every dirty trick in the book if it means I can push past the fear and doubt and get more done. 🙂

The Novel

Well, I’m back to revising Late Risers and making good progress. Last week I primarily focused on starting from page one and re-reading the first half of the novel. I did a lot of work in the first half and added a ton of new material. So I needed to reacquaint myself with all those shiny new words and figure out if they’re worth keeping. The good news is that most of them are worth keeping, and, as usual, with a little distance from the novel, it reads a lot better and more cohesively than I thought it would. This week I plan to plow through the second half of the book. I won’t need to revise as much, but there’s one huge plot point I need to rework in the third act. After that, it should be pretty smooth sailing. I hope.

Short Stories

Yes, behold my shame.

  • Submissions Sent: 0
  • Rejections: 1
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0
  • Shortlist: 0

No submissions last week, but, hey, I did get a form rejection (womp womp). I’m lagging this month with new submissions, though I am working on new short stories that will become new submissions. I hope to get one or two or three of those out this week. I was also invited to contribute a story or two to a sword & sorcery magazine, so I’ll be starting those stories this week.

The Blog

Here are the blog posts from last week.

6/12/19: Weeks of Writing: 5/20/19 to 6/9/19

Getting caught up on the weeks I missed.

6/15/19: Submissions: A Pair of Never Have I Evers

In this post I discuss two publisher responses I’ve never received.

Goals

Novel, novel, novel. Short story, short story, short story.

Curious Fictions

I’ve started posting some of my reprint flash fiction and short stories up at Curious Fictions, and I plan to do that every Monday for a while. I’ll eventually get around to posting new material, and maybe even a serialized novella. For the moment, getting some of my old reprints some fresh air has been a lot of fun.

This week’s story is “Caroline,” a zombie tale published by Red Sun Magazine a few years ago. It’s definitely one of the darker pieces I’ve written, and you can check it out by clicking the link(s) below.

“Caroline”

Photo by Jonny Clow on Unsplash


That was my week. How was yours?

Deadlines: What Can They Teach You?

I’m currently writing on deadline, something I’ve done a lot in my career. From short stories to novels, I’ve frequently had to bang out the words under the gun. That got me thinking. What has writing under a deadline taught me and how has it shaped my writing? Here are three deadline-induced skills I’ve developed, which I’ve reduced down to acronyms because it’s more fun. So, lets talk about ABO, GID, and FIP.

1) ABO (Always be Outlining)

Look, I’m not saying outlining is the one true way. A lot of writers prefer to fly by the seat of their pants, and that clearly works for them. For me, however, outlining a fiction project does two things. One, it alleviates a lot of the worry that goes hand-in-hand with writing under a (tight) deadline. If I know where the story is going, and I have a solid road map to get there, I worry less about that and can focus on the writing. Two, it makes it easier to get started. An outline is kind of like a practice run or a warm-up, and it allows me to dive into the story without all the anxiety-inducing baggage of actually writing it (yet). That, for some reason, make the whole thing easier.

What ABO has Taught Me

Well, this is pretty simple. I’ve become a dedicated plotter in my own work for the same reasons I describe above. I write detailed outlines for short stories and novels, and it’s made both starting and finishing my own projects much easier. As I said above, outlining is not for everyone, and I get that, but it’s been an invaluable tool for me.

2) GID (Get it Down)

When I’m writing on a deadline, I don’t have time to let self-doubt and fear get in my way. That’s not to say they aren’t present (they are), but the only thing that frightens me more than getting those words on the page is, uh, not getting those words on the page and missing my deadline. So I sit down and write, no matter how I’m feeling, not matter how my brain is screaming “THIS IS ALL TERRIBLE.” I just forge ahead, word by word, paragraph by paragraph, at a pace of 2,000 to 3,000 words per day until I have a first draft. Basically, I tell myself “just get it down,” which is to say get it on the page, get that first draft done, and, most importantly, you can worry about the rest later.

What GID has Taught Me

With my own writing, I often pretend I’m on a deadline. For a novel, I figure out a writing schedule that requires a pace of about 10,000 words a week. I write my outline, and then, well, I just get it down. It allows me to knock out a first draft in about nine to twelve weeks. Really, what GID has allowed me to do, in conjunction with outlining, is finish things. It’s often a struggle, but if I can allow myself to not care about everything being perfect as I write it and really just focus on getting words on the page, I can get things done, and it’s never as bad as I think it’s gonna be, which leads me to the next skill.

3) FIP (Fix it in Post)

The bosom buddy of get it down, fix it in post or FIP is another mantra I recite as I’m writing a first draft. It’s more of a film/TV term than a writing term, but the concept of cleaning up and editing raw footage still applies. Working in the gaming industry as an editor and writer for all those years taught me just about everything can be fixed (often at the last minute) once you have a complete draft to work with.

What FIP Taught Me

Like the rest of these acronyms, FIP is all about finishing. It’s another way to do an end run around the fear and doubt that might keep me from writing. When I’m working on that first draft of a story or a novel, and I start to get a little freaked out that it’s not going well or whatever, I tell myself “fix it in post,” often right after I tell myself “just get it down.” Those two together are a powerful force that lets me forge ahead and keep working.


Armed with ABO, GID, and FIP, I feel I can go into just about any project with the understanding that a) I can complete it, b) it won’t be nearly as bad as I fear it will be, and c) even if it needs work, I can DO that work. They’ve been a great confidence booster, and I learned them all because of the looming threat and ticking doom clock of years and years of deadlines. Those skills–though I guess they’re more mindsets than actual skills–have definitely paid dividends in my own work.

So that’s what deadlines have done for me. What have they done for you? Tell me about it in the comments.

A Week of Writing: 4/29/19 to 5/5/19

A day late, but here’s another week of writing wins and woes.

Words to Write By

The quote this week comes from Ernest Hemingway.

“Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.”

– Ernest Hemingway

I’m featuring this quote not because I think it’s how everyone should write, but because it’s how I tend to approach writing. Hemingway is famous for spare, unadorned prose, and I tend to write in a similar fashion (note, I am not making any kind of qualitative comparison between my own writing and Hemingway’s). I certainly look at my prose as a means to and end rather than anything approaching the end product itself. What does that mean, though? Generally, it means I don’t spend a lot of time describing people, places, and things; I rely heavily on dialog to express plot points and develop characters; and I weed out passive voice, most adverbs, and try not to get too complex with my sentence structure. If I do it right, I end up with lean, fast-paced prose that conveys a story efficiently and is, hopefully, compelling. So, why do I write this way? Simple. It’s a style that tends to highlight things I’m good at, like action and dialog, and downplays things I’m not so good at, like truly stylish prose and expansive descriptions. Once more, this is not the best way to write (there’s no such thing), but it’s how I write. Looking at my prose like architecture, as Hemingway suggests, has helped me do what all authors must–finish stories and novels.

The Novel

I was out for a few days last week for a badly needed vacation, but I did manage to get a fair amount done on the current revision of Late Risers. I’m confident things will speed up once I get out of the first act where the bulk of the heavy revisions are taking place. This week, I’m working on the last bit of completely new material, and my goal is to finish that, integrate it into the manuscript, and get beyond the halfway point in the revision.

Short Stories

Finally, a respectable submission week.

  • Submissions Sent: 4
  • Rejections: 1
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0
  • Shortlist: 0

I got 4 submissions out last week. That’s solid, and it’s a good start to May. That gives me 39 for the year and puts me back on track for 100 for 2019. I’d like to end up somewhere around 10 to 12 submissions for the month.

The Blog

Three blog posts last week.

4/29/19: A Week of Writing: 4/22/19 to 4/28/19

The usual weekly writing update.

5/1/19: Submission Protocol: For the Record

In this post I discuss why it’s important to keep detailed records of all your submissions.

5/3/19: Submission Statement: April 2019

A detailed account of my submission endeavors for the month of April.

Goals

Keep revising the novel and chugging toward that finish line. As usual, I’d like a side dish of short story submissions to go with my revision main course.


That was my week. How was yours?

A Week of Writing: 2/4/18 to 2/10/18

After a month hiatus on the ol’ writing updates, it’s time to get back on that horse. Here’s how I did last week.

Words to Write By

This week’ quotes comes from Anita Shreve.

“To ward off a feeling of failure, she joked that she could wallpaper her bathroom with rejection slips, which she chose not to see as messages to stop, but rather as tickets to the game.”

– Anita Shreve

I love this quote. Referring to rejections as “tickets to the game” feels so on point to me, because I truly believe they’re part of the dues every writer pays to grow, to get better, and to get published. Basically, you don’t get into the show without spending some time in the minors taking your licks. (Sorry, baseball analogy.) While I don’t think you need to celebrate rejection, taking some solace and strength in what rejections signify, i.e., you’re writing and submitting your work, is a good thing in my book.

The Novel

About a month ago, I sent my novel Late Risers to my agent for his first read. Last week, he got back to me with feedback. He said the novel was interesting and even compelling, but there’s some work to do before he starts subbing it to editors. I won’t go into a ton of detail here, but the highlights are essentially as follows. Punch up the beginning so the book stands apart from others in the same genre. Fix some issues that do not pass the “reasonable man” test. Add more action-oriented scenes that demonstrate certain key plot points. What I’m most happy with about this feedback is that I agree with 99% of it. More than him hating the book, I was afraid he might want changes that would drastically alter what I wanted to say with the novel. That wasn’t the case, and I feel good about where the book needs to go. Better than that, I feel like I know how to get it there.

Short Stories

Slow week, and so far a slow month.

  • Submissions Sent: 2
  • Rejections: 1
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0
  • Shortlist: 0

I only have two submission for February to date, but one of my favorite markets opens for publication next week and there are some new contests I want to enter. So, I predict I’ll end the month  somewhere between eight and ten submissions.

The Blog

Two blog posts last week.

2/5/19: The Rejection Archives: Rejection #1

A new feature on the blog where I’ll share a single rejection from my extensive library of no’s and not for us’s.

2/8/19: One-Hour Flash – End of the Line

Another entry into my one-hour flash series, hastily scribbled stories not quite good enough for submission.

Goals

The next revision of Late Risers will have to wait just a bit longer as I have a Privateer Press novella outline I need to work on. I’ll finish the outline soon, though, and get cracking on Late Risers again while the outline is under review.

Submission Spotlight

This week I’d like to call your attention to a short story contest hosted by one of my favorite publishers, The Arcanist. They’ve been a flash fiction publisher for the last couple of years, and this contest marks their first foray into longer fiction. The contest calls for short stories up to 5,000 words with a broad theme of magic. The deadline is 4/1/19. For more details about the contest, prizes, and whatnot, click the link below.

The Arcanist Short Story Contest


How was your writing week? Tell me about it in the comments.

Works in Progress: How Many Is Too Many?

I often go hunting for quotes from authors about writing, usually for my weekly writing update posts. I recently stumbled across the following quote from novelist Philip Roth, and I really dig it. He said:

“The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.”

-Philip Roth

It’s a great quote, and I think it cuts to the heart of the most difficult thing a writer can do–call something “done.” If you’re like me, then your hard drive is chocked full of flash fiction pieces, short stories, and novels languishing under the label “work in progress.” So I thought I’d take a dig through my files and see just how many projects I’ve started and yet to finish.

First some ground rules. These rules apply to me and only me. You can, of course, make up your own mind for what counts as a work in progress.

  • One, I will only consider a piece I’ve actually submitted as a work in progress if it is currently undergoing a major revision, like pretty much a total rewrite.
  • Two, I will consider a work as “in progress” if I have actually completed an outline. Jotted-down story ideas don’t count.
  • Three, anything I am contractually obligated to write I won’t count because it WILL be finished. To me, a true WiP needs a little uncertainty.

Okay, let’s have a look.

Flash Fiction WiPs: 13 (about 13,000 words)

The main difference with my flash fiction works in progress is that everyone of these is technically a finished first draft. That has a lot to do with how I generate my flash fiction, primarily in one-hour flash fiction contests/writing exercise that by their very nature ensure I end up with 1,000 words by the end. Most of these are in serious, serious need of revision, but a couple are almost there and will likely head out the door in the near future.

Short Stories WiPs: 22 (about 50,000 words)

My short story works in progress range from simple outlines to ancient completed works that need to be totally rewritten and everything in between.  A fair number of these might never see true completion and submission, but there are a half dozen I’ll finish in the next few months, let my critique partners read, and then send them out into the world.

Novel & Novella WiPs: 3 (about 65,000 words)

This includes one novel in which I’ve written about 35,000 words (my next project), a full novel outline, and a finished novella I’m still tinkering with. The novel that has progressed beyond the outline stage will definitely be finished, and I’m working on it now. The outlined novel I might get to one day, but it’ll be down the road a ways. The novella needs some revision, mostly because it’s the sequel to a published short story, and I’m not sure it works without that short story.

In Summary

In total, I have 38 works in progress totaling about 130,000 words. That’s actually less than I expected, though if I counted stories that have been submitted at least once and are not undergoing major revision, that number would be much, much higher (maybe double).

Now let’s answer the question I posed in the title of this post. Do I have too many works in progress? Maybe, but it’s more a question of identifying which works are actually worth completing and which I should maybe set aside as ideas that are not gonna pan out. If I did that, I guess I’d end up with half the number of flash pieces and short stories, and, as much as I hate to say it, that outlined novel might not make the cut either. This kind of winnowing of WiPs is probably a good thing for every author to do at some point. Basically, I want my creative energies going toward works that are meaningful and might have a shot at publication. Of course, that’s a tough decision to make, and, as you can see, I kinda suck at it.


How many works in progress do you have going? Tell me about it in the comments.

A Week of Writing: 10/22/18 to 10/28/18

Getting a late start, but here’s how my writing week that was went.

Words to Write By

This week’s quote comes from Michael Crichton

“Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it …”

—Michael Crichton

This quote pretty much nails how I’m feeling at the moment as I stare down the barrel of another revision. It’s a tough to accept your novel isn’t quite where it needs to be. You want to get it out there, you want people to read it (and publish it), but if you ignore that inescapable feeling that the book isn’t ready and send it out anyway, I think you’re setting yourself up for failure. So, as I finish this revision knowing I’ll need to do at least one more, I’m trying to keep my eye on the goal. That goal is not to write and revise a book as quickly as possible, it’s to write and revise a book that represents my best work.

The Novel

I’m nearing the end of revision three on my novel Late Risers. I’ve fixed many problems, and the book has indeed gotten better, but there’s no escaping the fact I’ll need at least one more revision before it’s ready to shop. It’s a bitter pill because I’m so eager to get the book out in the world, but I wouldn’t be doing myself any favors pushing it out the door before it’s ready. So, it’s head down, keep working, keep refining, keep revising.

Short Stories

Well, last week was a rarity. I was so busy with novel revisions, I didn’t write or submit any short stories. In addition, I didn’t receive any rejections or acceptances, and I didn’t have anything new published. That should change this week, but for the moment, here’s a whole bunch of zeroes.

  • Submissions Sent: 0
  • Rejections: 0
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0
  • Shortlist: 0

I’m still at 105 submissions for the year, and I have sent 9 submission in October. So I don’t feel last week’s goose egg is a major setback.

The Blog

Two blog posts last week.

10/22/18: A Week of Writing: 10/15/18 to 10/21/18

The usual weekly writing report.

10/26/18: How Many Rejections Add up to an Acceptance?

In this post, I looked at all my acceptances for the year and how many rejections each received before the big yes.

Goals

Finish this revision and get ready for the next, and hopefully last, one. I’d also like to get at least one more submission out in October for an even ten.

Story Spotlight

This week’s story spotlight is “Burning Man,” recently published in the very last issue of Havok magazine (in it’s current incarnation). This is a story I’ve been kicking around for awhile, and I’m glad it’s finally found a home. This one isn’t free to read, but the magazine is definitely worth the couple of bucks they’re asking over at Amazon. I would also urge you to head on out to the relaunched Havok Publishing and check out their submission guidelines.


That was my week. How was yours?