Now that my Vaudeville at the Baker – The Ned Mulligan Show stage production at the Gaslight-Baker Theatre is over for another year I’ve jumped back with both feet onto finishing my novel. I have a deadline of the first of September, which is when my new editor (Crystal Hubbard, a popular published author and professional editor) has asked for it, so I’m highly motivated to get back to a productive daily writing schedule.
I love all of the available tools that help me polish and perfect my writing as much as possible before Crystal gets her hands on it. I recently joined a Facebook Group called Fiction Writers, where I can share my knowledge and experience with others and more importantly, where I can learn from those with many more years’ experience than me. I also have several online filters that help me analyze my actual word choices and style. Finally, I’m a member of the Lockhart Writers, an amazing critique group here in my home base of Lockhart, Texas.
People who help me be productive
Several members of the Lockhart Writers critique group are published authors. Feedback from every member has proved invaluable. Please indulge me while I give them a plug. They deserve it.
Phil McBride writes civil war era novels. They’re fiction, but they weave in actual battles, people, and scenarios. I was privileged to help him polish Tangled Honor, the first book in a trilogy. I’m not a big war buff (from any era) but I found myself looking forward to each new chapter submission. It was truly a page-turner.
Tam Francis writes vintage stories in a variety of genres and is currently completing book two of a trilogy that covers the lives of two women from different generations who are connected by a jitterbug dress. I didn’t know Tam when she wrote book 1 (The Girl in the Jitterbug Dress – not yet published) but have thoroughly enjoyed helping critique book 2 (The Girl in the Jitterbug Dress Hops the Atlantic). She has a published collection of vintage ghost stories (Ghostoria).
Gretchen Rix is one of the most prolific writers I know. She was already published when she joined Lockhart Writers and has since published several additional books. Probably her best known is the fun and entertaining The Cowboy’s Baby, which now has a sequel. She’s currently finishing her second romance.
Wayne Walther is a retired Lutheran Pastor who is writing an intriguing future look at humanity called Insurrection. I look forward to each chapter of this peek at a matriarchal world where young men are servants (and more) to women rulers, and where rebellion and revolution are brewing both inside and outside of the palace. We’re still pushing him to get his blog up and active.
Pagan Jackson is our newest member and is working on her first novel, Ain’t No Angels, a smashing romantic romp through the old west with a young couple every bit as fun and adventurous as any Judy Garland and Micky Rooney romantic comedy. Pagan will get her blog going once the move she’s in the middle of is over and her boxes are unpacked.
Tools that help me be productive
I have a couple of favorite sites that provide invaluable writing analysis to help me improve the content of my novels, which ultimately makes for a better experience for my readers. These didn’t exist when I wrote The Case of a Cold Trail and a Hot Musket, so the search for things like passive voice and repeated words was laborious and slow. I still pore over every word and sentence, but having tools like the following two is a tremendous way get get a jump start.
The “To Be” Verbs Analyzer looks through text I paste into the box on the page and analyzes it for passive voice. Not only does it give me total results, it also displays each phrase/sentence where I’ve used passive voice. Some are easy to change. Some should be left alone. The ultimate choice is up to me, but there’s nothing like having a handy-dandy list to start with.
For example, I ran yesterday’s 2700 word chapter progress from Virgilante through the analyzer and got this result: 43 ‘to be’ verbs found in 223 sentences. 19.3% of your sentences have to be verbs. Anything below 20-25% passive voice is considered quite good so I was pleased. I still changed half a dozen of the flagged sentences. Active voice makes chapters for vibrant and, well… active.
The Wordcounter isn’t a total count of the words in a chapter or section, it counts duplicate, redundant, repetitive words. (See what I did there?) One of the biggest flags that a book was written by a first-time author who didn’t hire an editor is the prolific repetition of words. It just happens sometimes when a new author just doesn’t yet have a good grasp of just how annoying repeating the same words over and over is to just about every reader. It gets very annoying for very nearly every reader to the point where they are very inclined to simply close the book and be very well done with it. (Got ya’ again.)
Most writers, even novice ones, aren’t as repetitive as I was in the above paragraph, but we all do it. And usually the repetition isn’t something as easily avoided as very or just – more likely it’s having every character smile or wink or shrug, or constantly describing the scenery as a rocky hillside or dark and stormy night (probably not that latter one except for those submitting to the annual Bullwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for worst opening line).
I recently discovered I’d made the egregious error of having one character purse her lips dozens (and dozens) of times in a novel. I’ve yanked the novel from Amazon and will not restore it for sale until I have not only corrected that redundancy but have checked for additional oversights as well. That novel was written before the Wordcounter was available, and before I met Crystal. (Some editors aren’t as good as others.) Things do slip by. And it isn’t an artifact of self-publishing; I’ve seen eye-rolling examples in traditionally published books by well-known authors. As much as we like to think of ourselves as special (not in the short-bus way), writers (and editors) are human.
Every week the Lockhart Writers find repetitive words and phrases in each other’s submissions and I am grateful to their attention to detail and keen eyes.
Now if only someone would invent a tool that catches those simple homophone mistakes auto-correct and spellcheck both miss.