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November 2012
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How to form your story's basic structure

In 13567373_10153503865645216_9186032853905765224_nevery story, something happens. These events form the structure of your tale. Plot, then, is the drama and action through which characters come to life.

Consider the plot of “Star Wars IV: A New Hope”. During the story, young Luke Skywalker finds his dreams and hopes of leaving a desert world quashed by his uncle. While looking for two runaway droids, Luke meets Obi-Wan Kenobi; one of the droids has a message for Obi-Wan pleading for him to help rebels against the oppressive Empire. When Luke returns home, he finds the farm ablaze and aunt and uncle dead. He decides to join Obi-Wan’s mission to help the rebels. The pair charter a flight with a smuggler, Han Solo. At their destination, they encounter the Death Star. Entering it, they rescue Princess Leia, who sent the earlier mentioned message to Obi-Wan. Returning Leia to the rebel base, they plan an attack to destroy the Death Star. In the end, Luke is the one who fires the shot that causes the Death Star's destruction.

Obviously, much more happens in the movie that those few events. But it is that storyline on which the rest of the story hangs.

A story at its most basic is plot. It’s why when junior high students write book reviews they almost invariably write about what occurs in the story, void of any references to the other elements of fiction except maybe a stray line about who the main characters were and where the story was set.

There are many metaphors about what plot is, most of which are equally apt. Some writers and academicians say it’s a structure that leads us somewhere, others a thread that pulls readers through a story. Using music as a metaphor, some refer to plot as “narrative melody.”

Plot is far more than a series of events, however. Events occur in a story because of cause and effect. Luke goes into space with Obi-Wan because once the farm is destroyed, nothing remains for him on a planet where he doesn’t want to be. Because of this cause and effect rule, most stories are told in chronological order. “A New Hope” doesn’t start with Luke rescuing Leia then jumps to the events that led him to the Death Star. In good stories, these events that occur also should involve conflict. Luke doesn’t just walk aboard the Death Star and take Leia. Stormtroopers chase him, and he is caught in a trash compactor with a sea monster.

There are some basic rules of plot that authors should follow:
• A plot should be logically consistent - Nothing should happen at random in a story. Random events slow the story and confuse the reader.
• A plot begins before the story does - “A New Hope” begins with the Empire’s forces firing on Princess Leia’s ship in orbit around Luke’s world. If the plot began at the chase’s beginning, the main story about Luke realizing his dreams of doing something important with his life would be delayed.
• Events in the plot should surprise the reader - That a sea monster is in the trash compactor waste and that it pulls Luke under into the muck are surprises.
• Keep your characters in trouble - So long as the characters have problems to overcome, the plot can remain interesting. For example, when Luke and his companions escape the stormtroopers by jumping into the trash chute, they find there is no way out – and then the walls of the trash compactor begins to close. In addition, come up with creative ways to get your characters out of their problems.

Need an editor? Having your book, business document or academic paper proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. Whether you come from an urban area like California's Orange County or a rural area like Loving County, Texas, I can provide that second eye.



"If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it." – Toni Morrison

Balloons sky

Professional Book Editor: Having your novel, short story or nonfiction manuscript proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. I can provide that second eye.


Five great quotations about fiction

“Why Books-1878118__340shouldn’t truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction, after all, has to make sense.” – Mark Twain

“The good ended happily, the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.” – Oscar Wilde

“Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Fiction is the truth inside the lie.” – Stephen King

“Fiction is not a dream. Nor is it guess work. It is imagining based on facts, and the facts must be accurate or the work of imagining will not stand up.” – Margaret Culkin Banning

Need an editor? Having your book, business document or academic paper proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. Whether you come from a big city like Detroit, Michigan, or a small town like Carefree, Arizona, I can provide that second eye.



Where to find reviewers for your book

When Marketing 06other readers and writers give good reviews of your book, it will translate into additional sales. Perhaps even more importantly, it increases your name recognition, raising anticipation for and sales of your next title. The challenge then is to find reviewers

First, a word of caution: There’s a difference between asking someone to write a review of your book and paying someone to do so. There are plenty of people who make a living do the latter –but only an honest few will say up front they may write a negative review, for the presumption is if paid they’ll deliver what you want, which is positive press. Going this route, however, only hurts your book. Readers can tell when reviews are fake, and if there are too many good ones on your Goodreads or Amazon.com page, the sheer volume of them will cause many to wonder if they’re genuine. Asking someone to write a review – even if it’s negative – is a whole other story, though. And if someone doesn’t like your book or otherwise feels uncomfortable writing a review, they can simply decline.

So who can you ask to write a review for you? Consider:
• People familiar with your subject matter – Whether it be colleagues or experts in the field, from teachers of literature if writing a novel to a recognized industry professional if writing a nonfiction title, experts carry the most weight as reviewers. They can speak intelligently about your book’s subject matter and writing style to others interested in the topic, and those in the know usually respect their opinion.
• Exchanging reviews with other writers – Writers, who often also are critical readers, make for great reviewers as they can relate to your publishing effort. Make an agreement in advance with the fellow writer that if she writes and posts a review of your book you’ll do the same for her. Add the caveat that if either doesn’t like the book, she doesn’t have to pen one but owes on the next book (unless she doesn’t like that one either). On the downside, many writers feel an empathetic streak for their colleagues so are uncomfortable writing bad reviews; because of this, some potential readers may wonder if the opinion is genuine.
• Friends and family – As most readers appreciate the thoughts of others just like them, having average everyday people (C’mon, admit it’s true about your friends and family!) pen reviews is a good idea. If not handled correctly, this can be a hue on the dark side of shady, though, as friends and family members are inclined to write only kind words about your book. They only should write a review for you if they honestly believe the book was good, and there should be no hard feelings on your part if they decline.

By the way, giving the reviewer a complimentary copy of your book rather than making her buy it is customary. Fortunately in today’s tech-drenched world, that’s an inexpensive option as you easily can spring for an ebook download or email a free pdf. If the reviewer asks for a paper copy (and this often will be in the case with the mainstream media), send one or resign yourself to not getting a review.

Need an editor? Having your book, business document or academic paper proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. Whether you come from a big city like Atlanta, Georgia, or a small town like Atlanta, Idaho, I can provide that second eye.



Guidelines for designing your book cover's spine

Another Books-2085589_1920 important element of your book cover is the spine, the thin side that is displayed when your volume is snugly tucked between two other books on a shelf. Because this may be the only portion of the book that potential readers see at a bookstore, library or friend’s house, you want to ensure the spine includes the book’s title and your name as author.

When placing this information on the spine, follow three basic rules. First, the bottom of the wording should face the back cover’s edge. That way, when a book is placed face up on a table, the wording on the spine won’t be upside down. Secondly, ensure any portion of the photograph or illustration from the front cover that might wrap over the spine onto the back cover doesn’t interfere with the wording. A black line from the illustration that runs through the wording, for example, might make reading the title or author’s name difficult. Finally, only add your publishing company’s logo if it will fit, and when doing so, put it at the very top or the very bottom of the spine.

A common question that arises when self-publishing is how thick the spine will be. This can affect the size of the artwork if it wraps from the front to the back covers. Two basic factors determine the spine’s thickness:
• Paper quality – The higher the quality, generally the thicker the spine will be. The typical “white” paper used in self-publishing has a thickness of .002252 inches per page while a book using paper for color pictures or illustrations is .002347 inches thick.
• Page count – The total number of pages has the ultimate impact on thickness. This includes every page from the half-title page all the way to the last one before you come to the back cover.

To determine your spine’s thickness, simply multiply the page count by the thickness of the paper you’re using. So a 200-page book using white paper would be 200 x .002252 or .4504 inches thick. A 200-page book using color pages is 200 x .002347 or .4694 inches thick.

Be aware that if your book is fairly thin – say fewer than a hundred pages – there may not be enough space on the spine to print your title or any other wording.

Need an editor? Having your book, business document or academic paper proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. Whether you come from a big city like Washington, D.C., or a small town like Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, I can provide that second eye.



Nothing to joke about: Blonde vs. blond

When Fashion-1623085_1920describing a fair-haired man, don’t use blonde, even if the dude looks like a lady. A flaxen-haired female is a blonde, but a sandy-haired male is a blond (no e, please).

Need an editor? Having your book, business document or academic paper proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. Whether you come from a big city like Boston, Massachusetts, or a small town like Boston, Georgia, I can provide that second eye.



Editing client publishes science fiction story

An editing Aphelion client of mine published his first short story this week. Adam Folgers’ “Modification Program” tells the tale of a late 21st century prison guard and his days overseeing convicts who for punishment must “live” out their sentences in a holodeck-like program of brutal and inhumane conditions. The story is published in Aphelion, The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, a webzine that has been going strong for several years now. “Modification Program” can be read online.

Need an editor? Having your book, business document or academic paper proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. Whether you come from a big city like Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, or a small town like Boring, Oregon, I can provide that second eye.



Select a viewpoint that gives you flexibility

Stories Polar-bear-2329989_1920don’t have to be told only from the main character’s perspective. Indeed, the story’s author often narrates a story about a character rather be that persona. When this occurs, authors are writing in third-person point of view.

One type of third-person point of view is third-person limited. This is when the narrator tells the story only from the perspective of what the main character can observe and think, but unlike first-person limited, we also observe the main character through the author’s eyes.

Consider this excerpt from Brian Aldiss’ science fiction short story “Not For an Age”:

A bedspring groaned and pinged, mists cleared, Rodney Furnell awoke. From the bathroom next door came the crisp sound of shaving; his son was up. The bed next to his was empty; Valerie, his second wife, was up. Guiltily, Rodney also rose, and performed several timid exercises to flex his backbone. Youth! When it was going it had to be husbanded. He touched his toes.

Notice how we see events unfolding through the eyes of Rodney Furnell, the main character: waking up, the sounds around him, exercising. We do not see the world through the perspective of his son or his second wife. Further, the word "I" never would appear in the piece unless spoken by someone; that's because Rodney isn't telling the story - the author is. The author even offers a small comment, describing Rodney’s exercises as “timid” (certainly Rodney would not describe them as “timid”!).

Third-person limited offers several advantages, including:
• Gives the writer more flexibility than first-person point of view – If the story above were told only from Rodney’s point of view, the author could not offer his perspective on him. The audience no longer would be looking upon the stage that the main character acted but would be standing upon it in the main character’s body.
• Provides a less biased perspective - Stories told in first-person also carry the weight of the main character’s subjective views and perspectives. Sometimes this can make the protagonist less acceptable likable to a reader who is more enlightened than that character. Third-person limited moves the reader to the usually more enlightened perspective of the author.
• Offers a clear sense of who the reader should identify with and invest in - Stories told only from the main character’s perspective sometimes don’t make that persona the hero but someone whose weaknesses cost him. The author’s insertions in third-person limited show readers how they should view the main character. Because of that, readers often like this point of view.

One danger of third-person limited, however, is that the reader loses a sense of intimacy with the main character. Rather than fully experience the universe with the main character, the reader can feel superior to him. If your goal is to have the reader relate to the main character, this may not be the best choice for your story’s point of view.

Need an editor? Having your book, business document or academic paper proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. Whether you come from a big city like Oakland, California, or a small town like Goobertown, Arkansas, I can provide that second eye.



Editing client from Texas releases his debut novel

An editing Diary of the Lost Teen Age client of mine, Tony Gaines, this past week published his first novel, “Dairy of the Lost Teen Age”. The book follows the story of Tom Jones, a shy Christian adolescent of the 1970s who after surviving an attempted suicide learns to use writing in his diary as a means of communicating with himself as his family settles in on a new life in West Texas. High school football in Texas seems to be the states’ unofficial religion, yet it’s the emergence of television, “the new God,” that starts to shape Tom’s newly found pop culture world. Then star quarterback Reggie Thomas moves in across the street and takes Tom under his wing, tutoring him on the road to the end of innocence. Will the duo score on a last ditch drive to escape with their souls intact, or will they lose themselves in the forbidding world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll? “Dairy of the Lost Teen Age” is available in a number of platforms and can be purchased online.

Need an editor? Having your book, business document or academic paper proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. Whether you come from a big city like Oakland, California, or a small town like Goobertown, Arkansas, I can provide that second eye.



SBM gives editor’s ‘Hikes: Games’ thumbs up

My book Hikes_with_Tykes__Ga_Cover_for_KindleHikes with Tykes: Games and Activities received a positive review Monday at Seattle Backpackers Magazine. “This great little guide contains enough ideas to engage even the most stoic, couch-loving tween,” wrote Erika Klimecky, editor of SBM and a book about her trek through Nepal. “All in all, Hikes with Tykes: Games and Activities is a great resource for parents who need a little (or a lot) of help encouraging their kids on the trail.” Hikes with Tykes: Games and Activities can be purchased online or at independent bookstores in Minneapolis and the Wisconsin communities of Eau Claire, Menomonie and Hudson.

Need an editor? Having your book, business document or academic paper proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. Whether you come from a big city like San Jose, California, or a small town like Boar Tush, Alabama, I can provide that second eye.