Here it is! The nation Zenetra and company live in. Isn’t it lovely?
Below is a quick introduction of characters.
The Noire Family
The Crew of Sunray
And of course, Scarlett Burn! The missing explorer is the reason all these people meet, the catalyst for the story, the mission…
Or is she?
Hi there! Long time no post, right?
Even though it’s Wednesday, I still don’t have any editing tips and tricks to update you with. I do, however, have plenty of free copies of both Explorations of Scarlett Burn AND The Lost City of Al-Kimiya.
I love all feedback and I’d love to see your honest review on Amazon. If you’re interested in one or both of my eBooks, please email me at email@example.com and I’ll send you either a MOBI or PDF file version.
After three to four years of hard work, countless bouts of writer’s block, and hundreds of rounds of self-editing, two of my nine works are finally available to the public.
Though they are only in eBook format, paperback and hardcover will be coming (hopefully) this October. If you have time, please help support me by leaving a review on Amazon or spreading the word that a new fantasy/mystery author is out there.
A single click on either title will whisk you to Amazon, where you can find my stories. Thank you for your support!
Writing is about being creative, but creativity is not limitless. I’ve hit a dry spell for both my creative writing as well as my weekly Wednesday updates on this website/blog. One reason for the latter is from no real dialogue or feedback on this site but another, larger part is the joy I feel about it, or rather – the lack of it.
I get a lot more joy and discourse on Wattpad, where I post my stories and help others with their own work, and so I find myself contemplating the time I spend on this website compared with the time I spend on Wattpad.
This isn’t to say that I won’t be posting any more editing tips and tricks. I’m going to focus on releasing Scarlett Burn (which will be out May 1st) and quite possibly the eBook version of The Lost City of Al-Kimiya (because really, they go hand-in-hand). After that, I’ll come back with more self-editing advice. Not going to lie, though. I may drop my posts down to twice a month.
I try really hard not to be too personal on this website but life has been hitting me hard both emotionally and financially this year, and will likely hit me hard again in 2020.
I lost my job this past February, moved, and am in the long process of starting my own business (that has nothing to do with writing). Until that job gets going, the only income I’ll have in May will be from eBook sales and editing jobs.
If you’d like to show your support, please mark your calendars for May 1st for the release of my stories and help spread the word about an up-and-coming author you know.
I hope you all have a wonderful and productive week.
Last week, we discussed ending a paragraph with either an enticing sentence, a question, or a clever quip. Before that, we looked at why putting the most vivid word at the end of a sentence helps pull the reader to the next one.
I stand by both posts, but as I said in this one, breaking rhythm is important. You can’t – or shouldn’t – always have the last word of a sentence or the last sentence of a paragraph as the most vivid. Your writing will lose that alluring flow every good author strives to achieve.
To break your rhythm, consider repositioning your most striking imagery from the end of your paragraph to the beginning. Hit those readers hard from the start!
This is something I struggle with in my writing and I’m not quite sure why. I’m adventurous and considered a somewhat spontaneous person in real life, but it seems I like to ease people (and myself) into stories. Psychologists may have a better reasoning, but that want to ease into a story must somehow transfer over into how I prefer easing readers into a paragraph.
It was difficult finding examples in the prologue of The Lost City of Al-Kimiya (which will be published late 2019!), but I managed to find a good enough one.
Tragic events had plagued the Noire’s, but James held no illusions of there being an actual curse on the family. Zenetra was the heart of the nation. She had been on the cover of newspapers and magazines since birth. The Hive had a field day with the Noire sisters after the murder of their mother, and then again when the elder sister went missing eight years later. Zenetra was the sole heir of a dynasty of hard work and tragic ends.Prologue, The Lost City of Al-Kimiya
“Tragic” and the extension “events” helps establish Zenetra Noire’s family reputation right from the start. It’s the first word characters (and now readers) associate with the main character’s family and ironically – the last. I even did that subconsciously by starting the sentence with the image of tragedy and ending it likewise, only now to realize it.
Kudos to me, I guess.
Writing these weekly editing tips and tricks has really helped me look at my own writing objectively. Perhaps that’s the teacher in me coming out. Helping others learn helps me remember. Case in point: the below paragraph was edited for the sole purpose of being used in this post as an example. It originally started out as, “The bells tolled…”
Bells tolled the arrival of the city tram, a free but crammed public transportation vessel. It was the slowest vehicle Noire Transport had ever created and wasn’t convenient enough to ride except when travelling long distances. Noire Mansion was too far to walk, so James elbowed his way onto the back of the public vehicle and hung half in and half out as it crept through the city.
Prologue, The Lost City of Al-Kimiya
How does it sound now? Crazy how a simple change can make a sentence more striking, eh?
A huge THANK YOU goes out to those who come here for my self-editing advice. Writing my Wednesday posts has really helped broaden my abilities as both a writer and an editor.
I’m aware that there are supportive platforms like GoFundMe and Patreon, but I’ve never felt comfortable signing up with either. Writing for a living is difficult. Professional editors are way too expensive for a self-publishing author. So, instead of asking for financial support in the form of donations, I’ve decided to offer my editing services.
Consider this as more of an authors-supporting-authors kind of deal. I will edit and provide constructive feedback on your FIRST CHAPTER (or blog post) for the incredibly low price of $10.
Note: Prologues are considered a first chapter and are also $10.
Since I am going to be a self-published author, I find myself in the same boat as most writers nowadays – unable to pay for a professional editor. The priced quote to edit The Lost City of Al-Kimiya was $3,500 and more if I hired a separate proofreader. Don’t get me wrong – editors are incredibly important and if I had that kind of money, I would pay for a professional to read through my story.
A few months ago, I went in search of a potential editor that was cheaper. I found someone who seemed legitimate. They offered to edit ten pages of my story for $50 (that was only about ¾ths of my prologue). At the time, I thought that was a great deal. I told myself that I would get to see how their edits are and argued that it wasn’t nearly as expensive as paying a professional. I even upgraded to get a literary critique.
I received my ten pages back the next day with two words moved around, a few commas added, and zero critiques. And no, my first thought was not, “Oh, my chapter must be good.”
Needless to say, I was very disappointed. I sat on my story for a month and then took another glance at it. There were grammatical errors and lackluster sentences galore in those first ten pages alone!
Helping and connecting with other authors is what I had planned for this website. That’s why I write self-editing tips every Wednesday. My editing service is a way of doing more.
Why are you charging $10 if you want to help other authors?
I’m a pragmatic person and like I stated above, writing for a living is difficult. I can’t justify spending my time editing for free when I could be getting paid via a second job. Consider my service as a packaged deal. For $10, you will have your first chapter (or blog post) edited and critiqued. That will likely be an hour or two of my time. Minimum wage is higher than that price.
Why one chapter?
By accepting one chapter, I can get through many requests and YOU can see if you like my edits for an affordable price.
I like your edits and comments. Would you edit the rest of my story?
Absolutely! Hire me for the first chapter, see what I’m about, and if you’d like me to carry on with the rest of your story, request a full novel read! My time is limited, however, so I will accept full stories on a case-by-case basis.
What are the prices for a full read?
Prices for my services can be found HERE. If accepted, you will receive an invoice and must pay in advance. I will only edit a Word document. If your chapter is in a different version such as a PDF, you must convert it for me.
What are the guidelines for requesting your services?
Requesting my services is easy! Fill out this form and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line reading: “Request for Edit – (Your Name and Title of Story)”
Guidelines to follow are HERE. If accepted, I will email you an invoice. You will have to submit a payment to my PayPal account and then I will begin editing.
How long will it take you to finish editing?
That’s a bit more difficult to determine. I’m typically a fast reader but when I’m editing, I tend to slow down. Depending on the *word count and the waiting list, I can get through your chapter relatively quickly.
How long will it take you to edit my full novel?
Again, it’s difficult to say. The more self-edited your story is, the faster it will be to read. If I’m constantly stumbling over grammatical issues, my focus will be on that rather than the story. Therefore, if you want more comments on your overall story, such as foreshadowing, red herrings, plot holes, character development, then you should self-edit your story as much as possible before hiring me.
Your privacy is important to me. I promise not to use your stories for editing examples nor share your work with anyone else. Those new to my site may feel more confident in requesting an edit from me if they can see that others have hired me before, so it would be nice if you would leave a comment on my website after receiving your edits back. Nice, but by no means required.
If you have any more questions, feel free to email me. I look forward to reading your lovely stories!
*Note: Chapters with more than 5,000 words will be priced differently.
Paragraphs…they do more than you think. Last time, we stacked sentences to make a paragraph by focusing on rhythm. This week, we’re going to stack paragraphs to emphasize pauses.
Have you ever been in a class where the teacher asks for each student to read one paragraph aloud? Embarrassing for the students who have trouble with public speaking. I was one of those students, and eventually, one of those teachers.
There was always that one dreaded paragraph everyone hoped not to get. It was the longest paragraph, usually filled with complex words that took up half a page or more. As a student, you’re not aware of the reason why that particular paragraph is so long and the others so short. I didn’t understand back then but I do now. I even use it in my writing.
Generally, the longer paragraphs slow the pace of the story. Shorter paragraphs speed up the pace. Without longer paragraphs interspersed throughout the story, reading becomes as tiring as running a marathon.
I’m glad I’m aware of this now but at the same time, it also has me very worried. I’m old enough to remember dial-up tones on the computer, floppy disks, and rotary phones, yet young enough to appreciate YouTube, spark notes, and Netflix.
My future readers will always be of a younger generation. That may be a “Duh!” thing to say, but it’s actually hard to keep in mind, especially while writing. Longer paragraphs often demand more attention, yet so many of us readers tend to skim them. Our attention span is shortening.
Sad, but true.
All that world building, the foundation for plot twists, all the foreshadowing – if it’s skimmed, the world becomes duller, that insane plot twist is given an “Eh” by readers, and when something crazy happens in the story, a troll types a scathing blog post about major plot holes that aren’t actually plot holes.
So how do you stop a reader from skimming?
One way to do it is by adding humor at the end of a long paragraph. If a joke doesn’t fit, try an imaginative analogy or metaphor. Keep the paragraph as serious as you want, but give the reader something to latch onto. A skim reader usually reads the first sentence and the last. If you catch them at the end with some quip, there is a 50/50 chance they will go back to the beginning and give the paragraph their full attention.
I tried to find a good example of this in my prologue, but this is the best I could do. The paragraph doesn’t end on a joke or a clever quip. It ends on a question.
First, try skimming it – read the first and last sentence.
“James was instantly thrown back to the first time he had seen Captain Inglehart’s airship. Did he remember the way around a Kahiki? That was laughable. Buttons and levers, and a wheel that went tuk-tut, tuk-tut tuk when it was free to turn at will. Warmth from firestones and the crew who teased him as he watched the kukoo’s float around in the balance barrels. The porous rocks had fascinated him at the time. Setting them with firestones produced a gas strong enough to make a ship fly. What sixteen-year-old wouldn’t be impressed by that?”The Lost City of Al-Kimiya, Prologue
Did you find yourself interested in reading the whole paragraph? Was it an enticing enough end to the paragraph to make you consider going back?
One of my biggest insecurities of publishing is having a reader say, “Oh, I skipped that part,” or a review stating that chapter such-and-such was tl;dr (that’s too long; didn’t read for us old folks). With that said, let’s make one thing clear. Re-reading something that was skimmed is a mark against the reader. Re-reading something for clarity is a mark against the writer.
What are some ways you prevent readers from skimming your long paragraphs?
Within a paragraph, there must be variety. And by variety, I mean sentences in different forms. Different forms of sentences create rhythm. We want rhythm for flow, but we also want to vary that rhythm to create contrast.
Why is contrast good?
Contrast creates emphasis. Punctuation helps, but don’t rely solely on that. Too many commas weigh down a paragraph. Not enough limits the imagination. And there are only so many times you can use a dash or colon before a reader gets frustrated. I’m guilty of excessive dashing.
One great way to add contrast to rhythm is to toss in a sentence fragment.
Sentence fragments are short bits of information. They are to the point and create a forceful break in rhythm. Fragments imply, giving the reader the joy of using their own imagination. It’s important to give the reader just enough information and then let their minds fill in the rest. If you don’t allow for this, then your technique is more in line with Victorian Realism writing. And that style bores the reader fast.
A story is externalized thoughts of a writer – their creativity in ink on paper – but those thoughts are then internalized by readers. Describing every detail is like holding a reader’s hand from cover to cover, but not just holding – gripping so tightly they can’t stray an inch. (Did you notice this paragraph has varied sentence forms, but too many dashes?)
Let’s take another glance at my prologue and find where I broke my rhythm with a sentence fragment.
“Vagabonds and thieves were placed under surveillance for every kind of election, but for one of this prominence, they were rounded up and arrested for the smallest infraction. All eyes would be on the capital from now until the election. The government wanted to keep the streets clean and the city safe until the scrutiny eased. A waste of resources.”The Lost City of Al-Kimiya, Prologue
By ending with a fragment, I’ve broken the rhythm to emphasize the negative impact an election has on a city. My fragment implies a lot: taxation, constable’s time and energy, inconvenience to city residents, etc.
In natural conversation, we often speak in fragments. It would only make sense that dialogue would be full of sentence fragments too. Here are some in the prologue:
“One hundred million tollárs. That’s enough to travel around the world on a first-class airship a thousand times. Enough to buy a small city. She’s set to inherit the rest, which is rumored to be ten times as much, on her twenty-fifth birthday.”Ricky Dickson, The Lost City of Al-Kimiya
In that example, there are two sentence fragments. The beginning of the paragraph sets the tone for Ricky Dickson’s dialogue as well as the subject: money. The second fragment is in the middle and implies that a thousand first-class airship tickets cost as much as a small city and that Zenetra Noire could afford both. The longer, varied sentence that follows explains that the “one million tollárs” is just a fraction of what Zenetra will inherit in the end.
Writers are imaginative. So are readers. Give them the opportunity to use their own imagination.
When Scarlett came to, she was floating in a large well. Below her was water, gloopy and dark green with chunks of algae in it. Above her was air.
Air, and a domed ceiling that was steadily getting closer.
Scarlett righted herself, dizzying though it was to do so and caught sight of a spiral stairwell carved into the stone. She swam to it. The steps were too narrow for her suit.
Breathing heavily, she assessed her options. At the top of the stairwell was a landing. The water was rising fast enough to deposit her on to it, but that would lessen her time in finding a way out.
She checked her oxygen levels. They were nearly empty.
“Well, that decides that,” Scarlett said to herself, before unclasping the suit’s heavy headpiece. It fell to the side of the stairwell and sank. She gulped air, which smelled strangely of sweet bread, and was startled by a rush of cold water that poured into her suit. Setting her flasher on a higher step, where it teetered but stayed, she crawled out of her suit and up the stairs as fast as her short legs could move.
The landing was the entrance to a vast chamber room. Scarlett, barefoot and dripping wet, tiptoed past ancient chariot after ancient chariot. Skeletons of horses still in armor were attached to each one, as if they were ready to race out at any moment. Large caches of weapons were next. Swords with black blades glimmered from the torch’s light. Spears stacked horizontally were in front of shields that hung from the walls. Some were decorated with half-moons, other with stars, and scattered here and there were shields with mythical beasts on them.
Scarlett captioned them all. Bloodstags with regal antlers. Moondoes with long, spiraling horns in the center of their foreheads. There were even batwolves with hairy faces and large, triangular ears. Night Creatures, they were called in history books.
Keelan hadn’t mentioned any of this.
She carried on further into the room, where shelves stacked half a hundred feet high. Initially captioning it from afar, it wasn’t until Scarlett approached to get close-ups that she saw it for the morbid structure that it was. The shelves were full of skeletons. Skeletons in armor. Exactly like the horses.
Scarlett chose one to caption. One flash captured the whole body. A second caption captured the chest plate and helmet. When she took a step back, there was a splash.
The water had spilled over the landing.
She raced past shelves and shelves of the skeleton army, stumbling upon a collection of clay pottery vases that were bigger–and wider–than her, and because she was Scarlett Burn, she stopped to caption them. Throwing all caution aside, she lifted one of the lids on the pots. The sweet aroma she first smelled wafted up to her nose. Ancient pastries and loaves of bread were stored inside. Food supplies for the army.
Scarlett captioned that too and replaced the lid as the water trickled to her toes. Then she was off again, running past the pottery until she arrived at a wall. An arched doorway was in the center, the handles shaped as half-moons.
The next room was filled with glass coffins. They were not stacked as the army had been. Instead, they formed a circular pattern around a larger, grander glass coffin positioned in the center. Within the glass laid more skeletons, their skin shriveled, their hair long and styled elegantly. Each wore metal halos, much like the colossal statue Scarlett had stumbled upon in the murky water.
These women were important. If Scarlett had to guess, she’d say they were the fabled Mistresses of the Night. Every sorceress had maidens, after all. Phaedra the Enchantress certainly would have had many.
Scarlett captioned them, unsure if the reflection from the glass would blur their faces. She would only know in development.
With hardly any film left in her plate, she weaved through the glass coffins to see the very center one. When she approached and saw the body inside, Scarlett stopped. Her flasher lowered. Inside the central coffin was a remarkably well-preserved woman.
The woman had died quite young, her pale skin still soft and supple within the glass, her hair long and black. On her body was a bodice made of metal. Her skirt and boots were dark leather. She wore a halo like the others, but hers had a bulky red stone set in the center. Like her army and her horses, she looked ready for war.
Scarlett raised her flasher to her face. There was a click, a flash, and the woman’s face was captioned. Scarlett stepped back, aligned her lens to capture the whole coffin from the side, clicked, and another flash went off.
A moan filled the room.
Her head whipped back to the door she had entered. Water sprayed inside from the bottom edges. The door moaned again at the pressure. Something bumped against the other side. A pot of bread, most likely. She had closed the door in the hopes it kept the water at bay, but it was old and made of wood. It wouldn’t hold for long.
How many people could caption the thing that killed them?
She held her flasher up to face the door. A click. No flash. Her plate of film was out.
Knowing she couldn’t die peacefully without exhausting all possible ways to survive, Scarlett shone the torch around the room in one last effort to find a way out. To her surprise – and great pleasure – a small alcove in the corner wall opposite the flooding door appeared to have been blocked from the inside with a large boulder.
With her flasher hanging from her neck, Scarlett marched over to it. “If you can be pushed into place, you can be pulled out of place.”
Behind the boulder was a narrow, almost vertical, crawlspace that was so high the top was beyond the reach of the torch’s light.
Scarlett squeezed into the tiny space easily enough. Climbing while already exhausted was the hard part. Thankfully, she had some experience with that. Timon’s proposal on the mountaintop had been years ago. Scarlett hoped her body remembered how to handle the strain.
She moved her flasher around to hang at her back, put the handle of the torch in her mouth, and jumped up to grab what looked to be a horizontal stone rivet. Body dangling just above the floor, she peered up again. The crawlspace was riddled with stone rivets.
“Ah-kay,” Scarlett said around the handle of the torch. She took a breath, locked eyes on the next rivet, and began to climb.
When Scarlett reached the top, the air became hot and muggy. She was back outside and above ground. Her skin was instantly swarmed by bugs. Perched at the top of the crawlspace, she peered back down. Halfway up, she had heard glass shatter and assumed the water had burst in and pushed the Mistresses of the Night’s coffins into one another. The water hadn’t risen higher, though, and Scarlett now knew why.
The ceiling of that room had been in level with the lake’s surface. Water could not rise any higher. Unfortunately, the crawlspace had brought Scarlett far out of the city and into the jungle. She could see the city lights in the distance as well as a few boats on the lake making their leisurely way back to the docks.
Scarlett couldn’t dawdle. Returning on foot would take hours and she needed to return before nightfall. Animals prowled the jungle and though they were not Night Creatures, they were just as dangerous.
As she set off toward the city, flasher dangling from around her neck, she wondered if Aleander would be up for another dinner of cold noodles.
Scarlett saw Keelan and the team sitting
outside a restaurant eating Scarlett’s most despised southern dish – spicy soup
served with a side of roasted hot peppers – with tears streaming down their red
cheeks. Aleander sat with them, nursing a drink with a sad expression.
Scarlett, feet cut and body dirty, limped up to them and deposited her flasher in the middle of the table.
“You’re alive!” exclaimed Keelan as the others choked on their meal.
Scarlett shared a relieved smile with Aleander before answering. “Didn’t want to miss dinner.”
Since she had no other suit to dive in again, Keelan asked her to develop her captions while he and his team went in search of the burial chamber. They were thrilled to hear about her findings.
Scarlett welcomed the smell of chemicals and the low glow of red lights. As she strung up caption by caption to dry, she placed the last two glossy papers in the final wash and waited. The images were of the sorceress. Keelan was convinced it was Phaedria the Enchantress. He’d nearly had a stroke when she told him how pretty she had looked.
The two images formed under the chemicals. Scarlett peered at them. She had been worried the glass would hold a glare but found they held no trace of the flash. The face and body came out well, the red stone more so.
The final image–the last her flasher produced–was a little more blurry than the previous ones.
Scarlett squinted and hummed, strung the caption up to dry, and left the Red Room. She had to find Keelan and Aleander. They would want to see for themselves.
In the final caption, Phaedria’s eyes were open.
“Must be a trick of the light,” said Keelan. “Must be.”
Aleander nodded along. “But good f-for our story!”
“It’s not the best caption I’ve ever taken.” Scarlett squinted at Phaedria’s open eyes again. They seemed to have been looking at her when the flash went off. An eerier thought had never crossed her mind.
“Yes, yes,” said Keelan. “We’ll train more captioners to dive and send Scarlett and Aleander back to you.”
Elektra’s voice came over the radio. “Can we publish with what we have?”
“More than enough captions for that.” Keelen glanced over to Scarlett. “More than enough.”
Scarlett broke the dense bun she had in half and gave the extra piece to Aleander. Ever since she’d smelled the ancient sweet bread, she couldn’t satiate her cravings.
Aleander took the piece with a stuttering, “T-Thanks.”
She parked Sassi in the middle of a sea of roamers. The airship was packed.
“Scarlett!” a voice yelled from the docks.
Scarlett walked down the ramp. Keelan waved her over from beside his roamer. His face was drawn and serious.
“We found the burial chamber,” he said immediately. “The glass coffins were all intact as far as we could see. All of them except the sorceress’s. Hers was completely shattered.”
Scarlett had heard the glass shatter, but how had that happened if the other coffins closer to the door had not?
“For shame,” she told Keelan. In a lighter tone, she added, “Perhaps my caption wasn’t a trick of the light. Perhaps Phaedria the Enchantress is alive and free, exploring this new world and eating lots of bread.”
Keelan frowned at that. “She better not be.”
Scarlett had intended it to be all in good humor, but Keelan’s attitude did not match hers. She handed him her contact card. “Well, if you find her wandering the city, let me know. I should apologize for flooding her bedroom.”
Kat burst out of her front door the moment Scarlett rolled into the driveway. Her face was severe. She crossed her arms as she waited.
Tempted though Scarlett was to keep Sassi running, she parked and turned the cruiser off.
“You nearly drowned?” yelled Kat the moment the cruiser went silent.
Scarlett shrugged. She was happy to be back in Quinvillu, where the food was edible and the climate reasonable. “Just so.”
There was a pause, and then Kat’s voice went so shrill the neighbors peeked out their windows. “I knew this would happen!”
End of VOL I
Well, that was the final edition of the rough draft of my first novelette! If you’re interested in reading the complete – and edited – version of Scarlett Burn, you can find it on Amazon in April 2019. Your support means a great deal to me.
Also, I have more free stories on wattpad.com. Feel free to find me there!
Last week we stacked words within a sentence. Now, let’s look at stacking sentences within a paragraph. It’s basically the same: put the most striking imagery at the end to make the passage memorable.
Our last example was about a bear. “A brown large bear” was not stacked correctly. We changed it to its natural order of “A large brown bear.” Then we explored why the last word was the most vivid with the following sentence.
“Almost everyone knows what a bear looks like, so leaving a reader with the image of sharp teeth, dark claws, and a hairy body is powerful.”
But that was wrong too, so we restacked that sentence. Why? Because “hairy body” was not as powerful an imagery as “sharp teeth.”
Now let’s take the essence of those two example sentences and make a paragraph. We will probably need at least another sentence or two to fulfill the beginning-middle-end rule. Remember though, we want this paragraph to be just that – memorable. Here’s what I came up with. Can you put these sentences in order?
Does your paragraph match mine? (Also, notice that my sentences begin with different words?)
“It was summer. The blackberry bushes were ripe for picking. I grabbed my bucket and headed off into the thicket. As I plucked berry after juicy berry, I realized I was not alone. With me was a large brown bear. It had a hairy body, black claws, and sharp teeth.”
Ending the paragraph with a vivid image of a bear and its sharp teeth is good, but how can we make it even more memorable for a reader?
Adding a bit of humor should do the trick.
Your readers’ mind is, at this point, thinking of all the possible ways your character is going to get away from this bear. If you throw in some humor, your reader may remember this specific passage better. Keep in mind, an author wants their readers to continue reading, so the end must be good.
Here’s how I would end that paragraph:
“It was summer. The blackberry bushes were ripe for picking. I grabbed my bucket and headed off into the thicket. As I plucked berry after juicy berry, I realized I was not alone. With me was a large brown bear. It had a hairy body, black claws, and sharp teeth. If my grandmother were here, she would have dropped her bucket of berries and hugged the beast.”
How would you end the paragraph? Let me know below!
The City of Phae was in the southern region of Naiaca, nestled in a valley at the edge of a jungle. A river upstream fed the freshwater lake. It was hot and muggy, even inside the lodgings they stayed at, and Scarlett was unable to wear her beloved leather jacket.
Aleander looked and fared better than ever. His tan had returned, and his hair glistened from the moisture clinging to the air.
“W-We should eat at the Agora.”
Agoras were open markets for shopping and eating. Scarlett had never tried authentic southern food before. She squeezed her small belly and looked up at her colleague. “You have the best ideas, Aleander.”
Southern food was spicy, the meat oily, the bread dense. For reasons unknown to Scarlett, the people of the south believed that a person should consume hot and spicy food during the hottest months. Red pepper, chili flakes, and spicy mustard sprouts were heaped into every dish.
Scarlett couldn’t agree less with the southern custom. Hot food made her sweat. Spicy food made her sweat. The climate made her sweat. All she wanted was to stop sweating.
Aleander took her to a special place only locals knew of. There, they had one dish on the menu: cold noodles with cold pork in an icy broth. It swiftly became Scarlett’s favorite meal.
“Best,” she said, slurping up a mouthful of noodles. “Your ideas are the best.”
While Aleander was off documenting the artifacts Keelan and his team had pulled from the water, Scarlett was at the beach completing her underwater training. There was more to it than she thought but by the end of the week, she was ready for her first dive. They took her to the river–where the water was less calm–and she practiced falling off the boat and swimming upstream. She had to learn how to use her new waterproof flasher on her own, but that took her a day.
“We’re ready for the real dive tomorrow,” said Aleander’s former manager. Keelan was twice as old as Aleander and twice as thin. “This is going to be great!”
“T-They’ve never been able to caption the p-palace,” Aleander told her over cold noodles that evening. “No one’s trained f-for it.”
Scarlett thought of her underwater suit and snorted some of the broth up her nose. “You’ll see why that is tomorrow.”
They put her in a heavy metal-and-leather waterproof suit that weighed more than she did. Oxygen tanks floated behind her, tethered by a hollow cord that siphoned air into the suit on command. Though she had flippers on her feet – long, rubber fins – her legs were still short and unmuscled. Swimming tired her out quickly. Sassi would have been ideal, but cruisers have the funny tendency to not work when they’re submerged in water.
“You look like a v-vehicle,” Aleander said the first moment he saw her.
“The smallest vehicle you’ll ever see,” she joked.
And she was small. So small, in fact, they had to custom make her suit. “To fit a child,” Aleander’s old manager had told the watersuit company. When Elektra found out, she made Hub Publishing purchase it. “In case we need Scarlett to take captions underwater again,” she had reasoned over the radio. Hub Publishing had also purchased the waterproof flasher and its more expensive plates of film.
Scarlett decided she really liked Elektra Penzier.
Though it was fresh water, the lake became steadily murkier the lower she swam. Keelan told her that would happen. Aleander’s former manager joined the dive, donning his own suit that he said he, “practically lived in these past few years.”
Scarlett was happy for the company. They’d told her where the ruins were and where to go, but hearing it was one thing. Seeing it was another. When the first stone pillar came into view, with their torches–an engineered light–illuminating the way, Scarlett could tell she would have been immediately lost without Keelan to guide her. The palace was far too spread for a novice to search.
They waited for the murkiness to disappear some, and then Scarlett took a caption. There was a bright flash of light. For half a second, they were able to see beyond the first pillar in greater detail before the flash of extra light faded and the rest of the palace returned to a dark outline in the murky distance.
Keelan motioned for her to follow. They swam slowly. Now and then he would stop, point, and wait for the murkiness to clear enough for Scarlett to take a caption, and then he would be off again. They hadn’t made it past what had once been a vast front courtyard before Keelan signaled them to rise.
“This,” Keelan panted once back aboard the boat, “is why it’s taken me so long to prove it’s the Palace of Phaedria. We have much to caption and very little time.”
Scarlett wiggled out of the suit. The surface of the lake looked clean and undisturbed, but she had seen for herself that the water had not always been there. Time had concealed the palace, and it had taken thousands of years of searching to find it again.
“Time,” she said, “is a worthy adversary.”
The next day, Keelan took her to an area with a sunken floor. A round stone table was in the center, and fallen metal and clay items littered the floor. Scarlett assumed it was the alter Keelan had said he wanted her to caption next. “Human sacrifices were popular with the Phaedrians,” he had said almost gleefully on the boat.
It was her twelfth dive. Even she could tell she was getting better at it the more she did it, and once in the water, the heavy suit wasn’t such a terrible thing to wear.
They ran out of oxygen shortly after Scarlett took her captions of the altar, and once aboard the boat and out of their suits, Keelan launched into his plans for tomorrow.
“We should go to the kitchen next. There is a lot of ancient pottery we haven’t brought to the surface. Those must be documented. We can learn so much about the Phaedrian diet. Maybe they were cannibals!”
Scarlett shared a look with Aleander before pinching her burgeoning stomach. “You’ll never see me diet.”
They swam deeper inside the palace and were approaching what Scarlett assumed was the kitchen when an undercurrent swept through the palace. Undercurrents weren’t unheard of in large lakes, but it was the first one they encountered since Scarlett began diving with the team. Keelan seemed surprised by it as well but was quick to grab on to something.
Scarlett was not so quick. The current enveloped her in a swirl of thick, murky water, and swept her down a labyrinth of hallways and rooms. Her back banged against something hard. She gripped her new underwater flasher and the torch tightly and waited for the current to release her.
When the swirl spit her out, Scarlett was left floating, dizzy and slightly nauseous. It wasn’t until she tried to find her way back to Keelan that she realized the current had been so strong the tether had detached from her suit.
She was on her own.
Scarlett swam the wrong way. Before she knew it, she found herself inside an apparently bottomless room. The murkiness was less severe, but enough to disguise the way she entered with several other possible passageways.
She rested in place, too tired to swim any further, and checked her oxygen. There was less than half left.
Her trainers had told her to breathe slowly to conserve air, so that was what she did, but if she didn’t find a way out and up soon, she would suffocate. That wasn’t the way she thought she’d go. Kat would say something asinine like, “I knew this would happen,” at her funeral. Resolved to not let that happen, Scarlett spun in place to search for any hint of a window–and, thankfully, the sunken palace had been built with many of those–only to find an enormous face staring back.
The colossal statue stood erect in murky green water, with a feminine face and a halo crown adorning it. The style was uniquely Phaedrian. Keelan had mentioned a room with a large statue. “That’s a difficult room to find,” he had said, later adding with clear uneasiness, “and leave.”
Scarlett checked her oxygen levels again. There was plenty left, and she didn’t feel like she was in any real danger. What was the harm?
Mind made up, she began taking captions of the statue. This would be one less room to document. As she swam to the bottom of the statue, where the feet were concealed by the stone-carved dress, she saw a knob covered in algae. She captioned it, filling the room with a flash of bright light that made the water glow an eerie green. In the fading light of the flash, Scarlett touched the knob.
The algae fell away and revealed a handle shaped in a half moon. Her gentle touch was all it took to make the moon knob wiggle and unscrew. A doorway opened like a dam bursting. Water pushed Scarlett through hard and fast, filling a corridor that had only seconds before been filled with air.
This wasn’t the first time Scarlett Burn thought she was going to die.
Now that we’ve determined the value of words and begun to add to our vocabulary bank, we need to utilize these words to their fullest potential. Though it’s considered a creative art form, there is structure to writing. Words stack naturally in a specific order.
“A brown large bear” doesn’t sound right. Why is that? The meaning is the same, yet we would never express it that way. The natural stack – or order – would obviously be, “A large brown bear.”
Natural stacking was a challenge for me to explain while I taught English as a second language. My students spent months learning and memorizing vocabulary, only to then, after all that work, be told, “a brown large bear” is wrong. Needless to say, my explanation was vague. In the end – mostly for the sake of time management – I deferred to the ill-old phrase, “Because I said so.”
I wish I had told them that we end a sentence with the strongest word, that we stack words from least complex to most complex.
If we end a sentence with the strongest word (and by the strongest, it’s usually the most vivid), we end on a high note.
High notes are memorable. A reader may not remember what color the animal was, but they remember the animal was a bear. Almost everyone knows what a bear looks like, so leaving a reader with the image of sharp teeth, dark claws, and a hairy body is powerful. Powerful enough to get them to read on to the next sentence.
What if we have a longer sentence that stacks a list? Let’s take the above sentence for example:
“Almost everyone knows what a bear looks like, so leaving a reader with the image of sharp teeth, dark claws, and a hairy body is powerful.”
That sentence was stacked incorrectly. What’s the most vivid of the bolded? Where should the most vivid go? Rearrange the sentence. Did you get:
“Almost everyone knows what a bear looks like, so leaving a reader with the image of a hairy body, dark claws, and sharp teeth is powerful.”
Does that not sound more memorable? Stacking also applies to paragraphs. We’ll look more closely at that next week.
This is definitely more of a habit of writing to get into (if you haven’t already). Self-editing becomes verrrry time consuming if not. Also, it’s much easier finding better ways to stack words when it’s not your own work. Can you find some sentences in my prologue that should be stacked differently?
Elektra Penzier’s brown face glowed red as she examined the captions hanging from a string around Scarlett’s workstation. Her heels clicked softly as she followed the string. Still dripping with chemical wash, the captions were not yet ready to present to Hub Publishing, but it seemed Elektra was unable to wait any longer.
It was the eve of the next publication. The captions had yet to be turned into copper plates and still had to be organized in line with the articles. That meant they needed to be dry in less.
At the image of Kat on the moss-covered bridge, Elektra paused. “These are perfect.”
Scarlett had nearly chewed off an entire nail waiting for Elektra to say something. “Yeah?”
“Yes. I can hear their history, smell their environments – and the contrast and lighting make them pop from the paper.” Elektra waved her trusty pen at the images. “Put these on a drying rack and meet me in my office. We need to affirm that the correct articles and images are together before everything goes to print. You’re joining the publishing team.”
Aleander made a startled choking sound in the back of his throat when he saw the fresh cup of coffee and pile of pastries on his desk. He glanced around the room until his eyes fell on Scarlett, who waved tiredly from her rickety desk. “Y-You’re back!”
“M’back,” Scarlett mumbled. “Cruiser was a time saver.”
Aleander held out the plate of pastries.
Scarlett waved them off. “I ate.”
Pastry hanging firmly from his mouth, Aleander picked up his coffee cup and headed over. “D-Did you hear the news?”
Internally clenching, for Scarlett assumed the “news” concerned Kat’s epic tirade, she failed to hear clicking heels until it was too late.
“Scarlett!” waved a peppery Elektra Penzier from across the room. Though she had been there all night and morning getting the latest issue out, she was lively. “Come to my office, won’t you? We have some things to discuss.”
Scarlett grabbed her flasher bag, gave Aleander a waning smile, and followed Elektra. She had a feeling her bridge assignment was going to be the last she had with Hub Publishing. Kat had seen to the end of her career.
Once inside the office, Elektra jumped right into the discussion as if she and Scarlett had been talking the whole way there. “I know you’ve just returned, but we need you to start captioning for the next issue. I’m pairing you with Aleander. He’s been working for the past five years on a special assignment. Now that he’s been given the go-ahead to finalize his research and publish, we can send him and a captioner on location.”
Scarlett hadn’t been offered a seat, but she slid down into one. There were obvious challenges to keeping her employed but Elektra had not so much as breathed a word about Kat’s visitation or the information learned because of it.
“So,” Scarlett said dumbly. “I’m not fired?”
Elektra’s eyebrows crashed together. “You’re the best captioner we’ve ever had. Why would we want to lose you?”
Hub Publishing wasn’t going to fire her, and if no one was going to bring up Kat’s visit, Scarlett wouldn’t either. “What’s the story?”
“As I’m sure you are aware, the government has been excavating certain parts of southern Naiaca for some time. Aleander used to work in inventory, cataloging uncovered artifacts. You know, pottery, coins, artwork – those sorts of things. A while back, his former manager found what he thought might be the Palace of Phaedria. Turns out–he did!”
Scarlett brought her thumb to her mouth. She began chewing the nail in contemplation. The Phaedrians had been gray-eyed sorcerers of the southern region, who had ignited a long and costly battle thousands of years ago. They were never defeated but as Mr. Faunus of bucolic Sassini had said, escaped as one colony across the Ghost Sea. Besides the City of Phaedria, which was pillaged but relatively preserved, all evidence of the Phaedrian rule had been mostly destroyed. No Naiacan wanted to remember them.
“Which Phaedria?” asked Scarlett.
Scarlett’s thumb fell from her lips. “The first Phaedria? They found the first Phaedria’s palace? There’s hardly any record of her at all.”
“Aleander knows it best,” said Elektra. “The way he describes it, it’s as if all the historians were too terrified to make mention of her.”
Scarlett rested her elbows on her knees. “Are they sure it’s Phaedria the Enchantress?”
“It’s been verified. The government will announce their general findings next week but they promised Hub Publishing control of the in-depth story. We have Aleander to thank for that.” Elektra began rapidly tapping the tip of her pen on her desk. “We loved your work on the bridges, especially Hastian’s Bridge at dusk. Yes,” she sighed happily. “This month’s publication will sell well, but the story of Phaedria is going to be huge the world over. We want the best writing and the best captions. Now, if you’re too tired, we can–”
“I’m ready to go.”
Elektra pulled out stiff brown slips of paper from a drawer and handed them over as though she had expected this outcome. “The palace is just outside the City of Phae. You and Aleander will fly there tonight. Here are your airship tickets for there and back. I’ve already reserved a spot for your cruiser in the cargo area. Hub Publishing will advance you the money to buy a waterproof flasher as well as the plates of film and bulbs that go along with it. Your private classes are already paid for and will begin–”
“Waterproof?” Scarlett interrupted. “Classes?”
“Yes.” Elektra’s eyes were set on the far wall and brimming with excitement. “What do you think of The Sunken Palace of Phaedria? Good title?“
“Sunken?” Scarlett’s eyes widened. “It’s underwater? You want me to take captions underwater?”
Elektra’s eyes refocused on Scarlett. “That’s not a problem, is it?”
Scarlett could hear Kat’s vehement protests already. “No. No problem at all.”
Kat’s lips were a thin line as she watched Scarlett pack fresh clothes. “Why are they sending you out again?”
“Because it’s my job.”
That answer displeased Kat. Her lips became a frown. “Where are they sending you? The Five Nations? The Gryphon Isles? No, no. Silly me! Must be the Qoman Empire.”
A few days ago, Kat’s condescending tone would have enraged Scarlett. Not anymore. That day on the bridge changed everything. There was no reason to fight.
Scarlett swung the bag over her shoulder and slipped out of the guest bedroom. “Sassi and I are leaving Quinvillu.”
Kat’s jaw clenched. She followed Scarlett with a frustrated, “Why won’t you tell me where you’re going?”
Silence met Kat’s question.
“Fine then! I guess I’ll just go and bother Ms. Penzier again since you have no intention of telling your family where you’re going. I need to have a talk with that woman anyway. Clearly, she doesn’t realize how dangerous this is for you–”
Scarlett whirled around so fast Kat stopped talking mid-sentence. “This is never going to change, Kat, and I want you to understand that it’s okay with me. All these years, we’ve been looking at this as one drawn out, epic battle. This isn’t something we have to fight. This is something we have to navigate. Time is the only enemy worth fighting. You talking to Elektra is only going to make this harder on yourself. She’s not your sister. She’s not your family. If you talk to her the way you talk to me, you’re just going to embarrass yourself. Let the woman do her job and let me do mine.”
Kat stepped back. “This will never be okay with me.”
Aleander was at the rails. Scarlett joined him and leaned over the hull. The water was a dull silver, typical of the Ghost Sea. Coastal wind was cold, so she zipped up Timon’s leather jacket and made herself ready for the long haul. There was a lot between Quinvillu and the City of Phae. If she waited inside where it was warm and quiet, she wouldn’t see any of it. Scarlett refused to miss a thing.
“They put my cruiser between two fancy roamers,” she told Aleander. “It looks so small. Like what I must look like when I stand between my brother and sister.”
Aleander smiled, but he was gray in the face.
“Are you unwell?” Scarlett asked.
“I’ve n-never liked flying,” said Aleander. “Or driving. Motion sickn-ness.”
Scarlett knew now why Aleander was outside. It was the best place to get sick. She looked at his hunched form and sallow complexion and thought how brave a man he was. Certainly, he would rather stay at his desk with his nose pressed to paper than do something that would make him ill for hours. “For shame, Aleander. I’ve never been on an airship before. Maybe I won’t like it either.”
A genuine smile erupted over Aleander’s face. “You w-will. You’re an adventurer.”
Scarlett did like flying. She liked it so much even Aleander puking next to her for nearly the whole flight didn’t lessen her euphoric spirit. When they disembarked in the City of Phae, Scarlett revved Sassi into gear and zipped off the airship before any of the roamers.
As I stated in my previous post, words are important. Are your choice of words effective? Do you see a mundane word in your writing and instinctively right click to see a list of more fanciful synonyms?
We’ve all been there. I get it. I’ve done it. But is it better to try to replace perfectly good words with flowery, out-of-use ones?
Eloquence is not synonymous with fancy words. Eloquence is knowing – and understanding – which word is perfect for your subject, audience, and setting. With that said, there is a time and place for fancy words. Consider dialogue.
“I will commence at my earliest possible convenience” is not something you or anyone you know would say, unless you are a time traveler (in which case–carry on). In everyday life, “I’ll start as soon as possible” is more eloquent than the previous example.
If you don’t use this in your everyday life, why put it in dialogue? Because it reads better?
There are exceptions of course, but don’t assume you are the exception. Take The Lost City of Al-Kimiya for instance. It’s set in the industrialized age of my world; a century flooded with mechanized inventions, woven with alchemy and magic, and which begins not even a century after a great war. Words like “gubbins,” “ninnyhammer,” and “tootle-loo” would be spoken by the older generation of characters, and thus, they’re added into dialogue. Sparingly, I might add.
Include old-fashioned words cautiously. Oversaturation of out-of-use words will pull a reader from the story. Your audience may roll their eyes. As the writer, you are supposed to be the one who decides when the reader should roll their eyes.
So how does an author become eloquent? They broaden their vocabulary by listening. I like to keep a pocket-sized notebook or my phone nearby for this exclusive purpose. It helps when creating a “voice” for a character. Reading, watching T.V., eavesdropping on a stranger’s conversation, all add to your vocabulary, but knowing when and how to use words distinguishes time travelers from modern eloquence.
I still struggle with using the word “for” after a comma. “Elivia knew no other way, for she had studied the classics at her university and could not break this terrible habit.”
What “terrible habits” of writing do you struggle with?
To avoid the morning rush of traffic, Scarlett left as soon as the sun peaked above the Ghost Sea. She had mapped out the towns and cities from Elektra’s list the night before and discovered that if she wanted to reach all the specified sites in time to make the publication date, there would be no coming back to Quinvillu until the very end of the trip. Sleepless nights developing film were a given, but she wanted to impress Elektra Penzier and the rest of Hub Publishing by captioning the entire list. If images of bridges were important to them, they were important to her too.
Knowing Kat would vehemently discourage such a long adventure, Scarlett chose not to divulge her plans. She wanted her sister to know that she would be gone for two weeks in case anything should happen, but rather than explaining face to face, she quickly scribbled a note and left it on the guest bed. Kat would find it soon enough, though not soon enough to stop the road trip.
Which was exactly what Scarlett intended.
There was an unexpected snag in her plan, however. The previous owner of the cruiser failed to mention just how bothersome long rides on a vibrating vehicle were. After an hour of travel, Scarlett’s thighs had gone numb, and her bottom, back, and arms ached from being stuck at the oddly curled position the cruiser demanded of its rider. The wind had tangled her hair more than it already was, and her eyes, though protected by glasses, strained as they darted back and forth. There was a high probability that when she next stopped she would be unable to walk a straight line.
Hub Publishing had given her ten plates of film for her assignment, each of which contained twenty sheets of film. They hadn’t said much on what style they wanted for the publication but Scarlett had seen the first submitted captions. No creativity had gone into them. The contrast was all wrong, the lighting was harsh, and the angle at which the bridges were taken at came from the center of the road. It was as if the previous contributor had lost all passion.
Scarlett whizzed past a sign with a name she recognized. Sassini was her destination, and after a quick calculation, Scarlett figured the town was another two-and-a-quarter hour ride away. The cruiser was less comfortable than a roamer, but it was her weapon against time and she needed to start using it as such if she was going to succeed.
Her hand rolled over the bar. The cruiser revved and shot forward.
Sassini was bucolic. Country towns held an allure no metropolitan city could hope to have and Scarlett knew that well from growing up in the third largest city in Naiaca. There was serenity amidst nature and a sense of agelessness. People moved more leisurely, spoke more affectionately, and had such an engaging nature for strangers that when Scarlett asked a passerby where she could find the bridge, they had immediately launched into the history of the town.
That was how she ended up sitting in a stranger’s living room drinking mulberry tea and nibbling at a scone as her host–a man named Mr. Faunus, who was past his prime and well into retirement–rattled off history as if it were an oral tradition.
“And then the Phaedrians arrived and burned the bridge again,” said Mr. Faunus. Sacks of wrinkled skin had begun to form under his eyes, drooping the skin there to make even the liveliest of men appear saddened.
The elderly man’s story enraptured Scarlett. “How awful.”
“They were the worst of the worst, those Phaedrians.” Mr. Faunus shivered. “Not one of them was good. They fled as one colony, those vile sorcerers, across the Ghost Sea. A shame their ships did not sink.”
“For shame,” Scarlett agreed. She had learned the broad bulk of the history of the Phaedrians in school, but pockets of stories – like the one of Sassini – were new.
Mr. Faunus set his cup down on the small table between them. “Twice now someone has come around asking about Sassini. Why is there such an interest in our town?”
“I must be honest, Mr. Faunus.” Scarlett set both her half-eaten scone and tea onto the table. “I’m not here to learn about the town. I’m only here to caption the bridge for Hub Publishing.”
“But surely you must know how the bridge came to be?” persisted Mr. Faunus. “How can a story be represented without knowing the story?”
Her host was right. Scarlett did not know if the reporter who wrote the piece on this particular bridge would include any of the gritty histories, but she hoped they did. “Flashers are a relatively new invention, Mr. Faunus. My job is to capture the truth of the bridge and convey its rich history through a single image. Captions can say more than words if done right.”
“But why would you want to take captions of bridges?”
Scarlett bit her lip. She had yet to learn just why people were so interested in such a boring landmark and yet an answer for Mr. Faunus came surprisingly easy. “Bridges connect us to places and people and link us to the past and future. They don’t disintegrate as fast as we do.”
“Ah,” said Mr. Faunus. “You wish to preserve the bridge before time steals it from us.”
Scarlett smiled, but she knew it didn’t meet her eyes. “I enjoy a good battle.”
Scarlett left Mr. Faunus her contact card–something Hub Publishing forced her to have before she began her first day–and then she followed the path to the outskirts of town to where the bridge was concealed in a forest. Low to the ground, it arched minimally over a dry bed of river rocks. Mr. Faunus had told her that after the invention of roamers, the government widened all the roads. For Sassini, that meant moving the main road to a different location altogether. It wasn’t long before the once often-tread town bridge became a simple footpath through the woods, and a rarely used one at that.
Nature had reclaimed the area. Brown trunks with light greenish-yellow leaves blocked the view in all directions. Birds chirped from branches high above. The bridge itself was not unique or captivating in any way, with it being made of planks of what was now rotted wood, and Scarlett saw for herself just why the initial round of captions submitted to Hub Publishing lacked ingenuity.
If Hub Publishing didn’t like the previously submitted captions, then it would be career suicide to take captions from the same position. There had to be a way to make the bridge more appealing. It was too intrinsic to the town not to be.
Scarlett needed to see the bridge from a new angle. It was the only way to ensure a difference between her and the other captioner. She parted the grass and reeds and stood on the rocks in the middle of the dried river. Timon said the truth of someone was often revealed from a simple change of perspective, so it wasn’t much of a stretch to apply the same theory to some inanimate thing.
The old wooden bridge seemed larger and statelier from below. The forest had also altered with the change in view, becoming a picturesque version to the initial woodland observed on arrival. Sun filtered through the branches. Gnats swarmed together above the ground in a whirlwind formation. Between each railing glistened spider webs, which were invisible to those who walked across the bridge rather than alongside it.
Scarlett reached into her bag and pulled out her flasher. After adjusting the settings to capture daylight, she balanced the lens evenly with the line the bridge provided. She breathed out and held still. She had learned long ago that the best way to take a caption was to expel all the breath from her lungs. A slow heart rate produced blur-less captions. When everything aligned and her camera became immobile, her finger pressed down on the small, rounded button. There was a soft click and then Scarlett was climbing back up the side of the bridge.
She had no time to dawdle and no reason to waste more film than necessary. The next bridge was an hour’s ride away. If she left immediately, she could make it there before noon. Two locations off the list in one morning would allow more time for developing in the red room. A break for lunch would have to be her reward.
Nine days and fourteen bridges later found Scarlett travel-worn but satisfied. The cruiser turned out to be a welcomed companion and faster than the roamers which crawled over the streets of the more populated locales. Weaving through traffic became second nature. The ability to park the cruiser almost anywhere allowed her to get as close to her subjects as possible, saving valuable time and energy. Above all that, she had seen more of Naiaca in the past two weeks than she had in eighteen years.
Try as she might, bridges and the architecture behind their creation did not become any more interesting along the way. It was the stories from the people who knew each bridge’s history that fueled her work. Accents changed from one town to the next, giving each place an atmosphere uniquely its own.
Her boots slid on the bank of the creek. She leaped to a raised rock that looked sturdy enough to hold her weight. Though the water was not much more than a shallow pond, she did not want to have any sort of accident. This bridge was the last on the list.
Scarlett hopped three more stones over, the last of which wobbled and splashed water onto her toes, and stopped. Already a picturesque pathway with ivy and moss growing over the stone rails, the final bridge reminded her of her sister’s house back in Quinvillu. When Kat appeared the next second, stomping into the open out of thin air, Scarlett wondered if her mind was playing tricks on her.
Kat’s eyes were a dark blue with green speckles in them, and though a monsoon fulminated within, they looked dry even from afar. Errant coils of dark hair framed her face. She flung an arm out to point at a place Scarlett could not see. “Why is your cruiser abandoned at the side of the road?”
Hearing Kat speak was like a slap across the face. “It’s not abandoned,” Scarlett said. “It’s parked. What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be at work?”
Kat gripped the rail tightly. Her voice was near hysterical. “What am I doing here? What are you doing standing there in the middle of a raging river?”
Glancing at the serene and docile water and the little mud turtles that swam past in camouflaged shells, Scarlett allowed a moment of pointed silence to pass. Verbally debating over the clear difference between a creek and a river would only fuel Kat’s wild anxiety.
Kat’s hand slammed down onto the moss. “This is not a job!”
“Yes, it is.”
Tension saturated Kat so fully that it rolled from her body like ripples of heat over the road. She closed her eyes and folded over the railing to regain control of her breathing.
Scarlett didn’t know why, but she felt something inside her change as she watched her sister. Her finger pressed down on the trigger of her flasher to caption the strange moment. “You went to Hub Publishing, didn’t you?”
Kat pursed her lips. “Ms. Penzier gave me a copy of your list.”
“And how many locations did you search before this one?”
The storm in Kat tapered. “A few.”
Scarlett packed up her flasher and made sure the strap on her bag was secured tightly. She was finished with this bridge. Kat’s arrival had made the place less magical. When she made it up the bank of the creek, she saw the familiar, expensive roamer that belonged to her sister idling beside her beat-up cruiser. Resolved not to get angry, she asked, “Did you tell Elektra?” with a matured patience.
“Yes,” came Kat’s clipped response. “You’re sick. You’re….You’re dying, Scarlett.”
Scarlett nibbled her bottom lip, leaned her back against the soft rails, and dipped her chin. “I wish you hadn’t done that. It was my story to tell, Kat. My story to tell or not tell.”
Forget the cover. Titles are key.
Think about it. The title is the first word(s) of your story. People read a title before they read the back blurb. They are the unsung hero that draws in a reader.
Titles stir the imagination. A single word can invoke a sense of power. As a phrase, they can be as catchy as a jingle. Take the newly released Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, or something classic like The Grapes of Wrath. Catchy, aren’t they? They leave an impression because the words chosen for the titles were vivid.
Consider the alternatives. Kids of Blood and Bone doesn’t sound all that alluring, does it? Neither does Fruit of Retribution.
A single ill-chosen word can put a reader off, either by disinterest or offense. That’s not good for the awesome story you just wrote. Or sales.
Let’s talk about my title, The Lost City of Al-Kimiya. Originally, it was called Renavolena’s Floating Island, but “Renavolena” is tough to say, and there it was as the first word of the title! Not good. The previous title also didn’t convey one of the main elements of my story, which is alchemy. Instead of a floating island, I changed it to a lost city, implying a sense of adventure and mystery rather than magic (although magic does exist in my story).
When I researched already published titles with the word “alchemy” in them, I ran into a huge problem. There were too many. I had the shovel in my hand and a hole already six feet deep. My story was on its way to being buried under all those other titles. Hence the shift from “alchemy” – a word most everyone is familiar with – to a word linked specifically to my world. “Al-Kimiya” sounds exotic. It sounds like an ancient city lost to time. It sounds like it’s meant for only my story.
So we’ve established that the right words are paramount to capturing a reader’s imagination, but what do you do if you intend to turn your first title into a series?
Think of continuity. Your following novels are a continuation of your first. The same can be (and dare I say it, should be) applied to titles. If, like me, your first title starts with “the” then the following titles should likewise begin the same. J.K. Rowling did this with both her Harry Potter series and Fantastic Beasts series, although the latter is a film franchise.
That isn’t to say you can’t start with a new word, but each title should play off the one that came before it in either style or imagery. Take George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series for an example that merges the two points I’ve made. Most titles begin the same: A Game of Thrones; A Feast for Crows; A Clash of Kings; A Dance of Dragons; A Dream of Spring. Then, out of nowhere, we get one variation in the series with the upcoming release of The Winds of Winter. I don’t know why the sudden change, but it doesn’t put me off because it keeps in line with the fanciful imagery.
Suzanne Collins also relies on imagery with her series. The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay seem unrelated, but to those who have read the series, they know the titles follow a theme. Titles can be a neat little clue for what’s to come, after all. An invested reader will appreciate that.
The importance of titling can also be applied in a micro fashion. Lately, I’ve noticed many authors forgo including chapter titles, but I don’t. The Lost City of Al-Kimiya is a fantasy-mystery, so chances are that the people who pick up my book may enjoy deciphering the hidden meaning behind my chapter titles.
Let’s look at my prologue. The title of that chapter is “The Heist,” and it stands for the future event James agrees to join. The title has a double meaning, but a reader will only find that out when they get closer to the end of the story. Most, if not all of my chapter titles have a double – or even triple – meaning. I enjoyed creating them as well. Strange as it is to say, it made me feel that much closer to the readers.
There’s one more thing I’d like to mention, although this is more a personal issue than a general rule. Gender-heavy pronouns for titles just don’t fit in this day and age. You may lose half your readers at the title. The Swedish mystery series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is amazing, yet I can’t get over the use of “girl.” Why not use “woman” instead? That is what the character is, isn’t she? A woman. The issue I take with it is that the title alone belittles Lisbeth Salander. As a reader, we’re automatically set against her, set to demean her like most of the characters in Lisbeth Salander’s life. Although, who knows? Maybe that was the intention.
Do you feel the same about gender-heavy pronouns? Can you think of other examples? We have the aforementioned series plus Little Women, another novel I grew up loving but hating at the same time.
If you are doubting your current title, or are having trouble making one up, try compiling a list of your favorite novels and change one or two words. How do they sound? Did the imagery alter?
As Scarlett sat in the passenger seat of her sister’s roamer, she made sure she had everything packed into her flasher bag. It was her first day at Hub Publishing. She would be a fool to turn up unprepared.
Kat paid no notice of Scarlett’s fidgeting. Her tight brown coils frizzed with moisture and were barely held in place by a decorative metal clip fastened at the back of her head. She sat in the driver’s seat, hands gripping the wheel tightly as she peered over the rim like some kind of amateur spy. Across a busy road sat an enormous building with a large oval sign that read Hub Publishing in sweeping letters. Roamers whizzed past Kat’s door, honking occasionally at her idling. It was the busiest time of the morning, the time when people went to work in droves and drank themselves awake with coffee and tea.
Inhaling deeply, Kat repeated her sentiments for the umpteenth time that morning. “I don’t trust this.”
Scarlett slid the strap of her flasher bag over her shoulder. Convinced she had everything she needed for her first day of work, she finally turned her attention to her sister. Beyond Kat’s less-than-stealthy scrutiny laid a statue chiseled out of marble. The subject: a blindfolded young woman, half-naked and revealing a pert breast and erect nipple, held a globe up to the sky as if in offering. The building behind it was nearly as old as the statue and had been used for many things over its long lifespan. Originally, the fading beige building was a temple. Over time it was adapted to whatever the city needed. Once it had been a museum, then a music hall, but now it was one of the most reputable small publishing houses in all of Naiaca.
Scarlett liked knowing her place of work had a history. Things that withstood time held a special place within her heart.
Trying once more to placate Kat, Scarlett said, “Relax. Hub Publishing is one of the best.”
“They just hired you after one interview?” Kat asked for the umpteenth time, sounding just as incredulous as she had when Scarlett first told her the news. “No respectable company does that. No, no. I don’t trust this at all. Let me take you home.”
Kat started the roamer.
Quick as a flash of lightning, Scarlett propped the door open and exited the roamer to the sound of her sister’s indignant displeasure.
“It’s a legitimate job,” Scarlett assured.
Kat’s grip tightened around the steering wheel. She glared out the window at the publishing house. “I’ll wait right here in case this is all some ruse.”
“It’s not a–”
“You don’t know that!” exclaimed Kat. Already a highly-strung woman, birthing two children had only made her more overprotective.
Scarlett sighed. “I’m going inside, you deranged woman. Have a lovely day at work.”
Before Scarlett could shut the door, Kat yelled, “I’ll be here for twenty minutes! Do you hear? Twenty min–!”
Elektra Penzier, head editor of Hub Publishing, led Scarlett to a small desk shoved between gray-green metal filing cabinets and a squashed kitchenette area. Her skirt was tight and to her knees, her blouse white and billowy, and her feet balanced on high heels. She produced a distinct clicking noise as she walked past desks that were piled with cups of coffee and papers scribbled with notes. A pen filled with red ink was always in her hand.
“That’s Aleander,” said Elektra, waving her pen at a man with curly black hair and a hefty build.
Scarlett turned to look as if instructed to. Aleander had his face pressed so close to the page he was writing on that the tip of his nose skimmed the ink. He seemed to neither hear nor see what was going on around him. His only focus was writing down the thoughts pouring from his head.
“And this is your desk.” Elektra waved at a small wooden desk that looked ready to collapse. She appeared contrite. “We’re a tad cramped at the moment, but you’ll hardly be here and when you are, we expect you’ll be spending most of your time in the Red Room. Remember: you have your assigned station in there. Don’t use someone else’s equipment.”
The Red Room was located in the basement and spanned the length of the building. It had been the previous stop on Elektra’s little tour, leaving Scarlett’s clothes still smelling of chemicals. Elektra’s perfume of wildflowers, however, managed to buffer her own clothes from the fumes. Scarlett had been impressed with Hub Publishing’s Red Room. Her workstation alone was four times the size of her shed back in Scholarium. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”
“And if you need anything,” continued Elektra, “whether that be chemicals, caption paper, desk supplies, or anything you fancy you’ll need, fill out a request form and submit it to Melani.”
“Your assistant,” Scarlett answered firmly as if this were a test.
Elektra showed off stark white teeth. Her canines angled inwards and were the only crooked thing about her. She placed the end of her pen at the indentation in her chin. Delicate fingers – fingers that held her pen like a sword – rubbed the side of the shaft. “We expect great captions from you, Ms. Burn. Great captions for great articles. After a few years’ worth of commissioned assignments, you’ll be able to come up with your own ideas for articles. For now, we’d like you to begin with bridges.”
“Bridges.” The word dangled from Scarlett’s mouth.
Elektra stared down her pointed nose. “Yes. Bridges. Stone, metal, small or large, we want to see them in all their glory. People like them. People like seeing them. We want to explore why that is and sell as many copies as we can in the process. I’m assuming you are aware of our style. Each month’s publication focuses on a theme. You’ve joined us for our interest in architecture and the beauty and science behind it. The captions we have for the articles on bridges are…not up to par. We need the right ones to gather attention.”
“Right.” Scarlett set her bag on her chair. “Artistic shots of bridges it is.”
“Excellent. We hit the printers in three weeks. I realize that’s not much time for you, but do try. Here is a list of the bridges the articles cover.” Elektra handed over a slip of paper with dozens of locations written on it. “Get as many as you can.”
Scarlett skimmed the list. “These are in cities hours away and in towns I’ve never heard of.”
“You have a roamer, yes?”
Nibbling at the skin on the side of her thumb’s nail, Scarlett contemplated on what to do. She knew without having to ask that Kat would never lend her the roamer. “I’ll work something out.”
“Good,” said Elektra. “We’re counting on you.” Elektra turned and left, but not before saying, “Remember–three weeks!” It wasn’t long before her clicking heels were drowned beneath the busy, bustling noise of pushpens.
Scarlett expelled a long breath.
“Ov-v-verwhelmed yet?” stuttered a deep, friendly voice.
Aleander was a man who spilled out of his chair. His beige shirt was wrinkled, the front stained with splotches of coffee and wayward ink. A button was missing near his belly button. He had rolled his sleeves up to his elbows for comfort, exposing curly hair that grew up his arms and matched the hair on his head. Although he came off as someone who preferred to work in solitude, Aleander’s smile effused sincerity.
“Not yet.” Scarlett tapped her cheekbone. “You’ve got some ink. Just a smudge.”
Aleander chuckled shyly and wiped his stained face on his sleeve before showing Scarlett his chipped coffee mug. “Kitchen-n-nette is always open. There are only t-t-two types of coffee; brown sludge or bitter dirt. Any pastries stale within h-hours.”
“Useful information, thank you. Say, Aleander. Do you know anyone who’s selling a roamer? I’m extremely cheap but desperately in need of one.”
Aleander shook his head slowly, and then paused mid-swish. “Cruisers are ch-cheaper.”
“I never would have thought of–Aleander!” said Scarlett, emanating delight. “I owe you a fresh pastry and a decent cup of brown sludge.”
Kat bore an expression of constipation. “What kind of infernal contraption is that?”
Scarlett massaged her palms over the handles. Her foot barely touched the ground. She had to lean sideways, resting all her weight and the weight of the cruiser on her toes. Bowed as her legs were–with bobbles for knees–they managed to wrap around the two-wheeled vehicle as if they were made for it.
She ran a hand down the steel body. Her fingers rubbed against the scratches and dents incurred from the previous owner’s crash. The black leather seat also had damage, but that was fine with Scarlett. She needed something cheap, not a fresh-off-the-boat Noire roamer that was wickedly expensive.
The seller of the cruiser had been a middle-aged man with graying hair and a potbelly. He was not a very nice fellow, but he added new tires as part of the sale.
“It’s called a cruiser,” Scarlett said. “Isn’t it great?”
“Is it dangerous?” Kat moved her hands from her hips to her lower back, a sign that spoke volumes about her opinion of the cruiser. “It looks dangerous.”
“Only if you don’t know how to ride it.”
“And do you?” pestered Kat. “Know how to ride it?”
Scarlett pulled her bottom lip between her teeth. She had known Kat wouldn’t approve of the cruiser, but then again, her sister didn’t approve of much when it came to Scarlett’s choices. Kat liked things her way. Everyone else was either wrong or incompetent.
Kat’s tall stone house was built on the steepest and most slanted street in Quinvillu. Deep green ivy grew from one side to the other, but it was kept immaculate compared to the others on the street. Inside, Byrony let out an ear-piercing screech only a six-year-old could muster. Her little feet made light pattering sounds as she ran from one end of the house to the other. The top of her head could be seen darting across a window, followed shortly by an even smaller figure with blonde ringlets.
Owen was four, and the naughtiest of Kat’s children. That made him Scarlett’s favorite.
Knowing nothing she said would appease her sister, Scarlett shrugged while astride her newly purchased cruiser. “I sure hope so, or I’ll have wasted all the money Ma gave me on rubber and metal.”
Kat’s face creased. She turned to go back inside, intent on instilling more discipline on her children, but not before solemnly imparting, “Sometimes I think you want to die.”
We all have a tendency to use the same words to begin back-to-back sentences. As a rough draft, that’s fine. When it’s in the final editing stage, it gets tedious to correct.
Last week, I mentioned my easy trick to clean up my manuscript by deleting “that” where necessary. Another trick, or rather a habit I do, is making sure I begin sentences with a new word. So if I begin a sentence with “the,” I won’t begin the next sentence with “the.”
By doing this, my sentences automatically start to become more concise. Concise is good. Writing is clearer, less wordy. Less to edit.
Unfortunately, I’ve also noticed that I’ve started to use the same collection of words to start my sentences. The, Though, They, That, Then, It, He, She, Although, However, A, When – These words are fine, but to me, they were becoming a bit too repetitive, and repetitive get’s boring fast. I want to have a voice, but I don’t want the reader to guess what I’m going to say next.
I’ve gotten better at using nouns and such to get my sentences rolling, but if you’re having trouble, a good way to do this is by rearranging the sentence you currently have and putting the most striking imagery at the beginning.
Here’s an example from the prologue:
Vagabonds and thieves were placed under surveillance for every kind of election, but for one of this prominence, they were rounded up and arrested for the smallest infraction. All eyes would be on the capital from now until the election. The government wanted to keep the streets clean and the city safe until the scrutiny eased. A waste of resources.The Lost City of Al-Kimiya, Prologue
Back to back sentences beginning with the same word works sometimes, but it should be done sparingly. Here’s an example of that:
“That was all the money I had saved,” came Rosemary’s watery retort. “Everyone around here already knows what happened to us. They heard me screaming when Stig broke down the door. They heard me, but they didn’t come en’ help. Mr. Alvyn wants us to leave by weeks end. Where are we going to go? Can’t he see we’re victims?”The Lost City of Al-Kimiya, Prologue
I used “they” twice in a row. A few paragraphs down, I did it again.
The whites of Rosemary’s eyes were bloodshot. “They fired me, Jimmy. They fired me for having skinny fingers, but then they went en’ hired two foreigners. Split the salary they were giving me between them, I bet. It’s not fair. I was good at washing. The steam never bothered me.”The Lost City of Al-Kimiya, Prologue
Why did I decide to do that (or rather, keep it that way)? Simple answer: it’s dialogue. More than that, it’s dialogue from the same character. It keeps in line with Rosemary’s unique voice.
Self-editing is frustrating and time-consuming. I recently had a literary critique/non-professional editor friend look at my manuscript. Thinking I had done well with my final edit, I was surprised (and frustrated) to see that I had made this repetitive mistake a few times. It’s true that a writer never fully thinks their work is done editing, but when you believe you’ve done it well enough to publish and find out you haven’t, well, that’s why everyone needs an extra pair of eyes before releasing it out into the world.
As a quick reminder, Wednesdays are going to be all about self-editing. Do you have any tips and tricks for self-editing that you find works really well for you?
FYI: Roamer=car, Cruiser=motorcylce, Flasher=camera, and Caption=photograph
Part 1 For those who missed last Sunday’s post. Now, onward to part 2!
They returned home from hiking a week later. Scarlett marched directly to the shed with her flasher in hand. Timon had helped her turn the old storage unit into a makeshift darkroom when he realized her passion was not a phase.
The smell of chemicals hit her first. It had never bothered her that her clothes reeked of dye and bleach and fixer. In fact, she rather liked the smell. She even preferred the red lights she had installed, as they were the only light that did not harm her undeveloped film.
Latching the door of the shed closed and flipping on the red lights, she changed the trays into fresh baths of chemicals and removed the square plate of film from her flasher. She washed it, set it to dry, and then printed the images on glossy paper bigger than her face. Dipping the papers into the flat trays of dyes and washes, she waited for the images to materialize into view. Those moments of waiting were her favorite.
When the image of Timon and Celia appeared, Scarlett breathed in relief. She had captured the elusive enemy known as time.
“There she is!”
“I don’t see–Oh! There she is! Scarlett!”
Scarlett could see her mother waving from the base of the grand fountain of Hypotella, which depicted a battle between the ancient Phaedrians and Naiacans. They called that period of strife the Children’s War. It was fitting then, that their secondary school’s graduation ceremony took place at the Youth Memorial Hall.
Thousands of students, all dressed in the same white, billowing gowns and funny-looking caps with tassels dangling from their tops, streamed down the steps around the fountain to greet their exuberant families. Though they were all Scarlett’s classmates, she knew only half a hundred. She hadn’t actually spent much time in school.
Scholarium was the third largest city in all of Naiaca. In response to the high population, her school took in a minimum of ten thousand per year. Throughout history, Scholarium had jokingly been referred to as the City of Scholars, but Scarlett didn’t think it could be classified as a joke anymore because it held more truth than sarcasm.
She delved into the throng of fellow graduates. Her family disappeared from sight. As she was too short to see above people’s shoulders, Scarlett pushed aside fellow students and squeezed through the crowd. When she made it to the fountain, her mother engulfed her in a hug.
“Congratulations, my little one! You look so smart in your ceremonial gown.”
Squeezed beside Lorelei was Celia, who presented a pink carnation in good tidings. A second gold band was affixed to her engagement ring. She and Timon had married mere weeks before Scarlett’s graduation. “Many congratulations, Scarlett.”
Though Scarlett had received a number of flowers and garlands over the years, mostly for encouragement or lack of anything better to give her, she appreciated the sentiment. “Thank you.” She peered around their little group as the bodies in white pressed in, but only her mother and Celia were recognizable. “Where’s Dad and Timon and Kat?”
Celia’s head turned in the direction of a parking lot full of roamers. “Kat was worried about getting stuck in traffic.”
Scarlett expelled an annoyed huff. “I told you we should have walked.”
Brushing the tassel out of Scarlett’s face, her mother replied neutrally with, “You know how your sister is.”
Scarlett eyed the captions littered around her body in aggressive contemplation. Having already chewed her thumb’s nail down to the skin as she deliberated on which ones to include in her portfolio, she moved on to another nail. It faintly smelled of chemicals.
With a book in hand, her father cleared his throat outside the bedroom door. “Shed no longer big enough for your collection?”
Spitting out the sliver of nail she had torn off, Scarlett answered her father with dejection clear in her voice. “I can only send three captions to Hub Publishing. Three! How can they decide if I’m what they’re looking for based on three captions? Do I send them all black and white? A mixture? And what about the subjects? Do they want someone who does portraits only–It’s very popular right now–or are they looking for something else?”
Her father stepped between captions to give her a kiss on the forehead. “Little one,” he began. “Why do you even want to work there? Hub Publishing is so far from home. We would hardly see you.”
“Kat lives in Quinvillu,” Scarlett pointed out. “And besides, it’s only four hours away by roamer.”
“Your sister has her own life, Scarlett. She can’t take care of you and her family.”
Scarlett’s insides became a taut string. “Dad,” she said, turning the title into a warning. “I’m eighteen. I’m an adult. Adults get jobs and move out of their parents’ house. Kat did it. Timon did it. Now it’s my turn. I am going to get a job and I would like that job to be at Hub Publishing. They’re the best, and they’re becoming internationally recognized.”
“Those who must declare themselves to be an adult are not yet adults.” Her father tapped his book onto the side of his leg. “Kat and Timon both joined institutes for higher learning before they moved out. This is Scholarium. There are plenty of institutes to choose from and they are the best in all of Naiaca.”
Scarlett sighed deeply. “I don’t want to spend any more years in school, sitting behind a desk and being graded on things I don’t care to learn about.”
“Dad,” she stressed.
Her father deflated, hot air blowing from his mouth. He kissed her temple.
“All of your captions are winners. If you don’t get hired, we will know that Hub Publishing is full of morons.”
After her father left to busy himself with his own work, Scarlett chose three captions she thought Hub Publishing would appreciate. The application form was easy. All she had to do was fill out a short description of what and where the captions were of, her personal information, and then she slipped everything into a thick, brown envelope and secured it with twine.
To be safe, Scarlett bundled the rest of her captions together in an accordion pouch and packed a week’s worth of clothes. She used the old suitcase Timon had bequeathed her. One of the latches was finicky, jamming up more than not, and the red leather skin had faded into a soft rosy color. The brown leather jacket–also given to her by Timon, or rather, borrowed one too many times that it finally passed to Scarlett permanently–draped over the rectangular case. An old patch sewn into the sleeve near the shoulder covered a tear in the leather. The image was of an eagle stitched in dull brown, red, and white thread.
There was no way of knowing then that the hand-me-down jacket would reach legendary status in few short years, and Scarlett herself along with it.
Imagine clutter. Now imagine it in writing. Who wants to read wordy sentences? No one. And no, I don’t mean “no one” as in Arya Stark or the Faceless Men. I mean no one as in your readers.
There’s one easy way to change this. It may be a little tedious, but it’s good to do it before you start your final – final – editing phase.
Here’s what I do. Once I’ve finished writing and have done a quick edit, I go to “find all” and type “that” into the search bar of my manuscript. Then I sift through that bottomless pit of a list and delete the word “that” wherever I can. Sentences become much more memorable when they are condensed. Wordiness is a sign of an unsure writer. Don’t be trigger happy on that delete button though. Sometimes a sentence needs the word “that” for clarity.
Let’s take a closer look at a section of my prologue. Can we delete both, or should we keep one for clarity?
Captain Inglehart adjusted his stance. The cane lifted off the pavement and dipped back down. “If I give you half upfront, then I need some kind of insurance that you’ll show up.”
“Name it.” There was a hint of desperation in James’ voice that he was sure the captain noticed.The Lost City of Al-Kimiya, Prologue
I could probably get away with deleting the first “that,” but I’m going to keep it for clarity and also because I feel that it keeps in line with Captain Inglehart’s overall voice. The second “that” was unnecessary and has since been deleted.
Do you think that I should keep the first? Mayhaps it’s fine for you, but for someone who strives to be a minimalistic writer, I don’t think that it’s necessary.
This is my way of becoming a minimalist, and I’ve found that it really helps clean up my manuscript before I begin that long, long, final edit. I think it’s hard to find “that” when you’re re-reading your manuscript as a whole. It doesn’t jump out at you as a spelling error would. Singling out known problematic words works well for me, but maybe it’s not your thing. What are some things you do to declutter your manuscript?
Scarlett Burn is a character who goes missing in my debut novel, The Lost City of Al-Kimiya. I had Scarlett’s backstory then and decided to write it down in a sort of drop-you-in-moments-of-her-life kind of style. Think of it like a diary. The story is fast-paced and though it’s not as in-depth as a complete novel, you can get a sense of my writing and learn more about my world (more on that later).
Note: this has not been as edited as The Lost City of Al-Kimiya, but I hope you enjoy it all the same and leave a comment!
Below is part 1.
The jagged rock pierced her fingers, mushing tender muscle and flesh between bone and stone. Superficial wounds throbbed with every beat her heart produced. Heavy climbing gear strapped to her waist, legs, and back weighed her down. A sling filled with white chalk hung at her tailbone. The white powder was the only thing able to dry her moist palms and fingers. Days of hiking and climbing had worn her out, but she clung to the rock regardless because that was what Timon said to do, and Timon was an experienced climber.
“Take your time, Scar!” shouted Timon from a ledge below.
Pressing her cheek to the sharp stone, she squinted down into two blue-green eyes set in a dirty, brown face. Timon smiled back – something he did often – and revealed the gap between his two front teeth. From her position above, she could see a forehead littered with old acne scars.
She had problematic skin too. Unlike Timon, her acne was concentrated on her cheeks rather than her forehead, and also unlike Timon, hers had yet to heal. The sweat she had worked up over the days of hiking and climbing Mount Phryne had only served to enrage her skin. That was all right. Looking good had never been of significant importance to her family. Having rough skin is as ordinary as having freckles.
She yelled down, taking care not to breathe in too much dust. “How do I look?”
Timon’s answer crawled up the rocks. “Like a bug Kat squashed against the wall!”
Mumbling into the mountainside, Scarlett quietly agreed. “She does hate bugs.” Nibbling her bottom lip as she prepared to continue, she tightened the tendons in her hands and bent her fingers. A strained groan escaped her as she pulled both herself and the extra weight of gear up.
Celia was already waiting at the top. She sat on the edge of the cliff, watching Scarlett and Timon like a falcon. Celia’s skin was darker than Timon’s and unblemished. Her hair was curly copper and plaited.
Both Timon and Celia were students at the University of Argus. Their focus of study was on medicine. Scarlett didn’t know the whole story of how the two met, as she was still in secondary school, but knew they connected because of a love for all things outdoors.
Climbing as though she were made entirely of dead weight for most of the way up, Scarlett began to feel lighter the closer she came to the top. Her legs ached, but not in the painful way they had before, and she could no longer feel the sharp edges of the rocks nor the sand and dust that fell into her eyes. When she swung half her body over the edge of the mountaintop, Celia grabbed the climbing pack and pulled her to safety.
Timon climbed fast, as he was used to a quicker pace, and by the time Scarlett had stopped panting, he was standing on the peak of Mount Phryne with his arm around Celia’s narrow hips.
“Spectacular,” said Celia as she admired the scenery. To Scarlett, she asked, “So? What did you think of your first major climb? Have you become as addicted to it as your brother and I have?”
Timon laughed. “Oh, Scar didn’t tag along for the experience.”
The space between Celia’s eyebrows dented. “She didn’t?”
Slipping off her gear, Scarlett said, “No,” and began to unpack her equipment. Out came rope, picks, and straps. With those bulky things removed and set aside, she was able to pull out her most treasured possession. Aunt Cleo had given her the flasher after discovering Scarlett’s talent at taking captions.
“Shame, Scarlett Burn!” exclaimed Celia. “That is an awfully big flasher to carry on a climb!”
Scarlett grabbed a set of folded metal rods, pulled the three legs until they clicked into position, and attached her flasher to the tri-stand. “Timon always tries to describe his climbs, but words are one thing. Captions are another. Hardly anyone gets to see this view.”
The dent between Celia’s brows became a chasm. “Are you telling me that you climbed the most arduous mountain in our province solely for the opportunity to take a caption?” With hair fit to burst from her braid, she put her hands on her hips and chastised Timon. “You know how hard this climb is for a novice! What were you thinking? She’s only fifteen!”
Grinning adoringly and with the gap in his teeth on full display, Timon shrugged. “My sister would go to the moon if she could, if for no other reason than to caption it.”
Celia pointed a calloused finger at Timon. “Indulging her hobby is one thing, Tim. Making this trek for a caption is simply reckless.”
With her flasher set right and the lens adjusted just so, Scarlett was as ready as she was ever going to be. “Let me test these settings. Can you two stand there for me? I want to make sure I get the ridgeline.”
Celia sighed, still upset with Timon, but stood where Scarlett directed. After an initial burst of light exploded from the flasher, Celia blinked the residual specks away. She rubbed her eyes as most people who were unaccustomed to having their caption taken did, and when she opened her eyes again, it was to see Timon holding a ring.
“Timon?” Celia blinked at the gold band. “What’s this?”
Another flash of light went off, but neither Timon nor Celia noticed.
“Scar wanted to caption the view,” replied Timon, “but I asked her to come along to caption this moment. I wanted to remember it exactly how it was.”
“Shame on you both,” said Celia. Her eyes were glistening, her skin glowing. “I’m all dirty.”
It’s taken me a while to figure out what content I want to post on this website (other than information about my debut novel), but now that I’m in my final editing stage and have been looking for advice on that, I thought, “Well, why not add what I know to the mix? Maybe there is someone on the interwebs who also seeks editing advice.”
I’m not just an avid reader, after all. I graduated with a degree in English Literature. I should know some things about what makes a book good enough to read.
Let me make it abundantly clear, however. A degree in English Lit. is not a degree in editing or grammar and I’ll be the first to admit to it. It’s unfortunate that my debut novel is NOT going to have a professional editor, but the more the challenge the better. I know, I know. Not hiring an editor is terrible. But if you knew my current circumstances and knew it will cost around $3,500 to edit one book, then you’d understand. So that leaves me with scouring the internet and relying on friends and myself for editing advice.
I’ll try to keep my postings short and to the point and update every Wednesday. My prologue will be sacrificed for examples, and the closer my publishing date comes, the more chapters I’ll release.
Look out Wednesdays!
Worried about your first chapter? Get a second opinion! I offer an in-depth literary critique/editing service for the FIRST CHAPTER of your story.
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