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Map and List of Characters

Map of the UDF
Map of the United Democratic Federation (UDF)

Here it is! The nation Zenetra and company live in. Isn’t it lovely?

Below is a quick introduction of characters.

The Noire Family

  • Xareen Noire – mother of Xuxa and Zenetra, deceased
  • Xuxa Noire – missing older sister
  • Zenetra Noire – main protagonist, cadet-in-training
  • Orton Abelard – father of Zenetra and Xuxa

Team Yellowbird

  • Jadriga Hatwig – alchemic inspector, team leader
  • Garyyk Onnan – field trainer
  • Mimi Qhina – five-star constable
  • Carver Hailstrom – five-star constable
  • Tilde Thorpe – first-star constable
  • Adelric Fokle – commissioner of the Constabulary Force (CF)

The Crew of Sunray

  • Levy Inglehart – captain of Sunray
  • James Clay – the winger
  • Nibbs – the cook
  • Delwyn – the deckhand
  • Lothar – the steward
  • Raoul – the mucker
  • Wallis Pilluck – the healer

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?

The Lost City of Al-Kimiya and Explorations of Scarlett Burn are available in eBook format NOW!

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Giving away FREE copies of my books!

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 eliviasalt@gmail.com and I’ll send you either a MOBI or PDF file version.

Cheers!

Elivia

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I’m Published!

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!

Explorations of Scarlett Burn

The Lost City of Al-Kimiya

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The Struggle is Real

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.

~Elivia

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Stack Those Words – Part 3

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?

Need a second opinion of your own story? Consider hiring me for your first chapter. For more info on that, click HERE and HERE.

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Editor For Hire!

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 eliviasalt@gmail.com 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.

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Paragraphs (Part 2)

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.

Ironic, no?

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?

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Paragraphs (Part 1)

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.

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Stack Those Words (Part 2)

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?

  • The blackberry bushes were ripe for picking.
  • It was summer.
  • It had a hairy body, black claws, and sharp teeth.
  • As I plucked berry after juicy berry, I realized I was not alone.
  • With me was a large brown bear.
  • I grabbed my bucket and headed off into the thicket.

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!

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Stack Those Words (Part 1)

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.

Here’s why.

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?

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Eloquence Over Fanciful

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?

Not necessarily.

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?

Nope.

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?

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Choosing a Title

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.

Perfect.

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?

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Repetitive Words

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?

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Delete that unnecessary “That”

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?

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An Editing Guide

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!