Why I Fall In Love With a Manuscript: You Edited


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Why I Fall In Love With a Manuscript 5: You Edited

Remember in my first Why I Fall In Love post when I said I don’t reject submissions for bad grammar, poor prose or faulty construction? In reality, I reject submissions for these things all the time.


Your goal above all else is to share your story with your readers through the language you type on the page. I can forgive a few misspellings or misplaced commas. I can accept a submission that meanders a bit before getting to its heart. These are errors that editors are here to help you fix. I can see the story I’m going to fall in love with through these faults and help you polish it into the story it wants to be. But this isn’t a free pass to forego the rules of written language or storycraft. Polished submissions with clean declarative sentences, few spelling errors and a command of storytelling basics sing to me.

You have to edit your work. Send me the best you can offer. Let your manuscript rest for a few weeks or even months, then take a look at it with a fresh eye. Make sure to catch all the spelling errors you can (especially those pesky errors that spell check misses), clean up your punctuation and cut as much unnecessary words/digressions/fluff as possible.

Give me your best. Then I will help you to make your story the best it can be.

This is not an exhaustive list of reasons I fall in love with a manuscript, but it covers 95% of them. And I would wager that most every editor would agree.

Game of Thrones, Storytelling and the Ick Factor


I am a huge fan of both the Game of Thrones books and the HBO series. My first loyalty will always be with the books. But they have become two different entities, with the series dropping or altering subplots, being blatant with points that are still mysteries in the books, and removing/combining/killing book characters. Most of these changes I approve of. The series will run fifty hours after the current season, and it takes some readers that to get through just one of the books.


However, the series has become increasingly sensational and graphic, to its detriment. This has been a worry for me in the past. Sexposition doesn’t bother me, but the addition of controversial scenes that subtract from the story, or don’t add to it, does. The gay relationship between Renly and Loras was so subtle in the books that I missed it completely; I like making it more prominent, but the series has stripped all the nuance and personality out of Loras by focusing myopically on his homosexuality. (In the books, the guy is an arrogant badass who takes Dragonstone.) Another example, and the most disturbing to me, was Jaime taking Cersei in the sept over Joffrey’s body. This isn’t in the books, and I don’t see the story need for its addition. This exploited rape, one of the most deplorable crimes there is, for sensation and controversy rather than for the story and crippled Jaime as a character.

The use of rape in last week’s episode was equally meaningless, and just as exploitative.

This scene happens in the books… sort of. A girl named Jeyne Poole is masquerading as Arya, and is wed to Ramsey. Reek/Theon knows immediately it’s not Arya, but says nothing. The scene goes down similarly and starts to break Theon’s Stockholm syndrome.

In the series, it’s Sansa. And I have enormous problems with it because it adds nothing to the characters. It uses a horrible violation for absolutely no story reason.

In the books, the scene is still graphic and deplorable, but does have a story justification. None of the torture Ramsey visits on Theon before this is shown in the books. Theon disappears at the end of book two, and Reek appears in book five. We don’t know how horrible Ramsey is. We don’t know what Theon has been through. We know Jeyne has her somewhat tranquil life and this monstrous action destroys it.

We already know all these characters in the series. Ramsey doesn’t need to violate anyone; we know he’s Joffrey dialed up to 11. We know Sansa has been abused, and actually seemed to be getting a handle on things previously. And Reek could have been prodded into action in other ways. It wasn’t necessary to move the story forward.

In short, the rape adds nothing to the characters or story, and has no use other than sensationalism and controversy. GoT is a realistic fantasy, true, and people in power historically raped for control and power, but that doesn’t mean it has to be shown.

I have written a couple rape scenes in my fiction. I never do it without care. It risks triggering survivors, and it risks being exploitative. It always has to add to character and drive the story forward, in a way that nothing else could. Also, I only know I’ve done it correctly if it makes me uncomfortable to write it.

I can’t speak to whether the writers, directors and crew et al were uncomfortable, but the scene fails on all other levels. I want to keep watching the series and I hope it tones down the exploitation and unnecessary graphic action, but I can only take so many missteps. Get your act together, GoT. Don’t be graphic just to be graphic. Tell your story. That’s why we watch.

Why I Fall In Love With a Manuscript: Conflict


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Why I Fall In Love With a Manuscript 4: Conflict 

You have conflict. Lots and lots of conflict.

unnamed (3)Conflict is drama. If your story has conflict, it adds the spice that any love affair needs.

Stories don’t have to start with fist fights or space battles. Conflict can be as big as finding love in a civil war or as small as choosing the right ring to propose with. It can be as fast as a car crash or as slow as the new valet showing up with a limp.

But those are really situations, not conflict. The most important element of conflict is that it involves characters. Even in a pitched space battle, I care about R2-D2 and C-3PO. Conflict is personal, and conflict involves characters I care about. If you lose the characters I root for, the conflict loses its power. Now it’s just noise and confusion.

Something has to happen in your story, and it has to happen fast. Don’t waste time setting up the scene or characters before you dive into the meat of the tale. Stories I love start as close to the initial crisis as possible with characters I care about and let things spiral downhill from there. If you never let up on the conflict, and you make it personal, I won’t be able to put your manuscript down.

Why I Fall In Love With a Manuscript: Your Characters Breathe


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Why I Fall In Love With a Manuscript 3: Your Characters Breathe

Unless, of course, they happen to literally be suffocating.

When I hear your characters’ voices in what they say and see them in what they do, I can’t help but fall in love.

Characters need strong identities. As an editor, I need a sense of who they are early on. I need to see their personalities in their actions and speech. Dialogue should be so personal no other character could say it, and actions so unique only one character would react that way.


This is where good preparation comes in. Characters are like icebergs. We only see ten percent of them above the water, but we can sense the ninety percent below that moves them. A character’s background informs what they know, how they speak, and how they react to situations. Remember all that work you put into backstory but never got to tell us? This is the part of the iceberg that shows through. Say your character walks by a homeless man on the street. Did your character grow up poor, or was she raised demonizing the homeless? Did she grow up in a military home, which explains why she gave a homeless veteran money while she passed by a dozen others? With one simple encounter, her actions and words reveal her character and make her feel real and alive.

Another often overlooked element that brings life and dimension to characters is the little nuances, the nervous ticks and dialogue tags the character has. Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight is one of the finest acting performances in years. So many elements went in to his character, but the most important pieces might have been the most minor. He made the Joker real by constantly flicking his tongue out and licking his lips. Playing with his ratty, greasy hair. Moving his hands in a subconscious, jittery flow. All of these nuances added to the chaotic insanity of the character.

THE DARK KNIGHT, Heath Ledger as The Joker, 2008. ©Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Collection

THE DARK KNIGHT, Heath Ledger as The Joker, 2008. ©Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Collection

Be sure to add these details to your own characters to reinforce their personalities. Maybe your protagonist chews his fingernails to the quick, plays with the brim of his hat, strokes the edge of his chin or jogs his leg when he’s sitting. Perhaps he runs his hands along everything he encounters or doesn’t look directly at anyone when he talks. These elements are small, maybe a few words of description here and there, but these small, unique quirks speak volumes.

Take a great character (say, Sherlock Holmes) and analyze him. Would any of Sherlock’s dialogue or actions feel comfortable coming from John Watson or Moriarty? Would any of his actions? Of course not. Make sure your characters are just as alive.

How To Blow A Toddler’s Mind


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As you may recall from my previous blog post, our house was trying to kill us. We found out when we were kicking off our house remodel. Asbestos, lead in the windows, twins murdered in room 237 and haunting us… you know, typical new house issues.


Before. You can see our two -year-old Sebby’s artwork on the wall.


During. The offending death laminate with death glue, death nails and death pattern trying to murder death kill us.


Minus death tile. And death cabinets, walls, sink, floors, appliances and weight-bearing support beamsWAIT WHAT.

Luckily, the whole remodel was worth it. Hardwood floors throughout, new appliances (like an induction stovetop!) and cabinets, and a new, blank canvas for Seb-err, I mean, new paint.

AfterNow I can start my new blog, Cooking With Flavor. And by flavor, I mean tequila. And by cooking with, I mean drinking. And by blog, I mean drunk.

The remodel touched the entire house. For a week, we packed up everything and left the house while the floors were refinished and stained. We didn’t unpack most things until about a week ago. Which brings us to blowing Sebby’s little toddler mind.

So we are smrt parents. When our kids find that one stuffed animal, toy or blanket that is theirs, we buy a second one. This one we secret away for emergencies. You know, that special blanket getting left at a rest stop two states ago during a road trip. That cherished car getting melted in the fireplace. That stuffed bear which got decapitated in a freak lawnmower incident. Any number of catastrophes can befall that special something every child chooses, so we, as smrt parents, bought a back-up to avert those catastrophes.

Sebby’s item of choice is a gray stuffed bunny, creatively named “BUNNY!” (Yes, it is always screamed with a big smile.) So we have an extra bunny hidden away, just in case.

Well, both bunnies were packed during the remodel. And somehow, during the remodel chaos, both bunnies got unpacked, and both bunnies ended up in the nursery.

One night I’m putting Sebby to bed and preparing to read him and his sister The Book With No Pictures. Sebby screams “BUNNY!” and clutches the furry little guy to his chest.

Then he sees another bunny on the floor.

He does a toddler double take. “Bunny?” He stares at the bunny in his hands, then looks at the identical bunny on the floor. “Bunny?” Then back to the one in his hands. Then back to the one on the floor.

Then he goes apeshit.

“TWO BUNNIES!” He screams, loud enough to wake up the neighborhood, and grabs the second bunny. He holds one in each fist, their bodies dangling by the necks, as he parades around the room triumphantly. “I have TWO BUNNIES!” He yells again, in case somebody in Spanaway didn’t hear him the first time, and holds both in a death grip to his tiny thundering heart.

Well, now you can see why we’re smrt. Somehow we have to get the second bunny away from him without him noticing. Or break down and buy two more bunnies, in case he loses one or both of the ones he’s claimed. And chances are, at some point that rascally little toddler will find the two spares we just got, suddenly have four, and we’ll have our first lesson in exponentials.

At least we’re starting him on maths early. Or on biology. Rabbits do, after all, breed like… well, rabbits.

Why I Fall In Love With a Manuscript: You Cut The Backstory


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Why I Fall In Love With a Manuscript 2: You Cut the Backstory

I don’t need backstory. I don’t want it. Neither will your readers.

It’s crucial for you, the author, to know your subjects and backstory better than anyone. But writing isn’t a test. You don’t need to show your work. Manuscripts I love respect my intelligence and don’t patronize me by feeding me backstory.

There are a lot of things I don’t need to know in order to enjoy a tale. Show me what’s happening. Know it doesn’t matter to me that your protagonist graduated first in her class from Harvard in 2005 and is an expert on North African Pre-Egyptian fossils, which her dead but much-loved grandfather inspired her to study. Show her in action and I know she’s an expert. Keep my interest by leaving her history unsaid until it’s pertinent.

The backstory rule also applies to historical, technical and mythical/magical information. You as a writer need to know every detail of pertinent information for your tale. If your story takes place in the Ottoman Empire in the thick of World War I, you better do your historical research, and probably study the military hardware of the time too. If you’re writing a speculative fiction piece, you need to know how the warp drive your ships use and the phasers your ships fire work. But after doing all your research or technical development, it’s tempting to tell it all as soon as something is referenced.

Don’t do it.

Here you need to know the target audience for your work a little bit. Some historical fiction readers want to get deeper in the historical weeds, and some science fiction readers want to go further under the hood. But ultimately the important thing for the reader is what these items do, not how they do it, or how life is during the time period, not how it got that way. You as author need to know these things so you can add background detail, explain when necessary, and, above all, avoid inconsistencies. Even if a reader doesn’t understand the technology or history, he or she will spot an inconsistency immediately. (“I have no idea how shields or transporters work, but I thought you couldn’t use a transporter through shields!”)

Too many times a good manuscript goes off the rails when the author starts to dump in backstory about characters, history or technology. It slows the narrative to a crawl, and most of the information I don’t need. Accept that I, and your readers, will appreciate your exhaustive research and backstory without needing to know it.


Yea like im gonna take the goverments word (Misspelled On Purpose)


I have to stop opening myself up to Facebook debates with uninformed people who can’t spell.

The other day, a friend of mine reposted this link.


I thought the numbers here were at best pointless, and at worst deliberately misleading. There are over four times as many whites as blacks in the country. A much larger percentage of minorities are killed by police than whites, and that doesn’t even address that their deaths are in more deplorable circumstances.

Well, silly me, I made a comment to that effect. And, of course, got a response.


Fine, don’t believe the 13%. There’s census data to back it up. But the point is there are more whites than other minorities (hence why they’re minorities) so the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

Mr. Cowboy Hat had what I’m sure he considered a mike-drop response.


Hence the misspelled title of this blog. It’s not like he was commenting on statistics from the media in the first place. You can’t trust the government or the media, especially if what they say contradicts your own beliefs.

There were a bevy of responses I could have given:

I take it, then, that you agree with my second post, unless you think whites are a minority in the US?

I noticed you live in the Lewis-Clark Valley. I moved away twenty years ago. Is it still the utopia of diversity I remember?

So you don’t trust Fox News, Boehner or Dubya either? Good. That’s an excellent move.

Do you not take Merriam Webster‘s word, either? (I figured he wouldn’t get that.)

In the end, I didn’t respond. It wouldn’t come to anything, and many of my immediate reactions were attacks and not discussions. I’m not sure what point he wanted to make, or if he had one beyond arguing.

There is a partisan gulf in this country, and few people want to discuss what’s happening with an open mind. I have opinions as strong as the next person, and some are very hard to sway. But I like to think I would engage with an open and informed mind. Regrettably, too many people have no desire to discuss or compromise. And more than economics, racial tension or religion, that is the issue that most hurts our country.