Sharing the thrill of mystery.
So you’ve heard our great news:
We’re doing a Capitol Crimes 2020/2021 Antholog and you will have
the opportunity to work with a Professional Development Editor. Some of
you might be saying Great! I’m not sure what that is but you make it
sounds really good. So, exactly What Type Of Book Editing Do You Need?
And When? I’m glad you asked that question.
What Type Of Book Editing Do You Need? And When?
By Jim Dempsey -April 11, 2016 BookBaby Blog
There are different types of book editing — including proofreading, copy editing, line editing, and developmental editing — for different stages of the publication process. You should be aware of what kind of editing your manuscript needs and what is involved in each type.
“AN EDITOR IS A PERSON WHO KNOWS MORE ABOUT WRITING THAN WRITERS DO BUT WHO HAS ESCAPED THE TERRIBLE DESIRE TO WRITE.”
– E.B. WHITE
Updated January 2018.
Many writers are confused about the different types of book editing. Even editors can’t agree on exactly what’s involved in each type, and that’s because it’s difficult to draw definite lines between them. The definition can change with each editing job, and is only finally decided in the author or publisher’s brief to the editor – the outline of exactly what the author or publisher requires from the editor – which can range from correcting only the obvious typos to suggesting word count cuts or changes to story structure, plot, and characters.
We’ll look at the four main types of book editing: proofreading, copy editing, line editing, and developmental editing.
Proofreading gets its name from the “proofs” typesetters produce before the final print run. The text has been laid out into pages, complete with photos, diagrams, tables, etc. These used to be called galley proofs (and still are when printed), but in these days of electronic publications, they’re more commonly called uncorrected proofs and usually come as a PDF file.
At this point, the publisher (a company or an independent author) will have paid for someone – or worked hard themselves – to set the manuscript text into the book’s final format. That means it’s too late to make any major structural changes or delete paragraphs and sentences, as this has a knock-on effect in the subsequent pages. It can cost a lot of time and money to redesign the book after such major changes.
Proofreading comes at the end of the publication cycle. It’s the final check before the book is printed or, in the case of eBooks, before it is published and sent to distributors.
For this reason, proofreading is intended to pick up the final typos and spelling mistakes and to correct inconsistencies, like making sure the word “proofreading” is always spelled as one word and not “proof-reading” or “proof reading.”
In the case of printed books, proofreaders also look for awkward word splits at the end of a line and ensure there is no ugly single line left at the top of the page from the previous paragraph (known in publishing as a widow) or at the bottom of the page, which really belongs with the paragraph on the next page (orphan).
Proofreading is only done after the raw manuscript has already been edited. Before that, the text should have at least gone through…
2. Copy Editing
Copy, in the publishing world, refers to the text. So, copy editing could just as easily be called text editing. It’s a word-by-word edit that addresses grammar, usage, and consistency issues. Copy editors will check for typos and spelling errors along with correcting grammar, language, and syntax errors. They will also pay particular attention to punctuation such as commas, semicolons, and quotation marks.
Editors work on a copy of the author’s manuscript, usually a Word file, using the track changes function and adding comments to explain any changes or make revision suggestions. The author can then go through each of the changes and accept or reject them one by one and make any revisions where necessary.
Only when the author is completely satisfied with the plot, story structure, characterization, settings, etc. is the manuscript ready for copy editing. And nobody, no matter how good, gets all that right with a first draft.
3. Line Editing
Line editing is a more intensive structural edit that focuses on the finer aspects of language – the flow of ideas, transition elements, tone, and style. Line editors expand their efforts to suggest changes to make sentences crisper and tighter by fixing redundancy and verbosity issues, while improving awkward sentence and paragraph construction without a full rewrite. Editors will look at the manuscript using a holistic methodology with a review of key aspects of the manuscript: the narrative, vocabulary, structure, characterization, style, and development.
4. Developmental editing
Development editing means the book gets a full, substantial, structural, developmental edit. This will often include everything that’s involved in proofreading and copy-editing, plus a detailed critique of the essential elements of the story (in the case of a novel), which include:
A developmental edit will come early in the publication process, while the author is still in the drafting stage. The author will have rewritten the manuscript a few times before it is ready for a developmental edit.
Not every book needs developmental editing from a professional editor. Feedback from competent beta readers or a discerning writing group can be enough to iron out all the wrinkles in the book’s structure.
Note that the words ‘competent’ and ‘discerning’ are key in that last sentence. That rarely means your family and friends, wonderful though they may be. You wouldn’t ask the average lawyer, sales director, or math teacher to repair your car, so it’s rarely a good idea to trust them with your life’s work.
As with copy editing, the editor may use track changes to make revision suggestions directly onto a copy of the manuscript, but the developmental edit will usually include a separate critique document detailing — sometimes chapter by chapter — the changes the author could make to improve the areas listed above.
In the end, it’s up to you, the author, to decide how much or how little editing you would like for your book. You might not want the editor to interfere with the format, for example, and you might have your own ideas for a particular style issue (always The Beatles, not the Beatles). It certainly helps to be aware of what an editor can do, and what can be done at each stage of your rewriting. Writing is, after all, rewriting. And editing. But, of course, I would say that.
Jim Dempsey is an associate editor at Novel Gazing. Novel Gazing offers professional editing services to authors and publishers. Quote the exclusive BookBaby discount code BOOKBABY10to receive a 10% discount on all of Novel Gazing's proof-reading, copy editing and substantive editing services.
For those of you who haven't heard, not only are we doing a
Capitol Crimes 2020/2021 Antholog
you will have the opportunity to work with a Professional Development
Editor. Why? Well, most importantly, it will make your good work better,
plus with the number of us submitting stories, it's going to be the best
rate you will ever pay. (Assuming you aren't married to an editor and get
the services for free.)
Here is an article from the BookBaby Blog pointing out some of the
advantages to using an editor.
NOTE: BookBaby offers editing services, so does Reedsy and others.
The purpose of this post is not to promote a particular service but to
make sure you use somebody's editing services.
If you don’t pay for book editing, it’s going to cost you
By Steven Spatz -September 28, 2015
Speaking from experience, author and PhD in Theology Dr. Tony Lewis
can attest that book editing is a “a process that just can’t be rushed.
Authors need to take their time and do it right.”
God only knows why Dr. Tony Lewis, the president of Christian Bible
Institute and Seminary in Spring, Texas, didn’t get professional editing
for his book. “Something was telling me I should have paid to have it
edited,” he says. “Had I done that, it would saved me a lot of money in
the long run.”
It proved to be an expensive – and potentially embarrassing – mistake
for the self-published author. But today, it’s a lesson that the Texas
theologian now wants to share far and wide to prospective BookBaby
“If just one author is persuaded to edit his book because of my situation,
then I’ll be happy,” said Lewis. “It’s imperative that you have your book
edited. I want to save people the headache and expense of what
happened to me.”
After a year of writing and self-editing, Lewis had finally completed his
manuscript in the spring of 2015. The Message and the Messenger is a
training manual for new pastors, and he was anxious to get it published.
“I just wanted to just get it out,” said Lewis. “I worked on it all through
the previous year. I was missing deadlines and getting frustrated.
People were asking about the book, wanting to put it in bookstores and
I just wanted to hurry up and get the books out.”
Lewis had hired a book consulting service to help him self-publish. The
company has since gone out of business, but had assured Lewis that his
manuscript was ready to go. “They told me I should make sure I read it
again, but I didn’t,” recalls Lewis. “I did send it to a friend of mine and he
said he read it and it looked pretty good. So now I had two
people saying ‘it’s good,’ so I thought we should just go ahead and get it
Lewis chose BookBaby to publish The Message and the Messenger, and
he remembers conversations with our publishing specialists about
editing. “They recommended that I have someone else proof and edit
the book,” says Lewis, “but I didn’t want to spend any more, or invest
the time. I just thought to myself, ‘Nah, I’m not going to do it.’”
And that’s when all the problems started.
“So we get the books printed and I do a press release that goes out in
March. After the second day, my sister called me. She said: ‘Have you
looked at your book?’ I asked, ‘What do you mean?’ She said, ‘There’s
quite a few errors in it.’ She took screen shots of the pages and texted
me. And I saw what she was seeing. I was in shock.”
And what about all those beautiful books Lewis had printed? “I had to
just throw them away. They were worthless,” says Lewis. “All that money
down the drain. Thank goodness only my sister saw the books with all
those errors or it would have been even worse.”
BookBaby has been urging our authors to seek out professional editing
services for their manuscripts.
“The service I received from BookBaby was just phenomenal,” says
Lewis. “I’ve recommended BookBaby to my friends and even some of my
students who are thinking of publishing their own books.”
If an author is having problems selling their book and calls us for advice,
our publishing specialists go through a check list of possible reasons:
• Did you do both an eBook and Printed Book for maximum sales
• Did you get a professional cover design? Check.
• Did you have your book edited by a professional? Ah…
It’s true. Editing – or the lack thereof – can affect your sales in ways you
might not realize. I’ll let Dr. Lewis tell his story:
“If a person would have purchased one of those unedited books, they
would have stopped reading it in the first chapter because of all those
errors,” he said. “People will remember you as the guy who has all those
mistakes in his books and won’t ever buy another in the future. Plus
they’ll tell everyone else about the author who has all these mistakes in
“If you don’t pay for editing, it’s going to cost you in the long run.”
Determined to do things the right way, Lewis hired First Editing to
review his manuscript. First Editing is one of several editing companies
BookBaby recommends. [Full disclosure: I had my book edited by First
Editing and was extremely satisfied with their services.]
“It was a great experience,” says Lewis. “It only took about seven days
for them to get the manuscript back to me. Everybody needs to know
this: You can’t just let anyone edit your book. Your friends can’t do it.
Your family can’t do it. If you want to put something you’re proud of
into the marketplace, you have to have a proofing and editing expert do
the job. Whatever the cost is. If you don’t pay it, it’s going to cost you in
Dr. Lewis intends to practice what he preaches the next time around.
“I’m going to be unbelievably patient. I won’t feel the need to rush it
because of what I experienced,” he says. “It’s a process that just can’t be
rushed. Authors need to take their time and do it right.”
Steven Spatz is a writer, marketer, and the President of BookBaby, the
nation’s leading self publishing services company. Spatz’s professional
writing career began at age 13, paid by the word to bang out little
league baseball game stories on an ancient manual typewriter for
southern Oregon weekly newspapers. His journalism career continued
after graduation from the University of Oregon at several daily
newspapers in Oregon. When his family took over a direct marketing
food business, Spatz redirected his writing and design skills into
producing catalogs. The Pinnacle Orchards catalog was named "Best
Food Catalog," received dozens of other national awards, and the
business grew into one of the nation’s largest gourmet fruit gift
businesses. After the company was sold, Spatz continued his direct
marketing career with Fortune 500 companies including Mattel and
Hasbro. He joined AVL Digital in 2004 to lead the direct-to-consumer
marketing teams for music industry-leading brands Disc Makers, Oasis,
and CD Baby. After serving as Chief Marketing Officer, Spatz was tapped
to lead the company’s new publishing division in late 2014. In 2019, the
AVL Digital Management team purchased the New Jersey brands,
including BookBaby. The company is headquartered in Pennsauken, NJ
(just outside Philadelphia, PA) and meets the printed book and eBook
needs of thousands of self-publishing authors around the globe. Spatz
lives in Glenside, PA with his two children, a demented cat, and some
well-used bicycles. Steven loves to hear from authors, editors, and
publishers in the BookBaby community with tales of publishing trials
and triumphs. To tell him your story, write to email@example.com.
Using them as Beta Readers is just one way to take advantage of our Members who are Readers. Beta reading isn't just nice, it's necessary. Find out why in this article from She Writes.
Beta readers can be tricky for any author. Read more about the experience writer Diana Paul had with her debut novel and why you should hire beta readers for your next book now.
I found my three beta readers for my first novel, Things Unsaid, after I had spent considerable time polishing the story. Looking back I wish I had learned about the importance of beta readers at a much earlier stage in the game. Had I asked them to read earlier drafts, my story would have been stronger earlier in the evolution of my work-in-progress. Their comments were instrumental in improving both structure and character development in Things Unsaid.
Now I am working on my second novel, tentatively titled Deeds Undone. It’s now time for me to start thinking of my beta readers, the two or three people whom I will trust with my story, a continuation of Things Unsaid, but transposed into a murder mystery, answering the question of what happened to one of the characters in Things Unsaid. It is a very scary thing—naked exposure to your narrative. Writing is so deeply personal. It opens the author to vulnerability, so sharing a yet-to-be-published novel with beta readers is a truly courageous act. Beta readers can save the writer a lot of time and energy in changing plot lines, character arcs, voice and just about everything else in the elements of a novel. An insightful beta reader can be an author’s best friend.
One of my beta readers has to know about the writing craft, ideally, a polite, professional and talented writer and editor. To maximize my time in rewriting and re-conceptualizing the story, I need a beta reader who appreciates the genre my novel falls in. I will return the favor and be a beta reader for one of their manuscripts. Fair is fair, and I am only too happy to do this. For my other reader or two, I want someone who can react as my ideal reader would. Someone who can tell me where the story drags, what characters are believable, what dialog pulls them in (and doesn’t). I want honesty but not brutal, destructive comments. I realized early on, that I don’t resist “killing my darlings,” even though Things Unsaid claimed three years of my life to write. I just wanted to move on to my next story.
After you've selected your beta readers, the tough part of selecting begins: listening to the critiques.
If you want honesty, you have to nurture your beta readers by responding positively to their first tentative (and it is always tentative) misgivings about something you have written, usually in the very first chapter. If you can’t handle negativity, don’t subject a beta reader to the task of tiptoeing around the weaknesses in your story. Being a beta reader is difficult first and foremost because the beta reader may be a friend and doesn’t want to lose your friendship. [Word of advice: Only select one friend as a beta reader. The others should be at least “arms-length” critics.] Also, all good beta readers do not want to undermine the confidence you are trying to sustain as an author. They want you to succeed.
You want your beta reader to be specific. Comments like: “It drags in the middle” gives the necessary heads-up that something is wrong, but you need more than that in order to repair the writing. So, ask questions: Why does it drag? Is it because the character is not changing enough? Is the story becoming repetitive? Listen carefully, because other readers may feel the same way.
Every story can be improved, but that doesn’t mean all criticism should be created equal. In the final analysis, the writer has to determine what feels right. Nonetheless, a fragile ego can block out worthwhile criticism that, if dealt with now, can head off being rejected later on or noted by professional book reviewers. Be a good sport and learn what the beta reader has in mind: both good and bad. If you are open to criticism, you will have learned another perspective that every writer should welcome. One caveat: if the beta reader has nothing positive to say—“This book is just dreadful. Don’t give up your day job.”—you should move on and find someone else who is both supportive and analytical.
Although the comments from the beta reader may require major revisions—for example, where there are plot holes or too many characters—you as the writer must figure out how to resolve the weak areas in the novel. Beta readers give honest criticism so that the writer can see where the scenes, plots, characters, can be improved upon and problems with the narrative solved. Beta readers’ pet peeves—“I don’t like anti-heroes” or “Sex scenes are disgusting”—are not at all useful if you believe both contribute to the story you have to tell. Following their recommendations would only crush your vision and voice. The beta reader who is your friend can be your muse as well: someone who understands the tone and voice of your story without trying to impose his or her own.
This is probably the most difficult task any writer has to go through, if the match is going to be compatible, even inspirational. Time and energy on the part of the serious beta reader are invaluable and I never take my beta reader for granted, just as I wouldn’t my best friend. Even if I don’t eventually incorporate most of their comments into future revisions, I respect the beta reader’s undertaking and know that other readers will have similar reactions. So the beta reader prepares the writer for future responses and reception from book buyers and reviewers.
One reader I relied upon for critiquing my writing is an author from my writers’ group. The two beta readers I asked (from the book club members) were avid readers—just the type of reader I was hoping to attract. I was very fortunate that my three beta readers proved to be so conscientious and insightful. For writers who do not have that kind of network, I would suggest a shout-out on Facebook in one of the authors’ groups or on LinkedIn.
I was able to meet with each reader individually to discuss in detail their comments and suggestions for revision on a regular basis, sometimes recording their comments. I only met with each of them after digesting comments, comparing with other beta readers, and waiting some time to clear my head in order to deal with the more problematic issues.
What can I say about beta readers? They are your muses, your inspiration... your best friends.
I found this little gem from NY Book Editors.
Check out the whole article and the links from clicking here.
You’re a writer, not a blogger, so should you still write a blog?
Personally, I’m in the benefit camp. For the reasons you’ll learn below, blogging is probably the best thing you can do while you’re not actively writing your novel to prepare you for the task.
Hello friends. Hope your new year is off to a good start.
One week into the new year, I decided to reflect back upon 2019. Last year, I tried to read 62 books. Fourteen of them were never finished, but I plan to read them this year. Because I check out so many books from the library at one time, I have to prioritize which to read first. Some of them have short lending times because they have a long waiting list. Twenty seven I didn't enjoy, for various reasons and never finished. This year, I'm off to a good start. I just picked up Stephen King's The Institute. It took many many months for me to finally secure the book. I plan to take my time reading it. Since I checked out the large print version, I get to keep it longer.
I'm able to read a lot of books because I don't watch a lot of tv, or movies. I did see The Rise of Skywalker. It didn't disappoint. Spoiler alert - I jumped out of my seat when Billie Dee Williams appeared. Awesome!
The year is getting off to a good start with writing. The people I've met online have been great. Every day, I learn some new aspect to writing or publishing. It has been a learning experience.
Kellye Garrett invited me to Crime Writers of Color, which was started by herself, Gigi Pandian, and Walter Mosley. https://www.crimewritersofcolor.com/about Check out the website.
Through them, I found out about literary agents of color. https://www.litagentsofcolor.com/.
It's important to network with other writers. Someone is going to know something you don't. Share your knowledge and gain something in return. Join.
Unfortunately, all the writing groups in Sacramento in which I participate have their events on the same day. The third Saturday of the month. Sometimes I have to pick and choose what to attend.
Capitol Crimes will host fantasy author Kevin Anderson on Saturday, January 18th. I checked out his website. To say that he has written a lot is an understatement. To learn more, visit, https://capitolcrimes.wildapricot.org/.
January 18th, California Writers Club - Sacramento will host Robin Martin and Susan Herman for their program Navigating Editor Service Options. Most writers will tell you an editor can be invaluable. However, they can also be expensive. Research before you commit. This program would be helpful for any author.
Black Women Tell Tales will also meet on January 18th at Underground Books. If you haven't checked out Underground Books yet, you need to. The owner is so nice. There are books there by authors of color I never even heard about, and of course the ones I have.
Regarding writing, I am working on my mystery manuscript right now. I've sent my thriller to some beta readers. Hope to hear back soon.
Last year I participated in NaNoWriMo. I found it helpful with keeping me on track. I managed to complete a manuscript within the month. I was less pleased with the website. It did a good job of tracking my progress, but less helpful with allowing me to connect with other writers.
I'm hoping this will be the decade I become a published author. Although, I'm learning that the process only begins once the writing is finished.
Have a good weekend, and a productive week.
Michelle Corbier is checking in today for her first blog post on our site with some great information for emerging authors. - Penny
Yes, it is finally autumn. My favorite time of year. I had a productive week. Hope you did too.
I was able to submit my manuscript to #PitchWars. If you are not familiar with it, check it out at https://pitchwars.org/ It is a mentoring program to assist aspiring writers desiring to publish their manuscripts. Established authors help you prepare your manuscript to present to agents in the spring.
There is also a program called #PitchMad where you can tweet information about your manuscript to agents and/or publishers. It is a 12 hour event that occurs every quarter. The next event will be in December.
I am taking a hiatus from writing. My next project will probably be a suspense thriller. I've toyed with some ideas. Otherwise, I intend to catch up on my reading.On Friday night, I stayed up until 3 am to finish Sex, Murder, and Double Latte by Kyra Davis. I recommend it. The story is fast and funny.
I am continuing my reading of African American mystery and crime writers. I am on my new read. I will share it with you next week.On Saturday, September 21st, I attended my first meeting of Capitol Crimes, which is the local branch of Sisters in Crime. The guest speaker was a librarian. She provided a lot of knowledge. Helpful to self-published and traditionally published authors alike.
The next event for Capitol Crimes, https://capitolcrimes.wildapricot.org, will be a tour of Sacramento's Old Historic Cemetery. Join us. It will be October 19th.
I have been in book clubs and read about book clubs BUT I love the idea of a Silent Book Club. (SBC) This was a concept I found online and wanted to share with you. One of the hardest parts of being in a book club is finding the time to read. The lovely thing about SBC is that you have time to read what you want to read and then, if you wish, discuss it with the rest of the group. There are established SBC's in the Sacramento area. Links will follow this post ---Penny
Silent Book Clubs
Silent Book Club started in 2012 with a couple of friends reading in companionable silence at our neighborhood bar. We loved books, and reading with friends, but most of our previous attempts at book clubs had fizzled out.
Often with traditional book clubs there's the scramble to finish the assigned book, and the pressure to have something smart to say. Wouldn't it be great to have a book club where you could just enjoy books, friends, and wine—without any homework?
We started Silent Book Club because reading with friends is awesome. We love hearing about what people are reading (often in their other book clubs) and we think it's important to put down our phones and be social. Real, live, breathing-the-same-air social, not hearting-you-on-Instagram social.
We also believe there's no shame in drinking alone, especially when you have a good book for company. In fact, most of the time we'd rather be left alone with our book, thank you very much creepy guy asking what we're reading. And, added bonus for the parents out there: your kids can't follow you into the bar.If only you had a bouncer for your bathroom. But you don't need alcohol to read with friends.
Silent Book Club is about community. Everyone is welcome, and anyone can do it. We encourage people all over the world to start their own Silent Book Clubs. We have more than 70 active chapters in cities of all sizes, and new chapters are being launched by volunteers every week.
Check out our calendar to find a Silent Book Club chapter in your town, or sign up for our newsletter to receive invites by email.
Bring a book, bring a friend. Then read, wine, repeat.
Sacramento - Meetup- Silent Book Club
When I was in high school I was in a book club, but I did not know it. My friends and I would read romance novels and “chick lit” from authors of color, then have fervent discussions during lunch that usually began with: “Girl, did you read…” or “Girl, I can’t believe…” We did all of that just to have fun. What we did not realize was that our informal book club was improving our health.
According to separate social relationship studies by physician Stewart Wolf and the scientific journal PLOS Medicine their findings suggest that spending time with close friends can:
The studies also suggest that the lack of close social relationships can negatively impact your health the same way smoking, obesity and the lack of exercise does.
Add reading to the mix and there are even more health benefits. For instance:
So what does this all mean? Spending time with friends and getting wrapped up in a good book is aerobic exercise for the brain and medicine for the heart and soul. So go ahead — join a book club or start one of your own. It’s good for you!
So you've finished your novel or short story . Are you satisfied with your working title? Maybe you haven't titled it all. Maybe you thought a flash of inspiration would hit you once you wrote the words -- the end.
No matter where you are on the spectrum of finding that perfect title for your work read Robert McKee's tips on how to perfectly title a movie. His tips easily translate to the written story and just might make you rethink how you title your work.
When Action Isn’t a Good Thing in Your Novel
By Julie Glover
I took one acting class in college. In addition to discovering I didn’t want to pursue drama, but simply storytelling, I learned some of the challenges of portraying a character’s persona to an audience just beyond the stage.
One tidbit was my takeaway that you need something to do with your feet, your hands, your body. Enter props.
When a partner and I performed a scene in class from Extremities (yes, the one made into a film that Farrah Fawcett starred in), I started the scene with a cigarette in hand. Looking back, I now realize that cigarette had zero to do with what was happening. It was merely a crutch to keep my hands busy so I didn’t look like an idiot standing there with no movement or gesturing wildly.
This happens to us authors with the page too.
For example, we need to write a scene with two characters talking, but something should be happening besides dialogue, right? Enter props. We put them at a kitchen table and give them tea to pour into cups. We put them in a car where they can fiddle with the radio dial and glance in the rear-view mirror. We get them to fiddle with their clothes, their jewelry, their wristwatch.
But is that action actually related to what else is happening in the scene? Does the action reveal something about the characters or the plot? Or is simply to keep our characters busy?
Let me lay out two examples below. The dialogue and setting will be the same for both. But contrast how the action doesn’t really matter in the first scene, but pulls its weight much better in the second.
Mary grabbed coffee cups from the cupboard and turned on the pot. “My sister’s arriving at noon. Or so she says.”
John leaned against the counter and watched the coffee. “When she gets here, you need to explain what’s happened.”
Mary had no idea how to have that conversation. How could she explain to her sister what she didn’t understand herself?
The coffee hadn’t finished percolating, but Mary shoved a cup under the stream anyway. Once it was full, she handed it to John and returned the pot to its place. She could wait for her own cup.
“Why don’t you tell her?” Mary asked. “You’re more diplomatic than I am.”
John added sugar to his coffee, three packets. “I don’t think diplomacy is your best bet. More like pulling off the Band-Aid, one quick yank and be ready for the scream.”
Mary pushed aside the family crest coffee cups and grabbed a nondescript one from the back of the cupboard, then turned on the pot. It was barely eight a.m., and she was headed toward a third cup. “My sister’s arriving at noon. Or so she says.”
John leaned against the counter and watched the coffee, as if it was a focal point to avoid eye contact. “When she gets here, you need to explain what’s happened.”
The coffee hadn’t finished percolating, but Mary shoved a cup under the stream anyway. Impatient with the coffee, impatient with the situation, impatient with her life.
Once the cup had filled, she handed it to John. “Why don’t you tell her? You’re more diplomatic than I am.”
The hot plate sizzled, and she returned the coffee pot to its place. She could wait for her own cup. By now, she should be used to standing in line for what she wanted.
John added sugar to his coffee, three packets. If only Mary could add that kind of sweetener to bad news. “I don’t think diplomacy is your best bet,” he said. “More like pulling off the Band-Aid, one quick yank and be ready for the scream.”
# # #
In the first example, there’s action in that they’re drinking coffee. But who cares! It doesn’t say anything about the two of them or the story. In the second example, that action is used to illuminate more about the characters and what’s going on.
Sure, you still don’t know what’s going on, because I purposefully kept it vague, but you have a much better feel for the characters and the mood. Even Mary pushing past her family crest coffee cups to get a different cup tells you something.
Because the action in your novel should matter. If it doesn’t, you need to either take it out or give it meaning.
Here are some places where you might find non-meaningful action in your work-in-progress:
Of course, you need actions in your novel that show the character moving about and going from place to place. And yes, sometimes the character wipes lint off his pants just because. So please don’t go hacking out every instance of “she walked to the door.” In an effort to compel the reader, don’t confuse the reader. Instead, maintain the continuity of a scene.
But make sure the overall action of a scene reveals character, advances plot, and/or provides tension.
Julie Glover writes cozy mysteries and young adult fiction. Her YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart®. When not writing, she collects boots, practices rampant sarcasm, and advocates for good grammar and the addition of the interrobang as a much-needed punctuation mark.
Julie is represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency. You can visit her website here and also follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
We are the Sacramento, California chapter of Sisters in Crime. We promote the ongoing advancement, recognition and professional development of women crime writers.
Contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org