Pruning your Manuscript

Yesterday morning and today, I went through my Mylar garden and found a lot of deadwood. Some balloons couldn’t hold helium, but looked great with air. So I filled the air balloons and decorated my walls with them. Others couldn’t handle air or helium, so I had to discard them. Some balloons held their gas nicely, but one had gotten detached from the vine. I transplanted the stand-alone into a trunk of weights with other balloons. Pruning my balloon trees takes several days if I want to do it right.

Then I got to thinking about When Blood Reigns, the manuscript now in the hands of an editor. Before I sent it out, I did a lot of pruning, and I anticipate more before I submit it to a publisher. With the Pro Writing Aid, I winnowed out adverbs, “to be” verbs and vague descriptions like “some,” “many,” “several,” etc. Cutting adverbs alone took away 1,000 words. Replacing “to be” verbs cut another thousand. Ditto thousand for overused words and dialogue tags instead of “he said, she said.” I also found “darling” phrases that were cliché, and others that didn’t belong. Maybe they’ll work better with a different storyline.

Was I under pressure to meet a word count? No, but wordy manuscripts can lose a writer unless the writer happens to be Stephen King or Dean Koontz. Like many writers, I’m married to my manuscript and it’s hard to see the flaws without an editing tool or live editor. In particular, I struggle with repetition; my beta readers often point out the same adjective used twice in one sentence. I don’t think my forthcoming eye surgery will change that, though I might catch more errors on manuscript submissions afterwards.

I’ve started working on another novel, with elements of a plot coming together. So I’ve had to turn off my internal editor and think plot. When the revisions start, I know I’ll find plenty of adverbs. The trick is to find them before I send it to a publisher.

How is the pruning process going for you? Do you struggle with repetition, adverbs, and other issues? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Steel Rose features compelling horror fiction by Barbara Custer.

Does Intelligent Life Exist in other Worlds?

I once asked a priest this question. As he put it, the universe is a vast place, and he would find it hard to believe that God would create the universe for just humans. So other questions came to mind: what are these people like? What color eyes? What color hair, if any? What about language, verbal and nonverbal? Do they possess telepathy, telekinesis, or any of the other powers with which our movies endow them? Are they gentle friendly beings or are they monsters that prey on weaker species?

I didn’t go into my other questions with this priest, but I searched Google and Yahoo to get others’ thoughts on aliens. I’m not referring to our neighboring planets where the environment isn’t hospitable to life as we know it. I’m considering the yet-to-be-discovered planets outside our solar system. If people live in these worlds and visit our own, their technology must surpass us by centuries to construct spaceships capable of traveling to Earth.

Some folks believe the aliens would treat us the way we do animals – capture, dissect, see what it’s all about, tag it, release it, and study it in its natural habitat. In some cases, we might steamroll over it, destroying the habitat and wiping out the species. At worst, they might eat us, enslave us, torture and attack us. In Steel Rose, Woehar and her evil renegades do just that – inject a chemical that turns their human prisoners into zombies. When she’s not torturing, she hunts humans for nourishment the way we might hunt a deer or pheasant.

However, I’d like to think that bad and good qualities exist in the extraterrestrials just as they do in humans. The bad ones like Woehar might regard us as subservient beings deemed for slavery or an entrée for the dinner table. The decent ones might work shoulder to shoulder with us at a job, use their knowledge to help find cures, and may try to understand what it means to be human. Yeron, a refugee alien, works at Jackson Hospital in a research laboratory, trying to develop cures for cancer and other killer diseases. He works closely with the human doctors in that laboratory and shields Alexis from the evil hospital administrator. Sometimes humans make the worst kind of monsters.

Even in best case scenarios, the aliens’ culture and beliefs will be radically different from ours. Their logical minds would preclude a belief in any god. Before his compound exploded, Yeron grew up doing experimental treatments on human prisoners and releasing them (into their natural habitat). In his mind, he was doing The Right Thing by treating their injuries and ailments. The people getting the treatments didn’t agree, and he had to hypnotize them into forgetting. Alexis and Yeron have a tough go at working together at first because of the cultural differences.

Talk about diversity training. Imagine working with a boss from Planet X or having lunch with a coworker from Planet Y. Most workplaces teach diversity, and alien coworkers would present new challenges for the instructor.

Someone on Yahoo asked what people would do if they saw extraterrestrials roaming the streets. I’d stay in the house and watch between the drapes before taking any action. How do the aliens treat humans? If any blood spilled, I’d lock my doors and windows and hide under my balloon tree. If however, the aliens and humans engaged in pleasant interaction, I might come outside and introduce myself. And if there was one alien, and people were shooting at him, I might invite him in my house and offer him shelter under my balloon tree. Above all, I hate seeing people bullied, human or alien.

Whether we anticipate it or not, we might have to prepare for a meeting with people from other worlds one day. The weather patterns have gotten more erratic with tornadoes, harsher blizzards during the winter, and droughts that result in fires, not to mention earthquakes such as the kind that leveled Haiti. It may not happen in my lifetime, but one day the severity of these patterns will make Earth incompatible with human life unless we build underground or dome-covered cities, or migrate to other planets. Will we find friendly neighbors and embrace diversity? Might their advanced technology afford cures for diseases like cancer? Or will we be fighting for the right to live?

In Barbara Custer's Steel Rose, her characters learn what it means to work with extraterrestrials.

The Call of the Wild

I never thought I would blog about my balloon collection, but as the cliche goes, never say never. Today was an unusual day for grocery trips. I went to a different supermarket, one that didn’t tempt me to buy balloons. More bad weather was coming our way, so I concentrated on buying supplies. I decided to check out the dollar discount store to see if I could buy some of the things needed for less. The dollar discount had a huge array of paper products, everything costing $1.00 each. Since birthdays are coming up for people I care about, I headed down the gift aisle for wrapping paper and cards.

That was when the balloon trees nailed me.

Actually, the courtship began as soon as I walked in. Balloon trees filled with bright reds, silver, and Valentine messages swarmed toward me. The individual balloons there, plenty of them at that, didn’t tempt me so much, but they might have if the balloon trees hadn’t overwhelmed me. There were so many, they literally ran wild. Even the storekeeper couldn’t contain them. Each tree boasts six smaller foil balloons, plus one large one. It could be a Valentine frog or bear. I went with the frog because of its pretty shade of green. Total: seven balloons for $8.00.

I had to sit my passenger seat flat to fit the balloons in the car. They threatened to break loose, so I shut the door fast. Later, after I’d gone to the supermarket and came back, I noticed balloon ribbons sticking out between the door and floorboard.

Why a balloon tree? Perhaps I am celebrating Alien Worlds, the book that I collaborated with Tom Johnson. Newly released, it will be available on Amazon in a few weeks. Maybe I was thinking of giving a couple to Mike for his birthday, and I will. Maybe it’s just because I love balloons so much and couldn’t resist the call of the wild.

City of Brother Death features zombie tales and horror fiction by Barbara Custer

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