I’ve read good and bad about writing software over the years, and once considered such gadgets a handy way to flush your money down the sewer pipe. About a year ago writer Gregory Frost talked up Scrivener software, which enables you to edit writing and research at the same time. Scrivener works well, once you get through the learning curve, and comes with a reasonable price tag at about $40. I was all set to try it out, until I found out that only Mac computers accommodate it. Both of my computers have Windows. So I cursed in three languages, went back to my editing for Night to Dawn, and forgot about the whole thing.
My thoughts on software changed when arguments developed between me and blurred vision, particularly when I read long passages. I will reserve the matter of my vision for another blog, after I’ve seen the doctor, but I came to realize no writer can see his/her own mistakes. I’ve gone through work done by professional editors and found faulty passages. Do-it-yourself editing, even for editors, is like a physician performing surgery on a family member. Alas, a content editor can cost about $1000, and a proofreader about $400 for a novel. Not many of us have that kind of money lying around. I was grateful indeed that Ginger Johnson edited my Starship Invasions stories. Now I’m back to Steel Rose and my blurred vision. Then I stumbled on Autocrit software, recommended by Writer’s Digest.
I tried out sample passages and was pleased to see Autocrit weed out weak words. The free version will point out repetitive words and sentence variability. You have to pay to edit longer passages and to get the other types of editing. This I did, and was amazed at the repetitions it turned up and cliches too. The readability report offered limited value, since I write for adults, but it did turn up several run-on sentences. When I used words like “look,” “have,” and “was,” the substitution forced me to use more “show” to substitute for the “tell” verb. Ditto for the dialogue tags. I found myself cutting unnecessary words. The people managing Autocrit are fast to reply to technical questions.
You can flush out repetition with Word’s search-and-replace feature, but Autocrit color codes the errant words. Color codes work best for me.
There are several caveats. I don’t believe the sentence variability, pacing, and homonym sections offer much. It might for a first-time writer, but most experienced writers vary their sentence lengths instinctively. Autocrit won’t catch misspellings, and neither will Word’s spell check. Use your judgment for cliches and sentence readability; sometimes changing the passage can ruin it. Autocrit will not guarantee a sale, but it may improve the chance of your story finding a publisher. Caveats notwithstanding, I was glad I purchased the software.
Have you ever used Autocrit, Scrivener, or other writing software? Would you consider trying it? I’d like to hear about your experiences.
Yesterday, I learned about the evils of clutter when I purchased an outdoor trash can and attempted to load it into my Honda Fit. It looked so easy. Folding down the back seats would give plenty of room for my purchase, but so much stuff had congregated in the back seats and floor. Bending the trashcan wasn’t an option; I had to move all my stuff into the front seat. A Christopher Columbus expedition followed where I discovered books, throw rugs, pillows, magazines, tools, bags of old clothes, and more. All up, it took ½ hour to clear enough space for the trash can.
Then I got to thinking about the clutter in my stories and the way I try to jam my characters so that they’ll fit into the clutter, and then wonder why the story doesn’t make sense. In any novel, you have your central plot, with the subplots revolving around it. Let’s say a vampire flees his land and attempts to live among humans until his enemy catches up with him. Then you add subplots – perhaps the vampire falls in love with his neighbor, then he gets a night job, perhaps his enemy tries to steal his girlfriend. The clutter starts if you throw in werewolves, aliens, and a plethora of “walk-on” characters without duly preparing the reader for them. And whatever goes down, your character has to act true to his role. You can’t have someone with a phobia of heights climb the side of a building unless you’ve motivated and prepared him to do this way in advance. If your character prays in a monastery on one page, and then on the next, he commits a mass murder, you’ll lose your reader unless you’ve set up the story in a way that your reader might expect this.
At the last writer’s conference, a workshop leader gave me wise advice. Don’t just write a resume for your character. Take your character out to dinner. Watch TV with him at home. Bring him to work and family functions. Observe in your mind how he might interact with family members, what foods he might like, etc. Then let him tell you the story. This will help you avoid extraneous scenes that clutter your story, and the reader will keep turning the pages.
With the lessons at the conference and shopping trip in mind, I’m cleaning out the clutter from my present work in progress, and scolding myself in the process. That is my biggest challenge – the mess! It will take longer than ½ hour to clear it, but clear it I will.
What do you find most challenging about rewrites? Does clutter creep into your tales? How do you address it?
Some time ago Night to Dawn Books published Heroes of Ancient Greece, an anthology featuring Ralph E. Horner’s tale, “Atalanta.” I was pleasantly surprised and pleased to learn about his brainchild Tandem Tryst and forthcoming sequel. Also fascinating is his background in magic and balloon art. He has crafted every balloon animal you can imagine and now, he has brought his experiences with him into publishing and marketing. So let’s hear what Ralph has to say about Tandem Tryst and his upcoming sequel.
BARBARA: I’ve known that you’ve written short stories for some time, having published one in Heroes of Ancient Greece. What motivated your transition to novels?
RALPH: Actually I started writing novels first. I wrote three rather short novels between 1985 and 1995. They were about fifty-five to sixty-five thousands words, and during that time I did write one short Christmas story. Even though I was a bit discouraged after none of these novels got published, the concept of Tandem Tryst seemed better than the other stories I had written. That alone motivated me to continue writing it. I also decided that extending the story to eighty thousand words would make it easier to sell.
BARBARA: Could you tell me about balloon animals and magic? How do you garner publicity for your business?
RALPH: Every year I try to make four or five new balloon creations. I’m up to around one hundred now. I used the term make new balloons rather than learn because once you’re up to making twenty-five or thirty you start creating things that aren’t in balloon books. Figures like Angels, Frankenstein, the wolfman, fairies, etc. Also with magic, I learn a new trick or two a year and try to implement comedy into most of them. If you can get the kids laughing that really helps a magic show. I now teach balloon art and magic for children and adults at a local junior college. For advertising my business I use the area phone book which also gives you an on-line listing.
BARBARA: Do you find yourself bringing your experiences as a clown to the printed page? If yes, can you give an example?
RALPH: Outside of the fact that clowning and creative writing are both considered entertainment, they are very different. With my stories usually being series in nature, I don’t often use humor, but there are exceptions. In “Pandora Spoxx” from the Startling Stories Anthology, I used humor to color my Captain Danger and the Space Rangers story. I used a lot of puns and satire in that one. Even in my novel Tandem Tryst I occasionally wrote in a humorous situation and a little joke here and there, and when the two main characters are watching a vaudeville show, I wrote an entire comedy routine that could have taken place at that time.
The sequel Midnight Mist, which I’m working on now, has the most humor of any novel I’ve done. For the first time I’ve even written in a character who is a birthday party clown.
BARBARA: Where did you get your ideas for your characters and theme for Tandem Tryst?
RALPH: I was mowing the grass one day and the concept of the story came to me. What if my wife passed away suddenly and then years later I was somehow able to travel back in time and meet her soul in a previous life. And what if she looked, sounded, and acted as my wife did? This would be the ultimate blessing for someone who lost their soul-mate.
Tandem Tryst was originally going to be a third story in my Witch’s Moon trilogy I was writing. Since the first two novels took place in MA this one would too, and the time was to be 1893. When I told my mother about this new novel she mentioned that the time was the same as the World’s Columbian Exposition here in Chicago. I’d heard of that fair, but knew very little about it. Since I live in the Chicago area I changed the story to that location. I spent more time researching the history of the fair than I did writing the story. I was only in the third chapter when I saw the book The Devil in the White City being advertised in the Chicago Tribune. I knew I’d done the right thing by putting the story at the fair. Instead of having this novel as a third story of an unpublished trilogy I decided to make this a separate story. As far as the characters, they evolved as I wrote the novel.
BARBARA: I hear you’re working on a sequel, Midnight Mist. Could you give a preview of this tale?
RALPH: While my lead characters, Jeff and Melody, in Tandem Tryst solve the problems, like revealing the stalker, another dilemma opens up as Tandem Tryst comes to a close. I don’t want to say too much about Midnight Mist that might spoil Tandem Tryst for people who haven’t read it, but the sequel gives the first story closure for the two lovers. In the first story Jeff, who is from 1993, goes back in time to Melody’s time 1893 and in Midnight Mist, Melody comes to Jeff’s time with some new and existing problems.
BARBARA: Most writers find moving from short stories to novels a great leap. What do you find the most challenging about novel writing?
RALPH: Well, since I started with short novels, and novellas, I would say the hardest part about writing a full length novel is trying to incorporate side plots and keeping the word count up, if you’re not use to writing that long of a story. The thinking process is different for a novel.
BARBARA: What advice would you give an aspiring author trying to hone his or her technique?
RALPH: Join a writers’ support group. You have to have other writers evaluate your work. Writing has so many facets involved; plot, dialogue, narrative, good descriptions, a good writing style or voice, punctuation and the list goes on. Just when you think you have these attributes down your writers group will find another flaw for you to consider. Your writing can always improve. Sometimes the criticism of the group is painful, but it’s worth it if you want to improve and get published. If the people in your group don’t find your problems, the editors at the publishing houses will.
BARBARA: “Atalanta” enjoyed a favorable review. What motivated that tales, and how did the collaborating with Tom and the other contributors come about?
RALPH: I had two stories published through Tom’s magazine Classic Pulp Fiction Stories and we had done another anthology together. One day he emailed me asking if I could write a story about Atalanta the woman warrior from Greek Mythology. I had never heard of her, but told him I’d do some research and write one. Tom was planning an anthology of Ancient Greek Heroes and also contacted a mutual friend, Mike Black to help him with the writing. Tom wrote two stories; one with Hercules and one about Atalanta. Mike wrote a Hercules story and I did a second one with the Atalanta theme. It was a lot of fun writing in a new genre.
BARBARA: Where may people get copies of Tandem Tryst and Greek Heroes?
RALPH: Amazon.com has both of them. You can also buy Tandem Tryst from my publisher, Wings-press.com, or my website www.ralphehorner.weebly.com, and the book store at the Chicago Architecture Foundation where they conduct the White City bus tours, and at their on-line store www.architecture.org. I believe now you can also order it at Barnes and Nobel.
BARBARA: If you could give one piece of advice to an author trying to promote their books, what would it be?
RALPH: I’m still learning myself, but I’d say get a website, try to get on-line reviews and schedule book signings and readings to get your name out there.