Revising, Uncategorized, Writing

Why You Might Want to Change That Repeated Word

I just finished a chapter-by-chapter repeated word search of my manuscript, and it was brutal. I started at the end of March and have been working on it diligently since then. That’s right–for six weeks! You may think that’s dedication, but I would never have had the patience for it if I hadn’t been participating in a weekly chapter swap with another writer.

I’m not sure how you would do this if you’re working in Word, but I described how I went about the actual process for Scrivener in an initial post titled Quick Tip: Check Frequently Used Words by Chapter. As I mentioned in that post, previously I searched the overall manuscript and spent about two weeks weeding out my crutch words. This process was so much more in-depth. It took me about three hours per chapter because I searched almost every word that appeared even twice in a chapter to ensure that it actually needed to be there twice. Often it did. I’m not by any means suggesting that you should only use a word once per chapter–heck, sometimes you need to use a word fifteen times in a chapter!–just that it’s worth the effort to examine every word and make sure you’re using the best word. Because as writers we all have a tendency to fall back on familiar words, and they may not be the words that are most appropriate for our characters or the particular scene.

Here are some reasons you might want to change a word, even if it only appears twice.

It shows up within two paragraphs, and it’s not for emphasis. This happened quite often in my chapters. A word I’d never have noticed otherwise (like “interrupt”) would appear in one paragraph and then again in the next. Particularly if it’s not that common of a word, it really stands out if you repeat it too close together, even if you aren’t using it the same way.

Two different characters use the same term, and it fits one voice better than the other. Think about the voice. Maybe it’s an innocuous enough word that both characters would say it, but perhaps there’s a stronger choice for one of them.

Characters are shrugging, sighing, laughing, nodding, etc., more than once. I check for beat words in an overall manuscript search, but they were thrown into sharper relief in a chapter search. It forced me to carefully observe each character’s movements within the chapter to ensure I wasn’t doubling up on them–or if I was, that it was purposeful.

It highlights a vague word/phrase that you could make more specific. I’m not sure how to best describe what I mean here, but I found that highlighting these commonly used words made me really think so that I’d dig deeper and improve on vague phrases. Often it was when a character used words/phrases like “something,” “what we’d done,” “thing,” “everything,” etc., in thoughts or dialogue. Sometimes those catch-all words were appropriate, but in other cases I needed to replace them with a more specific description. For my current manuscript, it was often a lot funnier for my characters to say something more specific. For example:

“You found us, and considering our history, I couldn’t tell you what had happened.”

Became:

“You found us, and considering our history, I couldn’t tell you we ran away because we’d lost our dead babysitter.”

You’ve used the exact same phrase more than once in the same chapter. Maybe I would have caught this in a broader manuscript search for common words, or maybe a CP/reader would have noticed it, but it definitely stood out when I was searching within a single chapter. Since I fast-draft, I generally write a scene and/or chapter within a day, so it’s not surprising an exact phrase would pop up more than once. And when you’re just reading through, it’s easy to skim over it if it’s a common phrase. By completing this concentrated chapter-by-chapter search, I’ve eliminated these types of brain blips :).

A WORD OF CAUTION: I always include this caution because it’s very important. When searching for and replacing commonly used words, it’s easy to get happy with the thesaurus and write out voice. So my next step after completing this process is to read through the whole manuscript again. I expect that I’ll change some of these words back to the original words I’d used, even if it results in some repeated words. Sometimes that’s necessary for voice. I recommend reading the manuscript aloud for a voice check, either reading it yourself or having the computer read it. I do both at some point while revising.

How detailed do you get checking for repeated words?

Character, Reading, Review, Uncategorized, Young Adult

YA Review: MY LADY JANE by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

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Me at the Tower of London in 2007. It’s a very dark place!

All you have to do is read the dedication to know this book is going to be awesome:

For everyone who knows there was enough room for Leonardo DiCaprio on that door.

And for England. We’re really sorry for what we’re about to do to your history.

Well, I’m not! Because then I wouldn’t have read this awesome revisionist history of Lady Jane Grey, the nine-day queen of England. Admittedly, before I read MY LADY JANE, I had only a passing memory that Lady Jane Grey existed (although I have been to the Tower of London, so I’d heard her story at some point). I’ve now thoroughly refreshed my memory after reading this delightful story. But I guess I should share the description for those of you who haven’t heard about it yet.

My Lady Jane by The Lady JaniesThe comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey. In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane is about to become the Queen of England.

 

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The way the authors revised history – The actual story of Lady Jane Grey, queen for nine days, is quite tragic. She was a victim of a power struggle and really didn’t have a chance. What’s interesting to me is how the authors took the central historical issue –religion–and turned it into a magical conflict. Because why shouldn’t Catholics and Protestants become Verities and Edians (animal shape shifters)? Obviously it’s not such a straightforward swap, but essentially that’s how they revised the history, and it’s completely brilliant!

2. The prologue – Yes, I love the prologue! Because it sets the stage for the story so perfectly. You know how the description above compares this story to The Princess Bride? It’s such a great comparison because the authors speak to the reader. From the very beginning, the reader is encouraged not to take it too seriously, and yet, even though you expect things can’t end well for the characters based on the actual history, you’re hoping they’re going to fix it.

3. The dialogue – I particularly love the banter between Jane and Gifford, but the dialogue throughout the book is excellent. Here’s an example from shortly after Jane has discovered her new husband Gifford is an Edian who transforms into a horse every day.

“No horse jokes,” he said.

“My lord, I apologize for the horse joke. If you put down the book–unharmed!–I will give you a carrot.”

He brandished the book at her. “Was that a horse joke?”

“Neigh.”

“Was that a horse joke?”

I almost gave humor it’s own separate point, but since you can see it in this point about the dialogue …

4. Edward – In the history books Edward dies young, leaves his crown to Jane (who becomes the tragic heroine and now gets a book named after her), one sister (Bloody Mary) takes over, and then his other sister (Elizabeth) becomes one of the best-known monarchs in British history. I like this version of Edward, a dying teenager who cares about his best friend, Jane, and has never known anything other than being a coddled king but would like to experience life if he could only get around his death sentence. I was rooting for him to escape the machinations of the court, but I wouldn’t dream of telling you whether he does :).

5. The romance – I was cautious about the romance considering the setup. Things did not look promising for our characters, but in the end I was very pleased with how the romance played out in this book. And that’s all I’ll say so as to avoid spoiling it.

Definitely pick up MY LADY JANE. And since I loved this book so much, I obviously need to read the other books these authors have written. Any recommendations on where to start?

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MMGM: RUBY REINVENTED by Ronni Arno

I can’t remember the last time I had two MMGMs in a row, but here we are! When I attended NESCBWI this spring, I met several middle grade writers, and I’m still working my way through the books I acquired. One of those books, RUBY REINVENTED, I picked up because I’d read a blog post by author Ronni Arno that included a blurb at the end. So blog tours definitely work! Also, the author herself is absolutely delightful.

Ruby Reinvented by Ronni ArnoWhen 12-year-old Ruby Miller learns that her BFFs are only friends with her because of her famous parents, she finds a place far from celebrity-crazy Hollywood–a Maine boarding school.

In her panic to distance herself from her star-studded folks, Ruby tells her new friends that she’s an orphan. She feels awful lying to her weird but wonderful roommate Summer (the first real friend Ruby has ever had), but not awful enough. In fact, now that nobody’s comparing her to her remarkable parents, Ruby can finally let her unique talents as a dress designer take center stage.

But when Ruby finds herself connecting with a boy who really did lose his parents, she’s torn between who she is and who she’s pretending to be. And with Parents’ Weekend approaching, she must find a way to keep her secret… without losing her new best friend, the trust of her first crush, and the chance to shine as the designer of her own fashion show.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. Ruby’s lie – Wait, you’re probably thinking, you love that she lies? Well, no, I don’t love that she lies. What I love is how this lie changes her. It’s awful that she lies, but the lie is what leads to her discovering what’s truly important–and it’s not completely what she expects it to be.

2. The parents – Anyone who’s been reading my blog knows I like to highlight parents, and I particularly like the two sets of parents featured in this book. First we have Ruby’s parents, who are mega-stars. They love Ruby but perhaps have as much to learn as she does. And then there are Summer’s parents, who give Ruby a glimpse of a different kind of family, without paparazzi and handlers. I like how both are handled in the book.

3. The crush – Ruby is so adorable with her crush on Connor, all mixed up with her guilt over not being honest with him. I really appreciated how they got to know each other and the resolution to their story.

4. The friendships – There’s a reason friendship is the focus of so many MG books. Many kids base their worth on their friendships at this age. Ruby certainly does at the beginning of the book. While that’s not healthy, it’s a new friend who helps Ruby see her own value and gain confidence in herself. By the end of the story, I had hope for Ruby’s future friendships and how she’ll view her place in them.

5. The fashion – I loved that Ruby was passionate about fashion and had learned how to create her own designs with her nanny, Ellie. As a side note, her relationship with Ellie was also very sweet. The descriptions of the dresses really came to life, and the way they fit into the overall story was perfect.

If you haven’t read RUBY REINVENTED, I recommend you pick it up!

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Check Out My Interview at Caffeinated Fiction!

Happy Thursday, everyone!

Last year I connected with author Laura L. Zimmerman after she visited my blog and we started up a dialogue via email. I love how blogging has expanded my writing community! A few weeks ago, Laura asked if she could interview me for her blog, and the post is live today. So, head over to Caffeinated Fiction to read about the first stories I ever wrote, my favorite book of all time, and a few other fun tidbits.

Thanks again, Laura, for having me!

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Remembering a Friend Lost Too Soon: Ashley Gammon

It’s not often I diverge from writing topics on the blog, but the unexpected death of a friend last Friday compels me to express my grief the best way I know how–with words.

I first met Ashley Gammon in 2006 when I interviewed her for a job at the public relations firm where I then worked. She was graduating from Mizzou, and her professionalism, bright spirit, and, of course, writing ability, impressed me. My boss agreed, and we hired her.

We were a small firm, so we worked in close quarters, and most days those of us in the younger generation ate lunch together. (I was the oldest of that group 🙂 ). In some situations, your co-workers just remain the people you work with and you never go any deeper, but that wasn’t the case in our office. Sure, we had surface discussions about the latest TV shows or which clients drove us crazy, but we talked about our lives and our dreams and what we hoped to achieve in the future. And when lunches weren’t enough, we had game nights. Ashley was usually on my husband’s team, and he claims they won more than my team, although I don’t remember it that way …

The point is that these girls became so much more to me than co-workers. When my son was born, they came to the hospital along with family and a few close friends to hold him. Which means Ashley was one of the first people to hold my newborn son. That’s more than someone I worked with. By the time my daughter was born, Ashley had moved to Washington, D.C., but she returned for another co-worker’s wedding (still more than co-workers!) and made a special point to come meet my daughter even though she was only in town a couple of days.

Ashley herself explained this friendship best in a 2009 Facebook post. I’d forgotten about it until someone commented on it again today. Titled “My Sweet 16,” the post listed sixteen things you might not know about Ashley. No. 15 was:

I wouldn’t trade the experience of [my first job] for the world. I met the most amazing women there that I consider my family.

Re-reading that about made me cry, especially as in tagging me she said some very nice things and also wanted me to know she edited the note at least 5 times. I could tell, Ashley :).

We mostly talked through Facebook during the years Ashley lived in Washington, D.C., so I was thrilled when she moved back to St. Louis to serve as PR director for the United Way. We set up a time for her to come over for lunch, and even though she wanted to watch her favorite Disney princess movie, “The Little Mermaid,” she let my daughter talk her into “Frozen” instead.

IMG_1556Ashley celebrated her 30th birthday last May, and that is the last picture I have with her. She’s the one in the center, while the girl on the left is our friend Alisha, who Ashley got us to hire, too, and was one of Ashley’s best friends. I wish our other friend Megan were in the picture, but she had already left when we took it. Anyway, I only saw Ashley one time after that, when Megan and I had lunch with her, along with my son, one day last August. We were supposed to plan another movie day–maybe to watch “The Little Mermaid” this time.

I can’t wrap my head around the fact that Ashley is gone, and I am just one person who knew her. Countless Facebook posts show how much she impacted people, from the casual acquaintance to the lifelong friend. And her impact extended beyond those she knew personally. After she left our agency, she chose work for causes she believed in, from the Obama campaign to her most recent work for the United Way. From a professional standpoint, I was so proud to see her excel.

My heart is breaking for her family. Her love for them was evident in nearly every conversation I had with her. She had a unique bond with her parents and clearly counted them among her best friends. When she sent me a slideshow of pictures from the rest of her 30th birthday festivities, her parents were right there with all of her friends. I loved that about her.

I debated whether I should post this, because I don’t want it to be about me. There are so many people who were closer to Ashley–her family, her group of best friends and long-time friends who knew her much longer and better than I did. I honor her memory in the best way I know how, and I continue to pray for those who knew her best and are grieving in ways I can’t even imagine. If you are someone who prays, I ask that you do the same.

But I also want Ashley’s family and close friends to know that when they are ready to hear the stories, here is another one. Ashley impacted me and my family. My husband remembers her infectious smile and loving heart. My son says, “Ashley was fun!” My daughter says, “Ashley was pretty!” And she’s right–Ashley was beautiful, inside and out.

I will miss Ashley. I cherish the time I spent with her and am so glad I knew her. I wish God hadn’t called her home, but I know that’s where she is.

And if you’re reading this, Ashley, I edited it at least five times.

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YA Review and Giveaway (2 signed books!): UNREMEMBERED by Jessica Brody

I finally got to read the last books I purchased during the Fierce Reads Tour back in October. I still have quite a reading backlog from the Scholastic Warehouse Sale and Christmas, but I couldn’t put these off anymore because the third book in Jessica Brody’s UNREMEMBERED series comes out at the end of February, and I want to give away the first two in plenty of time for the winner to read them before then. So, here’s the description for the first book:

UNREMEMBERED by Jessica BrodyWhen Freedom Airlines flight 121 went down over the Pacific Ocean, no one ever expected to find survivors. Which is why the sixteen-year-old girl discovered floating among the wreckage—alive—is making headlines across the globe.

Even more strange is that her body is miraculously unharmed and she has no memories of boarding the plane. She has no memories of her life before the crash. She has no memories period. No one knows how she survived. No one knows why she wasn’t on the passenger manifest. And no one can explain why her DNA and fingerprints can’t be found in a single database in the world.

Crippled by a world she doesn’t know, plagued by abilities she doesn’t understand, and haunted by a looming threat she can’t remember, Seraphina struggles to piece together her forgotten past and discover who she really is. But with every clue only comes more questions. And she’s running out of time to answer them.

Her only hope is a strangely alluring boy who claims to know her from before the crash. Who claims they were in love. But can she really trust him? And will he be able to protect her from the people who have been making her forget?

Here are the five things I loved most about this book:

1. The reveal – I had so many theories about who this girl was and how she ended up in the midst of the plane wreckage, and I didn’t come up with the right answer. When she discovers her true identity, the payoff is perfect. It was an “Oh!” moment without feeling like I should have figured it out on my own.

2. Cody – Cody is Seraphina’s foster brother, and I just loved his character. He–rather begrudgingly–teaches her so much about how the world works and endears himself in the process. He was only in about half of the book, but I’m hoping he’ll return in the others. (No, I don’t know yet, but I will finish reading the second book before I have to send it off to a winner.)

3. The definitions Seraphina doesn’t recognize many common terms, so she has to try and reconcile them with the definitions stored in her mind. These often result in funny and/or awkward definitions. Here’s an example.

“Mounted on the counter is the same kind of card-reading device that I saw at the supermarket yesterday. I point to it. ‘Why don’t you just use that?’ I ask, trying to be helpful.

“But once again, I’ve said the wrong thing. Cody groans as he hands the man two bills. ‘Because my parents won’t get me a credit card. No matter how many times I ask. But thanks for reminding me.’

“‘Credit card,’ I repeat, dissecting the words. ‘Credit: commendation or honor given for some action. Card: a rectangular piece of stiff paper.’

“The man behind the glass gives me an odd look as he hands Cody our tickets. Cody flashes him a hurried smile. ‘She’s from’–he grabs my arm and leads me away from the ticket counter as he mumbles–‘somewhere else. You’re like a small child,’ he tells me sharply. ‘You really don’t know anything.'”

4. Zen – Talk about a guy who will do anything for the girl he loves–this guy doesn’t give up, even when she has no idea who he is. There’s more I want to say here, but it would totally spoil the story, so yeah. Zen is the definition of persevering love.

5. Pacing – This book is a really quick read. The action keeps moving along from start to finish, pushed along by the urge to uncover the mystery behind Seraphina’s missing memories.

On to the giveaway! I have a signed paperback of UNREMEMBERED and a signed hardback of UNFORGOTTEN, plus some signed cards. I’m going to give the books away together, but if you don’t win the books and are interested in the signed book cards, let me know in the comments. Click on the Rafflecopter link below to enter. North America only, please. Good luck!

Rafflecopter Giveaway

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A Halloween Memory

DSCN4215A couple of days ago I received an email that said, “Guess who’s turning 87 on October 31?”, and my breath hitched a bit. Because she’s not. My grandma passed away in January. I immediately went in and deleted her birthday from my BirthdayAlarm account, but I didn’t really need the reminder anyway. Halloween loomed as a day that would be haunted by a new ghost this year–except not the creepy, get-under-your-skin kind. She’d never do that. Or maybe she would for a laugh … Anyway, for my whole life, Halloween has been Grandma’s birthday, and with the exception of the years I was away at college, I always saw my grandma on Halloween. So for the past couple of months, I’ve been thinking about how this Halloween would be different, and I know my family has, too.

I could be sad. I still miss her terribly. We used to visit her every week. I don’t know how many adults in their thirties can say their grandma is one of their best friends, but she was one of mine. She knew my writing dreams, and she was a constant source of encouragement. So, yes, I could be sad today. But she wouldn’t want that. She’d want me to celebrate. Heck, she’d want me to make a joke of it and sing something like “Ding, dong, the witch is dead.” If that sounds awful, it’s only because you didn’t know my grandma and her sense of humor. My other grandma once gave her a broom for her birthday, and she thought it was hilarious. She was the furthest you could get from a witch, but she had a lot of fun with her Halloween birthday.

So, I will, too. I’ll remember the times we had a Halloween birthday dinner and watched her and my grandpa pass out candy (he always counted how many trick-or-treaters came by). I’ll remember how even the last couple of years, when she wasn’t feeling well, she still wore something crazy to commemorate the day. Maybe I’ll even wear something a little crazy myself. And I’ll be thankful she’s dancing with angels today instead of stuck here in a failing body. Love you, Grandma!