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The writer’s editor: a project | Bothersome Words

Writer types! I’d still love to talk to you about a project I’m doing. All fields and genres; anything you think is missing from the services and processes already available.
Do you have any thoughts or wishes? If you could go to one place for all your writing/publishing support, needs, and questions, what would that place look like?

Writing Advice: by Chuck Palahniuk

In six seconds, you’ll hate me.
But in six months, you’ll be a better writer.

From this point forward—at least for the next half year—you may not use “thought” verbs. These include: Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you love to use.

The list should also include: Loves and Hates.
And it should include: Is and Has, but we’ll get to those later.

Until some time around Christmas, you can’t write: Kenny wondered if Monica didn’t like him going out at night…”

Instead, you’ll have to Un-pack that to something like: “The
mornings after Kenny had stayed out, beyond the last bus, until he’d had to bum a ride or pay for a cab and got home to find Monica faking sleep, faking because she never slept that quiet, those mornings, she’d only put her own cup of coffee in the microwave. Never his.”

Instead of characters knowing anything, you must now present the details that allow the reader to know them. Instead of a character wanting something, you must now describe the thing so that the reader wants it.

Instead of saying: “Adam knew Gwen liked him.” You’ll have to say: “Between classes, Gwen had always leaned on his locker when he’d go to open it. She’s roll her eyes and shove off with one foot, leaving a black-heel mark on the painted metal, but she also left the smell of her perfume. The combination lock would still be warm from her butt. And the next break, Gwen would be leaned there, again.”

In short, no more short-cuts. Only specific sensory detail: action, smell, taste, sound, and feeling.

Typically, writers use these “thought” verbs at the beginning of a paragraph (In this form, you can call them “Thesis Statements” and I’ll rail against those, later). In a way, they state the intention of the paragraph. And what follows, illustrates them.

For example:
“Brenda knew she’d never make the deadline. was backed up from the bridge, past the first eight or nine exits. Her cell phone battery was dead. At home, the dogs would need to go out, or there would be a mess to clean up. Plus, she’d promised to water the plants for her neighbor…”

Do you see how the opening “thesis statement” steals the thunder of what follows? Don’t do it.

If nothing else, cut the opening sentence and place it after all the others. Better yet, transplant it and change it to: Brenda would never make the deadline.

Thinking is abstract. Knowing and believing are intangible. Your story will always be stronger if you just show the physical actions and details of your characters and allow your reader to do the thinking and knowing. And loving and hating.

Don’t tell your reader: “Lisa hated Tom.”

Instead, make your case like a lawyer in court, detail by detail.

Present each piece of evidence. For example: “During roll call, in the breath after the teacher said Tom’s name, in that moment before he could answer, right then, Lisa would whisper-shout ‘Butt Wipe,’ just as Tom was saying, ‘Here’.”

One of the most-common mistakes that beginning writers make is leaving their characters alone. Writing, you may be alone. Reading, your audience may be alone. But your character should spend very, very little time alone. Because a solitary character starts thinking or worrying or wondering.

For example: Waiting for the bus, Mark started to worry about how long the trip would take…”

A better break-down might be: “The schedule said the bus would come by at noon, but Mark’s watch said it was already 11:57. You could see all the way down the road, as far as the Mall, and not see a bus. No doubt, the driver was parked at the turn-around, the far end of the line, taking a nap. The driver was kicked back, asleep, and Mark was going to be late. Or worse, the driver was drinking, and he’d pull up drunk and charge Mark seventy-five cents for death in a fiery traffic accident…”

A character alone must lapse into fantasy or memory, but even then you can’t use “thought” verbs or any of their abstract relatives.

Oh, and you can just forget about using the verbs forget and remember.

No more transitions such as: “Wanda remembered how Nelson used to brush her hair.”

Instead: “Back in their sophomore year, Nelson used to brush her hair with smooth, long strokes of his hand.”

Again, Un-pack. Don’t take short-cuts.

Better yet, get your character with another character, fast.
Get them together and get the action started. Let their actions and words show their thoughts. You—stay out of their heads.

And while you’re avoiding “thought” verbs, be very wary about using the bland verbs “is” and “have.”

For example:
“Ann’s eyes are blue.”

“Ann has blue eyes.”


“Ann coughed and waved one hand past her face, clearing the cigarette smoke from her eyes, blue eyes, before she smiled…”

Instead of bland “is” and “has” statements, try burying your details of what a character has or is, in actions or gestures. At its most basic, this is showing your story instead of telling it.

And forever after, once you’ve learned to Un-pack your characters, you’ll hate the lazy writer who settles for: “Jim sat beside the telephone, wondering why Amanda didn’t call.”

Please. For now, hate me all you want, but don’t use thought verbs. After Christmas, go crazy, but I’d bet money you won’t.


For this month’s homework, pick through your writing and circle every “thought” verb. Then, find some way to eliminate it. Kill it by Un-packing it.

Then, pick through some published fiction and do the same thing. Be ruthless.

“Marty imagined fish, jumping in the moonlight…”

“Nancy recalled the way the wine tasted…”

“Larry knew he was a dead man…”

Find them. After that, find a way to re-write them. Make them stronger.

Chuck Palahniuk (via oh-humberthumbert)

This is the only piece of “writing advice” that I’ve ever found to be unilaterally useful.

(via impostoradult)

(Source: redactedbeastie)


Jonathan Franzen once said that the more your protagonist resembles yourself, the less advisable it is to write in first person.

It sounds reasonable, but I defy this rule basically every day.

I mean, fuck him. He also says you can get any writing done if you have an internet…

Not sure that I agree with Franzen, but it’s an interesting thing to ponder. If nothing else, it reminds you to check as you go whether your character is reacting in a way true to you, the author, or themselves.

She grabbed my anus and positioned my body in the direction of the east gallery and we started walking.

Automated transcription gone awry. The Guardian, Scanner for ebook cannot tell its ‘arms’ from its ‘anus’.

Evidently, high-end scanners using Optical Character Recognition technology can’t tell heads or tail – or arms and anuses – when going through old-timey type. 

Takeaway: You still need a copyeditor to tell your arms from your anus. With all the news about robots writing our print, there’s something reassuring about that.

(via futurejournalismproject)

thesasswolfinitiative asked:

Hello! I don't want to be invasive so if you would prefer not to answer this I apologise and feel absolutely free to just ignore this, but I was hoping I could ask you about working on TV. I'm from Australia and plan on moving to London after my Honours to work in TV (hopefully writing eventually but I obviously realise this is a long term goal!) I was wondering if you could tell me how you got into the industry (the really beginner part of it - internships, running, etc) and any tips? Thanks!


I hope you don’t mind me answering this publicly! It’s possible that something in this rambling answer might help someone else too

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Valuable advice on getting started writing for TV.

I’m in a different industry, but a lot of this still relates. The *worst* advice I ever got was to hide my real interests and aim for a general or “popular” approach/appeal. I did so much better once I ignored that and, as carrionlaughing says - flew my nerd flag proudly and let my fangirl free.
Let people see your passions. It helps them understand you and you’ve a better shot at finding your perfect fit.




The writer’s editor: a project | Bothersome Words



I’ve always had the best working relationships with editors who are very experienced and who aren’t afraid of just digging in, with good reason of course. I don’t necessarily feel it’s important to have that much in common, in terms of genre, but they need to “get” my writing style and have an appreciation for that. I actually find having some distance in terms of genre can help to tighten up the story sometimes. I absolutely loathe editing though so I need someone who isn’t afraid to get in there and really go to town, and if something isn’t working, I need them to tell me that.

I’ve been very lucky to have had editors at uni who pushed me out of my comfort zone by delivering really well-considered critique and giving me options for expanding my frame of reference, ie reading new authors to see how they handled a situation etc. But the editor also has to be willing to let matters stand if we discussed it and I offered a good argument for it. I crave constructive criticism, that’s always worked for me. I guess the most important thing I look for in an editor is mutual respect and understanding. You both need to be very clear about your relationship and what you expect out of that.

Distance can be really helpful - an editor who is not familiar with a genre might pick up on things that seem obvious to people who know the tropes (for want of a better word). They can sometimes be more likely to notice when a particular aspect needs a more thorough explanation. It means they can help make sure readers who might be new to a genre aren’t alienated by assumed knowledge.

It’s important to work out what you’ll want from the edit though - if you want someone who can fact-check, or who can make sure your work adheres to certain genre-expectations (or challenges them!) it can be helpful to work with someone who does have knowledge and experience of your genre/topic. Otherwise you might find half your edit, and their time, is spent querying or researching things unnecessarily.

Though, again, sometimes really useful considerations can come out of this, so it’s not always a bad thing.


The writer’s editor: a project | Bothersome Words



Writers! What would

Thanks again!
Editors are very well aware of the trust involved in a writer handing over their heart work. I think it is always good if a writer can get a look at an editor’s portfolio and see what other things they’ve worked on. Ask lots of questions, so you can get a feel for personality and approach and, if it’s important to you that they like the same books etc - talk to them. You should work out pretty quickly if they’re on the same wavelength - or whether that will even matter. You may decide it doesn’t because they’re approach is a perfect fit anyway.

In terms of feedback, it’s never simple as “it’s boring”. A good editor should be able to explain why something doesn’t seem to be working for them and give you ideas for how to resolve this. Those ideas may be more or less specific, depending on how you, and your editor, work best.

The writer’s editor: a project | Bothersome Words




Writers! What would your perfect editor look like? I’m doing a research project, and I’d like to speak to you.

 Conversation online (here, or on the blog, or on Twitter) is welcome and encouraged. But if you’re heading to LonCon3, NineWorlds, FantasyCon or the Edinburgh International Book Festival later this year, I’d love to chat in person, too!

My perfect editor: someone who loves my work but is not afraid to say “we can make it work better IF” and then proceeds to list the reasons!

Bonus wants: editor may also love Rainbow Rowell, LM Montgomery, YA, and have a healthy appreciation for Lee Pace

I think that, especially in a freelance setting, it’s important for editors to tell writers what kind of editing they offer, and for writers to tell editors what kind of editing they are looking for. You say in the post linked to above that editing should not just be about correcting spelling mistakes etc. Well, substantive editing shouldn’t, no. But that’s pretty much all copy editing or line editing is for (fixing spelling and grammatical errors, and correcting to house style where applicable). So if you hired a copy editor to do a copy edit, there’s no point in criticizing them for not doing more than that. Communication is key here.

If I was looking for a substantive editor to help me edit a novel for publication, I’d look for someone who can and will edit for plot, characterization, and continuity. As you say in your post, I would want someone who will help me tell the story I want to tell, in the best way possible.

I would also very much appreciate questions or constructively phrased criticism rather than bluntly pointing out ‘errors’ - e.g. “Why did you do this?” as opposed to “This is wrong - take it out.” I say this not only in the interest of avoiding hurt feelings but also because, at this level of critique/editing, the line between an ‘error’ and a ‘stylistic choice’ is much less easily drawn.

I hope this is helpful!

Thanks so much for reblogging and replying!

(Advance apologies - my answer got a bit long)

I definitely agree that editors need to be clear about what they’re offering. It’s all about having a clear brief from the start and making sure that the writer (or publisher - whoever is hiring the editor) is getting exactly what they are asking for. Both sides need to understand and agree on what they expect from the edit.

As you say, this is especially important for a freelancer who may not only offer distinct services, but who may be working with writers who do not understand what sort of edit they need, or what it involves. It is also important to clarify with publishers, who might all have slightly different interpretations of edit levels.

Also, I have worked with publishers and authors from around the world and the USA, Australia, and to a lesser extent, the UK, do not all have the same expectations and understanding of each editing term. The editor needs to make it clear what they mean by a copy edit, or a line edit, or whatever, and to compare that against what their client is expecting. Again, as you say, this comes down to communication and making sure the brief is clear.

I did ramble on a bit in my original post! I fear my message may have got a little lost. I am not looking to redefine editing by any means. I do not mean to say that editing “should not” just be about correcting spelling and grammar etc. Indeed, sometimes that is precisely what someone is after and a lot of editors specialise in that kind of service. What I am looking to do is find out how the other abilities and knowledge many editors have can be best utilised.

I know that a lot of us are able to help with less obvious things, if only people knew they could ask. I am often asked in conversation for advice or guidance that doesn’t fit neatly into “copy edit” or “substantive edit”… which is why I am asking these questions of the world at large! This is less about changing the kind of edits people already offer, and more about seeing how such services could be broadened and adapted to offer extra information or support that writers need and want. This is also why I am interested in talking to writers and creators from other fields (fanfic, film, comics) - so I get some different ideas about what is possible and available…or missing.

For example, I often work with writers who self-publish and who have no idea what to expect from an edit - or what publishing will involve for them. Since they have never been locked into a traditional publishing system, they have no preconceived idea about what process they “ought” to be replicating, and can often be clearer about what they’d find helpful. Yet sometimes they also need someone who can give them the kind of feedback they would only otherwise receive from an agent or publisher.

Similarly, when I work with traditionally published authors they are able to articulate more clearly what they feel is missing when working with a publisher - either because there is a service they once enjoyed earlier in their career that is no longer offered, or because there is guidance and support they need that just isn’t available via their agent or publisher.

Not every editor will be able to step in and offer what an author wants; not every editor will want to. But editing is often misunderstood and I think there are ways for us to help.

Oh - and I couldn’t agree more about asking questions over black-and-white correcting. Style can trump rules and sometimes the key s to ask why a writing choice was made rather than assuming the choice was wrong.

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