Go Teen Writers: Edit Your Novel

When you’re done with NaNoWriMo, you’re faced with the hardest but I think most rewarding part of writing–editing. This phase can make you want to tear your hair out or tear your manuscript up, but it will add magic to your prose if you stick to it. Go Teen Writers: Edit Your Novel by Stephanie Morrill and Jill Williamson provides all kinds of help through this crucial process.

Edit Your Novel is an inaccurate title because the books covers so much more than that. A little over half of the book concerns editing, both macro and micro. Don’t know what those words mean? Get the book because it will explain that macro- editing is revising the big issues, such as character development and theme. Micro-editing is all the tiny things that need taken care of, like knowing when to insert or remove commas.

One of the most helpful sections under micro-editing is the chapter on punctuation. Author Jill Williamson sets out the rules from how to punctuate dialogue to how to correctly type and use en-dashes and em-dashes. I would have loved to have had this handy guide earlier in my career

The other half of the book provides all kinds of advice on how to get published with chapters on how traditional publishing works, how to write a synopsis and a query, find a literary agent, and deal with rejection.

The extra chapters at the end are the kind of bonus material I love. There’s self-editing checklist, brainstorming ideas, and the authors’s list of weasel words and phrases, which are words and phrases each author falls into the habit of using over and over again in their first draft. “Just” is a particular weasel word of mine. When I edit, I have to find them and retain only the ones that actually serve a purpose.

For those of us who’ve found so much help in Go Teen Writers: Edit Your Novel or on the Go Teen Writer’s website, there’s good news. Go Teen Writers: Write Your Novel is coming out December 3! Be sure to pre-order a copy.

What books on editing do you recommend?

The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked Room Mysteries by Otto Penzler

Since I love mysteries, picking one to feature this month is so difficult. So I chose one book with a ton of mysteries, The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked Room Mysteries by Otto Penzler. The series of books under the Black Lizard banner is a great way to sample the best in mystery short fiction since the genre was created. I own four in the series, and Locked Room Mysteries is my favorite.

Locked room mysteries and impossible crimes are a subgenre of crime fiction as old as the genre itself. Edgar Allan Poe’s first published mystery short story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, is a locked room mystery and the first story in the collection. The sixty-eight stories are arranged in different categories, such as the seven “most popular and frequently reprinted impossible-crime stories of all time”, stabbing under impossible circumstances, people who disappear when they couldn’t possibly do so, and murdered bodies found without any way for the murderer to have reached or left the victim.

After reading so many of these stories, I’ve noticed a trend in locked room mysteries: an author either hits it out of the ballpark or fouls badly. There isn’t any room in the subgenre for an okay story. The explanation either works so well it astonishes readers or is so contrived it makes them groan.

Below are my favorite stories from this collection.

The Adventure of the Speckled Band by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

One of the best Sherlock Holmes stories. A young woman hires Holmes after her sister dies under mysterious circumstances, her last words being “The speckled band!”

The Doomdorf Mystery by Melville Davisson Post

This story features one of my favorite detectives Uncle Abner, a strong-minded, Christian cattleman, who lives in West Virginia before the Civil War. The Uncle Abner stories, written between 1911 and 1928 may be the first example of historical mysteries.

Uncle Abner accompanies Squire Randolph to confront Doomdorf, a man whose liquor is raising havoc in the area. When they arrive at his home, they find he’s been shot while locked in a room overlooking a cliff. The solution is one of the most imaginative I’ve ever read.

A Knife Between Brothers by Manly Wade Wellman

I enjoy this story because the setting is so unusual for its time. Written in 1947, the detective is David Return, a policeman and member of the Tsichah tribe. His grandfather is the senior policeman on the reservation. David goes to settle a dispute between two elderly brothers and finds one murdered. He knows the living brother wasn’t strong enough to commit the crime, but how was the man murdered in an isolated cabin?

The Twelfth Statue by Stanley Ellin

This is another story I liked because of the setting, a B-movie unit working in Italy in the 1960’s. Mean, greedy, lecherous movie producer Alexander File disappears from a movie studio near Rome one night. With no shortage of suspects, the Italian police get nowhere. The writer working on the movie is equally baffled until he watches the finished product.

The Problem of the Old Oak Tree by Edward D. Hoch

Edward D. Hoch was the master of the mystery short story. One of his detectives, who appears in this story, only solves impossible crimes. Dr. Sam Hawthorne practices medicine in a rural American town in the 1920’s through the 1940’s. A stunt man dies in a scene being filmed near the small town. He’s found strangled with a wire after jumping from an airplane. And there’s no way anyone could have strangled him after he left the plane.

The Locked Bathroom by H.R.F.Keating

This is a fun story. Shrewish Mrs. Marchpane is in the bathroom with her husband when he disappears from the shower. No one can explain the disappearance but the cleaning lady Mrs. Craggs, who figures out the Great Locked Bathroom Mystery isn’t that mysterious at all.

What locked room or impossible crime stories do you recommend?

Dove by Robin Lee Graham

It’s taken me a lot of years of denial, but I can now finally admit that I’m a romantic. But not in the contemporary sense of the word. Currently, romantic means anything to do with a couple falling in love. But I’m a romantic in the way it was defined in the nineteenth century. I love stories filled with adventure, introducing me to new lands and new people. I want ships that sail into unknown seas, mysterious maps that hint at lost civilizations, and heroes who believe in gallant action.

Dove by Robin Lee Graham with Derek L.T. Gill is a true story that’s romantic in both senses. It’s a tale of the youngest person to sail solo around the earth, and the story of how he met the young woman who would eventually become his wife. Although it isn’t the main theme of the story, Dove is also about how, bit by bit, Robin and his wife Patti embraced Christianity.

Robin Lee Graham left California in 1965 at sixteen and returned in 1970 at twenty-one, a husband and soon-to-be father. I’ve read two version of this story, The Boy Who Sailed Around the World Alone is the kids’ version. I enjoy it because the author gives an explanation of sailing terms and it has wonderful photos. Dove is for adults.

I love Dove for so many reasons. First, Robin describes his longing for the sea, something he shared with his father, and for a life different from what he experienced in suburban America. As his father wrote to his mother, explaining why they should allow their son to attempt this, “Lee is more interested in living than longevity.”

Second, the story brims with an exuberant freedom. The reason it took Robin five years to complete his journey was because he took his time, spending months in the countries he reached. He and Patti sailed wherever they wanted while exploring the islands of the South Pacific or the Caribbean, swimming wherever it looked interesting, eating whatever local foods they came across.

Third, he relates how he and his wife changed from pagans from California to Christians. One significant event in that journey was when Robin was caught in a terrible storm off the coast of Madagascar. After being awake for forty-eight hours in a storm that threatened to tear his boat apart, Robin prayed, with his arms clutching the tiller, “God or whoever you are, please help me.” At that moment, the storm began to die.

What true life stories do you recommend?

Write Your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell

Since tackling my Work In Progress novel, I wanted to understand the purpose and importance of the middle in storytelling. So I was pleased to find Write Your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell.

At 84 pages, the book certainly wastes no space in explaining how to create the middle point of your novel and then writing backwards and forwards from it. Mr. Bell begins by explaining this approach will work for Pam Pantser, Paul Plotter, and Tammy Tweener. The key is the Mirror Moment, and it really is a moment, which come in the middle of the story. The main character (MC) reflects on what kind of person he or she is.

To make this moment meaningful, the writer must write a backstory for the character in the first half of the story and a transformation in the last half. Mr. Bell states that the moment is key because it’s what the novel is “really all about”.

He gives examples of mirror moments from books, like A Christmas Carol, and movies, like Lethal Weapon, Sunset Boulevard, and Moonstruck. The author also goes into details about story structure, like the three-act structure, and the components that make up that act. He also provides ways to ignite inspiration in your writing.

My trouble with his approach is that while I plot out the action of my chapters, a few chapters at a time, I don’t really know what my story is about until I write a large chunk of it.

In my WIP, I included a mirror moment without giving it too much thought. Now that I’ve read this book, I’ve gone back to examine that scene and see how I can improve it.

One thing I’ve learned about myself as a writer is that it’s sometimes hard for me to incorporate advice until I run into a problem. Such as I couldn/t follow Mr. Bell’s advice until I was knee deep in the middle of my novel.

Do you recommend a book for how to tackle the middle of a story? What is it? I’d love to find more books on this topic.

Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherrilyn Kenyon

My theme for July is naming characters and places in our writing. I think it’s an art unto itself, and one I love to work in. I also think names are a critical component to making fiction seem real. J.R.R. Tolkien worked very hard at creating names for his fantasy characters. Names for elves do not sound like names for hobbits. That attention to detail is one of the reasons his books come alive to readers.

I’ve had The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherrilyn Kenyon for many years. The cover above is to the hardcover book I own, published in 1994. It’s proved an invaluable tool, listing male and female names for different languages, from Anglo-Saxon to Ukranian, along with their meanings. Ms. Kenyon also provides extremely helpful introductory chapters, concerning such subjects as how to choose names to fit particular genres and toponyms and resnyms.

What are toponyms and resnyms? Toponyms are names of places. Since I invented an 89th county in Ohio for my YA mysteries, I also have to invent the names of the towns, villages, roads, and geographical features in it. I live in the state, so doing research is easy. I need to choose names that would fit with real place names within the state. I came up with the name Marlin for the county because it sounds like Morgan, a real county in southeast Ohio. The Buckeye State has many place names that are English, Irish, Scottish, French, and Native American, so researching those trends should help me create believable toponyms

Resnyms are the names given to invented products or companies. For years, I’ve toyed with the idea of including a private detective agency in my mysteries and have always wanted to call it the Sentinel Corporation. I’ve imagined it as a national company, maybe a bit sinister. Sentinel sounds both protective and ominous to me.

The cover above is for the updated Kindle edition I have. This edition offers a greater variety of languages than the earlier edition, which focuses more on Europe. The Kindle version includes names from China, Cambodia, Thailand, and more.

I’m not the only member of my family who has found this books useful. My oldest has been reading it to find inspiration for an animal fantasy he’s writing.

Do you spend a lot of time creating names for characters and places in your stories? Why or why not?

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