Tag Archives: editing

Give me something, something I can read

I’ve got a long road trip and 10 days of no exercise allowed after a spot of surgery (it’s not a tumor!).

So I need things to read. You know, book-like substances, printed bits of dead trees.

And I want a honking pile of them.

Therefore, good people, my plea is simple. Sock it to me:

  • Nominate a popular book that’s actually horrible and I’ll bleed red all over the first page
  • Tell me your Favorite Book of All Time so I have something delicious to chew for hours
  • Hit me up on Twitter, gmail or the comment sections if you want to collaborate on an insanely creative and secret project
  • Give me a movie or music video you want dissected and taken apart, to see how it works like magic or smashes into the hard, heartless rock named Fail
  • If you’re not a nancypants who’ll wind up in therapy, ship me the first page of your WIP and I may ink it up and whip it back, because EDITING IS CRAZY FUN

Also: You’re right, that headline riffs on a Don Henley song. Here it is, live.

The Red Pen of Doom’s Greatest Hits Collection: 10 Epic Posts

  1. Epic Black Car deserves good owner; are you worthy?
  2. The Mother of All Query Letters
  3. Why every man MUST read a romance – and every woman a thriller
  4. The Red Pen of Doom impales FIFTY SHADES OF GREY
  5. The Twitter, it is NOT for selling books
  6. A BOWL OF WARM MILK AND MURDER
  7. 30 achy breaky Twitter mistakeys
  8. Writing secret: Light as air, strong as whiskey, cheap as dirt
  9. The Red Pen of Doom murders THE FOUNTAINHEAD by Ayn Rand
  10. Quirks and legs matter more than talent and perfection

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Photo by Suhyoon Cho

 

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that won some award and is represented by Jill Marr of the Dijkstra Literary Agency.

24 Comments

Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Fiction, Red Pen of Doom, Romances; also, novels with Fabio covers, Thrillers and mysteries

The Red Pen of Doom harpoons MOBY DICK by Herman Melville

MOBY DICK by Herman Melville

Now, this classic book is so ingrained in our culture that movies can get all deep and interesting simply by alluding to a metaphor–which is like a simile, only different–that refers to this doorstop of a book.

Like this: “Maybe I’m Ahab and he’s my white whale” uttered by Bruce Willis in DIE HARD 17: THE HAIR DYES HARDEST could change that movie from just another 120-minute shootout in a nursing home into a penetrating examination of the purpose or life, or lack thereof.

Does that make editing the first page of this thing any harder?

Not really. Bring it, Melville.

MOBY DICK

by Herman Melville

Call me Ishmael. (People have been riffing off it for so many years that those three words are invincible. Can’t touch this.) Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. (This second line is also good. It makes the narrator a smidge unreliable, which is always interesting, and gives him a motive that everybody can relate to: being poor and wanting to see the world.) It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. (On your third swing of the bat, Herman the Meville, you whiff. Nobody cares about other peoples’ spleens and such. Kiss those words goodbye.) Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul;, whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. (Whenever I read a ginormous sentence with five zillion semi-colons and commas, I reach for the red pen and turn it into a nice, short sentence with one comma.) This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. (Another semi-colon, but this is the last one that gets to live.) There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs–commerce surrounds it with her surf. (Hate this sentence. It’s like our friend was talking to us about an interesting story, then started reciting beat poetry. Rewrite follows.) The city of Manhattoes is belted with docks and ships, like an Indian isle is encircled by coral reefs. Right and left, the streets take you waterward.

Verdict:

The fact this book is a classic doesn’t mean page one is perfect.

Herman the Melville is wordy on this page and he only gets wordier later on in this book, where he stops the action entirely to devote entire chapters to lectures about whale tails and such.

There’s a lot of fluff to kill, and I was pretty gentle with the word slaying. You could kill more.

Compared to most first pages, though, he does a good job of setting things up. Ishmael wants to see the world and that means sailing, because he’s not rich. So we’re in for an adventure.

How could we improve this? More foreshadowing. Maybe he mentions a friend who’s a sailor, the one who told him stories that got him interested in a life at sea, and this friend just served on a whaling ship that limped into port after getting attacked by a big whale. A ghostly white one. But his friend was drinking a lot of rum and tends to make up stories…

Got a suggestion for a Page 1 that deserves the red pen? Hit me in the comments, the Twitter or secret emails.

The Red Pen of Doom’s Greatest Hits Collection: 10 Epic Posts

  1. Epic Black Car deserves good owner; are you worthy?
  2. The Mother of All Query Letters
  3. Why every man MUST read a romance – and every woman a thriller
  4. The Red Pen of Doom impales FIFTY SHADES OF GREY
  5. The Twitter, it is NOT for selling books
  6. A BOWL OF WARM MILK AND MURDER
  7. 30 achy breaky Twitter mistakeys
  8. Writing secret: Light as air, strong as whiskey, cheap as dirt
  9. The Red Pen of Doom murders THE FOUNTAINHEAD by Ayn Rand
  10. Quirks and legs matter more than talent and perfection

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that won some award and is represented by Jill Marr of the Dijkstra Literary Agency.

8 Comments

Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Fiction, Red Pen of Doom

Some of my favorite editors OF ALL TIME

Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. So come closer and listen to what I’ve learned from experience: Editors are a writer’s best friend.

Not when they’re patting you on the back, because anybody can butter you up.

They’re your best friend when they take a red pen and blast through your complicated writing pets, when they check your wildest instincts and find order out of the natural chaos that comes from banging on the keyboard to create anything of length and importance.

writing

The secret to writing is editing, and you can’t edit your own stuff. Not at first.

So it’s wrong to say that every writer needs an editor.

You need more than one, if you want to get serious about any sort of real writing.

It’s like building a house. As a writer, you’re trying to do it all: draft the blueprints like an architect, pour the foundation, frame it, plumb it, siding, drywall, flooring, cabinets, painting–the whole thing.

Every step is important. And getting the right editors is like hiring great subcontractors.

My bias is to think of structure first, because if the blueprints are bad, it doesn’t matter how pretty the carpentry is, and how great the writing is line by line.

This is why every professional architect hires an engineer to do the math and make sure the foundation is strong enough to hold up the house, that the roof won’t blow off and your beams are big enough to handle the load.

So you need different editors for different things. The best possible professional editor for the structure, the blueprints. Then beta readers to look over the whole thing another time, looking for medium-size problems. A line editor to smooth things out and make it all pretty, and finally a proof-reader to take a microscope to the entire thing and make it as flawless as possible.

That sounds like a lot, and most pro editors can wear different hats. But I’m going to argue for dividing it up, because when you’ve been staring at the same thing for weeks, or months, you stop seeing things. A fresh pair of eyes is always smart.

Even though I’ve always had editors, starting way back in college when I was putting out newspapers, there’s a natural inclination for writers to screw this up, to see using editors as some kind of sign of weakness. The thinking goes like this: “Hey, I have (1) a master’s degree in creative writing or (2) have been cashing checks as a journalist for years or (3) am far too talented to need the crutch of a professional editor, which is for wannabes who can’t write their way out of a paper sack if you handed them a sharpened pencil.”

I’d did editing wrong by having friends and family beta read, or asking fellow writers who yes, wrote for money, but cashed checks for doing something completely different.

And it was a waste of time.

Here’s how I learned my lesson, and no, I am not making this up: On a whim, I posted a silly ad to sell my beater Hyundai and romance authors somehow found my little blog that started from that. Pro editor Theresa Stevens got there somehow and I started talking to her, and on a whim I did her standard thing to edit the first 75 pages of a novel, the synopsis and query letter. I didn’t think anything of it and expected line edits. Dangling modifiers and such.

But she rocked.

I learned more, in the months of editing that entire novel, than I could’ve learned in ten years on my own. It’s like the difference between a pro baseball player trying to become a better hitter by spending six hours a day in batting practice, alone, versus one hour a day in hard practice with a world-class batting coach. I’d pick the batting coach, every time.

As somebody who used to lone-wolf it, let me say this: I was wrong.

And so on this Friendly Friday, I want to plant a big smooch on editors of the world, and encourage writers of all backgrounds and specialties to see editors in a different light. That having an editor isn’t a sign of weakness, but of strength. That it says you’re crazy serious about what you do and not afraid of working with the best of the best rather than a cheerleading squad of yes-men who think your 947-word epic about elves with lightsabers riding dragons is the best thing ever.

That it’s not about you, and doing whatever you want, but about making the finest product you can give to readers.

So I want to give a shout out to Theresa the Stevens, who has taught me much, and Rebecca Dickson, my uncensored female doppleganger, and to great beta readers and editors like Alexandria SzemanJulia Rachel BarrettAnna Davis, Mayumi, Donna — because just like a single person can’t be expected to build a beautiful house alone, a smart writer gets help and advice from the smartest people possible.

Find one of those smart people with a red pen.

Hire them, hug them, listen to them, buy them flowers when you succeed. But use them, if you’re serious. And if you’re not serious, hey, take up bowling or whatever.

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller (FREEDOM, ALASKA) that won some award (PNWA 2013). Represented by Jill Marr of the Dijkstra Literary Agency.

20 Comments

Filed under 6 Friendly Friday

Writing secret: all you need is CURIOSITY and SURPRISE

 

Whether you write novellas about fierce mermaids, magazine stories for Cosmo (insert your own joke here) or speeches about the Austrian school of economics for the IMF — whatever sort of writer you are, two things matter most.

Not correct grammar and spelling. Those things are assumed.

Not pretty paragraphs and sentences that sing. That’s word gravy, while we’re talking about the main course.

What matters most: making your readers curious, then surprising them.

The kitteh is surprised

Surprise Kitteh is surprised.

This is why the inverted pyramid is a terrible structure for any writer. (Click with your mousity mouse to read Why the Inverted Pyramid must DIE.)

The inverted pyramid grabs a heavy rock and smashes the skull of curiosity. Then it takes that same bloody rock and crushes all hope for any surprises.

How does it achieve this epic level of failure? By giving you the answers before you even know the questions. The payoffs have no setups.

Ways to make your audience curious

Create setups by raising interesting questions (a) about real people where there are (b) high public stakes or (c) high private stakes and (d) serious conflict.

WHAT happened? (mystery)

Debates about the past are about facts, and assigning blame.

  • Who really killed JFK?
  • Did aliens really land at Area 51?
  • What caused the Great Depression?

WHY did it happen? (whydunit)

This is often more interesting than the question of who did it.THE BUTLER ALWAYS DOES IT, so tell us why instead.

How do you CHOOSE between two goods or two evils?

Debates about the present are value choices.

Choosing between good and evil is simple and cartoonish. That’s why its for kids. Truly tough choices are between two good or two evils. Does believing in true justice mean setting a killer free? That sort of stuff. These things are deep. They’ll exercise your head.

What WILL happen? (thriller)

Evil cats are planning on taking over the world. Can they be stopped?

Evil cats are planning on taking over the world. Can they be stopped? Nah.

  • Can we stop these evil cats from taking over the earth BEFORE a giant comet destroys it?
  • What might happen if you brought dinosaurs back to life?
  • Will 5.93 gazillion pounds of TNT make a dead whale disappear from a beach — or will something else happen instead?

WHO will get together — or split up? (romance)

  • Will Matthew McConaughy get together with Kate Hudson already or do we have to suffer through all 120 minutes of this stinker?
  • Why is Tommy Lee Jones in some movie with Meryl Streep about lovey-dovey nonsense?
  • What specific drugs were involved when Hollywood executives decided that Sarah Jessica Parker was some kind of sex symbol? (I’m cheating here and inserting a mystery question about the past into a romance setup, and I should be punished by the Storytelling Gods but, to be completely honest, and to use more commas, which is usually against my religion, I JUST DON’T CARE)

What should you do about the FUTURE?

Debates about the future involve costs versus benefits.

  • As a promising high school athlete, should you let your studies suffer to chase the dream of playing in Major League Baseball, when there’s a greater chance of being hit by a logging truck than being drafted?
  • Should we try to go back to the gold standard, to make Ron Paul all happy as he shuffles off into retirement, or does destroying the global economy kinda put a damper on that whole idea?
  • Next year, should you sell all your possessions to build a zombie-proof bunker in Montana for a zombpocalypse that will never come but is fun to think about — or should you focus on that whole “driving to work and paying the bills” thing?

Ways to surprise your audience

It’s unfair to have things happen for no reason, like Anne Hathaway getting smooshed by a truck in ONE DAY.

Also cheating: letting people off the hook via deus ex machina, which is fancy Latin for “the sidekick shows up at the last minute to shoot the bad guy, right before the hero dies” (every action movie known to man) or “it was all a dream!” (an entire season of DALLAS) or “let’s bring in something we never told you about, then run away” (every sci-fi movie you’ve ever seen on cable).

Surprises shatter expectations and stereotypes. Did you expect the scientist handling the landing of Curiosity on Mars to be a young man rocking a mohawk? No. You expected a stereotypical nerdy McNerd, and bam, that little surprise turned Mohawk NASA man into a national phenom.

mohawk nasa scientist

Didn’t expect a NASA scientist to be cool enough to rock this mohawk, did you? SURPRISE.

A good surprise must reveal something:

  • a secret you hinted at before
  • how a person has changed after suffering and sacrificing
  • a subtle setup that they may have noticed, but will remember (PRESUMED INNOCENT does this better than Anything in the History of Stories)
  • how society has changed after suffering and sacrificing
  • a shocking decision (the hero gets what he wants but rejects it, an unhappy ending to a Hollywood movie OR a happy ending to a French existentialist movie, a romantic comedy that doesn’t feature an put-together and ambitious heroine with a loser man she fixes up)

Related posts:

Writers, we are doing it BACKWARDS

Evil storytelling tricks NO ONE SHOULD KNOW

Why critique groups MUST DIE

The secret truth about writing

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.

Google+

12 Comments

Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Fiction, Red Pen of Doom, Thrillers and mysteries

Amateur editors and readers: an achy breaky bad mistakey

Because amateurs — even well-meaning ones, with college degrees in Comparative English Literature or whatever — often create conversations JUST LIKE THIS.

This is why for anything truly important, go with somebody who edits for monies, full time, in that specific field.

Related:

The evil secret to ALL WRITING – editing is everything

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.

Google+

20 Comments

Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Fiction, Red Pen of Doom

Build your own Writing Monster (Part 2 of Why critique groups MUST DIE)

Conventional wisdom is conventionally wrong.

Nowhere is this more true than in the fields of writing, social media and publicity — three lands where tradition and mythology rule the day.

Those who haven’t read these posts should start here, so they don’t get all Confused, because this is really Part 2 of Why critique groups MUST DIE.

So: if people listen to this silly blog and (a) stop trying to use Twitter to sell books and (b) go all Michael Bay as they blow up old, obsolete critique groups, what should they do instead?

Get a team. Build your own Writing Monster.

Hopefully, better than one of these.

Now, this is the opposite of a critique group, which is typically people who live in the same area, have the same rough skill level and do essentially the same thing, whether it’s writing romances about Men in Kilts, epic fantasies about elves with lightsabers riding dragons or dark mysteries about haunted detectives who are allergic to razors and brush their teeth with bourbon.

That’s not a team. Those are your buddies, your clones.

Successful authors, actors, pro athletes and other public figures have a team full of world-class specialists: publicists to get free ink and airtime, marketers to sell widgets, trainers to make them look good if paparazzi shoot them on a beach in Maui, minions to handle the scheduling and correspondence, editors to edit their words and speechwriters to, I don’t know, write the speeches.

If you want to truly break through and be world-class at whatever you’re trying to do (punk rock, zombie movies, novels about undead orcs and the high school girls who love them), then you must at least PRETEND to do things in a world-class way.

A traditional critique group is like trying to win a Super Bowl against the Green Bay Packers with you as the quarterback and a collection of buddies who play flag football sometimes. If football is a foreign language, try this: the usual critique group is like playing a game of chess with a board full of the same piece: all pawns, all bishops or all knights. You need pawns and rooks, bishops and a queen, knights and a king. You need balance.

And if you’re competing against the best in the world, you can’t do it all yourself. That’s like playing the Super Bowl by yourself, or taking a lonely king into a match against the Bobby Fishers of the world.

Continue reading

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Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Fiction, Journalism, publicity and scandals, Red Pen of Doom, Speechwriting, The Twitter, the Book of Face and the Series of Tubes

Stretch your editing muscles

Proofing for boo-boos is easy. Line editing is tougher.

Structural editing is the toughest.

So let’s play around with a little flash fiction from Joey’s contest and see what we can do, first with a standard edit job, then with a different kind of big-picture spitballing.

Original flash fiction entry by Mayumi – 196 words

Stone stairs and the blood of Landstanders foolish enough to raise arms against him disappear beneath Fin’s boots, as every step takes him closer to the top of this tall, windowed tower, and to the girl trapped within.

“Wavewalker!” a guard warns, but he’s silenced by metal tines already streaked red; it’s the same for his partner beside. And up Fin runs, never stopping. His muscles ache, his lungs burn, but the door is just ahead, and suddenly he’s crying her name as his spear splinters the heavy wood:

“Cauda!”

He’s barely broken through when she rushes up, arms thrown around him. And though her eyes are wide and frightened, her voice drifts to him with such gentle love, like the dreamy sway of the coral among which they used to swim. “You came.”

Time is short – more Landstanders are surely already racing to reclaim their princess prize – but still he cups her face, so sea-pale and soft, and kisses her, for fear it will be the last thing he ever does.

He draws back at the taste of tears.

“There’s no way out,” she whispers.

The spear creaks in his fist. “There’s always a way.”

# # #

Comments:

Of all the entries, this one had the most action, which is probably why I liked it. Other stories mostly hinted at action to come, or actions in the past.

Edits: switched to past tense instead of present, fixed various things.

Edited version – 178 words

Blood on the stone stairs disappeared beneath Fin’s boots, every step taking him closer to the top of the tower and the girl trapped within.

A guard’s shout was cut off by a blade already streaked with red. And up Fin ran, never stopping. His muscles ached, his lungs burned, but the door was just ahead, and he cried her name as he spear splintered the heavy wood.

“Cauda!”

He’d barely broken through when she rushed to throw her arms around him. Though her eyes are wide and frightened, her voice drifted to him with such gentle love, like the dreamy sway of the coral among which they used to swim.

“You came,” she said.

Time was short – more soldiers were surely racing to reclaim their princess prize – but he cupped her face, so sea-pale and soft, and kissed her despite the fear it would be the last thing he ever did.

Fin drew back at the taste of her tears.

“There’s no way out,” she whispered.

The spear creaked in his fist.

“There is always a way.”

# # #

So, a typical editing job. Nothing fancy.

I’m more interested in the guts of a piece — short story or stump speech, HBO series or Hollywood blockbuster. What’s the structure, the setups and payoffs? How do things change?

So here’s another flash fiction entry. No line editing here. Let’s look at the bones and spitball some options.

# # #

I’ll never forgot that old, mossy stone porch. Johnny and I used to lie there after the dances, enjoying the smooth coldness of the stone against our sweaty skin, and talk about what we would do with a building like this if it were our home.

“First off,” he would say, “I’d kick all these damned people out!”

He used to love to make me laugh. I thought I couldn’t live without him. We were both 17, and it seemed like the perfect life lay before us. Everything in the world was perfect, if only for a moment.

That, was of course, before the booze took hold of him.

It’s hard to believe, only a few short years later, here I stand looking at that porch, with its glorious white columns, standing tall and proud, with the fadings of Johnny’s fists on my face. Oh how life changes so cruelly.

He will wake up soon, in the E.R., and wonder how he got there. He will yell and call out my name. The nurses will not know that “Jenny” means Jessica, because they will not know that in his drunken confusion he often mistakes his mistress for his wife.

# # #

Nice. I like it. There is a difference between the beginning (Love Story by Taylor Swift) and the end (Goodbye Earl by the Dixie Chicks).

How can we pump up the story without adding Michael Bay explosions, robots fighting and Megan Fox randomly running around in short-shorts?

Most of this piece is either remembering the past or predicting the future. So my first crazy idea is to make it all present tense, because there’s instantly more tension if it’s all happening now.

Let’s strip away the pretty words and look at the bones. Boil it all the way down. Right now, the original gets down to something like, “Wife plans revenge on cheaty McCheater.”

How can we change the structure to something happening now, and make it so memorable that it gets down to a sentence that makes your jaw drop. So, let’s spitball here. (Note: theese are not the words, but story / structure / outline.)

# # #

Jessica loves Johnny SOOOO much that she wants to marry him. They’re on a picnic at this amazing stone tower. It’s romantic, and yeah, she actually bought him a gold band and might ask him tonight, if it feels right. It’s a modern world. She wants to be married, and to him. And he seems super polite and nervous today, like he maybe is thinking the same thing. Her entire life could change tonight. It’s beautiful and perfect.

She’s decided to ask him. Why not? But he beats her to the punch. “Jessica, can we talk about us?”

She says, sort of quietly, “I’d like us to be forever.” But he’s starts talking about some new job, in some other city, and some girl named Jenny who he sort of slept with.

So when he stands up to awkwardly hug her goodbye, she sort of pushes him off the tower.

# # #

Now that can boil down to “You would not BELIEVE what happened last night” headline: Woman pushes cheating lover to his doom — on night she hoped to get engaged

Homework: Take a flash fiction entry — this one or one of the others from Joey’s contest – and spitball story edits. No line editing allowed. THAT IS CHEATING.

Pump up the setups and payoffs. Boost the difference between the beginning and the end. Then get it down to a four word headline that would make people snort coffee through their nose in disbelief.

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.

Google+

4 Comments

Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Fiction, Red Pen of Doom

Writers and editors: let’s make a deal

For anything Important, you need an editor. I’ve always had editors and wouldn’t think of living without them. The first post on this blog was The evil secret to ALL WRITING – editing is everything – that is not a coincidence.

However, for little things like silly blog posts, it’s eight separate flavors of crazysauce to (a) hire a professional editor, (b) read your blog posts aloud at a flipping critique group or (c) bug your brother / neighbor / best friend to proof blog posts before they go up. (Related post:  Why critique groups MUST DIE)

Also, pro editors / critique groups / friends and family will not have the Keanu Reeves code-monkey skills to hop into the Matrix and wrestle with WordPress.

So: let’s make a deal. A trade.

If you are good at the copy editing and proofing, and want to trade services, hit me in the comments or the Twitter (@speechwriterguy)

It doesn’t have to be “editing silly blog posts in exchange for editing silly blog posts.” I write speeches. For some reason, there aren’t 6.94 bazillion people who do that. If you’re giving a talk to a writing conference or whatever but have never worked with a speechwriter, IT IS USEFUL. A bucket of proofing for a speech is a good trade.

Also, if you are some kind of techno-guru code monkey who can make WordPress do insane tricks, let’s hop on over to Bartertown and make a deal, because the WordPress, it has some bugs that need squashing.

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.

Google+

13 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Red Pen of Doom, Speechwriting

Why critique groups MUST DIE

Every writer gets the notion — from college, from movies, from the Series of Tubes — that they should be in a critique group.

This notion is seven separate types of wrong.

It’s time for critique groups to go the way of the rotary phone — to make way for something better, faster and stronger.

Peoples of the interwebs: critique groups are obsolete

A critique group is useful for certain things:

(a) university professors who want students to break into groups and leave him alone for the next 45 minutes,

(b) writers who really, really like to read their work aloud,

(c) literary snobs who like to say silly pretentious things about the work of others, and

(d) happy writers who like to socialize with fellow writers and talk smack about the craft while drinking bourbon.

Sidenote: Yes, your particular critique group is wonderful, and you couldn’t live without it. No worries. I’m not driving to your house with the Anti-Critique Group Secret Police to disband it or anything. Also, your critique group’s amazing bylaws and secret handshakes mitigate all the typical disadvantages of plain old boring critique groups that are not nearly as awesome. 

Reason No. 1: Critique groups take far too much time

During college, sure, you’ve got time to sit in a group, read chapters aloud and debate what Susie really meant by having the protagonist drink a bottle of ketchup in Chapter 2.

Once you graduate from college, get a job, get married, buy a house and have little pookies, THERE IS NO TIME for this type of nonsense. Do I have three hours to drive to somebody’s house, listen to chapters read aloud, then talk about what I remember of those words and drive home? No. I have ten flipping minutes to write silly blog posts.

People who write for monies, full time, do not gather around a table to read their text aloud while fellow writers and editors listen carefully and ponder the words. It does not happen.

Reason No. 2: Editing as a group is dangerous and slow

Anything written by a committee will stink up the joint, right? Writing is a solitary act.

Editing is, too. You write a thing, then you give it to an editor.

Typically, there are different levels of editing: at a newspaper, you ship your text to the city editor, who gives it the first whack and focuses on the big picture. Later, the draft goes to the copy desk for a different type of editing, more of a polish and proofing.

Also, editing it best done on a keyboard, or with a red pen. Not out loud in a social group, where peer pressure and weird dynamics can screw up a draft in two seconds flat.

Reason No. 3: Critique groups can’t handle most things we write today

Short stories and novels. That’s what critique groups are really built to handle.

And they do a bad job on novels. Why? Because reading a novel in tiny chunks every week will (a) take forever and (b) turn the focus onto pretty words rather than structure and story. You need to see the entire airplane before you can say, with authority, whether it’ll fly or not. Peeking at tiny pieces of it all year doesn’t work.

Traditional critique groups are bullocks when it comes to editing blog posts, speeches, opeds, screenplays, newspaper stories, magazine features, obituaries and haikus. That’s right, haikus. YOU CAN’T HANDLE THEM.

Reason No. 4: Because I say so

That’s it.

I could put some bullets beneath here, if you want to make it official. Here you go:

  • Because
  • I
  • Say
  • So.

Let’s invent something new

Now, there is a place for some kind of thing that’s LIKE a critique group, except better, faster and stronger.

Everybody needs an editor. And the more important a thing is, the more you should hire a professional editor who actually does this stuff for a living. But for a whole bunch of things that we write — including silly blog posts — hiring a pro would be a waste of money and time.

So let’s invent a new Writing Monster that’s better, faster and stronger.

Better

The Writing Monster should be flexible, able to handle the editing of any kind of writing, whether it’s a little blog post, a speech, a short story or a screenplay.

It should also expose people to new ideas and new ways of looking at writing, and inspire us to rip the pages out of stupid pretentious books.

And it should expose us to different types of writers and editors, not just fellow writers who have the same exact skills and writerly prejudices.

Faster

The Writer Monster Thing should use this thing we call the Series of Tubes and travel at the speed of light rather than the Speed of Steve’s Subaru as you carpool to Jane’s house for the critique group and hope that she didn’t make that bean salad again.

Stronger

The Writing Monster should be strong and resilient, living in the cloud and forging connections with writers and editors anywhere, like the Borg‘s hive mind collective.

BTW: Resistance is futile.

The Writing Monster will NOT die because Steve moved to Idaho or Jane discovered that she hates Tyler’s novel and, to be honest, his stinking guts.

Also, the Writing Monster will focus more on short, important things like concepts, pitches and structure. Things that take up less than a page. (Kristen the Lamb is onto something with her Concept Critique Group idea.)

The alternative is spending every week for the next year dissecting Steve’s 125,000-word epic about vampire elves with lightsabers riding dinosaurs and Jane’s memoir about growing up on a potato farm in Idaho.

Now, I have the guts of an idea, and a burning desire to blow up critique groups in an explosion that will make Michael Bay jealous. But that’s a post for another day. So: shoot me your crazy ideas in the comment section.

Related posts:

Writing secret: Light as air, strong as whiskey, cheap as dirt

The evil secret to ALL WRITING – editing is everything

Everything they taught us about stories was WRONG

Why every man MUST read a romance – and every woman a thriller

Writers, we are doing it BACKWARDS

Evil storytelling tricks NO ONE SHOULD KNOW

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.

Google+

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Filed under Fiction, Red Pen of Doom

Seven days, seven categories — this is not a coincidence

Librarians are literary muffins of stud, who I admire. You all rock.

HOWEVER: the Dewey Decimal System is a little too complicated for me. There are a billion places to put books. Also, there are decimal points.

Conan the Librarian

Conan the Librarian is the protector of the Dewey Decimal System, but I am not a fan. Not when seven categories can cover EVERYTHING.

I can fit everything worth writing about into SEVEN categories of awesomesauce.

Seven days of the week, seven categories. This is not happenstance. It is meant to be. As an added bonus, there are no decimal points whatsoever.

Also not a coincidence: these are the seven major categories of this blog. All other things that I post will be sub-categories of the Big Important Things — unless I screwed up and the Gods of Javascript or whatever gave me stupid categories that I cannot change or delete without destroying the series of tubes.

Obviously, the most important shebang is Writing Secret Wednesday, which will get the most reliable posts.

I may happily skip Thursday, because Thor’s Day is a holiday for Swedes like me. You do not offend the god of thunder. But skipping Wednesday would be wrong, wrong, wrong.

If I post on other days of the week, I’ll stick with the proper categories, since my promise to America and the world is that you won’t land on this blog on a Friday only to find some giant random post about the character arcs on Desperate Housewives. (Note: that was what we call a joke. I will never write a word about Desperate Housewives, except for the words I just wrote, which are possibly a mistake, now that the googles will see those words and possibly send Desperate Housewives fans here by mistake. No. Please go away.)

Here you go: seven days, seven categories.

1) SURVIVAL SUNDAY

Because if you’re dead, you can’t read or write anything at all.

This category includes things like zombies, the apocalypse, guns, surviving the zombie apocalypse (with or without guns, your choice), fighting, MMA, jujitsu, krav maga (half because it’s simple, half because it’s brutally effective and half because I like how it sounds, thus giving it an extra half when everything else in the world only gets TWO halves) and doomsday preppers — plus making fun of WATERWORLD, the worst apocalyptic movie ever.

Sample post: Zombie movies are NOT standard horror movies

2) MUSIC VIDEO MONDAY

Because somebody has to play more music videos than MTV.

I often take a red pen to the actual lyrics of these songs, thus disqualifying entire genres (Swedish Death Metal, mumblecore, raging emo shouty-shouty stuff) from being featured on these pages. Because if I can’t understand what the singer is screaming then no, I’m not gonna write about it, even if the supposed lyrics are stuffed into the liner notes of SATAN’S BRIDE EATS YOUR SOUL.

However, it is completely fair game to post interesting music videos without lyrics at all, if people are doing something cool like a Metallica covers using cellos.

Sample post: ELECTRIC AVENUE, as interpreted by the Red Pen of Doom

3) TINSELTOWN TUESDAY

No matter what you write or read, you’re influenced by moving pictures, whether those pictures are (1) on a giant screen in humungous building where 20 cents worth of popcorn costs you $8.95 or (2) on a slightly smaller screen in your former garage, which was the only place in your house big enough to fit the 74” Samsung plasma 3d ultra-HD monstronsity.

We can learn many, many useful things from screenwriters (giant screen) and scriptwriters (Glowing Tube). Hear me know and believe me later in the week: whether you write speeches, novels about zombies or newspaper feature stories, you will be amazed at how useless books about your craft really are. I mean, beyond useless. The toughest thing is structure, not comma splices, compound modifiers and some author’s system that uses 3 x 5 index cards and such. STRUCTURE AND STORYTELLING ARE KING. And the best books on structure and storytelling are from Tinseltown.

So: go buy Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT and Robert McKee’s STORY. Then you’ll know the language I’m speaking on Tuesdays.

Sample post: Everything they taught us about stories was WRONG

4) WRITING SECRETS WEDNESDAY

This is the beating heart and soulful soul of The Red Pen of Doom.

Writing and editing. Speechwriting and storytelling.

Four sample posts, because this stuff is IMPORTANT AND FUN:

The evil secret to ALL WRITING – editing is everything

The Red Pen of Doom guts THE NOTEBOOK

Out of fairness, I destroy my favorite genre: thrillers

Romance novelists are secret, epic army of man boosters

5) RANDOM THURSDAY

Thor’s Day, right? The Norse God of Thunder would say, “Write about whatever you wish.”

That may include random videos of epic fails, or a post about whether or not we should ban Monday, a horrible day, thus giving us all 16.6 percent more weekends. IT IS A PLAN.

Sample post: Vicious alien beast battles round Earth vegetable

6) FRIENDLY FRIDAY

Guest posts. Links to amazing people you should follow on the Twitter.

Shout outs to writers, editors and funny people whose blogs you are required to visit. You know, that sort of thing. Nice posts, packed full of nicetude and friendliness. The series of tubes could use more friendliness, right? Because there is a surplus of grumpy trolls and wannabe Internet Tough Guys.

Sample post: Friendly Friday: Theresa Stevens, Glowing Mystical Being

7) MEDIA STRATEGY SATURDAY

Don’t you agree that social media means boring old mainstream media should curl up in a corner and die already? I mean, nobody needs old radio, TV and newspapers when you have the UNLIMITED POWER of Twitter-Facebook-Pinterest-LinkedIn-BlahBlahBlah.com — plus, as a secret weapon, all the loyal readers of your mom’s blog about knitting sweaters for poodles. You are invincible! Get on the phone today and hire the best architect in NYC  to start the blueprints of your  62,000-square-foot mansion with a movie theater, bowling alley and Olympic pool, because you will sell millions of books / albums / movie tickets once your latest tweet / blog post / promotional idea goes viral.

Yeah. Not so much.

I know a little about journalism, publicity, speechwriting and the whole social media thing. I HAVE DEGREES AND SUCH, and wrote 210+ posts for the NYT’s about.com as their expert on publicity. On certain special Saturdays, I will blow up conventional wisdom into itty bitty pieces, shaking your unshakeable faith in the magic of the series of tubes and making you rethink the whole idea of putting all of your eggs into that virtual basket. Social networking and media are useful, yes. But not all-powerful. Old media is not dead yet, young Skywalker – not yet.

So: this category includes Twitter, the Book of Face, social networking vs. social media (they are different) and all such things.

Also: journalism, publicity and scandals involving people who make FAR TOO MUCH MONEY.

Sample post: 11 brutally useful posts on publicity for writers

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.

Google+

9 Comments

Filed under 5 Random Thursday, Housekeeping