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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Elizabeth King Humphrey, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. It’s a Words World

Photo | EKHumphrey

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For my editing, I generally use the Merriam-Webster’s or the American Heritage online dictionaries. My books collect more dust than they used to, which means I spend less time distracted by perusing nearby entries. My rate for learning new words has plummeted.
A few months ago, I bought myself a calendar with a word for each day. I hadn’t owned one in several years and this one became lost in a sock drawer until well into January, but that’s for another post.
In addition to writing, I figured I might find the calendar useful to challenge, in the words of the fictional detective Hercule Poirot, the “little gray cells.” (Granted, many online dictionaries provide some way to push out a word per day, but I like the tactile experience of a page to rip off.)
Without any space to write down appointments or accomplishments, I enjoy the daily calendar as a way to mark the passage of time and I’ve saved many of the words I’ve torn off. I keep a stack on my desk. When I have time, I flip through and try to learn some unfamiliar words, such as calenture, moiety and nyctalopia. I position the calendar where I can easily see it and I look forward to the task each day.
It is a gentle reminder to keep learning, while giving me a different challenge than writing, researching or reading gives. And, although there is no vocabulary quiz each week as happened in elementary school, I like to try to keep my word muscles exercising and stretching.
You never know when you’ll get to use trichotillomania (an abnormal desire to pull out one’s hair) in a sentence. Knowing how unique puissantis compared to power and potent, even though they share a common Latin parentage, can help when choosing the perfect word.
With the tens of thousands of words we learn as we grow, I’ve been amazed at how many words and definitions I’ve forgotten, misused or stopped using through the years.
As a writer, I know that words are my business. The calendar reminds me of that each and every day.

Do you try to keep your vocabulary growing? If so, how do you do it?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor. Her The Feminist Movement Today (Mason Crest, 2013) was recently selected for the Amelia Bloomer List.

0 Comments on It’s a Words World as of 3/16/2014 4:03:00 AM
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2. Try, Try and Try Again...

To answer some of the questions from my last Muffin post, I'm going to detail the roundabout way I developed a nonfiction book proposal.

One of the many Idiot's Guide books available on the
marketplace.  Photo credit | PGHumphrey
The seeds of my Idiot's Guide book that will be coming out in January 2014 were sown in 2008. Not only is that the year that I started eating gluten free, it was also the year I attended a writers' conference in Florida. It was a small group of writers with a good mix of agents and editors. (It has been held sporadically since then and 2008 was the only time I've gone.)

Because the conference was such an intimate gathering, I managed to speak with several editors and agents. I continued to follow up with several of the folks. One of the agents I was in contact with would intermittently float tantalizing subjects for which I would write a proposal.

The Idiot's Guide proposals are not for the faint of heart. At one time, I was working on a television project and developing an Idiot's Guide based on the concept. I researched my heart out, but did not get the book gig.  (The TV gig took me to Texas, but not into viewers' homes.) I tried another time, but lucked out. The subject of that book has been banished from my memory.

Try and try again...

Along the way, a friend submitted and wrote her own Idiot's Guide. This year, when I found out the publishers were looking for a gluten-free author, I figured I'd try again and I called my friend for advice. She asked me some smart marketing questions that really helped frame my approach.

I'm passionate about the subject of gluten-free eating, but I don't blog it and I've yet to pitch a magazine story around it. Another catch: the book calls for recipes. In all my bag of tricks, I have not yet learned to develop recipes. The agent paired me with an experienced Idiot's Guide writer who develops recipes.

Try, try, and try again...

I wrote a chapter, based on the agent's request and the Idiot's Guide information, built out a table of contents, and the rest of the proposal. My collaborator helped me find the tone for writing it and fleshed out a list of recipes. For a while it did not look like we would get the contract. When we did, I continued to pinch myself and tried to think what I'd done differently this time. I'm still trying to figure that out.

To answer some of the questions of readers from my last post:

  • I'm still in the author's review process and the editors have been approachable and easy to work with all along.
  • There is manuscript formatting throughout the writing that becomes second nature after the second chapter.
  • It has been a fantastic project and I'm really excited to see it in print, especially because it is a subject dear to my heart.
Penguin and the Idiot's Guide folks have put a lot of information on the Internet (some of which I linked to above). Take a look and jump in!

I'll keep answering questions, so keep asking them! For next time, research.

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor living in southeastern North Carolina. Besides working with words, she enjoys coaching writers and designing books. Recipe development to come!

3 Comments on Try, Try and Try Again..., last added: 9/7/2013
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3. Freelance Writing Opportunities: Market Interview with MediaShower.com

Visit the MediaShower website and you'll notice that "Content is King," according to them. (We understand that at WOW! Women on Writing!) MediaShower, which has some good success stories, started nearly two decades ago to provide great content to its clients, which enables their clients to get to the top page of results when someone searches Google. John Hargrave believes that although everyone wants to get to the top of Google results, great content and promotion is what will get the clients there. WOW asked him about what MediaShower is looking for in its freelance writers and what opportunities are available. John shared what the company is looking for and some of the company's success stories.

WOW: How did your company get its start and what's its mission, besides "Content is King"?  

John: One of our goals is to create the world's most powerful network of journalists and authors. While writers have had a difficult time over the past few years, we believe that power is slowly returning back to writers who work hard to build a following. Google is behind this change: it is gradually placing more importance on authors who have "citations," which means you have a Google+ page with plenty of followers, and you link all your writing to your Google+ page (and vice versa). These writers will be able to command much higher prices in the near future. At Media Shower, we educate and train our writers on how to take advantage of this power shift, which benefits both us and them.

WOW: What kind of content is Media Shower looking for from its writers? 

John: We write on every topic imaginable, so versatility is important. We always have plenty of work in the small business, personal finance, and insurance fields—especially from writers who are able to tackle those topics in a way that's interesting and fun to read.

WOW: Does Media Shower hire other editorial professionals?

John: Yes, we have a team of world-class editors who serve two roles: they come up with story ideas for our writers, and they edit and deliver the final piece to the client.

WOW: Does Media Shower provide the assignments?

John: Yes. We also provide a style guide—the "Media Shower style"so it's easy for our writers to quickly grab an assignment from our website and get started. Highly motivated freelance writers thrive in our environment.

WOW: What kind of experience are you looking for from an applicant and does a writer need to know SEO?

John: First, we're looking for great writers—people who can really grab readers' attention and hook them. Because we produce so much great content, you need to be incredibly reliable at hitting deadlines. Being able to write on a wide variety of subjects is helpful. While SEO knowledge is not required, you do need to know how to write for the Web—it's difficult to train print journalists with no Web experience. More information, and signup form, at http://mediashower.com/content?Action=WriterApp

WOW: When Media Shower is looking for a multimedia article, what does that mean?  

John: We pride ourselves in delivering beautiful content, so all of our articles come with photos included. We have several sources that writers can use to find these photos; it takes only a few minutes at the end of an assignment.

WOW: Who are some of Media Shower's clients?

John: We work with the largest provider of personal finance software, the largest B2B website, one of the largest auto insurance providers, as well as many other clients (both small and large). Working with Media Shower is an opportunity to associate yourself with powerful brands.

WOW: And, of course, what is the pay rate for Media Shower? How often are writers paid?

John: Pay is variable, and we are very reliable on payment, which is monthly. We just released a new version of our writer website, which calculates our writer payments automatically, freeing them from the hassle of invoicing. Our goal is to eliminate the "overhead" of running a freelance writing business, so our folks can do what they do best—write!

WOW: Thank you, John, for your responses to our questions!

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor living in Wilmington, NC. She is a regular contributor to WOW! Women on Writing.

0 Comments on Freelance Writing Opportunities: Market Interview with MediaShower.com as of 2/3/2013 4:52:00 AM
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4. Choosing Your Language

Writing an airport crime novel? Know the lingo, but keep
your readers with you. | Credit: Elizabeth King Humphrey
When learning Spanish in my youth, I learned all the nubers, letters, colors, and so forth. As I grew older, I became fairly proficient at ordering beers in Mexican restaurants (and maybe a few other activities). Later, I moved to Europe and lived in a country where Spanish was not a very useful language.

In Prague, I worked in a law firm, an advertising firm, and a multinational news organization. English was not always the common, much less native, language in the office. Even worse, the language that folks often spoke was a specific language.

The language of their jobs.

When writing, you are trying to make your scenes as real and, at the same time, as approachable as possible. Police procedurals bring their readers into the action. But if the readers don't understand what is happening and what a phrase means, they are kept at an arm's length. Outside of the scene, not inside the scene, where you want your readers to be.

Even in fiction, you may find yourself having to learn about the language a character would speak in a law office or a nursery or an airport or a grocery store. To be authentic, understand that there's a good chance that gate change, for example, means different things ing different industries. I once worked in a large office where it was common to ask "Where do you sit?" Your office location communicated an unspoken understanding about you and the hierarchy of the office politics. But that's not the same in other offices where I worked.

Sometimes in our non-writing lives, we encounter people who don't understand something that is second-nature in our daily lives. How do you explain the phrase to someone without insulting the uninitiated? Think about that and apply that to your writing.

Don't forget, as you revise, to have a reader who is not involved in the same industry read your work to make sure such specific language is understood.

In your attempt to be authentic, don't lose a reader on the page. Bring them in and show you know your stuff.

Have you used specific language in your writing? How did you keep your readers with you? Have you read any writers who manage to keep you with them?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor living in Wilmington, North Carolina. Some days she speaks several languages, especially to her kids, and she's not sure how she'd translate.

2 Comments on Choosing Your Language, last added: 2/28/2013
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5. Clear the Clutter

Our cluttered refrigerator door.
Photo | Elizabeth K Humphrey
Clutter. Many of us have it. One area of clutter in my house is the refrigerator door. (Yes, to the left.)

Clutter can also appear in our writing.

This week, while editing a couple pieces of writing, I ran across clutter in sentences that made me think of my kids' refrigerator art. The work is all on display and we keep adding to it--proud of all the work and believing that it all needs to be displayed.

One sentence I ran across was something like this:

She walked quickly to a closet full of clothes and pulled a T-shirt from a shelf and a skirt from a wire hanger and dressed slowly then sat in the middle of the couch, laughing.


If I'm in the middle of a story, I want to see action. Isn't this action? There is movement--she's getting dressed, right? Isn't that enough? Well, I don't know about you, but I don't want to wade through all that action to get to the important action of the character's laughter.

Why do we need to work through a long sentence of walking, pulling, dressing, sitting, and laughing?

Often writers sense that the reader needs to "see" all the actions. Just like a parent needs to see all the art on the refrigerator. But when you try to show everything, you cover or avoid other elements that might be important.

Here are some tips to attack the clutter in your work:

  • Trim excess in your sentences: If you are in love with some of the work, tuck it away for later.
  • Determine what actions are essential to the plot: Is the action moving the story forward or is it treading water and not moving?
  • Read your work aloud: When you hear your story out loud, it helps you catch clutter in your sentences. You hear what is working and what's not.
  • Review how you tell a story to a friend: Which details do you include, which ones do you exclude? (Is the wire hanger really an essential element in the story?)

I'm spending the weekend clearing out some clutter. How about you?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor living in North Carolina. She plans some spring cleaning this weekend, at her keyboard and not in her closet or, ahem, her refrigerator door.

7 Comments on Clear the Clutter, last added: 4/7/2013
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6. Passive Sh-massive

Photo credit | Flickr: guy schmidt
In Who's (...oops!) Whose Grammar Book Is This Anyway? All the Grammar you Need to Succeed in Life, C. Edward Good wrote a chapter entitled "Word War III: Active vs. Passive."  Last week, I waged my own war against the passive voice. A client asked me to exorcise the passive voice from his manuscript.

If you've ever taken a writing course, you've heard that you need to always use the active voice, not passive voice. Is passive voice really so bad that we should strike it from all our writing?

No, not all, but the passive voice is, well, weaker (in many instances) than the active voice. Active certainly brings the reader into the story. But, in my experience, a writer can get into caught up in a scene and write in passive voice until the characters are no longer actively participating. Sure, we can all be lulled into a rhythm of using the passive voice and its hard to snap out of it.

That's where I entered this passive-voice manuscript, knowing that some passive voice is acceptable, but too much can wear down the reader. I was only being asked to tweak the author's use of passive voice. So, I tried a approach you may want to try. On a second reading, I used the "Find" function of Microsoft Word and went to work.I spent several hours massaging a manuscript to use a more active voice.

I searched for the trigger words you might look for when rooting out the passive voice. Those words include:
  • be
  • was
  • have
  • had, and so forth...

After I found the words that screamed PASSIVE VOICE, I read (and re-read) the sections. Then I started rewriting the sections. (Another common word in many passive sentences is "by." You may find that an easier word to search for.)

If you are wondering how much passive voice I cut, this may interest you. During a search of the manuscript, I found 1191 instances of "was" and after my second-pass edits, there were only 547 instances of the word. 

Are you a passive voice or active voice writer? Or both? How do you find and edit your passive voice?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor. She strives to be more active, but right now is feeling a bit passive.

7 Comments on Passive Sh-massive, last added: 4/8/2013
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7. Influential Teachers

An article in The Writer's Chronicle got me thinking about
a teacher. Credit: Elizabeth King Humphrey

Were you born a creative writer or were you taught to be a creative writer? I picked up a copy of the September issue of The Writer’s Chronicle, a publication for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs. It’s a publication I read often when I was getting my MFA in creative writing. One article immediately drew my attention: “Borges as Self: Toward Teaching Creative Writers” by Eric LeMay.

There is a line in the article, which I will paraphrase, that poses the question about whether creative writing can be taught or can students be taught to be creative writers. The article discusses various programs and what they may offer writers.

But when I read that, I didn’t look back on my master’s program. I didn’t reflect on an undergraduate poetry class with Kenneth Koch or a graduate workshop with Denise Gess (both incredibly passionate writers). I immediately thought of my high school English teachers.

And one in particular: Marilyn Griggs Riley.

To my knowledge (okay, to my memory!), she didn’t teach me anything about creative writing. I don’t remember the whys and wherefores of points of view or how to create suspense in a novel.

But Marilyn taught me a lot. She taught me about a love of writing. She opened a world of writing that I had never seen before—she wrote the introduction for poetry collections and, later in life, penned a collection of profiles of spunky Western women. Areas for writing that I hadn't considered before. Her enthusiasm didn’t teach me the craft of writing. Her Carol Channing hairstyle didn’t convince me to become a writer (or even influence my style choices).

Her enthusiasm helped me to discover writers I wanted to identify with—and could. Her passion and laughter and encouragement helped me to feel that writing—and being a writer—is an important skill/job/vocation/life.

We kept in touch even after I graduated and she remained a wonderful cheerleader and a fantastic teacher.

In my mind, writers can be taught. Writers can even be taught to be creative writers. But passion is a lot harder to come by. But when you have a teacher who is passionate and believes in you, you can become anything you want to be.

Including a writer.

I enjoyed LeMay's article because he made me think about those personal connections with teachers and their many influences throughout the years.

Do you have a teacher who helped move you to become a writer? Is there someone whose passion set you on the writerly path? Who was he or she?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor living in Wilmington, NC. Her kids just started back at school, so she is excited for a bit more free writing time. (Ha!)

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8. Where's the Plot?

My illustration is intentionally messy. Many writers would
give the middle-end a steeper slope. Credit: Elizabeth Humphrey

Now that school is back in session, I’m getting geared up to play editor-mom. That is, reading drafts of stories and reports, trying to be supportive without, well, rewriting the some of the work. I love reading the beginning stories, but it continues to astound me that we read countless stories to children, but if you ask them to tell you what happened in a story, the storyline seems bland or flat. The stories don’t seem to go anywhere.

Often the flat story is how the children process the stories, as well--even if the story involves a boy, his dog, kidnappings, and international spies. If I ask my children what happened in TinTin (the movie or the comic books), I may get the response about the cute dog and nothing about the story’s plot.

The plot of a story may be compelling, but it is not necessarily what we notice all the plot points as we learn about storytelling. (After all, when was the first time you diagrammed a novel’s plotline?)

As we develop as writers and readers, we start learning about plotting our stories. It helps us to discern what writers we like—fast-moving books generally have tightly written plots with conflicts that crackle from the pages. But even so, plots can still be a confusing muddle.

How do you plot a story? How do you ensure the plot points are strong and build to the middle and bring the story to a good conclusion? Take your time.

Often the stories our children tell—and ones that we attempt to write—are missing the dramatic question and the conflicts that advance a plot. The question and conflicts help to tease out what the story is really about and helps to answer the question: “So what?”

Work those out as you work with your draft. It’s not a one-time happening, but something that is massaged along your novel or short story’s journey.

Sure, the cute dog is important, but he’s vitally important because he and his actions help move the plot along.

Do you sketch out your plot points in an arc in the beginning, middle or end of writing your story's first draft?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor living in North Carolina. She enjoys using various colored pens to plot her novel’s storyline, but sometimes gets carried away and starts doodling instead.

2 Comments on Where's the Plot?, last added: 9/2/2012
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9. Tips for Editing Your Work

Some of my editing tools.
Photo | Elizabeth King Humphrey
Even though you're a strong writer, everyone suggests hiring an editor. But why can't you edit the book yourself? I have a friend who expressed that very question. Trust me, I'm not against self-editing. But my friend was amazed after I described all that was involved in the editing I do, for an example, for client's memoir. One element she didn't think I would have been concerned with was fact-checking. But that's just one of the many things that should be considered in the editing phase.

What are some of the things you might need to keep in mind when you are self-editing a piece of writing?

  1. Give yourself distance. Finished the draft Tuesday morning and editing starts Tuesday afternoon? Not quite. Allow yourself some time between finishing a draft and starting the edit. Your fresh eyes will more readily catch any possible errors.
  2. Ask questions before you start. Are there areas that you noticed in your draft that think might need some extra help? A place where you want to make sure less is more? Make note of those places and try to answer those questions as you edit, taking particular care for the plot points you feel need additional focus.
  3.  Stay close to your dictionary. You may have seen the word accomodate a million times and think you know how to spell it. But watch out! There are dozens of words that we think we've spelled right, but we may have just accommodated ourselves to the wrong spelling.
  4. Style guides are your friend. If you wish to self-edit, you should have some understanding of how style can impact your edit. The different style books can be your guide in learning how to treat numbers and punctuation.
  5. Weaving the storyline. You may not outline your work as you go along, but when you self-edit, you should take some time to sketch out the structure of the story. This can help ensure continuity of the plot and strengthen your work as you review your draft.
What do you want to know about self-editing? I'll answer some questions in future posts, so ask away!

Elizabeth King Humphrey received a certificate in editing from the University of Chicago's Graham School. She lives, writes, and edits in coastal North Carolina.

3 Comments on Tips for Editing Your Work, last added: 12/3/2012
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10. Self-editing: Where do I start?

Credit: Sidewalk Flying | Flickr
In my last post, I asked for questions about self-editing. Angela asked a great question about how to start self-editing on a novel she hasn't touched since 2005. What I would advise for tackling an edit after such a distance is:
  • More time. Okay, so not eight more years. But before reaching into the drawer to pull out the manuscript, I would take some time to think about what the novel is about. Not what you thought the novel was about so many years ago, but what you think the novel is about. As if you were recalling The Great Gatsby. Describe the main character and his or her motivations. What is the conflict in the novel? Sketch out a basic idea of the plot. Although you may not have touched your novel since 2005, I'm positive your brain has worked on it some, maybe even working through some of the plot issues. Capture that before you start editing.
  • Read it! I'd like to offer the advice to keep your pen down the first time you read through, but I find that difficult to do. To keep you from marking up or rewriting during the first go-round, promise yourself to only use a highlighter to indicate where you think there may be problems (punctuation or other difficulties). With a highlighter, you won't be able to change and rewrite like you might with a red pen. It will also allow you some fluid reading time. If you need to note something, do so on a notepad during your first reading. (This is something possible electronically, as well.)
  • Study your notes. Before you take up the red pen, study the notes you've made to determine if the plot or characters' motivations need adjusting. Note if there are any big picture changes you can make.
  • Start editing! Keeping your notepad by your side, now you can start editing. Tackle one chapter or section at a time. Don't try to tackle the whole manuscript in one sitting as the frustration may force you to throw it back in the draw. During the edit, refer often to your notes and make more notes to keep the consistency throughout. Pay particular attention to the highlighted areas.
 As Angela mentioned, her voice will have certainly changed. Personally, the change is something that I would try to embrace. Yes, your grammar and punctuation may have shifted in the time since you last touched this novel--just make the changes without judging your earlier self. As much as possible, enjoy the editing process as you did writing the novel.

You're in a different place now. Take your novel there with you.

Do you have a self-editing question you would like answered? Just ask in the "Comments" section and I'll do my best to answer it in my next post.

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a North Carolina-based writer and editor. She earned her master's in creative writing from UNC Wilmington and her editing certificate from the University of Chicago, Graham School.

6 Comments on Self-editing: Where do I start?, last added: 12/14/2012
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11. Keeping track of your characters

Credit | Flickr Keyofnight
In graduate school for creative writing, I had a classmate who conceived of an elaborate way of track her characters. She combed consumer magazines clipping advertisements for furniture, perfume, and clothing that her characters would buy. In three-ring binders, she would carefully glue her characters' homes onto pages and pages.

When she returned to edit her work, she could review the pages and center herself in her characters' lives.

But what if you are, like I am, not as meticulous at tracking your character details? In Margo's question posted last week, she wondered what are some good ways to keep track of character details? I have a couple ways that I keep track, but they are generally not cut-and-paste and a three-ring binder.

First, I find that with my work, I like to start writing first. After I've written several pages, I backup and develop my characters' personalities outside of my story. Sometimes I'll take out an unlined piece of paper and sketch what I think my main characters look like. But mainly I will build out the characters by building their bio.

Some writers prefer doing this electronically (in a spreadsheet, for example). I prefer to write about my characters in a handmade spreadsheet on a piece of notebook paper. Pen to paper allows me to doodle and write in the margins--something I feel is more free flowing and creative.

What do I write down? Here are some suggestions to start with (some more obvious than others):
  1. Age (this will color a lot going forward)
  2. Eye and hair colors and other physical traits
  3. Education
  4. Favorite book or music
  5. Likes and dislikes (foods, movies, cars, clothes)
  6. Major motivation(s)
  7. Describe what is in his/her pocket/purse
 And if I'm editing and, as the author, had forgotten to create the spreadsheet, I will start the spreadsheet as I edit. As I find gaps in my descriptions of the characters, it becomes an exercise of filling in the blank. Such a system can also help to flesh out errors in the characters' descriptions when you find that the main character has blue eyes on page 10 and brown eyes on page 54.

What characteristics do you generally come up with first in your writing? 

Also, if you have a question about editing (or writing), ask in the comments section and I'll (try to) answer  you in my next post.

Elizabeth King Humphrey received her master's in creative writing from UNC Wilmington. One of her professors, Clyde Edgerton, has written some very colorful characters--check out his work if you haven't had a chance.

5 Comments on Keeping track of your characters, last added: 12/16/2012
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12. World First? Or Power to the People?

Sara asked a question after my last post: "Do you find developing characters immediately is typically the most effective, or is it sometimes equally effective to develop setting and then think about the kinds of people who would inhabit that setting?"

My first response is a simple: Yes. For some, it will be easier to develop the characters and flesh out their world around them; others (like me) find it easier to consider the setting in tandem with the characters.

Think about some of the fictional people you've read along the way. Now, try to move them into a different setting. For example, if you think of any of Jane Austen's heroines, you may be able to transport Emma to the 21st century, to 13th-century Paris, or to America, but would she still be Emma? While many stories are universal, their settings are often intertwined with their characters.

Characters or setting first? New York City, for example,
could play a major role in your character's life.
Credit | krishorvath81 @ Flickr
To me, the setting an author chooses informs many other choices she may make and often may be what the author considers first. The way I write my fiction, I consider the setting at the same time as fleshing out other characters. And yes, I may even consider the setting first and think of who might inhabit the setting.

But I find it difficult to write characters without considering settings first. If you don't consider the setting first, aren't you considering only a portion of who your characters are? And vice versa? You would need to know the setting well to know who would want to inhabit such settings, right?

Setting can become an additional character--if you were to set your story in New York City or Denver, where would you do it? A single woman living in the Brooklyn sets up a different message and cadence--sometimes subtly and sometimes blatantly--than a single woman in Denver. (I've been both, so have patience with me while this becomes randomly autobiographical.) Just consider: modes of transportation, homes, and what each woman chooses to do on a free afternoon.

When I lived in Brooklyn, I might take a subway from my third-floor walk-up to spend a day in Central Park (or if I didn't feel like the subway, walk to Prospect Park). But as a single woman in Denver, I might go with friends to Elitch's Amusement Park or for a hike in the mountains. In either place, my home might include roommates. Particularly in a long piece of fiction, the setting can play a large and important role.

In one of my manuscripts, I set the action in Europe. Many of the scenes are interwoven with elements that I found there and, therefore, I definitely needed to develop the setting along with the characters. The surroundings become actors within the action and interacting with the characters, in my opinion.

These are a few examples, but hopefully they illustrate that the setting should definitely be a consideration.

Sara, I hope I've answered your question! I'd love to know: Do you consider setting before, during, or after you develop your characters? Also, if you have a question, please leave it in the comments section and I'll do my best to answer it.

Elizabeth King Humphrey, who received her M.F.A. from UNC Wilmington,  writes and edits in North Carolina. She wishes you a wonderful--and word-filled--2013. 

1 Comments on World First? Or Power to the People?, last added: 12/30/2012
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13. Have You Found Your Writing Specialty?

My 1988 copy of Phyllis A. Whitney's
wonderful "Guide to Fiction Writing."
Credit | E. Humphrey
In the introduction to Guide to Fiction Writing, Phyllis A. Whitney writes that "When we start out as writers we need to explore our own talents. We can't possibly know where we will write most comfortably until we've followed various leads." Whitney writes that after writing about 300 short stories (with 100 published!) did she realize she needed "the book length to move around in did I begin to be happier as a writer." She continued to make a living writing, but had not found her specialty: romantic suspense.

As I finished one client's work during the holidays, I realized how much I enjoy writing. But I also realized I need to find my own specialty. The project was something I wanted to do well with...but it was difficulty for me to shine in its writing. This one particular client's assignment was painful for me and it made me start thinking about my writing as a whole.

Whitney begins he book by countering Joanne Greenberg's belief that "writers can be divided into two categories:  those who are 'venturesome' and those who are 'consistent.'" Whitney's romantic suspense fits both categories, which she believes helps to attract readers.

As the year progresses, I've vowed to become more devoted to my own writing and less to the client work that sucks the life from my writing. I've followed a lot of leads. I still love writing nonfiction. I have my eye on a work-in-progress novel. But perhaps this is my year for discovering my specialty. And maybe it isn't something I've tried yet.

What about you? Do you know what your writing specialty is? How long did it take you to discover it? How did you do it?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a North Carolina-based writer and editor. Still searching for a specialty, in 2012, Elizabeth completed a certificate in technical and professional writing.

3 Comments on Have You Found Your Writing Specialty?, last added: 1/17/2013
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14. Strange Dreams, Real Characters

Would your character walk alone on a beach on a foggy day?
Or is your character one who needs to be surrounded by
friends on a sunny day? Either communicates your
character to your reader. Credit: Flickr | kke227
I had a strange and vivid dream the other night. I had been placed in an elaborate setting and filled with all sorts of intricate details. The dream repeated throughout the night--I remember three distinct times the actors (for lack of a better term) appeared and reappeared.

Alongside a cast of various colleagues, a deceased superstar also made his appearance.

To say the least, it was very strange and I relayed the dream to a friend who knows the players, minus the superstar.

I expressed to her how believable and realistic it was as I gave her a rundown of the music that was playing and named these actors. I described what some of the people were doing and we laughed about how characteristic it was for Craig to refuse to participate in the dance that was taking place. In my dream, Craig would physically turn away from the others. As he does in real life. Another friend, Sue, insisted on organizing the merry band of my dream actors. She would wave her arms, as if trying to circulate the air, in an attempt to motivate these people. Trudy sat waiting for directions from others and would only participate if coaxed by another. Trudy stared at her hands in her lap, rarely glancing at others. (The names of these friends have been changed. It's the least I can do when they end up in my dreams!)

Finally, I can explain why I feel this dream felt so important to my writing. Just as with writing, you want to bring depth to your characters. But you also want to signal to your reader--often through small actions, personality traits that have an impact on the other actors. Craig, Sue, and Trudy provided that. It is those actions (or something similar) I may use for one of my characters.

The specific actions or certain behaviors of these real folks had crystallized in my dream. The dream, even as extravagant as it was, seeped realism to me because these simple actions or reactions. I couldn't see all their movements or hear what they were saying, but they communicated a lot of their personality through these small, repeated actions. And this dream will probably inform my future writing. What about your dreams?

When you are writing your story, what small action details do you add and subtly repeat to communicate a larger picture to your reader? And, out of curiosity, have you ever had a celebrity appear in your dreams? If so, who?

Elizabeth King Humphrey writes and edits, when she is not having strange dreams. She lives in coastal North Carolina.

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15. 4 Tips on Hiring an Editor

Finding the Perfect Editor$ or How to Hire an Editor
 A potential client phoned the other day. I was excited when she told me she had several hundred pages for me to edit. We started to do the new-client dance and she was forthright about asking how much would I charge for editing her work. My response: it depends on your work and how much editing your writing may need or how much you want.

Unfortunately, she seemed to become frustrated as the conversation continued. The problem?

She knew that she wanted the draft edited quickly, but she didn't know what she wanted from me, the editor. Because I wasn't familiar with her writing, I wasn't able to propose what her writing needed. She knew she wanted to hire an editor.

Before we ended the discussion, I asked her to forward me several pages of her work so I could read her writing and then we could discuss what I could do for her.

That was four days ago and I'm still waiting.

So, based on my conversation with this potential client.... For writers who want to hire an editor, here are a few tips to consider when approaching a person to edit your writing:

  1. Know your writing. When you write, what areas do you avoid writing--dialogue? description? These clues suggest areas that might be considered weak in a draft. If you know what areas you may show some weaknesses, re-read those areas and determine if, indeed, those are areas that need work. If you suggest areas you don't feel comfortable with, your editor could help your writing by focusing and giving feedback on those areas.
  2. Know your timeline. If you need the edits back in a week, there may be enough time to respect your request. But your editor won't be able to answer the turn-around question before she has had a chance to look at (in the very least) a sample of the manuscript...if not the entire manuscript. She also needs to have an idea of the level of edit you need.
  3. Suggest what level of edit you are considering. When you bring a car to a mechanic, you have some idea what issue you would like addressed. (Substitute "mechanic" with dentist, grocer, lawyer, heart surgeon, counselor and so forth and you can see that if you consult a professional, you know why you are there.) If you're not sure, but know you need an editor from what readers mentioned, let the editor know. Have they provided comments? If so, are they commenting on problems of plot structure or punctuation problems? Do you know your weaknesses? Is this the fifth time someone has reviewed it or is is the first time the manuscript has been touched by other hands.
  4. Do you have a budget? Have you asked for a proposal? My mechanic repairs items we've discussed and he gives me an estimate before he starts the work. He consults me before making any additional (read: more expensive repairs). Discuss dollar amounts upfront with your potential editor and ask for an estimate that spells out the work agreed upon. One client explained that she knew that her piece had other issues, but she only wanted me to address the punctuation and grammar issues.While I made a couple suggestions outside of that realm, I only charged for the work for which I estimated (punctuation and grammar).
Can you think of other tips writers (and editors) should be aware of when entering into their working relationship? What ha

6 Comments on 4 Tips on Hiring an Editor, last added: 11/2/2011
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16. Forest or Trees?

One of my editing instructors at the University of Chicago, Graham School,  recommended How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One by Stanley Fish. I've scratched the surface of it and it already has started me thinking about our interactions with sentences.

Lately I've become conscious of my reading style. When I'm reading for pleasure/escape, I often read for a couple pages and realize my mind has strayed from the piece. If I feel like I've gotten the overall sense of the piece, I'll re-focus and keep reading. (Does this ever happen to you?) If I'm able to re-engage, then I generally can pick up the overall meaning--the forest--of the piece. (I tried to find another analogy, but the color of the fall leaves have been captivating!)

Forest, trees or leaves | PHOTO: P. Humphrey
If I re-engage in a piece and am swept away, I may return to what I missed. Over the weekend, while reading a book by one of my favorite novelists, I found myself reading more deliberately and fighting the urge to rush through it because it was so good.

My husband, who is not a writer or editor, practices the opposite to my reading habits. With each piece of writing, he feels he must truly engage in the reading. It seems that he luxuriates in the words he is reading. He is an amazing reader to have because he takes such care. He looks at each tree in the forest and sometimes I suspect he is looking at every leaf.

When I edit, I travel all over the forest, staring at trees and leaves. I do manage to slow down my reading and study the writing. I become more professorial, pulling out a magnifying glass (or reading glasses) and wading in, as if on an expedition.

At the end of the day, it's always a nice feeling to have ventured into the forest and spend some time with the trees.

How about you and your forest adventures? Are you a forest or tree type--or do you venture in and stare at the leaves?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a freelance writer and editor. After staring at trees, she plans to finish How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One.

2 Comments on Forest or Trees?, last added: 11/9/2011
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17. Re-Finding Inspiration

This weekend provided lots of time to be thankful--Thank you, WOW! and our wonderful readers!

The holiday weekend also gave me lots of time to clean up the house. It is the perfect procrastination technique and it impresses my in-laws. I don't know about you, but most of the time when I find myself in such a cleaning frenzy, it is because I'm trying to find something: missing car keys, important to-do lists, CDs, a favorite pen, the book I was just reading mere pages from the end?

My oldest took a look at the flurry of activity and wondered if I was hunting for the "Island of the Blue Dolphins," which she has just been assigned in school after reading (and re-reading) it two years ago.

A (very) worn library copy of "Island" covers a
great book for reading and writing inspiration.

"I let my friend borrow it last year and she says it hasn't found it even though she's cleaned up her room," my daughter said. (The room-cleaning habits of 10-year-old kids could fill a book, so I'll stop myself before I wander down that narrative path.)

Alas, no "Island" in all my cleaning and so a library trip now appears on a new to-do list...another piece of paper for me to lose. I did find my teacher's copy of Telling Stories: An Anthology for Writers, which is edited  by Joyce Carol Oates.

Telling Stories is a superb collection of great tales, grouped in eight wonderfully named sections, such as "Dramatic Monologues," "Re-Visions: Reappropriations," and "Genre: Horror." Her introduction will hasten many readers to stop reading, to drop the book, to run get a notebook and pen, to start to tell a story. In fact, she begs that we tell our stories because we all have a strong instinct to be storytellers.

I hadn't picked up the well-worn copy in nearly a decade and was amazed by my margin notes, underlining, and check marks throughout. I was also amazed I have apparently left some stories unread.  (Unread stories: another addition to the to-do list.)

I wish I could share more than just mere snippets here, maybe turning this into a psuedo-guest post by Joyce Carol Oates? Since she is so prolific, perhaps she might not notice? Nah. I wouldn't do that, but I will leave you with a sentence from her introduction that speaks to me and, I hope, to you:

"Every book, every story, every sentence we read is a part of our preparation for our own writing, so it's wise to choose our reading carefully, as an athlete trains carefully, as a musician practices at his or her instrument for hours and for years in pursuit of excellence, of fully realizing a talent."
Again, many thanks to our fantastic readers. Thank you for reading...now, go grab a pen and paper and start telling your stories.

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a North Carolina-based writer and editor. Follow her on Twitter @Eliz_Humphrey as she documents her reading of the short stories she missed reading in Telling Stories.

18. Returning to Pen and Paper

My inspiration seems muted. Or so it seems.

Has technology impacted your creativity?

 A few years ago, whenever I left my house, I made sure I had a notepad and a pen. My bedside table was stocked, my car's glove compartment had a stash. I kept a few stationery stores in  business buying notebooks.

Now I think that my inspiration is waiting for my writing life to catch up with it. All those story ideas from years past are just waiting for me to hurry up and finish writing them before handing me more material.

Except that isn't the issue. I can't find the last story idea I jotted down. My creative notes and notepads have vanished. And I blame my smartphone. (No, I don't think my smartphone had some nefarious plot to kidnap my smartphone....)

Believe me, I appreciate having a smartphone and make sure I have it whenever I leave home, but it sometimes feels as if I stopped writing down my writing ideas around the same time I started using a smartphone. It seemed too much to be carting around a notebook and, well, everything in my pocket. (I also used to carry around a camera for snapping photos for my blog.) Now, I've downsized my purse and carry just the basics. My back has appreciated it, but not my creative life (especially my lackluster blog!).

I know, I know. I should be able to jot down more notes and better organize them in my smartphone.

Except I don't want them organized because I won't be able to find them based on my own mental organizing hardware and I can't create the feeling of a "jot" on my smartphone. Perhaps there are applications for that, as there are for everything else for smartphones, I just haven't found the one. Not yet.

So, it's back to pen and paper for me. It's on my Christmas wish list. As is the hopes that I'll return to jotting down all sorts of good ideas. It only follows then that my top New Year's resolution is to write more in 2012.

Has technology helped or hurt your creative writing or your creative process? If so, what have you done about it?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor living in coastal North Carolina. Follow her @Eliz_Humphrey.

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19. Inches, Feet, or Miles?

When I wrote my first novel, it emerged from developing characters I'd created in a short story I had written. Initially, the kernel of the novel--the short story--was edited from the novel. Then, as I worked with my novel in my graduate workshop classes because I wanted to trim more from what I'd written, I wondered if my novel really wanted to be a novella.

Writing shouldn't be measured in inches, but
if the story gets told. Credit | Elizabeth King Humphrey
In writing, determining a length is important.

That seems like such a trite statement, but this week the length of a written piece has cropped up in conversation a lot. I sat in on a magazine writing class that discussed that readers like chunks of text: 500 words at a time. Length, length, length!

How long should my piece of writing be? Should it be an inch...or should I take a mile?

The answer that comes to mind is that a piece of writing should be as long as it needs to be, which is probably not very helpful if you are looking for a specific answer. Of course there are suggested guidelines for pieces of writing that help define the writing and publishers routinely provide word count guidelines.

So, call an 80,000-word piece a feature magazine article and it will certainly be re-classified as a novel. And a short-short is not even considered short if it comes in at 15,000 words. Even if you can write 200,000 words, you might want to make sure it is at least 50,000 to 80,000 words put together really well for it to be considered as a novel.

How can I figure out what the length will be?

1. Look at the structure of your story. Is the structure clear and does it serve your piece? Have you covered all the areas in the plot that you wanted to? Are you struggling to write more for the story?

2. Have you written just to add to the word count. If you are just adding filler, then re-think your story. You should write long enough for the story to be told. If you find yourself struggling to make it to the 50,000 word finish line, take a critical eye to the piece. If you overwrite a piece, will your reader miss the importance of what you are writing?

Last week, I took a red pen to a person's nonfiction work (at a professional request) and trimmed more than 1,500 words of a 3,000-word piece. I trimmed until I found the essence of the piece and brought that information to the forefront. Much of the other words prevented the reader from getting to the essential information. While the author could, at some point, add more information that information needs to support the structure of the piece.

My novel and I are still at an impasse as to whether it wants to be a novella or return to a short story, but I know one thing for sure. And I guess I will never be able to whittle this work down to a short-short or business card size, unless I sign with the right agent.

Elizabeth King Humphrey has a writing plan for her second novel and hopes to reach the story's end soon. Follow her @Eliz_Humphrey.

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20. He Said / She Says

Bud vase and seedlings--the he said/she says
of spring. Photo | Elizabeth King Humphrey
In our house, spring has sprung. Flowers adorn the bud vases, which had stood forlorn during winter. And my kids are learning about growing things by sprouting seeds for transplanting (foreground in the photo).

Oddly, spring also seems to be bringing out some verbal sparring--an endless supply of he said/she said arguments. Then it happened to me with another editor. Not the same kind of argument, but a discussion about attribution. I'm still unresolved from my discussion. Perhaps you can weigh in?

As many writers know, when your attributions (the said/shouted/whispered/bellowed part of the dialogue) melt into the dialogue and become a seamless part of a scene, the dialogue helps to strengthen the writing.

But when a writer uses a word (or words) that might cause her reader to trip (perhaps a "she bellowed belligerently"), the writer has ever so slightly taken the reader out of the illusion being created.

In fiction, it might work to have a little belligerent bellowing and, while I don't have a ready example, some writers manage the non-said attributions beautifully. But in nonfiction, it hardly seems the place to embellish the attribution.

So, what happens if the author chooses "says" instead of "said" for a nonfiction piece?

The flower in the bud vase and the pot growing the seed remind me a little of this discussion. One (the cut flower) is grown and has happened; the seedling is growing and is active. Both are useful, but one seems bursting with liveliness and possibilities.

In your attributions, are you the type who says, said, or belligerent bellows?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor living in North Carolina...where the dogwoods have started to bloom and the azaleas are already starting to peek out from their greenery.

4 Comments on He Said / She Says, last added: 3/11/2012
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21. Write for Your Audience--Not Your English Teacher

Most of the books we read aren't anything like what
we wrote in high school. Credit | Elizabeth Humphrey

This past week, I’ve been getting about a dozen articles edited and ready for publication. They are written by others and I’ve noticed some similarities among the majority of submissions. They were written as if the articles (stories conveying a beginning, middle, and end) are reports written for a high school English teacher (thesis, supporting points, conclusion).

Now, don’t get me wrong, reports for English teachers are important. Necessary, particularly if you are navigating your way through high school. But judging your audience for anything you are writing and there are few publications that many of us write for that are directed at our English teachers.

But three-part essays are the writing experiences many of us are used to before we launch into writing for magazines. We may read books and books that look nothing like a high school essay does and still we continue to replicate the form.

Here are some tips for your drafts to catch yourself if you tend to keep your drafts out of high school:

1. It starts during the planning stages. Scribble out an outline. Doesn’t have to be an “official” outline. Just something that can guide you through your story and help you keep track of the information. I often find that if you sketch something out, the informal structure can give your story’s flow a more informal feel.
2. Watch your language. If you need to look up every other word you are using, take a step back. You want your general audience to understand what you are saying. If you don’t, how will they?
3. Massage your transitions. I know when I’m trying to write a research paper, my transitions use a lot more of the “therefore” and “however” language. What are your transitions doing? Are they formal or more informal? I know when I’m reading a well-written article, written for a general audience, the language is straightforward and the transitions seem easier.
4. Provide a soft landing. Some articles deserve to bring the article back to the beginning to make a point. Others just need to end. Don’t try to force an ending that isn’t there for the story.
5. Re-read! Read your story back to yourself—out loud—and read it as your audience would. Not as your English teach might.

That’s it…no false ending. Now, get out there and write!

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer, teacher and editor living in North Carolina. And she had some of the best high school English teachers. Ever.

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22. Your Words Need Good Design

A well-marked document design book
this writer loves. | Elizabeth King Humphrey

I believe that my eyes are heavily involved in the tactileexperience of reading. Sure, I love to handle a new book or to upload a neweBook. There is that tactile. But my eyes want in on the game, too.

While the words definitely matters, keep in mind that the design of a book also matters.

 As a graduate student in creative writing, I insisted onalso taking a document design class. It was clear to me that regardless ofwhere my books ended up, I wanted them to be aesthetically pleasing. I want mywriting to use beautiful fonts. I want my future books to look good. (Yes, I do believe that you can judge a book's design by its cover.)

And I want to be able to explain that to whoever is spendingthe time to layout my book.

A few months ago, I was hired to copyedit. But one of theelements of copyediting often overlooked is the job of ensuring the manuscript's overall consistency.

I spent hours ensuring that there were the correct number ofspaces between a chapter heading and the first paragraph. I looked at samplesof previous publications to provide the correct bold or italics placement. I eradicated two spaces after each period, if necessary.

When the design works, you don’t notice it.  But when if fails, you probably notice it and itimpacts your enjoyment of the book. Your eyes catch the inconsistencies.

But design also helps by making books more inviting.

I checked a book out of the library recently. At home wealready owned two books dealing with the same subject. The library book wascolorful and the layout was accessible. The reason we hadn't consulted the other books was their layouts are flat. In the library book, the designer had festooned the pageswith illustrations that grounded me.

The book invited me into its pages. The words spoke to me. And my eyes were happy.

Look at your bookshelves, what books invite you into theirpages?

Elizabeth King Humphrey writes and edits in coastal NorthCarolina. Generally she loves reading books that are good AND have good design.

23. Reviewing the Building Blocks of Writing

Some of my favorite building blocks for reviewing building
blocks: Style, the guide to punctuation, The Chicago Manual
of Style
, Words into Type, and Garner's Modern American Usage
Among the other crazy things I’m planning for this June, I am taking a class on emerging technologies. I'm learning some basic coding--a heavy dose of HTML and a dollop of CSS. While I am starting to "get" looking at basic HTML coding and noting where a bracket or two is missing, I haven't quite learned the language fluently. But I’m able to recognize if there might be a missing piece.

At the same time, I'm designing a self-editing class and looking at elements I want to include in the course. Based on my HTML course, I think I’ve determined that returning to a review of our building blocks may be essential.

In my own writing, I will sometimes take shortcuts. And my grammar will suffer. (It’s like I’ve forgotten that I have a base for my language!)

When you write, you probably have fluidity because you use your (native) language skills in so many ways throughout any given day. But what happens if you are learning a new language for the first time or reviewing a foreign language you knew in high school? You return to the building blocks of the language and review what each means and, generally, review how the blocks fit together.

When you are editing your own work, do you slow down and really look that each sentence has a subject? What about an object? If you slow down to really look at your use of language--whether it's English, HTML or French—you should look at how each element of the sentence works to bring out the meaning you intended. Look at the building blocks to make sure they are there.

Often, as native speakers, we figure we’ve learned enough language skills and any mention of grammar makes our palms sweat. There are so many moving pieces to keep in mind. But I would encourage that every once in a while, you take a good look at the building blocks of language. Even a quick glance at an editing or grammar book can give your writing a boost. You might even learn a thing or two to improve your writing. Right now, I’m enjoying The Mentor Guide to Punctuation, which I picked up at a book sale. It helps me relax from learning HTML.

Do you have a favorite grammar book that you dip into regularly? What is one grammar problem you know you make, but do it anyway? What would you like to see in an editing class to help you improve your own writing?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor. She lives in North Carolina and frequently pulls out her blocks to play.

2 Comments on Reviewing the Building Blocks of Writing, last added: 6/3/2012
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24. The Very Visible Jeanne Ray's Latest Novel: Review and Giveaway

Jeanne Ray's been around long enough that Calling Invisible Women: A Novel might seem slightly autobiographical. Ray wrote her first novel at sixty-years-old and there is no stopping her now. Calling Invisible Women is Ray's fifth, after Julie and Romeo Get Lucky, Eat Cake, Step-Ball-Change, and her New York Times bestselling work Julie and Romeo.

Just like Ray, Clover Hobart is not willing to let a little bit of age—or, in Clover's case age and invisibility—get in her way to become a source of inspiration to those around her. Well, at first Clover is a little hesitant about her invisibility, but who wouldn't be? She's a fifty-ish mother of two who has been feeling a little invisible since she stopped being a reporter (she's downgraded now and simply writes the newspaper's gardening column) to take care of her family.

Besides the gardening column and figuring out how to re-use poinsettias, her unemployed son, Nick, has returned to the family nest and her doctor husband, Arthur, has a busy practice. This pair keeps Clover seemingly in domestic handcuffs. While Evie, her overly dramatic daughter, is busy at college until heartbreak hits and she, too, heads home.

Clover's story seems like an imperfect, everyday suburban tale. It's nothing out of the ordinary. Imperfect and ordinary, until Clover wakes up one morning and can't see herself. But Nick and Arthur don't seem to notice. For. Weeks. Gilda, Clover's next-door neighbor and best friend, and her mother-in-law notice, but then they always notice everything, don't they?

Clover can keep filing her newspaper column and keep the family running, even as an invisible person. Then, one day she notices a want ad "Calling Invisible Women" and Clover knows that she is not alone. And, although it is tricky to find another invisible woman, Clover manages to find them and Clover starts to learn how she ended up invisible. But they also teach Clover a more important lesson: how to live as an invisible woman. In turn, Clover's ability to deal with her invisibility helps to drive her to become more visible, in subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways.

Ray does a believable job of showing Clover among others—those who can see her and those who can't. As Clover becomes more comfortable in her invisible skin, she can take on all kinds of jobs and chores—even snooping on husbands or kids who might be up to no good.

Clover starts connecting and learning from the group of invisible women, which gives them all the support mechanism they need to re-enter society as teachers and nurses and reporters. Clover is challenged in many ways she never thought possible and along the way, she becomes a source of inspiration, albeit invisible.

Even if not familiar with Ray's other works, Calling Invisible Women is approachable. Sure, it's hard to imagine how the invisibility concept may work, in practice, Ray may have been smiling when she wrote it. But, yes, she brings her readers in on the jokes, which makes Calling Invisible Women a fun summer read.

10 Comments on The Very Visible Jeanne Ray's Latest Novel: Review and Giveaway, last added: 6/30/2012
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25. Enlivening the Page

D Sharon Pruitt | flickr.com
The first draft is done and you are ready to start revising. Sure, you've heard about using active verbs, but how do you review your manuscript to make your writing crackle on the page?

I once had an elementary school teacher who crossed out the word "very" whenever I used it in my writing. That is a word that gives me pause even today. It is now very unlikely that you will find that I've used very in a sentence.

One of the tricks I use in reviewing my writing to make it more active is to look for the words that end in -ly.
Here's an example:

Our protagonist is John and he is notorious for jingling his change in his pocket. It is one of his ticks that will arise when he's nervous.

He quietly walked down the street.

But what does that tell me about him? Not as much as it could. Walked is a bland verb. If we can snazz it up a little to really show our audience how he is moving and add the jingling...or not, this sentence can expand and bring the reader in.

Pull out the thesaurus. Really.

One of my favorite books is the Rodale's The Synonym Finder. This blog post on CoolTools gives a comparison of how many synonyms can be found using each thesaurus resource. Needless to say, Rodale's is the winner.

When we write, often we are trying to just get the flow and the words. But when you revise, take the time to find the perfect word that conveys the image you are looking for.

So, let's get back to John and his walking. Aren't there specific words that can tell us so much more about John? We all walk. John is your specific character and he has specific actions.

Rodale's has suggestions that are packed with all sorts of meanings that add dimension along with your character. Instead of walking will John
  • tiptoe
  • pace
  • stroll
  • stagger
  • slog
  • ramble
  • hike or 
  • march? 
 If he's not jingling his change, we know he's not nervous, so how do you suggest he walked, since we know he did it quietly?

What are your thoughts on revising to removing -ly words and finding synonyms to make your sentences crackle?

Elizabeth King Humphrey, a writer and editor, lives in Wilmington, N.C. She is always looking for good books on writing.

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