Steps to Understand the Art of Writing and Publishing
By Cindy Sproles
Every profession has a learning curve. In the world of writing and publishing, it’s the lingo. When you attend a conference, authors throw initials and phrases like a pitcher at a ballgame. It’s “assumed” everyone knows and understands what they hear when, in fact, they do not. There are procedures, proposals, and queries, not to mention etiquette. At my first conference I spent the bulk of my time writing letters and words on my palm then searching for someone, pointing to my hand and asking, “What does this mean?”
This booklet is set up to help shine the light on some of the most common things a first-time writer needs to know. Here you will find a few basic guidelines to familiarize you with lingo, etiquette, and a few directions for formatting a proposal. We’ll talk about what to do with the fifteen valuable minutes in front of an agent/editor and what to expect. Keep in mind, the industry varies from year to year, so staying abreast of the industry by studying always behooves the writer.
As you glean through you’ll note some of the lingo is noted by abbreviation while others remain what they are…terms. Either way, every writer needs to know and understand these terms, so pay attention. Take notes. And if you have questions, drop an email to a writing mentor or friend, attend writers’ conferences, read popular industry magazines and blogs, and stay connected by utilizing writing groups and email loops. The point is—learn.
If you don’t understand a term, ask someone. Most published authors are accessible via their websites and blogs and you’ll find an amazing number of well-versed writers who spend a good amount of time writing articles and blogs for your education. The information is available. Simply surf the Internet for reputable publishing magazines and writers who can supply you the answers you need. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Let’s Talk Critique/Writing Groups
Let’s begin with information on Critique/Writing Groups and their lingo. This language in itself can be confusing. However, once you see the method behind the madness, it becomes simple. Remember this… what you learn, share. Teach others so they might teach as well. Continue the cycle of helping one another so everyone has the opportunity to pen the words God has given them. There is room for us all and when you exhibit the example of Christ and share in love, God will bless you.
Critique groups are their own animal. They have their own language. Some things are distinctly unique to each group but all have the basics in common. We’ll run through the lingo first then we’ll discuss when to be part of a critique group and how to find the right one for you.
In critique groups the use of initials and abbreviations help sculpt the writer’s manuscript. All of the lingo does not require example or explanation to clarify, but those that do, have samples. Here are a few of the simple terms used.
*RUE—Resist the urge to explain.
Many times a writer will get a critique with these three letters scribbled next to a paragraph or sentence. Often, as new writers, we tend to feel our reader doesn’t “get” what we’re saying, thus we begin a long paragraph of explanation. It’s our own lack of confidence as a new writer to: 1) Believe in our own writing enough to assume the reader can understand what we’re saying; 2) Learn to hone our sentences to say what we mean.
Resisting the urge to over explain scenes makes the editing process easier. In order to fix RUE, ask yourself this question: Does this explanation move the story ahead? If it’s pertinent to the scene then leave it. If it’s you, the writer, trying to over explain an action or scene that can be made clearer in one or two sentences, then lose it.
Example of RUE:
Mary loved her sister. She never thought her sister, Susan, would ever understand why she was so afraid to sleep without the light. It was too painful to explain the nights that their uncle crept into the room and ran his hand up her nightgown. How could she possibly explain that to Susan? Books lined the shelves. She loved to read. Maybe she could read the incident into the story. Mary’s mother always told them stories. But how could she tell Susan how she crawled into the closet in hopes her uncle not find her? She shook in her bed, afraid to tell Susan not to shut off the light.
Ask the question: Does this paragraph move the story ahead? The answer is no. Not at this point. The author rabbit trails in three different directions that really have nothing to do with the issue at hand. The reader doesn’t need the deep details of the sexual abuse Mary endured or that Mary’s mother read stories to them. They simply need to know Mary didn’t think her sister would understand. In this case, we simply say what we mean.
The FIX for RUE:
The light glowed yellow, lighting the darkened room. Silhouettes of books lined the shelves. Memories. So many memories. Mary loved her sister, but in that deep love she wondered if Susan would understand the years of sexual abuse she’d suffered.
This gives the reader enough information to keep them involved. The writing is tighter and the point is clear. The details can be saved for a scene where they are warranted.
*GWS – Goes Without Saying
Another familiar critique group marking is GWS or Goes Without Saying. Writers easily fall into the GWS syndrome without realizing it but once you understand it, you’re aware and quickly find the flaws yourself.
The best way to describe GWS is in its simplest form. From this you’ll figure out the less obvious ones. The key word here is obvious. It is obvious to a reader that when a character stands, they stand UP. Or when a character sits, he or she sits DOWN. The same is true about a character who turns AROUND. When the verb accurately describes the action, there’s no need to add the preposition.
Example of GWS
John sat down. He looked around to see if Amy was nearby. He reached down to tie his shoe then walked over to the door.
The sentences above are loaded with examples of GWS. Now look at the fix.
John bent to tie his shoe. He scanned the room looking for Amy. Nothing. She was nowhere to be found so he walked to the door.
*POV – Point of View (Whose head are you in?)
Point of view, simply put, is whose head are you in? The reader sees the action through the eyes of the primary character in a chapter. Point of view can be told in three ways: first person, third person, omniscient.
The Christian Book Association prefers each chapter to be confined to one POV, though in secular books, readers will see “head hopping” (when the action is seen through multiple characters). This can be done but it’s usually left up to the more experienced writers. Most publishers would rather not see head hopping. Unless a writer is very experienced in using multiple POVs, the reader can become confused. Confused readers lead to boredom and boredom to unfinished books.
One easy way to help you stay in the primary character’s POV is to imagine that character looking through a camera lens. Everything that is seen through that lens by the character is in his POV. A character cannot see inside another character’s head. He can’t feel for another character, see through their eyes, or hear their thoughts.
Once you understand Point of View, it’s easy to see.
Taking an action such as “She thought,” and deepening the thought of the character.
She rubbed her palm against her forehead. Was this the end? Never.
Here we’ve taken a simple “she thought” and deepened the character’s point of view. This engages the reader, draws them in, and allows them to feel the character’s emotion and movement rather than being told.
*MOO (and no, it’s not a cow) – My Own Opinion
Many times critique partners will write MOO next to a line. It’s simply a suggestion… someone’s own opinion.
*WIP – Work in Progress
A writer’s current piece of work.
*MS – Manuscript
Simply an abbreviation for manuscript.
*TTW – Tighten the Writing
This is the place in the WIP that could be trimmed and tightened. Perhaps there’s some RUE there. (Are you catching on now?)
*FW – Filter Words.
Words such as that, thought, felt, just, realized. Hone the craft and learn to rephrase and leave them out, or offer deep point of view.
The person or force that is against the hero or main character of a story: A.K.A. The Bad Guy
Foreshadowing A technique that gives a subtle hint of an important event that will occur later in the story.
Backstory Everything that happened before your story begins.
Cliché A word or phrase that has become trite through repetition.
The reason your hero can’t have what he wants.
This is a start. Study and familiarize yourself with these terms. Make them part of your writing vocabulary. In Part Two, we’ll look at the Publishing Industry.