Grade Your Chapters: Author ToolBox

It’s time for my March contribution to the #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop where dozens of authors post their thoughts on subjects of writing.  This month I discuss Grading Your Chapters. Slide1

I tend to write short chapters that shift by venue, time or maybe point of view.  My 325-page novels may have 40 or more chapters.  I find shorter chapters help the story progress rapidly and give readers a sense of achievement as they move through the novel.

After finishing a first draft and before I turn the manuscript over to Claudia (my editor), I read the book end to end to get a feel for continuity and flow, grading each chapter (1-poor to 5-excellent).  I’ll then return to focus on those chapters rated the lowest, but will eventually work to improve each of them.

The questions I ask as I grade the chapters include:

  • Does the first paragraph(s) grab you, pulling you forward?
  • Is anything new presented to the reader? If so, is it described or told as backdrop?
  • If new characters are introduced, are they compelling and needed for the plot?
  • Are there elements of intrigue, danger, excitement, or mystery? If not, what purpose does the chapter serve?
  • Does the end of the chapter leave the reader wanting more or does it just fall off?

One additional editing step that can be done at this time is running each chapter through a writing editor like ProWritingAid, Grammarly, or AutoCrit.  There are many other editors, and I’m not suggesting which one is the best, although I’m most familiar with ProWritingAid.  The output of these tools is voluminous, and it’s eventually the author’s decision on which recommendations to use.

I will typically read and edit my manuscript several times before having Claudia mark it up, but this chapter focus is a bite-sized way for me to tackle the first major revisions.

Not all chapters can be spinetinglers, but having a multi-chapter lull in a book is difficult to overcome.  It might lead to the reader placing the book or e-reader on the nightstand, never to return.  Grading your chapters can find these lulls before your readers discover them.

To enjoy other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, click HERE. Happy blogging!

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You can read an award-winning short story from MOST MEN HERE.  Pour a cup of coffee and sit back.  It’s FREE and very few calories.

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Being Introverted – Does it Help Writers?

writer-1129708_960_720If you want to be a successful writer, does it help to be introverted?

The question begs asking. Writers spend hours and hours alone, accompanied only by their thoughts and keyboards. With the advent of the Internet and Google, many writers never venture from the seclusion of their desks, not even for research. Given this, it must help if you’re content being alone.While I could find no statistics on the subject, there is evidence to both support and counter this hypothesis.

Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Falkner gave a wild-eyed romance to writing. They are reported to have enjoyed an evening of drink and merriment on occasion, but I’d guess these accomplished authors are more the exception than the rule. Most writers I’ve talked to are more at home with a good book and a cozy fire than leaning on a bar and tossing back shots of whiskey. I surely am.

Many aspiring writers balance day jobs, families, and other responsibilities with their quest to write the next great novel. It’s likely these writers don’t consider themselves introverted, but if asked, it’s a safe bet many of them would welcome more time alone with their writing aspirations.

Not all writing is done in seclusion. Reporters, columnists, and research writers engage the world up close and personal, but even the success of these writers lies with their ability to find inspiration from within, often formalizing their findings alone.

Time and talent are necessary to produce a successful novel, but not sufficient. A writer finishing a brilliant novel is unlike a medical researcher who discovers a cure for a disease. While both may be comfortable in the lonely pursuit of their goal, it’s the writer who is faced with selling what he/she created.

Soliciting agents and publishers, arranging book signings, giving presentations to book clubs and a range of other activities face writers seeking to gain recognition. Not even well-known writers can turn their novels over to a publisher to sell. Publishers expect authors to be available for public appearances, not exactly something an introvert welcomes. Marketing can take introverted writers outside their comfort zone. Not being willing, or able, to market their books is one reason most new authors never sell more than a couple hundred copies.

So, if you want to be a successful writer, does it help to be introverted?

Like most professions, writing requires a balance of interests, traits and capabilities. While writers need to feel comfortable in seclusion with their thoughts, social interaction is required to be successful. The Internet, social media and self-publishing have created a sea of writers seeking success. No writer can rise to the surface sitting alone in his/her den with a cup of coffee. Although, like me, I suppose many wish they could.

Note: Public domain image downloaded from Pixabay

Which Edit is Final?


I’ve written on this subject before, but as I finalize GONE VIRAL, the third book in the Miles Stevens series, I’m once again immersed in revisions.

It can rightfully be stated that editing is the most important step in writing. When I finish the first draft of a novel or short story, I find little reason to light up cigars or start knocking back shots of bourbon. In fact, the weeks and months that follow are the toughest, but can be the most rewarding.

I’m not alone in this thinking. Acclaimed and aspiring writers agree editing is a necessary labor of the craft. Here are a few quotes I think capture the subject well:

“Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.” — Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette

“I’ve found the best way to revise your own work is to pretend that somebody else wrote it and then to rip the living shit out of it.” – Don Roff

“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” –Shannon Hale

Good editing is necessary but not sufficient to producing a successful novel. Editing can’t make a bad novel great, but done well, can make any novel better. As an aspiring writer, my goal is to improve my stories and novels through multi-step, focused editing.

What do I mean by multi-step, focused editing? It’s a process that has evolved over the years, and as a result, my recent books are probably better edited than my earlier novels. As a test, I recently submitted my collection of short stories, IT GOES ON, to the Writer’s Digest self-published book competition. The judges review and rate submitted books from 1 “needs improvement” to 5 “outstanding” in several areas. My book received high ratings in the areas of editing and formatting.

I now use a four-step edit process. My first edit after completing the draft is to read the manuscript end to end, looking mainly at the continuity and flow of the story. I focus on character and plot development, as well as ensure places, dates, names, etc. are consistent. If I see errors in grammar or overused words, I’ll fix them, but that isn’t my focus on this first pass.

I’m fortunate to be married to a former newspaper and magazine editor. I turn my manuscript over to Claudia for the second revision. The copy usually comes back to me dog-eared and bleeding red ink. Most of the grammar, spelling, overused words, and other inconsistencies are addressed in this step. Claudia also highlights areas that could use more action/interest, are too wordy, or just need to be cut. It’s not unusual for the first two edits to reduce the manuscript by 10% or more.

The third edit is done by reading the book aloud, usually with Claudia. Reading aloud helps test the dialogue for realism and also identifies segments that drag or need punching up. Surprisingly, or maybe not, omissions and errors are still found on this step.

Before hitting the self-publish button, or turning Advance Reviewer Copies over to readers, I will read my book one more time. I guess I might be considered a little OCD about editing, but most writers are.