Feedback For Fiction | Self-Evaluating Scene Endings and Novel Structure

Self-Evaluating Scene Endings and Novel Structure

Imagine sitting on a plane next to a man reading your novel. You watch him read. He gets to the end of a scene and quickly turns the page to the next scene. He does this for hours. You watch the entire time, thrilled that he just keeps reading. He doesn’t take a moment to talk to you, to eat, or to drink. The TV shows and movies aren’t enough to draw him away from your book.

Isn’t this what we all want?

Read More and find out how to create great scene endings at: Feedback For Fiction | Self-Evaluating Scene Endings and Novel Structure


Before You Submit: Dialogue, Narrative and Repetition

Do you have a draft of your novel or short story and are thinking of submitting to an agent, publisher or writing contest? My series called Before You Submit might help. This series contains hints and tips I’ve received from professionals in the publishing industry. Each week I’ll share a new tip.

This week I’ll write about Dialogue, Narrative and Repetition.

Combining dialogue and narrative is where style, or dare I say art, comes into your writing. 

We all know you don’t want to bore the reader with repetition, but sometimes it’s easy to do without even noticing. I tend to repeat something in narrative that I’ve already said in dialogue.

Here’s what the editor didn’t like in one of my manuscripts:

“You have a choice to make,” Sarah said. “You can walk away right now, or  I’ll call the cops and see what they have to say about the drugs.” Sarah stood her ground.

The editor recommended removing ‘Sarah stood her ground.’ Her thought was that it was obvious Sarah was standing her ground. The dialogue indicated this, and there was no need to hit the reader over the head with it.

Her overall point, if you repeat things, make sure you have a reason to. You might repeat for style or for emphasis, but don’t repeat for filler.

To figure out if you have a similar problem, you can analyze your writing, checking for areas of repetition, or you can ask someone else to read your work and check for you. A reader other than myself can often see things I can’t, so I like asking for help on this one.

I hope this helps improve your writing.

See Before You Submit:Likeable Characters for the first blog in this series and an introduction the benefits of submitting even if you get a rejection letter.

Thanks for reading . . .



Before You Submit: Run-on Sentences

Do you have a draft of your novel or short story and are thinking of submitting to an agent, publisher or writing contest? My series called Before You Submit might help. This series contains hints and tips I’ve received from professionals in the publishing industry. Each week I’ll share a new tip.

This week I’ll write about Run-on Sentences.

Was I embarrassed when an editor corrected a line a narrative by commenting that it was a run-on sentence, and I didn’t know what a run-on sentence was? You bet. I had to look it up.

Basically a run-on sentence occurs when two or more independent clauses are connected without the correct punctuation or coordinating conjunction.

Here is an example of what not to do.

After the avalanche, Darren changed, he’s been getting into fights at the bar.

As you can see, I liked commas at the time. 🙂

The corrected version is:

After the avalanche, Darren changed. He’s been getting into fights at the bar.

The second comma changed to a period. The second sentence starts with a capital letter.

Everyone has to start somewhere, and I was lucky to have an editor who took the time to correct my writing during my early days of crafting a novel.

I hope this helps improve your writing.

See Before You Submit:Likeable Characters for the first blog in this series and an introduction the benefits of submitting even if you get a rejection letter.

Thanks for reading . . .

Before You Submit: Likeable Characters

Do you have a draft of your novel or short story and are thinking of submitting to an agent, publisher or writing contest?

This is a scary prospect, right? Ignore the night demon who tells you to hide your work in a drawer and prepare your story for submission. Besides signing an agent, getting your work published, or winning a contest, there are other benefits to submitting.

Submitting your work is a great way to get feedback from a professional in the industry. We all know this is hard to get, but if you’re lucky, valuable pieces of advice will end up in your inbox.

There are contests, the Debut Dagger hosted by The Crime Writers’ Association is one of them, that will provide feedback on your entry if you are short listed. There are also agents, who when queried, will give you feedback. You might even get comments back from a publisher or editor.

I thought I’d share a bit of what I’ve learned this last year from people in the industry.

The week I’ll talk about liking the main protagonist.

Many writing books declare the reader must like your main character. This doesn’t mean everything about your character should be likeable. No one likes a perfect person. On the flip side, even if your character is nasty, is there at least one characteristic your reader can relate to, like or admire? If not, you might create something.

In a novel, giving your reader someone to cheer for and follow for 300 or so pages might make the difference between the reader dropping your book on the coffee table after chapter one to staying awake late into the night reading until the climax satisfies their need to know what happened to the character.

When I started writing, I struggled with how to make a character likeable. Thinking about what made me like people in real life was difficult to translate into the pages of a novel. How was I to get a reader to like my character?

The Crime Writers’ Association honoured me by shortlisting my novel, Burnt. The comment I received from one Debut Dagger judge on the topic of likeable characters was:

“The thread with the dog is a clever way of engaging interest and building suspense right from the start, while telling the reader something appealing about Kalin.”

Kalin is the main protagonist in Burnt.  In the opening scene, on the run and separated from her dog in a forest fire, Kalin fights for her life. The suspense part: Will she be able to save herself and her dog?  The likeable part: Her concern for her dog.

What I learned from this comment: The actions of your characters can show the reader a likeable trait. There is no need to describe the trait by telling the reader Kalin cares about animals.

I hope this helps you review your draft and get it ready for submission. In the coming months, I’ll post a series on what I’ve learned from the mysterious publishing industry.

Thanks for reading . . .

Click here for a look at my proofreading and copyediting series.

Novels: Point of a Scene – Is there one or should you cut it?

Is There One or Should You Cut It?

I’ve often read the advice that a novelist should be able to summarize their novel in one to two sentences. This made me start thinking about scenes and chapters.

I asked myself if I knew the point of a scene, and if I didn’t should I cut – yes the dreaded word cut – the scene from the novel? It’s easy to get attached to a scene for many reasons but if there is no point, then I ask you what is the point? J

I challenged myself to go through my latest novel and write one sentence describing the point of the scene.

Taking this one level deeper, and adding a new column to my spreadsheet, I tried to reduce the sentence to one word that described the scene.

This did a couple of things for me.

  1. It showed me what to cut. Ouch.
  2. I helped me organize my chapters into a theme.

The second item was a surprise and created a new way for me to look at organizing chapters.

How do you decide it a scene is needed or not?

Thanks for reading . . .


Writing Targets

I’ve read some authors write to achieve a specific word count per writing session.  This doesn’t work for me. During the time I allocate for writing, I might write, edit, proof read, research, or read. Setting a word count adds to much stress to the joy of writing. I can write to a deadline, I can write for the fun of it, I can write for creativity, but if I set a word count for a session, I obsess about the number of words and not about the quality of the writing.

While I’m doing other things with my writing time, all related to writing, an idea will often pop into my head. When that happens, I make a note of it. I’ve learned that if I don’t capture an idea, I won’t remember it later. I get right back to whatever activity I’ve been doing.

For me the writing life doesn’t mean writing all the time, but it does mean I shouldn’t get distracted from the task at hand. I believe all these things (editing, proof reading, researching, reading) make me a better writer.

Any thought?

Thanks for reading . . .

Early Drafts: Having Your Novel Reviewed

Last year at this time I was working with Garry Ryan (2011 CWC President) through the CWC mentorship program on my 3rd novel Burnt. Burnt is now with my literary agent, Margaret Hart, awaiting comment.

I sent Garry about 10 pages at a time, he commented, I updated and sent the next 10 pages. I learned something new with each section. If you get the chance to be part of this program, it’s certainly worth it.

Many of you know my brother, Michael Conn, is also an author. I’ve convinced him that the process I went through with Garry improved my novel and that he, Michael, should do this with me for my next novel.

I’ve finished the first draft of my fourth novel, Look the Other Way, and Michael is reviewing it chapter by chapter. I send him one chapter, he comments, I update and on it goes.

At this early stage, Michael gives me his thoughts on story line, whether he likes a character or not, whether he thinks a sentence is foreshadowing something, and if the writing is good enough.

This helps me see the novel through his eyes and understand what impression I’m giving a reader.

It takes time and effort, but if you can find someone willing to do this for you, I recommend it. My only caution is that you must find someone you trust. It’s hard to put writing out there when it’s not in its most polished state.

Thanks for reading . . .


Copyediting – Proofreading: Summary of Comments (Part One)

Now that I have completed  my five-part blog on copyediting and proofreading, I’ve grouped the comments into topics and ended up with too much information for one blog, so . . . I’ll split it into several. I’ll add information that I didn’t include in my original blogs and that was kindly contributed by readers of my blog.

I collected the comments from the blog series and from the LinkedIn writing group called Crime Fiction managed by Theresa de Valence.

The topics from the comments are:

  • Having Others Proofread Your Work
  • The Eye Sees What it Wants to See
  • Read it Backward
  • Read it Out Loud
  • Read it Big
  • Adjectives and Adverbs
  • Split Infinitives
  • E-Readers
  • Computer versus Paper
  • Templates
  • Taking Breaks
  • Proofreading versus Copyediting

And yup, you guessed it. I’m going to cover the bolded topic today.


One theme among the comments was the quest for a list of the most common words authors have issues with. You can find that list a little farther down in the blog.

The following is a humorous excerpt (paraphrased a little) from one comment I thought summed up why we have difficulty seeing the typos, and I’ll call them typos, because most of us know how to spell and we know the correct word choice, but our fingers seem to have a will of their own and type what they want.

Never met a spelling you didn’t like, eh? Well they’re (their?) hard to (too?) spot, even for those of us who can spell some and know lots of words. They hide or just sit there defiantly, while your integrative, Gestalt brain fills in the gaps and skips over extra letters on its own, without telling you. That’s why proofing is so difficult, aside from the tediousness. And you’re (your?) usually doing it at the 11th hour, under time constraints, and all your (thy?) helpful friends have abandoned you to your dire fate.
What happens to me kicking out the stops on the mighty netbook, is letters get omitted due to detritus among the keys, and the spell checker thinks “ad” instead of “and” is good to go. Etc., or is it Ect.?

There was consensus that homophones and typos that create a correct word, but not the word you want,  are a problem in manuscripts. The following are the words I received in the comments to the blog. This list contains words that other authors have stated they have issues with. I’ve bolded the ones that I didn’t include in my original blog.

  • Ad/And
  • Aisle/Isle/I’ll
  • Barely/Barley
  • Calf’s/Calves
  • Ect./Etc.
  • Here/hear
  • Heard/herd
  • He’ll/Hell
  • It’s/Its
  • Flee/Flea
  • For/Fro
  • Form/From
  • Grown/Groan
  • Manor/Manner
  • No/Not/Now
  • Own/Now
  • Series/Serious
  • So/Sew (use needle and thread)

  • Sit/Sight
  • Then/Than
  • Then/The
  • There/Their
  • There’s/Theirs
  • Throne/Thrown
  • Thin/Thine/Thing
  • Thy/Thigh
  • To/Too
  • Were/We’re
  • Whelps/Welts
  • Where/Were
  • Who’s/Whose
  • Wringing, Ringing
  • Your/You’re

For those of you who dictate your copy, you may find the dictation software created homophones throughout your manuscript. So guess what? You get to be especially careful when checking for them.

To help find this type of error, one reader suggested: the smaller your device or viewing window is, the better it will be for proofreading. Also, since such narrow focus is both tense and tedious (contradictory, but true), take frequent breaks – maybe alternate with another task that has nothing to do with this or any other book.

Another reader said: this isn’t 100% on topic, but I use the “Add to Dictionary” and “Ignore” feature in MS Word to stop the software from picking up odd character and place names as mistakes in my manuscript. If I don’t do that, then those words get flagged so frequently that I start ignoring Spellcheck completely…and then miss things like “teh” and “tihng.”

Thanks to everyone who shared how they create an error-free (okay – so as close to error-free as possible) manuscript. It’s helpful to learn how others work.

If you have other words that are often a problem, don’t be shy. Please share them with me.

Thanks for reading . . .

Copyediting – Proofreading Process (Part Two)

Today’s blog focuses on a list you can create to help you copyedit.

Creating a list is part of my process when reading another author’s manuscript. I use the list for my work too, but if you’ve edited your own writing, you’ll know how hard it is to find your mistakes.

Before I start – thank you to the people who pointed out the difference between proofreading and copyediting. Their definitions are in the comments of Proofreading (Part One). Also, thanks to everyone else for their comments. I had fun reading them all.

Monday’s blog took us part way through the second reading of a manuscript, but there’s still work to do on this pass.

While reading the manuscript for the second time, I create a list that includes:

  • Words with hyphens or words I think should have a hyphen.

While writing a novel, it’s easy for an author to forget which format they used for a word. It’s better to keep word formats consistent, which can be difficult, especially when the dictionary offers a choice or two dictionaries disagree with each other.

  • Words that are easy to type incorrectly, but the spell checker won’t find the error. There are many, so here are a few examples:








This list grows with each new manuscript I read. Heard/herd came from the manuscript I’m currently editing.

  • Words that are spelt differently in Canadian or American spelling. This is hard to catch because some spell checkers allow both forms.  A difficult situation occurs if the author uses a Canadian spelling for one word and American for another.  For example:

My pyjamas are the color of green olives. Pyjamas is in Canadian spelling. Color is in American.

Search for words that can be spelt with ‘ou’ or ‘o’ and words where a consonant may or may not be doubled, such as:



  • Words that can be spelt (spelled in the USA) two ways.



Both are correct, but again consistency is important.

But what do you do with this list?

Even if you have read the manuscript in printed form, this is the point where a computer can help you eliminate errors.

In whatever word processing program you use, turn tracking on. Search the manuscript for each word in the list you’ve created during your second reading and make the appropriate changes. The author can decide to accept or reject the changes when he/she reads the suggested corrections.

Call me crazy, but I thought I was going to finish this subject in two blogs. We’re still not on to the third reading, but we’re getting there.  My next post on copyediting will be on Monday.

If you have any tips to share, I’d love to add them to my process.

Thanks for reading . . .

Proofreading Process (Part One)

I estimate it takes 40 hours to seriously proofread an 80,000 word novel. It’s a daunting task, so here are some tips to get you through it.

At least this is the process that works for me.

1) PASS ONE: Read entire novel or short story before proofreading.

Why is this step important? I find if I don’t allow myself time to read, especially if it’s a good story, I don’t concentrate on proofreading, and I get engaged in the story.

I allow myself to jot quick comments as I read, but try not to do too much at this stage. Once I’ve done this, I can concentrate on the detailed proofreading.

2) PASS TWO: Check Basic Formatting:

Before checking for formatting, I get the document into a format that works for me. I:

  • Zoom in on the document. I go to the largest size my screen can take. This enables me to see each mark on the page.
  • Turn paragraph marking on. This allows me to see paragraph breaks and extra spaces.
  • Go into review mode and turn on track changes.
  • I’m heavy on the comments. When I make a change, if it’s not obvious why, I tell the author by using the comment function.

Things I check and correct (make consistent) during PASS TWO:

  • Are all chapter headings formatted the same?
  • Are the headers and footers formatted the same?
  • Do the same number of lines appear before and after each heading?
  • Is each chapter heading in same font and size?
  • Are italics consistently used?
  • Are paragraph indents formatted the same?
  • Does the first paragraph of each section or chapter have 0 indents, while the rest are consistent?
  • Are there any double or triple spaces between words?
  • Are there any double spaces after a period?
  • Are times formatted the same – am, a.m. AM?
  • Is the spacing between ellipses consistent (. . . and not …)?

I check these things because I think it gives the manuscript a professional feel. It shows the author took the time to check the details, even the ones that are boring to check.

I don’t like to write long blogs, so I’ll publish part two of The Proofreading Process on Thursday.  So yup, you guessed it. There is a pass three.

I hope this helps your proofreading. 🙂