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A Few of My Favorite Things

There is nothing I love more than finding a new author who blows my socks off and keeps me up reading well past my bedtime.

With Christmas on the way, I'll tempt you with a list of my favorite finds from 2014:

1. Susan Kaye Quinn: Third Daughter, Second Daughter, and First Daughter.

A bollywood steampunk trilogy, how is that for a combination? I enjoyed the world-building, interesting plot lines, and delicious descriptions.

I enjoyed Quinn's other series: The Mindjack Trilogy, a dystopian YA set in Chicago. In a world where everyone can read minds, how do you fight back?

And the Debt Collector serial: Time is a commodity, have you earned yours or is it time to collect?

A second Debt Collector series will be completed December 15.

2. Brenna Yovanoff: The Replacement, The Space Between, Paper Valentine, and Fiendish. Her stories are modern-day fables reminiscent of the Brothers Grimm. The plots are slight, but her glorious use of language and description makes up for them. Paper Valentine was my least favorite. The other three I could not put down.

3. A. R. Kahler: The Immortal Circus Trilogy

This circus performer has terrific world-building and delightful wordsmithery. Queen Mab runs a circus and it is a hell of a show. This is a trilogy I will never forget.

He is working on a new series: The Hunted.

I can't wait to see what 2015 will serve up. More yummies please! If you've discovered an exciting new voice, let me know in the comments (no blantant self-promo please - this is a time to pay forward).

Narative Summary

There is an art to narrative summary. Ideally the information should be related through the point of view character's lens, not an info dump, like this:

The city was founded in 1779 by tea and sugar plantation owners who commissioned elaborate mansions on top of the hill with a view of the inlet that was large enough to dock their ships. Small villages soon cropped up along the periphery to house the tradesmen needed to service their needs. Over the centuries, the spaces between were filled until it became a crowded, mish-mash of squalor and grandeur.

This passage provides the information, but dully and through the prism of the writer, not the character. 

Info dumps are often found in prologues, epilogues, summaries of what happened in previous books, long dialogue passages, as you know dialogue, long explanations of how things work, and extensive backstory.

Here are a few examples of how to use narrative summary effectively.

1. Narrative summary helps you skip ahead.

Sometimes you have to provide important background, condense time, and relate events that don't deserve a lot of page time through narrative summary. 

The call came at five o'clock on a Saturday. Dick never forgot the pitch of the sun through the pines or the way his boots sank in the mud as he arrived at a scene to view his first corpse. After fifteen years, he'd seen so many bodies, in myriad locations,and every season.He no longer got the shakes, or the sicks, or the rapid pulse, but the scent of pine, dirt, and dying heat still filled his nostrils when he received a summons. Funny how some things stuck. He snapped on gloves and booties before ducking under the yellow tape blocking a snow-drenched alleyway in the heart of downtown Chicago. "What've we got?" 

Narrative skips over the boring bits. Shift it into real-time when possible, particularly if you find paragraphs of it. Use specific details and strong word choices.

1) Narrative summary can offer new information or recap necessary information. 

It should support, extend, or refute the information given through dialogue and action. It can add context in a timely fashion and set up expectation. It uses a few words that work hard and lead into or trail action and dialogue. If narrative runs on for paragraphs or pages, you have some editing to do.

The carpet fibers were a dead end: could have come from any low-rent apartment anywhere in town. The call-ins were a bunch of attention-seeking loonies. No legitimate suspects. No obvious motive. No one seemed to know anything about Jane. That was the problem these days: everyone had bloody telephones and computers and social media but never talked to their neighbors. Jane worked from home and played games with virtual friends. She ordered everything online or shopped at big box stores where everyone was strange and a stranger. There were no angles to grab hold of. Who would kill a girl who never seemed to leave her flat? But girls didn't just drag themselves into the woods, cover themselves with debris, and choke themselves with their own pantyhose.

2. Narrative transitions between scenes.

Dick skipped the shower and shave and was at the crime scene by nine thirty. He stood next to the corpse lying on the ground who obviously hadn’t shaved in days either and the bath in the river hadn’t done him any favors.

3. Narrative wrinkles time.

Four days sped by in a series of dead leads and dull conversations. Dick tackled the stacks of paperwork he had successfully ignored for a month, drank gallons of coffee, and smoked endless packs of cigarettes. His anxiety grew like a bonfire as he waited for the DNA results.

Revision Tips
? Read through your manuscript. Highlight areas that contain narrative. Decide whether you should turn narrative into action and dialogue. If not, is it serving a distinct purpose? Does it support, extend, add to, or refute a proposition? Does it condense time or provide important background?
? Does it involve tertiary characters or actions that are of lesser importance?
? Does it involve clichés?
? Have you told the reader what someone thinks or feels instead of showing it?

For more revision tips on revision and narrative summary check out.

Sound Effects

Imagine watching a movie with no sound effects. It would not be satisfying.

You, the author, are the sound effects creator and sound mixer for your verbal movie.

Rhetorical devices and sentence structure add rhythm and emphasis to your prose, but there is also the task of decsribing the sounds in your setting.

You must decide when to add them and which words to use.

Onomatopoeia is the rhetorical device that provides sound words such as: whine, chirp, buzz, roar, clatter, clank, harrumph, giggle, guffaw, chortle, snort, twang, thwack, ring, clang, boing, knock, screech, hoot, bay, and bark.

Sound effect words are often used in conjunction with a simile or metaphor: The seal opened quickly with a pop like a champagne cork.

Building a sound track is more than using sound words; it is using them in clever, memorable ways.

1) For every scene, choose a location. We all make sounds: people, animals, nature, machines. Every location on the planet has its own unique blend of noises. If it is an actual place, even if you can't go there, you can usually find a video of it. If it is a made-up place, then your imagination can fill in the details. There will be background noises: ticking of clocks, rattling of train tracks, and shush of the ocean. Use sounds to set the scene.

Orient yourself in the scene. Close your eyes. Listen. What do you hear? What it is important for your reader and character to hear? Why?

2) Use sounds to define characters. 

Does the character constantly snuffle, cough, clear his throat? Do her high heels echo on the tile floor?

How is the character feeling in the scene? What noise might he make if surprised, hurt, angry, shocked? How can you use sound words to emphasize the moment?

Is the character calm, tapping the table out of anxiety, or groaning in agony? What does the scene call for?

3) Story Building Blocks III contains a list of sound words. Add your favorite bugaboos. In the final revision passes, do a search for specific words using [Control] [F] or Find, or read through your manuscript and highlight the words.

Have you used each word more than a few times?

Can you change them or use them in an unusual way?

Is the sound necessary? Does it add something to the sentence? If not, cut it.

4) Avoid purple prose.

Romantic scenes and fight scenes are danger zones for clichéd sound effects: smacks, slurps, sighs, groans, slap, oomph. 

There are only so many sounds a person can make, but there are pedestrian and master craft ways of utilizing them.

A beginner writer reaches for common sound words and uses them literally.

A master craftsman transforms common sound words into passages with a visceral effect.

Here are a few examples from one of my favorite writers, Tana French, and her new release The Secret Place:

She shut the interview room door behind us, flick of her wrist and a slam.

The music has turned into a distant hysterical pounding and shrieking, like someone has a tiny Rihanna locked in a box.

The night is thick with clouds and cold; they have to grope their way down the paths to the grove, wincing each time a branch twangs or a clump of leaves crunches.

In the darkness they're just a trail of rustle and laughter, sweeping a circle around the edge of the clearing.

A wisp of a laugh, a frail thing, lost, drifting between the slick posters and the make-up smeared tissues. Not a laugh she'd learned off some reality star and practiced; just her, missing that day. Here was why she needed to see Selena and Chris through a dirty snicker and a gagging noise. That was the only way she could stand to look.

For the list of sound words and more revision tips, check out: