Great reviews, first draft of prequel complete

My first novel, Sins of Omission, is enjoying uniformly positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I’ve had sales in three countries outside the US. I’m pleased with the way this is going.

Meanwhile, I finished the first draft of my “prequel” to Sins, tentatively titled Breaking News. This story picks up my reporter/protagonist, Alan Rudberg, in 2008 as he’s covering the presidential and Oregon senatorial campaigns. An anonymous source mails him photocopies of bid documents and an invoice suggesting an eastern Oregon politician is soliciting kickbacks in return for business with his county. Those who’ve read Sins know that the ensuing investigation marks a major turning point in Rudberg’s career.

Although I began plotting the book in September, the actual draft was written as part of National Novel Writing Month, a 30-day period during which established and aspiring novelists throughout the world bang out a 50,000-page draft.

As anyone who’s been through this before knows, the first draft is the easy part of the process, provided you have a working outline. The hard work lies in the editing. This involves more than just grammar- and spell-checking. Plot elements may change, scenes will shift, and entire chapters are rewritten from scratch. Parts of Sins went through five rewrites.

All this is to say that you won’t be seeing Breaking News until early spring at the earliest.

Meanwhile, enjoy reading Sins and — please — when you’ve finished it, leave a review on Amazon.


Editing? Let your computer read to you.

One of the best ways to edit your writing is to read it aloud. A member of my writer’s group suggests an improvement on the technique: have the computer read to you while you follow the text to check punctuation.

Both Mac and Windows operating systems have this feature under “accessibility” options. On the Mac, you simply highlight the text you want to review, press Option/Escape, and follow the text as you hear it read.

Additional tip for Mac users: “Samantha” is a more human-like voice than “Alex,” the default. You can change this under Accessibility/Speech options.

The value of writer’s groups

Earlier, I posted about The value of critiquing the work of others. Two weeks ago, it was my turn in the barrel. The South Pittsburgh Writer’s Group critiqued the first two chapters of my WIP, Sins of Omission. I got some attaboys–“Thanks for the correct punctuation,” and “An interesting story that I will buy when it comes out”–but also nearly a dozen suggestions.

Three members returned my Word draft with typed comments, questions, and suggestions in the margins. It was very helpful and showed me several things that they could see, bringing fresh eyes to the work, but that I could not.

I wasn’t able to make changes immediately–I had two direct mail projects to complete–but the delay allowed me to process the suggestions in my mind, separating the wheat from the chaff. Given two weeks in which to reflect on the advice, I made substantial edits over the past few days to structure, word choice, and characterization, plus a slew of minor edits. The results are a much improved opening and a more clearly defined secondary character.

Many writers come to such sessions looking for praise rather than direction. I’ll have more to say on that in a subsequent post.

Editing with ProWritingAid

Earlier, I wrote about the advantages I’ve found using Scrivener, a complete writing environment, rather than a word processing program. Now that I am revising my first draft, I’ve discovered an editing tool that is proving invaluable.

I researched several tools before settling on ProWritingAid. Grammarly is considered the industry standard, but the desktop version doesn’t integrate with Microsoft Office on the Mac. Hemingway Editor, which I also use on occasion, is excellent at examining sentence structure, but it doesn’t check grammar or spelling.

ProWritingAid checks grammar, spelling, and writing style in one package, and it directly edits Scrivener files. It gives you a readability index, highlights difficult-to-read paragraphs, and flags problems such as repeated phrases, adverbosity (my own word, which you may use without attribution), “sticky” sentences, and more.

My editing workflow is to open a chapter in ProWritingAid and read through it, taking a high level view by noting all the flags and editing them. After saving the result, I take a low-level view via a second pass through the program in which I address the detailed list of potential  problem areas identified in eight separate screens. I print the resulting chapter and read it aloud, redlining it as I go. After making further edits in Scrivener, open the chapter for a third time in ProWritingAid, taking a last look at problem areas.

I don’t correct everything the program identifies. Sometimes a passive sentence is the only way to express a thought without screaming “WRITER!” Using an arcane “right word” instead of modifying a more common one can affect readability. If I didn’t use my own judgment, my writing would sound flat and formulaic.

But for finding the written potholes that my eye doesn’t see, I find this an exceptional tool.

First draft finished; now the work begins

I completed the first draft of my novel, Sins of Omission, two days ago — 74,000 words across sixteen chapters. Now the real work begins.

As many a teacher will tell you (less politely), the first draft is drek. My first four pages already look as though a chicken stepped across it after wading in blood. That’s okay. It’s what’s supposed to happen.

There are numerous tools available to help find the soft spots in your writing. My first choice would have been Grammarly, but the desktop version is not available on the Mac. I opted for ProWritingAid, which has the advantage of being accessible from Scrivener.

A second, less expensive tool is Hemingway Editor, which you can see in action just by clicking on the link.. It highlights various writing problems — hard to read sentences, passive sentences, adverbs, and others — with color coding so that you can easily spot them.

ProWritingAid identified several issues in my first chapter, but even after I’d addressed them, Hemingway Editor found more. This two-pass approach appears to be working well and will, I hope, allow my human editor to focus on global issues, rather than getting lost in the weeds.

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