Monday, May 9, 2011

Don’t forget the simple things…

That’s a good lesson in life as well as writing. Don’t forget to take a moment to raise your chin, close your eyes and glory in the warmth of the sun on your face. Don’t forget that sometimes a good grilled cheese sandwich and bowl of soup can be just as special a supper as a full chicken dinner with all the trimmings. Don’t forget to appreciate a few small, simple miracles like a close parking spot opening up on a miserable, rainy day or a song on the radio that brings a happy memory and smile to your face just when you need it. And don’t forget that if your hero has a goatee in the first chapter, unless you mention somewhere that he shaved it off, your heroine’s hand shouldn’t slide over a smooth, chiselled jaw during their first love scene LOL.

Sometimes it’s these simple details that trip up an editor’s read of your manuscript—Wearing a jacket, then on the next page, rubbing a hand up her bare arm, the friend of a heroine who came to the bar with her but was never heard from again, having a minor emergency come up and the heroine—who say, is an artist in the story—suddenly states she’s a nurse and can help, or an ex-boyfriend showing up out of the blue at the exact moment you need him to for the conflict point, but the hero and heroine are on a Caribbean island three thousand miles away from where she had ever dated the guy in the first place.

I’m sure my authors will tell you one of my favourite words during edits is VALIDATE. Yes, I can see them nodding their heads vigorously, laughing and rolling their eyes at the same time *wink*.

These simple details can be catagorized in two ways: Oopsies and Drop Ins:

1) Oopsies: These are details that are mentioned, and then never mentioned again—perhaps they were an idea in the first draft, but as the storyline and panster writing played through, that thread and/or idea was dismissed for a better one, but, upon the second or third drafts of the story, a detail or two were missed when cleaning those sections up. This could be as simple as a mention of a purple shirt, but then in the next scene on the same day it’s a pink skirt instead. These details could also transform into a person, like an overlooked secondary character who came with your heroine to the bar—if you forget to mention she either left or reference your heroine saying goodbye at least (ie: VALIDATING the secondary character’s existence), then it looks like your heroine just ditched her friend, and readers may not take too well to that LOL. Another example could be a description detail like the goatee one earlier, or perhaps she had a scar on her cheek or a secondary character wore glasses.

If those character details aren’t carried through--VALIDATED--throughout the story by both the physical reactions (ie: the scrape of the scar beneath his fingers when he brushes a finger down her cheek) or shown (as in perhaps the habit of pushing her glasses back up her nose when agitated), then the characterization and writing is weakened and thus so would be the faith of the reader also. So keep an eye out for these details before an editor finds them, because, thankfully, they are an easy fix--simply delete or VALIDATE with a simple phrase or two of explanation.

2) Drop Ins: These are my favourites—or should I say my, "Are you serious?" moments. An example of these details would be the minor emergency where the artist is suddenly now a nurse and can help. Are you serious? How convenient! Or the ex-boyfriend popping into the scene on a tropical island thousands of miles away from where the heroine had dated him. Are you serious? How convenient! LOL, yes, they sound simple and are way too easy to write in because they are convenient--the easy way out so to speak--but in reality, it is contriving the plot—making the conflicts work for you rather than in a natural, believable way.

The good news is that these can also be a very simple fix--simple, but important--most often with a well placed sentence or even just a phrase of VALIDATION earlier in the story. A small mention of a nursing school, or a griped comment about her ex and how he used to travel south a lot, again, placed earlier in the story can smooth the flow and enhance the believability factor rather than damage it. Basically, VALIDATING your backstory before you need it, so when the more important events occur, you’ve already set up the base of belief for the reader.

Now, just to be clear, I’m not talking info dumps of backstory to back yourself up (that would only open a whole other can of technical problems LOL). I’m simply saying a well placed comment or sentence earlier in the story can do the trick, VALIDATING your character and making you as the author look clever for the streamlined thread.

Sometimes in the excitement and deep concentration of getting your plot and romantic thread just right, simple details get overlooked like a paper coffee cup gusted down the middle of the road by the speeding traffic. But simple little details can sometimes make or break a story for an editor—make them hand you a contract, or send you a polite, no thank you.

Yes, reading through your manuscript with an eye for anything that doesn't fit will help, but this is also where a critique partner can come in very handy—a second set of eyes not so deeply involved in the story yet, and who will be able to pinpoint details that were missed or overlooked BEFORE you submit. They can truly be invaluable to a writer. (If you would like to find a critique partner and don’t know where to start, we do have a link on our website:

So, don’t forget to remember the simple things in life and in your manuscript….because sometimes the simple things can be the biggest part of your day.


Amy said...

I've been guilty of this myself. Just sent in a mss that had one of these, and thankfully I caught it before hand. The hero's bedroom was navy in one scene, burgundy in the next. I did a "blue" search to clear it up. It was time consuming (at least one of them didn't have blue eyes lol) but that fixed it. Great post! Thanks!

Mona Risk said...

Thanks for the reminders, Stacy. The eye colors that shift from blue to greenish blue to bluish green and emerald green or violet blue are things I caught in romances. Also foreign words with a butchered spelling can trip a reader if she happened to know the language.

Stacy D. Holmes, Editor said...

Yep, it is a common area.

Another of my favorites is when an author has obviously at some point decided to use a different name than originally written for a character but forgot to fix it in a scene--so I'll be reading the manuscript and suddenly I've got a whole new character in the same conversation and do the little double take for a minute LOL.

Kelly McCrady said...

What's wrong with wearing a purple shirt with a pink skirt? ;-)

Thanks for pointing this out. Remember, when you read a published novel that seems oh so clever with the details that are followed through--the writer likely did not write it that way in the first draft. Be meticulous with the details when you revise and you will impress anyone reading the manuscript.

Jill James said...

What an important lesson to know. Another great thing to check when editing and revising.

Jannine Gallant said...

I actually had not one but TWO characters with the same name in a story I wrote. The second in both cases was just a reference, his old girlfriend, Sue... I just grabbed a name out of the air when I was writing. The scary part is both my editor and I missed it until the final galley! It pays to pay attention to details!

Great post, Stacy.

Claudia Fallon said...

Well put, Stacey! Though honestly, I prefer a chicken dinner to a cheese sandwich :) But keeping track of those pesky details can be helped by writing a character blueprint beforehand.

Nikki said...

One I always mention to my authors so they know I'm not infallible--I once wrote about a race car that was red and white at the start but was black and silver by turn 3. Thank goodness for my crit partner!

Cherie Marks said...

Anyone with attention to detail is my friend during the editing stage. I am such a forest rather than individual trees kind of gal, but thankfully, with the help of my wonderful crit partner, I didn't embarrass myself too badly before subbing.

Margaret Tanner said...

Great post Stacy,I actually enjoyed reading about other writers making the same mistakes as me..



Beth Trissel said...

Excellent post and much needed pearls of writing advice, Stacy. Thanks.

glenys said...

Great post - these things are so easily overlooked. I once had a guy called Tony in chapter one, Terry in chapter three....and this wasn't noticed until the final read through in the galleys