by Fae Rowen
Because I've got the October 2 blog date, I get to say Happy Birthday to my mother here. Happy Birthday, Mom!
Thanks for indulging me. And for finding today's target word twice in the first sentence. "Get" and it's multi-tense derivative "got" could be nominated for one of the words everyone, not just writers, uses loosely for coming into possession of.
You could probably list a dozen or more words describing how you can come into possession of something. Some, like "obtain," are definitely too writerly to be used in general cases. "Acquire"—think acquisition— works, but can have a somewhat negative connotation as to how you've acquired something.
"Procure" or "gain" can imply that others helped or that what you got was a for personal use that could be a bit shady. (Think of procuring a prostitute.) "Secure" shows the difficulty in getting something, while "attain" is usually reserved for a commendable, difficult goal.
Our job as writers is to find the right, the best, word for every description, every bit of dialogue, and every scene. As easy substitute for get or got doesn't always work.
Take a moment to think of how I could rewrite the first sentence in this article without using got or get. Typically we use get for its brevity in the context of the sentence. What if I'd said: I'm taking advantage of today's date, October 2, to say Happy Birthday to my mother. Happy Birthday, Mom! We could spend ore time with this exercise, but that's not the main point of today's post.
I'm working on the final edits for PRISM 2: Rebellion, my follow-up science fiction book to PRISM 1: Prisoner Relocation Internment Security Management. In one scene, I noticed way too many gets. That dreaded Find editing feature revealed the truth. I had a get/got problem in the middle of my book. I'd like to share some before with you. I'm not going to share all the fixes (just the most difficult ones) because I'd like you to think about what you'd do. Sometimes, I found, the best thing to do is leave it and go on.
Often, you can remove the get or got with no other work necessary. Example: "I have to get going." Fix: "I have to go."
Example: "Where did you get the protein bar?" Fixes: "Where did you find the protein bar?" or "Who gave you the protein bar?" or "Did you steal the protein bar?"
Example: He got the message. Fixes: He received the message or He understood the message or He read around her words and understood what she couldn't write for others to see.
Example: Dinner was getting cold. Fix: The continuing argument allowed the meal to grow cold.
Example: "You got me with that puzzle map." Fix: "You confused (or bemused, or bewildered, or stumped, or beat) me with that puzzle map."
Example: "The conglomerate owner gets paid a trillion credits a year." Fix: "The conglomerate owner (grosses, pockets, earns, is paid, takes home, rakes in, nets) a trillion credits a year."
Example: "Did the police get their suspect?" Fix: "Did the police (apprehend, arrest, catch, capture, seize, take into custody, detain, put...in jail, collar, nab, bust, pick up, pull in) their suspect?
Are you seeing how getting rid of get allows you to better define not only what happens, but change the tone or put the view in a deeper POV? By taking care of your gets your writing can be stronger in many ways.
Think of how you could rewrite the following. There are a lot of possibilities for each, depending on how you perceive the situation.
I got a skimmer.
She got the flu.
I got a pain in my leg.
I got him on the phone.
She didn't get what he said.
He didn't get the joke.
We got there late.
I've like to get to see her.
She got him to go.
I'll get lunch.
Someone should get him for that.
What gets me is how mean she is.
I had to use crutches to get around.
Use a picture to get your message across.
I just wanted to get ahead.
She tried to get along with her mother-in-law.
Jim gets around.
It's not easy to get to those wires.
He had to get away from his co-worker.
Some other "get" phrases to think about: get over, get up, get together, get out, get on, get off, get lost, get down, get by, get back, get back at, get on with, get out of
I hope you see the possibility for enriching your work simply by looking at one short word. You readers will thank you for your extra effort.
Yes, today really is my mother's birthday.
Are you having trouble revising a "get" sentence from your WIP and would like to post it in the comments for suggestions? What takeaway is most useful to you about sending your "gets" to the gallows?
Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.
James Bond, Jason Bourne, Sydney Bristow, Jack Bauer... Nothing thrills like a well-crafted spy. However, most of us haven’t served in the Intelligence Community (“IC”) to have experience to draw on, so it helps to talk to someone who is the real deal.
My writing partner, Jay Holmes, is the real deal. He’s a forty-plus-year veteran of field intelligence operations and a senior member of the US Intelligence Community.
So is Holmes a spy? No. Holmes is a “spook.” As he says, spying is seamy. It’s what the Russians do. The preferred slang among American intelligence operatives, particularly older operatives, and in the American IC in general is “spook,” not “spy.”
Usage of the term “spook” in the Intelligence Community dates back to the 1800s and is derived from “a ghost that haunts people and is considered undesirable.” It has nothing to do with the racial slur, and operatives of all races are referred to as “spooks.” “Spies” are the agents of foreign countries that are spying on us, or they are foreign agents who are spying on their own countries on our behalf.
Now that we’ve settled that, let’s take a look at some character traits that all spooks share.
While members of the IC can have an infinite variety of personalities, religions, political opinions, and backgrounds, American spooks all have some character traits in common. These traits will be similar to greater and lesser degrees in other countries.
1. Highly Developed Mental Discipline
Members of the Intelligence Community must be able to compartmentalize information, as well as their experiences. They must mentally wall off the work life from the personal life, and vice versa. Otherwise, they would talk out of turn, get burned out, or worse, if a field operative, they would get dead.
2. Love of Travel and Experiencing Foreign Cultures
One reason spooks are drawn to the work is an abiding interest in people, cultures, and experiencing their world.
3. Recognition That Diverse People Actually Are Diverse
Anyone can talk about diversity. Talking is easy. Those in the Intelligence Community, on the other hand, must live those differences, and they know that recognizing and understanding the contrasting values, personalities, and customs of other cultures is paramount to both their survival and the success of their missions. They must work within that kaleidoscopic framework on behalf of American interests.
4. Superior Intelligence
Spooks really do have to be smart.
Holmes and I know what you’re thinking... But there’s this spook on [fill in the network] that says really stupid things. Yes. We often laugh at them and wonder what they’re up to. With members of the IC, as with everyone, intelligence is a tool that is dependent on the user, and it can always be limited or even nullified by character and hubris. The greatest mistake any spook, or any person, for that matter, can make is to think that because they know some thing, they know every thing. Falling into that trap is its own form of stupidity.
5. Wholly Committed
Members of the IC are not wishy-washy people, whether they spend their career at an analyst’s desk at Headquarters or in Third World countries hunting down our enemies. They commit their time, their relationships, and even their lives in service to their nation. The clandestine services take a piece from everyone who serves. Everyone.
6. Good Sense of Humor
Even the field spooks like Holmes, whose spirit animal is Grumpy Cat, have a great sense of humor. Without it, they would go mad in short order.
US spooks are loyal to America and to the ideals of the US Constitution and US society. This is not a blind loyalty or a fanaticism, but rather a deep commitment that makes them willing to sacrifice their lifestyle and potentially their lives in service to their country.
8. Socially Accepting
Religion, race, ethnicity, first language, and financial background are irrelevant to US field spooks as compared to skill and loyalties. In fact, such differences are highly valued and useful as long as the individuals are first and foremost loyal to America and to American constitutional ideals. The field is a meritocracy, and what matters most is who can get the job done and come home alive.
9. Covert Action Spooks Can Get Wild During Recess
Field spooks, specifically, have a “certain skill set” that lends them to being a bit wilder than the average bear when letting off steam. Holmes and I aren’t providing examples in order to protect the guilty.
10. Counter-Intelligence (“CI”) Specialists Are Sober and Intensely Patient
CI specialists are looking for that one irregularity—that one glowing clue. Or to sink to a cliché because it is so apt, the needle in the haystack, and they have to sift through tons of hay. CI spooks keep track of mountains of information and are highly skilled at catching that one anomaly or inconsistency in evaluating a foreign agent or in locating a mole within their organization. That requires the soul of patience and attention to detail.
The overriding trait common to members of the IC, particularly to field spooks, is a farsighted optimism. It is a belief that what they are doing is helping to make their country safer for those back at home. It is the conviction that when they risk their lives, it is for a better tomorrow.
“If I didn’t believe I was helping create a better world, I would never jump out of the plane.” ~ Jay Holmes
Any questions about the character traits of real life members of the IC? Who are your favorite espionage characters in literature and movies? What heroic qualities do you see in them?
Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes of Bayard & Holmes are the authors of espionage tomes and international spy thrillers. For more on the personalities and personal challenges of those in the Intelligence Community, see SPYCRAFT: Essentials. It is designed specifically for writers, and it also addresses the functions and jurisdictions of the main US intelligence organizations, tradecraft techniques, surveillance, the most common foibles of spy fiction, and much more. It is available in digital format and print at Amazon.
Please visit Piper and Holmes at their site, BayardandHolmes.com. For notices of their upcoming releases, subscribe to the Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing. You can also contact Bayard & Holmes at their Contact page, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Piper Bayard or Bayard & Holmes, or at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.
I looked it up. This blog was born in April of 2010, when our critique group sat in Charla Rae’s office and came up with the crazy idea of a blog to help writers improve their craft and not feel so alone, working in solitude. We’ve posted three times a week since then and have been quoted, reblogged, and received awards. Members of the group came and went, but WITS has remained.
This, I hope, will always be true.
But it’s time for me to move on. I love this place, and all of you, but I’ve come to realize that I’ve said everything I have to say. I’ll still be writing, and learning. I’ll still be around — I’ll see you in the comments, and I’ll be blogging on WITS once a quarter. I’m not sure what will be next for me, but I’ll let you know.
In the meantime, I hope you continue to enjoy and support WITS — with new blood, it’s likely to be even BETTER!
I thought I’d leave you (for now) with my top 5 favorite blogs of all time here on WITS. And since you know I’m the writer's cheerleader-in-a-too-tight-skirt, they’re inspirational:
- Everything I Need To Know About Writing, I Learned at Dairy Queen
- You Are Your Golden Ticket
- Where the Stories Come From
- Why Learning Takes So Long
- Notes to My Unpublished Self
Not saying goodbye — just so long for now. See you down the writing road!
I remember the night we decided to start a writer's blog. We spent a good deal of time trying to agree on a name. When I suggested Writers in the Storm, some asked if that was a Doors song. “If we change a couple of words,” I answered. Laura liked the idea because the publishing industry was in turmoil and the climate of the industry was like a storm. Someone shortened it to WITS, which we all liked a lot.
It’s hard to believe that was almost ten years ago. All I wanted to do was survive learning how to write and post blogs. I knew nothing about “connecting” electronically with anyone. But Jenny said we needed to start WITS as a platform for all of us. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but everyone else seemed to think that was important, so I went along.
I must thank all of you for reading my early-years posts, from the very early posts about my travels (From the Safari Journal) to the only writing craft topic I felt competent to blog about: a three-part world building series beginning with World-Building: Part 1 - Physical Setting to throwdowns with Laura, this one is my favorite on Inspiration vs. Perspiration in Writing.
Your comments and support helped me grow as a blogger, as well as become more confident in my writing skills so that I could offer 5 Conflict-making Choices Characters Can Make and career insights like 7 Tips to "Level Up" Your Writing Career.
Writers in the Storm has grown to something I never believed possible, and it’s because of you, our readers. I know you will understand when I share with you that it is time for me to concentrate on my own writing career now. I have to master marketing like I did blogging. I have to devote more time to writing my books. I have to “level up” my writing game by taking more intensive classes.
All this is going to take a huge chunk of time, and though I’ve studied a lot of physics, I can’t create an hour like I can create a batch of chocolate chip cookies, so I’ve been looking at what needed to change. Writers in the Storm takes up three full months of my writing time a year, and that is time I need to reclaim.
I won’t be a stranger. I’ll still be reading and responding when I have something to say, even though I’ll be more in “lurk” mode. And I’ll keep you up on what I’m learning during the year with new posts.
This is a sad time (goodbyes are really hard for me), but it is time for me to let Writers in the Storm sail on without me as part of the crew. You can keep in touch with me at my website or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Facebook. You know I’ll be watching you and your writing progress. Share those successes as well as the tougher writing times. We’re all this boat together.
About Laura & Fae
They've been with Writers in the Storm from the beginning, they are lovely people, and they write fantastic books. What else do you need to know?
Earlier this year, my co-writer and I released three novels of a mythological mystery/thriller series. Unfortunately, we didn't know quite know where our story fit, since it had elements of urban fantasy but was set on an island. And it was kind of a thriller, but also a mystery.
So we considered our specific story, which featured:
- A somewhat-uptight forensic psychologist
- A tropical island with a pink-sanded beach
- Mythology and magic
Armed with that information, we approached a designer, told her what we wanted, and she delivered three beautiful covers according to our request. Mind you, these were shorter books, we were releasing on a quick schedule, and we chose to streamline the look to save some money.
Behind these covers are fabulous stories that you totally want to read—trust me!—but the books weren't selling well.
We decided to rethink our strategy, and along came a guest blogger here on Writers in the Storm who nailed where we'd gone wrong. From Your Cover Sells Your Book by Melinda VanLone:
A side note about the genre: Pick one. Just one. This story will have to go on a digital shelf. If you can’t focus on one genre, then you don’t know your customer well enough yet. Go back and think about how and where they look for books like yours. Study what keywords they type in, what aisle in the bookstore they linger over. The story can’t be all things to all people. It must be the right thing for the right person.
Melinda VanLoneAuthor & Cover Designer
She expanded this idea further in The Cover Two-Step:
Be honest. Did you really write a romance? Or did you write a mystery with romantic elements? Forget subgenres, mashups, and crossovers. We’re looking for the overall broad category.
Melinda VanLoneAuthor & Cover Designer
Sure enough, our story wasn't easily categorized, but we could focus on the genre we were closest to—urban fantasy. Thankfully, within that area is an upcoming category titled supernatural suspense, which fit us even better.
Now we had something to work with—a target to aim for. And it no longer mattered to us whether the cover represented the story just so. Rather, the cover had to fit the genre, the tone, the imagery a potential reader was looking for.
We changed designers to a company that specialized in producing urban fantasy covers that had sold well. We spent hours upon hours going through covers in our genre to see what features were common, choosing stock photos we could recommend, and wording our request to our designer to give her an overall sense what we wanted, while allowing her to bring her own expertise into the process.
And then we waited.
Any author who has ever waited for a book cover — not knowing exactly what will show up — knows that it's the nail-biting and tenterhooks kind of waiting.
While we did do some back-and-forth with the designer on the first round, we fairly quickly arrived at these new covers:
What a difference, right?!
Now you can immediately see that this is a supernatural suspense series with a strong female heroine. Who cares that she's a forensic psychologist? (You learn that on page one.) Who cares that she's uptight? (Also on page one.) Who cares that the sands are pink? (Chapter two.)
The point is knowing what kind of story you'll be getting. That's the promise we're making.
Do you need to redesign your cover(s)? Ask yourself a few questions.
- When I show my cover to others, can they easily name the primary genre or story tone?
- Is my book/series selling well?
- Are potential readers clicking on ads that feature my book cover?
- If you DYIed your original cover: Do I have more money now to hire a professional designer?
- Have cover expectations for my genre changed since my book's release?
- Is my cover comparable to bestselling books in my genre?
A cover redesign is not a guarantee of increased book sales. But I've heard enough positive testimonies to know that your cover matters. Your books having the right covers could be the difference between getting passed over and getting purchased. What a difference a cover makes!
Have you had a redesign of your book cover(s)? Are you considering a redesign now?
Julie Glover writes cozy mysteries, young adult fiction, and supernatural suspense (under the pen name Jules Lynn). Her upcoming YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart®, and her co-written Muse Island Series is available now, beginning with book one, Mark of the Gods.
You can visit her website here.
Critique groups. Something you want to be part of? Or something you don’t? Ask a few seasoned writers, and you’re sure to get some strong opinions. As a writer, editor, and writing coach, here’s mine—
I’m pro critique group all the way.
Why? Whether you’re a newbie who still uses two spaces after a period or a novelist who’s been writing since everyone used two spaces after a period, there’s a certain energy among effective groups that you can’t help but soak up.
Notice I said “effective” groups.
In my years as a group member and a group leader, I’ve had both super and so-not-super experiences. But I’m still very much in favor of finding people who share your passion. The key is finding the right people.
The Upsides: What’s so great about belonging to a critique group?
Writers Understand Writers
Likeminded people reaffirm your sanity. Do you yell at your characters? Get up in the middle of the night to voice text a conversation to yourself that they started without you? Do you scribble plot ideas on gum wrappers? Does your imagination travel into dark corners where your regular friends are afraid to tread? Is your Google search history enough to alert homeland security? See? A tribe who gets you is huge.
Writers Offer Resources
Everyone brings a different life experience to their edits. Someone may be a great grammatical editor, someone else may find content errors, and still someone else may be an expert on a topic you’re trying to research. You’ll be surprised at how much “pooling” your knowledge will get you.
It’s Easier for Someone Else to Find Your Mistakes
No matter how much experience you have, it’s hard to see your own errors. I’m an editor, and I hire an editor. It’s impossible to read our own work with objective eyes. Because we know what’s supposed to be there, our brain automatically fills in typos and missing story parts. Reader’s brains don’t. Let your critique partners point out where they’re confused and nudge you to close the gaps.
You Learn More from Catching Other People’s Mistakes
You pick up things in others’ manuscripts that you might miss in your own. The more you edit, the more you learn how to be a tighter, stronger writer. Sometimes when I see errors in one of my writing partner’s pages, it’s a light bulb moment for my own.
There will be times when you hit a wall—in your plot, characters, and ideas. Talking out your problems with the group can help you find direction. I’ve come up with twists, turns, and resolutions I never knew were lurking in my head. What seems like a major block to you might be easily solved by a fresh perspective.
Sticking out this writing thing requires discipline. One of the best ways to be disciplined is through accountability. Find others who have similar goals, agree to meet often, and hold each other to that promise. The most productive groups meet weekly. If you’re not ready for that, try every other week until you establish a comfortable routine.
Critique group members who write together stay together—and become a writing family. Your writing family. The more you get to know each other, the more you can help each other. Hearing constructive criticism from people you trust is far easier than having your work torn to shreds by someone you don’t know.
The Downsides: What’s not so great about belonging to a critique group?
Losing Your Voice
One of the biggest cons to a critique group is that the members can start to sound alike. Each writer has a unique voice. Even if it takes a while to discover, it’s in there somewhere. Peer pressure forces some writers to change their voice, while others just slip into someone else’s style gradually without realizing they’ve abandoned their own. And there’s always the temptation to edit other’s work in your voice. Watch out for that. Get to know your editing partners’ unique styles and edit like you’re ghostwriting for them.
One person shouldn’t be doing all the work. The goal for the group is to divide and conquer—especially if you’re just starting out. Go to conferences. Take online classes. Sit in on seminars. Bring back what you learn and share it with your group. If each member takes the other members’ work as seriously as they take their own, the overall edits will become better and better.
Feeling Beaten Down
Different people bring different styles, experiences, skill sets, and personalities to your meetings. Think before you speak. Think before you redline. Think before you criticize. You came here for help—just like everyone else. So help. Don’t hinder. Don’t make your writing family cry. Not sure how to be a good critique partner? Say something positive first, then suggest ways to tighten and strengthen writing or conception issues, and end with something positive. People tend to shut down if the first thing they hear is a correction. They’re more likely to listen to your constructive criticism after you’ve told them something that makes them feel good.
One person shouldn’t be the center of the meeting every meeting. Respect each other’s time. Be on time. End on time. Elect a facilitator who will keep you on time and on task or set a timer to divide your minutes equally. Some weeks, one person may need more help than other weeks. Be fair. Be considerate.
Congratulations! You’re helping each other succeed and keeping each other accountable. You’re aware of possible issues and are ready to head them off before they become problems. Here are a few more tips for building strong, encouraging critique groups.
Set Your Group Size
I’ve heard the magic three. I’ve worked with groups of five. My long-time group at one point had seven. This is a personal choice. But limit the size of your group to the workload everyone can handle in the time allotted. If you have a larger group, divide into subgroups when you meet. But stick with the same people. Building trust and relationships is crucial to success.
What do the members want to get out of the group? How much work are they each willing to put in? Are they looking for someone to pat them on the back or really help them become stronger writers? Talk about expectations first. Make sure everyone is on the same page.
Agree on a place and time that works for everyone. Meet somewhere neutral—a restaurant, coffee shop, church, or library—or take turns hosting the group.
Option 1: Send your pages out on email or something like Google Docs. Read and make notes prior to meeting. You can print out and write on the document directly or make notes using features like track changes and comment boxes and then print the document out or email it back to the person. This work-ahead method allows for a good, in-depth critique but takes a time commitment outside of the group.
Option 2: Print your pages and bring enough copies for everyone to the meeting. Let someone else read your work out loud. It will give you a chance to hear where any places there’s a struggle and to pick up mistakes you may have missed. What the eye misses, the ear often picks up. This do-it-there method negates the time commitment outside the group but gives you a less thorough critique.
Option 3: Form an online group to electronically edit each other’s manuscripts. This is my least favorite method. Yes, you’re able to get an in-depth critique. But there’s something about talking things through that seems to be more helpful. Your constructive criticism is also liable to be taken more harshly when it’s just notes on a page. If this is the way you need to go, make sure to include praise. And consider “meeting” online live every once in a while.
You don’t want the other members of the group to dread your weekly submissions. Send the cleanest, easiest-to-read version of your brilliance.
- No more than five double-spaced pages a meeting (depending on group size and time allowed). Double spacing allows room for written comments and is easier to see.
- Read your masterpiece out loud before you submit. The ear catches what the eye misses.
- Run a spell check with grammar.
- Use Times New Roman or Calibri 12-point font. No weird font or all italics. It’s hard to read. See below.
No one wants to decipher that.
New to Critique? Not sure what to do? Here are some things to look for.
- Awkward phrases, sentences, comparisons, or ideas (if it feels “off,” ask)
- Passive verbs—especially “to be” verbs (was, is, am, are)
- Ly Adverbs (better to use a strong verb)
- Too many adjectives
- Accidentally repeated words (don’t use the same word close together unless it’s on purpose)
- Vague words like it, that, the, this, things, them (be specific where you can for clarity)
- Extra words: the, that, had (if the sentence reads clearly without them, cross them out)
- Redundant words or phrases: Two or more descriptions of the same thing or words that mean the same thing.
- Paragraph opening repetition: Do the paragraphs all begin the same way?
- Sentence length (don’t write all choppy, short sentences or cram too much information into too many long sentences)
- POV: Are you head hopping—moving from person to person’s thoughts? Read up on POV for more information.
- Action/Reaction: An action must come before a reaction, and every action needs a reaction.
- Show/don’t tell (He was mad is telling. He threw the chair across the room is showing.)
- Clarity issues (do you know what’s going on in the chapter, and does it make sense for the story?)
- Roller coaster emotions: Does the character react inappropriately without a motivation to do so?
- Information dumps (don’t dump too much information at once and interrupt the story)
- Action issues (are the characters standing in one place one minute and another the next without you knowing how they got there?)
The longer you edit, the stronger writer and critique partner you’ll become. Remember, the key to a good group is finding the right people. If a group isn’t working for you, look for another. But do some soul searching and make sure you’re not the problem.
Comment below with any tips you have on joining critique groups.
An encourager at heart, author, editor, and writing coach Lori Freeland believes everyone has a story to tell. She’s presented multiple workshops at writer’s conferences across the country and writes everything from non-fiction to short stories to novels—YA to adult. When she’s not curled up with her husband drinking too much coffee and worrying about her kids, she loves to mess with the lives of the imaginary people living in her head.
You can find her young adult and contemporary romance at lorifreeland.com and her inspirational blog and writing tips at lafreeland.com. Her latest release, The Accidental Boyfriend, is currently free on the Radish app.