Want to be a slush reader for #70pit16?

Here’s my open call for pg70pit slushies!

#pg70pit is a unique contest in that entries are selected by voice alone. While other contests are better suited for commercial fiction which hooks by the first page, #pg70pit is a contest intending to highlight strong, diverse, or “quiet” voices.

If you think you’ve got the writing and revision chops to be a slushie, read on!

pg70pit writing contest logo

Remember: the contest itself is open to any writer with a complete and polished novel-length work, for age categories MG–Adult.

Constest slushies, however, must have either:

  • a writing/English/literature major or minor (must have completed at least 3 years of study), or
  • a book deal with a nationally recognized publisher*

*Acceptable publishers:

Why these rules? We need slushies who can recognize a strong literary voice, and I don’t have time to vet everyone personally. There are so many excellent pitching contests for commercial fiction; I wanted to offer a pitching contest for quieter stories. #pg70pit is the result.

Reading the slush is a volunteer position. Entries come in July 1 for MG, July 2 for YA, and July 3 for Adult. All entries must be read and judged by July 5th at 7pm EDT. I estimate that each slushie will be assigned fewer than 60 entries (60 pages).

By hitting “submit,” you recognize that this is a blind contest—you pledge to not enter this contest yourself in 2016, and you pledge to pass any entries you recognize onto another slushie.

Using Spreadsheets to Track Your Revision

I use spreadsheets to track my editing progress as I work my way through a manuscript. It shows me very clearly how much progress I’ve made and how much left I still have to do.

I tweaked the spreadsheet I created for myself to make it into a template anyone can use (in theory—let me know if you’re unable to save a copy for yourself!).

Here’s the spreadsheet in Google Sheets. Go to File > Save a Copy to save and modify your own.

 

(The Google Sheets version also has formulae if you don’t want to work chronologically!)

Spreadsheet tracking revision or editing progress

If that doesn’t work, I’ll walk you through the steps to make your own.

First open up a new spreadsheet and include the column headers (Project, Project Name) and row headers (Total Pages, # Complete, Section 1, 2, etc.) as seen above. If you have more than one project, create more rows for that.

Each project is three columns, with its first two rows each merged into one cell, which is why Project Name and the number of total pages are both centered. So merge B1+C1+D1 into one cell and repeat for B2+C2+D2.

Then in B2, enter the total number of pages for your project. In this example, I’ll use 300 since it’s a nice round number.

total number of pages to revise or edit

I filled B3 with a dark gray and turned the text white to remind me that when this template is all set up, that’s the only cell I need to update. I also set C3 and D3 with bold text and a very light gray fill, to set that progress apart as the total progress.

Decide how many sections you want to divide your project into. We’ll do three for this example, but you can add as many as you’d like.

Find the page number that Section 1 ends on. That’s the number you’ll put into B4. For example, if Section 2 starts on page 109, then Section 1 ends on 108, so enter 108 here.

Repeat for the remaining sections. Your last section (Section 3, or B6 here) should have the same number as your total pages (B2).

The total percentage completed (C3) is easy enough: it’s the number complete divided by the total number of pages. So in C3, enter

=B3/B2

This is where the formulae get a little tricky. We want to make sure that the numbers in column C stay between 0% and 100%.

The percentage finished in section 1 (C4) is the number of pages complete divided by the total pages, maxing out at 100%. So in C4, enter

=MIN(B3/B4,1)

The percentage finished in section 2 (C5) is the number of pages complete (B3), minus the number of pages in Section 1 (B4) divided by the total pages (B2), with a minimum of 0% and maxing out at 100%. So in C5, enter

=MAX(MIN((B$3B4)/(B5B4),1),0)

(Yeah, I definitely had to do some digging to figure that one out!)

For C6, you can copy and paste C5. Thanks to the trick Leigh suggested in the comments (adding the $), that first cell will stay B3 even when you copy and paste.

You can continue copying and pasting, but make sure that the formulae in the percentage column always start with the total number of pages. In my template, those cells are shaded dark gray.

Now for column D, the bar graphs. This is something else I had to look up and modify to fit my needs.

All we’re doing is taking the percentages in column C and turning them into graphs, with one vertical line (shift + the key under “backspace” or “delete”). We want 1 line for each 5%.

editing or revision progress graph with spreadsheet

Start with D3:

=REPT(“|”,(C3*20))

Then copy and paste down the column. The C3 will adapt for each cell, changing to C4, C5, etc.

One last thing: quickly enter the total number of pages into B3 so you can see how much 100% is, then rescale the D column to fit. Otherwise 100% won’t look like 100% 🙂

If you save a copy of the template I created, you can copy and paste the H–J columns to create more projects.

Now that you’ve got your spreadsheet all set up, update B3 with how many pages you’ve completed, and watch the bars fill up!

 

xo Lara

Overused Words You Should and Shouldn’t Delete

overused-words

If you spend some time in writer critique circles, I’m sure you’ve heard the well-intended advice to delete words “that” or “was” from your writing. I’m here to clarify when you should, and when you SHOULDN’T, delete these words.

Once you’ve read the lesson, I’ve got a master list of commonly overused words for you to refer to while revising.

Delete “that”

Sometimes a sentence needs the word “that” in order to be read correctly. For example:

He knew from the way I carried myself and the name tag I had been
wearing my father is mayor.

The sentence above reads like a run-on without the word “that.” It reads better like this:

He knew from the way I carried myself and the name tag I had been
wearing that my father is mayor.

Don’t delete “that” from sentences which use a “from” or “by” to describe how a person learns something. The “by” or “from” signifies how, and the “that” signifies what was learned.

If you delete the “that,” use punctuation to allow the reader time to switch from how to what:

You can tell by the way I use my walk,
I’m a woman’s man: no time to talk.

In most cases, I agree that “that” should be removed from sentences. 😉

But before deleting all instances, consider readability and meaning of the sentence with and without the word. “That” can be a symptom of wordiness, but it isn’t the problem. Sometimes clarity requires more words.

Delete “was” or “is”

The being words aren’t the problem. The problems are passive voice and incorrectly using “-ing” words. First, passive voice.

How to find passive voice

Passive voice is a verb with a “to be” helper verb (is/am/are/was/were/have been) in front of it and an -ed or -en ending. Here are some examples:

  • is forbidden
  • am bitten
  • are captured
  • was eaten
  • were smooched
  • have been made

How to fix passive voice

To fix passive voice, you need to find the true subject. Read the sentence and ask “by whom or what?” The answer to that question is the true subject.

  • Peanut butter is forbidden [by the PTA] —> THE PTA forbids peanut butter.
  • I am bitten [by my vampire boyfriend] —> MY VAMPIRE BOYFRIEND bit me.
  • Rebels are captured by the Empire —> THE EMPIRE captured rebels.
  • Spaghetti was eaten [by all] —> WE ALL ate the spaghetti.
  • Our cheeks were smooched by Great Aunt Millie —> GREAT AUNT MILLIE smooched our cheeks.
  • Mistakes have been made [by the administration] —> THE ADMINISTRATION made mistakes.

Should you fix passive voice?

Generally yes. Active verbs are stronger than passive verbs. Passivity is considered negative and weak.

However, sometimes passive voice is necessary. Sometimes the true subject needs to stay hidden (for suspense) or is unknown. Sometimes the object is more important than the true subject. This is especially true when the subject is a victim.

Do search for passive voice, but understand when to make it active and when to keep it positive.

What isn’t passive voice? Tricky -ed Adjectives

Being verbs are used as auxiliary verbs—helpers to other verbs, as in the case of passive or perfect voice—or as linking verbs, when they link the subject to a noun or adjective.

“He is happy” is pretty obviously not passive voice because “happy” isn’t a verb. But what about “He is excited”? Sure, you can ask “by whom or what” here, because you can be excited by something. Excite is a verb. But excited is also an adjective. So are pleased, confused, thrilled, delighted, flattered

Check the dictionary to see if the word is an adjective, and remember the rule about passive voice: Sometimes the object is more important than the true subject. In the case of linking verbs and adjectives, the character whom the adjective describes is usually more important than whatever is causing the effect.

Read more about linking verbs below, and the problems people have with them, too.

Delete “was” (also “-ing” verbs or “gerunds”)

Nearly every time I see someone online advising writers to cut “ing verbs,” that person doesn’t understand what a progressive verb is. And if those bloggers don’t know what a progressive verb is, they certainly don’t know what gerunds or active participial phrases are.

gerund is an “ing” word used as a noun. For example, Singing annoys Kristina—”Singing” there is a noun, because you could replace it with “Steve” or “fish” or “politics” and it would still make grammatical sense.

progressive verb is a verb with an -ing ending and a “to be” helper verb (is/am/are/was/were/has been/have been/will be/would be/will have been/would have been…) in front of it. The girl was singing— “was singing” is a progressive verb.

An active participial phrase is an “ing” word used as an adjective, often as part of a larger adjectival phrase. Singing loudly, the girl was annoying Kristina—”singing loudly” is an adjectival phrase talking about the girl, and “was annoying” is the verb, the action she is performing.

Getting -ing Verbs Right

Progressive verbs are sometimes used incorrectly. The key word is “progressive.” A progressive verb shows an action happening continually or at the same time as something else:

I was washing my face when Harold burst into the bathroom.

This sentence shows a progressive action. Changing that to this…

I washed my face when Harold burst into the bathroom.

…changes the meaning of the sentence. (Why did his bursting into the room cause me to wash my face?)

Progressive verbs often are used correctly.

However, if you’re throwing in progressive verbs for no reason, you can cut the “is/am/are/was/were” and “-ing” to create a simpler, less wordy verb. Chances are, that verb could be stronger, and that word count could be better spent elsewhere.

Barbara is eating a sandwich when Doug takes the dog for a walk.

Rather than put the focus on the act of Barbara’s continual eating, focus on something more important, like what about the sandwich was so remarkable it had to be included in the story.

Barbara savors her cheesesteak as if it were her last meal. Nauseated by the stench of onions, Doug takes the dog for a walk.

Getting -ing Adjectives Right

First, make sure the adjective is attached to the right noun.

Considering Nigel’s allergies, the cat needed to find another home.

That’s a misplaced modifier. The cat isn’t considering Nigel’s allergies; the narrator is. This is correct:

Considering Nigel’s allergies, I needed to find the cat another home.

So what’s wrong with -ing words? Not knowing how and when to use them.

Now you know.

Bonus: Linking Verbs = Telling

You’ll see below that linking verbs (e.g. am, are, be, is, was, were, will) are included on the overused words list.

Again, linking verbs are fine in moderation.

A linking verb creates an equation, telling you more about a subject. This = This.

Ronald is mad.

Eliza is a gravedigger.

These sentences aren’t bad. Sometimes less is more, and sometimes summary is necessary. Showing isn’t always better than telling—you should only show that which is remarkable enough to be remarked upon. If Eliza’s a background character, and her occupation doesn’t affect the plot of your story, then I don’t want a scene of her digging up graves. Actually, I could see that being thrown in for comedic effect or foreshadowing, but that’s beside the point. Showing too much can be just as much of a problem as telling too much. Use linking verbs sparingly and intentionally.

Bonus: Expletive sentences are passive.

Expletive sentences are ones that start with “it” or “there” and a linking verb. In expletive sentences, the “it” and “there” are abstract and veil the true subject. This is not an expletive: “The tiger’s ears twitched. It was listening.” We know what “it” is; it’s the tiger.

This is an expletive:

It was scary to think about her mother.

Compare that with this:

Her mother was scary to think about.

Both use linking verbs to tell us something. The latter is stronger because it has a concrete subject. You can get rid of the linking verb entirely if you’re willing to change subjects:

Thinking about her mother scared me. (telling)

Whenever Yuri thought about her, his eye twitched involuntarily. (showing)

Expletive sentences are fine in moderation. We use them all the time in natural conversation. You’ll find plenty reading my blog. You’ll find them in literary and commercial fiction.

But do be aware of what they are and how to revise them. Ask “What was/is?” at the end of each expletive to find a clearer subject. Consider how you can show rather than tell. Remember, showing in fiction isn’t just visual, it’s experiential. How can you show by movement, touch, taste, smell, texture, sound, temperature, body language, weather, or appearance?

Note that expletives might use the following instead of a “to be” verb:

  • does
  • did
  • feel
  • seem

For example: “There seems to have been a misunderstanding.” or “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand.”

The point of an expletive is that “it” or “there” is hiding, rather than referring to, the subject of the sentence.


 Commonly Overused Words

These are words I see repeated in manuscripts pretty frequently, combined with Lana’s Watch Word list. Check out her guest post to see how she uses her list to revise her own works.

You are free to use and share this list for educational, non-profit purposes! You must, however, give credit and the link to this post. You may not use this list for commercial gain.

Note: look for different forms of the words below. Tense (past, present, perfect, progressive) and person (first, second, third) will affect the word endings. The most common variations are -ing, -s, and -ed suffixes.

Adverbs / Prepositions—use these ones in moderation

-ly, A lot, Again, Almost, At least, Back, Even, Instead, Just, Like, Of Course, Over, Really, So, Then, Toward, Very, Which

Signs of Weak Verbs—can you make the verb stronger or more specific?

Be, Is, Had, Has, Make, Was, Were, Would,
It does/is/was/will/would/had,
There are/do/does/is/was/were/will/would/had

Signs of Wordiness—cut excessive words

And, As, Began/Begin, Going, Start, That, Try/Tried

Repeated Descriptions / Actions—use in moderation

Breath, Brow/Eyebrow, Eye, Gasp, Hair, Head, Laugh, Shake/Shook, Shrug, Sit/Sat down, Smile, Smirk, Sneer, Stand/Stood, Stomach, Turn

Repeated Pronouns—make sure the antecedent (the word these refer to) is clear

It, One, of Them, of Us, There, They

Filtering Language—Removing will allow the reader to experience firsthand rather than secondhand (Read more)

Feel/Felt, Glance, Hear, Know, Look, Realize, Recognize, Remember, Saw, See, Seem, Think/Thought

Overused by Characters / Narrator—watch sentence beginnings, especially

And, But, Like, OK/Okay, So, Well, [Other Characters’ Names]

Full List

-ly
A lot
Again
Almost
And
As
At least
Back
Be
Began/Begin
Breath(e)
Brow/eyebrow
. But
Even

Eye
Feel/Felt
Gasp
Glance

Going
Had
Hair
Has
Head

Hear
Instead
Is

It
It is (does/was/will/would/had)

Just
Know
Laugh
Like
Look
Of Course
Of them
OK/okay
One
Over
Really
Realize
Recognize
Remember

Saw/See
Seem
Shake/Shook
Shrug
Sit down/Sat down

Smile
Smirk
Sneer

So

Stand/Stood up
Start

Stomach
That
Then
There is (are/do/does/was/were/will be/would/had)

Think/Thought
Toward
Try/Tried
Turn
Very
Was
Well
Were

Which
Would