{Guest Post} Julia Park Tracey: 10 Tips for Becoming a Better Writer – From an Editor

Tongues of Angels by Julia Park Tracey
Amazon.com: Paperback | Kindle Edition

Religion. Should I stay away from this one ... controversial subject matter ... and hey this story is true! Is this something you'd consider reading? I want to welcome the author Julia Park Tracey to my blog as she shares some "insider tips" (i.e. writer editor) on writing (and the Catholic Church in her book.) Welcome Julia! 
Author Julia Park Tracey was married to a Roman Catholic priest for several years and heard many stories of wonder and woe. From those tales comes a novel, Tongues of Angels, an insider’s view of the Catholic Church and the priesthood as it stands today.Tongues of Angels: Meet Rob Souza as he faces the challenges of the priesthood-gossip, innuendo, church politics, public scandals-and Jessica, a young woman with a secret past. Meet Lawrence, Rob’s best friend, a gay priest who somehow becomes the third in this odd love triangle. While Jessica finds hope and healing, Rob and Lawrence discover that, despite their best intentions, a promise of celibacy is hard to keep. Tongues of Angels offers a peek behind the curtain of the priesthood, offering a funny, poignant look at Catholic angst and ambiguity. Based on a true story, Tongues of Angels is a canny, warm and surprisingly spiritual novel for our time. 

10 Tips for Becoming a Better Writer – From an Editor
by Julia Park Tracey

Revise. You may think that God reached down and filled your pen or your laptop with sacred words of wonder, but no, that’s just you. And you’re imperfect. And you have to revise. Writers who don’t revise are not going to succeed. Why? Because no one else wants to fix your errors (unless they are paid to). Editors who get guest blogs or letters or other work from you will say rude things and throw up their hands and delete your email. How do I know this? I am an editor who does that when people send me shoddy work. And no, I don’t have time to fix what you were too lazy to revise. That’s your job. I’ll catch errant commas and typos. Otherwise, it’s on you first.

Show, don’t tell. I can’t believe I have to say this, but I do. When you use the phrases, “He began to,” “He started to,” “He shouted,” (or other words indicating HOW he said it), you are giving stage direction. Rather than telling me how angry someone is, show me – with more than gritted teeth, half-moon nailmarks in the palms of her hands, or eye rolling. (Please, no eye rolling!) Show me an angry person in everything that character says and does, rather than just saying, “Jessica was angry.” Or whatever emotion. Show me!

Simple past tense, Part 1. Avoid gerunds. That means if your verb ends in –ing, change it to –ed. He was walking? He walked. He was crying? He cried. He was dying? He died. The gerund form of verbs (ing) is wordy and cumbersome. Your work will be cleaner with simple past.

Simple past tense, Part 2. Don’t use the habitual, even in flashbacks. The habitual is “He would go to the store when he was hungry.” Write, “He went to the store.” He or she “would” is weak writing. It’s your job to write well. Simple past will fix this problem.

Simple past tense, Part 3: Simple past tense of active verbs is best for fiction. The use of present tense is OK in a short story or occasional chapters for effect (say, a dream sequence, for example). In my opinion, past tense is a better format for telling a story because it happened. It isn’t happening now; otherwise, how could you tell it? However, as with all rules, if you can get away with breaking them, by all means, have at it. The risk is if you don’t do it well, and you don’t get away with it.

Avoid clichés. That means the dreaded eye-rolling, lip-biting, foot-tapping kind, as well as expressions like “callow youth” or “beautiful sunset” or “ravages of time” or other “hackneyed phrases” ß another cliché. Use fresh language. That’s what writers do.

Don’t copy other writers. See what they do that works, and try it – don’t just mimic. A poet told me, “Steal engines, not hubcaps.” What makes that story work? That’s what you need to find out. Don’t just steal the trappings (like present tense, all lower-case, or finding out the whole thing was a dream).

Consistency – Spell characters’ names the same way throughout. Are your chapter titles similar enough to create a theme? If you use quotations before each chapter, are they used every time? Are they also similar enough to feel consistent? (Is one funny, but the rest are serious? Are they all scientific, but this last one is an anecdote?) Is a character the same age throughout? Does the 5-year-old act like a kindergartner, or suddenly becomes more mature (with no apparent narrative reason)? Inconsistency makes the reader feel uncomfortable, and then she begins not to trust you at the helm. Be consistent, and have your beta readers look for this before publication.

Anachronisms or unintentional ripples in the space-time continuum. If you are writing about a different world, your characters should not talk like 2013 New Yorkers. Part of creating other worlds is playing with language and the known world so that we feel as if we are transported. But if I’m supposed to be in Middle Earth and Frodo slips out his iPhone, we have a problem. If he pops his gum and says, “Whatever,” I, the reader, slip from the story and land in a heap on my sofa. And I might leave the book there, never to finish it and find out what Frodo did with that silly ring. Make sure, in your second or subsequent drafts, that your characters speak as in that far-off world, and act as if in that world, not as if they are you, rolling your eyes and biting your lip and checking your messages. The same rule holds true even if you are writing about this world, right now. Your story has to be a self-contained world. Characters must act in character. If that means this one smokes a pipe and speaks with a clipped accent, fine. He or she shouldn’t start doing that halfway through the story without good cause (alien ant bite or vampire attack or some reasonable explanation).

Your story is your creation. You are the god or goddess of your story, and you get to change the outcome. You get to make characters behave this way or that, and if you do it well, readers will love it. If you do it poorly, no one will read it except your mom and your spouse, and they will say it’s great because they have to. Let the story unfold, make the tweaks and changes you must, and write a deliciously unheard of story.

Tell your amazing stories in the most writerly way possible. And then send it to me. I can’t wait to read it, knowing that you put so much effort into it.

About Julia Park Tracey

I'm an award-winning writer, editor, journalist and activist. I have 5 kids (mostly grown). I've been a writer all my life, and blogging for about 10 years. I've also been a newspaper+magazine editor+publisher and have been a freelance writer for years. Google me and you'll see.

Tongues of Angels by Julia Park Tracey
Amazon.com: Paperback | Kindle Edition

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