Welcome to Following the Whispers blog

Thank you so much for taking the time to visit. Hope you enjoy your stay. I blog here whenever I feel the need. This blog was created at the time my memoir came out, in February, 2009. Its motto was: creating a life of inner peace and self-acceptance from the depths of despair. Now, my focus is sharing this journey we call life.

“Only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth, and that is not speaking it.” Naomi Wolf

“We are called human beings, not human doings.” Wes Nisker, Buddhist teacher

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs…(And) if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” Theodore Roosevelt

Friday, November 13, 2009

The End is Really the Beginning
By Helen Ginger

There is no greater joy than typing The End on the last page of a manuscript. Well, okay, maybe the birth of a child, but in a way, writing a manuscript is like giving birth. It takes about as long and can be just as painful. Another way the two are similar is that giving birth to a child or a manuscript is never The End. It is, in some ways, The Beginning.

Of course, you have to raise that manuscript up to be the best book it can be before you send it out into the world. That takes time, work, discipline and dedication. It takes editing. I’ve been a freelance editor for years and I’ve yet to come across a book that didn’t need editing -- some more than others, but even the best-selling authors can miss the need to put braces on the buck teeth of their children.

There are many things to look at between the time you type The End and when you send your query and manuscript to an agent or publisher. Entire books have been written on editing. If you’re like me, you probably have several of them on your bookshelf. For the next few minutes, let’s forget about those tutorials. Instead, let’s look at 3 things that I’m seeing frequently in manuscripts.

1. Backstory
Cut it. Seriously. I know you feel it’s important to tell the readers about the protagonist’s upbringing or character or the relationship between him and Sue. That’s the problem. You’re telling. Most of the time, this type of telling is done by an omniscient narrator. It may be important stuff, but it’s being given by a discombobulated head talking down to us. Joe loves his wife. Ever since they met at the rodeo where he worked summers as a clown and she sold hot dogs. Joe’s mama always said he’d find the perfect wife…. It’s boring. Put us immediately into the characters. If Joe loves his wife, let us see that through his actions and his words.

2. While reading may be a passive endeavor, your writing should not be.
Do a search on your manuscript for the word “was” and variations, like “had.” Almost all writers, yes, even me, will be amazed by the number of times we use the passive voice. Janice was on her way to work in the pouring rain when she had a flat tire. Come on, this needs some action. Janice squeezed the steering wheel so tightly she could feel the leather wrap imprinting on her palms. She leaned forward, trying to peer through the curtain of water rushing down the windshield with each clicking swipe of the wipers….

3. Serena walked into the coffee shop, her eyes immediately falling on the dark-haired man sitting with his back to the counter, the Wall Street Journal open on the table.
Really? Do her eyes fall out often? Are they easy to put back in? Watch out for flying body parts. This seems to happen most often with the eyes. Eyes often fall or caress or fly or do any number of impossible things.

There’s a lot more to raising up your manuscript so it can stand on its own with an agent or editor. These three things are ones you can look for and make changes and improvements. If you don’t and you send it to an editor, you end up paying, either in money if she charges by the hour (to do things you could have done yourself) or in time if it takes her weeks to read and re-read, marking repeated mistakes, a lot of which you will want to bop yourself on the forehead for missing.

Don’t worry, though, with each baby manuscript, you learn. Each subsequent baby gets easier to birth, raise, and send out to the world.

Helen, thank you so much for this enlightening article. If you haven't already done so, please check out Helen's blog. You will find a wealth of information for writers and readers.

Helen is a freelance novel editor, with an informational and interactive blog for writers and a weekly e-newsletter that has been going out to subscribers around the globe for nine years. She coaches writers on the publishing industry, finding an agent, and polishing their work for publication. An adept speaker, she has presented at Story Circle Network’s National Conference, Writers’ League of Texas’ Agents & Editors Conference, Baylor University and Mary Hardin-Baylor University. She is an owner-partner and Women’s Marketing Director for Legends In Our Own Minds®, which specializes in creative networking opportunities for companies and groups. With her experience in the business world, her knowledge of the publishing industry and her desire to help writers achieve their dreams, she has redefined the concept of freelance editor to include teacher, coach, and advisor.



Tamika: said...

I do feel like I'm starting to wobble around some. I'm no where near delivery but if I could spit this baby out today I would!

Great tips to infuse. Thanks Karen!

Helen Ginger said...

I clearly remember the last few days leading up to delivery - and, in some ways, it is like birthing the manuscript. You just want to get this thing over with and see it for real.

Thanks for letting me post, Karen.


JournoMich said...

Very, very useful take on the end of the MS. My second child was a lot easier (at least at the beginning!), and I hope each MS, and WIP, is the same way. Thank you for your advice. I hadn't thought about dangling body parts in quite that way before.


Elspeth Futcher said...

What a useful post; and funny too! There is nothing like the relief of typing 'The End'. But then, just like birth, it's not the end, it's the beginning of a whole new journey.


L. Diane Wolfe said...

LOL - loved the eye comment!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Nice post! I'm tweeting...

Mystery Writing is Murder

Helen Ginger said...

Thank y'all for stopping by. Somehow it helps to think of writing a book as a journey similar to the one of birthing. Even after it's birthed (written), the journey is not over.


Jen Chandler said...

Thanks Karen and Helen! I always enjoy your posts and your blogs :)

Happy weekend,

Joanne said...

Thanks Karen and Helen. There's nothing like hearing words of wisdom from someone in the know. Sometimes it "takes a village" to raise that baby!

Helen Ginger said...

Joanne, when you count the editor, the agent, the publisher, the booksellers, the CRMs and on and on, you are SO right!

Karen Walker said...

Hi everyone,
Well, it's official. I'm a dingbat! I had asked Helen to write a guest post. We agreed it was to appear next Wednesday and I would promote it on Monday and Tuesday. Somehow I didn't change the post it date, so here it is and all of you lucky folks found it.
Helen, please forgive me. And for the rest of you, please check out Helen's bio, which I just added to the post.
I am going to re-post it on Wednesday, with a proper introduction.
Hugely mortified,

Helen Ginger said...

Karen, don't be! We've been having fun. Sort of like passing notes while the teacher has her back turned. Tee-hee.

Marisa Birns said...

Oh, Helen. So we can't say, "Joe's mother, who had worked as a Las Vegas showgirl before Big Eyepatch whisked her away to Hoboken, NJ, and when she got bored and hitchhiked back to Bingo Palace, she moved in and starting giving him pancakes for breakfast?"

I will bow to your wisdom. Thank you for sharing. Enjoyed your words, as always!

Thank you, Karen, for inviting Helen to guest post.

Anonymous said...


You've hit on some of my pet peeves there! Another one -- and one that tends to bring my reading to a grinding halt -- is a mid-scene point of view shift. You've got to decide whose head you're going to be in for each scene. If you want to shift, insert some kind of scene or POV break so the reader isn't derailed.

Walt Shiel
Publisher, Slipdown Mountain Publications LLC

Helen Ginger said...

Marisa, you're badmouthing my brother Joe's mama, now aren't you? She would not serve him pancakes for breakfast. Grits and waffles were her specialty.

Walt, that is a big-time headache for readers. If you jerk your readers from head to head, you will give them whiplash and they will put down the book. I agree with you.

Tabitha Bird said...

Great post Karen. I love what you wrote about eyes! LOL- watch out for flying body parts. :)

Have a great weekend.

Helen Ginger said...

I've read "her eyes stabbed him." Yikes!

Cyndi said...

What a great article, thank you so much! I'm already obsessed with grammatical errors, now I just know I'm going to watching for flying body parts in everything I read. :)

Anonymous said...

Helen, I've been stabbed by eyes: Eyes that looked right through mine into my brain and figured out what I was thinking. (That's how it felt).


N A Sharpe said...

Great article. I know when I am going through the first draft sometimes I get more caught up in the story than worrying about the grammar. I have also been guilty of writing from a stream of consciousness where I may dump a lot of backstory - sometimes more for my benefit than the reader's (which I realize as I go through and edit)Great tips for things to be aware of!

Nancy, from Realms of Thought

Alex Moore said...

thanks for the insight