“My manuscript is pretty clean. Probably won’t take you long. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure it just needs a proofread, not a whole edit.” Like other copyeditors, I get this a lot.
The biggest problem is writers don’t see their own mistakes. Then, an editor like me comes along and surprises the author with red lines and corrections on their story. The sheer number of them makes their manuscript look like it’s getting ready for Valentine’s Day.
This inability to see the mistakes in your writing can be called author blindness. Author blindness can be lessened with some time away from your story but never fully cured. It is a condition caused by overfamiliarity with your words. You’ve seen them many, many times, even in your head before they were formed on the paper or the screen. Once they’re out there, you see what you expect to see on the page—your vision of the story—instead of what is actually there. Often, these issues exist even after you’ve self-edited.
And you should self-edit before you send your book to your editor. Think of it this way. You have the choice of giving your editor an unshaped lump of clay or a mostly sculpted piece that still needs some polishing. Given time and money constraints, which one could she most likely refine into something that is both a superb work of art and on par with your vision?
As an author, you want your book title to be unique and memorable. You also need it to be discoverable in searches and intriguing enough that readers go on to read the back cover blurb or book description.
Your book title is right up there with your cover design and back cover blurb in convincing people to buy and read your book.
Keep in mind that most of these tips apply to series or short story titles as well.
1. Use the Name or Title of One of Your Main Characters
Depending on your story, you might choose the protagonist or the antagonist. Use it by itself (think Hannibal) or with a combination of other words (as in The Dresden Files or Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone).
You can also use a character’s title. For example, Hamlet could have been called The Prince of Denmark.
2. Use Your Theme
Theme can make a strong book title. Peter Brown uses his title The Wild Robot to describe both the main character’s journey and one of the book’s themes. Bella Forest uses The Gender Game to emphasize the strong theme of gender division in her book.
3. Use a Significant Event or Plot Point
If your book centers around a major event, why not use that event as your title?
Suzanne Collins uses The Hunger Games as both the title of her first book and the series title.
If you employ a MacGuffin, a device which triggers the plot, you can use it to create your book title as Dashiell Hammett did with The Maltese Falcon.
4. Use Your Setting as Your Book Title
A unique or catchy setting name can also create an intriguing book title. Robin Carr uses the name of her fictional small town Virgin River as the title for both a book and the series it belongs to.
This method is especially appropriate when your setting figures strongly in your work. You can also use a general setting and combine it with other words or themes to create a discoverable title as Holly Black did with The Darkest Part of the Forest.
5. Use a Character’s Unique Perspective
If your character has a strong viewpoint, you can use this to your advantage. An example from nonfiction is Tucker Max’s I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. You hardly even have to read the blurb to get a feel for this book and the author’s outlook on life.
6. Use a Favorite Line of Text or Dialogue
Judy Blume uses her main character’s oft-used line as her title in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. As you read through your book during revisions, write down favorite or iconic lines and see if one might work for you.
7. Steal Your Book Title
If appropriate, use a line from something famous or make a play off someone else’s title. Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea is an obvious play off Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
So many people have “stolen” titles from lines of Shakespeare’s work that there is a whole Wikipedia page devoted to them.
In a future post, I’ll cover some dos and don’ts on getting your book title right. In the meantime, how did you come up with your book title(s)? I’d love to hear your stories.
I’d like to discuss a problem that I see a lot when I’m wearing my editorial hat and that I try to avoid when I’m wearing my writer hat. It’s actually two problems—head hopping and slips in point of view (POV)—but they stem from the same cause. Let’s start with head hopping.
What Is Head Hopping?
In fiction, head hopping is a POV problem.
To clarify, I’ll start with a little explanation of third-person POV. Third person uses pronouns like he and she to describe the main characters instead of I (first person) or you (second person). (I cover these in more detail in my series on point of view.)
To break it down further, third-person omniscient allows the author to hover above the story, dipping in and out of the minds of all the characters and showing all the action and thoughts as if she is an all-knowing goddess.
Jackie approached the alien craft, sweat beading on her forehead and dripping down into her eyes. From his craft, Jo Ahl watched her approach, double-checking that the doors were sealed tight. They were terrified of each other, but they did not know that their meeting was ordained. Without it, the future of the very universe was at stake.
In contrast, third-person limited shows the story through the eyes and experiences of one or more characters and does this one character at a time. This is a very popular POV today. It gives the author the flexibility of moving between characters if he wishes while maintaining the intimacy of first-person POV.
Jackie stepped up to the ship and laid a hand on the cool metal. Her heart pounded as she added the other hand and searched for a crack or a button, anything that would show her where the door was. This was the first sign of life she had found since her pod had crash-landed on this rock. Nothing. It was like a giant metal egg, except she could see the little window ten feet above her head and the landing gear that held it steady on the uneven ground.
To use third-person limited POV effectively, the author must set limits on how often she will change POVs. In my experience, the smallest POV division should be the scene. The most common divisions are either scenes or chapters (that is, sticking to one POV per scene or per chapter).
Some authors use the paragraph as this minimum division, but it’s harder to pull off and can often be confusing for the reader. At worst, it can feel like the author can’t make up her mind about which type of POV she wants to use and keeps slipping into omniscient.
Head hopping, or moving inappropriately between one character’s head and another, comes into play when the author either doesn’t know how to use different gradations of POV or does it inconsistently. The reader is happily following the adventures of Jackie when suddenly he is tossed into the head of Jo Ahl without any warning, such as a scene or chapter break.
Jackie began pounding on the metal with her polymer-covered fists. “Who’s in there? Come out, please! Maybe we can help each other,” she yelled.
Whoever was in the ship must be stranded, too. She had seen nothing for miles on this barren planet. There were no spaceports or anything. She made her way around the pod, pounding her fists like drums against the hull. It was giving Jo Ahl a headache, but she kept going.
To prevent head hopping, have a plan. Decide on your point of view before you begin to write. As you plan each scene or chapter, decide who will be your POV character.
What Are POV Slips?
Head hopping is a POV slip, but some slips are more subtle. They often involve sensory transfers, a lack of thought about a character’s presence within a particular setting, or big assumptions on the part of your POV character.
The temperature was mild, and a light breeze blew, but Jo Ahl refused to leave his ship.
In this example, no evidence is given to the reader that Jo Ahl has ever been outside. As far as we know, he’s been locked up tight since he landed. How does he know what the temperature is? Fix this by adding a little information.
The console still worked and told Jo Ahl that the temperature was mild and there was a light breeze blowing. He still refused to leave his ship.
Alternatively, just cut the offending phrase or make it clear that the character is making assumptions.
The few leaves on the spindly trees in the distance fluttered fitfully, and the ship had remained an even temperature since he had powered it down. Still, despite this evidence of a possibly friendly atmosphere, Jo Ahl refused to leave his ship.
The Bottom Line
The basic rule in limited POV—first person or third person—is this:
If the POV character cannot see it, taste it, touch it, smell it, feel it, or think it, throw it out.
Remember that unless he is a mind reader, your character cannot know what other characters are thinking, feeling, or sensing. So, when you are writing from his POV, stay out of other characters’ minds and bodies.
What tools or reminders do you use to maintain consistency in POV?
Welcome back! In this final installment in my series on point of view (POV), I will be discussing the most popular point of view used in fiction: third person. The different points of view and the use of first-person and second-person POVs were covered earlier in this series.
Third person is popular for a reason. It is very flexible. You can choose to show your fictional world from many viewpoints and intimacy levels within one POV.
Third-Person Omniscient: You can show the reader your world from completely outside the characters and setting yet be able to relate—or refuse to relate—the thoughts and actions of each at your own whim or for your own devious intentions (e.g., to drive your reader crazy with suspense).
Third-Person Objective: Again, you can show your reader your world from the outside but, in this case, refrain from getting inside the characters’ heads. Only actions, narrative, and description are used to tell your story. All thoughts and feelings must be learned or inferred by the reader from these elements.
Third-Person Limited: With this POV, you can take a more intimate approach and get up close and personal with one of your characters. This can be a single character in a novel (also referred to as third-person single POV) or multiple characters (also referred to as third-person multiple POV). The latter can be distinguished from third-person objective in that at any one time in the story, only the viewpoint of one character is shown. In this case, any shifts from one character to another must be done carefully, such as through a natural break in the story with a scene shift or new chapter.
As with the previous weeks, I will demonstrate third-person POV (limited in this case) with a short scene from The Magician’s Wife. This same scene was covered in the first-person and second-person POVs in my previous posts.
Excerpt, The Magician’s Wife by Janell E. Robisch
“Sarin, you must be careful.”
“Lew, do not speak that way. There is nothing to worry about. It is just another spell. As soon as Kaleo arrives with the herb, everything will be fine.” Her voice was shaking terribly despite all her efforts to remain calm. After wringing a warm cloth between her trembling hands, she applied the compress to her husband’s cheeks and forehead.
“Sarin, look at me, at my face!” he said, pulling her wrist and the cloth down.
Reluctantly, she brought her eyes to his, blinking back tears. His green eyes were bright, but the flesh around them was pale and drawn. Moving his hand to hers, he squeezed gently. “Sarin, this is the last time. The Guardians are calling me. It’s time to go.”
“No.” She shook her head hard and felt her hair brush the sides of her face. It usually annoyed her, but now it seemed unimportant.
Lew’s eyes focused on her once more. “Listen to me Sarin, you have to be careful with the magic. Do not trust anyone. Do not tell anyone. If I had known . . . . I never should have taught you anything.” She heard no malice in his voice, only fear and regret. “You must promise me to be careful.”
His lips faded to a lighter shade of pink as if all his blood were rushing down to his ailing heart, but Sarin knew the truth. She could feel its beat slowing as surely as if it were her own. Soon, it would stop.
“I promise,” she nodded. “I promise.” The truth of his departure was becoming clear to her as the emerald sparkle of his eyes finally began to fade.
As a warm tear slid down her nose, Sarin made the four-pointed sign of the Guardians over her husband’s chest. “I love you,” she whispered, burying her face in his shoulder, inhaling his scent as if she could hold on to it. She felt his cool, weak hand rest on her neck. “Don’t forget me.”
“Never, my little star. Never.”
The hand slipped ever-so-slowly from her neck, and Sarin broke into sobs, her fists buried in Lew’s tunic, knowing she would never hear his sweet voice again.
Now that you have read all three, which do you prefer for this scene?
In the third part of this series, I discuss writing fiction in the second-person point of view. In the first part of the series, I introduced and defined the basic points of view, and in the second part, I discussed the first-person point of view in more detail. In this part, we’ll be discussing the seldom used second-person point of view.
Second person actually has a special place in my heart and in my origins as a writer. I started thinking of myself as a writer when I was a freshman in high school when an English teacher assigned us to write three pages a day of anything in a journal. Shortly after, I met the girl who would become my best friend. Somehow, during late-night gab sessions, we started a tradition of telling each other stories. These were almost always told in second person. They were told out loud and on pieces of paper passed as notes in class. They were full of adventure, romance, and anything that appealed to us. We met our favorite stars and fell in love.
The second person made that all possible. Writing and telling a story in the second person gave me the power to pull at the heartstrings of my friend, to see her reactions firsthand. It wouldn’t have been the same if the story was about “Kelly” or “Sadie.” It was about her and only her. It was a unique experience as a writer, to be able to share my story directly with my audience and to personalize it as I watched her responses minute by minute. It has been an experience that I’ve often wished for nowadays when I ask myself whether my audience will find a certain passage as exciting as I do.
However, the use of second person, especially in a novel aimed at the general public, is not for the faint of heart.
“If taking a gamble is not your thing, forget about second person point of view and stick to the ‘safe’ choices of first person or third person.”
—Second Person Point of View, Novel Writing Help
It is the least commonly used point of view and can be seen as a cop-out.
So, one must be careful about using second person. However, when used effectively, as in the Choose Your Own Adventure books, it can be an effective way to pull your reader into the story in a way that is not possible with the other points of view.
As I promised, this week I have rewritten my scene from The Magician’s Wife in second-person point of view. Read it, compare it with last week’s excerpt, and see how it strikes you.
Excerpt, The Magician’s Wife by Janell E. Robisch
“You must be careful.”
“Do not speak that way. There is nothing to worry about. It is just another spell. As soon as Kaleo arrives with the herb, everything will be fine.”
Your voice was shaking terribly, although you were trying desperately to be calm for Lew’s sake. You wrung a warm cloth between your trembling hands and gently applied it to his cheeks and forehead. Oh, my darling husband!
“Look at me, at my face!” he said, pulling your wrist and the cloth away.
You didn’t want to, but you looked at his eyes, your own blinking back tears. His green eyes were bright, but the flesh around them was pale and drawn. You reached out to touch that bit of skin, as if by doing so you could bring the life back into it. You felt his hand touch yours, and he squeezed gently. “This is the last time. The Guardians are calling me. It’s time to go.”
“No.” You shook your head hard and felt your hair brush the sides of your face. It seemed so unimportant.
“Listen to me. You have to be careful with the magic. Do not trust anyone. Do not tell anyone. If I had known . . . . I never should have taught you anything.” His voice was soft. “You must promise me to be careful.”
You touched his lips as they faded to a lighter shade of pink. It was as if all of his blood were rushing down to his ailing heart, but you knew the truth. You could feel its beat slowing as surely as if it were your own. Soon, it would stop. You thought your own would stop with it.
“I promise,” you nodded. “I promise.” The familiar emerald sparkle of his eyes began to fade.
You could feel warm tears sliding down the side of your nose as you made the four-pointed sign of the Guardians over Lew’s chest. “I love you,” you whispered, burying your face in his shoulder. You felt his cool hand rest on your neck with the lightest of touches. “Don’t forget me.”
“Never, my little star. Never.”
His hand slipped slowly from your neck, and you couldn’t help it. A sob burst from your mouth. You grabbed his tunic in both fists, wrecked by the knowledge that you would never hear his voice again.