Friday, August 17, 2012


Put simply, 'editing' can make or break your book. It is an absolute must if even a little part of you considers telling a story to someone. I use a handful of methods to help me clean up typos, sentence structure, and to remove excess words (though I still miss quite a few). I'll start with my least favorite, because it's also one of the best.

Reading the book backwards. That's right, reading it backwards. Have you ever tried that? It takes twice as long as reading it the correct way. Here's why: When reading a book naturally, our eyes skim over the flow of words because they're in recognizable patterns. We know how to string together a sentence. We can pick out the noun, verb, and direct object (if there is one). This ability lets us read an entire sentence at a time. It's the way we've been trained.
By reading the book backwards, a word at a time, the sentence loses recognizable aspects. It doesn't flow. It can't. Try reading this sentence backwards. Your brain slows down, forcing you to read one word at a time. And there's the benefit, the perfect way to check your spelling.

Another method is to print out your story, spread it out on the floor, and grab your pen. This way you can focus on an entire scene without having to scroll up and down, to worry about copying and pasting, or writing over what can be used later. Once you block off each scene, determine if it adds to the main plot or is filler. If a scene doesn't add to the plot, cut it out.

A third editing technique is to take each sentence in the story, remove it from the body of work, and rewrite it with an eye toward cutting out extraneous words. Extraneous words are words that are unneeded in a sentence. If you can tell the same thing in fewer words, go with that. Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast definition of what extraneous words are, but the story can be told without them, and no one will miss them. These Chains that Bind dropped from over 142,000 to under 130,000.
Extraneous word removal takes ALOT of practice. I've read These Chains that Bind seven times, and each time I cut out more words. I can only read two chapters before my brain decides it's done for the day. This way is exhausting but one of the best things you can do for your book. Tighter sentences means the book flows faster, making it a better read. A well-crafted sentence marks you as someone serious about writing.

Nothing highlights formulaic sentences, odd and dangling phrases, inconsistencies in description, and dozens of other problems like reading the book aloud. I'm serious. Listen for those moments that make you stop and have to reread the sentence. Something's wrong there; fix it. You can also hear when words a character normally wouldn't say come out of their mouths. Watch out for fomulaic sentences, like noun, verb, action; noun, verb, action; noun, verb, action. If you grow bored reading your own sentences, so will everyone else.

But one of the best things you can do before editing your book is to put it away for at least three months, maybe even a year. Don't touch it. Don't look it. Try to forget about it. The less you remember, the better. Nothing creates that objective eye like reading the story with fresh ones. Moments I thought worked, don't. Plotholes can be found this way, because now I'm the one wondering what's going to happen next. Sometimes this out-of-sight-out-of-mind perspective allows my subconscious to work on the plot, so when I come back to the story, I find new ways to fix old problems.

This last major editing technique is drastic and forces you to start the editing process all over again. I don't recommend it unless you are thoroughly unhappy with your story. I'm talking about rewriting the entire thing. I did that with These Chains that Bind. At that point, it had gone through three major revisitions, feelings of inadaquacies, unhappiness, and unsatisfacation before I got so desperate, I threw the whole book out and started all over again. I kept maybe 25 pages of the original 282 page book. The version I have now is its fifth, due to the word weight-loss.

Well, these are the major editing techniques I use consistently. But every writer has their own. Find the ones that work best for you and use them, because nothing makes a book shine like great editing.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Music and Writing

My opinion on music is an odd one in a world where most people claim music is their 'thing'. I consider it background noise.  And that background noise can either help or hinder my writing. I base a song's worth by whether or not it conjures images of my book characters. If a particular song, say, reminds me of Ezra, I'll listen to it while writing about that particular character.

I have a handful of songs picked out and set aside for each character. Five Finger Death Punch's remake of 'Bad Company' works splendidly for Ezra. Redlight King's 'Bullet in my Hand' is about the relationship between Juliet and a character you'll meet much later in the Juliet Harrison series - Loic. Only recently did I find a song for Moyer Bennett, a recurring character: Five Finger Death Punch's 'Walk Away'.

There are more, but I just wanted to give you a feel of the type of music that chooses me. I tend to listen to the radio when I'm in the car, and I never know when or if I'll hear something. Music can also help me built tension for a fastpaced scene or help generate a serious moment.

Sometimes though, I simply prefer writing without it. Music has its own pace, and alot of times it's faster than I care to go, especially when extensive detail is required. I find when I listen to a fastpaced song during a heated moment, I have to later go back to the scene and write in the detail.

But while music can play an important part in my writing process, it can also negatively affect it. For Zombie Bowl, I couldn't listen to music at all. When I tried, I lost the ability to truly focus on that extremely detail-oriented perspective I needed. A key element of Zombie Bowl is atmosphere, and I couldn't really explore every nook and cranny of a scene with a faster paced song playing. So, no music. And I still haven't heard a song that triggers images about Dr. Z either.

Music has its good and bad points in writing, and for me, it just depends on my goal for each scene. It definitely has a purpose though. I just have to know how to use it correctly.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Zombie Bowl

I've been told that dialogue is a strength of mine. But Zombie Bowl required a different focus, largely because for the first 50 pages, there is only one human surviving among thousands of zombies. And she doesn't say a word.

So, instead of dialogue, I focused on description - on atmosphere. The world May lives in is bleak, dangerous, and very big - too big. There is too much space, be it the wide, open sky above her head or the empty city all around her.

In the unedited version, May said maybe 11 words in those first 50 pages, but after reading the novella a few times, I realized I didn't like them. So, I cut them out but still wanted readers to be able to get inside her head. I wanted them to know her. Considering the p.o.v is written from third-person with no internal dialogue, I included snippets of her journal.

And those journal entires served two purposes. One: they were the lessons and observations May picked up while cleaning out the zombie infestation in her hometown. And two: there is no better way to define this quiet, focused, introverted young woman than quick peeks into her personal thoughts.

Description is a great deal harder to write than dialogue, because if I'm not careful, my sentences can end up sounding formulaic, and what I mean by 'formulaic' is that the word order is the same, like this:

'KT opened the door. She stuck her ear to the door. She heard nothing, so she stepped inside.'

Boring. And bad writing. I can usually tell when I've fallen into this habit after I read my story aloud. (There's no better editor than to hear what I've written.) Now, to avoid that, and because the story focused solely on description, I had to vary my sentence structure, so the above example turns into this:

KT rested her fingertips on the doorknob and turned it. She paused, an ear to the doorcrack. Only silence greeted her, so she let her toe-to-heel steps carry her forward.'

Better, more descriptive. (not perfect, mind you, but this is just an example)

Zombie Bowl required constant sentence structure analysis, because readers - subconsciously or not -will be able to catch that formula, and they'll put the book down, thinking it's boring or not good, though they may not know why. I definitely didn't want Zombie Bowl like the first example, and that challenge has pushed me farther than any writing project I've started. I've learned alot from my novella, and I hope you enjoy it... because even though it was difficult to write, it's also one of my favorites.

Look for it on Amazon Kindle: Zombie Bowl: The Legacy of Dr. Z: as Recorded by KT Swartz. And if you like Urban Fantasy, look for 'These Chains that Bind: A Juliet Harrison Novel'.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


'Research'. Normally a dreaded word. And it conjures images of a lone, hunched figure perched over a table in a dark library; piles of books block this poor, sunlight-deprived person from the rest of the world....

Well, maybe not.

I've found that the more realistic I try to make my characters - the more realistic I try to make their world - the more research I have to do.

Let's start with Ezra:
Ex-marine. Awesome but not awesome enough. So, I started digging through the life of marines for something more. One of my favorite shows has now become 'Surviving the Cut', and it highlights the training exercises recruits must endure to enter any branch of the marines, the navy, and the air force's special divisions. I focused on books told by people who had fought or witnessed the fighting: 'Generation Kill', 'Jarhead', 'Ghosts of War'...
I bought books on military weaponry and strategy, because Ezra has his Recon Marine training burned into his brain. He has to act like it; he has to think like it.
He is also a cop, so I bought books that walked me through the police academy. I have books on the weapons police officers carry, their heirarchy, their jobs. I watched shows like 'Cops' and 'The First 48' (this one follows Homicide Detectives from around the country).
I did all of this and more to learn Ezra's skill-set and the way he thinks.

Now for Juliet:
I have to be honest: magic, as it's depicted in alot of urban fantasy books, just doesn't make sense to me. So, in creating Juliet's type of casting I turned to reality. I bought books written by modern witches: 'One Witch's Way'. I found books with actual spells in them: 'Natural Magick', 'The Element Encyclopedia of 1000 Spells'. I have a half dozen books containing herbs used in potions and spells: 'Tyler's Honest Herbal', 'The Complete Book of Incense, Oils, and Brews'.
But, as Juliet mentions repeatedly, she's not an actual witch; she doesn't enlist the aid of an outside source that most spells and incantations do. I went with the more fantastic; her power comes from inside. She struggles and grows in dealing with herself and what she wants from life. Her character is easier to write because I know alot of people like her.

I chose Columbus, because I'm the most familiar with the city, and it's the biggest city I've spent extended time in. I know the streets, landmarks, and history. And if I wanted my setting to be realistic, I had to have been there. I like readers being able to follow my characters on a car chase, as they weave their way through a half dozen streets. I want readers to have some idea where Juliet and Ezra live.
I know these places; I see them in my head, so I can describe them better. I can make the characters' placement more realistic.

I'm not sure why realism is such a sticking point, but I get such a kick out of marrying the fantastic with the mundane - and succeeding. As I've said before, I want my characters to be people you'd see on the street and not think, 'There's that magic weirdo walking her dog again'. I want the neighbors thinking, 'There's Juliet walking her dog. She's such a nice person.' And I can only do this if I have created a world real enough for readers to identify with.

Researching aspects of my characters' lives add that touch of reality to a world that isn't. I see these traits in my life and know others have them. I've visited some of the places I mention (and made a few of them up). My non-fiction collection has grown incredibly fast over the past four years, with topics ranging from the mob, FBI, police officers, the US Marines, witchcraft, archaeology, superstitions, the Dali Lama, to antiques and auction houses.

I love incorporating bits and pieces of our reality into Juliet's and Ezra's, and I have to say, what was once a hated and dreaded thing, is now one of my favorite - if more laborous - loves. I hope that shows, because I have so much fun with it.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Character Relationships

I have to say that I have more fun writing scenes with Juliet (my main character) and Ezra (her male counterpart) than I do any other part of my stories.

They make me laugh for alot of reasons: because they insist on arguing every time they meet; because Juliet's best jokes are made around Ezra; and because they care so deeply for the other that it hurts me when they're apart.

Juliet and Ezra weren't always like this though. In fact, Ezra wasn't supposed to be in the picture at all. When I first created the Juliet Harrison character, she appeared in a series of six short stories, the first being how Eli lost his name and how she and Ezra helped him regain some semblance of his life.

I had intended for Eli to fill the role of main male character. He was supposed to be alot like Ezra, but I just couldn't get Eli to fit Ezra's mentality. He was too gentle in nature. He lacked the experience to keep up with the world Juliet existed in. And there was no spark between him and Juliet.

Don't get me wrong: I love Eli. He's that down-to-earth part of Juliet's world. She needs the sanity he brings, but he absolutely couldn't be her equal.

Enter Ezra: private investigator, dick, and wonderfully long-suffering. He is in every way Juliet's equal. His past has given him the capacity to keep up with her world of ghosts, magic, curses, and crazy family relations. He had to be tough, experienced, and strategic, because Juliet is still learning her craft, often making things up as she goes.

Ezra pushes her as no one else does. He's a teacher, an enemy to her mundane routine, and closest friend. He has become Juliet's antagonist, and she his, because of what they demand from the other.

It's their familiarity and their fight against the other that breed humor, that make them perfect together. And I, for one, am glad they let me know. :)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Journey to Happiness - Writer Style

Call me crazy, but I enjoy editing my work.

Book one of my Juliet Harrison series was a monster, though. It's first draft is nothing like what is published. It was also what I sent to agents. I regret that, because in the back of my mind, I always felt the book could be better.

My father-in-law Rick and I spent hours upon hours going through book one - cutting out large chunks of exposition, rewriting scenes between characters. The original version was 282 pages. We knocked it down twenty. But I still wasn't happy with it.

So I printed out the whole book , spread it out on my floor, and on my hands and knees, I went through it again with a pen and the urge to 'x'out large portions. And I did. I removed twenty more pages, dropping the total to 232. While I succeeded in making the book a faster read, I hadn't gotten rid of that feeling that the book could be better.

Almost to the end of that second draft's editing, I came to a relatively easy decision to make. I would throw the whole thing out and start over.

I wrote the final version of book one in 34 days. I've never written a book in so short a time. It helped knowing where this one was going, but I had different goals in mind. I wanted to develop the characters. I wanted to better explore their interactions, and I wanted them to be human. They had to get frustrated, angry, happy, scared, and sad.

I had to make this book perfect, to smooth out all plot-holes, check for grammar mistakes, misspellings, and I needed to allow each scene to be given its proper time in the spotlight.

I may have missed a few typos in the ebook version, but I've never been more proud of 'These Chains that Bind'. I'm happy with it, happier than I've ever been. I'm satisfied that I created a realistic world with characters you would see in your own lives. Finally - finally - I'm proud of this book.

The journey to its completion has taken two years, countless editings, and hours upon hours upon hours of self-induced stress. But I can live with that, because this book wouldn't be what it is without ALL of that. It's stronger for the trials I went through. And I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

If you like the book, please leave a review.

Look for me on twitter: kt_swartz
And for my author page on Facebook: KT Swartz

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Self-publishing my book is the only way I got published. I don't know why. I compared my sentence structure with that of bestsellers. I read dozens of books on how to write and how the successful authors acheived their dreams.

And after a few attempts at submitting my work to agents, I began to wonder if maybe I didn't know as much as I thought I did about writing. Maybe the quality of my work wasn't good enough. That theme of 'not good enough' ran ruts through my brain. It forced me to take a good hard look at book one of my Juliet Harrison series; I edited it and cut pages out of it; I smoothed over plotholes and moved scenes around. But while I made it a faster read, I realized I'd only cut out its heart and left behind all the parts I didn't like.

With no other path before me, I decided to scrap the whole book and start over. These Chains that Bind went through not a revision but a complete rewrite, with only 20-30 pages culled from its first drafts. Now, I am proud of my manuscript. Its heart is beating stronger than it was.

I'm thinking about submitting it to agents again, but right now Amazon Kindle is treating me rather well.