Cythnia Ley is a writer and editor who I've known for several years, and has become a friend. She
joins us today to offer her thoughts on writing, and the hiccups that authors face.
Hi Mark, thanks for the invite!
Cyn, what gives you the idea for a book: is it an idea you’ve had for a while, something you might see that inspires you, or do you just blind write and see what comes out?
All of the above. I’ll find myself caught by a word, phrase, an image, a sound, an action, an observation, a memory, a supposition. Anything. I think writers have to be hyper-observant by nature.
Do you plot out endings, chapters, and plot – and if so, how?
Not really. My plots generally consist of a few scribbled notes, many times within the story that I’m currently writing. I don’t actively plot things out in detail. They’re often little snippets. I usually sit and write without any conscious sense of beginnings or endings, or where a tale is going. The stories develop on their own and dictate to me.
Common problems with backstory that writers need to look out for?
Relevance and incorporation seem to be the big ones. Backstory can be revealed in relevant places in a story. Think flashbacks – they need to come in at logical times. Otherwise you’re just info dumping on your reader who may have no sense of the relevance of any of it yet, and that’s because you’re not at a point with it in the story to tell them or even hint of it.
There can also be problems with using a backstory which serves no purpose at all. There’s nothing wrong with using it to foreshadow or to look back as in a memory, but the placement of it needs to make sense.
It also depends on the writer’s point of view (POV). If the POV is third person omniscient, then you can get away with a lot, as that perspective allows you to see everything. But if your POV is first person, the world is limited to one person’s experiences, relationships, feelings, thoughts, reactions, etc.
As an editor, what common failings do you come across in others' work?
Over-describing – the art of writing everything down in excruciating detail. Say your character walks into a kitchen. Unless there’s a specific reason why we have to know that they pulled a certain knife from a certain drawer in a certain corner of the room, let the reader superimpose their own vision of what that kitchen looks like.
Over-describing is death to action scenes. Please don’t use exacting detail to tell us that Joe punched Jack in the eye. We don’t need to know that Joe cocked his fist (it’s a given) and calculated the g-force on the blow while making sure he had enough room to smack Jack into next week. Your reader’s going to be more focused on the fight itself, and what the characters are thinking and feeling.
The other big one is punctuation. Commas get a lot of folks, but the biggie seems to be the dreaded semi-colon. I’ve seen them used as colons and commas – things that they aren’t. They serve two primary purposes. The first is to itemize a detailed list.
The Plague’s success was in some part related to the effects of the Little Ice Age: [COLON] 1) cooling temperatures throughout Europe ; [SEMI-COLON] 2) weather ruining crops, most noticeably heavy rains causing rot; [SEMI-COLON] and 3) starvation and/or inadequate food supplies weakening the general population.
The second is to connect two related things, either of which can stand on their own as an independent sentence. A semi-colon is used to show that these two things are related to each other in some way.
Jerry’s homemade whiskey was awesome; [SEMI-COLON] it was smooth, with just the right amount of kick.
The one that really bites though is what almost appears to be an aversion to punctuation. There’s far more to life than commas and periods. All punctuation has tone and inflection, and if you don’t believe me, try reading something aloud, then silently, and you’ll realize that you have given sound to punctuation in both instances. “Oh!” can mean any number of things depending on context – excitement, disgust, annoyance, surprise, happiness, laughter, fear, and so forth, and we know that the word is emphasized because of the exclamation point. Punctuation and context give us the sound and inflection of words.
When looking for an editor, what would you advise?
[Laughs] I’m an author and an editor, so I see both sides of the fence on that! The absolute biggest (don’t even think about it!) is NEVER BE YOUR OWN EDITOR!
You see, brains are funny things. As writers, we fill in a lot of details in our stories that we may never put on the page. Brains will insert words that are missing on paper but are as plain as day in our heads. Brains can go merrily dancing through what, to you the writer, looks like a beautiful dandelion field but is riddled with molehills to the reader.
That’s what your editor is for. For myself, I want an editor who gets my style, who looks at the full context of what I am trying to express. Someone who will call me on my misses and glitches. This is what I try to do for the authors I edit.
Editors deserve a huge amount of respect for what they do. The writer may have the final say, but without a good editor their work may never see the light of day. The writer who has a tough editor knows that their editor respects them and is determined that the work will be right and communicate their author’s voice.
Lastly, for those who might be interested in writing but feel daunted, what would you say?
Write anyway! Again referring to one of my blog articles “Shameless Plug and Writing PTSD” (Aug 3, 2014). YOU ARE NOT ALONE. The encouragement and support systems are out there. Take writing classes. Join groups. Write for yourself. Let others read your work, as you are comfortable doing so. Share your amazing voice!
ENCOUNTERS: TALES RECOUNTED AND REBORN
by top-ranked* author Cyn Ley
These are the best of the tales—some as they were originally published, some expanded and re-imagined. Ranging from social satire to the paranormal, from fight to flight to friendships, these stories touch base on the encounters of the human experience.
Benefits – A new home development is all about location. And what you dig up.
Food Chain – Wildlife documentarians Owen and Nate are in search of a new challenge. But sometimes the largest challenges turn out to be very small.
The Logo Men – What if the Seven Deadly Sins walked into a bar, and nobody noticed?
Rinse, Repeat – All the days are the same now. All because of one date.
Perfect – Sometimes life is as transformative, and as simple, as a holiday gingerbread cookie.
The Tin Foil Hat Society – It’s time for the millennial alien visitation! What could possibly go wrong?
…and other tales of wonder and terror
*Available from: Amazon.com
All of my books and stories may be found on amazon.com under Cyn Ley. Nice reviews and ratings so far!
I keep a blog (https://authorcjl.wordpress.com). In it, I share thoughts on writing and editing, interviews with other authors, stories and new releases, and just about anything that catches my fancy at the time.
Among other things, one ongoing project there is Twitter Tales, a delightful and challenging project dreamed up by Solstice Publishing’s Editor-in-Chief. All contributors must be Solstice authors. The idea is that at the start of each month, participants are given a new image, and we each build our own story around that image, releasing new installments every Thursday and Friday, 280 characters (yes, you read that right) at a time. It’s a great way for readers to find new authors, and great fun for us!