Dress Up Your Descriptions: Harness the Power of “Red”


Personally, I absolutely LOVE to write long descriptions of places and events, but I know that for many this can be a slog. It’s difficult to translate what you see in your mind into words on the page. Not to mention, writers are expected to do so in an interesting way that engages and informs the audience to boot! And even if you feel like description comes naturally to you, it is easy to fall into the trap of cliches and redundancy if you don’t watch out.

It's difficult to translate what you see in your mind into #words on the page. #writingtips… Click To Tweet

Take the color red, for instance. There are tons of red things in this world, but by far the most common thing that is referenced in descriptions is blood. I am sure you have come upon this before while reading. I’ve read enough fiction that it has become a pet peeve of mine. On the one hand, we feel moved by this particular simile because of the importance of blood to the functioning of our bodies. It evokes an automatic visceral response. On the other hand, been there, done that!


I gave myself a few minutes to brainstorm, and I came up with a list of things that are red that aren’t blood. These sorts of little bursts of brainstorming can be really helpful to keep you in a writerly mindset.

Feel free to use any of these in your own writing, your readers will thank you!

  • raspberries, apples, tomatoes, strawberries, cherries, currants, grapes
  • merlot, cabernet, burgundy, port, sangria and any other variety of red wine
  • cardinals, a robin’s breast, a rooster’s comb
  • taillights, police lights, and Christmas lights
  • lipstick, rouge, and fingernail polish
  • roses, geraniums, tulips, poppies
  • stop signs and stop lights
  • clown’s noses and shoes
  • rubies, garnets, and agate
  • lady bugs and ants
  • fire trucks
  • sunburn
  • bricks
  • clay

If you feel like having a little adventure, take a trip to a big hardware store and look at the paint chips. The folks who name paint colors have a hard job, and they have a lot of creative solutions.

Unwilling to leave the couch? No problem! There are also some wonderful charts online to help you pick the exact shade of red and how to express it. I like this one, but there are a lot of others out there with wider ranges.

Idioms and Alternatives

Here are a couple of idioms that have become cliches, and alternate ways to express the same idea using synonyms and similes.

‘Going red in the face’
She did not smile at his joke, but he could tell by the ruby burst on her cheeks that she’d heard it.

‘Seeing red’
His anger boiled to the surface and flashed bright and unexpected like taillights on an empty highway.

 I couldn’t help but stare at the woman who entered the room. A cascade of mahogany shot through with a garnet sheen flowed over her shoulders and to the floor.

Folks who name paint colors have a hard job. #writingtips #writing #advice #colors #amediting Click To Tweet

Just for Fun

In the comments or on your own, pick something that is red and describe it without ever using the word “red.” See how many different ways you can find, even if it gets a little complicated or goofy. This is just about stretching yourself as a writer, so take chances!


Editing YA and Adult Fiction – What’s the Difference?

With a million articles out there about “How to Edit,” some ask what’s the difference between editing YA and adult?

Surprise! There isn’t all that much. Not these days, anyway. Teens aren’t stupid, you know, and they have pretty good BS detectors in their ever-growing minds. Writers and editors need to be privy to that, or they’re going to lose readers and / or respect from readers. That is the last thing any one in the literary world wants!

Don’t get me wrong– there are some differences in editing between the two genres sometimes, but they’re not exactly actual rules.

editing yaThough many adult books have more complicated vocabulary and structure, that doesn’t mean that young adult readers can’t understand adult novels. And it’s not always the case anyway. Some adult novels can read easier than young adult novels. Again, it’s all dependent on the author.

Besides vocabulary and structure, vulgarity is generally worse in most adult novels, too. When it comes to young adult, there are some writers that are known for being pretty vulgar, but the general consensus is that young adult books will have cleaner language.

As an aside, I will add that, if you ask my opinion, I’m totally cool with that. As a mom, I feel there is plenty of time for my kiddos to learn and read profanity and sex. Why should it be thrown on them at thirteen years old? There are other ways to be realistic with language and life situations without going “wild.”

Besides all of the above, in all honesty, the rules are the same in editing of any genre. Punctuation works the same. Sentence structure / syntax works the same. Plot structure, spelling, grammar– they’re all of equal importance, no matter the genre.

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Well, besides books for young children, (ahem, like look and find books.) But that’s obvious.

How to Use the Comma and Semicolon

This month we are talking all about editing. This week we will clear up some common confusions people have about punctuation. People most commonly have a problem with commas, when to have them and when not to, and semicolons.

A lot of people find commas really tricky, but it’s really just a matter of knowing the rules, but there are quite a few rules to follow. Also, people mistakenly assume you need a comma wherever you would pause when reading aloud, but that’s not a true guide to follow. Often when we read aloud, we naturally pause where there is a comma. It is a shorter pause than a period. But often times we read our work for dramatic effect, pausing to emphasize different words. This doesn’t mean that a comma is naturally placed there. This could lead to incorrect comma placement. If you’re unsure whether you need a comma or not, review these rules. So let’s look at some of the more common comma rules:

  • Compound sentences. First, let’s talk about independent clauses. An independent clause has a subject and a verb and is a complete sentence in its own right. So, for example, “I went swimming today.” When you combine two of these using and, or, but, nor, for, yet, or so, you add a comma before the conjunction. “I went swimming today, and I saw a seagull.” If you remove the second “I”, you no longer have two clauses and you wouldn’t need the comma. “I went swimming and saw a seagull.”
  • After a prepositional phrase. Prepositions are words like under, over, around, when, after, on, etc. You need a comma after each prepositional phrase. “When I went swimming, I saw a seagull.”
  • Appositives are another word for renaming a phrase. For example, “my friend” is renamed to “Jenny”. So we have “My friend, Jenny, is good at math.” Or “My mother, a renowned cellist, taught me to play.” This does not cover “that” phrases.
  • After introductory adverbs like finally or however.
  • For parenthetical phrases. If there is extra information in your sentence that could be separated from the sentence by parenthesis and the sentence makes sense without it, then surround with commas. “Mary, who is my second cousin by marriage, is really good at sewing.”
  • For addresses. When you address someone or something, you surround the address with commas. “Jenny, did you finish yet?” Or “How are you, Tim?”
  • Between two adjectives where you could use “and” between them. “She was young and pretty. She was a young, pretty girl.”
  • To offset negation. “She was young, not old.” “Instead of old, use ancient.”
  • In a series of three or more. Also known as the oxford comma, use commas for lists of three or more. “I want to thank my parents, Einstein, and God.” If you don’t use this comma, the sentence becomes “I want to thank my parents, Einstein and God” which actually means Einstein and God are your parents thanks to the appositive rule. That’s why this comma should be used for clarification.
  • In dialogue. Use a comma before the quote and at the end of the quote if you use an attribution, like he said or she said.

She said, “How are you?”

“It’s late,” she said.

There are a few more comma rules regarding numbers and dates, but these are the most common ones. Hopefully this helps to clarify things.

Now on to semicolons. Semicolons can seem arbitrary, but you’ll understand them once you know the rules.

  • The point of the semicolon is to connect two independent clauses. These can be two separate sentences, but you want to show a connection or relationship between them so you join them together with a semicolon. “We were very close to my grandpa’s friend; we called her Aunt Shirley and would spend the night at her house.”
  • Do not use semicolons with a conjunction. Again those are and, or, but, for, so, yet, and nor.
  • Use semicolons as a sort of super-comma. Use a semicolon for a list of three or more when the clauses contain commas already. “When I was ten, we went to Portland, Oregon; Denver, Colorado; and Los Angeles, California for a family trip.” Or “My idols are my mom, a hard stay-at-home worker; my sister, an optometrist; and my best friend, a mechanical engineer who travels the world.”
Use a comma in a list of three or more. The Oxford comma provides extra clarification.… Click To Tweet

This last rule is just to keep things from getting too confusing when you have too many commas. How do you feel about punctuation rules? Are you a comma queen? Share your favorite rules below and happy editing!


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The Gifts of Editing

What if you could look back on your life and edit it?  Would you remove a bad relationship? Would you gain a new respect and appreciation for how it has all turned out? Would looking back allow you to make better decisions in the future? Aristotle said it best, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

As writers, our works tend to take on a life of their own.  Where we can’t go back in time to change our own life, we can enjoy the gifts editing gives us in our work. Allow me to share a few I uncovered.

Editing provides us with the gift of introspection (The examination or observation of one’s own mental and emotional processes. Google).  As I read through my draft, I found that I learned more about my characters than I put in their original sketches.  They reveal more about their complex makeup than they did in the first basic draft.  They want you to know how they click, what makes them unique.

Editing allows us to define our thoughts. To take the broad brushstrokes that gives us the general impression of an idea and accent them with them with finer strokes to create a sharper image. It’s the difference between “I saw a cat cross the road” and “As I gazed across the street, I saw a tabby feline darting in between horse hooves in a successful attempt to cross over to my side”.

Editing allows us to experience a greater depth of feeling.  We want our readers to feel as strongly about our story as we do, and not just the story as a whole, but the highs and lows, the suspense, the horror, the romance.  In the early draft, we swim along, treading water, sometimes daring to dive off of a pier into the murky waters below. In subsequent drafts, we learn to explore the depths, coming up just enough to catch our breath.

Editing allows us to expand our love of language.  Writers love the written word.  It abides in our soul and trickles out of our fingertips.  What we may not be able to convey in speech, we roll out with gusto in our works. I wonder if the acclaimed master, William Shakespeare, was equally nimble with his conversation as he was in his written works.  Or was he did he keep his eyes and ears open for the snippets of brilliance he wove into just the right places? We imagine him as the words jumping straight from his mind to his quill, perfection in the first draft.  I will guarantee that didn’t happen.

We writers spend most of our time, whether it be in our lives or our stories.  So, instead of looking at the job of editing your work as a chore, try seeing it as an opportunity to expand the scope and depth of your work.

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How to Learn and Grow From Each Editor

I’ve heard a lot of my fellow author friends talking about their editing process, and how much they DREAD getting their manuscript back from their editor. I can understand that—after all, there are few things more daunting than seeing page after page of corrections, mistakes, and edits. It’s enough to make anyone feel like quitting!

But you know what, I like to take the opposite approach to the editing process. Of anything, it’s one of my FAVORITE parts of the entire novel-writing process! (After the “telling the story” bit, of course.)

learn and growI’m guilty of being a perfectionist when I write. I have impossibly high standards for myself, so I’m never content unless I’m certain the book I turn out is as perfect as I can make it. I’m fully aware that I’m not perfect, but I’ll be damned if that stops me from trying!

I see working with an editor as a way of learning where I need to improve. The more mistakes and edits I get back in my manuscripts, the happier I am. Instead of taking it as an indicator that I’m unskilled as a writer, I feel like they’re the editor’s way of making me a better writer. Someone is literally telling me, “You’re doing this wrong!” They’re doing me a favor by highlighting the things I need to improve, so I can stop making those mistakes in the future.

As an example, I’ll take the awesome editor that works for Dragonblade Publishing, the publisher that put out Child of the Night Guild (Queen of Thieves Book 1). When I got the manuscript back from him, I found he had deleted HUNDREDS (I’m going to say 500+) commas from my writing and either split the sentences in two or let them run without the need for punctuation. He left a note saying, “Boy, you LOVE your commas, don’t you?”

As I went through the edits, I realized that a lot of the changes he’d made actually improved the way the sentences read. I had to reject a few changes that I felt detracted from the flow, but for the most part they were good.

So when I sat down to write Queen of Thieves Book 2, I tried to follow the “fewer commas, please!” suggestion he’d made. This suggestion slightly changed my writing style, leading to a leaner, more precise, faster-paced story. Such a small change, but such a visible result!

I’ve come to enjoy the editing process—not because I like being told I’m wrong, but because I can use the mistakes highlighted as a way to improve my writing in the future. I actually seek out the more hard-ass editors because I want them to whip both me and my manuscript into shape. The more mistakes they point out, the more mistakes I can eliminate from my writing style. That will lead to better and better manuscripts, which in turn will lead to better and better stories. In the end, isn’t that the purpose of being a writer?

The more mistakes an #editor points out, the more you learn. @andypeloquin #amediting #writerslife… Click To Tweet

Tips and Tricks to Save on Editing Costs

Editing. The hardest part of being an author.


And the place that you will find the most scammers out there to make a quick buck. Seriously, there isn’t a site I’ve been to that doesn’t have tons of people peddling questionable skills to authors. I have seen so many authors get badly burned because they hired sub-par editors, or they hire top notch editors (who are worth a pretty penny, and if you haven’t done any work to the piece, you will end up shelling out big time.)

So, let’s talk about each step, some free ways to address it so your editor spends less time doing the work, and in turn will charge you less!  

If you are traditionally published by one of the big houses, your book will go through several editors before it goes to print. There’s a process, much like sanding, and if you do not get each step, then you are missing out. It’s important to keep in mind that each step must happen before the next step can be addressed properly.

Step 1. Content Editing (the course sanding)

The first step is general editing (Also called content editing, revisions, story editing, developmental editing, substantive editing, re-writes, etc.). This is where the editor goes through the story and fact checks, catches plot holes, recommends what needs to be cut, re-written, added, etc.

How can you save money on an editor for this step? A lot of authors work in peer groups and get this done for free. Others use Alpha readers. This is a good place to have your mom, or cousin, or friend read through and point out issues in the story.

If you aren’t working with a professional group, (or even if you are, depending on the quality of the group) you want to send a list of questions to your friend/cousin/ mom to answer as they review, so that they know what to look for.

Here’s my favorite list, and I post it at the beginning with a thank you note, and then add it to the end of each chapter, to encourage regular commentary.

For the reviewer:

Please provide responses to at least five of the questions below:

  1. Is the writing clear? (Did the author provide the key info above regarding tense, POV, use of language to enable you to follow their writing with ease?)
  2. Can you visualise the settings and characters? Is there too little or too much description?
  3. Does the story flow well in terms of time, POV, setting – or does it jump from scene to scene?
  4. Are the characters believable for their age, occupation, time-period?
  5. Is the dialogue natural or forced? Is any dialect easy to follow or does it distract you from your reading?
  6. Are there too many or not enough dialogue / action tags? Can you follow the conversations easily?
  7. Are there any sections you skipped? Why?
  8. Are you confused by any parts of the story?
  9. Did you feel the emotion of the story? Were you drawn into the character’s world?
  10. Is there enough intrigue, conflict, tension, emotional pull to make you want to read on?

Feel free to comment on other aspects also, such as voice, style, use of language, character development, structure …and so on.

The struggle of crowd sourcing this step is that

A. It can be time consuming and

B. You cannot guarantee the quality of the responses you will get.

C. You risk your work getting exposed before it is ready. I make sure for this step that I am using people I really trust, and I keep the group small.

You will still want to make sure that the editor you hire will also cover this, but your goal is that there will be very little work required at this step, so that they don’t have to take as much time covering this step and in turn, will not charge you as much.

I’ll be honest, when I bid on editing projects, if I see a lot of content issues, I won’t even offer an editing bid, I will recommend that they just do a content editing run if it’s really bad, and I charge based on the pages so they can have a chance to go through and fix things up ahead of me and save themselves some money.

Step 2. CopyEditing (Finer Grit Sanding)

Also referred to as line edits, stylistic editing, second edits, or for lazy editors “editing”. This is where the editor will go line by line to make sure the sentence structure is correct, the grammar is correct and the meaning is clearly conveyed. They will recommend word changes, writing in active voice, or removing sentences that are repeating information. 9 times out of 10, when you get an editor who says they “provide editing services” this is what they are referring to and unless you clarify, you will get nothing more.

There are some clever tools that you can use to prep your book for the editor so that they don’t have as much work to do (and in my case, will charge you less) such as ProWritingAid and Grammarly .

However, one of the concerns I have about these tools is that they are only as useful as the hands that wield them. Grammarly is great for technical writing and online copy, but it doesn’t take into account stylistic choices that are seen in many works of fiction. ProWritingAid is a bit better, in that it actually analyzes your text and makes a note to where words are overused and makes stylistic recommendations, but it’s not skilled at specific genres. Both tools are better than nothing, but just like with Word, you still need to know enough to make the right choice in the end.

After you run through these programs, you still want to hire an editor, but as you get the hang of it, these programs are great because they will help you write better as you learn the skills. Then you will find that the cost of an editor will drop significantly.          

The Final step: Proof Reading

The final step is proof reading. The internet has LOTS of differing opinions on exactly what proof reading entails. The gist is that proof reading is a last read through to catch any final errors. A lot of editors do this pre-layout, but in my humble opinion (and in traditional publishing) it should be done after layout to catch any missed bits. The benefits to doing this after you complete layout is that the proof reader can look at the product as if they were a customer. They can catch not only misspellings, homonyms, and punctuation; they can also “double-check” layout. Having someone who can catch all the writerly bits as well as spotting funky layout on the page, such as widows and orphans, and the general appeal of the final product will allow you to produce the best final version possible.

If you are tight on budget, Beta Readers are a great tool for proof reading. I would choose 5 top readers, and provide them with instructions on what you are looking for and how to notate it.  (If you are sending them a post-layout copy, ask them to keep a running journal and note the version they are reviewing. (E-pub, PDF, Paperback, Mobi, etc.) Then have them track the errors as such: page the error occurs, what the error is.

Easy, peasy.

I strongly recommend that an author gets as many eyes on a project as possible before going to publication. No book can ever be perfect. But the goal is to have it as perfect as possible. I do provide all three forms of editing services, but I will not provide all at the same time. Although you can hire me for all three, I will only accept such contracts if the author has utilized other resources (such as the ones noted above) and I require two weeks off between stages to “scrub my brain” so to speak.

If you have an editor who does offer all three services in “one pass” you should question the quality of those services.

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What are your questions about editing? Are there any free tools you use?

Let us know in the comments below!

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