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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Slash and Burn Your Way to a Compelling Read by guest blogger, Patti Lacy

Patti Lacy, Baylor graduate, taught community college humanities until God called her to span seas and secrets in her novels, An Irishwoman’s Tale and What the Bayou Saw. In January 2011, Kregel Publications will release Patti’s third novel, The Rhythm of Secrets. For YouTube musical links to Rhythm chapter headings, visit The Music

Slash and Burn Your Way to a Compelling Read

In forestry and agriculture, slash and burn hacks up and incinerates land as demands change. In writing, slash and burn cultivates readers in the publishing world as…demands change.

For writing to cut like a scythe, you gotta slash and burn.

Ready to get started?

Pick up your latest read…and a pen.

1. Circle the “d” words (descriptors), including phrases. Replace with compelling verbs. Stronger nouns. Be creative!

Jaundice had tinged his skin with a yellow tone.

Jaundice had yellowed his skin…or Jaundice had soured his skin.

She took hold of Joy’s hand.

She squeezed Joy’s hand.

2. Self-editing for Fiction Writers educates on dialogue tags. If you’re stubborn or haven’t dug into this must-read for ALL writers, do so now.

“I’m going home,” Francis said. “You can’t stop me.”

“I’m going home.” Francis squared her jaw. “You can’t stop me.”

By using gestures instead of “he said, she said,” characters jump off the page and grab the writer’s imagination.

3. Another distraction to great fiction is what I’ll dub “time tags.”
“I’m not doing it. Do you hear me?”

A long moment passed. Shawn leapt from the couch and beelined for the door.

By definition a moment is really not long. Better?

“I’m not doing it. Do you hear me?”

Seconds zipped.

Best? SHOW time passage through creative writing.

“I’m not doing it. Do you hear me?”

Air hung heavy, as if transfixed by the words. With a whirl, Shawn shattered silence, leapt from the couch, and beelined to the door.

Edit your work for then, after, awhile later, and other “when” adverbs. Slash and burn whenever possible.

4. Contractions as sentence openers. Poor “but,” “and,” and “or.” They’re often employed for nonunion contractual work! Use these words sparingly as joiners, even more sparingly as sentence openers. At risk of legal action, avoid pairing conjunctions in opening or joiner appearances!

“And I suppose that negligee fell off the rack and into your purse.”

“I suppose that negligee fell off the rack and into your purse.”

I intentionally chose a blasé example? Why. Misused conjunctions LITTER manuscripts. Slash and burn these words and you might save a tree per manuscript.

5. My brother Roy Qualls, Air Force Colonel and military writer, taught me the five-beat rule for dialogue. Labor to slash and burn every weed. Intensify to show characters’ unique voices. It’s a fun game…readers want to play! Add action tags to fill in gaps in the chitchat.

Kai leaned close. It’s now or never. “Would you consider seeing my sister if she comes here to Boston?”

“Of course I’d like to see her.” Dr. Duncan set down a folder. “Get her doctor in Texas to fax all of her records.”

Kai leaned close. “Would you see Joy?” She was already humming “Please come to Boston” for her sister.

“Do geese fly?” Dr. Duncan grinned. “Have those Texans fax everything from when she said ‘Mama’ to onset of puberty.”

Dr. Duncan’s second dialogue bite can be broken down into Have…everything; third bite from…Mama; fourth bite, to…puberty.

Should it be puberty onset or onset of puberty? See? It’s fun to slash and burn!!!!
Slash and burn energizes your writing. Cuts chaff to allow new growth. Pleasure reading morphs into teachable moments. Even bestselling writers miss a scraggly plant or two.

Oh, about these excerpts? Scythed from the pages of my fourth manuscript, Reclaiming Lily.

Sheila Franklin has masqueraded as the precocious daughter of avant-garde parents in colorful 1940s New Orleans, a teen desperate for love and acceptance, and an unwed mother sent North with her shame.

After marrying Edward, Sheila artfully masks her secrets, allowing Edward to gain prominence as a conservative pastor. When one phone call from a disillusioned Vietnam veteran destroys her cover, Sheila faces an impossible choice: save her son and his beloved…or imperil Edward’s ambitions.

Inspired by a true story, The Rhythm of Secrets intermingles jazz, classical, and sacred music in a symphony trumpeting God’s grace.

“A vibrant journey across time in search of the greatest truth of all: grace.”—Tosca Lee, author of Havah: The Story of Eve and Demon: A Memoir

“No longer a ‘well-kept secret,’ Patti Lacy is a master storyteller who speaks to the soul with a powerful and unique rhythm, weaving a tale so emotionally rich that story and reader become one.”—Julie Lessman, author of The Daughters of Boston series and A Hope Undaunted

Patti’s fourth baby, Reclaiming Lily, will release with Bethany House in fall of 2011.

Visit Patti's website and her Facebook daily Artbites. Patti has two grown children and a dog named Laura. She and her husband can be seen jog-walking the streets of Normal, an amazing place to live for a woman born in a car.


  1. Wow, you should write a book on writing! Do you edit for others on the side? ;)

    So far, editing has been the hardest thing about writing. I don't like it and I'm not good at it. I'm still trudging through my first book and have decided to join the ACFW's crit group and see if I can learn to make my ms better.

    Do you have others who look over your ms's before you turn them in to your editor?

  2. Excellent info, Patti! I'm going to make sure some of my writer-buddies know about this post. I am so blessed to have you in my corner!

  3. Patti, Wow! This is a GREAT post - I read and then read again. So happy to hear you have another baby due:) I am still processing AIT after writing a review. You are an amazing writer! Time to move on to ROS... Bless you in all your writing endeavors. So happy we met in Indy!

  4. I'm editing now. Great reminders, Patti.

  5. Wonderful advice! I am so guilty of the AND, Or and BUT usage--taking my pen now!

  6. Sherrinda, you have made my day, but I fear my writing book would fall pitifully short. Besides, it's all been said by the experts. My favorite? Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. That little volume improved my writing by like 50%, but I CHAFED at those exercises! WICKED!!!

    To answer your next question, I do occasionally take editing jobs when my writing schedule permits! Just finished an exciting project by a 2010 Genesis winner!

    Sherrinda, I am SO PROUD of you for joining a crit group, which I believe is a HUGE step to better writing!

    DO I HAVE PEOPLE LOOK AT MY WORK BEFORE IT'S SENT OUT? Um, ask Sara Richardson and Cammie Quinn, who POURED their hearts and souls into my first draft of "Reclaiming Lily," now safely in the arms of the Bethany House editors. Um, ask Camy Tang, who I paid to edit my Lily proposal. (She's babysat every one of my four books.)

    I can't stress enough getting input, input, input, reworking, reworking, reworking.

    It's hard, hard, hard and takes a Colossians 3:23-24 commitment.

    Susan, you go, girl! Just LOVE your work and am so glad to call you a soulmate friend!

    Laura!!! Can you believe I just commented about your book TODAY on a blog post? God provides such wonders!

    I'm glad that you liked An Irishwoman's Tale. Sigh. I wish I could redo it. Wish I knew then what I kinda know now. Of course, that baby went from memoir to first person to third person. I labored to take a true story and novelize it. My fabulous agent Natasha Kern has taught me SO MUCH about novel structure. And of course THE MORAL PREMISE, a book for which she's a major cheerleader and probably responsible for the book's soaring Amazon ratings:)

    Carol and Tiffany, I LOVE seeing two of MY bloggites here. Thank you for coming. NOW GET BACK TO WORK!!!!

  7. Patti!
    How much time do you need, or think any writer needs, to step back before coming back in with the machete?

    All I can say is thank God for critique partners who don't mince words!

  8. Hey, Patti,
    Great post and a good reminder that my work can always be spiffed up with a second and third look. I think I tend to get lazy sometimes. Thanks for the push to make my writing the best it can be.
    love you, friend,

  9. Thanks for these reminders. I get so lazy in my editing. Before starting on the chapters today I did a search and destroy for the word "And" at the start of sentences. Slashed over 200 words off a 124K manuscript. That's just one little word. Wait until I've gone "But" hunting. ;)

  10. Debra!!! Thanks for bringing up a KEY truth. A step-away usually brings fresh insight.

    Hmmm. Deadlines often dictate step-away intervals. Other than that, I don't know!:)

    Maybe long enough so that you gain objectivity, short enough that you remember the plot!

    My crit partner, Sara, could better answer this question. I'll see if I can round her up!!!

    DEB! Are we talking Cleveland? Sure hope so!:) Have a blessed New Year's.

    LORI!!! How FUN!!! Oh, thank you for the spontaneous combustion proving my point!!!!!!!! I'll send the check later:)

  11. Patti, these are great tips!! I could def. use them, even with writing a rough draft of something. They're good to keep in mind.
    Thanks so much for sharing! btw, I LOVE your pic. You look beautiful!

  12. Can't wait to read your new one, Patti!

    I love using gestures instead of he said/she said.

    Wonderful tips!
    ~ Wendy

  13. wonderful tips. I am especially prone to starting sentences with ands & buts. I hadn't considered the the thing about time, either.

  14. Hmmm ... are you trying to tell me something?? Ha! Thanks for slashing and burning the whole first half of my manuscript. You truly have a gift. I HATE slashing and burning, but you already know that. For me the challenge is in the details. I'm a big picture, plotting kind of girl. But I'm learning SO MUCH from you comments.

  15. PATTI!!! What a brilliant blog, my friend, one that definitely warrants rereading and printing off. You are SUCH a good teacher!!!


  16. Jessica, thank you! I so appreciate having you as a blogmate! You, too, Wendy. Glad my tips "jived" with your soul!

    Sonia, me, neither! I DO think that's one I semi-invented myself:)
    (Oh, it's tucked away in one of those writing books, but I REALLY noticed it when diving into a couple of new reads.)

    Well, look who's here? ON HER BIRTHDAY! My critique partner, Sara Richardson, who has literally written more than ONCE in my insert comments: "YOU CAN DO BETTER THAN THIS!"

    Well, Sara dodged our question of how long to wait before tackling revisions, so I'd wager a good week if you're on a semi-deadline, several weeks if you can.

    Steve, one of my Kregel editors, thinks the best stories have to ferment, like wine and cheese!

  17. Julie, your comments must've slipped in while I was writing another novel here at...Novel Journey.

    Now YOUR books are the ones I REALLY read with pen in hand--to mark the memorable techniques. Only problem is, all that passion makes me drop my marker and just enjoy:)

  18. Great post, Patti! I loved Rhythm of Secrets and can't wait to read your next one!!

  19. A very helpful post, Patti, and so timely. Loved your first book and look forward to reading The Rhythm of Secrets. Wishing you continued success in 2011.

  20. Thanks for dropping i to guest post, Patti. You're a great teacher. And Self-Editing for Fiction Writers was my favorite writing book, too. :)

  21. Melanie, I'm so grateful for your endorsement of Secrets. It's great to wave hi at this wonderful blog!

    Thank you, Pat! Glad that slash and burn jives with your schedule!

    Ane, I appreciate you letting me visit.
    Happy New Year, all!!!

  22. Starring, bookmarking...what else can I do to make sure I retain this post?!

    Great post, Patti. I think I'll link to it in this week's tidbits.

  23. Wonderful post Patti! I am looking forward to reading your book.

    PS I love this blog, but I have a hard time reading the posts with its font. Am I the only one with this dilemma? :-)


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