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.