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Posts from the ‘Monika Schroder’ Category

Planning And Writing A Novel, by Monika Schroder

It has been said that there are those writers who plan and those who ‘fly by the seats of their pants’. I am part of the second group and before I began working on my novel, My Brother’s Shadow, I only had a rough idea of who Moritz, the main character, was and what would happen in the story. But already in the first few pages I encountered a surprise. Moritz was telling his story in first person and used the present tense! Hadn’t I read in many books about writing that the first person, present tense point-of-view was a most difficult choice for a writer? My first two novels were told in the voice of third person omniscient narrators reflecting back on past events, and I had no intention of changing this ‘winning formula’ by writing in first person and in present tense.

I rewrote the beginning in past tense but couldn’t force Moritz to tell me his story in hindsight. He was adamant and stuck to the immediacy of present tense.

The story was set in 1918 Berlin. I needed to convey a lot of background information. It seemed such a daunting task to introduce the reader to starvation and despair in Berlin as well as the anticipation of military defeat without the omniscient perspective of third person POV. In the first chapter I needed to set the stage, let Moritz introduce himself and his family and find an intriguing ending to the chapter that would entice readers to go on. Moritz came to my rescue. As an apprentice in a print shop of a Berlin newspaper he could read the headlines of the paper he just helped print and thereby inform the readers of my novel of the state of affairs in Germany, October 1918.  The newspaper became a vehicle to disseminate information about the setting without interrupting the flow of the narrative. On the first page Moritz reads an official war report, knowing that the government is not allowing the truth to come out. He also meets Herr Goldman, a journalist who works for the paper and who takes a liking in Moritz and ultimately helps him to fulfil his dream to become a reporter like himself.  Through their conversations Moritz is able to tell the reader about the most pressing and newsworthy current events. Apparently there was a way for me to write in first person, present tense and still give the reader a sense of the setting.

About half way in, the story took an unexpected turn and once again I had trouble letting myself deviate from my original plan. Moritz had met a girl who had completely flummoxed him with her wit. Granted, it was not so unlikely that a 16-year old boy would take an interest in a girl, but I had not anticipated a romance! I had never expected to write about young love. Now here was Rebecca, the smart daughter of a Jewish bookseller who attended the same political meetings as Moritz’s mother and sister. After their first encounter on the train, it was clear that they had to meet again. Yet, the book takes place in 1918, so they wouldn’t go ‘all the way’. I was able to braid his discovery of love together with the story of Moritz’s relationship with his brother, who returns from the trenches a maimed and bitter veteran and it worked at the end. Rebecca’s appearance even gave me the opportunity for a hopeful conclusion leaving the reader satisfied after Moritz’s intense final confrontation with his brother.

Writing My Brother’s Shadow has taught me to trust the process along the way. A quote by E.L. Doctorow showed me that I am not alone with this approach: “Writing is like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

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Monika Schroder’s author website: www.monikaschroeder.com

Monika Schroder’s bio page

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The Dog in the WoodMy Brother's ShadowSaraswati's Way     Hurricane SongDeadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)Dark Hunter (Villain.Net)

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On ‘Killing Your Darlings’ When Revising A Novel Manuscript, by Monika Schroder

“In writing you must kill your darlings.” Many heard this quote, attributed to William Faulkner, relating to the need to delete words and phrases we are particularly proud of. We love the characters we invent and the thought of eliminating them, after we have poured so much work into their creation, is heartbreaking. But sometimes it must be done.

The first character I removed was Uncle Wilhelm, in an early draft of what later became my first novel, The Dog in the Wood. He had arrived at Fritz’s grandma’s farm in December 1945, after the Russian military police had taken Fritz’s mother and left him and his sister to live with the hated grandma. Uncle Wilhelm, a World War One veteran, who had lost his left arm fighting the French, was a jolly old fellow. I had placed him in the story at the moment of greatest pain for Fritz. He was supposed to give solace and help my protagonist get through his hardship. When I re-read my manuscript I realized that it was not yet time for Fritz to be consoled. He had to face the pain and then ultimately find the strength within himself to do something about his situation. Instead of finding comfort in the presence of an old, friendly relative, he had to turn his fear and rage into action. I learned that the main character always has to carry the book’s action.

Deleting all scenes with Mummo, the Finnish grandmother of Wren in my work-in-progress, For The Birds, taught me not to be too preachy. Mummo was full of good advice. I had so much fun putting clever words into her mouth and inventing Finnish proverbs she would use to share her wisdom. But I realized my readers would find her preaching tiresome.

Removing Mummo also taught me another lesson. An eccentric personality can enrich a story but it is hard for a larger-than-life-character to stay in a supporting role. Mummo was overshadowing my protagonist, Wren, another reason she had to go. Instead, I had to give Wren more of the now departed grandmother’s courage and wit. The lesson here: Be careful not to let secondary characters take over your story. Make sure you keep in mind whose story you are telling.

In early drafts of Saraswati’s Way, 12-year-old Akash, who runs away from home and becomes a street child in New Delhi, had more friends. Through my revisions I realized that I didn’t need so many different people to show Akash’s traits and reactions to events. I focused on only one main friend and strengthened the scenes and the interactions between these two characters. The old adage, less is more, is also true for the number of supporting cast in your book.

The ability to remove characters from a manuscript during the revision process is a very important skill for any writer. Open yourself to the possibility. It can be liberating and improve your writing.

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Monika Schroder’s author website: www.monikaschroeder.com

Monika Schroder’s bio page

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The Dog in the WoodMy Brother's ShadowSaraswati's Way     GenesisA World AwayWinter TownHold Me Closer, Necromancer

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Writing Dialogue In Novels, by Monika Schroder

Beginning writers are tempted to copy how real people talk. Dialogue in fiction is more than just a conversation between the people in the book. It serves many purposes. It moves the plot along, reveals character and improves pacing.

Good dialogue is reminiscent of the way people actually talk, but it shouldn’t exactly sound like it. Yes, you should listen to people’s conversation and notice phrases, diction and expressions used. Carry your notebook and write down slang or funny sayings. You might be able to pepper your character’s speech with these things. Pay attention to the way people interrupt each other or hide their true feelings with what they say. Be careful not to just imitate real conversations. In reality people meander and go off on tangents. They add one association to another and wander all over the place. The dialogue in your story has to have a focus and function in your story.

Dialogue is also a perfect place to employ the old rule of ‘show, don’t tell’. If a character is a bully it will show in his manner of speech. If he is boisterous or shy, it will be depicted in his way of speaking. What a person says and how he or she says it expresses personality.

Start a new chapter or scene with a conversation between two people. The conversation can indicate what happened between the end of the last chapter or scene and the beginning of the new, and thereby letting time pass and move the plot forward. Dialogue can also fill the reader in on what occurred in another setting or in a subplot of the story.

However, it is tempting to use direct speech to explain too much. Doing this leads to clumsy dialogue that stands out as unnatural and awkward:
“Some authors overdo it,” he called out, taking her hand and focusing on her hazel-colored eyes. “They add action description in the middle of their direct speech.” He shook his head and sighed. “It breaks up the pacing,” he said. “It’s just not a good idea.”

Using action in the midst of a line of dialogue has its place sometimes but it’s usually best done precisely and sparingly. Otherwise you slow down the movement of the scene.

When I visit schools I still see posters with “Verbs to replace ‘say’” on classroom walls. I wish teachers would stop with that practice. Attributions after dialogue should not draw attention to themselves. “Said” or “asked” suffice in most instances. If possible, let the reader infer who is speaking from context.

Great dialogue works on many levels. It needs to be concise and cut down to the best lines only. How do you know you have it right? You do it the same way you test all other parts of your text: leave your work-in-progress alone for a while and come back to it after a few days. Re-read. If it sounds good, it probably is. If it sounds trite or artificial, revise.

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Monika Schroder’s author website: www.monikaschroeder.com

Monika Schroder’s bio page

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The Dog in the WoodMy Brother's ShadowSaraswati's Way     Tarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2Angel DustAcross the UniverseBoys without Names

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The Importance Of An Authentic And Unique Voice In Teen Novels, by Monika Schroder

Among the different elements of writing, voice is hardest to define. One could say that voice is the style in which the story is told: the syntax, the diction and the poetry of the narrator. It is through the voice that we experience the story. The narrator’s voice is often the first element that attracts us to a book. The appeal of many good YA novels comes from an authentic, often raw voice.

Teenagers have limited life experiences, yet their emotions and opinions tend to be firm and at times dogmatic. In order to authentically express the character’s emotions, the narrative voice needs to use the vocabulary and diction of the time in which the book is set. In a contemporary novel the young narrator can use colloquial or even foul language. E. M. Kokie’s novel Personal Effects starts like this: “Of all the lame s*** on Pinsher’s Backback, his War is not the Answer sticker p***es me off the most – even more than his Practice Nonviolence button, which makes me want to practice some violence on his face.” We immediately feel the narrator’s anger and expect that there will be an altercation soon after these opening lines (and there is). Kokie also uses voice to demonstrate the character’s development over the course of the story as he slowly learns to deal with his pain, anger and loss.

By expressing a protagonist’s emotions, observations and reactions to the events in the story, voice also becomes a tool for showing a character’s development. As the character changes over the course of the story, so does his or her voice. Cynthia Kadohata’s Kira,Kira is told from Katie’s perspective. She is a naïve 6-year old at the beginning of the book and the author reflects the young age of her protagonist in the speech pattern of the narrative, including simple syntax. Katie matures over the course of the story and so does her language.

Style and tone of voice are unique by definition. Some writers take the reader even further by creating a new kind of speech. These are often science fiction novels where readers must infer meanings of words and expressions from the context they relate to in the reality unique to the particular novel. This is masterfully done in Adam Rapp’s futuristic novel Copper Elephant or by M. T. Anderson in Feed where he invents a future teen slang where ‘null’ means ‘boring’ and kids call each other ‘unit’ while one character’s father still addresses him as ‘dude.’

Another example for a story told in a distinct, and dystopian, dialect, is Adam Rapp’s futuristic novel Copper Elephant.

Teenagers can be full of angst and self-doubt. Their sexual desires can be overwhelming and the cause of painful insecurities. Many YA novels express the teenage protagonist’s lack of confidence regarding his or her love interest with frankness and humor. Here is a quote from John Green’s Looking for Alaska:

“I wanted so badly to lie down next to her on the couch, to wrap my arms around her and sleep. Not f***, like in those movies. Not even have sex. Just sleep together in the most innocent sense of the phrase. But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was hurricane.”

In A. S. King’s, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, the heroine struggles with her feelings toward her dead former friend. “Because with Charlie, nothing was ever easy. Everything was windswept and octagonal and finger-combed. Everything was difficult and odd, and the theme songs all had minor chords.”

Sexual insecurities and other aspects of teenage angst are often covered by self-deprecating humor. This mixture of vulnerability and self-deprecation makes Vera Dietz so appealing. Likewise, readers of Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian will commiserate with the self-deprecating voice of 14-year old geek Arnold as he tries to find his way out of the Indian reservation.

By employing a distinct and authentic voice the author signals confidence and authority, promising the reader a unique ride in someone else’s head. The reader knows they are in good hands and willingly follows the narrator into the story. As Jennifer Donnelly, author of the wonderful YA historical romance The Northern Light says, “Voice is not just the sound that comes from your throat, but the feelings that comes from your words.”

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Monika Schroder’s author website: www.monikaschroeder.com

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The Dog in the WoodMy Brother's ShadowSaraswati's Way     TracksWinter TownNecromancing the Stone

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Why I Write About Children In Times Of War, by Monika Schroder

Germany, my home country, has started two World Wars in the last century. Both wars not only brought death and terror to large parts of Europe, but also ended in defeat followed by fundamental changes of the political system. I find it fascinating that a German person born at the beginning of the 20th century could have experienced two wars, a monarchy, a failed democracy, a fascist dictatorship, a socialist totalitarian regime and then again a democracy, all within one life span.

I have always been interested in history and when I became a writer I tried to imagine how regular people dealt with these wars and the turmoil that followed. As a result, my novels Dog in the Wood and My Brother’s Shadow explore how war and political transitions affect regular people and children in particular.

My first novel, The Dog in the Wood, set in a small village in east Germany, is based on my father’s experiences during the arrival of the red Army at the end of World War II. My father had told me that his grandparents had committed suicide a day before the arrival of the Russian Army. Fear of what would happen when the victorious Russians arrive at their farm had driven them to this desperate act. Later, the Soviets established their headquarters in my family’s farmhouse, and my father witnessed Russian soldiers taking his mother to a prison camp. Out of these harrowing family memories grew my book. I wanted to show Fritz’s internal conflicts and pain in the face of great loss and emotional turmoil, and thereby depict a young person’s experience during wartime.

Writing a novel about the end of WWII led me to examine the circumstances that caused this devastating military conflict and this interest in turn brought me to WWI. I began to research WWI shortly after the 90th anniversary of Armistice Day in November 2008. At the time, German television had put together an excellent 4-part series about the war with original footage of the battlefields and the revolution that ended the monarchy. While I was aghast at the details of trench warfare, gas attacks. I also learned about the food shortages that affected the German civilian population that later became a big part of my novel, My Brother’s Shadow. With the defeat of 1918 came the end of the monarchy, ushered in by a socialist revolution. A democratic government followed. But the Weimar Republic was fragile. The military defeat and the stipulations of the Versailles Peace Treaty had left Germany humiliated. A deep political division between right-wing nationalists and social democrats split the nation and provided the seeds for the violent rise of the National Socialists a decade later. My Brother’s Shadow, set in the fall of 1918, explores this important transition time in German history.

I tried to imagine what it might have been like for a young man who had grown up under the Kaiser to see the monarchy disappear and be confronted with socialist ideas and women’s emancipation. The book opens in Berlin, September 1918 and spans three months until December 1918. The main character is Moritz, a 16-year old apprentice in a print shop of a Berlin newspaper. His father has died and his older brother is still fighting in the trenches. The book is about his coming to grips with the changes in society and his struggle to know what to believe in. Moritz has to choose between his mother, sister and aunt, who are engaged in the socialist movement to end the war and bring democracy to Germany, and his brother, who returns disillusioned, as an injured veteran and joins a right wing extremist groups, seeking scapegoats to blame for the loss of the war.

I lived the first 30 years of my life in Germany but for the last 17 years I have been married to an American. By becoming deeply involved in another culture I became aware of the fundamental differences between the way Americans see the world and how I as a European look at it. By writing about times of war and political transitions I also hope to bring the experience of a European youth, or what I imagined it to be, to readers in the English speaking world. I hope I succeeded.

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Monika Schroder’s author website: www.monikaschroeder.com

Monika Schroder’s bio page

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The Dog in the WoodMy Brother's ShadowSaraswati's Way     Code Name VerityTarzan: The Savage LandsRikers HighThe Traitor's Kiss

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Dealing With Anxieties During The Novel Writing Process, by Monika Schroder

I just finished my last manuscript and sent it out to my editor. Now, during the long time of waiting for her response I try to relax and refresh my creative energy. But in the back of my head lurks fear, the fear that the editor might reject it, that the book is not good enough. While I wait for her phone call I keep myself busy with garden chores, long neglected errands and, after some procrastination, by writing these articles.

As I choose topics, I reflect on the process of writing and realize that this fear of being rejected is just one of the many anxieties a writer encounters along her journey. There appears to be another kind of anxiety every step of the way.

When I write the first draft I always worry if I will be able to finish it. While re-reading what I have written I often find it flat and bland and, by way of self-sabotaging, tell myself that it is no good and not even worth finishing. Then I have to remind myself that the first draft is supposed to be just that and a first draft will get better over the process of revision. Yet, I keep wondering, “Will this be good enough? Will publishers want to buy it? Will readers care?”

The only way to escape these worries without giving the project up is to push forward and to finish the draft.

But then there is the chaos of holding it all together. At times it feels as if I’ve lost control over the story. The manuscript becomes a ‘wild thing’ but the only way forward is to face the fear and to work on making the manuscript better. Annie Dillard describes this stage like this:

“A work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild state overnight… it is a lion growing in strength. You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room. You enter its room with bravura, holding a chair at the thing and shouting, ‘Simba!’”

When, finally, the miracle happens and the manuscript is finished and an editor buys it, I feel elated and happy. For a while at least. Together with the editor and copy editors we perfect the manuscript and more than a year later they send me the ‘advance readers copies’. These handsome paperbacks look almost like the real book. I am glad to see them but another terror takes hold of me as I realize that the publisher is about to print the actual book and this is my last chance to make changes. Soon the text will be FINAL.

I call it ‘Galley Fright’ and, as with all the other fears, I am not alone but can find solace in the fact that other writers experience this as well. Eudora Welty, in a 1972 interview with Paris Review, said this about her feelings toward galley proofs:

“Proofs don’t shock me any longer, yet there’s still a strange moment with every book when I move from the position of writer to the position of reader, and I suddenly see my words with the eyes of the cold public. It gives me a terrible sense of exposure, as if I’d gotten sunburned.”

Yes, I also feel exposed when looking at the galleys, but I know I have to let it go and trust that, together with the wonderful people at the publishing house, I produced a good book.

Next, Launch Day comes - my book’s official birthday. This occasion is also filled with that bittersweet mixture of happiness and fear. Now my baby goes out into the world. How will the world welcome it? Will reviewers slight it? Will readers be disappointed? Will the world see right through me to the fraud I fear I am?

It helps me to tell myself that the reception of my book is out of my control. Whatever happens to it will happen. Instead of worrying about it, I try to turn my attention to writing my next book.

I soon worry if I will ever be able to pull it off, finish the story and make a good book out of it… and see above: the vicious cycle of fear begins anew.

Perhaps there is no remedy and these fears will always be part of the process. The only way to overcome these anxieties is to accept them, or even embrace them. I will carry on in despite them and I am able to convert the fear into excitement on most days, and find pleasure in the magical process of putting words on paper.

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Monika Schroder’s author website: www.monikaschroeder.com

Monika Schroder’s bio page

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The Dog in the WoodMy Brother's ShadowSaraswati's Way     GenesisAngel DustTarzan: The Greystoke LegacyTracks

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Using Setting Descriptions To Convey Mood In A Novel, by Monika Schroder

Writers often use setting descriptions to convey particular moods in scenes. One such common but effective way to convey mood is to give details of the weather. I will explore this technique here with a few examples:

My novel, Saraswati’s Way, opens in rural Rajasthan, the arid north-eastern state of India. The annual monsoon has not come; instead the land is parched by relentless heat. At the beginning of the book we meet Akash, my 12-year old protagonist, in his classroom in a poor schoolhouse in his village. Soon after the opening paragraph we learn that he has a talent for maths and, under-challenged in his class, hopes to go to a better school that would allow him to nurture and develop his aptitude for numbers.

Here an early paragraph:

A light breeze blew plumes of sand across the empty schoolyard. On the other side of a low wall the flat desert stretched out against the horizon. Over the course of the morning the dark rectangle this side of the wall would shrink and by recess time provide just enough shade for children like Akash who didn’t like to play cricket or run after a ball. From his seat by the open window Akash scanned the sky for signs of a rainstorm, for the swollen monsoon clouds that usually built up this time of year before they exploded with thunder and lightning to unleash sheets of rain. But the breeze only died, and Akash resigned himself to yet another day of relentless heat. 

I chose certain details to describe what Akash sees from his seat near the window to express a mood of boredom and anticipation of something that might not come. He looks out on the empty, flat desert, hoping for a rainstorm that would bring relief. Instead the wind dies down, leaving everything bare and exposed to the relentless heat for the rest of the day. The oppressive temperatures and desolate landscape reflect Akash’s sense of despair at the beginning of the book.

Andrew Smith, in his novel, Stick, also uses the weather, light and the color of the sky to express an atmosphere. Stick, the 14-year-old main character of the novel, lives in an abusive home with his gay brother, Bosten. After falling out with his father, Bosten leaves and Stick sets out to find him. He is confused, anxious and often overwhelmed by his sexual desires, and Smith keeps the reader close to Stick’s inner turmoil with an intense first-person narrative. On his quest, Stick meets many people, among them April and Willie who pick him up on his way to California. They offer him a place to stay on Willie’s houseboat and when they arrive Stick is not sure if he can trust them, but also finds himself sexually attracted to April. Andrew Smith sets the tense mood of the scene with this opening paragraph:

By the afternoon of my fourteenth birthday, the sky striped flat in ribbons of chalk and slate clouds that hung so low I could almost feel the pressure and weight of them, like a ceiling of sodden sponge that I could press my hands to if I had the courage to raise my arms high enough.

The reader feels the atmospheric pressure caused by the low hanging sky and relates to Stick’s insecurity when he compares the sky to a ‘sodden sponge’ he lacks the courage to lift.

When Stick finally returns to California and is about to be reunited with his aunt, Smith adds this description:

The sun had dropped below the horizon out on the sea, and I realized that there was a certain unique color the light would cast at precisely this hour.

This is a beautiful observation. We can all see that particular hue the sky takes on when the sun is about to set at the ocean. With this description Smith captures the mood right before Stick will see his aunt by comparing it with the special glow that occurs before the sunset. Stick is worried if she will welcome him and asks the truck driver who drops him off not to leave before his aunt has seen him. Stick doesn’t know if she will be happy to see him or not. In his image Smith expresses the beauty of the moment combined with the possibility of darkness that follows.

Weather descriptions provide an effective tool to depict mood in a scene, but writers have to be careful not to overuse it. The sky should not darken every time the character becomes sad and the sun should not come out from behind the cloud when the protagonist’s mood brightens. It is important to employ this technique sparsely and avoid clichés or too many “emotion-enhancing coincidences” between weather and character’s emotional state and instead to find fresh and precise images.

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Monika Schroder’s author website: www.monikaschroeder.com

Monika Schroder’s bio page

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The Dog in the WoodMy Brother's ShadowSaraswati's Way     Boys without NamesGlowThe RepossessionA World Away

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The Process Of Writing And Revising My Novels, by Monika Schroder

I like to revise. Truth be told, I prefer revising to writing the first draft. I do not belong to a writers’ critique group, nor do I employ ‘beta readers.’ But every writer needs another pair of eyes to read her manuscript to provide feedback. My husband is always my first reader. As a former high school English teacher he provides me with valuable feedback, and he is honest. I usually give him a first draft when I am about two-thirds into the book. At that stage in the process I like to hear what works and what doesn’t. Also, as I am about to draft the climax and ending of the story it is good to know if the story stands on solid legs.

Once I have finished a full draft it goes through numerous revisions and each of these revisions focuses on a different aspect of the manuscript. In an early stage when I revise for plot I tweak and streamline the events along the story’s arc. I cut scenes or write them more tightly. Another revision focuses on the character development, making sure that I have kept his or her development clear and the character’s traits are consistent throughout the story.

After the larger structural problems are fixed it is time to improve syntax and word choice. Here I also rely on my husband’s keen eye. He combs through the manuscript and notes suggestions for improvement on the margin.

My last book has many characters and many different settings. When describing the interior of a room I placed a chair “under the window” in several scenes. Apparently, whenever I imagined a scene that took place in a room I placed one piece of furniture under the window. The same happened in my description of men’s clothing. Frequently, I dressed them in dark suits causing my husband to write, “too many dark suits!” on the margins of my manuscript.I appreciate my husband’s attention to these details and hope to avoid these repetitions in the future.

Mark Twain said: “When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them – then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.”

I know that I should avoid most adverbs but I really need to cut back on my use of the word “quickly.” I cut it 35 times in my last manuscript and have pledged not to use it again. If Joe walks somewhere or stuffs something in his pocket the reader doesn’t need the speed of the action accelerated by adding ‘quickly.’ It is always better to pick a strong verb and let it express the action precisely and speak for itself.

In the unrevised drafts I also use the adverbs ‘cheerfully’ or ‘disdainfully’ too often. An example: “I don’t think I can do this,” Joe said disdainfully. If Joe says something full of disdain it has to come out directly in his words or the circumstances of the situation. I need to clear up those adverbial taglines, quickly.

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Monika Schroder’s author website: www.monikaschroeder.com

Monika Schroder’s bio page

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The Dog in the WoodMy Brother's ShadowSaraswati's Way     The Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots (Young Royals Books (Hardcover))Keeping CornerBlack Storm Comin'Glow

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In Praise Of Copy Editors: Masters Of Accuracy, by Monika Schroder

After the final revision when author and editor have shaped a manuscript into its final form and before it goes to the printer, copy editors comb through the text check spelling, word choice, syntax, accuracy and the logic of the text.

My novel My Brother’s Shadow is set in 1918 Berlin and the turbulent events at the end of World War I are woven into the story. For my research I read primary and secondary resources and kept a timeline to make sure that the dates and descriptions of actual historical events mentioned in the story are correct. I sent that timeline together with a list of primary resources to the copy editors. They checked my sources thoroughly and sent me follow-up questions about several quotes. For example, did my translation of an excerpt of Kaiser Wilhelm’s speech given at the beginning of the war in the spring of 1914 conform with the original? The copy editors also made sure that the dates mentioned in the text were correct. If a newspaper boy calls out a headline regarding the resignation of General Ludendorff a copy editor checked whether the date of such a headline was in fact October 27, 1918.

Copy editors also pay attention to logical sequence and consistency in the description of setting. For example, if two characters begin their conversation at a particular place and there is no mention of them moving, they cannot be talking in another location on the next page without an explanation of how they got there. This seems obvious yet, while revising, an author might cut a sentence with this information and forget to add it later. In this case the copy editor might add this note on the margins of the manuscript: “Moritz and Aaron’s chat has been taking place outside the print shop, per p. 136. How is it that they are now (on p. 137) at Aaron’s desk?”

The copy editor also makes sure that the weather stays the same within a scene and that if the character walks up four flights of stairs to visit his aunt in chapter one, that same apartment still needs to be on the same floor if mentioned again later in the book.

Punctuation rules in English differ from those in my native German. Over time I have learned more about where to correctly place a comma or a semicolon, yet I am grateful that copy editors help me to bring consistency to punctuation usage throughout my manuscript. They also know when a word needs to be hyphenated and make sure I am consistent in using contractions in dialogue. And, I am embarrassed to admit, in My Brother’s Shadow I was overcome by an overuse of exclamation marks, but with the gentle help of the copy editor we weeded most of them out.

Finally, copy editors make suggestions for word choice. When writing a book of historical fiction I try to use a style and vocabulary that suits the era. But in spite of my own efforts to employ authentic word choice there are always a few mistakes that only come to light thanks to the diligence of the copy editors.

Early on in the story I mentioned that Moritz meets a journalist from the newsroom. The copy editor checked Webster’s dictionary and noted the word ‘newsroom’ was not in common use until 1929. So if my book takes place in 1918 I should hardly use a word that was not used at the time. This was also true for a scene with a German shepherd that I finally changed to a nondescript ‘dog’ since the copy editor noted that this breed was only officially named in 1926.

Copy editors must surely be patient and just a bit wise. I am sure that they often shake their heads at mistakes we writers make. These people who work through a manuscript with such thorough attention to detail have my full admiration. It is thanks to them that a clean and accurate manuscript finds its way to the printer.

***

Monika Schroder’s author website: www.monikaschroeder.com

Monika Schroder’s bio page

***

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The Dog in the WoodMy Brother's ShadowSaraswati's Way     Code Name VerityAuslanderThe Night She DisappearedAugust

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How Reading Berlin Newspapers From The Fall Of 1918 Helped Me Write ‘My Brother’s Shadow’, by Monika Schroder

My Brother’s Shadow is set in Berlin 1918 during the last months of World War One. The book explores how war and the political transition following WW1 affected regular people and children in particular. From reading secondary sources I had gained basic information about the situation among German civilians but I needed to find more details of daily life in Berlin. A few excerpts of the Berliner Tageblatt and Morgenpost were available online but most of those consisted of the front pages announcing important events such as the Kaiser’s abdication or the armistice.  I didn’t find any searchable database that would give me access to the original Berlin newspapers of the year 1918. When I contacted the German Newspaper Archive in Berlin I learned that the digitization of most of the papers I was interested in had not been completed. The nice lady at the front desk invited me to visit the archive, explained which subway stop to get off and how much it would cost to make copies. I told her that I lived in New Delhi and wouldn’t be able to come personally to the archive until the following summer. But I needed those papers right away. I must have sounded desperate as she connected me to the director of the archive to whom I explained my predicament. I expected a tart ‘no’; instead he told me that the archive had finished digitizing through the end of 1919 the Vossische Zeitung, an important liberal paper, published in Berlin.  That was good news!

But when I asked how I could get to access the Vossische Zeitung from October 1918 to January 1919 he told me that they were not available online yet.

Now so close to my goal I was not ready to give up. “If you have them in digital format,” I said. “Could you burn them onto a CD and send them to me?”

After a pause, he said, “That would be very expensive.”

“How much?” I asked.

I won’t disclose the sum. Let’s just say he was right in his cost estimation, but I ordered them right away and three weeks later I was delighted to receive a package in the mail with the digitized editions of the Vossische Zeitung October 14, 1918 to January 20, 1919.

I loved reading the newspaper. The official war report was printed daily on the front page, usually under an upbeat headline. But by the middle of October a discerning reader could see that the army leadership slowly began to disclose more and more of the German Army’s dismal situation. The paper also printed obituaries. Every day numerous black framed notices informed the reader of the death of a young Karl or Friedrich who died “in honor of the fatherland” in France, Russia or Belgium.

I also studied the advertisements, which were very interesting and revealing. Due to the British blockade of the German harbors Germany experienced severe food shortages. By 1918 many raw materials like coffee or cocoa were not available and the lack of these products forced Germans to be inventive. Many “ersatz” (replacement) products were advertised. For example, I found an ad offering a class for housewives who wanted to learn how to make coffee from chicory and other ingredients. There were also numerous official calls for the collection of raw materials, such as metal, rubber, and cardboard. Others asked children to bring cherry and plum pits for a “Make Oil from Fruit Pits” campaign.

Commercial ads also illustrated the changing role of women in the war economy following the shortage of men. Traditionally considered the “weaker gender” women now were drafted to work in ammunition factories and conducted streetcars, and delivered milk and mail or moved heavy equipment as the woman in the following advertisement.

I was so fascinated by what I had read that the newspaper became an important part in the story. As an apprentice in a print shop of a Berlin newspaper, Moritz, the main character, reads the headlines of the paper he just helped print and thereby informs the readers of the state of affairs in Germany, October 1918. On the first page of the novel Moritz studies an official war report, knowing that the government is not allowing the truth to come out. He then meets Herr Goldman, a journalist who works for the paper and who takes a liking to Moritz and ultimately helps him to fulfill his dream to become a reporter like himself. When Moritz is sent out to report on an illegal demonstration he sees his mother among the speakers. He witnesses the police disturb the meeting, disperse the crowd and arrest the leaders. What happened to Moritz’s mother? Read My Brother’s Shadow to find out.

***

Monika Schroder’s author website: www.monikaschroeder.com

Monika Schroder’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

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The Dog in the WoodMy Brother's ShadowSaraswati's Way     AuslanderCode Name VerityWhite LilacsTracks

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