As many of you know from a previous post, I finished my second novel this past July of 2022. Since then I’ve been editing, re-editing, and then editing some more. How many time does one need to read their work before it’s polished? How ever many times it takes. You will know when it’s just right. When you’re done with editing it, give it to another editor who knows what they’re doing. They have those editor’s eyes that will see something you missed that you didn’t think was an issue. Also, give your final draft to a beta reader (or a test reader). Yes, you want to do this. They will give you valuable feedback about your story. Trust me, if there is part of your story that isn’t making sense, your beta reader will spot it.
Before you go beyond the editing YOU are doing, read your story/manuscript backwards. Yes, start with the last page of your story and read each paragraph starting from the last paragraph and working your way backwards. Doing this will allow your brain to focus more on the mechanics of each sentence rather than the story. Think about it. When you are reading a story, the story is flowing through your mind. Your brain is focusing on the story itself and not on the mechanical issues you may have that must be fixed. Therefore, you will end up missing mistakes that need to be fixed. By reading it backwards, the story itself won’t get in the way.
When you are writing a story, whether a book length story or a short story, be as clear in your language use as you can. Get rid of redundancies and use of too many words to tell or describe something, when a few words will suffice.
Too Wordy: Joe walked as slow as he possibly could on purpose because he knew it would make me angry. Cleaned Up: Joe trudged down the path. He knew it would irritate me.
In the first sentence too many words are used to say what one word can do. By using the word trudge, we get a clearer picture of how slow Joe is walking without the extras. Then breaking it down into two sentences makes it easier to read.
Too Redundant and Excessive Language: The quarrelling couple downstairs worked my last nerve, I thought. The whole situation was making me angry to the point I wanted to go down stairs and tell them to stop. Tightened Up: The quarrelling couple downstairs worked my last nerve. Hmm, maybe I’ll pound on their door and tell them to stop.
In the first sentence we don’t need the words I thought because we already know the character is thinking the words we just read. It’s one of those unwritten understandings. The reader just knows. That is what’s called excessive language. We also have redundant language in that sentence. The reader already knows the character is angry so the words, The whole situation was making me angry to the point…, is not needed.
Have you ever read a short story or a novel and somewhere along the way the story/plot didn’t make any sense? It felt as though information was missing, or there was a lack of consistency. The result of all that is you scratching your head in wonder, putting the book down, or leafing back through previously read parts to see what you missed.
That gets too distracting. So how do you as the writer avoid making those same mistakes as a writer? In your own writing, some of the inconsistencies you may be aware of and some you may not be. For the ones you know of, write them down in a plot holes log. For the ones you are not aware of, you will catch those later in your editing.
To expand on this, here is what I do. In the writing software I use, Scrivener (You can find it at Literatureandlatte.com), I create an extra file labeled Edits. Within that file folder I have various files for the different types of editing I will do later. One of those files is called Plot Holes. When I know of a plot hole that I need to address later, I write it there. When I am finished with my manuscript later, one of the things I do is go to that list and fix those plot holes one by one. THEN I start reading my manuscript from page one and go straight through to the end. Along the way I am searching for any more plot holes I may have missed. I make note of them in the manuscript with my red pen and move on. When I get to the end of the manuscript, I go back to those plot holes I made note of in red pen and fix those. Please note…..when I am reading for plot holes like this, plot holes are the only things I am searching for as I am reading. DO NOT fix anything else or make note of anything else during this process because you will lose track of what you’re doing, and you don’t want to start over. If you have to stop to run an errand or cook dinner or something, mark your spot and go back to it later. Trust me, this is the process I used and it served me well.
You’re walking with a friend in a crowded amusement park. In your pocket are some coins, but what you don’t realize is you have a hole in your pocket. The next time you reach in to get them, you may only have a couple quarters left. The hole sucked the rest of your coins and out it went without you knowing it. Well, think of the words you write with as your hole and the reader as your coins. You want to keep your readers hooked and reading, not lost and motivated to put your story down. So…..how do you keep your readers from falling out of that hole?
Your wording should be tightened up, and condensed. In other words, don’t be wordy. It shouldn’t take you several words to get your point across. Here are some examples:
Wordy: The rushing wind hit me in the face and tossed my hair around.
Much Better: The wind slapped my hair.
In this example, both sentences pretty much say the same thing but number 1 uses more words to get to the point. Number 2 is straight forward AND it implies the wind is hitting the person in the face without having said that it is.
Wordy: In the forest it was calm. The sunbeams reached their rays through the trees, and the light was speckled throughout.
Better: Sunbeams fingered through the calm forest leaving speckled light throughout.
Here again all the words in number 1 aren’t needed in order to paint a picture of the setting. It’s boring because too many words are used to describe what few words can actually do. Not only that, but an auxiliary verb like ‘was’ only tells you about it. It doesn’t add to the picture. It takes away from it. Number 2 leaves you with a clear, strong picture in your mind.
Remember something though. When you’re writing your story, write your story. Concentrate on that. THEN, once you have your first draft finished, go back to the beginning and focus on the particulars and details like wordiness.
We write and we edit. We try to get the story on paper or the computer screen, then we go back when we’re finished and edit what we’ve written. That’s how it’s supposed to be done anyway. Does that always happen in that order? No. Not always. There are times when we try to edit as we type. The left side of our brain wants to insert itself at the same time our right side of the brain is trying to be imaginative and creative. This process can cause you to slow down when you’re trying to come up with a story.
Let’s say you’re a paragraph into writing a scene. So far you like it, but then the analytical side of your brain (left) is saying ‘No, no. That won’t work’. You go back and rewrite parts of that paragraph. You like what you came up with and move on to the next paragraph. You’re a couple of sentences into the second paragraph when your analytical side starts rethinking what you rewrote in the first paragraph. So, you go back and look at it but aren’t sure how you want to fix it. You end up sitting there thinking. Your fingers start strumming on your desk and you lean back in your chair and stare at the ceiling. An hour later you haven’t fixed anything, nor have you moved on with your writing. Had you waited to fix what your analytical side of your brain wanted to fix, you would have been MUCH further on in your story. You may have even gotten a chapter done.
How many of you can relate to the scenario above. I know it’s happened to me at times. So, how do we turn off the left side of our brain and make its impatient self wait? It’s quite easy actually. You make it wait. Turn it off. If you don’t like something you’ve just written, make a note of it so you can go back at a later date and fix it when you’re not writing. Choose a specific day and time when that’s all you’re going to do is edit and fix.
Loosen the “rope” when you’re creating and “tighten” it back up when you’re editing.
Sometimes we’re asked to write a review of a book. At first you smile and agree to do it. You’re excited to finish it so you can write it, so you set out reading. You read it cover to cover and loved it. You loved it so much you couldn’t put it down. However, there were some parts you felt could have been improved upon. So you jump onto Amazon or some other book venue to leave your review. Once at the appropriate page to write your review, the cursor blinks back at you in rapid succession. Your brain goes blank. What do you write?
For starters, whenever you are critiquing someone’s writing, it’s best to start out with the positives first. What did you like about the book? What worked really well? What was your favorite part and why?
After you finish the positives, you get into the negative aspects of the writing. Now, when I say negatives, I DON’T mean rip it apart with nasty, rude comments. That won’t get anywhere with anyone and it isn’t mature or professional. A better way of putting this is BE HELPFUL. Tell the author what it needs more of. What did you not like about the book and why? Point out a few places in the text that didn’t quite work and why.
Lastly, sum up your critique with a conclusion. This doesn’t have to be lengthy. A few quick sentences that reiterates your overall impression, is fine.
In December 2019 I wrote an article entitled Writing Stability. In that article I mentioned keeping a writing binder for the writing project you’re working on. It really doesn’t matter if you write by the seat of your pants or plan your novel out in advance, a binder to keep all of your information straight can only serve to help you.
Possible Sections to Include in Your Binder
Characters— This section will include everything about each of your characters. Possible types of information include: physical features, likes/dislikes, occupation, their role in the story, fears, character arcs, just to name a few. You could even create subsections for each character if you like.
Settings— Included here can be maps, setting descriptions, list of places and their significance, etc.
Story— I have a section in my binder with this label. What I use it for are ideas for my novel. Sometimes I’ll do a free write or I’ll write a quick plot summary for an idea.
Style Sheet— Here I keep a style sheet to keep the technical details consistent. For example, are you going to write your numbers out or not, make a list of words that MUST be capitalized consistently throughout, names and dates of events (It’s easy to lose track of this information when you’re writing). This is just a small list. What you decide you need to go in this section is up to you. When you’re editing later, this section will be your friend.
Doodling— This would be where you jot down any revision ideas or play around with language (If you’re writing fantasy, making up words can be fun).
You can always add to the above list. It depends on what kind of story you’re writing. I write urban fantasy, so I have additional sections such as, realms, fantasy creatures, photos, and questions. I love my binder because it frees up room in my head (kind of like a memory extension for my brain, LOL). If you don’t want to use a binder, a journal works well too. I’ve used both.
Those pesky filler words don’t need to be there. Get them out of your writing. You just don’t need them. They only serve to take away from and weaken your story. If you think you even need them, think again. We always think we know best. Trust me, we don’t.
The above paragraph has filler words in them. They’re the ones in bold face print. I put them in there on purpose to prove a point. To prove my point, I’m going to retype it and take them out. You’ll see how much better it sounds.
Those pesky filler words don’t need to be there. Get them out of your writing. You don’t need them. They serve to take away from and weaken your story. If you think you need them, think again. We think we know best. Trust me, we don’t.
Sometimes you will need to use them. After all, they are part of the English language and they are there for a reason. The problem is we tend to use them to much. When they’re used too much, that’s when they weaken your writing. When I was editing my novel The Triunix of Time, I had a list of these words to look for in my story. I went through my book and looked for each one of them one at a time and checked them off as I finished with one, then I went on to the next. Don’t worry, I used the Find option in Microsoft Word. It found them all in an instant. As it turned out, I initially used the word just 350 times. Talk about over use. Please see the grid below for a list of the most used filler words.
So, how do you know you need to use them? Say the sentence without the filler word in it. If it still makes sense, you don’t need it.
If you have any questions please feel free to message or email me. I enjoy helping others with their writing.
Those pesky adverbs can be a real bear. Lately I’ve read some great fiction. The story drew me in, the characters were memorable, the description was detailed without being to much. I loved it. But then throughout the experience there were stopping points. Yes, stopping points. What were these stopping points? They were ADVERBs. Turn an adverb into action. Note the difference below:
Example 1: Ok a. He walked quickly down the street, his footing unsure.
Better b. He rushed down the street, his footing unsure.
Example 2: Ok a. John was painfully digging in his backpack for his wallet, when he didn’t feel it in his pocket.
Better b. John plunged into his backpack for his wallet, when he didn’t feel it in his pocket.
As you can tell in both examples, b. is the better option. We see the actions better and their impact packs more of a punch.
The first draft of your manuscript can be rather turbulent. I get it. Really I do. When it’s finished, you look it over and think, “Uh oh, I don’t like this at all.” Two things you can do here. You can either chuck it altogether, or you can use it. Whatever you do, DON’T CHUCK IT. Why? I say this because, even if you don’t use some of it, part of it you will/can use. You can also use the whole thing but polish it up some or a lot. Only you know your story, so only you know how to fix it. In the end, you will have learned more as a writer, and your story will have grown and developed in ways you would not have imagined. If need be, walk away from it for a while. Take a break, think of other things. Then, go back to it.
I remember when I lost part of my manuscript when I was transferring if from my desktop to my new laptop. I was blindsided and distraught. I put the whole thing down and vowed I wouldn’t go back to it. Eventually, I did go back to it, and I made it better. The ideas flowed, big changes were made, and the story became more clear as it relates to where I wanted to go with it. So something bad can turn into a blessing if you let it.