Ok. So, you've fixed all the big picture problems... right? If not, check out some tips on the big picture edits here.
Now that's sorted, we can look at the smaller details.
(Disclaimer: I am not an editor. These are simply pieces of editing advice I have found to be useful)
5. Scene by Scene
6. Imagery and Metaphor
8. Copy-editing and Proofreading
I hope that you found this helpful, and please remember that this in no way replaces a professional editor.
Until next time: happy editing.
Editing got you down? Don't know where to start?
I hear you.
This post will be broken into two parts - big picture and the finer details. While I am a huge "edit as I go" kind of gal, I don't recommend this approach for everyone. It is a massive time suck. I do it because I like the learning process and enjoy refining my craft. However, the way I edit also opens you up to deleting paragraphs, scenes and chapters of words that you have painstakingly gone over.
So, if deleting all your hard work doesn't sound like something you would like to do (let's be honest it is as enjoyable to a rusty spoon to the eye) then perhaps take the more regularly recommended path of editing AFTER you've finished your draft.
Because, you know, logic.
Below are a few suggestions that I have used and found helpful. I am in no way an expert, and this in no way replaces a professional edit (I've said this a bunch of times before - GET A PROFESSIONAL EDIT).
Ideally, each step would require a read through and edit before going onto the next step. What can I say, editing isn't easy. But the more time you spend fixing your word baby, the less time (and money) your editor will need to spend on polishing your manuscript.
You only get out what you put in folks.
I have listed the common glitches for each section, as well as some questions or actions you can do to try to fix the problems.
1. Plot and Structure
2. Character Development
3. Point of View
Part Two: Editing - Finer Details
Until next time: Cut it like it's hot
Ah, voice. The elusive goal of all newbie writers.
But what the heck is it? And how does one find their voice?
Voice is the ability to convey the unique way that you see the world to your readers. It is the style, the themes, the passion and personal observations that you bring to your writing. Voice is the overarching concept that encompasses the tone that you use and the messages you send.
Clear as mud, right?
Well hopefully the steps you can take it find or improve your voice are clearer. Remember that voice takes time, patience and practice to formulate.
1. Write with purpose
This takes three forms: knowing yourself, your message, and knowing your tone.
Finding something that you are passionate in can be really easy or leave you stroking your chin for hours.
How do you go about discovering what you are passionate about? Below is a few points that you can try to help you find what matters most to you:
Know your message:
When you know what you are passionate about, you can begin to look at what message. What do I want to say about my passion? To make a message it needs to be more than just - oh look, here is something I feel strongly about - the message needs to provoke a question and challenge/reinforce your readers current ideas about that passion. Below are a few ideas about how you can craft a message:
Your message becomes a theme when you embed it, discretely, in your novel. You can be show your theme through a number of different ways, here are a few:
Know your tone:
When you have your message nailed down, you can look at what tone suits the how you express your theme. The tone that you choose can have a huge impact on how well your message is received, as well as how clear your voice appears in your novel. Here are some ways to show tone in your writing.
2. Improve your craft
I know, this one is no one's favorite. But as it is what we are hoping to be paid to do - we should at least try to be good at it. Plus, less editing = less money, I'm always a fan of saving money when I can.
And unfortunately, often a weak or poor voice comes from the inability to structure a sentence or create a clean paragraph (*raises hand* I am so guilty of this).
Now I hate this stuff so I am going to link some websites that I found helpful:
University of Bristol
The Writing Center - UNC
Past vs Present
The Write Practice
Passive vs Active
American Journal Experts
This stuff IS important - often good writing will trump a clever or interesting voice. So practice and learn.
3. Develop your voice through editing
Ergh! What am I doing - another evil step.
Yep. Evil but necessary.
Editing allows you to discover what you do well and what you do poorly. It forces you to examine the way you write and to refine it and polish it until it sparkles. Taking the time (and it will be a lot) to edit your work makes you a better writer. It sounds contradictory but it forces you to apply the things you know about the craft of writing. It takes out the garbage and leaves behind the essence of your writing - your voice. And the more you apply the rules and standards of writing, the better you will get at it. Also, it makes you more likely to avoid the same mistakes in your first draft for any later books.
I like to work from big picture to small picture. The idea is to look over the novel as a big picture, examine it for tension, plot holes and overall pace. Then work on the smaller elements that take up progressively less space in your novel. The last part is checking punctuation and spelling errors.
This is an overview of the editing steps I use:
I will be doing an in depth post about this subject on a later date.
DISCLAIMER: PLEASE DO NOT THINK THAT YOU CAN PUBLISH WITHOUT PROFESSIONAL EDITING - THIS STEP IS ABOUT LEARNING AND IMPROVING - YOU STILL NEED A PROFESSIONAL EDIT. SERIOUSLY, JUST HIRE SOMEONE.
4. Experiment with point of view
As writers we tend to get stuck in this idea of what we SHOULD be writing.
"YA/NA is first person" or "Fantasy is third person".
We have this idea, usually because of our reading preferences, of what our writing should look like and sound like. The thing is, if we only write in one POV we might be missing out on discovering the POV that works best for us. You would be hard pressed to find a reader that picks up a book and puts it down with a scowl, saying: "Yuck, first person."
A fun way to experiment with POV is creating pieces of writing from other characters perspectives; I wrote about some activities to try when you have writer's block (see here). In these smaller pieces you can experiment with what works for your style of writing.
Another key to voice is understanding what the pros and cons of each POV offer. This will help you choose one that suits the message you are trying to share.
First Person (Me, I, my)
This style plonks you in the character's head, the reader experiences the life of the character, walking in their shoes.
Explores the question of: Persona vs Identity
Second Person (You, your, yours)
In this style the reader is a character in the novel. It is usually written in present tense. Common uses of this POV is in choose your own adventure novels.
Explores the question of: Identity vs Construction
Third Person (He, she, they)
This POV has the narrator describe the events as they unfold. Usually written in the past tense, this POV can be written in Limited (knowledge is limited to what the character knows/think/feels) or Omniscient (the narrator knows everything, even things the characters don't).
Explores the question of: Internal needs vs External needs
5. Befriend the inner critic
The most consistent way of squashing your voice is to doubt your writing - censor it. And the little voice in your head is most often the culprit. Jerk.
Unfortunately, this is one of the hardest steps. But instead of seeing this inner dialogue as a villain or something that needs to be stopped, we need to befriend it and acknowledge that it is trying to say something that will help us. It just doesn't know how it express itself properly. Resetting the way that your inner critic talks to you and how you respond is difficult and can take some time and work. It will feel like it's not working - don't give up, it is working, just give it time.
Below is some steps that might help calm the nasty critic:
1. Make the conversation more specific:
Change the way your inner critic talks about your writing. Too often it will tell us "Your writing sucks" or "You can't write". It gives us these blanket statements that kill our enthusiasm, that hurt rather than help. Often these comments come at a moment when - let's be honest - your writing might not be that great. And that's why it hurts so much.
But instead of telling it to shut up, ask it "why?". Get it to be specific. Change "This sucks" to "This paragraph doesn't flow" or "The dialogue isn't natural". These changes in phrasing, move the critiques from defeating stabs to the heart into something that you can use, something that is actually helpful.
Next time your critic slams you with a blanket statement, force it to point out what the actual problem is.
2. Make a note of what it is saying and keep going:
Like all good relationships its give and take. Your critic is only going to be helpful if you listen to it. But usually you want to keep writing, you don't want to stop to make changes. So, compromise, make a note (jot it on a sticky note, make a highlighted comment on your document, or just scribble it down in a margin) and keep going. It will keep you writing and your inner critic will be happy.
3. Work on what it is telling you:
Nobody likes to offer help that isn't listened to. Your critic will keep bashing you with horrible corrections until you fix it. And if your critic is anything like mine, it gets meaner the longer you put off fixing the problem. Take note of the commonalities of the critic's message. Then work on it. Research the problem, read books/blogs on how to improve your craft, and make an effort to improve whatever is causing the problem. When it is resolved your inner critic should shut up about it - although it will probably find something new to complain about. Like I said: jerk.
Once you befriend your inner critic you will be able to write how you want to; your voice will become stronger and clearer because its no longer being drowned out with fear and doubt.
I hope you enjoyed the post.
Let me know what you think.
Until next time: don't push fear away, embrace it, it's the part of yourself that has something to say.
I can picture all the side eye I am getting from this post:
"Come on Mel, Setting?? Isn't that the same as World Building?? I see what you are doing..."
Well actually... World Building is creating the world in your mind, Setting is painting a picture of that world through the eyes of your character.
A great Setting enhances the story for your readers. It:
It's pretty dang important. Without Setting your characters just float in the blank, nothingness of plot.
How do we create a great setting? Below are some things that help me:
Use your World Building:
Not familiar with world building? Check out my mistakes (Part 1 and Part 2) before you start - trust me, you don't want to make my mistakes midway through writing your novel.
If you are a world building champion (I hate you), then you are all set to season your story with little bits of delicious setting. Examples:
Don't forget to include your character in these little gems, describe how they feel about these events and possibly use the senses to do so.
Engage the senses:
The senses are a powerful thing, they evoke reader memories and can highlight what is important in a setting. It makes the character seem more real and your setting more vivid.
Now, unless you are writing omniscient, stick to describing what your character can: see, taste, smell, hear, and feel at that given time. This helps ground the readers in the here and now of your story. You can use details that they have seen previously in to create a contrast of time or place, but I would sprinkle it in with a light hand.
But remember that the senses aren't limited to the big five, you can also add in:
Weak, golden sun fluttered through the brick hugged windows. Motes of dust danced in the cold stillness. Empty tables stood to attention around the room's periphery; lonely chairs nestled beneath them. Settling like a blanket over the room, the air was devoid of any mustiness despite being shut up over the summer. As if the sounds and smells had fled the halls once the final bell rang. The clock ticked, perched above a pristine board, marching along even though no one watched it.
I never once mentioned the word school or student, but (I am hoping) you gathered we were in a classroom just before school resumed. I used the sense of touch, sight, smell and hearing (taste would have been weird) in the writing above.
Sometimes writing an original setting is like a game of Taboo, you have to challenge yourself to describe a place without using the shortcut words. But not every setting needs a flowery description - which brings me to my next point.
Be specific and selective with what you include:
Does your reader need a twenty page description of an office that she will visit once? No.
The point of this section is to choose your descriptions wisely. If you want to spend a paragraph describing exactly what that wing back armchair looks like, there had better be a good reason. Someone better make love on it or it better be demon possessed. Otherwise, why are you wasting my time?
Questions to ask yourself:
** If your character is running for their lives, please do not take the time to describe the pot plants beside the desk she is ducking behind. She wouldn't notice it - she'd be too focused on the killer. It pulls the reader out of the story - the reader is wondering why the plant is so important. And it often ruins the pace - if she can stop to notice the plants is she really in danger?
Giving too much information slows the pace of your story, it shifts the focus from the plot and characters to the setting. Sometimes this is good. This can be done beautifully to explore themes around place and landscape, or to capture a mood. Be purposeful with your long winded descriptions, make them mean something - make their lazy behinds work for every letter that you are bestowing upon them.
Below is an example of descriptions that could have conveyed the same idea with much less:
The poulterers shops were still half-open, and the fruiterers were radiant in their glory. There were great, round pot-bellied baskets of chesnuts, shaped like the waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen, lolling at the doors, and tumbling out into the street in their apoplectic opulence. There were ruddy, brown- faced, broad-girthed Spanish Onions, shining in the fatness of their growth like Spanish Friars, and winking from their shelves in wanton slyness at the girls as they went by, and glanced demurely at the hung-up mistletoe. There were pears and apples, clustered high in blooming pyramids; there were bunches of grapes, made in the shop- keepers' benevolence to dangle from conspicuous hooks, that people's mouths might water gratis as they passed; there were piles of filberts, mossy and brown, recalling in their fragrance, ancient walks among the woods, and pleasant shufflings ankle deep through withered leaves; there were Norfolk Biffins, squab and swarthy, setting off the yellow of the oranges and lemons...
Yes. I know.
I will wait for the hate mail to roll in.
How DARE I use Charles Dickens as an example of what not to do... the horror!!
But I mean, read it. (Yes. It is beautiful. Yes. It does set the scene - a minor one. Yes. It discusses the idea of Christmas Feasting as well as, creating a juxtaposition to the description of the same event earlier in the novel; which in turn highlights the growth of Scrooge's character. I get it.) When I was a teenager reading this I groaned so much at this scene. Why did I need to read a 40 word description of onions? I didn't. And to this day, I still don't. *shrugs*
And this is the point I am trying to make, did the onions propel the plot? Were they integral to the character's journey or solving a problem? No. So why waste words on things that might make readers skim read or even *gulp* put it in their DNF (Did Not Finish) pile? Today's market, especially if you are in YA, has no room for this overly purple prose. Your reader is being forced to read about something that has no importance, and thus, no place in your novel.
So save all your delicious descriptions for the places that are important or that your character will spend a lot of time in.
Use character interaction:
This one is my favorite. It is like allowing your character to lead your reader through their world. What they notice and interact with says a lot about your character. Every person will react to an environment in a different way, and the same person may react differently to the environment on different days (E.g. revisiting a place from childhood and it seems smaller than they remember). So when your POV (Point of View) changes or even when your character changes, alter the way you describe the world. Focus on different objects, interactions. Describe them in a way that feels authentic to the character.
Using quick, dynamic bits of setting concurrently with character action and dialogue adds depth to both your setting and your characters. YASS!
Say a character walks into a room, in the room their is a toy puppy. Characters can react in a variety of ways:
Using the descriptions of what is in the setting also tells us about the owner of the space:
Set the mood and foreshadow:
Using the weather, the temperature, the landscape or objects within a setting can help instill a the same feeling in our reader that the character is feeling. Have fun with the way you describe the things your character sees - they are not a objective viewer. Your character will never walk into a a room and go: "Oh, a red chair". chances are that they are going to have an opinion of that object based on their preferences, how they are feeling, whether they like the person who owns it or any past experiences with a red chair. Use this to your advantage.
Adjectives and verbs are your best friend. The choices you make with verbs and adverbs changes a somber downpour to refreshing rainstorm, or a ravenous deluge to an unwelcome precipitation, with a few synonyms and an adjective change.
So when describing, add depth to the setting by using words that emphasize the overall feeling your character has.
A mood filled with dread can be evoked in setting by using descriptions like:
The alluding to death, darkness and uncertainty gives the reader feelings of unease, of worry. But, using describing the same setting with different adjectives changes the feeling completely:
Setting can also foreshadow what is to come. Just like choosing the right adjective or verb choosing the right location for the event, or shaping the mood of the location can help readers guess what might happen next - leaving them with feelings of dread or excitement (Ahem - keeping them reading).
Think of it this way, if your sweetheart called you because they wanted to meet up "to talk" which setting would you prefer?
None of the settings would actually influence the outcome of the conversation, the person knows what they want to say, but the setting gives us an idea what the outcome might be. This is a fun literary device to play with, because we can lead a reader to a resolution that they feel is satisfying (they saw it coming) or you can punch them in the throat with an unexpected plot twist (E.g. the character on the cliff is proposed to, the character in the restaurant is dumped).
Be a little ambiguous:
Lastly, leave a little to the imagination. Allow your reader to insert themselves in your world, allow them the space to imagine it how they like. The brain is a fickle little fellow, if it thinks that something looks one way and you tell it otherwise, every time that setting comes up it will protest. It jars against the reader - pulling them out of the setting/story briefly.
Ambiguity is not vague! Be as specific as you can with your word choice when you do describe something, but don't describe everything (E.g. Coffee cup - describe the color, if it is empty, the lipstick mark on it, but then leave out things like the exact location in the room of the table it is on, how much liquid it can hold, how it reminds you of the cup you had that broke - or vice versa). The idea is don't bog your readers down with describing EVERYTHING about the setting and object.
Again this is why choosing what to describe and how to describe it is so important. If in doubt - leave it out.
Thanks for reading this behemoth.
Until next time: make your settings work hard for you.