Writing Course: Self-Editing Your Work

You have written a story – short story or novel, it doesn’t matter. Now it is time to self-edit it. It is easy to find flaws in other people’s work, but quite difficult to recognise them in your own.

There are three components of self-editing:

1. line/copy-editing,
2. sentence editing,
3. content editing.

Line/Copy-editing

A point to remember, whilst the spell check in word processors will identify some misspelt words, you should never rely on it when self-editing as they do not pick up words that are correctly spelled but used in the wrong context (such as to, too, two, their, there, would, wood).

However, you should use the ‘find and replace’ function to check the following:

What to Look For What to Do
Words ending with ‘ly’ Adverbs tell rather than show. A lot of the time if you strengthen the verb, you can eliminate the adverb.
and, so, but, however, because Avoid connectives where possible. Try a full stop and make two sentences, or rearrange and shorten the sentence.
that If the sentence reads well without it, delete it.
thing, stuff Don’t be lazy! Be specific.
he, she, him, her, his, hers If you have two or more characters, don’t rely on pronouns as the reader can become confused as to who is doing/saying what.

Sentence Editing

Once you’ve completed the basic line/copy-edit to correct spelling and grammar, you will need to examine your sentences and the words used. Ask yourself these questions:

Is the language specific, strong?
Do your words allow visualisation?
Is the main character well developed, convincing?
Will the reader sympathise with the main character?
Is there jargon or cliches that should be removed?
Are you too wordy or concise?
Is the word choice supportive of the setting?
Is the tone consistent?
Are there shifts in tone, tense, style or voice?
Is the dialogue convincing?
Does the dialogue move the story along?
Does the dialogue reveal character, conflict or emotion?

Content Editing

The course tackles this last but I feel this should be the first thing you do as major changes could result which may mean the work you’ve already completed in the line/copy-edit and sentence edit has been wasted.

Some more questions you should ask yourself:

What is your story about?
Can you sum up, in one sentence, what you story is about?
Are you saying what you want to say?
What does the main character want? Is this clear from the start?
Where is the story set? Is it important?
Will the reader relate to the main character?
Does the story have direction?
Is there a catchy beginning?
Is the conflict clear from the beginning?
Do the characters face interesting obstacles and make difficult decisions?
Does every action have cause and effect?
Is the main character well developed and interesting?
What is the character’s ruling passion or fatal flaw?
Does the character struggle, grow, change, make a stand?
Is the right character telling the story?
Does the setting create the right mood, have a strong sense of time and place, further the theme and plot?
Is there continuance, consistency and credibility?
Has the point of view or tense changed?
Are the characters believable?
Is the narrative voice right for the story?

Professional Presentation

Once the story has been written, rewritten and edited until it is the best it can be, it is time to take steps to ‘present’ your work in a professional manner.

I would recommend you using William Shunn’s Proper Manuscript Format Website as a guide, but here’s a quick checklist:

  • Use A4 good quality white paper
  • Use no less than 12 point black font
  • Never use colour ink
  • Use double spacing for manuscript content
  • Use a title page, or more often these days, insert the following onto the first page of the manuscript:
      story title
      author’s name
      approximate word count
      full name, address and contact details
  • Insert into top header, except first page, right aligned, in the following format:
      story title/ author’s surname / page number
  • Left justify content.
  • Make sure there is no extra white space between paragraphs and the first line of each paragraph is indented up to five spaces (3 is a good number).
  • Never bind pages.
  • Always keep a backup copy on disk (or, do what I do, email yourself a copy for safe keeping).
  • Most important, always read the publisher guidelines and do as directed. Always!

 

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How to Murder Your Muse

A muse is similar to a witch’s familiar, which is usually associated with a black cat. The cat is a companion to the witch, but it doesn’t do the work of the old hag (although it can be a pair of extra eyes, which I suppose she could find helpful). A muse on the other hand is meant to fill the writer with extraordinary ideas and help the words flow like the gushing waters over a waterfall. In other words, the muse is using the unsuspecting writer and is writing the novel through them.

I’m not sure I like that idea. When I finish my manuscripts I want to know that all that hard work is actually mine, and that I haven’t been something else’s vessel to get the work done.

To be honest, I’m not even sure I believe in muses but if you insist you do have a muse and you really want to be rid of it, how do you murder that pesky presence?

You could try to trap the little devil, but I haven’t heard of anyone being successful in this task. Muses are adept at hiding just when you need them most. In fact, they take great delight in playing hide and seek and will often disappear for days, if not weeks, at a time.

You could fool it into believing you’re not ready to sit down and write, because a muse loves to appear at those times. It knows the writer gets frustrated and annoyed when it’s an inconvenient moment and that gives the muse a thrill. The excitement is heightened when the writer has absolutely nothing to write on too. Oh, how the muse enjoys that.

I must hang my head in shame, because I’m not able to tell you how to actually “murder” your muse. I wouldn’t want the authorities knocking on my door and accusing me of being the mastermind behind such an act. I believe the best line of attack is to go the other way – ignore it completely. Every time it shows its ugly head, push it to one side and don’t listen (and you’ll feel a certain amount of enjoyment after doing this for a while). The muse, however, will find this treatment intolerable. A word of warning, muses have a temper and it’s quite amusing to watch them stamp their feet and shout profanities so you’ll have to keep your own amusement in check. If you are strong enough to do this for a prolonged period (a couple of weeks should do it) then the blighter will pack up and leave.

You see, a muse wants everything its own way. It’s not interested in your plans (especially fast approaching deadlines) and it certainly doesn’t care about the assorted ideas you have. The muse looks down at its vessel as being inferior and…well, to put it bluntly…stupid. The writer must do as the muse directs or all Hell breaks out. It’s that simple.

However, we writer types know we are not inferior and we certainly are not stupid. If we sit down and think about it carefully, we don’t need the muse. All the muse is doing is dictating when we can write and what we write about. We have our own ideas and once we rid ourselves of the fearsome muse, we’ll be able to write whenever we want…and what’s more, we’ll be able to write in peace.

And Now for the Sequel

Whilst researching non-fiction, I found this article called And Now for the Sequel…Writing Series Fiction for Children by Nikki Tate.

It’s interesting to read the thoughts of this writer, because they echo my own thoughts in so many ways, even though I made up my own mind before reading it elsewhere. I like how this author of this article has explained the many ways in which sequels can be written.

My own series is linear (as in the characters do become older with each book), but stand alone in as much that all information for each story will be contained between the front and back covers. Any additional information will contribute to the overall story arc for the series, ie hints for future story lines etc, but it won’t matter if the reader picks up on these facts or not. It will make no difference to the story or the series.

As a young reader, I remember falling “in love” with characters in a book. Of course, I had my favourite characters and if those characters didn’t make an appearance in the other books I picked up to read, I was terribly disappointed. Remembering this fact, I think it’s important to have all the main characters appear in each book in a children’s series. Otherwise, we risk losing readers.

I’ve never thought about writing a series where the characters remain the same age … forever. However, I’ve seen TV series and read books where this has happened and it was never a problem for me. I remember thinking, after reading X number of books in the series, “when are these people going to have a birthday?” But I soon forgot about that small detail and enjoyed the book.

Be sure to read the part called Keeping Track of the Details, there’s a good tip in there about using calendars, which is so simple, but I hadn’t thought of it.

BBC – Get Writing

Struggling Writer is always supplying his readers with great links, so I wasn’t surprised when I saw this one – BBC – Get Writing.

There are informative courses for beginners, intermediate and advanced writers in the Mini-Courses section. Also, if you browse The Craft, you’ll find heaps of helpful articles on all aspects of writing…including a number of genres too.

I haven’t browsed the courses, but I did take a look at a few of the articles and they are easy to read and well written. Go take a look.

Why do we edit?

Editing means that we try to make our story as flowing and reader friendly as possible. It means that we take away the confusion of awkward sentences, bad grammar and spelling and allow our readers to enjoy the story. Constant mistakes will distract the reader and eventually they will focus on how terrible we write, instead of the plot. No writer wants this, so editing is essential.

The first thing we must do is read the entire manuscript through, just like we read any other book. As we read, we should use a red pen to mark problem areas – confusion, something missing, waffling, point of view shifts, format problems etc. Don’t stop to fix them yet, because that will stop the flow. Just mark the area and keep reading. If it doesn’t sound right to you, the author, then it’s going to sound even worse to the reader.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself:

1. Is the style and voice consistent?
2. Do I use the best word possible in every single sentence?
3. Is the flow smooth?
4. Do I use proper sentences?
5. Is the point of view consistent?
6. Am I using passive sentences?
7. Are the events in the right order?
8. Do I have plot holes?
9. Are my characters realistic and growing?
10. Does every scene move the story forward?
11. Is the dialogue natural?
12. Is there enough description, without going over the top?
13. Is the title appropriate?
14. Is the opening sentence catchy?
15. Will the resolution leave the reader satisfied?

Now work through the manuscript again (is it any wonder we end up hating the story?), and this time, fix the errors. Take your time. Be careful, don’t trust your spell checker, so watch for words that sound alike, ie their/there/they’re. And don’t be afraid to cut huge chunks of writing, even if it is your favourite part of the story. If it doesn’t move the story along, delete it.

When you’ve finished, you should have a polished manuscript. However, if you’re like me, you won’t be able to rest until you read the entire manuscript again, and hope with all your heart that you don’t find any errors. If you do…you know what needs to be done!

Getting it Right

I wrote this for the Writers Email Group and thought I’d put it here too.

I don’t swear…no, that’s not right, I rarely swear. If I do, people know I’m seriously angry…and run. Yet I know lots and lots of people, including women (and children), who swear on a daily basis (no matter what their emotional state). I work with all men, they swear…a lot. They try to control it when I’m around, but I hear much more than they think I do. In other words, I’m used to hearing swear words. And I’ll say now, that I don’t think less of a person if they do swear. It’s a part of life. A huge percentage of people swear in one form or another every, single day.

Right, what’s this got to do with “getting it right”.

I’m a reader. I read several genres. When I read horror, I expect to see some swearing because it’s part of the genre (as long as there isn’t too much), but with other genres (especially fantasy) I don’t like seeing swear words. I’ll put up with three or four times during the whole novel, but if it’s on every page or two then it annoys me. If it’s every paragraph, I’ll put the book down and will never read that author again.

Yet, swearing is a firm part of life and if a writer is “getting it right” doesn’t it mean that every sentence of dialogue will have a swear word in it? I accept it in life, but I don’t accept it in books.

I’m a writer, and it’s drummed into me to get the facts right, make it realistic. Yet, a manuscript filled with swear words will have a very narrow market. A young adult manuscript with the same number of swear words will find itselt out of the market altogether because part of the publisher’s marketing is to try and sell the book to schools. This brings them a huge revenue, so, if they think the book is not suitable for this market, this will make them look for a manuscript that does fit their requirements. Remember, it’s all about money.

This means that “getting it right” is only true when it suits the publishers and/or the critics, which leaves the writer in a bind, because it’s up to the writer to decide how much “getting it right” is the right thing to do.

Personally, although I know swearing is a normal part of our lives, I would prefer to escape from it in my reading adventures. Using those words when it’s appropriate is one thing, but I think showing your character’s anger without the use of certain words is the way a true writer gets the message across.

What do you think?

Keep It Simple (Stupid)

Have you heard of the KISS technique? No, it doesn’t mean you go around giving everyone a big sloppy kiss in the hope of getting published. It means to keep your writing simple.

KISS = Keep it simple stupid

Some writers feel they have to use big, impressive words to be successful but, often, by doing this you are talking down to your audience. Or, you might be saying “look at how intelligent I am”.

People hate that. It’s a quick way of turning readers away.

Keeping your writing simple means that you use the right words, and the least amount of words, to get the message across. This doesn’t mean you have to stop using big words altogether. Readers like to learn new words, sure, and if you use them sparingly there will not be a problem…but if they need a dictionary to decipher a word from every page of your book then you are doing the wrong thing. You are slowing down the pace and confusing your audience. You are stopping the reader from enjoying your story and you are stopping yourself from becoming successful.

So, keep it simple…er, well you know the drill. 😉

Writing the Perfect Scene

Writing the Perfect Scene – When I read this it made perfect sense to me. A light went on in my head – “this is something I’m doing wrong”.

I will learn to write using the Motivation Reaction Units within my Scenes and Sequals.

Motivation is what the character sees, hears, smells, tastes, and feels (as in touch). It is external and objective.

Reaction is what the character feels internally. It is internal and subjective and is broken down into three parts:

  • feeling (this always comes first)
  • reflex (this happens as a result of the feeling)
  • rational action and speech (this happens when the character has had time to think and act in a rational way)

Motivation and Reaction should always be written in different paragraphs and should always be in this order.

But what are Scenes and Sequels?

Scenes should have:

  • Goal – what the character wants at the beginning of the scene. The character doesn’t sit back passively and wait for it to come to them, they go after it.
  • Conflict – The obstacles the character faces as they try to reach their goal. Naturally, there has to be a struggle otherwise the novel will be boring.
  • Distaster – This is failure to reach the goal. Something bad has to happen to make the reader turn the page and keep reading.

Straight after a scene, comes the sequel.

  • Reaction – The emotional follow through to the disaster. Show the characters reaction to what has happened. Show a passage of time when there’s no action but there is re-action. Then have the character “get a grip” and look for options.
  • Dilemma – Oh, there are no options and the character has a dilemma. They wonder what will happen next and have to work through the choices available.
  • Decision – Let the character decide on the best option and decide to carry it through. Let the reader respect the character for trying. This gives the character reason to be proactive again because they now have a new goal.

And the pattern starts over.

Within the Scenes and Sequels you must rember to use the Motivation Reaction Units. If you do this well, you will have written the perfect scene.