Archive for the ‘Editing & Critiquing’ Category

As I was test driving the Storybook software I downloaded a while back, trying to decide if it will be as good a writing tool as Scrivener, I suddenly discovered that I have no idea what the difference is between a major and a minor character. They’ve all just been characters, with the exception of the protagonist and antagonist of course. Yet I was being asked by this novel-writing software to decide who were major characters and who were minor characters in my book, Apprentice Cat. A little research later and I had my answer.

Read the rest.

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As I continue wrestling with my WIP, Apprentice Cat, using Larry BrooksStory Engineering strategies, I’ve suddenly realized it’s not just the writing I’ll need to edit.

Pantsers know (or should know) that they’ll be writing draft after draft in order to get the story just right. Plotters, on the other hand, use different methods to plan out what they’ll write before setting fingers to keyboard. For me, it’s several excel worksheets that include characterization, concepts and, of course, the actual plot.

What plotters may not realize…

As I’ve developed my scenes and placed them in their slots on the plotting worksheet, I’ve done my best to make things move smoothly from one idea to the next. I’m over 2/3rds finished and it just dawned on me: once I’ve filled in every slot, I’ll need to go over it again to make sure it all makes sense.

You would think I could do that as I go along, but sometimes I come up with brilliant scenes and slot them in without considering all the scenes that came before. Therefore, sometimes there are missing pieces. If I want readers to enjoy the story without being jarred out of it, I have to include the information they need when they need it. I can’t just throw a surprise into the work without foreshadowing it.

Enter the pre-writing, post-plotting editing phase…

Now that I know I’m going to have to go back over my plotting worksheet looking for missing details, it makes coming up with good scenes both easier and more difficult.

I’m a perfectionist, so I want to get it right the first time. This makes plotting difficult because, as Roz Morris reminds us in her book Nail Your Novel, the initial phase of plotting is to use broad strokes. These are just the basic ideas and shouldn’t be too detailed.

However, knowing I’ll be going back to put those details in before I write another word, also makes plotting easier. If I don’t get those details in right away, I know I’ll be able to do it before I get half-way through writing the book (unlike what I’ve done thus far :P).

I know I’m not the only one who has gone through multiple stages to develop a good book, so I’m very curious what you do? How do you plan your story?


On another note…

If you’ve been following The Road to Writing long, you probably know I have another blog called One Servant’s Heart on my web site. After giving it a lot of thought, I’ve decided to begin merging the two blogs. I’ll be posting snippets to TRTW with a link to the full post on my web site for a while longer (probably the rest of 2011) before letting this blog go entirely. If you’ve subscribed to this feed, please go ahead and subscribe to One Servant’s Heart so you won’t miss anything.

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As if learning the craft of writing a novel isn’t difficult enough, after it’s finished you’ll need to edit it. If you’re going to be traditionally published, you’ll probably work with an editing staff to make your work marketable.

But before it gets to that point, you have to get it past the slush pile – that means doing a lot of self-editing first.

Of course, you may choose to go the indie author route and self-publish. No need to rise out of a slush pile, just a need to catch a reader’s eye out there in the big world. Sounds pretty simple.

But before you catch a reader’s eye (and you want to make a good impression, yes?), you need to have a great story – that means doing a lot of self-editing and perhaps hiring a professional as well.

No matter what you do, if you want to be read and have those readers give you great reviews, spread the word and buy your other books, you have to face the red pen. You must edit your manuscript.

Thankfully there are many resources available to help from blogs to books to videos. Here are 11 resources that will make editing just a little easier on you.

  1. Editing Your Novel: High Level Story Read Through by Joanna Penn – In this video, with transcript, Joanna explains some of the process she went through editing her first draft of Pentecost from weaving in back story to checking for consistency.
  1. A Perfectionist’s Guide to Editing: 4 Stages by Jami Gold – In this blog post Jami narrows our focus from revising the big picture to nailing down those pesky words that need to be just a little stronger.
  1. Proofreading & Editing Tips: A compilation of advice from experienced proofreaders and editors – This article is just what it says, a list of tips from general proofing to content editing.
  1. Copy-Editing And Beta Readers by Joanna Penn – In this blog post Joanna shares how she worked with beta readers and what benefits she found from their feedback.
  1. No Really: Kill Your Clichés by Leslie Wilson – This blog post takes a humorous look at how clichés can hurt your writing.
  1. Do You Copy? Tips on Copy Editing Your Own Work by Janice Hardy – In this blog post Janice shares several concrete examples of common problems such as tense issues, parallel series difficulties and ambiguous pronouns.
  1. Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing by Mignon Fogarty – In this book Mignon helps writers understand complex grammar concepts by using simple examples and memory devices.
  1. 10 Actions You Can Take to Improve Your Proofreading by Randall Davidson – This blog post is rather on the nose with simple tips that include slowing down, reading out loud and asking for help.
  1. 10 Grammar Rules You Can (and Should!) Ignore! By Tracy O’Connor – In this blog post Tracy gives us permission to break those “hard and fast rules” like split infinitives and ending a sentence with a preposition… only when it makes the writing sound natural, of course.
  1. A Good Edit Would’ve Fixed That by April Hamilton – In this blog post April gives several concrete examples of how to fix problems such as using internal monologue for omniscient exposition.
  1. 5 Essential Tips on Self-Editing by Catherine Ryan Hyde – In this blog post Catherine reminds writers to use spell check, but don’t rely on it, as well as four other very useful tips.

Editing is unavoidable and can be painful, but it doesn’t need to be impossible. These are only a few of the resources I’ve found. What about you? What resources and tips have you picked up as you’ve gone through the editing process?

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What makes you uncomfortable with or defensive about your story is worth looking at closely for two reasons: 1) it could be a hidden gem, or 2) it could be a little darling.

Hidden Gems

Sometimes as we write our subconscious seeds our stories with hidden gems, like how or where your protagonist will find the answer to his surface problem*.

In Bob Mayer’s book, Novel Writer’s Toolkit, he talks about a writer getting stuck with a particular problem in the story (the main character needs to discover some vital information in order to solve the mystery) and not knowing how to resolve it. It only took a quick look back through what was already written to find the answer in a short bit of description (several journals the character had seen on a shelf in another character’s office).

Another possible hidden gem your subconscious could work in is a story-worthy problem.

While it is important to give at least a minimum amount of thought to what your protagonist’s underlying issue is, sometimes the real issue develops deep within your own mind and isn’t revealed until you begin writing.

For instance I recently wrote a scene where my main character’s father, an ordinarily soft-spoken and gentle character, speaks condescendingly to his son, my protagonist. It’s a scene I’ve hated reading because it makes me uncomfortable. I’ve considered several times removing it, but couldn’t bring myself to do it.

However, since going back to basics with this story and trying to develop myself into more of a planner and less of a pantser, I’ve realized this scene reveals my main character’s story-worthy problem — the need to believe in himself. Had I taken it out before finishing the entire story I might have missed this very important detail.

Little Darlings

On the other hand, those “special” scenes that we feel the need to defend as “necessary” may not be necessary at all. They could be little darlings, as Stephen King calls them, and need to be eliminated (or at least banished to a folder far far away from the rest of your civilized manuscript).

To know the difference you can ask this very important question: does this move the story along? If it does, great! If it slows things down you may need to cut it. At the very least you’ll have to revise it, which means shortening and tightening.

A lot of my personal little darlings tend to be flashbacks and memories. They’re fun scenes and often moving, but necessary? Probably not. Some of the information needs to remain, but there are certainly better ways to scatter it through the rest of the story.

One example from my WIP is a flashback where my protagonist’s father is teaching him what the term “warming up” means. It’s cute, even endearing, but it really slows down the story. Instead, I’ll be re-writing the flashback into a memory, most likely as a couple of sentences instead of the several paragraphs it currently is. It’ll be painful, but it’s necessary.

Writing a great novel can be tough, but thankfully we’re not alone. There are multitudes of free blogs and inexpensive books we can read to help us learn about craft. Best of all, there are other writers and readers out there we can get in touch with thanks to social media who can become our mentors and beta readers. With all those great resources available, it makes it that much easier to decide if that scene is a hidden gem or a little darling.

How do you make that decision?

*For more information on surface vs. story-worthy problems check out Les Edgerton’s book Hooked.

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I am not a fan of drama. However, against my better judgement, I took the advice Les Edgerton gives in Hooked and rented Thelma & Louise in order to learn about how to create a “proper” inciting incident and the resulting escalating conflicts.

I wish I could say the movie pleasantly surprised me, but it didn’t. It was exactly as I figured it would be. Yes, it has a powerful ending. Yes, the real inciting incident isn’t what most people think it is. No, I didn’t find the story riveting or the conflict keeping me glued to the screen, though I did watch the whole movie out of respect for the cast, crew and Les (and to get my $3.50’s worth).

I can say that I learned something from the movie, though it’s not exactly what Les probably meant to be learned. In the case of Thelma & Louise, and most other dramas I’ve read/watched, the inciting incident is the first in a string of bad decisions in which each bad decision is decidedly worse than the last. If you truly care about the characters, this would indeed be conflict for the reader as well as the characters. If… and that’s a big if.

Life is drama. I don’t need to see it played out on the big screen or read about it in a book. For me, simply being human in an unpleasant situation is not enough. Therefore, characters like Thelma or Louise only irritate me. They make bad decision after bad decision, never stopping to consider the consequences or the other characters in their lives. That is not entertainment. That is a train wreck.

The problem for writers arises in trying to create characters readers will connect with. Escalating conflict isn’t enough. If your reader doesn’t care about what happens to your character, then she may be cheering for the character’s demise by the end of the book. (I was by Season 5 Episode 22 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.)

So what’s a writer to do? Here are 6 links that can help you create characters your readers will fall in love with:

  1. T is for Terrific: 4 Ways to Create Minor Characters
  2. 5 Questions About Characters’ Desires
  3. Checklist of 17 Character Qualities
  4. Holy Rusted Metal, Batman, I’m A Sidekick!
  5. How We Write Wednesdays: Making Characters Realistic–YOUR Way
  6. Let your MC succeed while they’re failing – the power of reward

What do you think? Does a chain of bad decisions make a great story or do you need to fall in love with the characters first?

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I love my mother. She’s one of my biggest cheerleaders (and marketers! :D) and a very good proofreader. She loves just about everything I write, which makes storytelling fun because I know someone will enjoy it. She’s also pretty good at giving me honest feed back, but let’s face it… she’s my mother. Of course she’s going to like what I write. She’s great for my ego, but not necessarily a good measuring tool when it comes to my WIPs being something anyone else would want to read.

On the other hand, my husband, who has read everything from the latest Star Wars series to Les Miserables by Victor Hugo to The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson, has usually been ho hum about my stories. What I write isn’t what he’s interested in, though he’s kind enough to read it if I ask. I know the best I’m likely to get is a “surprisingly not bad,” which is basically the same as “don’t call us we’ll call you.”

Imagine my surprise when I let him read some of my unfinished, unedited WIP and he begged for the as-yet-unwritten next chapter. To me, that means I’ve got something worth pursuing.

When we look for beta readers, we often go after those who read our genre and ignore everyone else. However, by doing that we miss a fantastic way to measure our product’s appeal to a larger audience.

Sure, most of the time the response will be “surprisingly not bad” (unless the person doesn’t care about your feelings, then it might be a more… honest… response), but there is always the possibility that person will love what we’ve written. It certainly doesn’t hurt to ask and even if they don’t enjoy the work, they may point out problems that could turn off readers we are targeting.

Knowing I have at least two people impatiently waiting for me to finish my current WIP makes me want to work harder because where there’s two there’s bound to be more.

What are some of your experiences with beta readers?

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I just read a fantastic post on storyfix.com by Therese Walsh about ways to get creative Right Brain working with analytic, “hatchet-happy” editor, Left Brain. Instead of trying to explain what Therese says, I’ve decided to repost it. Here it is:

Can Editing Be Fun? Maybe.

a guest post by Therese Walsh

First, I want to thank Larry for having me today on his fab site. It’s great to be here!

When I asked Larry what he might like for me to blog about, he gave me a few ideas. He knew I’d just turned a completed manuscript over to my editor and was waiting for the first round of notes and edits. Could I speak to the editing process? I thought about it; what did I have to offer here that might be fresh? And what I came back to is something Larry said: “I know in my experience this is the toughest stuff. The writing is bliss, the editing is WORK.”

You might think this crazy, but for me, editing is…fun. I have the harder time getting ideas onto the page to begin with. I toil over concepts, the timing of reveals, characterizations and descriptions and most especially the wording of my sentences (8,302 of them in my work-in-progress; I just counted).

Something happens to me, though, after I hit that final period in my draft—the end. I turn from fretful writer to dispassionate editor.

How? Why? And fun? Am I crazy?

Read the rest of the post.

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