Debby Giusti here!
Now that Speedbo 2013 has come to an end, it’s time to edit our pages. On April 29, Erica Vetsch will talk about Macro Editing when she guest blogs on Seekerville. Today, I’m featuring Edits Lite, which could also be termed Micro Editing.
Let’s look at some tricks of the trade that can speed the process of transforming our rough first drafts into salable prose. Hopefully, these editing tips—all rather easy peasy lemon squeezy--can strengthen our writing and speed the revision process.
We’ll start at the beginning…
Anchor your reader.Ensure the opening of your manuscript identifies at least some of the following: the setting, locale, season of the year and time of day. In addition, it should introduce the protagonist, or main point of view character, as well as provide a clear explanation of what is occurring. If the story is set in another world or another time, clue in the reader immediately.
Angry storm clouds turned the evening sky over Fort Rickman, Georgia, as dark as the mood within the car. Michele Logan pulled her eyes from the road and glanced at her mother, sitting next to her in the passenger seat.
Roberta Logan, usually the poised colonel’s wife, toyed with the collar of her blouse and gave voice to a subject that had weighed on Michele’s heart for the past two years. “Despite what you think, dear, you haven’t gotten over your brother’s death.”
Ever since she and her mother had left her parents’ quarters en route to the potluck dinner, Roberta had insisted on talking about the accident that had claimed Lance’s life. The topic added to Michele’s anxiety, especially with the inclement August weather and the darkening night.
Introduce your characters.Use each character’s whole name when he or she first appears on the page. (In romance, the first male introduced is usually the hero, and the first female is the heroine. If that’s not the case, the secondary characters’ descriptions should establish their “lesser” roles to the reader.) A short description of each newly introduced character is usually included in the introspection of the point of view character.
Matt Lawson peered into the darkness, saw movement and aimed his gun. “Hold it right there.” He raised the flashlight in his left hand. The arc of light broke through the darkness. “Sanctuary Security. Step toward me. Hands in the air.”
A woman moved from the shadows. Slender. Five foot six. Shoulder-length blond hair. A child peered around the counter. She shoved him protectively behind her.
“What’s going on, ma’am?”
Lightning illuminated the spacious kitchen. Two seconds later, a clap of thunder confirmed a nearby hit.
Why in the world would a woman and child break into one of the prestigious homes on Sanctuary Island? The woman certainly didn’t look as if she belonged in the upscale community. Wrinkled clothes. Hair hanging limp around her oval face. She reminded him of a stray cat, needing to be fed.
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?Asking the POV character to describe herself can be tricky. Yes, she can look in a mirror and discuss what she sees, but that’s an amateurish technique that should be avoided unless the heroine “sees” herself in a negative light. As most of us know, women often focus on their flaws instead of their attributes, and a less than flattering mention could serve to reveal some of the heroine’s internal struggle. That being said, the best option is to have the hero describe the heroine when the POVs switch in the next scene.
Kate glanced at her reflection in the rearview mirror. Even Tina’s raven-black hair and voluptuous Latina body contrasted sharply with Kate’s rather average looks. In Kate’s opinion, her only attributes—and that might be stretching the point—were her fierce determination and blue eyes. Right now those eyes were bloodshot-red.
Balance narrative with dialogue.Narrative slows the pace and is more telling. Dialogue is active and draws the reader into the story. Break up long sections of narrative with snippets of conversation or have the information revealed through dialogue alone.
Her cell rang. She glanced at her watch—twelve-fifteen—and reached for her phone, noting the caller’s Chicago area code. “Kramer.”
“I planned to check online in case you left a message,” Violet said. The informant had told her never to phone lest her boyfriend—a mobster who worked with the Martino family—answer the call.
“Angelo’s away for the night. I bought one of those nontraceable cell phones. Wanted you to know the latest.”
Violet’s stomach tightened, hearing the wariness in Gwyn’s voice. “You’re okay, aren’t you?”
“Angelo’s acting strange. He said everyone’s on edge. Vincent Martino’s making changes. Angelo knew where he stood when the old don, Salvatore, was in charge. With Vincent, things aren’t so clear. Angelo said the new don has to prove himself to his father before Salvatore dies. Somehow it involves those women who were killed in Montana.”
Just as long as Gwyn didn’t get hurt.
Although Violet had never met her informant in person, she and Gwyn had connected online a little over a year ago when Violet had researched a possible story lead on the mob. She’d never completed the story, but the mobster’s girlfriend had kept in touch, providing more and more insider information. With Violet’s encouragement, Gwyn had recently admitted she wanted to make a new life for herself free from Angelo and the mob.
“Some of the capos are upset,” Gwyn said. “Evidently, the hit men went after the wrong women.”
“You mean, Ruby Summers Maxwell and Carlie Donald weren’t supposed to die?”
“The target was someone else. A gal named Eloise Hill. At least that’s what Angelo heard. She testified against Salvatore years ago.”
“And Vincent wants her dead to gain favor with his ailing father?”
“Vincent lacks Salvatore’s charisma. Some say he’s more interested in women than in running the organization.”
“Can you find out more about Eloise for me? And let me know if any other women are being targeted?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
Weed out author intrusion and info dumps.Author intrusion is when the writer inserts his or her personal opinion into a story. Info dumps are when additional information is provided that does not necessarily enhance the story. Any information needed for the story should be introduced by the characters and not as an aside that pulls the reader out of the plot’s forward progression.
Keep your sentences active.Rewrite passive sentences into active voice: subject-verb-object.
The ball was thrown by the boy. Passive.
The boy threw the ball. Active.
Adverbs are rarely needed.Don’t overuse adverbs, especially with dialogue tags. Instead, use description or active beats to replace–ly words.
“You’re a louse,” Janine said angrily.
Janine fisted her hands and stomped her foot. “You’re a louse.”
Watch for word or phrase duplication.If you’re like me, a favorite word or turn of phrase can keep reappearing in a manuscript. Each time the turn of phrase is used weakens the overall effect. What began as a fresh and unique turn of phrase can easily become an aggravation for the reader if used too often.
Vary sentence structure.Repeating the same sentence pattern over and over again spells one thing: BORING! Add introductory phrases, join two complete sentences with a conjunction or insert short sentences into the mix to keep the reader engaged.
Lillie Beaumont gasped for air and fought her way through the dream that came too often. Her heart pounded a warning as she blinked open her eyes, allowing the dark outline of her bedroom to sweep into focus. She lifted her head off the pillow and anticipated the distant thunder before the sound reached her ears.
Low. Rumbling. Menacing, like cannon fire at nearby Fort Rickman, Georgia.
Weeding her fingers through the sheets, she grasped for anything that would calm her spinning stomach and racing pulse.
Another rumble, this time closer.
Then another and another in rapid succession, each encroaching on her space, her air, her life.
She, She, She or He, He, He problems?Be on the lookout for character names or personal pronouns used repeatedly at the beginning of sentences. To catch repeats, read the story in hard copy or switch to web layout (under the View option on your task bar) as opposed to print layout. Some folks change fonts to help recognize duplicate words and typos. Others use a two column, single-spaced format that more closely aligns to the printed book form. Bottom line, use any trick that helps your weary eyes find mistakes.
Filter out filter words.Certain words, called filters, form a barrier between the character and the reader. Whenever possible stay clear of feel, hear, see, think, wonder, realize, watch. For a longer list, go to Susan Dennard’s blog.
He heard the cell phone ring. Filter.
The cell phone chirped. Non-filter.
She realized she was wrong. Filter.
She was wrong. Non-filter.
Don’t overuse italics.Foreign words are written in italics. Internal prayers in Love Inspired books are also written in italics. Deep introspection, written in first person, requires italics. Additionally, certain words—keep these to a minimum—may be written in italics for emphasis, but overuse can frustrate the reader and weaken the effect.
Stepping into the foyer, Sarah opened the front door to the extent of the chain lock and regarded the visitor.
Crystal-blue eyes, straw-blond hair cut in a military buzz.
When he turned those blue eyes toward her, a feeling stirred deep within her. She swallowed, having difficulty finding her voice.
Not what she needed at this point in her life. Get a grip, Sarah.
“May I help you?”
Polite. She’d give him that much. Probably six-two, he had a thick neck, broad shoulders and biceps that bulged beneath the digital pattern of his uniform.
He glanced down at a photograph he clutched in his hand and held it up to where she could see the woman’s image. Expressive round eyes, slender nose, shoulder-length black hair framing an oval face.
“Ma’am, I’m looking for Nicole Valentine.”
No doubt the person in the photo. Sarah raised a questioning brow. “And you came here because…?”
He let out a quick breath. “One-fourteen Rosemont. That is your address, isn’t it?”
“That’s right, but—”
“Nicole Valentine lives here,” he stated before Sarah could continue. Then he paused, probably noticing the perplexed expression on her face. “I just returned from the Middle East. Nicole and I…” He glanced again at the photo. “You see, ma’am, she sent me this address.”
Sarah could read people, and everything about the man standing on her front porch said he was legit. Maybe a little mixed up as to where his girlfriend lived, but the guy didn’t seem to pose a threat to either Sarah or the kids at the shelter.
“Just a minute.” She slipped off the chain lock, opened the door wide and walked onto the porch.
He took a step back. Had she crowded him?
His gaze warmed momentarily. “Hate to turn down a promotion, but it’s captain, ma’am. Captain Jude Walker.”
She nodded and tried to offer him what she realized must have seemed a halfhearted smile. But she did have work to do and kids to take care of, so…
“Call me Jude, ma’am.”
“And I’m Sarah Montgomery.” The guy seemed sweet in a rugged sort of way, like a cocker spaniel in a rottweiler body.
“I’m afraid you have the wrong address, Jude. This is a shelter for teens. Your girlfriend doesn’t live here.”
He hadn’t corrected her when she called the beautiful woman his girlfriend. For half a heartbeat, Sarah envied the woman in the photo.
“A teen shelter? Are you sure?” His question sounded like one the kids would ask.
“Yes, I am sure, Captain. I’m well aware of who finds lodging within this house.”
Just say no to exclamation points!!!!Are they ever needed in a manuscript? In my opinion, no! I often use them in my email correspondence and blog comments, but I rarely use them in my stories.
The exception would be expletives in dialogue:
“Of course not!”
“How dare you!”
Check your use of dashes and ellipses.The dash is typed as two hyphens and signifies an interruption. (I butt my two hyphens up to the adjoining words without adding a space.) Ellipses signal a pause and are written as three periods typed one after the other without a space in between.
Luke grabbed the woman and guided her over the windowsill. She clung to him, her fingers digging into his flesh.
“I’ve got you,” he assured her. “We jump on three.”
She shook her head. “I…I can’t.”
“You have to,” he insisted. “One…Two…”
He wrapped his arm protectively around her waist. “Three.”
They jumped just before the room exploded, spewing a ball of fire into the night.
A clump of overgrown azalea bushes broke their fall. Together they rolled and came to rest on a mound of thick pine needles.
Luke groaned as he pulled himself to a sitting position. Lights flashed. The fire chief appeared, yelling orders to his men. A scurry of activity surrounded them as hoses stretched toward the flames. Water hissed from the nozzles.
The woman lay on the ground, eyes closed, golden hair streaming around a face pale as death.
“Ma’am?” Luke nudged her shoulder. “Ma’am?”
When she didn’t respond, he touched her neck. No pulse.
“She needs help,” he shouted, hoping to attract attention.
Knowing every second was critical, Luke tilted her head back. With swift, sure movements, he blew two quick puffs of air into her mouth, then, intertwining his fingers, he pressed down on her sternum.
“And one, and two…” He counted the compressions.
Where were the medical personnel?
“And three, and—”
“We’ll take it from here.” A team of EMTs scurried to his aid.
Luke edged back to let them do their job.
Beef up your hooks.Each scene should end with a hook that keeps the reader engaged in the story. Check to ensure your scene and chapter endings are dynamic and tease the reader into turning the page and continuing to read.
The sheriff pursed his lips. “We’ve never had an arson case before.”
Her breath caught. “Arson?”
His gaze was direct, his tone as cold as the wind. “The fire started in the hallway outside your room, and was fueled by an accelerant.”
Allison’s neck tingled and a sick feeling roiled through her stomach.
“Hate to tell you, ma’am—”
She flicked another glance at Luke, who stared into the fireplace.
“From the looks of it—”
The sheriff shook his head, his voice distant.
A roar filled her ears. She swallowed down the lump that clogged her throat and tried to hear what he was saying.
“From the looks of it, I’d say someone in Sterling wants you dead.”
End with a Happily Ever After.In “The End,” my Seekerville, March 20, 2013 blog,” I wrote: “The beginning of a story sells the current book, but the ending sells the next book.” Don’t skimp on emotion at the conclusion of your story. Tie up loose end. Have the hero and heroine declare their love and give the reader an ending she will always remember…especially as she heads to the store to buy your next book.
Time stood still as he pulled forth a small box. His strong fingers reached for the object, hidden inside, that he held up for her to see. A beautiful solitaire diamond ring. The radiant stone sparkled in the candlelight and reflected the love she saw in his eyes.
“Michele, I’m asking you to be my wife. It won’t always be candlelight and roses, but if you’ll have me as your husband, I promise to honor you and cherish you and love you all the days of my life.”
Her eyes burned and a lump formed in her throat. “Oh, Jamison.” She couldn’t talk for a long moment as she looked at him, seeing the good man, the honorable man, the righteous man he had always been. She had just needed to look beyond her fear to see the possibility of a future together.
Extending her left hand, she smiled as he slipped the ring on her finger. “I would be honored to be your wife,” she said, gazing into his eyes. “I promise to love you and cherish you and go wherever you go for the rest of my life.”
She stepped into his arms, feeling his strength and his gentleness at the same time. They had a lot to learn about each other, but God would give them time, a lifetime together.
Jamison had taught her to live in the present and be grateful for every blessing the Lord provided. Life was a mix of joy and sorrow. Theirs would be no different, but she no longer had to fear God or the future.
“I belong in your arms,” she sighed as he lowered his lips to hers. Jamison kissed her as if he never wanted to let her go, and she knew what they had together was more perfect than any diamond or flower or the fine china or anything else the world might offer in comparison. They had chosen the better portion, the love that would last a lifetime and carry them into eternity. Which is how long she wanted to stay wrapped in his arms.
“How long is eternity?” she asked.
“Not long enough.” And then he kissed her again and again and again.
I hope some of these easy editing techniques will help you in the revision process. Please share your own editing tips—or other pertinent comments--to be included in a drawing for one of my books, winner’s choice.
The coffee’s hot. Thanks, Helen! Today’s breakfast includes scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage, biscuits, fresh fruit and grits. Enjoy!
Happy writing! Happy editing!
Wishing you abundant blessings,
I'll be at Barbara Vey's Readers Appreciation Luncheon next Saturday, April 27. Would love to see you there. For info, check out the website here.
The General’s Secretary, book 4 in my Military Investigations series, is available here. Watch for The Soldier’s Sister, to be released in October.
By Debby Giusti
Trusting the Wrong Person Can Be Deadly...
Lillie Beaumont's dark past has just turned up on her porch--fatally wounded. The dying words of the man imprisoned for killing Lillie's mother suggest hidden secrets. Criminal Investigations Division special agent Dawson Timmons agrees. He has his own motive for seeking the truth, and it gives Lillie every reason to doubt him. But even as they reluctantly begin to face painful secrets together, Dawson fears that a murderer is waiting to strike again. And this time, Lillie is right in the line of fire...