Friday, April 29, 2016

Best of the Archives:The Unauthorized Cheat Sheet of Self-Editing Tips for Writers

 You've finished your manuscript. Now it's time for self-editing.

This is a simple checklist for what I think of as a surface editing of your manuscript.

1.  Hooks. While you should treat every chapter beginning and ending as being equally important, there is none as important as the opening hook. This was covered in my post, Gotcha!

And remember, avoid ending a chapter with a character falling asleep. Your goal is to make the reader stay up well past their bedtime because there is no good place to stop.

2.  Sentence Starts: Do a visual of your manuscript, training your eye to look for repetitious sentence starts and sentences that are similar in structure. Vary your sentences.

3.  Pump up weak sentences. Weak sentences include the following: Overuse of adverbs ending in LY.  Overuse of the word IT, especially to end a sentence. Overuse of prepositional phrases to start or end a sentence.

 Resources on topics 2 & 3: Renni Browne and Dave King's Self Editing for Fiction Writers-Chapter 11, Sophistication.

Make Your Words Work by Gary Provost: Chapter 2, Style.

Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V Swain: Chapter 2, The Words You Write.

4. Weasel Words: Common weasel words include empty transition words. So, -Well,- Just,- But, and However. Develop your own weasel word list. Your list should include your personal darling phrases that are overused. Use the 'find' option to evaluate if you have indeed overused that word or phrase. 

My personal rule of thumb is to allow myself one of each weasel word per chapter. Melissa Jagears shares thoroughly on the topic here.

5. Action/Reaction.  If you can master this, you will effortlessly create emotion on every page. 

"Your goal is to elicit the maximum amount of emotion. Emotionally involve the reader and force them to turn the page." The Hero's Two Journeys, Michael Hauge and Christopher Vogler.

"A story is a succession of motivation-reaction units.

"Motivating stimulus-> Reaction  ( Feeling-not stated, action and speech)" Dwight V Swain, Techniques of the Selling Writer, Chapter 3, Plain facts about feelings.

Additionally, a guaranteed way to prevent episodic writing to provide MRs that:

-have meaning to your character/s
- have relevance to your story 
-provide forward story momentum 

6. Scenes.  Remember that scenes are live. It's in sequels that you can alter the passage of time. Scenes must have a Goal, Motivation and Conflict and propel the story forward. Scenes are only as important as how they relate to the hero and heroine. A favorite book on Scenes is Novelist's Essential Guide to Crafting Scenes by Raymond Obstfeld. It's out of print so you'll need to hunt down a used copy on Amazon or Half-Price Books.


7.  White Space: Evaluate your white space. Seek a balance of narrative and dialogue to keep the story moving. If you have long blocks with no white space assess for back story dumps, long introspection and long internal monologues, all which slow the pacing and encourage the reader to skim.

 Another excellent resource for evaluating your scenes re # 6 & 7 is of course, Debra Dixon's Goal, Motivation & Conflict. Don't overlook Randy Ingermanson's excellent article from his Advanced Fiction Writing Series- Writing the Perfect Scene. 

Also Chapter 6 of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Browne and King, Interior Monologue.

8. Write Tight: There's nothing wrong with beginning or ending with a prepositional phrase, but if it's not needed leave it off.  Writing tight also refers to redundancy, repetition and passive writing. In fact, Write Tight by William Brohaugh, Chapter 2, lists sixteen types of wordiness to trim.

But, find a balance when you tighten.  "Cut fat, not muscle. Don't destroy clarity as you seek to tighten your prose."  Remove anything ..."that impedes the flow of words or sentences."

9. Show don't Tell. Showing instead of telling covers a lot of territory:

  • Deep POV
  • Sensory layering
  • Active writing
  • Showing emotional responses
  • Eliminating distancing the reader
 If this area confuses you or if the feedback you are getting is that you are showing instead of telling, or showing and telling, brush up with Jill Elizabeth Nelson's Rivet Your Reader with Deep Point of View.

10.  Spell Check and other easy fixes: We all know the horrors of spell check, but don't ignore spell check to verify the simple red lined and blue lined errors. Do a complete spell check of your document. You have to pay attention to avoid adding errors. Questions about grammar? Grammarly and The Chicago Manual of Style Online are excellent investments.

 Author Diana Cosby has shared the most conclusive self editing worksheet ever. You can find it here: Writing Tight: Editing for Impact.

 All done? Now create a paperback version of your book and read it again. See this great tip detailed on the blog of Molly Greene: Writer.

Once your surface edits are complete it's time for your Beta reader or critique partner to dig in for those deep edits that lead to revisions.

My print craft books.

Ever wonder why there are so many craft books/tools for writers?

Two reasons:

1. Writers are always looking for the magical secret to writing an amazing book.

2. We all learn differently.

We all have different areas of strength and weakness, and we process information differently. These are my current favorite craft books, including those mentioned above.

The Creative Writer's Phrase Finder by Edward Prestwood

When You're the Only Cop in Town by Jack Berry and Debra Dixon

And, I am currently reading and absorbing, Writing with Emotion, Tension & Conflict by Cheryl St. John.  St. John shares a warning about writing advice:

"There are a lot of books and articles on writing. Always look at the source. Study the instructor's work. Don't write by anyone else's rules without knowing that the concept behind a rule works and is proven to work. Find out why the rule came into being. Rules you don't understand are restrictive. Knowing why rules exist sets you free to follow or break them with wisdom and expertise. You have to learn the rules  to know when to break them to your advantage and to the story's advantage."
This post first appeared in Seekerville December 13, 2013.

Rocky Mountain Reunion
Tina Radcliffe is hiding in Arizona where she writes sweet and inspirational romance.