Tag Archives: making effective revisions

Self-editing: Action, Events, and Introspection #amwriting

If you are a member of any writers’ forum on Facebook or through a private group, you know that today’s authors are constantly prodded to emphasize the action in their narratives. For new, inexperienced authors, this can lead to an imbalance, a narrative where the characters aren’t allowed time for introspection.

An editor looks at the scenes to see how they fit into the narrative and to ensure they are in the right order and flow into each other well.

Sometimes, I see a manuscript where it seems as if a horrific event has been inserted for the sake of shock value. In the revision process, you should examine these scenes to see if they do their job.

  • Was the event foreshadowed well, or did it come out of nowhere?
  • Is the scene necessary to force change and growth on the protagonist?
  • How are her fundamental ethics and ideals challenged by this event?

A structural editor will tell you that if there is no personal cost or benefit to the protagonist or antagonist, there is no need for that scene.

Writing these blind alleys is not a waste of time. You never know when you will need those ideas, so don’t throw them away—always keep the things you cut in a separate file. The fact that an idea doesn’t work for one book doesn’t mean it won’t work in another.

For my own work, I label that file “outtakes.” Having these unused scenes ready to adapt to other uses comes in handy when I need an idea to jump-start a new story.

In the rush of writing the first draft, it can be easy to focus on setting traps and roadblocks for our protagonist and her nemesis. We forget that readers need a chance to process what we have written.

Events must force the character to grow. Creepy scenes must have a purpose. If your story absolutely must contain that scene, it must deeply affect the characters involved in it. Events must be catalysts for the character’s evolution and growth.

We may think we have written evolving characters, but they remain stagnant if you don’t allow the reader time to see that evolution and process it.

We’re all avid readers. Consider how your favorite authors in these genres connect their underlying themes with the action and growth of their protagonists, and how they allow the reader to process each event.

Political thrillers are set against the backdrop of a political power struggle. They feature political corruption, terrorism, and warfare as common themes. How the protagonist negotiates these situations and is affected by them is the story. Introspection is key to the reader’s understanding of the events and their root cause.

Romance Novels detail the developing relationship between two people and show how they overcome the roadblocks to happiness. Both the conflict and climax of the novel are directly related to the core theme of a romantic relationship with a happy conclusion. Without small chances for introspection, the reader won’t feel connected to the protagonist and their story.

Literary fiction focuses on the protagonist of the narrative. This genre features introspective, in-depth studies of complex, fully developed characters. Action and setting are not the points here, although they frame the character and provide a visual perspective. In other words, opportunities for introspection are a key feature of literary fiction.

Science Fiction details realistic speculation about possible future events. All technology should be based solidly on knowledge of real world science, both past and present. A thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the Scientific Method is crucial. Events involving science and technology must be based on known and theoretically possible physics. Morality and the wider effects of  the choices we make are a strong theme in all science fiction. Without introspection, moral choices get lost.

Fantasy is my usual genre to write in. It is often set in an alternate, medieval, or ancient world. The common themes are good vs. evil, the hero’s journey, coming of age, morality, romantic love. Some fantasy is set in urban settings with paranormal tropes, but if that is the case, the author has similar constraints to those affecting the science fiction author. In urban fantasy, the reality must be true to life and contrast with the paranormal. This contrast highlights and emphasizes the fantasy elements.

These genres look widely different, but they all have one thing in common—they have protagonists and side characters who experience life-changing events. These moments become important to the reader.

In my mind, genre and setting are a picture-frame, a backdrop against which the themes that drive the action of the story are played out.

What is the underlying theme of your story? While you were laying down the first draft, did you notice a moral concept that was woven into the story? Was it love? Was it destiny? Was it the death of hope?

In the revision and editing process, we must identify the events that strengthen that theme, and frame them with moments of reflection.

Personal growth and the hero’s journey are often the central themes in my work. Those are the stories that hooked me as a young reader, and I still gravitate to them.

The idea of the heroic journey was first introduced by Joseph Campbell, the American mythologist, writer, and lecturer, in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (published in 1949). In this ground-breaking work, he discusses the monomyth or what is called “the hero’s journey.”

He describes how this motif is historically the common pattern of humanity’s myths and legends. Each of these tales involves an unlikely hero going on an adventure. This hero, in a decisive crisis, wins a victory, then returns home changed or transformed.

I often use Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Hobbit as an example. When Bilbo Baggins faces the giant spiders, he also faces his own cowardice. Bilbo is amazed to find he has the courage to fight them.

That scene was the first step in his realization that his bravery doesn’t depend on the magic ring he found earlier. He is afraid, but he is not afraid to be courageous. This is a core concept of this book, and of the entire Lord of the Rings series.

What is important to you? When you look for a book, what catches your interest? When you look at it from a distance, what do all the stories you love best have in common?

Those are the themes you should be writing to, what your events must support. You must allow your reader the chance to consider how those events affect the protagonist, to absorb the theme and deeper personal meaning of that character’s journey.

In that way, you will hook the reader and keep them firmly in your world.

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Revisions and Self-editing: repetition and inconsistency #amwriting

I just finished reading book two of a three-part sub-series, set within a larger 21-book series. I enjoyed it but would have liked it more had the protagonist not repeated his back story aloud every time he was asked. That was a flaw that ran deep into book three. All that repetition just padded the word count.

All through this 21-book series, numerous proofing errors and random cut-and-paste-mistakes make it clear to me that few people other than the author see these manuscripts, and they aren’t professional editors. Yet, his work sells because he has marvelous characters and compelling storylines. He is now putting out four or more books a year and is published by TOR.

The Big 5 publishing giants are just as tempted to rush a manuscript to publication as we indies are, and editing sometimes falls by the way. However, if an indie publishes work as badly edited as that, the entire indie community suffers abuse.

Since the large publishing houses aren’t doing editing the way we always thought they did, it’s up to us to find the flaws before we submit our work to them or publish it ourselves.

When we lay down the first draft, the story emerges from our imagination and falls onto the paper (or keyboard). Even with an outline, the story is forming in our heads as we are writing it. While we think it is perfect as is, it probably isn’t.

The revision process is about far more than merely grammar and word placement. It is about making sure the story arc doesn’t flat-line.

Those who regularly read my blog know that I frequently repeat an idea, phrased just a bit differently further down the post. My elderly brain seems determined to make that point, no matter what. We all do this in our first drafts, and very few things are more “first draft” than a blog post.

Inadvertent repetition causes the story arc to dip. It takes us backwards rather than forward.  What I have discovered in my own work is that the second version of that idea is usually better than the first.

Last week, in my post called Revisions: Self-Editing, I talked about the way I do my revisions, how I try to get an unbiased view of my work. Basically, I print out each chapter. Beginning with the last paragraph on the last page, I work my way forward with a yellow highlighter.

Then I put the corrected copy on a recipe stand beside my computer and make the revisions in a new file. (I never delete the old files, because we never know when we might need something we have already written.)

Here are a few things that stand out when I do this:

  • Repetition of entire ideas, each instance worded slightly differently.
  • Inadvertent shifts in the spelling of names for people and places, such as Dyljan becomes Dyjan. (Keeping a style sheet of how names and created words are spelled and doing a global search for each before publishing resolves that.)
  • Places where I have contradicted myself, such as a town being north of the main character’s location, but they travel south to get there. Making a simple hand drawn map resolves the location problem if you remember to look at it.
  • Punctuation errors and missing quotation marks also stand out when printed.

The style sheet can take several forms, but it is only a visual guide to print out or keep minimized on my desktop until it’s needed. I copy and paste every invented word, hyphenated word, or name the first time they appear in my manuscript, and if I am conscientious, I’ll be less likely to inadvertently contradict myself later on in the tale.

My editor is grateful that I make this list so that she doesn’t have to.

All the lists of words and things to look for, all my knowledge comes from having worked with editors who are passionate about writing. Many years ago, Maria gave me the list of weak words to watch for.

Carlie trained me out of using “that” as a crutch word.

Irene trained me to notice my inadvertent shifts in spelling and to love how grammar works. She kindled my desire to learn more about the craft.

Alison trained me not to be so thin-skinned and self-important.

If you have the resource of a good writing group, you are a bit ahead of the game. I suggest that you run each revised chapter by your group and hear what they have to say. Some of what you hear won’t be useful, but much will be.

And yes, you will have to make more revisions. I have discovered that the real work of writing comes after you have written the story.

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Revisions: Self-Editing #amwriting

Nowadays, all authors are financially responsible for getting their manuscript revised, edited, and proof-read, even if they intend to go the traditional route. Editors for the large publishing companies have a landslide of work to pick from, so they aren’t going to accept unedited messes, no matter how good the story is.

Hiring an editor is not cheap. Freelance editors are in business for themselves and must be paid for their work. Therefore, a 70,000 word manuscript can cost from around $700.00 or more to have edited, depending on the services you want.

An editor spends many hours combing the manuscript, so if you break their fees down to an hourly wage, they probably aren’t charging enough.

I always recommend that authors hire an editor if they can, because our eyes may skip typos and autocorrect errors in our own work. Those who are regular readers of my posts know that I am horrible at catching my typos and other errors.

We overlook the flaws in our work because we are as immersed in visualizing the scene as we were during the moments when we first wrote it. Our eyes see what we imagine to be there, rather than the typos or missing words.

Many editors offer a service called Beta Reading at a much more affordable price. Beta reads are helpful in identifying areas you may want to revise.

If you’re a member of a writers’ group, you have a resource of people who will beta read for you at no cost. As a member of that critique group, you will read for them too.

Be careful how you phrase your comments on their work. Be accurate and find positive things to point out as well as areas that need work. If you are harsh and dismissive, your work will receive that treatment in return.

Regardless, if you intend to publish what you write, you are responsible for making the line edits in your work.

If you are unable to afford a full professional edit, there is a way to make a pretty good stab at revising your own manuscript. However, it is time consuming, which is why an editor’s services are not cheap.

Open your Manuscript.

Break it into separate chapters by copying and pasting each individual chapter to a new document. Doing this preserves the original manuscript, and breaks it down into manageable chunks.

Save the chapters in a new file labeled with the word ‘revisions.’ For a current work-in-progress, I would label this new file: Barons_Hollow_revisions_02-12-2020

Clearly and consistently label each chapter. Make sure the chapter numbers are in the proper sequence, and that they don’t skip a number. For a work in progress, Baron’s Hollow, I labeled my individual chapter files this way:

  • BH_ch_1

Print out the first chapter. Everything looks different printed out, and you will see many things you don’t notice on the computer screen.

  • Turn to the last page. Cover the page, leaving only the last paragraph visible.
  • Starting with the last paragraph on the last page, begin reading, working your way forward.
  • Look for typos and garbled sentences.
  • With a yellow highlighter, mark each place that needs correction.

YOU MUST UNDERSTAND AND OBEY THE BASIC RULES OF GRAMMAR.

First, you need something called a style guide. As an editor, I regularly refer to my copy of The Chicago Manual of Style. If you are an author writing fiction you someday hope to publish, and have questions about sentence construction and word usage, this is the book for you.

The researchers at CMOS realize that English is a living changing language, and when generally accepted practices within the publishing industry evolve, they evolve too.

A less expensive option you might consider investing in is Bryan A. Garner’s Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation. This is a resource with all the answers to questions you might have regarding grammar and sentence structure. It takes the CMOS and boils it down to just the grammar.

For quick reference, here is a list of links to articles I’ve posted on the basics of grammar:

Authors are like everyone else. We get tired and sometimes take shortcuts.

Punctuation is not an area where we can cut corners. Punctuation serves as the traffic signals, keeping the words flowing at a good rate, and avoiding verbal chaos.

Those who  think the common rules of grammar don’t matter to readers are doing their work and their reputation a disservice.

You don’t have to be perfect, but readers want to enjoy the book, not struggle through rambling, garbled sentences.

Self-editing is not an easy task. As a rule, I don’t recommend it, because we authors see what we want to see. However, the costs of such services place severe constraints on some of us. This means that hiring an editor is out of reach for some.

With that in mind, on Monday we will look at how the placement of words, both nouns and verbs, affects the flow of our narrative.

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Revising the NaNoWriMo Novel Part 2 Word Choices #amwriting

No one writes perfect prose every time. Occasionally, even award-winning authors write an awkward description in the middle of an otherwise gripping passage. Consider this pearl, a quote from one of my favorite books dropped in the middle of an otherwise powerful, well-conceived battle scene:

A screaming black arrow knocks down yet another attacker. [1]

The narrative is written in an unusual mode, one this particular author, L.E. Modesitt Jr., uses in many of his books: Third person present tense. I have read this book several times, and there are several proofing errors, but that line in the final battle has always tripped my eye.

It’s a “first draft” telling line, a signal to the author indicating an intensity of emotion he wanted to convey in a ship-to-ship battle. I suspect he was in the zone and writing as quickly as he could. The many proofing errors in this book, much as I love it, told me that editors, even those working for a publishing giant like Tor, are fallible human beings. When an author is pushed to become a book producing machine, proofing and editing can suffer.

So how could we write a scene about a hazardous inanimate object and convey a sense of imminent danger without resorting to words that don’t quite fit? First, we must understand that these are the places where getting the prose right takes time, and sometimes, many attempts.

In a conversation, it’s easy to convey a sense of fear and peril. Danger seen through a character’s eyes is easily done—describe the shock and gut reactions and move on.

Danger described from an outside view (third person) is more difficult. In a fight or battle, sounds, visuals, and smells must be employed.

And this is where it gets tricky: for me as a reader, the best fight or battle scenes have both personal witness and third person narrative.

Hollywood has been quite good at portraying battle scenes with some degree of accuracy, although not always. In the movies, arrows arc, rain down and sometimes flash. They whiz past, and sometimes they appear in the victim’s back, seemingly out of nowhere. In the movies, they travel slowly.

But, in real life the arrow strikes the target nearly immediately after leaving the bow, even at a longer distance. An arrow is not as fast as a bullet, but they are fast.

My friend Michael, who is an archer, tells me that arrows, both ancient and modern, do make a sound, depending on how they are fletched (the feathers). The hissing sound as it passes the human ear varies from nearly inaudible to soft, depending on who fletched them and what style of fletching they used.

What you will hear is the snapping sound the bow makes when the archer lets the arrow fly, followed closely by the sound the arrow makes when striking a hard target. An arrow striking a soft target like a human or animal would make a sickening sound, but one that is not loud.

In my opinion, screaming is the wrong sound for arrows.

But it is an appropriate sound for the victim that was shot by the arrow.

There must be a certain amount of telling. What is the balance between telling and showing?

In describing, we must choose our words carefully. Examine the logic of your descriptions. How do we both show and tell in a balanced way?

In War and Peace, Tolstoy conveyed the feeling of each cannon ball hitting the ground and exploding, without resorting to clichés and awkward descriptors. Andrew Kaufman is the author of Understanding Tolstoy and Give War And Peace A Chance says:

“You see, hear, and feel everything in Tolstoy’s world: glistening sunrises, whining cannonballs, exhilarating troika races, glorious births, brutal deaths, and everything in between.” [2]

Good, immersive prose requires showing in such a way that the reader isn’t blown out of the scene. This means a small amount of telling is required. For that, we’ll go to Tolstoy’s War and Peace again. This quote, written in the same third person present tense as Modesitt’s quote, is an observation, a way of both telling and showing the reader what is goes on in the subconscious mind.

“When a man sees a dying animal, horror comes over him: that which he himself is, his essence, is obviously being annihilated before his eyes — is ceasing to be.” [3]

In that one sentence, Tolstoy shows us that in Napoleon’s time, soldiers weren’t the only casualties of war. A cavalry is made up of soldiers on horses. This means that living animals went to battle and were killed too.

Tolstoy gives us the visceral experience of witnessing a horse’s death but allows us to contemplate what death means on a human level. He uses powerful words that evoke deep emotion: dying, horror, essence, annihilated.

Witnessing the death of a horse brings us closer to understanding how frail a soldier’s grasp on life is when in the midst of a battle.

Modern writers would cut the words obviously being, but despite having been written 160 years ago, the sentence has power.

Word choices are especially important in action adventures. Strong, powerful words can make or break a sentence. To revise properly, we must step back from the manuscript for several days or even weeks.

Then we come back to the manuscript and consider the visual logic of our descriptions.

We move verbs to the front of sentences, placing them before the nouns so that most sentences lead off with action words.

In the second draft, we eliminate the many insidious forms of was and to be. They’re insidious because they’re signals to the author, saying that something needs to be made active. But they can slide under the radar in the editing process and end up in the final product.

It takes work and perseverance, to find the words that correctly evoke the emotions we want to convey.

But that is what good writing is about.


Credits and Attributions:

[1] Quote from The Magic Engineer, by L.E. Modesitt Jr., 1994; A Tor Book, Published by Tom Doherty and Associates, LLC. Fair Use.

[2] Quote from Andrew Kaufman, The Only Classic Needed for Modern Times © 2014 Off the Shelf, Simon and Schuster, Inc. Fair Use.

[3] Quote from War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, PD|100. First published by The Russian Messenger (serial).

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Sculpting the second draft #amwriting

The end of NaNoWriMo approaches. Many novels have been written, and many are still incomplete. And when we do finally write the last words, we will get that happy-dance feeling, that moment where the world is singing.

Following that burst of joy, we have the urge to immediately share it. I know it’s tempting, but don’t do it.

We need to gain some distance from our work to see it more clearly, so put it aside. If you work on something else for a couple of weeks, or even a month or two, you will gain a better perspective on what you just finished, and your revisions will bring out the best in your work.

Writers tell me all the time how new and intriguing characters pop up and take their tale in a different direction. Sometime this works out well. Other times, not so much. I floundered for years on my first novel, only to have it never be published.

So, when we do get back to our manuscript, where do we start so we can avoid the failed novel syndrome? I didn’t know the first thing about how to write a novel, which is clear when you look at that old ms.  I didn’t know that we are like sculptors. The first draft is not the finished product–it really is our block of clay.

I know—you see a complete novel, but trust me, others won’t see what you do in it, just yet. When a sculptor sees a block of clay, she also sees what it can become. She begins scraping the layers away, and that is what we must do.

We scrape the layers away scene by scene. As you revise, keep in mind:

  1. Each chapter is made up of scenes. It might be one scene or several strung together.
  2. These scenes have an arc to them: action and reaction.
  3. These arcs of action and reaction begin at point A and end at point B.
  4. Each launching point will land on a slightly higher point of the story arc.
  5. Strung together, these scenes form the entire story arc, with a beginning, middle and end.

If somewhere near the middle you discover that you have lost the overall plot of your novel, remind yourself what the original idea was. This happens to me for several reasons.

First, it can happen because I deviate from the outline, and while my new idea is better, it lacks something. I can

  • Go back to the original idea and rewrite it so that it conforms to that outline.
  • Try to figure out why the plot has failed.

More often, I have to ask myself, did the original quest turn out to be a MacGuffin?

Every story has a quest of some sort. It can be a personal quest for enlightenment or a quest for the Holy Grail. No matter what, the characters want something, and that thing must be sharply defined.

Alfred Hitchcock popularized the name “MacGuffin” in the 1930s. The MacGuffin’s importance to the plot is not the object or goal itself, but rather the effect it has on the characters and their motivations. Many times, it is inserted into the narrative with little or no explanation, as the sole purpose of the MacGuffin is to move the plot forward.

The Maltese Falcon is a classic example of a MacGuffin. The object of the quest might not be the purported “Maltese Falcon” after all, despite the obvious quest to acquire it and the lengths the characters must go to in the process. The true core of the story is the internal journey of both Sam Spade and Brigid O’Shaunessy, two people brought together by the quest, and whose lives are changed by it.

If the quest has become a MacGuffin, the effect that searching for it has on the characters must be clearly shown. The true quest is not for the object. It is for power, love, money, or personal growth and must be given more prominence.

As we are peeling back the layers of our rough draft, what symbolism have we subconsciously inserted into the story that we can work with? Once we identify the symbolic aspect of the plot, we must amplify it. Symbolism is a powerful tool and is part of the subtext that pushes the story forward. In my opinion, one of the most masterful uses of symbolism happens in the film, The Matrix.

In one of my favorite scenes, when Neo answers the door and is invited to the party, he at first declines. But then he notices that Du Jour, the woman with Choi, bears a tattoo of a white rabbit. He remembers seeing the words: follow the white rabbit, on his computer.

Curious and slightly fearful of what it all means, he changes his mind and goes to the party, setting a sequence of events in motion. The white rabbit tattoo is a symbol, an allegorical reference to Alice in Wonderland, a subliminal clue that things are not what they seem.

What is the deeper story? With each pass through our manuscript, we are sharpening the final product, scraping away from this part and adding over here, rewording and redefining as we go.

Ultimately, we will have exposed the core of our original vision, revealed the parts we couldn’t articulate at first. Some things only become clearer to us as we dig deeper.

This is why, while many people can write, not just anyone can write well. It takes patience and time to cut away the fat and bring out the true story that needs to be told. It also takes practice. Digging the deeper story out doesn’t happen overnight.

A first draft is our block of clay, and after much effort, the final draft is our finished sculpture.


Credits and Attributions:

Portrait of German-American sculptor Elisabeth Ney with a bust of King George V of Hanover, 1860, by Friedrich Kaulbach. PD|100. Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Elisabeth Ney by Friedrich Kaulbach.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Elisabeth_Ney_by_Friedrich_Kaulbach.jpg&oldid=286953027 (accessed November 27, 2018).

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Final Revisions #amwriting

The question came up in a professional Indie writers’ group I frequent on Facebook: Do I need to get an editor for my final manuscript or is a good proofread enough?

The overwhelming answer was a resounding “Yes!”

I am an editor but I always have my final manuscript edited by a professional editor, and I get a final proofread by members of my writing support group before I hit the publish button. As authors, we never see all our own mistakes although we catch many. We see what we intended to write rather than what is written. We misread clumsy sentences and overlook words that are missing or are included twice in a row. Our brain fills in the missing words and doesn’t notice when we use ‘its’ rather than ‘it’s,’ or ‘their’ rather than ‘they’re’ or ‘there.’

Also, we tend to overlook clumsy and inadvertently awkward phrasing.

  • Her eyes rolled over her host’s attire.
  • Delicious sounds assaulted his eardrums.

We overlook little things like those examples in our own work because we are visualizing the scene as we read it, and to us, they convey what we are thinking. We can’t see our own work with an unbiased eye, any more than we can see our children with an unbiased eye.

If you are unable to afford a full edit, and they are not cheap, there is a way to make a pretty good stab at revising your own manuscript, but it is time consuming. If you aren’t going to hire an editor, you should consider investing in the Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation. This is a resource with all the answers for questions you might have regarding grammar and sentence structure.

To do a thorough revision of your manuscript:

  1. Print out the first chapter. Everything looks different printed out, and you will see many things you don’t notice on the computer screen.
  2. Turn to the last page. Cover the page, leaving only the last paragraph visible.
  3. Starting with the last paragraph on the last page, begin reading, working your way forward.
  4. With a yellow highlighter, mark each place that needs correction.
  5. Look for
    • Typos,
    • Missing quotation marks,
    • Punctuation that is outside of the quotations.

Wrong: “dorothy flew over the rainbow in a house”. Said Toto. I went with her”.

Right: “Dorothy flew over the rainbow in a house,” said Toto. “I went with her.”

  • Words that are spelled correctly but are the wrong word – there-their-they’re, etc.
  • Look up “comma splice” and eliminate them from your manuscript.
  • Remove repetitions of entire ideas. If you explained it once, that was probably all you needed.
  • Check for repetitious use of certain key words and phrasing.
  • Eliminate all timid phrasing and remove unnecessary words. That and very are two words that can often be cut and not replaced with anything. Often cutting them makes a sentence stronger.

An editor points out and encourages you to correct all instances of timid phrasing. Timid phrasing leads to wordiness, and we really want to avoid that. Overuse of forms of to be (is, are, was, were) also lead to wordiness. Long, convoluted passages rife with compound sentences turn away most readers.

To avoid wordiness, use action words (verbs) in place of forms of to be. In active prose, our characters don’t begin (start) to move. Instead, they move. They act as opposed to beginning or starting to act.

  1. Open your manuscript on your computer and make your corrections.
  2. Repeat these steps with every chapter.

If you notice a few flaws in your manuscript in your final pass but think no one will be bothered by them, you’re wrong. Readers always notice the things that stop their eye.

In my own work, I have discovered that if a passage seems flawed, but I can’t identify what is wrong with it, my eye wants to skip it. But another person will see the flaw, and they will show me what is wrong there. This is why this editor always has a professional editor go over her manuscripts.

Once you have finished revising your manuscript in this fashion, have it proofread by a member of your writing group. If you are in a critique group, you have a great resource in your fellow authors as proof readers—they will spot things you have overlooked your work just as you do in theirs.

Editors do more than point out comma errors–they will make a note of incongruities, and contradictions.  They will also note inconsistent style and usage. When a manuscript comes across their desk, editors and publishers create a list of names, places, created words, and other things that may be repeated and that pertain only to that manuscript. This is called a style sheet.

The style sheet can take several forms, but it is only a visual guide to print out or  keep minimized until it’s needed. I copy and past every invented word, hyphenated word, or name the first time they appear in my manuscript, and if I am conscientious, I’ll be less likely to inadvertently contradict myself later on in the tale. My editor is grateful that I make this list so that she doesn’t have to!

Be aware that it is not an edit if you have done it yourself–it is only a deep revision. The best we can do with our own work is to keep revising it until it is as clean as we can make it. (See my article of June 20, 2018 – Thoughts on Revisions and Self-editing.) Only an external eye can see our work with an unbiased eye and properly edit it. But with diligence and the assistance of your critique group, it is possible to make good revisions yourself and you can turn out an acceptable book that a casual reader will enjoy.

I hope these suggestions help you in your revision process. We want our work to be enjoyable by the casual reader, and if we are conscientious in the final stages, we can turn out a readable manuscript that is not rife with easily fixable errors.

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Thoughts on revisions and self-editing #amwriting

New and beginning authors often (loudly) assert their ability to edit their own work. If you are “editing” your own manuscript, you have a fool for a client. There is no such thing as self-editing—the best you can do is make revisions and admire your work. For that reason, we need other eyes on our work.

As authors, we see what we intended to write rather than what was written. We misread clumsy sentences and overlook words that are missing or are included twice in a row.  If you are in a critique group, you have a great resource in your fellow authors—they will spot things you have overlooked your work just as you do in theirs.

The first draft of any manuscript is the story as it flowed out of your mind and onto the paper. Yes, there is life and energy in your words, but your manuscript is not publishable at this stage, no matter how many times you go over it.

You need an unbiased eye upon your work, or your book will be published with typos, awkward sentences, dropped words—the list of inadvertent errors goes on.

Every author needs someone to read their work before it is published. Just because I can see six instances of the word ‘long’ in one paragraph of someone else’s work does not mean that I will spot it in my own.

To the author in the first flush of victory, the completed first draft of his manuscript is a thing of beauty, a flawless diamond to be cherished and adored.  It is the child of their creative muse and is perfect in every way.

Let us consider the word ‘that.’ The following passage is from one of my original manuscripts as it emerged from the first draft in 2008, ten years ago.

 Jeanne was not upset over something that he had not done or not said. Now he sensed that it was a mixture of anger, hurt, and guilt that she was feeling.

In just two sentences, my stream-of-consciousness writing included 3 instances of the word ‘that’ and 3 of ‘not.’  Yet, in my own mind, it was as good as I could make it. I didn’t see those unnecessary words.

This is how that paragraph read in my mind and is how I would write it now, ten years on:

Jeanne wasn’t upset over something he had done or said. He sensed she felt a mixture of anger, hurt, and guilt.

I began working with an editor in 2012, and that is when I truly began to grow as an author. Each time they showed me where I had gone wrong, I learned from it and gradually, my stream-of-consciousness writing improved. I use fewer unnecessary words, and my prose is leaner.

Better writing habits are learned over time by writing regularly and by consciously applying the tricks and tips you learn from other authors.

Once your writing/critique group has given you their best opinions on your manuscript and you have revised it to your best ability, you need an editor. Ask other authors who they might recommend as an editor and see if you can work well with that person.

Your editor will likely point some things out that you didn’t see, but that a reader will.  At that point, you might be slightly shocked and hurt, but if you’re smart you’ll consider each comment and make your revisions accordingly.

Once you see your work through someone else’s unbiased eyes, you will be able to take your story to the next level.

The fact is, unless you can accept criticism, your work will never be what you want it to be. You must be open to viewing your work the way the reader will see it. You’re not obligated to follow every suggestion an editor makes, but 9 times out of 10 I make changes along the lines they suggest because when I look at the problem area, I can see exactly what they meant.

Writing seems like a solitary craft, and much of the time it is. However, joining a local writing support group or a critique group will give you a sounding board that costs you nothing, but from which you will reap many benefits.

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#amwriting: Revisions

Book- onstruction-sign copyI am in the process of making revisions on my next novel, Billy Ninefingers. This book was partially written in 2013 during NaNoWriMo, but was only recently completed. Now I am deep into revisions.

Most authors understand that there is an arc to the overall novel–the Story Arc  which  consists of :

  1. Exposition, where we introduce our characters and their situation.
  2. Rising Action, where we introduce complications for the protagonist
  3. Climax, the high point of the action, the turning point of the narrative
  4. Falling Action, the regrouping and unfolding of events that will lead to the conclusion
  5. Resolution, in which the problems encountered by the protagonist are resolved, providing closure for the reader.

We can easily lose track of that arc when we are in the throes of writing our first draft.

Underpinning the larger story arc is another, more fundamental arc to consider. At the 2014 PNWA Conference, in his seminar on the arc of the scene, author Scott Driscoll explained how the main difference in the arc of the scene vs the overall arc of the novel is this: the end of the scene is the platform from which your next scene launches.

As you revise, keep in mind:

  1. Each chapter is a scene.
  2. These scenes have an arc to them: action and reaction.
  3. These arcs of action and reaction begin at point A and end at point B.
  4. Each launching point will land on a slightly higher point of the story arc.

If you discover that you have lost the plot of your novel, remind yourself what the original idea was. This happened to me in 2015 when I was trying to finish the book, Valley of Sorrows. The book was to wrap up Edwin’s story, but I became sidetracked with his father’s story. I ended up separating John’s story out of the book, and giving him his own novel, The Wayward Son.

In order to write Valley of Sorrows, I had to re-connect with what the story really was about, and place it in the context of the overall series:

  1. In the case of my derailed book, the series dealt with Edwin’s story.
  2. What was his problem? He was separated from his wife and child because of his task on behalf of the Goddess Aeos. He had endured losing a man who was a brother to him while he was in Mal Evol. However, things had happened in Aeoven during his absence (an attack on his family, his wife’s miscarriage and subsequent breakdown). Unfortunately, he had a task only he could do,which kept him away from his wife and son.
  3. Completion of his task took us to the 3rd plot point of the novel.
  4. Hunting  the acolyte of Tauron and the final battle in Aeoven resolved the story.
  5. What I had to remind myself was this: No conversation could happen unless it advanced the plot of Edwin’s story. Because the World of Neveyah is an ongoing series, anything that did not pertain to Valley of Sorrows could be cut, saved, and used in a later story.

While you are doing all of this, consider the length of your chapters.This is where pacing comes into play. Remember, pacing is the rise and fall of the action, the ebb and flow of conversations.

Courtney Carpenter, writing for Writers Digest, says “Pacing is a tool that controls the speed and rhythm at which a story is told and the readers are pulled through the events. It refers to how fast or slow events in a piece unfold and how much time elapses in a scene or story.”

How long are the chapters in your novel?

lessons-from-a-lifetime-david-morrellIn his book, Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing: A Novelist Looks at His Craft, action/adventure author, David Morrell (creator of the Rambo character, among others), says he tries to write short chapters, so that a reader can complete one chapter (or structural unit) at one sitting.

He bases his ideas on two essays by Edgar Allen Poe, “The Philosophy of Composition” and “The Poetic Principle.”

Part of this is about pacing, because it’s about keeping the reader’s attention. Morrell says he keeps his structural units small in order to accommodate the reader’s bladder, TV interruptions, phone calls, a neighbor who drops in, etc.

Each chapter should be as long as it needs to be for your novel. Write what works for you, but as a reader I suggest you consider shorter chapters which can be read at one sitting.


For an excellent article on pacing, go to:

7 Tools For Pacing A Novel & Keeping Your Story Moving At The Right Pace, Courtney Carpenter, WritersDigest. com Apr. 24, 2012 (accessed Jan 29, 2017)

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#amwriting and #amrevising: weeding the garden of words

Free-range pansies by cjjaspersonWhen I write a novel, I always end up with a lot of back story. These are details that are important for me to know, but not meant for the actual novel. It’s more a way for me to mentally talk my way through the first draft.

I think of my manuscript as a garden of words, and by the time the novel is complete, it will have been weeded, dug up, and replanted many times.

Every author has their own style, their own way of getting the story down on paper. My style is not the usual way, but it works for me.

The way I do a first draft is this: First, I put together an outline listing all the characters and plot points.  Second, I write the ending and then write the scenes for the large events and turning points. Once those are in place, I start at the beginning and write the story in a linear form, connecting the large events and finally meeting up with the end.

Along the way, my story evolves. A lot of fluff gets added in because I need to sort the story out in my head and writing it down is the way I do that. This fluff is all written in a passive, telling voice, and is part of my road map for creating the first draft–it was put down in that fashion so I would remember it later when I came back to rewrite the scene and turn it into an action sequence or cut it entirely.

I’ll give you an example of a telling sequence from Julian Lackland’s story, which is set in Waldeyn, Huw the Bard’s world. It was written down in this way so I would have a mental picture:

“In Port Lanque, the harbor itself was accessible only by one broad cobbled street, Quay Street, snaking down the steep cliffs to the piers. This wide boulevard ran through the center of town, twisting and turning in a sharp descent down to the piers, and had been kept in good repair by the pirates as it was the only way to move carts and drays down to the ships for off-loading loot. At the very top of Quay Street, in the worst part of town, an immense, rundown palace loomed. Now less than a filthy slum, it was once the home of generations of kings.”

Little or none of that passage will make it into the final manuscript because it doesn’t advance the plot. It was originally written to set the scene in MY mind. But I didn’t throw it away–I kept it in my file of outtakes along with some useful conversations further down the page that may come in handy in a different story:

“You’re wearing a dress, madam, not a crown. How can I be sure you’re the real king?” King Harry eyed the pirate. “You could be any old thief claiming to know how to sail a ship. I happen to like this ship, and I’m not disposed to give her away to some random old man in a dress.”  

That above passage is why I say you shouldn’t be married to your prose. I love the scene and the conversation, and the action that follows, but the plot thread it is part of does not advance Julian Lackland’s story. However, I intend to turn it into a short story set in Waldeyn.

By the time I finish a manuscript, I will have written the beginning three different ways, some names will have changed, and relationships will have evolved. But the major plot points and the ending will usually be the same as I had originally envisioned.  I say ‘usually’ because that was not the case for Valley of Sorrows. I ended up completely rewriting the end of that manuscript.

prnt screen 1 never delete cut passagesI can’t say it often enough: never delete any passage that you have cut from your manuscript. Save it in a separate file labeled ‘outtakes,’ because you may need that information later, or you may be able to turn that work into a short story.

A lot of authors use Scrivener for this, and it seems to work for them. I find it simpler to just copy and paste the work into a new file and save it in my outtakes for that particular novel. That way it’s out there in my dropbox or google drive and available no matter where I go or what happens to my computer.

Short stories are the bread-and-butter of many authors. You get paid a small sum for them, and your author name is published in one more place. The small story you toss out there could attract new fans to your other work.

Our work starts out full of passion and promise. Like a garden, it can grow wildly out of control. When you can’t see the flowers for the weeds, the garden must be cut back and pruned. The wild weed-words must be pulled in order for the reader to enjoy the real story.

Sometimes those weeds produce beautiful flowers when you get them into a different garden.

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