On Editing

Editing is necessary to polish a work into excellence. First drafts, for the majority of writers, are not ready for publication – there are usually logic problems, inconsistencies, spelling errors, and so on, and all of this needs to be fixed as much as possible before a manuscript is ready to be sent to an agent or publisher. And that’s where this list comes in handy – it provides a logical order to editing, something you can check off as you finish each item if that helps you.

Before you start editing, a few quick tips.

  1. Before you begin, make a backup. If you wrote your first draft by hand, make a photocopy or scan it into your computer. Whatever you do, make a backup. For that matter, make a backup at least once between every drafting cycle. Yes, Virginia, paranoia is a good thing. 🙂
  2. Give yourself some time away from your manuscript after finishing your first draft. You need some space away so that you don’t read it the way you think you wrote it, but instead you read it the way it really is written. The mind is powerful and can fool us into thinking something is written a certain way when it isn’t. We can miss spelling errors, punctuation errors, or logic problems because it’s still too recent. How much time? That depends on you. Some writers say two weeks. Others say a couple of months. I just switch to another project and finish that one (ie, a completely different first draft or editing a completely different WIP) before returning to this one. Since I have anywhere between three and eight WIPs at any given point in time, that’s easy for me.
  3. As you edit, if you think you’re going blind or otherwise missing things, or even if you don’t, change your draft to an entirely different font with different spacings, etc. If it visually looks significantly different, you’ll notice different things. You can also experiment with editing on-screen and printing it out on paper – you’ll notice different things on-screen vs. printed. Change things around so the brain isn’t getting tired of the same old thing.

Onward and upward, ho!

Things to check for:

Bringing order out of chaos

Yeah, I really can’t help my Borg references. 😀

  1. If you don’t already have one, create an outline of your story as you have written it. It doesn’t have to be too detailed, but it does need to give you an overview of where the story is going.
  2. Re-work that outline, marking which scenes need to be deleted (don’t move the story along), moved (fix logic problems), or need to be added to fill in gaps. This is the time to fix plot holes and/or logic problems and any foreshadowing you want to add to the story. Make notes of all the changes you want to make.
  3. Make those changes to your draft now, adding, deleting, or moving those necessary scenes, and adding the foreshadowing.

Make the story come alive

Does this qualify as a Frankenstein reference?

  1. Add detail and description where needed – build in more character traits or description. (In the natural flow of writing, I frequently fail to add enough description in my first draft.)
  2. Check the first paragraph of each chapter for hooks.
  3. Check the end of each chapter for cliffhangers.
  4. Ensure that each page is balanced between description, dialogue, introspection, and action. Too much description can be boring, too much dialogue and introspection doesn’t move a story ahead, too much action can be tiring to read.

Delete anything that doesn’t move your story forward.

  1. Get to the point. Don’t waste time with meaningless sentences, generalizations, or other deadwood. Delete all the unnecessary bits that don’t move your story forward.
  2. Avoid overdoing eye movements (stare, gaze, glance, glare look), facial expressions (smile, grin, laugh, chuckle, giggle), and physical features (a character’s eye color or hair color). I know, I know – I said before to add detail and description. You just don’t want to overdo it.

Fix the confusing stuff.

  1. Look for inconsistencies. Blond hair in one chapter, but brown in another? Change of names or names spelled differently? Fix them.
  2. POV shifts. Each scene should have one POV only. If you find that you’re bouncing around in more than one character’s head in a scene, then you have a POV problem.
  3. Fix punctuation, spelling, and grammar.
  4. Passive sentences aren’t as precise as active voice. Get rid of passive voice. (was, were, had, as, was verb+ing, were verb+ing…)*
  5. Simplify your overwriting (“sits down” vs. “sits”).
  6. Replace multiword verbs. You can replace most verb-particle combinations like “leave out” with more precise verbs like “omit” “drop”, “avoid” or “erase”. Try removing all the multi-word verbs and replace them with single words that pack more punch
  7. Shorten complex sentences – most sentences should be around 20 words or fewer. Variable sentence length adds interest to the piece of writing – shorter sentences=faster pace, and longer sentences=slower pace. If your sentences are too long, consider dividing them. Your work will be come more readable.
  8. Get rid of adverbs (-ly words) and replace with better words. *
  9. Ditch waffle words and phrases – they add nothing. For example, somewhat, rather, always, very, so, well, even, just, so, more, already, that, quite, some, okay.
  10. Look for repetition – words and phrases repeated too often, too close to each other. *
  11. Avoid using conjunctions to start your sentences (And, But, Or…)
  12. Avoid empty, weak subjects like “it is” or “there are”. Focus on the real subject of the sentence.
  13. Find typos and grammatical errors. As you go through your novel for the first items on the list, you’ll make changes, and if you did the typos and grammatical errors first, you’d still have to do it again, so I leave it for last.

Summary

All of the above are generalities only, and like all generalities, can be ignored if there’s a specific purpose to serve, like emphasis, or are otherwise done very well. You know, that whole “You can’t break the rules until you know the rules” thing.

I suggest going through the manuscript, each time focusing on just one item on the list. It’s hard to catch everything when you’re distracted by, well, everything. If you look for just one thing on each pass, you’re that much more likely to catch the mistakes.

Finally, I’ll go through the manuscript paragraph by paragraph in reverse order. Yup, start at the end and work my way to the beginning. Rate each paragraph on a scale of 1 to 10. Everything that’s an 8 or above, leave alone. Paragraphs rated between a 4 and a 7, look at how you can improve it. How does the paragraph rate now? 8 or above? You’re done. Below an eight? Rework. Paragraphs 3 or below – delete them. If the paragraph was essential to the story, rewrite it until it’s above an 8.

That’s it. You’re done. Theoretically…

More Writing Tools

Fahim’s finished setting up his Writing Resources page, so it’s now much easier to see all of his writing-related software in one place. One lovely addition is his MicroSoft Word macro.

Long story short, this macro can be used to find “adverbs, passive words, overly used words and cliches/misused words, and then highlights them in different colours. You can customize the word lists which are checked (or excluded in the case of adverbs) and the colours used to highlight for each category by editing the variables at the top of the script”.

If you have problems or questions about any of his software, go to his forums and post under the correct software section.

Spacejock Software is also worth looking at. Simon Haynes, the author of the software and the Hal Spacejock books (which are also entertaining books), has written yWriter (up to version 4), an incredibly useful novelist’s writing tool. I’ve used versions 2 and 3 (reviewed them for a magazine), and I liked both very much. Considering that he’s a programmer who’s also a writer, and it becomes a lot easier to see why the software works for other writers.

Simon also has other software, like Sonar, a manuscript tracking program, BookDB for tracking your library of books, and a whole lot more. His software is worth checking out, especially at his prices – free.

Writing Tools

Fahim’s been working on updating some of his writing-related software (all free) and tools (also all free). So, check ’em out if they sound like they’d be useful for you.

WriteTrack

A submission-tracking program – it helps you track your manuscript submissions, whether they’re submitted to a newspaper, magazine, agent, or publisher.

PlotCraft

A program to help you track your various plot, character, and world ideas, and whatever other types of ideas you have kicking around your brain. Fully customizable and completely useful.

Word Counters

Word counter graphs (although they can use other units, like scenes, chapters, hours, or whatever else you’d find useful) that you can post on your own website.

Agents / Publishers List

A database Fahim started when he was searching for agents and publishers for his novel. At this point, it’s populated mostly with agents and publishers who deal with science fiction, but anyone (who’s registered at the site, of course) can add additional agents and publishers. Registered users can also add comments to correct or update information for existing agents & publishers.

DNote – Beta

A database program similar to KeyNote or TreeDBNotes (but without the slimy bait & switch payment tactics TreeDBNotes uses) that stores your information in a tree / node structure. Immensely useful for storing all sorts of data. Can also be used for flash cards & word prompts.

Amanuensis

A word processing program designed specifically for story writers. Keep your chapters & scenes in a tree structure, keep notes on each chapter & scene, keep notes on your characters, locations, and more.

And of course, there’s…

Blog

A desktop application for writing up your blog entries and then posting to your blog, even if it’s using a WordPress or MovableType or other blogging platform on your domain. Also provides you with a backup of your blog entries on your local machine – handy in the event of a server failure.

If you have any problems with the software (bugs and whatnot) or have any feature suggestions, visit Fahim’s forum and post in the relevant section.

More On Writing and Writers

And here’s what I pasted on the top of what I meant to bold:

Khara enlists the help of her best friend, Aliye, and Aliye’s boyfriend, Helki in attempting to contact the space ship anyway.

The pilot, Nichol, receives the signal and confers with Logor.

I was working on the plot outline for another novel, not Black Light, which I have been working on more or less the last couple of months. As in Black Light is the novel I’ve been working on for the last few months, not the other novel. No, this one is tentatively titled “Placidia” – at least until I come up with a better working title. I was working on the plot outline.

I sometimes write very confused, rabidly confused sentences. I wonder if that’s a sign of how confused my brian is?

Placidia is the first novel I wrote. It’s not done. It needs a fair bit of work. I knew that at the time, but at the time, I didn’t know what to do with it.

Well, let me rephrase. I finished the first draft, and I called it finished because I wrote everything I could think of at the time, but I knew that there were problems with it. I knew it needed serious editing. I knew I’d need to add a bunch more stuff, but at the time? No, I didn’t know what, and I’d had enough of it, and whatever. So I called it done.

Well, I did, after all, write all the major plot points at the time and write it all the way to the end.

The end, as it’s written now, will be scrapped. It’s gonna die a bloody little death. It’s gonna be destroyed. Erased. Deleted. As if it never existed. Battle cry, ho! Existentialists, unite and take over!!!!

Ahem.

Ah, but now we have Fahim and his handy dandy little program he’s writing for me, aka Amanuensis. And that’s making it a lot easier for me to sort out bits and pieces of a novel, sort out plot outline, figure out the order things should happen in, you know. That sort of thing. I’m using Amanuensis for Black Light as well and it’s helped alot – despite the crashes. It’s buggy and Fahim’s taken a break from it so he could let his unconscious figure out what to do to fix it, and he’s got part of it figured out as a result. But not enough that I can work with a bugless program. So I suffer. At the moment.

Meanwhile, and Back at the Ranch, and other meaningless cliches later, I figured that, since I’m nearing completion of Black Light, I figured I needed to work on plotting another novel, and I just decided that it’s time to work on this one again.

I knew way back when that it had plot holes the size of a semi truck and lacked certain other, uh, elements. But you know what? That’s what a first draft of a first novel is for. To learn on. To do everything crappy so you can figure out how to do it better.

Anyway, I plugged Placidia into Amanuensis and I started working on plotting, and this novel is my next one. I’m gonna fix the sucker and fill in all the holes so it reads real nice and everything.

I still don’t know exactly what to fill the holes with. But I guess that’s what brainstorming is all about. Well, and organizing, and sorting, and . . . You got it, baby.

Ack. I’ll figure it out.

The other thing is this. When I get bored of writing one novel, I can switch to writing the other. Fahim? Fahim? Put that down. Fahim. Put that down now. No, no, stop! STOP!!!! DON’T

Grist for the Mill

Isn’t it amazing how we take some of the worst or weirdest events of our lives and turn them into grist for writing? I think it’s great that we’re finding ways to turn these experiences into something so useful. had to throw that in there. I think my rash is going to work its way into a book, too.

So I’ll be sitting down to write shortly. See how my muse likes me today. I think I’ll set a timer for one hour and see how much I actually get done, just for the fun of it.

On writing

I think that you have to write what you have to write. That’s it, that’s all. Do what you love. Make joy in your life. If other people have a problem with it, it’s THEIR problem.

I once read an article, many years ago, about a Romance Writers conference. It seemed that the writers tended to be very well dressed, professional looking, intelligent, educated women, which is not what the general public would necessarily expect. Well, in my not so humble opinion, if you want to be a writer, especially a successful one at that, you’ve got to be intelligent anyway. Call me prejudiced. If you’ve tried writing, and especially if you’ve finished a novel or five, you know it is not the easiest thing in the world to do.

I say plug away, do it, follow your dreams, and have fun at it.

I’ve read a few romances in my time. They’re not my favourite genre (I’m a science fiction junkie). I found varying degrees of writing, just like in any other genre. Some were somewhat formulaic or predictable, others were refreshing and highly entertaining. Just like any other genre. For years, science fiction was frowned upon because it was so unrealistic. Some people still frown on it. I’m not letting them stop me, and I don’t think anyone else should either.

Do what brings you joy. Ignore those who would bring you down.

Writing without editing. Also known as Blitz-drafting.

This was difficult for me, but I figured out a way to train myself to do it. It sounds hokey (I don’t know how to spell that word – never seen it in print before – but I think you all will probably know what I mean) but it worked.

I sat down in front of my computer with a mask over my eyes so I couldn’t look at the screen. It helps that I can touch type, of course. After a few days, I had myself trained to just shut my eyes and not look, and didn’t need the mask anymore. I still do this.

I find that if I look at what I’m typing, I’m more inclined to want to edit, but if I type with eyes shut, it’s a lot easier to turn of the infernal editor (yes, that spelling was intentional).

Hey, if it works, use it. If not, well, you can at least laugh at it.

(I havne’t written a damn thing all week except for emails cuz I’m still too sick to use any brain cells.)