SELF EDITING 101 – Putting on your critic’s hat :)

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So, you’ve been diligently working away on your story and you think it’s just about done. You’ll either think it’s a work of heartbreaking genius or the worst tripe you’ve ever read or written, or if you’re lucky somewhere in between those two extremes. But now what?

Creating new work and redrafting it use different sets of skills. For first drafts we have to show our inner critics the door in order to get anything done at all. Our imaginations need free reign to be as silly or as serious or off track as they need to be.

But then, once we’ve created the bulk of our draft – the chunk of stone our beautiful masterpiece will be sculpted from — the wonderful work of rewriting begins.

First drafts are only the beginning. The real fun starts at rewriting.

Let your new piece rest for a week or two (move onto something else). Then put on your critic’s hat!

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Yes! It’s time to get serious!

First of all is what professionals call THE STRUCTURAL EDIT.

Basically what that means is

THE BIG STUFF!elephant

 

  • Find the HEART of your story (what is the story really about?) and shape the next draft around it. Go deeper into this heart if you can.
  • Think about the STRUCTURE of your story – have you started and ended in the right place. Does it build in a satisfying way? Are you moving the reader between hope and fear?
  • HOOK – have you set up a hook within the first couple of paragraphs?
  • Is your story compelling?
  • Does your story reach a CLIMAX? Is it at the right place – almost at the end?
  • Write a list of all your SCENES – is there any repetition? Do all scenes need to be there? In each scene – get in late and get out early.
  • Check whether you’re writing in scenes, not just telling the story. SHOW mostly, TELL a little bit.
  • What is at STAKE? It must feel vital to the protagonist even if it’s something small.
  • Is there enough CONFLICT? And/or SURPRISE?
  • Your MAIN CHARACTER – Do they make efforts to achieve their goals? Do they ACT in some way? How has their CURSE or CALLING affected them? Do they show both good and bad? How have they CHANGED through the story?3 faces of eve
  • Other characters – have you developed the important ones fully?
  • DIALOGUE – have you included dialogue in your scenes to bring them to life?
  • Does your dialogue demonstrate character and further plot? WARNING – do not use dialogue for info dumps or to relate what happened in a scene we’ve already read.
  • SETTING – have you made the most of your settings to create mood, develop character and reflect emotion, hidden meanings? Specific sensory details?
  • POV and VOICE – have you chosen the right character to focus on? Would it be better from someone else or in 3rd/1stperson?
  • CUT irrelevant passages of description that don’t further the forward movement of your piece. CUT anything that isn’t moving the story forward.

“If you are writing without moving toward an ending, you are probably just piling up information and- it’s all but a dead certainty – being a bore.” Stephen Koch

Office Worker with Mountain of Paperwork

Then, once the big job of the structural edit is done it’s time for the line edit – or in other words –

CHECK THE NITTY GRITTY TOO! 

  • Reshuffle the order of paragraphs so the story makes more sense.
  • Cut any repetition – of words or ideas.
  • Correct any spelling or grammatical errors – read aloud to catch them.
  • Check that your sentences are meaning what you want them to say. Are they clear and easy to follow?
  • Cut almost all adjectives and adverbs and unnecessary speech tags.
  • Use specific nouns and strong verbs instead.
  • In dialogue, sometimes use a character’s actions beside their speech instead of speech tags.
  • Have characters speaking at cross purposes.
  • Do you finish with a strong image or memorable moment? Try ending sooner.

“You should aim for an effect similar to that of the final bars of a symphony. Hearing those, you as a listener know that this is the conclusion, that the work is finished.” H.R.F. Keating

weinlich-orchestra

Once you’ve done all that, and a close proof reading as well for any spelling or grammatical errors, typos or formatting issues, then it’s time to get feedback from someone else, preferably another writer or an editor who’ll help you pin point things you may have missed.

Hope that helps!

If you’ve got a manuscript well under way and would like some advice on how to progress it further towards publication standard, come along to the next RELAX AND WRITE RETREAT! November 8 – 10 at Burleigh Heads QLD. This retreat has two streams one for Nanowrimo folk writing up a storm, the other for those with work almost completed looking for some feedback and help redrafting. See HERE for more details and HERE to secure your place.

And if you’d just like to get in touch, would like to get more info or sign up to my email list for lots of hints and tips and writing opportunities then CONTACT ME!

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Let me know how you go with your rewriting. Which do you prefer, first drafts or rewriting? I used to love first drafts much more but now I’m a fan of the fun of rewriting too 🙂

Take care and happy writing!

lots of love

Edwina

SENTENCE BY SENTENCE – WORD BY WORD: 5 Useful Tips for Cleaning up your Prose

Over the past 17 years or so of writing, editing, studying the craft of writing, and teaching writing in the community and in universities, I’ve learnt a few easy tricks to help get your sentences working hard.

My favourite quote on the craft of writing is from George Orwell – “Good prose is as transparent as glass.”

clear window

For me this means, keep it simple superstar! Don’t get carried away with trying to sound “Writerly”, clever, witty, mad or however you think a writer should sound. The writing shouldn’t detract from the story itself. If a reader is stopping to ponder the meaning of your sentences, then they’ve lost touch with your story and that’s never good.

Let your story shine by keeping your writing as clean and clear as a pane of glass. Every sentence, every word has to serve a purpose. It must either drive the story forward, illustrate character, establish setting or add to the story in some meaningful way.

Whether you’re writing flash fiction, short stories, novels or screenplays the same rule applies. Which leads me to my first tip –

1. Does that sentence need to be there at all?

After you’ve written a fast and furious first draft and fallen out of love with it a little, go back and check. Is every scene really necessary or did you just get carried away and veer off course? Do you really need a full paragraph describing that lake or will one good sentence combining the best of that paragraph work much better? The same applies for every word. Go through your work with a fine-tooth comb – think nit comb!

fine tooth comb

In longer works you need to apply this to large chunks as well – Does that chapter need to be there? Does that scene?

Be brutal – save cut bits in another file so you won’t be heartbroken. I do this all the time but have rarely gone back in and rescued one of my darlings. But they’re still there – just in case 😊

2. Trim adjectives and adverbs

Yes, you’ve heard it before and for good reason. Writing styles have changed since those 19th century novels you love to read. Readers these days have a multitude of fast-paced alternatives to a book and most won’t wade through pages of description of a room Henry James’ style. In my university classes I still have many students decorating every noun with a string of adjectives because that’s what they’ve been taught to do all the way through school. ARGH! Get rid of them.

Think of adjectives and adverbs as salt and pepper – a little adds flavour but too much and you’ll ruin your dish.

Metaphors and similes are like chillies – hot peppers. Yes they’re great, but use too many at your peril.

chillies

3. Use specific nouns and strong verbs

Instead of all those adjectives, use nouns that do their job instead. Be specific.

For instance, instead of “colourful noisy birds made loud noises in the tall riverside gum trees”, write “Rainbow lorikeets screeched in the branches of a flooded gum.”

The same goes for verbs. Instead of “She walked slowly”, you could use strolled or ambled or limped or staggered. See how much meaning can be packed into one good verb? English has lots of them – put them to work!

4. Get rid of “There is”

Although we use these words (and “It is” and “There are” etc) often in speech, they create unnecessary clutter in our writing. When we were in high school padding out words for assignments they were useful, but now we know better.

For example; “There is an old car sitting in the driveway of the old house,” can easily be improved by cutting the “There is” and using a strong verb and specific noun (and an adjective) “A beat-up old Holden ute lay rusting in the driveway.”

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5. Get rid of “I can,” and “S/he can”.

It’s still perfectly okay to write,  she can ride a bike. I’m talking about when you are detracting from the reader’s experience of the visceral in your writing by always filtering it through your characters’ perceptions.

“I could feel the rain falling on my face” – changes to “The rain fell like tears on my face.”
“She could feel the sun burning into the back of her neck” – becomes “The sun burnt into the back of her neck turning it hot pink.”

rainy

Of course, these are only hints and tips and all rules are meant to be broken. So if you really need two adjectives for the rhythm of your sentence go right ahead and use them. Just please, pretty please never write “She whispered very quietly” or I may have to scream!

I hope these ideas are helpful. What hints and tips are your favourites? I love to learn about writing and learn most from other writers, so do share your ideas in the comments below.

Write like furies!

furies

Lots of love,

Edwina x