No Credit Edit: Ideas for Self Editing

No Credit EditDear JC,

I am a beginning writer that is trying to do a final edit on my novel, and I have a question and would like honest advice. What is the most efficient and effective way of doing a final edit before I publish it? I don’t have the money to hire a professional editor, so I’m looking for something I can do on my own.

Sincerely,

No Crediting Editing

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Dear No Crediting,

Well, honestly, I’d say the most “efficient and effective way” is to hire a professional editor. However, since that isn’t an option, there are a lot of other ideas to take your manuscript to the next level.

For starters, when I complete a first draft (or 30th for that matter), I put the manuscript away, completely out of sight. I’ll start my next book, read a new book or just take some time off. In a month or so, I’ll pull the manuscript out of the drawer, dust it off and read it again with fresh eyes. You’d be surprised at what I find.

There’s several ways you can take this a step further. For example, a lot of authors suggest reading your manuscript out loud. You’ll “hear” the novel differently than just silently reading it to yourself, and you’ll stumble over awkward sentences and stilted dialog.

Another friend of mine suggests printing the manuscript in a completely different font. If you typed it using Times New Roman, then print in Comic Sans or Arial. The difference will allow your eyes to pick-out snow blind errors — or all those pesky typos that we don’t see because we’ve gotten so familiar with our own work.

Once I’ve reread my novel with fresh eyes, I’ll comb through it again concentrating on the words and individual sentences. I call this the “scrub.” I look for repetitive words, clichés and telling/lazy writing. I have a friend who prints out a hard copy and edits from the last page to the first. That way, she doesn’t get caught up in the story and instead focuses on the phrasing.

Once that’s done, I like to have three or four “beta readers” read it. If they find a continuity error or something that seems out of character or doesn’t make sense, they’ll tell me. A man in my critique group actually uses “beta listeners.” He invites a few people to his house and reads his novel out loud to them over the course of a few nights. He likes getting their perception of the story and allows them to ask questions and provide feedback.

Hope that helps & good luck,

JC

5 Mistakes killing your book

Keyhole with hidden murdererI’ve been reading some Indie novels in a GoodReads review group and I’ve noticed several common writing mistakes. Some of them seem very remedial for published authors, and I wanted to call them out on it. Instead, I held back. So, I’m going to post them here.

  1. Writing too much description bogs down the narrative.

Don’t write long, descriptive details about the sky, the weather, the landscape, the contents of a room or what a character is wearing. To establish the time and setting, I limit myself to one or two descriptive sentences. Then it’s time to get into the story. Anything more and the reader will probably just skip over it anyway.

  1. Poor grammar and spelling errors take the reader out of the story.

I see them all the time in Indie books — peaking vs. peeking, set vs. sat, then vs. than, your vs. you’re; affect vs. effect… I could go on. Word misuse happens to all writers. I get it, but it still breaks the illusion of the story and makes the author look amateurish. Also, many writers don’t understand comma, apostrophe and semi-colon placement. Compound sentences, most modifying clauses and many phrases require commas. If, as an author, you’re not sure what that means, take a grammar class or hire a professional editor.

  1. Writing scenes that “tell, rather than show” won’t engage the reader

I think this is one of the toughest concepts for new authors to wrap their heads around. Basically though, telling is a boring lecture. It’s reporting information after the fact. Showing is describing the scene as it happens. It’s imaginative and the reader can “see” the story unfolding in his mind as he reads.

  1. Background that the author thinks is vital information is probably just an indulgence that’s interrupting the story.

Don’t drop in heavy, indigestible chunks of history into your story. Maybe some of the Protagonist’s background is vital to the plot (or just interesting) could be summarized in a few pages. However there’s no need to reach back to the immigrant great grandparents. Also, never, ever start your book with a data dump. If there’s critical information the reader must know to understand the plot, then drip it in pieces around the action, in the scenes and within the dialog – after the initial introduction of your characters and what’s immediately happening to them.

  1. Boring dialog creates boring characters.

Dialogue in fiction veers from real life in that the characters in your novel don’t engage in idle chit chat. Dialog provides essential information and reveals character. Yet, it must still sound real. Which can be tougher than it sounds.

What exactly does “Show, don’t tell” mean?

canstockphoto6655007The best writing advice I ever received was how to identify when I’m “telling,” rather than “showing.” And I’m going to share that advice with you.

You probably already know what “telling versus showing” means. If so, skip down past the examples. If not, well, read on.

“Telling” is relaying information. It’s generic, lifeless, and rather detached. It’s often the opposite of storytelling, but rather info dumping.  “Showing” allows your reader to follow your characters into the moment. The reader can see, feel and experience what the characters are experiencing. It also makes your book more interesting and impactful.

For example:

  • Tom was angry at the boy on the bike. (Telling)
  • Tom’s face reddened. He reached down and grasped a large rock then hurled it at the boy on the bike. (Showing)
  • Cheryl was in love. She had never felt like this before. (Telling)
  • Cheryl’s heart thudded in her chest as she glanced up at Chad. She smiled at him, before her legs tuned to jell-o and her forehead broke out in perspiration. She honestly didn’t know what had come over her.  (Showing)
  • “We need to leave,” Addy said impatiently. (Telling)
  • Addy drummed her fingertips on top the desk and looked over her shoulder for a third time. She fidgeted in her seat. “We need to leave.” (Showing)

Take the time to paint the scene. Don’t explain what’s happening, use sensory language (see, hear, taste, smell and touch) to reveal what’s happening. Use an active voice, rather than a passive voice, meaning beef-up sentences that rely on “had” and “was.”

I received some great advice about how to recognize telling versus showing. If you’re not sure, ask, “If this was a movie, could the camera see it?”

The camera can’t see “angry” or “in love” or “impatiently.” Intellectually, we understand the meaning of those words. But, we’re writing a novel, not a text book. We want our readers to feel anger, and love, and impatience.

The camera can see – as well as our own mind’s eye – descriptions of “Tom’s face reddening and him reaching for a rock.” We can feel his anger; we don’t need to be told that he’s angry.

There are exceptions, but as a whole, asking “Can the camera see it” will help you spot and eliminate telling.

5 Dialog Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make

canstockphoto6243281This may read like Grammar 101, but I see these mistakes in a lot of unpublished, new author’s works. Unfortunately, these mistakes scream “Amateur!” and hurt the author’s chances of getting published.

If these rules are elementary, skip them. For everyone else, print them out and nail them to your monitor.

Problem #1:
“You sandbagged me with another blind date,” Kim said. “You know I’m involved with someone.” Mallory grabbed her arm to slow her down. “Stop being so melodramatic.”

Don’t put two character’s conversations into one paragraph. It makes it very difficult to figure out who is talking.
Start a new paragraph every time a new character speaks.

Problem #2:
“You sandbagged me with another blind date You know I’m involved with someone.” Said Kim.

“Stop being so melodramatic!” Said Mallory.

The character’s conversation and the tag should not be two separate sentences. This is a basic grammar rule. Use a comma instead of a period, and make the conversation flow into the tag.

Problem #3:
“You sandbagged me with another blind date You know I’m involved with someone“, Kim said.

Mallory grabbed her arm to slow her down. “Stop being so melodramatic“!

Always put terminal punctuation (commas, periods) inside the quotation marks.

Problem #4:
“I can’t believe you, Mallory! You sandbagged me with another blind date when you know I’m involved with someone. Ross and I are madly, deeply in love. I just think you’re jealous of our love. You always have been, but this time you’ve gone too far. Too far, I tell you! And, I will never forgive you. Not today or tomorrow or in a million years from now. Our friendship is officially over!” Kim said.

Mallory grabbed her arm to slow her down. “Stop being so melodramatic! Ross broke up with you. He cruelly, unceremoniously dumped you and he’s not coming back. No matter what you do or say, he will never come back. You need to make peace with that and learn to accept it. That’s why I set you up. Because I’m your friend, and always will be.”

The characters need a chance to breathe. Besides, no one really talks like this — and if they do, no one is really listening. Keep the dialog brief and to the point. The conversation above would be much easier to follow if it was broken-up into an exchange between the two women.

Problem #5:
“You sandbagged me with another blind date,” Kim said angrily. “You know I’m involved with someone.”

“Stop being so melodramatic,” Mallory said indignantly.

Repeat after me: Adverbs are not my friend. Adverbs are not my friend. Adverbs are not my friend. If you need to explain the emotion, then you’ve written flat dialog or a stale scene.

* Examples based on an excerpt from the mystery novel Prey of Desire.

5 Books Every Writer Should Read

The Tampa Writer’s Alliance recommended five books that should be on very author’s bookshelf (or in their Kindle). I’ve read Stephen King’s “On Writing” and Renni Brown’s “Self Editing For Fiction Writers.” I’ve refer to both often as I write. I’m currently reading “The First Five Pages.” I’ll be checking out the last two soon.

Any other suggestions? Post in the comments.

 #1.

first 5 pagesThe First Five Pages: A Writer’S Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile
by Noah Lukeman

The difference between The First Five Pages and most books on writing is that the others are written by teachers and writers. This one comes from a literary agent–one whose clients include Pulitzer Prize nominees, New York Times bestselling authors, Pushcart Prize recipients, and American Book Award winners. Noah Lukeman is not trying to impart the finer points of writing well. He wants to teach you “how to identify and avoid bad writing,” so that your manuscript doesn’t come boomeranging back to you in that self-addressed, stamped envelope. Surprise: Agents and editors don’t read manuscripts for fun; they are looking for reasons to reject them. Lukeman has arranged his book “in the order of what I look for when trying to dismiss a manuscript,” starting with presentation and concluding with pacing and progression. Each chapter addresses a pitfall of poor writing–overabundance of adjectives and adverbs, tedious or unrealistic dialogue, and lack of subtlety to name just a few–by identifying the problem, presenting solutions, giving examples (one wishes these weren’t quite so obvious), and offering writing exercises. It’s a little bizarre to think about approaching your work as would an agent, but if you are serious about getting published, you may as well get used to it. Plus, Lukeman has plenty of solid advice worth listening to. Particularly fine are his exercises for removing and spicing up modifiers and his remedies for all kinds of faulty dialogue. –Jane Steinberg, Amazon.com Editorial Review

#2.

self-editing_for_fiction_writersSelf-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print
by Renni Browne and Dave King

Hundreds of books have been written on the art of writing. Here at last is a book by two professional editors to teach writers the techniques of the editing trade that turn promising manuscripts into published novels and short stories.

In the completely revised and updated second edition, Renni Browne and Dave King teach you, the writer, how to apply the editing techniques they have developed to your own work. Chapters on dialogue, exposition, point of view, interior monologue, and other techniques take you through the same processes an expert editor would go through to perfect your manuscript. Each point is illustrated with examples, many drawn from the hundreds of books Browne and King have edited.

 

 

#3.

On WritingOn Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft
by Stephen King

Short and snappy as it is, Stephen King’s On Writing really contains two books: a fondly sardonic autobiography and a tough-love lesson for aspiring novelists. The memoir is terrific stuff, a vivid description of how a writer grew out of a misbehaving kid. You’re right there with the young author as he’s tormented by poison ivy, gas-passing babysitters, uptight schoolmarms, and a laundry job nastier than Jack London’s. It’s a ripping yarn that casts a sharp light on his fiction. This was a child who dug Yvette Vickers from Attack of the Giant Leeches, not Sandra Dee. “I wanted monsters that ate whole cities, radioactive corpses that came out of the ocean and ate surfers, and girls in black bras who looked like trailer trash.” But massive reading on all literary levels was a craving just as crucial, and soon King was the published author of “I Was a Teen-Age Graverobber.” As a young adult raising a family in a trailer, King started a story inspired by his stint as a janitor cleaning a high-school girls locker room. He crumpled it up, but his writer wife retrieved it from the trash, and using her advice about the girl milieu and his own memories of two reviled teenage classmates who died young, he came up with Carrie. King gives us lots of revelations about his life and work. The kidnapper character in Misery, the mind-possessing monsters in The Tommyknockers, and the haunting of the blocked writer in The Shining symbolized his cocaine and booze addiction (overcome thanks to his wife’s intervention, which he describes). “There’s one novel, Cujo, that I barely remember writing.”
King also evokes his college days and his recovery from the van crash that nearly killed him, but the focus is always on what it all means to the craft. He gives you a whole writer’s “tool kit”: a reading list, writing assignments, a corrected story, and nuts-and-bolts advice on dollars and cents, plot and character, the basic building block of the paragraph, and literary models. He shows what you can learn from H.P. Lovecraft’s arcane vocabulary, Hemingway’s leanness, Grisham’s authenticity, Richard Dooling’s artful obscenity, Jonathan Kellerman’s sentence fragments. He explains why Hart’s War is a great story marred by a tin ear for dialogue, and how Elmore Leonard’s Be Cool could be the antidote.

King isn’t just a writer, he’s a true teacher. –Tim Appelo, Amazon.com Review

#4.

How_To_Read_A_BookHow to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading
by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren

Writers are defined by their readers.

Originally published in 1940, this book is a rare phenomenon, a living classic that introduces and elucidates the various levels of reading and how to achieve them—from elementary reading, through systematic skimming and inspectional reading, to speed reading. Readers will learn when and how to “judge a book by its cover,” and also how to X-ray it, read critically, and extract the author’s message from the text.

Also included is instruction in the different techniques that work best for reading particular genres, such as practical books, imaginative literature, plays, poetry, history, science and mathematics, philosophy and social science works.

Finally, the authors offer a recommended reading list and supply reading tests you can use measure your own progress in reading skills, comprehension, and speed.

#5.

birdbybirdBird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
by Anne Lamott

Think you’ve got a book inside of you? Anne Lamott isn’t afraid to help you let it out. She’ll help you find your passion and your voice, beginning from the first really crummy draft to the peculiar letdown of publication. Readers will be reminded of the energizing books of writer Natalie Goldberg and will be seduced by Lamott’s witty take on the reality of a writer’s life, which has little to do with literary parties and a lot to do with jealousy, writer’s block and going for broke with each paragraph. Marvelously wise and best of all, great reading.

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”

Six simple steps to edit your manuscript

canstockphoto16882511

I’m deep in the throes of editing a book right now. It’s tedious. It’s time consuming. It’s also a critical step in storytelling.

Ultimately, I think there are two levels in the editing process. Level 1 is The Narrative Flow.  It’s the part where the story is really constructed. I analyze the story structure. I break it down scene by scene to see if the book has tension. I look at the characters and ask, “Are they vibrant and fully developed?”

Level 2 is The Scrub. This is where I look at the individual sentences and words themselves. I look for spelling errors, point of view shifts and all those lazy adverbs. I believe the Level 2 edit is what separates the professional from the amateur.

In editing my current project, I thought I’d share my checklist of “Things to Look For When Editing Your Manuscript.” I may add to the list as time goes by.

LEVEL 2 EDIT – THE SCRUB

1. Spell Check. Spell Check. Spell Check. You won’t believe the words I misspelled while cranking out my initial draft.  It’s embarrasing. (See what I did there?) One of the most insightful, meaningful things my college English professor told me was, “Your story is almost as creative as your spelling.”

2. Circle Every Adverb.  I’m not going to say that I’m publishing an adverb free book, but I will say that I’m rewriting 75% of the sentences that rely on adverbs to explain the emotion, rather than body language, facial expression or character action. Short descriptive sentences that convey emotion are far more interesting to read.

3. Circle Every “he said” and “she said.” Generally, this goes hand in hand with the adverbs, he said lazily. (See what I did there? Sometimes I amuse myself.) A constant stream of “said” gets monotonous. Worse, if the word appears over and over again on a page, it will distract the reader. I try to limit the “said” and replace it with a little snippet of character action. One of the best tricks in the book is to break-up a paragraph of description, and slowly reveal that info around the conversation.

4. Circle All Those Boring, Passive Sentences. You know the ones — where the subject doesn’t perform the action. Look for the culprits in front of the verb, such as “was,” “had been,” “are” and “were.”  Delete them and release the verb. :) (Passive: The police had been tailing Andy for hours.  Active: The police tailed Andy for hours. )

5. Circle Sentences Beginning with an ING word.  Starting a sentence off with a gerund (a verb ending in ing) is a great way to break-up monotony in sentence patterns. However… most people (myself included) butcher the grammar. I often read sentences in amateur writing where the ING clause isn’t supported by the noun. (i.e. “Walking along the beach, two sharp stones cut my foot.” As written in that sentence, two sharp stones are walking along the beach. )  Another common error is a conflict in time — where the action in the opening clause is out of sync with the action happening in the main part of the sentence. (i.e. “Opening the front door, Thomas raced outside to greet them at the car.” Chronologically, Thomas opens the door THEN he runs outside. The way the sentence is written, he is opening the door and racing outside at the same time.)  Grammar aside, sentences that begin with a gerund can read like Yoda-speak and break the narrative flow. Use sparingly.

6. Confirm the Point of View in Each Section. We all do this. The dominant point of view in a section is Character A, but in one paragraph — often one tied to dialogue — the point of view jumps to Character B.  Character B sees something, thinks something, or feels something. Most people who are much smarter than I am will tell you that this creates confusion for the reader. Sometimes it does;  sometimes it doesn’t. It will, however, make your writing feel choppy and disjointed.

Want more information? Check out:

Knock ’em Dead with Verbs

canstockphoto16415204There’s one thing I’m guilty of doing in my first draft, and that’s writing characters who constantly respond by smiling, frowning, nodding or shaking their heads. So, when I go back to update that draft, I try to come up with more expressive and emotional responses.

I’ve put together a list of bland, generic verbs and suggestions that more clearly show what’s happening. These are just some random ideas to get the creative juices flowing.

INSTEAD OF… TRY USING…
she smiled
  • her eyebrows rose with excitement
  • there was a suspicious line at the corners of her mouth
  • her lips parted in surprise
  • she bit her lip to stifle a grin
  • her mouth curved into an unconscious smile
  • her face brightened at the suggestion
he frowned
  • his brows drew together in an agonized expression
  • a muscle flicked angrily in his jaw
  • a cold, congested expression settled on his faced
  • his brow furrow
  • his mouth thinning with displeasure
  • he pressed his lips together in anger
she nodded
  • she reached out, lacing his fingers with her own
  • she put a hand on his shoulder, comforting him
  • an electrifying shudder reverberated through her
  • she licked her shiny lips
  • somehow she managed to face him
  • she hugged her arms to her
  • she moved in an instinctive gesture of comfort
  • she slapped him heartily on the back
  • she touched her forehead slightly in a mock salute
he shook his head
  • he bent his head and studied his hands
  • touched his trembling lips with one finger
  • his fingers drummed distractedly on the table
  • he jerked away from her
  • he remained absolutely motionless for a moment
  • he dragged her back hard against him
  • he swallowed and squared his shoulders