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.

A Conversation About ‘He Said, She Said’ (or Avoid Dialog Tags)

canstockphoto5739427“What are dialog tags?” he asked, inquisitively.

“Dialog tags are the little obvious fragments that writers add to the end of speech to identify who is speaking and what feeling the character is emoting,” she explained.

“So dialog tags are kind of like emoticons for writers,” he laughed.

“Exactly,” she agreed.

“Well, you didn’t have to tell me you agreed. I already knew that based on you saying ‘exactly,'” he snarled, offended.

“Why are you telling me you’re offended?” She put her hands on her hips and leaned toward him. She studied his expression a moment, then wagged a finger at him like an old schoolmarm.  “You should show your feelings, not tell them.”

“I don’t understand what you mean?” he queried, baffled.

“You’re a writer.” She straightened her back and folded her arms across her chest.  “You should show not tell. And of course this includes dialogue.”

He shrugged. “But I like to use ‘said’ after my dialog to identify who is speaking,” he said.

“That’s fine.” She put a hand on his shoulder. Her face softened. “Adding ‘said’ to dialog is okay when used in moderation. It generally doesn’t interrupt the flow of the narrative. Just don’t break out the thesaurus to describe how they’re talking. Your reader should feel that through your character’s dialog and action.”

“You’re kidding?” he vociferously expostulated. “You mean readers aren’t impressed with all those verbs and adverbs?”

“Those verbs and adverbs are distracting. They pull the reader out of the story.” She stepped back and waved a hand, as if grasping an invisible object and flinging it across the room. After a moment, she looked him directly in the eyes. “Those words scream ‘Look at me! Look how clever this story is written!’

“Really?”

“Really. In fact, you sometimes don’t need dialog tags at all.”

“And the reader can still follow along?”

“Yes. Especially when there are only two characters having a conversation.”

She watched him a moment as they stood in silence. He lifted his hand to his face and scratched his chin. He looked deep in thought.

“I guess that makes sense.” He reached for her and grasped her hand. His face brightened. “The words that come out of my character’s mouth should be strong enough to convey the emotion. If I need an added oomph then I should describe what the characters are doing while they talk.”

She returned his smile and squeezed his hand. “Exactly.”

 

 

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.

Language of the Body: Add visual dialog to your conversations

canstockphoto13397004Do you feel like you’ve got too many “he said,” “she said” tags in your dialog? Are you leaning on adverbs to express your character’s feelings? Do some research on body language to add emotional and descriptive depth to your character’s dialog.

Body language can bring your conversations to life. It subtly strengthens the dialog, and plants mental images in your reader’s head. Consider the following:

Angrily = Shoulders retracted, head leans forward, fists closed, neck and forehead veins bulge,
Apologizing = Eyes lowered, hands clasped together
Defensively = Arms crossed, fists closed, brows furrowed,
Fearfully = Shoulders raised, eyes wide open, mouth scrunched.
Forced Politeness = Oblong smile, eyes pointed, stiff posture
Friendly = Broad smile, open palms, arms outstretched
Interested = Eyes raised, Body leans forward, Long gaze
Leave Me Alone = Shoulders hunched, Chin to chest, Eyes nearly closed
Lying or Withholding Information = Rapid blinking, Avoids eye contact, hands hidden, nods head frequently, places finger between lips, ankles locked
Nervously = Biting fingernails, Forehead sweating, Change of complexion, Dry mouth, Repeated fidgeting (with item, running hands through hair, changing positions, tapping fingers), clammy hands,
Pensively = Hands to cheek,
Responsibility = Shoulders square, chin raised, chest out
Sexual Interest = Lips parted, hands touching the other’s shoulder, feet pointed toward the other, fingers touching hair
Tensely = Swallowing, Gulping

Want to read more? Check out:
Knock ’em Dead with Verbs

 

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