It's editing season for yours truly, and since I'm about to dust off The Proper Bearing after its hibernation for some fine-tuning, I thought it was a good time to talk editing. As I've said in previous posts, it is vital to edit before self-publishing, and not just with a peer. If your budget for editing is non-existent, you have to be even more critical of your writing ... but with time and practice, good self-editing can become second nature. Without further ado, here are some of the resources I've used in the past to build my own habits!
Starting with the basics, ReadWriteThink has a checklist that's meant for classroom use, but still has some great starting points. It's also printable for use in writers' groups, workshops, or NaNoWriMo Write-Ins!
Fiction University has two great pages: The Spit Shine, which is a great last run-through, and more importantly, Crossing Words Off Your List, which covers the author's most important self-editing tool. The "Bad Words" list, which goes by many names, always serves the same basic prinicple: to help remove words which are either unnecessary or overused. Every author has a handful which are unique to them, and sometimes they aren't even words. (Confession: In The Cards had a lot of unnecessary ellipses before the final edit.)
Though those words are a good first step, they aren't everything. Grammar Girl's Editing Checklist covers the bases on ... you guessed it, grammar! This one is laid out simply, and yet very comprehensive, which makes it a good one to print out and keep in your editing binder if you prefer to edit on paper (like yours truly).
WordStream's Self-Editing Checklist includes talking points on all of the above, with an extra dose of humor. I take their final point with a grain of salt, however: they stress paring down your sentences as much as possible. While I'm a fan of a tightly written sentence, I also believe that keeping some of the proverbial meat on the bone helps you define your writing voice. Your mileage may, as with most method advice, vary.
Finally, there is my own Rainbow Editing Method, which I use in conjunction with my personal Bad Words file. I developed it while I was working on From The Desk of Buster Heywood, and it's gone a long way toward helping me identify my own problem areas. You're welcome to use it, too! There's a wrap-up post with links to all the sections right here.
Now, I'm about to dive into my own manuscript, so I'll see you all next Wednesday! Should you be up to the same task, happy editing ... and I hope you all have a great week!
We've finally reached the end of the Rainbow! It's hard to believe that I started writing about this three months ago! Last week, I promised a tally of my own edits to From the Desk of Buster Heywood, and I do try to keep my promises. I used this tally to find the areas of my writing that needed the most work and conscious effort, and hopefully I'll have different results when I start editing the next book, In the Cards. For those of you who aren't interested in this sort of thing? I apologize, and there is already a fantastic anecdotal entry simmering in my brain for next week. So, without further ado, proof of my own imperfection (she said, grinning).
Sophistication (Original Entry)
Show vs. Tell (Original Entry)
Character & P.O.V (Original Entry)
Character, Pacing, and Beats (Original Entry)
Dialogue, Monologue & Sound (Original Entry)
Voice (Original Entry)
I could break these down by chapter, since I did make a list of them, but that would ruin so many surprises. Here are the things a lot of my favorite passages had in common:
Other Edits & Instances of "Kill Your Darlings"
A lot of my generic edits, done in pink ink, involved tightening up sentences, or reordering them so that they read more smoothly on the page. A few places needed a little more "oomph" to ramp up suspense, and others needed extra taken out to speed up the pace. My proverbial darlings, passages that I loved but didn't necessarily need, got highlighted in yellow. The fifteen pages in Chapter 1 I mentioned earlier were a doozy, since that scene was the first glimpse I had of Buster's sister, Dee, and loved her immediately. I also had a few funny lines which were pretty good, but didn't fit Buster quite right. These have been saved and tucked away for later use. One particular darling remains, but in a pared-down and much more subtle form, to help tie the first book to its successors. I won't give it away, but a couple of books from now, it'll be clear as day in a reread.
That officially wraps up my entries on the Rainbow Editing Method! Thank you for sticking through it with me, and I hope that some of what I've had to say over these last few months has been useful ... or at the very least, somewhat entertaining. See you all next Thursday!
Okay, now you all know what my favorite color is - and my Gram's, too. One of these days I intend to tell you all about her and how much I owe to her for my creative spirit, but today is not that day. Today we are at the end of the Editing Rainbow, and the pot of gold is a marked-up manuscript ready for you to go through and clean up. I know, at first glance it doesn't sound that rewarding, but I get excited about these things. It means that the thing you spent SO LONG putting together and pulling your hair out over is one step closer to being presentable to the general public, and not just your long-suffering close friends & beta readers. (Hi, ladies, you know who you are, and I love you all.)
The best part is that purple, Voice, is the easiest color to edit. I don't even have any bullet points, this week. It's that simple.
This is the part where you go through your manuscript and look for the bits that make you say "YES. I have read this story so many times that my eyes are about to start bleeding, but I still absolutely love this." It can be as big as a whole scene, or as tiny as a description ... One which sticks out for me during my edit of From the Desk of Buster Heywood is the detail of a lost mitten "marinating in a pile of slush". I just love the way it sounds and flows on the page, and the picture is crystal clear to me. Go through your draft and find those parts. Underline them in purple. If you have any lines that are the exact opposite which you haven't already cleaned up with other colors, put a jagged purple line to set them apart.
The lines that you like the sound and look of best are the ones that fell into your lap while you were sitting under the word tree - they are yours by chance, ripe and ready and perfect. They are the cornerstones of your writing voice, and I would be willing to bet that you didn't even think about being "voice-y" or "really good" when you wrote them. Be proud of these. Hold them up in front of your mirror and say "Damn, you wrote this? You rock!" Take a nice ego boost and feel good about yourself. This may be the least rule-intensive part of the editing method, but it may also be the most important, because it's about building confidence in your own writing. You might have all those red adverbs, clunky blue beats, and redundant orange bits in there staring you down, and sure, fixing them all is going to be tricky and daunting, but hey! You have all that purple that you're still proud of in the middle of it all, holding it together. You're a badass. You wrote a whole entire book, and there are parts of it you don't immediately want to throw out the window, even in what Anne Lamott calls the "shitty first draft". Go, you.
Now that you've had your moment of triumph, it's time to take that purple prose and look at it under a magnifying glass. What is it that made those passages work for you? Why do they sing? Do they have a common thread, or were they just a perfect fit for that particular point in the story? You're figuring out your strengths, the place where your voice shines. Once you break that down, you can apply it to the places that aren't so strong. The biggest discovery I made during this phase was that I write best when I can relate closely to someone in the scene... so going forward, I tried to find something I could do the same with in as many situations as possible, even if the character wouldn't react the same way I would. I know a lot of writers say this, when they talk about writing, but they say it because it's true: bring yourself to the page. Your readers will notice the life there, every time.
So, that's it for purple. It's all about following your heart and your gut. But what happens when you finish that whole rainbow? That's up to you. I thought I'd be good just typing in my corrections, but then I decided to take a tally of how it all wound up and find what my biggest weaknesses were. I'll be sharing my breakdown in next week's post, so that when From the Desk... is finally available, you can compare and see just how much I hacked it apart before sharing it with you.
Oh, and here's Anne Lamott's essay on shitty first drafts, courtesy of Canvas online courses. There's a link to a PDF of it, there. If you like what you read, I suggest you pick up the book it became part of, "Bird by Bird". It's one of my favorite books on writing - I'm saving the others for a later post. Here's to the rainbow, and I'll see you next week!
Really, if there's one thing all of these dialogue-editing points have in common, it's this: don't bring your reader up out of the scene. Think about the last time someone interrupted you while you were in the middle of a really good book. Now, imagine if the author did that to you! These editing points will help keep your reader comfortably engrossed in your scenes, and they'll come back out to the real world and remember that they were actually reading a book when they're ready: not when you remind them that they are.
Okay, here's the deal. I know I said that this would be the last post in the Rainbow Editing Method, but I'm feeling like it needs one more to pull it together and wrap it up well. So, I beg your patience in that regard. The second shade of blue - Dialogue, Editing and Sound - is dark blue. I tend to be heavy on dialogue, since I write a lot of loudmouths who like to bicker with one another. So, since this is the biggest checklist I have, let's dive right in! We'll start with mechanics and move into meatier stuff toward the end.
Happy April and happy spring, everyone! I know that there's still snow on the ground for a lot of people, but the smell of things thawing is finally in the air here in my little corner of New Hampshire. I've got the window cracked, one of my favorite singers on the stereo (Sara Bareilles, for those curious), and a half hour to write this before my "real job" starts. So let's delve into the first blue part of our editing list, which deals with Beats and Proportion!
First off, what are "beats"? When it comes to writing, they're the breaks in dialogue or action. Chelsea said is a beat, for example, as is He stopped to wait for the traffic before crossing. You need beats to let your reader digest what you've given them so far - it's like pausing to let someone else speak in conversation, even though you can't actually let your reader talk back to you.
Proportion is pretty simple - your passages need to be balanced. Follow up lengthy descriptions with short ones, or try not to have too many long conversation-heavy scenes in a row.
Now that I've defined things a little bit, let's move on to this week's checklist! As my mother would say, "It's a big'un, Jase."
That about does it for this week's checklist - and look at that, I made it through with a minute to spare. Pardon me while I run like a coordination-challenged gazelle so that I can make it to work on time. Next week is all about one of my personal favorites: dialogue! It's gonna be a fun one. Until then, keep writing, keep reading, and keep on rockin' in the free world.
Welcome to the third week of the Rainbow Editing method! We're halfway through! Before I begin the list, however, I want to let you all know that Camp NaNoWriMo is beginning in just a little under a week! For those of you familiar with the concept of regular NaNo, it is much the same, but with the option of setting your own word count goal, and the ability to create "cabins" of fellow writers for moral support and discussion throughout the month. My first Camp sessions were last year, and I had a fantastic experience. I recommend Camp for people who are thinking of trying NaNoWriMo to get into a writing habit, but aren't sure if they can handle the full 50k goal that November sets. For more information, you can check out their website here (which will open in a new window for you). If you're feeling supportive and would like to cheer me on, my profile page is here, and it will chart my progress. Now: on to the editing!
"Be still, so that your characters can speak for themselves and come alive in their own way." - Frederick Buechner
Green's area of focus is Character and Point of View. I'm not talking about figuring out who your characters are - if you still aren't sure about that, even after a first draft, you're not ready to go over the rainbow yet. With editing, you're looking at Character in terms of whether or not it fits or not. Would your main character use euphemisms like "golly jeepers" or would she just rip right out on a streak that would make a minister blush? E
verything on this list is rooted in one purpose, the most important one of all for fiction writers: connect your reader to your characters. These are both some of the best tricks for doing that, and some of the biggest things to avoid.
Next week we're going into a blue period: there are two shades of blue in the editing spectrum! Please come back and join me for Sky Blue, where we'll start listening to our writing and not just reading it.
Welcome back! For the second week of the Rainbow Editing checklist, we're covering orange! Symbolically, orange is a color of action and intelligence, so I thought it appropriate for the over-quipped, sometimes under-used "Show, Don't Tell". The thing I've discovered about SDT: the showing doesn't apply so much to over-detailing every pebble on the road and piece of litter as it does the emotional content of a scene. But we'll get to that.
Ready for the list? Let's go!
Overall, the main theme of the Orange checklist is to trust your reader, and assume that they are relatively intelligent. They'll remember what you've already told them, and they have everyday experiences of their own to bring to the table. You don't want to show them how life works, in general: you want to show them how life works for this group of characters that you've created, and you want them to become involved and care about the way it ends out. I don't know about you, but telling me how great a book is doesn't really make me care about it. If you sit me down on a couch, put that book in my hand, and say "Here. Read this. I'll go occupy myself while you enjoy it"? I will. I may, in fact, forget that you're there. And isn't that what we want our readers to do?
Next week, get ready to go green, when I cover character and point of view. See you then!
This week marks the first in a series of seven posts about the Rainbow Editing method I discussed in my last entry. Are you ready? Let's paint our manuscripts red! I know that for a lot of people, the thought of red pen conjures up images of merciless markings by teachers ... which is probably why I chose it for my first group of editing criteria: what Self-Editing for Writers refers to as Sophistication. It's a far less intimidating way of saying "spelling, punctuation, and style". Here are the items that fall on my red Sophistication checklist:
And so, we come to the end of the Sophistication checklist. Which item on the list do you feel you need to work on the most? Be sure to let me know, and please come back next week for the orange checklist, when we pull Show vs. Tell out from where it's been beaten into the ground.
Back in January, I finished my first, quick edit of From the Desk... and knew that it would not be enough. I needed to roll up my sleeves and dig in. Unfortunately, most of the editing advice I had seen in blogs and writers' sites was only helpful in a vague sense. I knew I had to tighten my writing, but not how. I knew I had to exterminate my adverbs, but I wasn't sure why. Most of all, I saw that I had to "kill my darlings", but didn't know how to make it a mercy killing that would actually make the end result better without them.
Enter a book that has landed itself a spot in my top five writing guides and memoirs: Self Editing For Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King. You can read more about the book itself - and find yourself a copy, if you're so inclined - here on their website. I'm not here to review, but here to tell you how I combined their wisdom with a "rainbow editing" tip I saw on a writer's blog several months ago.
Each chapter in Self-Editing focused on a particular skill-set: character voice, dialogue, grammar, style, and so on. Since I mostly do my editing during my lunch breaks at work, I refrained from taking notes, as I was hoping to come up with something portable that would take up a minimum of space. Instead, I flagged each point that I found could pertain to my projected editing process. Once I finished, I assigned a color to each skill-set and consolidated the chapters into checklists: simple descriptions of things I could scan for and mark to correct when it was time to edit my digital copy. Then I bought a set of my favorite writing pens in rainbow colors, and got to work.
I hit the halfway point in my hard-copy edit yesterday, and I'm happy to report that the method is working extremely well, so far! In addition to helping me catch everything, I can use it as a sort of score-card for my writing style: more of one color than another means that it's an area I need to focus on improving when I start work on In The Cards again, this coming April!
Since this method works so well for me, I feel like I should share it with any other writers out there - so expect one color checklist each week while I finish up my editing!
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