EDITING BIT BY BIT – TUESDAY WRITING TIP

As Susanne Gervay remarked in a comment on last week’s post on this topic http://wp.me/ppiTq-Fl ,

“Editing needs NOT to be rushed.”

And it’s totally true. How many of us rush through the rewrites to get our manuscript off in the next mail or submitted to that great competition happening in two day’s time? Or perhaps, just because we’re sick of the fact that we haven’t sent anything ‘out’ in ages? How many of these manuscripts actually end up being published in this form? Not many I’d say.

Editing a draft manuscript is like sipping a nice glass of wine or savouring chocolate; it needs to be tasted and revered, to be given the time to express its true flavours.

When I take editing slowly, look at chapter by chapter, page by page, paragraph by paragraph, line by line and even word by word, I discover that so much can be improved about a draft that I may have thought was ‘finished’.

KNOW YOUR ENEMY

Know your weaknesses as a writer and you’ll be able to make your manuscript a lot tighter.

These are the things I specifically look for when I’m editing because they seem to be things I keep doing in my writing. So until I break the habits, I need to watch out for them:

1.            I say something is happening and then I show it. You  just need to show what’s happening and character’s reactions; don’t need to say that it happened as well. Here’s what I mean:

It annoyed Amanda when her mother nagged her. “Can’t you just trust me for once,” Amanda folded her arms in front of her and glared at Mum.

Don’t need “It annoyed Amanda when her mother nagged her.” The reader can tell from what Amanda says and doses that this is so.

2.            Find a ‘favourite’ word and overuse it. A simple word search will reveal this.

3.             Write a paragraph back to front so that the consequences come before the actions.

4.            Use a lot of character names or places beginning with the same letter.

5.            ‘That word will do’ is another of my writing enemies. A word, ‘won’t do’.

You have to find the word that works best – the one that has the strongest and most relevant meaning.

6.            Boring sentence structure – if it bores you, it will bore the reader. You need to vary it and make it flow. Look at joining some of the shorter sentences. Short sentences are great in a suspenseful situation to convey tension.

In the lead up to conflict you can look at varying the length and structure – perhaps using metaphors and other devices to give the reader a feel for your setting and insights into characters.

KNOW YOUR FRIENDS

1.            Your objective self – try and step back from the manuscript and read it as if someone else has written it.

2.            Your voice. Reading your manuscript out aloud will reveal if a word has been repeated. You can than do a search for this word to make sure you haven’t overused it.

3.            Reading your manuscript in small pieces will help you pick up bad paragraphs. For example, edit two or three pages then take a short break so that when you go back the manuscript is fresh.

If you edit for hours at a time without a break, it can be easy to miss the ‘small’ things in your manuscript.

4.            Make up a style sheet. This is simply a piece of paper laid out like a table with a letter of the alphabet in each box. List all your place and people names next to the letter of the alphabet they start with. This will show you if you have overused a letter and which ones you’ve hardly used at all.  You can also do one of these for your characters and this will help you pick up if they have changed eye or hair colour mid manuscript.

5.            A good reader, crit buddy or group can prove to be your best friend/s. They will pick up things you haven’t even thought of. I find that with writing YA, it’s particularly useful to have a teen reader because they will pick up where they voice and behaviour of a YA character is not authentic.

6.            A style sheet for abbreviations, anagrams etc so that you can be consistent every time.

7.            A Thesaurus is one of my best friends and helps me get rid of mundane or repetitive words in my manuscript.

If you have some other editing devices for picking up the little things in your novel, we’d love to hear about them.

Last week we looked at editing methods and this week we’ve looked at some of the nitty gritty to do with editing.

Next week we’re going to look at delving deeper into your story and editing its shape to make it stronger.

Happy writing and editing:)

Dee

* * Special thanks to Karen Tayleur for introducing me to and providing me with sample style sheets.

THERE’S MORE THAN ONE WAY TO EDIT – TUESDAY WRITING TIP

I might have mentioned before that Letters to Leonardo took about thirty drafts before I felt I had it right. Although as someone pointed out to me recently, there is no ‘right’ in writing. It’s just a case of getting your work to a stage where it conveys what you want it to in the best way possible.

I know I’ve talked about editing before but in the last few weeks I have discovered I’d been going about it the wrong way.

I have realised that editing involves getting inside your novel just as much as writing it and it’s probably even harder because instead of carrying all these wonderful ideas around in your head, you have committed them to print or computer. How do you step back and distance yourself from your own work?

Recently I discovered that the way I was editing wasn’t working for me and that I was missing a lot of the subtle things in the rewrites – not the grammar, the spelling or the character names and details. I was missing some of the nitty gritty, like the places where my character’s voice lapsed or became too old for him/her – where the language being used was out dated or just not believable for that character.

I wasn’t picking up the bits where my sub plots had faded into almost oblivion. I was surprised at things I was picking up in other people’s writing but not my own.

What I realised is that for me, editing on screen doesn’t work. It’s helpful for picking up typos and spelling, but it doesn’t allow me to immerse myself in my story again. It doesn’t allow me to truly enter the world of my story .

HERE’S HOW SOME AUTHORS EDIT

  • Directly onto their computer (doesn’t work for me)
  • By printing out their manuscript and reading it as if it were a book written by someone else. (This is my method)
  • By handwriting their manuscript out again. (I’d get one book written every 100 years if I tried this)
  • By typing their manuscript out again from memory (My memory isn’t good enough although I sometimes do this with a scene if I think it needs more depth. This helps me to think logically about what’s happening in the scene as if it were a real event. From that I can sometimes work out what’s going to happen next.)

HERE’S HOW I EDIT

  1. Print the entire manuscript out.
  2. Read it through as if it were written by someone else (with a pen handy so that I can mark bits – lots of them).
  3. In my first edit I look for plot and character inconsistencies – logic problems
  4. In my next edit I look for typos and places where the language could work harder.
  5. Next I take a break, set the manuscript aside and spend a bit more time with my characters in my head.
  6. In my next draft I look at voice. Does my character do the things and sound the way I want them to? Is their voice authentic? Are they someone the reader will relate to or even like?
  7. EXTRA TIP ON VOICE – if you’re having trouble with voice, find a book that you think has a strong, authentic voice and see if you can work out how the author achieved it. I’m not saying copy that voice (you won’t be able to anyway because character and author voice are linked) but think about why it resonates and stays with you. I discovered this recently when I picked up Girl Saves Boy by teen author, Steph Bowe and suddenly I knew exactly how my MC should sound. Renaming my character can also completely change their voice and behaviour. My MC (main character) in my current Work In Progress was called Tara. Just by turning her into Sarah, she has become a softer, more likeable person.
  8. Are the story events in the right sequence? Are there turning points that advance the plot and the main character?
  9. Next I look at line by line, scene by scene and chapter by chapter. If I can’t summarise a chapter in a paragraph then there’s probably too much waffle in it. (More about this in next week’s blog post).10. Do I still like my story? If I do, then I send it to writer friends to be critiqued, or give it to my kids if the age group is relevant. They are very honest and helpful.
  10. Next I take a deep breath and examine all feedback constructively.
  11. I put the manuscript aside again for a month or so and go through the entire process again.

So I guess what I’m really saying here is that even when you think your manuscript is ready to send out, chances are that it’s not. Submitting is a great thing to do, but don’t be impatient and send your work out as soon as the first draft is done. You might only get one chance to impress a publisher or agent.

I’d love to hear how you edit. Feel free to share your experiences and tips in the comments section of this post.

Next week’s post – Editing Bit by Bit. We’ll be looking at getting to the heart of your book and editing line by line, scene by scene and chapter by chapter.

Happy writing:)

Dee

What Will I Write About? – Tuesday Writing Tip

Today’s post is for young writers who follow my blog but the principles apply to anyone who wants to create inspiring and unique stories.

Ever find yourself staring at a blank screen or piece of paper and wondering where to start? I do and I’m an author.

Here are where some of my best story ideas come from:

  • Things that have really happened to me or to people I know;
  • Memories of people, events or places;
  • People I see on trains and buses;
  • Conversations I overhear;
  • Newspaper articles;
  • Other books;
  • A picture in a magazine;
  • A place I have been to;
  • A smell, sound or feeling;
  • A problem or dilemma being faced by someone I know;
  • Playing with two words that don’t quite go together eg Flower attack;
  • Using the last line of a story I have written as the first line in a new piece of writing;
  • Thinking of a secret that someone might want to keep and what would happen if it was discovered
  • Imagining getting a letter or email from someone I have never met

If I’m still stuck, I think of a character/name and match them with an action to try and get me started.

For example:

  • Ashley fell
  • Ashley twisted
  • Ashley tumbled…
  • Ashley rocketed…
  • Ashley flew…
  • Ashley flopped…
  • Ashley leapt…
  • Ashley shook…
  • Ashley dropped…
  • Ashley shivered…
  • Ashley trembled…
  • Ashley bobbed…
  • Ashley soared…
  • Ashley is…

Then I ask myself why this action happened to Ashley, where this action happened, when and how?

THINGS TO INCLUDE IN YOUR STORY

Every story needs a catalyst – an action that starts the story on its course. At the start of your story, something will happen that changes things for the main character.

Every story needs a problem for your character. There is something they want and someone or something is stopping them from getting it. That’s what your story is about.

As a writer, you need to decide how your main character is going to solve their problem – and that’s where you will finish your story.

EDITING

After I’ve finished writing my story, I edit it to make sure it is the best it can be. I ask myself these questions:

  • Have I hooked the reader in from the start?
  • Does the beginning of my story give the reader some idea of what it’s about?
  • Does my story say what I wanted it to?
  • Will the meaning be clear to others?
  • Is there enough happening in my story to keep the reader interested?
  • Will readers like my main character and care what happens to them?
  • Are my characters believable?
  • Have I used similes and metaphors and interesting language?
  • Have I used the strongest, most effective words possible?
  • Is my ending strong enough to satisfy the reader?
  • Have I checked to make sure that all my spelling and grammar is correct?

Give your creativity free reign and see how a small idea can become a really big story.

If you have any other tips about where story ideas can come from, I’d love to hear them. Feel free to leave them in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing:)

Dee

TUESDAY WRITING TIPS – PREPARING FOR THE NEXT DRAFT

Writers and creators work in different ways. Some progress slowly, deliberating over every word until it’s perfect – these are usually the ones who don’t need to do many drafts of their novel.

Others like me, race ahead at a million miles, writing down everything that’s in their head before they forget it, then do many drafts to polish and add layers.

I’ve just finished the next draft of a YA novel I’ve been working on for a long time. I started it in my early days as writer before I really knew much about plotting or story flow. So a lot has changed from the early drafts and I’ve done quite a major structural edit.

I think this has made my story stronger, but it hasn’t been without its problems. Moving chunks of your story around can cause your narrative to become disjointed and inconsistent so that’s something you have to look out for in your next draft. In my story for example, my main character’s brother stole their mum’s car and for the sake of the story structure I had to move this event to the middle of the novel. When I read my draft, I discovered that my main character was now talking in Chapter Four about her brother stealing the car when it hadn’t actually happened yet.

I marked this on the manuscript but I also added it to my ‘Notes for editing the next draft’.

I keep this running list as I’m working on a draft and I find it’s a really helpful tool. It has all sorts of notes about character, setting, themes, plot consistencies etc. It probably won’t make much sense to you, but fortunately it does to me. It’s just a great way of keeping track of all the detail that becomes a mish mash in my head if I don’t write it down – all the things I need to look out for or add to my next draft. Here’s the list for the next draft of my current novel – some are things to add, some are changes, some are reminders of things to keep in the foreground:

  • school musical
  • sort bits with counsellor (that’s one of the problems arising from restructuring the story)
  • make sure plot flows
  • eliminate too many references to Cleo
  • Maintain retro clothes theme
  • sewing costumes
  • What happened to Mum’s car? (That was the stolen one)
  • More showing less telling (that’s on my permanent list)
  • More setting and character detail (I tend to just get the story action down first)
  • Different teen settings  – teens don’t always sit around on lounge suites all day
  • Other settings – party, school, train, sports training, sleepover, nightclub, cafe, milk bar, railway station
  • Exercise routine
  • Teen Girl (that’s a magazine)
  • White ceiling, cream curtains and pastel walls (mc is redecorating her bedroom)

These aren’t all the notes, they’re just a sample to show you what I mean. The other thing I have done with this manuscript is a chapter by chapter summary to help me ensure that everything is happening in the right order. Some agents actually ask for a chapter summary as part of your submission.

This is what one of my chapter summaries looks like, but you can use whatever format works for you:

CHAPTER THREE:

ACTION: Tara has to deal with consequences of kids at school finding out about Ed.

SETTING: School yard at lunch time

TIME: Friday

Now that I have my editing notes and chapter summaries I feel ready to tackle the next draft, knowing that I have suggestions and solutions for structural and detail improvements to give my story more continuity and depth.

I’d love to know how you prepare for your next draft. Feel free to share your tips in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing:-)

Dee

HOW TO THROW OUT YOUR 65,000 WORD STORY – And Use The BEST BITS To Build a Better One

I’m currently working on my next YA novel, Street Racer.

This novel was one of those ones that just came to me. The main character sat on my shoulder and told me his story – and I knew who he was and what he wanted from life.

The problem was, he told me his story in verse.

This wasn’t actually a problem for me, but it was for my publisher. Apparently, verse novels don’t sell.

More important than the publisher’s comment was the feedback from my teenage son. My eldest reads just about anything, but he told me he wouldn’t read a verse novel and neither would any of the boys he knew.

Street Racer was a book that I WANTED teenage boys especially to read. This story was really important to me so I had to try and rework it in prose.

I’m now on the fifth draft and it’s better – but still not working. In the transition from verse to prose I’ve had to add a lot more detail and here’s what’s happened:

  1. I’ve ended up with character ‘devices’ that don’t ring true.
  2. I’ve ended up with too much plot detail that takes the focus away from my main character.
  3. The setting needs to be more clearly established.
  4. Some of the character reactions aren’t authentic.

All these things were pointed out to me by my editor on the weekend – and she is absolutely right about every single one of them.

I read my latest draft over and over, and had it workshopped by a number of writer friends, but none of us picked these things up. Of course we’re not trained editors, but it made me wonder why.

Another author friend, Sandy Fussell and I were talking about this and I think she’s right. She says that workshoppers and the author can get distracted by beautiful writing…and I think it’s true.

If something sounds good when you read it, it can be hard to recognise the fact that it’s not actually relevant to the story or doesn’t move it along…and shouldn’t be there.

After thinking about what my editor had said and my discussions with Sandy, I realised exactly what the problem was with my story. In the transition from verse to prose, I LOST my character’s voice – and to some extent, my character.

So hard as it is,  this means discarding my 65,000 word current draft and starting again. There are lots of parts I can use. I think the plot is sound and I think that most of the other characters in the story are working well. There are some action scenes that I like that will hopefully just need a ‘tweek’ and I don’t think the dialogue needs a whole lot of work. So these are the good bits that I can use in the next draft.

But for the rest of it, I’m going right back to basics. I’ve started by doing another interview with my main character and trying to find his voice again.

I’ve asked him all sorts of questions about

  • where he lives
  • what his relationships with his family and friends are
  • what makes him happy or sad
  • how he spends a typical day
  • how he sees himself
  • how others see him
  • the best thing that could happen to him would be
  • the worst thing that could happen to him would be
  • his biggest problem
  • how he’s going to solve it
  • things/people/situations that are stopping him from getting what he wants

Fortunately, despite the fact that he’s a teenage boy, he has had plenty to say. He has let me inside his head again… and although he’s not quite sitting on my shoulder yet, he’s getting closer.

I’ve also realised there are too many issues in the current draft so I’m taking out one of the main characters to simplify the plot and strengthen the themes that will stay in the manuscript.

And I’m starting my next draft of Street Racer from a different point – from somewhere further into the action.

Have to go now. Ric is calling me. He’s impatient for me to tell his story – and get it right this time.

Happy writing

Dee:-)

COMPILING A BOOK OF COMMUNITY WRITINGS

Our writer’s group has embarked on an exciting new project. We’ve received funding from our local shire to put together a book of community writings on the theme of ‘Moving On’.

So far, we’ve had heaps of fabulous short stories and poems submitted on a fantastic range of topics including growing old, surviving a bush fire, marriage breakdowns, cancer, travelling on trains, surviving accidents, living with autism, mental illness, physical illness, loss of a family member, abuse and even the supernatural.

It’s so exciting to be working with talented writers who have never published before, and members of our local community who simply have a great story to tell.

Next job – to select what goes in our book. We’re trying to include as many works as possible. That’s going to be a tough one.

Will keep you posted on where to from here.

Dee:-)