Thursday, February 5, 2015

Editing - 6 Tips to Keep You Sane

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Editing . . . the dreaded nemesis for most writers. The only thing worse than a blank page is a redlined page in need of attention. It's so satisfying to finally write THE END, but it's such a tricky little mind game. The End really means HAHA, YOU'RE REALLY JUST AT A NEW BEGINNING. This may sound like tough love, but you'll thank me later because your expectations will be closer to reality. 

Everyone has blind-spots in their writing. Everyone has pet words. And we all have rules we love to break. Subsequent drafts after the first one are the place to flesh all these out.  Here are some tips to help with big-picture edits:

Plot Holes - You MUST search and destroy plot holes. Even if it means you have to do a lot of rewriting. I know it's daunting since you're DONE already. But that's why if you are thinking of THE END as another BEGINNING, it won't hurt as much. I've found that it helps to either print out your book or read it on an e-reader. It switches your brain from writing/editing mode to reader mode. This is crucial in finding plot holes. I keep a running list on my phone of questions that pop into my mind as I'm reading but I don't address them until after I've finished the whole thing. 

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Senses -   It's very easy to stick with one or two senses while you're writing. Which ones have you omitted in your manuscript? I'm very visual so most of my first time descriptions are what the character sees. I have to add in what they smelled or how something sounded or tasted etc. in later drafts. It can help to highlight descriptions if your printed manuscript. Then you can easily skim through them see identify what's lacking. As part of the Delicious Reads Book Club I'm in, we create an entire dinner menu from our selected book. It was eye opening to me to think about what would be created from my book. Make sure you're using all of the senses in the descriptions.
Setting - Beefing up your setting will give you the most bang for your buck. If you don't have enough setting, it may not necessarily break your story, but it will leave it feeling flat. BUT if you have rich descriptions of the surroundings, everything will come to life. Think of setting as the salt to your entree. Another thing to think about is the view you're presenting. As the author, you shine flashlight on what you want your readers to see. Make sure that you describe things that are close to the characters and things that are further away so that the reader has layers to what they imagine. 

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Character Depth - This one is crucial and tricky. You have to give your characters enough depth to enrich the story, but not too much that it weakens your plot. For example, in my book REMality, there are four POV characters: Ryker, Lauren, Maya and Carter. In my mind I tried to write the characters this way:

Each of them have their own life, their own motivations, their own goals and fears, as represented by their own circle. Where their lives intersect is my story. So I tried to keep my story in the gray center section and have just enough bleed through into their personal lives to give them depth and make them feel read. I tried to portray the four POV's together in a layered, linear way for my manuscript. That's just how it worked in my head. Hopefully it transfers to the pages. 

Everything in your story happens to for a reason. In screenwriting, there are only so many pages to fit the story, so every single word has value. Think about all of the production expense to create a movie. They can't afford to have anything erroneous. Make sure every word is worth the "money" that will be spent for production. Each sentence should move the plot forward. If you can combine things and still have the same effect, do it. If it's not moving the plot forward . . . kill those darlings.

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Dialogue - Make sure your dialogue is snappy. You want it to flow so well that the reader forgets they are reading and it turns into a scene in their head. I've found reading all my dialogue out loud helps a ton. You'll catch things that you don't when you read it in you head. Maybe you have too many he said/she said tags that should be obvious to the reader, or maybe you say your character's names in dialogue too often. In most face to face conversations you don't address the person by name very often. Maybe you have pet words or phrases that you need to catch. Contractions are great in conversation because we tend to be lazy speakers. Your writing can sound stiff if you aren't utilizing contractions. Beta Readers are a great way to catch your a lot of these aspects as well. 

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Action Vs. Thinking - Make sure your plot isn't saddled with too much internal dialogue. Something needs to be happening while your character is thinking. The reader should largely be kept in the present. That's why it's so important to divvy up the backstory in little increments. Readers often skip forward to dialogue, so make sure there you're giving them enough to keep them interested. 

Editing is not easy. It can be daunting and frustrating. But the only way to an amazing manuscript is through intense editing. So dig in and just know there is still an end in sight. 

There's a great list of things to keep an eye on as you're editing from this post on The Editor's Blog:

For setting and background—
Sight, scent, sound, taste, touch
Color—visual color as well as emotional color
Setting description
Background characters going about their normal business
Background events that don’t direct story events but add to atmosphere
For characters—
Character thoughts
Character emotions
Character reactions
Character interaction with setting and with the props of a setting
Character habits and quirks
Character motivation
Character goals
For plot—
Highs and lows
A climax
A resolution
Fast-paced scenes
Slow-paced scenes
Moments for readers to catch their breaths
Hooks at the ends and beginnings of chapters
Events worth following
Cause and effect
For mechanics/technical issues—
Variety in sentence construction
Variety in word choice
Word choices that fit characters
Variety in punctuation
Variety in scene and chapter length

At a writing conference recently one of the authors shared that he firmly believes the real magic in his books are created in the 5-7th rewrites. This was disheartening and motivating at the same time. Your sweet spot may come sooner or later, but keep at it until you feel totally confident. Writing is not for the faint of heart, but you already knew that.

Don't worry. You've got this.

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(Post contributed by Brooke)

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