My Precious Words: Ruthless EditingJun 27th, 2012 | By maria | Category: Articles
Where do I start with this, in fact where do you start? We all become very attached to our writing and this is especially so if we’ve been writing our book for a few years. Such a lot of work has gone into it that it becomes precious, often too precious. We don’t want touch it and we get snotty and justify ourselves if anyone points out any inaccuracies or faults. So first tip is to grow a thick skin and learn to take criticism. Deep down you know when something isn’t right.
The general advice that you put your ms away for a while, perhaps a month, before editing is a sound one. It helps you to step away from the writing, to be more detached and when you do look at it, it’s with a fresh eye. If you hate doing this as it means more editing, then it obviously does need more editing. If you want your book to be successful, you have no choice. Please also know when to stop editing. If you are becoming finicky and petty over tiny things then you’ve probably edited enough. You’ll hardly ever be 100% satisfied with your writing. Because of this, some people never let their novel go out to agents or publishers and 20 years later it’s lying in a drawer. Yes it might be rejected, but at least it has a chance, better than it lying in a drawer doing nothing. As the saying goes, “you have to be in it, to win it!” And if it is published then you will certainly become insecure when your book comes out and think “maybe I should have changed this or that”. It happens to all of us so take heart and don’t worry.
Some things to consider:
- Is the plot too complicated? If you think it is then you’re probably right. Trust your instincts.
- Does your writing flow when you read it aloud? If parts are awkward then rewrite to improve the flow.
- Does every bit of dialogue further the story or characterise?
- Have you varied your dialogue in the way you set it out? (more about dialogue next week)
- Have you used too many tags, he whispered, he moaned, she whimpered, she growled, when a simple “said” will do.
- How about overused adverbs… he said sarcastically, she yelled loudly, she said angrily… it’s best to show the sarcastic tone in the speech itself, if it isn’t obvious then you need to rewrite it, or with “said angrily” show (the anger) in actions.
- Have you waffled anywhere, shown scenes that don’t further the action, tell the story, or characterise? Perhaps you put them in as your book needed to be longer, or you wanted to tell the life story of your character. If it’s not relevant strike it out. It will slow down the pace and even cause your book to be boring and your young reader might give up reading it. You can always save a new draft if you’re not sure that you’re doing the right thing.
- Did you start your story in the right place? Beginning a story too late is a common mistake. Get straight into some action and hook your reader. Rearrange the text if necessary. Think carefully if some of the information you provided to set the scenes, set up the plot and characterise, is actually needed at all.
- Show don’t tell. Have you told the action rather than shown it in actions? Tip: In the “find” bar look for the words felt, feeling, or feel, to see how many times you have used them. If it’s in the 100s, then you are telling not showing emotions.
- Do you have any unnecessary characters? Characters that appear once but are named? Cut them out. If a character is named, he/she or it should feature in at least one big scene that furthers the action or adds a subplot. If they do not appear throughout the book, they should at least appear in the next book in the series.
- Have you checked for continuity? Ensure that all your characters look the same throughout the book and act in character. You can get sloppy with this in your hurry to finish the book.
- Be sure you tied up all loose ends and you resolved all conflicts and mysteries at the end of your book. If you have ended with “it was all a dream” then rewrite as this cheats the reader. It’s also lazy because you haven’t planned ahead and do not have a satisfactory ending.
- On point of view, have you used more than on viewpoint in a chapter without a definite break the reader can see, or worse still changed viewpoint or written from multiple viewpoints in the same paragraph. Choose the viewpoints you are going to write from and stick with them. If you are writing in the first person, then you can’t know what others are thinking, we have to see everything through the main character’s eyes.
- Check for holes in the plot if you have edited ruthlessly, some things may no longer fit.
- Lastly do a proof read (read aloud), check for words that come up as correct in a spell check but are wrong: were, ware, wear, where, or are and our. Check your grammar too.