Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Trick or Treat's of Editing

Recently, I wrote an article for YA NA Sisterhood blog. If you haven't checked out this site, you should. There is so much rich information by many talented writers. I am blessed to be able to contribute my little bit of writing knowledge. I thought it was fitting with Halloween almost upon us to share a fraction of my editing process:

Ticks or Treat's of Editing –You’ve finished the first draft. Unbounding joy washes over you. You did it. You wrote a novel from start to finish. The words THE END shimmer like fairy dust on the page. You lean back, knit your hands behind your head and sigh. Nothing, I’ll repeat, nothing beats finishing a story. Many start, but few finish.
BUT, we all know it really isn’t the end. An arduous task is about to commence. One which will test the very sanity of your existence… EDITING (Cue the creepy music.)
We all have our way of fighting this beast, and I thought I’d share my own.
First up – I send it to my critique partners and beta readers. I have an arsenal of writer friends and readers who each play an integral part in my book’s creation. I won’t necessarily be speaking on this, I’ll just say outside eyes help. I do send along questions with my book for them to answer. Of course, each book poses its own list of questions. This, in and of its self, can fill this whole post. I’ll leave this for another time.
Once I send it out, I wait a week, letting the novel sit silently on its shelf. I free my brain from it as much as I can, sometimes this is extremely hard to do, but I at least try.
Then after my week, I plunge in. I do a couple of things while it is in their hands, I outline each chapter into sections inside the WORD document, and I actually write it on index cards as well (yeah, let’s not talk about my OCD). The index cards allows me to visually see the story from start to finish. I, of course, color code the cards to keep track of characters arcs and a whole host of other ideas. The older I’ve become, the less I can remember which section is which, so seeing this helps. Age fogs my memory as of late, plus sometimes my ideas float around like a host of butterflies, and I want to get to each one.
Next, I read through it and begin to make my own notes – this character needs more of a voice, this word doesn’t fit, ugh, I left a huge plot hole etc. etc. At this point, I don’t really change anything, I’m just reading and making notes. The combination of outline/cards/read-through lets me see the forest and not just focus on the trees.
By this time, most of my CP’s and Beta’s have returned my story, God Bless them, every one of them!! I then take their notes and add it to my original. It gives a good overlay of holes and over all issues. This is such an eye opener. Some see issues with pacing, others want more depth of a character, and each gives their area of valuable expertise.
This is the time I’ll do some re-writes. I can go through this process several more go-a-rounds until I’m happy with the final story flow.
After all of this, we get to nitty-gritty edits - *mops forehead with back of hand.
Now it is time for the fine sieve. The list below isn’t my end all list, but it is a good place to start.
  • Show, don’t tell – some key words that scream tell – causes me, makes me, forces me, saw, felt, heard, be, am, is, are, was were, been. Any of those words, within reason of course, need to be extinguished. Use the active voice. Sometimes we need to leave some in for weight!
  • Repeating words – I keep a list of my repeating words, and darn it, if that list doesn’t change with each book. In my first novel, I loved the word crisp. Why? I have no idea.
  • Needless words –Remove – that, had, just, now, suddenly. If you can say the sentence without it, cut.
  • Redundant wordsOwn, down, up, etc. etc.  Example – Bobby Sue looked up at the bird zooming through the cloudless sky. We can assume Bobby Sue is on earth and the sky is up, so we’d eliminate up.
  • Adverbs – use sparingly. I was given the advice to only use one or two per three pages. Adverbs usually end in ly so they are easy to spot. They eye grows tired if it sees to many of these. 
  • Stage Directions – Readers are smart, they don’t need exact step by step directions.  Bad Example– Sally strode into the room, plopped on the couch, picked up the remote, and pressed the buttons. Good Example – Sally plopped on the couch and pressed the buttons to the remote.
  • Dialogue tags – Stick with – say/said, ask/ed. (Sometimes – whispers, muttered, mumble; if the character is shouting, or yelling then use an exclamation.) Say/ask are invisible words. The reader sees the word, but their mind erases the word, making for an easy read. When we throw other words in the mix it can cause our eyes to stumble, and remove us from the 
  • Action tags/grounding tags - I love these. What do they do? They ground the character in the environment. It allows the reader to have a good visual of what the character is doing and where. In other words, we don't have some formless talking head floating about. Ex. "I got it. Mom!" I race down the hallway and fling open the front door.
  • Facial Expressions - Don't abuse. A huge help to me was The Emotional Thesaurus. Great for when you get stuck. We can get caught up in the eye business. I sometimes go back and read my first writings, it was all about the eyes and it became a wee bit boring.
  • Careful with your POV's/Character's voice - This is expecially important if we have multiple POV's. Sometime we can forget and head-bop into another's POV without realizing. To fix this my lovely editor suggested to read through only a character's POV at a time. It really helped me to keep my head in the right place. This also has an added benefit of allowing each character to have a distinct voice. (I keep a detailed interview/file on each character. I'm going to write about this in future posts.) Each charcter will see/experience their world differently.
  • Read the dialogue out loud. We want our characters to sound real, not staged, not forced. These after all, are real people living in our brains. UGH, now I sound crazy.
  • Finally, sentence flow. Much like a painter we create a work of art but with words. Each sentence needs to flow to the next. This has more to do with your own creative eye than anything else. For me, I turn on Word's speak to text. (How to turn on text to speak.) and give it a read through. Hearing helps!
When I first started writing, I loved drafting. Getting the story on paper was my big thing, but the more and more I wrote, the more I tambed the editing-beast. Now she sits on my windowsill, grinning at me. Her furry hair combed. I siwh I could remember which writer said, "Ever read a book and wish you could go a little deeper, or wish the character would have said it this way, well, that is what editing is for us authors. We have the great privilege  of fixing a whole world to make it the best it can be."

When you put it like that, it adds such excitement to the story. We, after all, are creating our own masterpiece.

Now go and create your own work of art!