Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Discover Your Inner Self-Editor

I'm back.  Hope you didn't miss my post too much last week while I was kicking back on vacation and keeping my distance from computers of all stripes -- well, actually maybe I hope you DID miss my posts a whole lot - that'd probably be better. 

So this week I bring you a general post-book-completion, general editing cheerleading rant.

If you've just finished your novel you're no doubt sitting back and congratulating yourself.  Well I'll add mine - congratulations you've just accomplished what most don't.  You've actually finished it. Way to go - pat on the back - cheers from the bleechers.

Okay, now that we've done that it's time for editing.  What, you say, editing?  But I just know the story is great, my work is perfect, wonderful, ready to go. 

Ummm, no.

Here's the thing, Editors are great; amazing editors are, well, amazing, but you still need to have your work in the best condition it can be and that means YOU have to do some serious editing up front even before it perhaps goes elsewhere for that final polish or you submit to a publisher and their editor has a go at it. And just wait until you go through that wringer!  It is usually a good experience, but a tough one.

So, for starters, to get your work ready to debut here are a few tips for looking at your novel after the fact of typing "The End".

For starters, put your work aside for a few days, maybe a week or two before you begin your rereading and editing.  I know, I know, you're no doubt eager to get at it and have done with that part of the writing process already, but believe me, waiting a bit will give you a whole new perspective and make it much easier for you to pick out the problem areas (and don't tell me you don't have any) and come up with some really cool new ideas.

Now that you're ready ask yourself if you've given your main character more than one problem. If you create the main plot problem and also give your character some sort of personal problem the personal problem can add a lot of juice as to how your 'hero/heroine' deals with the complexities of the plot problem.  You can even have the two intertwine and diverge as needed to create even more complications. If you've accomplished this on your fist go-round, way to go! If you haven't, no problem, now is the time to do it.

Over the time you waited to begin revisions and during the revision process I've no doubt your brain has been/will be doing overtime and you'll be thinking about and working on your story at the strangest times, so it's a good idea to keep something handy as a way to take notes - your phone if you can talk to it, some electronic device that can take notes, or just a good old pen and paper. Make sure you can get those ideas down or you'll lose them. And I mean keep track of every idea you get - you can decide if it's worth or not later when you sit back down to the actual editing.

When you're reading through your story are you finding your characters have taken actions that are baseless? They can't do things just because you want your characters to do them then you know.  They have to have a reason to act the way they do, some motivation that spurs them into action.  Consider the human condition and what pushes us all: passion, past wounds to the psyche, greed, duty, love, get it.  Make sure your characters are doing what they do because they have reason to.

Is your story maybe a bit light in the character deparment?  Did you think the hero was really enough along with the villain?  If so you might want to add a character to the mix.  If  you do add one, make sure that new character is important to the plot.
He might be for the heroine or for the bad guys, but whatever you do, make sure the new character in involved and not just skirting the edges.  Create some backstory to include him or her in.

If you find your story feeling a bit stale as you read through it even though you love many of the elements you might consider changing the setting.  This could be a major rewrite considering what you did originally to set things up, but it might be worth it if you can come up with some fresh, imaginative new place to put your story. 

If you don't want to shift the whole setting, try changing the locals of some of the scenes within your story. You know, the old making love on the beach instead of a bedroom - but better than that.  Maybe do it with a sense of humor in the midst of drama like a beach love scene with sand getting everywhere, a kid showing up with his dog, crabs coming in with the tide to nibble toes, incredible sunburn - whatever.

Use your imagination - take the overly familiar, like bedroom, kitchen, car or  quickie mart and do something with it to make it different - or just move it altogether.  This is a trick that can be used frequently or just occasionally - either way it'll pick things up and you'll pat yourself on the back - again.

So, in general the questions you need to ask yourself are pretty straight forward. Are things in your story forced because you make things happen that aren't natural to the characters? Is there any point along the way where your reader may decide to just put the book down? Are your characters doing things, interacting, or are they talking heads?

Oh, and don't forget to edit your spelling (more than just using your spell check), grammar and watch those repetative words along the way!


  1. Ooo, good advice! And it's amazing what does slip through the spell check: Justin/ Justine, they're/their/there, its/it's... The list is endless!

    I would add: beware the temporary "bad version" fix that somehow floated through until the end! Or maybe that's only a problem with Hollywood movies ;)

  2. Thanks FrogBag! And nope, the 'bad version' isn't just a problem with the H'wood movies! So much to think about, so much to watch as you polish your work. Yet it can be great fun.


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