Edit Out Loud

When I began my novel, I didn’t have a clue as to the depth and breadth of this thing called EDITING. I wasn’t one of those who resented other people editing “my baby,” because I’d re-written it too many times to be that sentimental about it. I was just grateful that my editor was kind, even when suggesting changes.

My publisher suggests to everyone that they read aloud their work as part of the editing process. I thought it was a good idea, but couldn’t imagine reading my whole book again – and aloud. I’m a fast reader – reading aloud slows me down!

But after it was pointed out that I had way too many repeated words (smiled, grinned, laughed, etc.), I decided to give it a try.

It took about 3 days, in hitches, to read it aloud, and I couldn’t BELIEVE how much it helped. Here are some areas that made the most difference to me:

  1. Repeated words. When you read aloud, it shows you just how boring repeated words can be. You can imagine that I immediately looked up synonyms for “smile” and “laugh.”
  2. Unnecessary words. Along those same lines, when saying it aloud, you realize that you don’t need to describe when the conversation lets you know what the character is emoting.
  3. Out-of-place sections. Oh. My. Goodness. My last read-through showed me that the VERY FIRST PARAGRAPH, taking place in April, was repeated verbatim in a section taking place in JUNE. Oy. I had to change the entire first scene of the book on my last read-through. Neither I nor my editor caught that the first time. When I got to it in “June,” I thought – wait a minute, I’ve seen that before . . .
  4. Poor word choices. Sometimes we write things as dialogue that a human would never say. Sometimes we write things as description that will make a reader laugh when it is at a particularly poignant scene. For instance – Sarah’s shoulders slumped slightly. Alliteration is fun, but not when the character is sad! When I read that one aloud, I literally laughed out loud.

Westerfield.commaThere are many other advantages to reading your manuscript aloud. It’s taught me that I not only need to do this at the end, but as I go. Punctuation, paragraph length, spelling – all those things can be caught on a read-aloud.

So my advice? Slow down and read aloud. You’ll be glad you did.

Solitude

Solitude …

With solitude, there’s silence and to me there’s not a more Heavenly sound. It’s the sound that gets my creative juices flowing. With solitude there are no distractions. No music. No TVs or alarm clocks or ringing phones. No child yelling “Mom!” No husband peeking in the door to see how I’m doing. All those little interruptions that pull me away from writing.

Cabin RetreatWith solitude, I can focus, and it’s that focus that recharges me when I’m worn out, when I’m struggling to get words on the paper.

Retreat Work TableSo once (sometimes twice) a year I take off, all by myself, for my timeshare in Wisconsin Dells. I spend four nights alone, and that allows me three complete days of uninterrupted writing time.

Ahhh, Heaven!

I get more writing done in those three days than I can in a month at home. (Albeit, I usually have plenty of chocolate on hand too, and we all know that helps the writing process!)

Writing RetreatBecause of a scheduling snafu (mine) back in February, my retreat was cut short, and I’m feeling it now. And with a college attendee and a graduate temporarily living at home, it’s rare that I’m even alone in the house, so I’m itching to get to that little cottage in the Dells.

You know what? I’m signing off right now so I can go schedule that much needed retreat!

Perfecting Your Scenes

Scenes are one of the basic building blocks of a novel. Each scene is a  micro-story with a beginning, middle, and end that has its own goals, story arc, and purpose. It  should advance the story and change the characters, propelling the reader toward the novel’s resolution and conclusion.

One way to clean up your novel is by taking it apart scene by scene. Analyze them by asking yourself the following questions. In the end you should have a deeper, more purposeful scene. Or perhaps you’ll decide it can be deleted–that can be painful, but eliminating unnecessary scenes does create a tighter story.

Questions:

  • Is this scene necessary for the story? Before you dive into perfecting the scene, perhaps this is the most important question to ask. Does the novel as a whole survive without that scene? If the action doesn’t move the story forward to its resolution, if the reader doesn’t learn something new and pertinent, consider eliminating the scene. I know, ouch. As writers, most of us have written that scene we absolutely love. The narrative flows, the dialogue is witty, and the descriptions draw us right into the setting, but … It’s not necessary. Some of my favorite scenes have ended up in the *deleted* file.
  • Have I grounded the setting? Does the reader know where and when this scene is taking place? The setting needs to be grounded in the first paragraph or your reader will be adrift.
  • Have I made use of SHIFTS, aka the six senses? (yes, six–I talked about them <here>). While it’s not necessary to employ all the senses in every scene, the more you use, the deeper you involve the reader. A good rule of thumb is to appeal to at least three senses per scene. A writer typically uses hearing and seeing; see how many additional sensory images you can add. Often it just takes a single word to deepen the story.
  • Have I stayed in one person’s POV? Sorry, no head-hopping allowed!
  • Is the POV character the one most impacted by the scene? If not, consider changing the POV. Then the reader will intimately feel the tension.
  • Does the POV character  have an established goal? What does your character want to accomplish or prevent happening? Do they have a strategy to achieve that goal? By establishing a specific goal, you’ve created a question in the reader’s mind of “Will So-and-so achieve their goal?” and they’ll keep reading to find the answer.
  • Does this scene have conflict? Is there something standing in the way of your POV character from reaching their scene goal? If not, add a few stumbling blocks.
  • Do my characters experience tension? Is there any inner turmoil going on, pulling your character in two or more directions?
  • Is there a climax? A high point where emotions are escalated?
  • Are my characters changed by what’s occurred in the scene?
  • Does the resolution hook the reader and make them want to turn the page? If you’ve ended with a *happily-ever-after* resolution, it’s easy for the reader to put the book down. Make certain you’ve planted some question in your reader’s mind that will force them to read on.

Admittedly, I’m guilty of not asking all these questions when I edit or critique, but I plan to keep these questions beside the computer from now on.

Making Your Setting Sparkle

Adding details to your setting is a great way to bring your story to life. Too much detail can slow a story down, but short, well-placed descriptions scattered throughout the story can make a manuscript sparkle.

One way to enhance your setting is through your character’s movements. Instead of describing the manicured lawn of the richest man in town, let your character feel the cool, soft grass beneath her bare feet. Or, maybe she touches the velvety smoothness of a rose in a magnificent floral display.

Another way to spruce up the setting is by using active verbs. Kara squinted as the blinding sun glistened off the water of Mr. Scribner’s mammoth sized pool. Or, Kara groaned, her gaze darting to Mrs. Scribner poised like a seargent at the edge of the patio, as the exquisite rose bud fell off beneath her touch. The latter sentence enhances the setting by showing Kara’s embarrassment and Mrs. Scribner’s arrogance.

Reflecting the tone of your scene will add a little punch to the setting. Let’s say your character has just inherited a run-down cabin from a long lost relative. Instead of describing the condition of the cabin, show your character’s feelings about the inheritance. Her thoughts could be “Thanks a lot, Uncle Ted. Why didn’t you leave me a bulldozer and a match instead?” Or, depending on your character’s mood, she might think, “I could rip off that caved-in porch and add on the cutest little sun room. I can fix this thing up and get it on the market in no time.” Your character’s response depends on the tone you wish to evoke.

When describing setting through the use of the five senses, show it through the character’s personal experience. For example, a farm girl may not notice the smell of the hog lot because she lives with it every day. However, her city girl cousin might say, “Phew, what stinks?” Or, maybe your character tries an exotic food but has no idea what the weird tasting stuff is. Her cocky companion could ridicule and embarrass her over the incident.

Memories can also be triggered by one of the senses. If your character is remembering an incident with her now deceased grandfather, you could set the scene by having her catch a whiff of Grandpa’s favorite after-shave while walking through a department store.

Use of sensory details can bring a story to life. While editing your WIP, take notice of places that may be lacking and try sprinkling a few tidbits here and there to spice up the setting. These are a few of my favorite ways. What are some of your’s?

White-Out Wednesday!

Editing.

The bane of a writer’s existence. The mere word makes you cringe, doesn’t it? Oh, the time it will take for you to make that masterpiece gleam … The thought of going back through your manuscript, polishing every chapter, paragraph, sentence, and word is enough to convince any writer that there must be an easier profession out there; perhaps we could become rocket scientists instead.

But, you needn’t cringe any longer. You needn’t fear staring down those redundant words or misspelled homonyms. Help is on the way. Yes, today is declared White-Out* Wednesday.

For one day, and one day only, all your literary faux pas will be erased. Heads will no longer hop, and body parts will stop floating! Timelines won’t wander and was-es will be exiled.

Are you excited yet?

There’s more! Your prose will sing beautiful melodies and your descriptions will paint glorious pictures. Characters will have the depth of the Grand Canyon and plots will be as predictable as Minnesota weather.

And let’s not forget, that opening line will be more memorable than anything by Dickens, and every chapter will end in a hook sharper than my kitty’s claws.

Just think, on this day, foot-in-mouth disease will be eradicated! Hurray! I am so susceptible to that disease!

Give me a Hallelujah!

<sigh>

Oh, the pleasures of having all our mistakes erased …

That got me thinking about life. How many things have I done that I’d like edited out of my life? How many mistakes or poor choices have I made? It’s easy to look at my personal biography and want to white it all out.

But I don’t have to. It’s already been done for me–for us. Jesus took all our mistakes to the grave with Him and, when He rose again, He left every sin behind, thus brushing a wide stroke of white over our biography.

Now that’s worthy of a Hallelujah!

The best thing is, we don’t have to wait for a white-out Wednesday. Through Jesus, every day is White-Out Day!

 

~*~*~*~

For those of you too young to remember, Wite-Out® is a product created during the Jurassic age of typewriters. It’s this magical potion that you brush across typing errors, erasing them forever!

Permission to Write Badly

Writing my 1st badly written book
Writing my 1st badly written book

Just do it! Nike’s motto became my own years ago. When I started writing, I just did it. No studying, no joining writer’s groups, no attending conferences, no reading craft books. Just write the book. Badly. My first sentence: It was a beautiful day. Really grabs ya, huh? With a finished book in hand, I went to the library to find out how to get it published. Easy as that, write a book, get it published. Not!

I learned how to write a query and synopsis. Not! My first synopsis had dialogue in it. I sent out submissions. While waiting for the offers to pour in, I started the next very badly written book. As the rejections started rolling in, I finished book two and sent several publishers the synopses for both books in one envelope. Sort of an: Okay, if you don’t like this one, how about this one? I pride myself in giving stressed, harried editors a giggle or two.

One hundred and two rejections later, fifty-one on each book, I finished book three. Undaunted, I started submitting and nine rejections later, received an offer from a Print On Demand publisher. I didn’t even know what POD was and eagerly signed the contract for my third badly written book. I’d made it. Dreams of endless lines at book signings and people clamoring for my book filled my head. Reality: My book never made it into stores.

So, I joined two local writers’ groups, attended local conferences, eventually stumbled upon ACFW, and connected with my awesome critique group. Just over nine years after starting this journey, I signed a real contract. By then, eight completed books waited in my computer. Though I’ve recently learned that it’s much easier to write a new book than to go back and fix an old one, some of those badly written books still tug at me. Maybe I’ll get them all polished up eventually.

Finishing a book and self-discipline in writing has never been a problem for me. I LOVE TO WRITE. When I’m writing, I can happily spend all day and half the night at my computer. After I actually learned my craft, I struggled a bit more, intent on applying all my new knowledge. As my writing crept along at a snail’s pace, I gave myself permission to write badly.

I don’t gnash my teeth over the perfect word choice or equate writing to opening a vein. In the first draft, I fling adjectives, sling clichés, and add generous dollops of telling instead of showing. Then my critique partners and I carefully edit out all the bad. I can complete a first draft in two months with a deadline hanging over my head. Just do it!

Revising is where I struggle with self-discipline. I learned a way to edit my first draft, without getting caught up in the story. But it’s boring. It makes me sleepy. I get up a dozen times to get coffee or water, along with frequent bathroom breaks when I don’t even really need to go. I even look forward to laundry and have to fight to keep myself out of the snack pantry. But eventually, as the deadline looms nearer, I have to just do it.

Let’s take a poll: Does revising and editing make you sleepy? How do you combat heavy eyelids?