Thursday, January 10, 2013

Guest Post: Five Tips for Editing & A Few Resources

I want to welcome T.J. to Yesternight's Voyage today. T.J. is a member of the Speculative Fiction Group, a savvy reader and editor, and she blogs over at Writing From the Padded Room, a blog meant to help new writers. Be sure to add her blog to your regular reading roll.

Holy cow! You did it! Wrote a novel/short story and are reveling in the euphoric feeling that comes with such a great accomplishment. Before doing anything else, I suggest letting your newly written MS sit while you celebrate.

Now that it is done (you've celebrated, and lived in the world where it doesn't need editing) comes the part many dread and fear. Edits.

The first, and probably most important part of preparing to edit, is to ensure you have Critique Partners. Those wonderful people who agree to read over your work, help find plot holes, world building issues, spelling, grammar, passive writing, and are willing to be the partner in crime while you break the "rules" of writing.

It is tough and scary to let someone else put red ink all over the new baby. But it must be done.

Once you receive their advice, comes the truly hard part. You have to make those changes, correct the issues, decide if an idea in certain places will work or not.

Here are five tips to help with the editing process:

Editors look for grammar, spelling, overuse of pronouns and reality issues.

This is the first pass of your MS. Don't read. One of the best ideas? Get ready to highlight in the document. Highlight every single pronoun - he/him/himself/she/her/herself/I/me/myself. You'll be surprised at how many show up. As you go through your one hundred plus pages, simply sweep for those words.

Next, you'll need to look for spelling. Luckily, with today's software programs, spelling errors are pointed out while writing the rough draft. Although some of us, like me, have a tendency to zoom past them with the thought, "I'll catch it later." I really should get out of that habit.

And finally, grammar and reality issues. This will require reading.

By reality, I mean did you do your research? Even writing fiction, where we get to twist everything to our own nefarious ends, all things should have a good solid foundation. Writing about the gods? Make sure you stick close to what the average reader understands about their stories and personalities. Twist it all you like, but without the familiarity the reader will question it and lose their ability to suspend reality. And if writing hard science fiction? It is best to have all those little details deeply nestled in current theories, proven hypotheses, and easily reasearched points.

Grammar is fluid, but it does have hard and fast rules which should be followed. Know them, ensure you keep as close as possible to the rules. Many readers don't mind dialect, but they will become Grammar Nazis when it comes to glaring issues.

Edit out unnecessary paragraphs.

What is unnecessary? You'd be surprised at those little paragraphs written into rough drafts which don't push the story forward. I'm as guilty as the next person. Perhaps at the time I wrote it, the hope it would show more about the main character, or how bad the bad guy really is. Realistically? No. It was well written, beautiful prose. But it has no true point, doesn't move the plot forward and doesn't help the reader. I know you love it and can justify it in twenty different ways. Cut it. Be ruthless. Tear it out and know it helps your story, not hinder.

Edit all that passive writing.

Editors complain often about the massive amount of passive writing in an otherwise great story. It tells the story, cuts the reader's ability to fall into the world of your imagination, doesn't allow the reader to feel like they are part of the action.

Here you can do another highlighter session. What is passive writing?

Passive is usually denoted by was/were/have been/is, etc. Follow the advice of Rebecca Johnson and you'll have a fun way to find all the passive writing in your work. Some passive is fine. A lot needs work.

Shew! So far you've taken care of mechanical issues! Yay! You're done, right?

No. I'm sorry. Still two more things need to be done.

Time to look at the characters.

Editors have complained the story premise is fantastic but the characters fall flat. Romance characters come across as big bags of hormones, SciFi characters are only interested in gaining power, Urban Fantasy characters are only interested in becoming something like a werewolf/vampire/witch/ghost/god.

It is a common complaint. Characters need to be able to pull empathy from readers. When falling into the alternate realities being weaved by writers, a reader should be able to either understand why the main character feels certain things, even if the reader disagrees. All the characters in a book should be three dimensional. The villain has a soft spot, the MC made a bad decision for good reasons.

Flesh out the idiosyncrasies, show the readers the characters are possible.

And finally, check the timeline.

Meaning, check your plot and the progression of the story. Did it stutter in a few spots? How did you fix that plot hole? Is there a way to strengthen the tension and move the plot forward in a more seamless manner? Did you write a scene just to get to the next one? Yes? Is that repaired? Have you cleared up any confusing/awkward sentencing? Did you check to ensure the little details all match and move forward with the story? If a character drove a truck to the restaurant but a car to leave, you'd better be able to explain why.

These are the five things all editors look at. Either during the intial submission or after the book has been chosen and is in the editing phase. Yes, every editor is as unique as the people writing. But the five points laid out above are ones they all agree on.

Give your story its best start when going out into the big, bad world. It must compete in a very subjective industry, and depends on you to make it the best it can be.

If you need more tips and tricks to editing, I suggest the following as additional reading.


  1. Good post. I especially like the idea that, in editing, you have to be ruthless. Long ago, (I'm an avid and fairly good gardener) I heard, or read, that to be a good gardener, one must learn to be ruthless. It's so true in editing. (With your permission, that gives me a post idea. :) ) It's both the hardest part of self-editing and the most rewarding (though you'll always wonder if your work might really have been better with that paragraph that may not have really moved the story but was SUCH wonderful prose. Probably not.)

    I'd also recommend Browne and King's Self-Editing for Fiction Writers as an excellent source.

    1. *curtsy* Thank you very much Rick :)

      Yes, we do wonder, don't we? "But it showed emotion/character/any other justification" ... Thank goodness for Critique Partners and their red ink! :)

  2. You nailed it, TJ. You got to the heart of editing and covered everything from big to small. Everything has to be as clean as possible from pacing to grammar.

    You do have to be ruthless to your baby to make sure the plot keeps moving.