E is for Editing #AtoZChallenge

E is for Editing: 5 Tips for Self-Editing

A guest post by Natalie Wright

Whether we submit our manuscripts to agents and editors, or take them directly to readers by self-publishing, writers need to be ruthless self-editors. Editing is just as much a part of writing as that initial burst of creative energy. Before you query that manuscript or hit the upload button to self-publish, try out these five editing tips to improve your manuscript:

1. Let it Rest. After you have typed the last period on the last page, save it, back it up and then leave it. For how long? At least a week and up to a month. While your literary baby is gestating, your subconscious mind is still hard at work. Steven King calls it the “boys in the basement.” Let the boys (or girls) do their work. Allow your story to percolate before you open up that file again or pick up a pen to edit. Don’t skip this step in your rush to send your manuscript out into the world.

Actionable Tip: Let it rest.

2. Show Don’t Tell. I know, you’ve heard it before. But this is the alpha and omega tip for modern writing. If every writer knows this admonition, why is it that there’s so darn much tell in beginning writer’s manuscripts?

Telling a story is not the same thing as writing fiction.

If you follow only one editing tip, make it this one. Showing rather than telling will do more to elevate your writing than anything else you do.

How do I know if I’m telling rather than showing?

One of the best explanations of Show vs. Tell I’ve found is from James Scott Bell in his book Plot & Structure. Here’s Bell’s definition:

“Showing is like watching a scene in a movie. All you have is what is on the screen before you. What the characters do or say reveals who they are and what they’re feeling.

Telling, on the other hand, merely explains what is gong on in the scene, or inside the characters. It’s like you are recounting the movie to a friend.” P. 207, Plot & Structure, 2004 Writer’s Digest Books.

Do I have to “show” everything?

No, you shouldn’t. If you “show” everything then there is no ebb and flow to your work. Like a piece of music, you need to vary the intensity of your story in order to keep the reader with you, building to the climax. But keep your “tell” to a minimum and make sure that the most intense and important moments are shown rather than told.

Actionable Tip: Read through your manuscript and imagine the scenes as if they were on a movie screen. Are you merely recounting to the reader what is happening? Or are your “actors” revealing emotion, thought and action through what they do and say? In your rewrite, keep your tell to a minimum and maximize the high points of your story by showing them rather than telling them.

3. Create Your Log Line. Even if you use the “snowflake” or some similar method and create a log line before you ever start, after you have read through your draft, create it again – from scratch.

What is a log line?

Create one sentence of no more than 25 words that tells what your story is about. Include the protagonist, antagonist and the conflict. What needs to happen/what does the protagonist need to do before the story can end? Make every word count. (This is your “pitch” by the way too.)

Now time to be ruthless with your manuscript. Read it through again and analyze every scene to determine if it needs to be there. Does it advance the plot? Does it relate to your log line?

There may be set backs and reversals of fortune for your protagonist. That’s how characters learn and grow (and that’s about character arc and that’s a whole other post). But if a scene is not integral to your log line, cut it.

Actionable Tip: Create a log line and live by it.

4. Find & Replace is Your Friend. Seriously. Once you have torn the story apart and put it back together, a simple editing step that can kick your writing up a notch is to use the “Find and Replace” feature in your word processor. Search for your favorite “darling” words and cut them or find new ones to insert instead. One of my favorite superfluous words is “just.” Just is just such a useless word. Search for the “ly” and “ing” and “was.” All shout “passive voice,” (another no-no in modern fiction). On your read-through, make note of words that are repeated a lot and then do a Find and Replace. This simple editing step will give your manuscript polish.

Actionable Tip: Make the “Find and Replace” feature your friend.

5. Read Out Loud. In one sitting, if at all possible. There is no better way to catch problems with dialogue. Even after several read-throughs, you’ll be amazed at what you catch when you read it out loud. This step takes time but it is well worth it. Find a day when you can be alone with your coffee, colored pen and printed pages and have read aloud with just yourself. Speaking your words will bring them to life and your edits in this stage will energize your work.

Actionable Tip: Read out loud.

These steps take time – yes. But the effort will make your brilliant story ideas shine.

Natalie is the author of the novel Emily's House, a young adult fantasy/science fiction novel that has received high praise from reviewers and readers of all ages. Natalie's new series, the H.A.L.F. trilogy, will begin in 2012 with the first installment, The Deep Beneath.

Natalie began writing fiction again in 2007 after a creative hiatus spanning over fifteen years. In those years Natalie practiced divorce law and wrote professional articles.

Natalie believes that with thoughtful self-editing and the assistance of beta readers and skilled editors, writers can self-publish quality books that delight readers."

Catch her blog HERE.
Follow her on Twitter: @NatalieWright_.

Get the InLinkz code