Monthly Archives: January 2017

Self-Editing – character & dialogue

Hi,

Further to my blog post about how to manage editing and the stages, here are some specific things to review and correct. I have gleaned these through research, reading, and writing experience. Hope they help.

Character

Ensure your characters are active – they must : speak, act, think, decide, react
Not be passive or described through narrative alone. And limit that narrative.

Describe characters briefly through impressions / metaphors and pick out a few personal details relevant to the story.
Don’t ramble on for pages in narrative form about your character’s many attributes.

Each character should have their own voice, agenda and attitudes which come through in how they – speak, act, think, decide and react.
Avoid having each character appear identical in voice, actions, thoughts, agenda etc.

Major characters must have objectives, agendas, something they strive for and these must be made clear to the reader.
Correct and rewrite major characters who appear unfocused, bland, random in action.

Major characters need to develop as your story unfolds. This needs to be seen by the reader in how they change in: speaking, acting, thinking, deciding, reacting. Show the struggle, down points, their resolve, how they change, their actions to overcome, their elation / dejection at the outcomes.
Steer away from major characters who do not change during your story, especially your hero / protagonist and antagonist.

Dialogue

Keep it snappy, focused and get to the point. Less is more.
Avoid rambling dialogue with unnecessary words or topics.

Use dialogue to show key conflicts between characters & how they work things out (or not).
Don’t miss the opportunities to show how characters differ and want different things.

Written dialogue is not the same as real world dialogue, stay lean and pristine most of the time.
Only deviate when an effect is needed to show a reaction or character trait.

Minimize the use of speech attributions and stick to ‘said’ as much as possible. Often it is clear who is speaking without the label. Said becomes invisible to the reader, variations such as (replied, stammered, shouted, cried, retorted etc.) do not.
Steer clear of passages with lots of: he said, she said, he said, she said. It becomes wearing.

Ensure each character speaks in a way consistent with who they are, what they know and how they have behaved so far in your story.
Avoid making random speeches or having characters sound the same.

Use dialogue as a natural interaction between characters to further your plot.
Don’t have a character expose the entire back story or unexpected plot points through dialogue alone – exposition needs to be limited. Such as if characters are reflecting on a clue or next action or piece of information they have discovered.

Remember to leave gaps for the reader to figure things out for themselves. No one tells people everything they are thinking or feeling.
Avoid explaining every detail to tie up all the loose ends. Over reflection or over explanation can soon become dull and can spoil the plot.

 

Note – these are guidelines to improve the quality of what is left on the page. The ‘because’ is always – to polish and improve the quality of the book. There will be exceptions here and there to the above. However, from experience I find these guidelines to be pretty much on the money.

On a personal level, I seek to continually ‘sharpen the saw’ by reading, researching and writing / editing. These blog entries are from the coal face so to speak.

Hope this helps.

Happy writing.

D.M. Jarrett

www.SeanYeager.com

www.seanyeager.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Self-editing your novel

Hi there,

Happy 2017! I’ve been busy lately with family matters and editing my third book – Sean Yeager Claws of Time. Here are some thoughts collated from the arduous task of self-editing and the further research I did before kicking off the same:

What is self-editing?

It seems self-explanatory, but let’s define our scope. You’ve written your first draft from start to finish and now you want to edit to the stage where it is good enough to present to either a) a professional editor b) your agent / prospective agent c) your self publishing platform d) your beta readers.

In the main, I suggest it is a combination of a) to d) depending on whether there is a commercial partner expecting to have approval, and have their editor work with you prior to acceptance of a manuscript for publication.

The nature of the editing will vary from simple typos, to wholesale changes to scenes and structure. In my experience, it is wise to expect a lot of rewriting and improvement until you reach the happy place of being satisfied with the words on the page, and of course the flow. Or until your publisher says ‘yes’ we’re going to publish your work.

Stages of self-editing

Leave it in a drawer edit

Yes, leave your draft to one side and read other people’s work for a while. This will help to create a sense of separation from your work and a mental benchmark of what ‘good’ looks like. Once your mind has absorbed enough outside works and experiences, you’ll be ready to properly read your own work with fresh eyes. This is vital.

Coarse edit

This is the pass where you iron most things out. Typically I expect to remove, reduce, re-phrase, augment or re-write pretty much every page. Only the really good writing remains untouched. If it reads as ‘clunky’ it needs changing / improving / removing / scorching off the face of the planet. Delete as applicable.

I check for typos, perspective inconsistencies, speech attribution, adjectives, use of language, word flow issues, punctuation, scene progression, dialogue quality, plot points, character reactions, and so on. This is a heavy edit.

Tips – set your objectives clearly and write out your own editing checklist and refer to it regularly. Use a tool to check for overused words such as: that, then, with, like, towards, felt, looked etc. Consider each character’s path through your book – write it out as a brief flowchart and check that it makes sense. If it doesn’t, the chances are you have missed out necessary actions / speech / narrative, or even entire scenes.

My aims in this pass are to ensure that every section is effective and well written. I also re-consider the key plot points to check they make sense. I amend them or remove them if they don’t.

By the end of this stage, you will have a draft manuscript where you are not ashamed of the quality of the writing, and which you have begun to understand as a reader.

Structural edit

Once I have a sense of what I have actually written – as distinct from what I imagined I had written – I take a step back and review the story I am telling. I refer to my notes about each subplot and each character’s progression through the story.

The key question I ask about each sub-plot is – what does this add to the overall story? i.e. Do I need to keep this? Or do I need to move things around? Or should I delete a minor sub-plot lock, stock and barrel?

Tips: Structure – your main character (protagonist) should appear on page 1 or at least early in chapter one. Prologues usually suck and should be burned.

The key question I ask about each scene is – what is the scene’s purpose (action, fear, joy, discovery etc.) and does it work? i.e. is it effective enough or in need of a re-write?

Tips: Scene review – imagine the scene happening in real life and check how plausible it would be for actors to portray it. If it sucks, you need to augment and improve it. If it’s unclear, you may be overwriting and using too much purple prose. Short paragraphs work, pages of narrative by and large do not.

Self honesty is really important, and usually less is more. Also, it is worth recalling the established rules of writing and plotting (web research / books on the same) and breaking less than 30% of them at a time. Unless of course you never want anyone to read or recommend your work.

Removing unnecessary scenes or sub-plots can be really hard, and I don’t do so lightly. However, if you have a sneaking suspicion that the scene about the tree guardian who appears halfway through your story and does nothing except say two lines, is a bit flabby, the chances are it needs to be cut. Unless of course your story is about tree guardians, in which case they should have made an appearance on page one and regularly from that point on.

By the end of this stage, you have a manuscript draft where you are happy with your story, the major plot points and the length of the book. If not, go back and do it again…

Read aloud edit

I print and I read out loud, with a pencil at hand. I never cease to be amazed at how many outright mistakes sneak through until this stage.

The psychology is this – reading is the first pass through your brain, speaking is the second pass, and hearing what you have said is the third pass. The combination means you are much more likely to notice mistakes in your work.

Also, the flow or otherwise of what is written on the page comes across most clearly when you read your work aloud. If it flows, you can imagine what your readers will experience. And where the flow is poor, you will hasten to smooth things out out of sheer embarrassment or even boredom (as a reader). Yes, the section your always hated which dragged on still sucks – so now it’s time to edit it properly…  or cut it.

Tips: Dialogue check – do people really speak like that?  And would your character say those things in that manner? A key way to show a character is through their interactions, therefore what they say and how they say it matters. Provided of course – they had a plausible reason to say what they say. i.e. Action to reaction. What they know and what they don’t know.

By the end of this stage, you have a draft manuscript you are pretty much happy with, bar the detailed proofing. If not go back and do it again… Or if you absolutely hate the book, perhaps you need to park it for a while?

Writer’s proofing

Once happy with all the key ingredients I run the document through a couple of software tools and consider all the corrections I’m offered. Even the stupid ones which seem to make no sense at all. It’s boring and unfortunately completely necessary. The number of times I have found misused words spelt perfectly, or doubled up words in plain sight, is surprising and a relief – provided you correct them early enough. One tool alone is not enough to spot them all – for reasons I’ve never fully understood. (Software rules and such like).

Tips: check out tools in trial form first and see if you like them. Word alone is not enough.

By the end of this stage, you have a manuscript you are willing to share with others.

Professional editor edit

In an ideal world, all books would be further edited by a professional who gets the aims of the writer and is sympathetic to the effect they are trying to achieve. This may take the form of technical editing, structural editing and further proof editing.

It’s a partnership thing. If you find a great pro-editor, cherish them and send them greetings cards. If not, find someone else if you are able to. (Me, I’m looking.)

By the end of this stage, the book is quite different to the first draft – usually for the better, though I dare say – not always.

Final, final edit

More of the same until a) it’s done or b) someone say’s it’s getting published next week. Quite often a beta reader will raise an important omission or mistake. Sometimes this reaches the writer in time… I jest, the more complex your story the more edits will be needed all the way through to published editions, and corrections to published editions.

When is it good enough?

Never. Provided a writer keeps improving as a writer, they will always want to go back and revise a lesser work until they are sick of the sight of it. Incidentally, by the fifth round of editing I am usually sick of the sight of my own work. When this happens I call a break and go and write or do something else for a while.

Golden tip?

Fresh eyes are essential, as is a sense of detachment.Take a break and read other people’s work – ideally writers who are better than you are. Edit often and in hour chunks.

If you can forget you wrote the first draft manuscript and polish what you see in front of you, you can self-edit. Once you can no longer do this – take a break and/or get help.

 

Hope my insights help. Best of luck with your writing projects. Next time, I plan to write about plotting your book, click your bookmark or subscribe and please feel free to comment.

In due course, I will publish Sean Yeager Claws of Time. Having hurried on previous books, this time I’m following all my own advice and plenty of other people’s. Please check out my website and consider the younglings in your life who are missing out by not reading Sean Yeager Adventures. They are just a few clicks away on Amazon and elsewhere, somewhere between Harry Potter, Star Wars and James Bond.

Enjoy.

D.M. Jarrett

www.SeanYeager.com

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