Sunday, July 15, 2012

Writer's Workshop: Be Your Own Editor!

Simple and straightforward. Let's talk about editing. It's so critical that it's got more power than the actual writing. It's what you don't say or the vision you evoke that is personal to the reader, that cannot be ignored. Editing isn't just the simple act of spelling and grammar; it's all about content and structure. 

1. Don't shit your character's genealogy.
As writers, we want scenarios, plots, histories and characters to be fully developed. We fall in love with how they never got over being bitch slapped on the playground and their mama dressing them in her high heels when they were 6 years old, but our readers don't need to know that their favorite ice cream is chocolate and their Great Aunt Betty sang in the choir and.... Let the reader be intelligent enough to take a "sense" of the character and fill in the spots. Perhaps we know he was ignored his entire childhood. Now, he tends to take over conversations, be loud and obnoxious and "notice me, notice me" about his behavior, but we do not need to tell that he is thinking "no one never noticed me, I hate to be ignored." We make this connection. Do not tell us the connection. Show--don't--tell.

2. Passive equals yawning. 
She seemed like a nice girl. Do a word search for that nasty term, "seemed" and delete it. She either was a nice girl, wasn't a nice girl, appeared to be a nice girl, resembled a nice girl...Be sure to do word searches for words like "was," "that," "seemed".... Also, there are some subtle passive writing no-no's, like "Carrie heard the birds chirping and knew it was time to get up." We didn't think she tasted the birds chirping. When you tell us what the character sees and hears, it becomes their experience. Try and give us more of the experience. "The birds chirped so insistently, they brought the morning to life for Carrie." Instead of "Buddy felt the wind blow across him and caused a chill," try "Buddy hunkered down against the chill wind, trying to prevent the goosebumps from spreading."

3. Lead with action.
I read a lot of people's work that begins something like this. "The day was warmer than usual and the air was thick. Everywhere around the forest, leaves glinted from last night's rain. The silence was broken by the occasional plink of an acorn as it dropped to the forest floor." Not a bad narrative, but this was the opening of someone's novel!  Nice setting, but has already put me to sleep. If you've ever been in a restaurant and caught tail end of someone's conversation and were immediately poised to hear more, it might have gone something like this, "...she thinks it's going to make her boobs grow bigger. She does it every day. I have to tell you, I think it's working. I looked it up to find out more about it. It's pretty simple. All you have to do is...." Take us right into an action scene that makes us want to know "how did this person end up in this situation? What is going to happen next? How does she extract herself from this dilemma?" Try to maintain a good balance of action/dialogue/narrative so that no one looks at endless pages of narratives and sighs. If you're going to do an action scene, paragraphs should be no more than a few sentences max. That pacing actually helps the reader to feel it's happening very quickly.

These are basic principals but should help you when you're self-editing. I always suggest you consider getting other writers to create an online email critique group or go to and find writer's groups in your area. The support makes your writing improve by leaps and bounds.

If you are afraid of criticism, then walk away from writing. You cannot be a good author if you do not absorb all mentions of bumps in your work so you can smooth it out and get it to publishing. I have seen people cry and cower, run and never look back after just one critique. This is kind of like deciding to be a model when you have body image problems. Just find another hobby or write for your family and friends, but you will not become published if you aren't willing to suffer some honest assistance.

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