My Rolling Edit Process

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Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

I expect to get a few push backs on this post. Many writers use the “draft” process of editing their book after they get it written. They push to get a first draft done before they edit in several more drafts, but for me, I’ve never been able to do this. There’s a compulsive part of my nature that can’t let my own imperfections remain on the page until the end. If I know my book is riddled with my idiosyncrasies, it would haunt me too much, but that’s just me.

I do what I call “rolling edits” because I want to stay close to the action and character motivation at hand. I still get my daily word count in, but I read and reread my daily new material until I have nothing more to edit. In other words, if I write a chapter on one day, I edit it as I continue to move forward until I consider moving on.

Here’s my edit process:

1.) DELETE WITH A VENGEANCE – My first pass is always to delete and tighten each sentence. To help this process, I usually read aloud. Anything I stumble over gets a redo. I have a tendency to use compound sentences, so I make sure not to have dangling participles or long sentences that are hard to follow. I have a two comma rule. Any sentence that needs more than two commas, should probably be broken apart.

2.) LOOK FOR REPETITION (MORE DELETES) – I look for overused words, redundant wording, repeated phrases or “crutch” words that I fall back on too often. This can change from book to book and each author will have their own verbal handicaps.

3.) ADD EMOTIONAL LAYERING – Every scene has an emotional component to it. I push to add more emotion, even if it seems over the top. In fiction, this works because stories are about triggering emotions that the reader can relate to. If the scene is action packed, I’m looking for those delectable word choices to support the action or short viscerally descriptive sentences that will make the thrill palpable to the reader.

4.) REVISE THE DIALOGUE – I read the scene dialogue (without the narratives) to see if I can imagine the characters in my head and hear their voices. If there is humor in the scene, I work to punch it up or improve the timing (usually by deleting). If there is menace in the exchange, I ramp up the threat.

5.) EDIT THE BODY LANGUAGE – I often add body language in each scene as if I am watching a movie, but books aren’t that visual and I can sometimes overdo certain “crutch” reactions, like too many shrugs or nods. Again this is another opportunity to delete usually and it’s worth having a step to look for this.

6.) SPOT CHECK CHARACTER MOTIVATION – Do the characters’ reactions ring true? What if one of them reacted differently, how would that change my scene. I test my character motivation while I am “in” the scene to make sure it feels authentic. As I go through the book and stay close to each character’s story arc, I want the ability to “feel” a different outcome or twist as it is occurring, rather than waiting until the end to realize I like a different turn to happen and have to rewrite major sections.

7.) LAYER IN SETTING – I like to make sure my setting enhances each scene to infuse the action with a setting that is almost like another character. I love writing stories with a strong sense of world building, to make the reader feel as if they can walk the same streets that my characters do, with all their senses.

8.) REMEMBER THE INTIMACY – If my characters have a spark of attraction (that can have it’s own story arc), there is nothing more titillating than mounting intimacy. A glance, a first touch, can be drawn out so the reader feels everything. This can be construed as #3 (adding emotional layering), but for me, a growing romance should carry its own importance. If you can strip out the romance of a story, and the book no longer makes sense, then you have the right balance. This means that the romance is integral. The lovers are “punished” for wanting to be together and they get into more trouble because of it.

ROLLING PROCESS:
As I’ve mentioned, I keep writing my daily word goals, but continue to edit prior scenes (usually a chapter or two previously written) until I’m content to move on. Because I’m old school, I kill a lot of trees by printing out my edit pages and making notes in the margins. Every night I read what I’ve written before I go to bed. My reward is to get my own work done first before I treat myself to reading someone else’s book. The next morning, I make the changes.

By the time I get to the end, my novel is fully edited by me. I usually make one or two more passes through, to read it as a reader might. But most of the major edits are done. When I’m done, I’m done.

I set my daily word count, depending on the contractual due date. The usual range can be 2500-5000 words per day. My advice to other writers, on setting word count goals, is to take into account your priorities and set realistic goals. Even if you can only squeeze in a page a day, that is still progress and you will eventually get done.

DISCUSSION:
1.) How many of you do something similar? Anything you would add to my list?

2.) If you edit in drafts, what tips do you have to make this draft process more effective?

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Gerunds Be Gone

Nancy J. Cohen

What’s wrong with this sentence: “Shutting off the ignition, she threw her keys into her purse and emerged into the bright sunshine.”

How can you throw your keys into a purse when you are using them to shut off the ignition?

This type of “ing” phrase is called a gerund. I never knew what it was until a critique partner pointed out that I was using them liberally. And I hate to say it, but this was several years into my published works. Even now, I’m not sure this is the correct grammatical term.

I learned my lesson, and as I’m now going through my backlist mystery titles making updates and tightening sentence structure, I am finding more phrasing like the one above.

Beware these illogical phrases in your own work. Here are some examples:

NO: Flinging the door wide, she stepped inside the darkened interior.
YES: She flung the door wide and stepped inside the darkened interior.

NO: Taking a sip of orange juice, she put her glass down and opened the newspaper.
YES: After taking a sip of orange juice, she put her glass down and opened the newspaper.

NO: Racing down the street, she came to a halt when the light turned red.
YES: She raced down the street, coming to a halt when the light turned red.

NO: Shaking the lady’s hand, she stepped back to admire her cobalt dress.
YES: After exchanging a handshake, she stepped back to admire the other woman’s cobalt dress.

It’s okay to use an “ing” phrase in thoughts. For example, you can say, “Wishing she could change the events of the past few hours, she sped down the road.

What is your grammatical Achilles Heel?

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15 questions for your beta readers – and to focus your own revisions

by Jodie Renner, editor & author; @JodieRennerEd

 

So you’ve completed the first draft of your novel? Congratulations! Now it’s time to start the all-important revision process. Be sure not to shoot yourself in the foot by sending it off or self-publishing it too soon. That’s the biggest mistake of unsuccessful novelists – being in too much of a hurry to get their book out, when it still needs (major or minor) revisions and final polishing.

To start, put it aside for a week or more, then change the font and print it up and read it in a different location, where you don’t write. Or, to save paper, put it on your tablet and take it outside to a park or a (different) coffee shop to read. That way, you can approach it with fresh eyes and a bit of distance, as a reader, rather than in too close as the writer. Using the questions below to guide you, go through the whole manuscript for big-picture issues: logistics, characterization, plot, writing style, flow. Try to put some tension on every page, even if it’s just minor internal disagreement. Remember that conflict and tension are what drive fiction forward. As you read, correct minor errors and typos that jump out at you and make notes in the margins and on the backs of the pages. Then go back to the computer and type in your changes.

Now it’s time to seek out about 3 to 6 avid readers to give you some feedback. It’s best not to ask your parent, child, significant other, sibling, or bff to do this “beta” reading, as they probably won’t want to tell you what they really think, for fear of jeopardizing your relationship. Or they may be so critical it actually will hurt your relationship! Your volunteer readers don’t need to be writers, but they should be smart, discerning readers who enjoy and read your genre, and are willing to give you honest feedback.

So how do you find your beta readers? Perhaps through a critique group, writing class, workshop, book club, writers’ organization, or online networking such as Facebook, Twitter, or Google+. In the case of a YA novel or children’s book, look around for be age-appropriate relatives, neighborhood kids, or the children of your friends – or perhaps you know a teacher or librarian who would be willing to read some or all of it aloud to students and collect feedback.

To avoid generic (and generally useless) responses like “I liked it,” “It was good,” or “It was okay,” it’s best to guide your readers with specific questions. Here’s a list to choose from, based on suggestions from novelists I know. If you’re hesitant to ask your volunteers so many questions, you could perhaps have them choose the ones that seem most relevant to your story and writing style. And of course, if you first use these questions as a guideline during your revisions, the responses from your beta readers should be much more positive, or of a nature to take your story and your skills up a level or two.

1. Did the story hold your interest from the very beginning? If not, why not?

2. Did you get oriented fairly quickly at the beginning as to whose story it is, and where and when it’s taking place? If not, why not?

3. Could you relate to the main character? Did you feel her/his pain or excitement?

4. Did the setting interest you, and did the descriptions seem vivid and real to you?

5. Was there a point at which you felt the story started to lag or you became less than excited about finding out what was going to happen next? Where, exactly?

6. Were there any parts that confused you? Or even frustrated or annoyed you? Which parts, and why?

7. Did you notice any discrepancies or inconsistencies in time sequences, places, character details, or other details?

8. Were the characters believable? Are there any characters you think could be made more interesting or more likeable?

9. Did you get confused about who’s who in the characters? Were there too many characters to keep track of? Too few? Are any of the names or characters too similar?

10. Did the dialogue keep your interest and sound natural to you? If not, whose dialogue did you think sounded artificial or not like that person would speak?

11. Did you feel there was too much description or exposition? Not enough? Maybe too much dialogue in parts?

12. Was there enough conflict, tension, and intrigue to keep your interest?

13. Was the ending satisfying? Believable?

14. Did you notice any obvious, repeating grammatical, spelling, punctuation or capitalization errors? Examples?

15. Do you think the writing style suits the genre? If not, why not?

And if you have eager readers or other writers in your genre who are willing to go the extra mile for you, you could add some of the more specific questions below. These are also good for critiquing a short story.

Captivate_full_w_decal– Which scenes/paragraphs/lines did you really like?

– Which parts did you dislike or not like as much, and why?

– Are there parts where you wanted to skip ahead or put the book down?

– Which parts resonated with you and/or moved you emotionally?

– Which parts should be condensed or even deleted?

– Which parts should be elaborated on or brought more to life?

– Are there any confusing parts? What confused you?

– Which characters did you really connect to?

– Which characters need more development or focus?

Once you’ve received feedback from all your beta readers, it’s time to consider their comments carefully. Ignore any you really don’t agree with, but if two or more people say the same thing, be sure to seriously consider that comment or suggestion. Now go through and revise your story, based on the comments you felt were insightful and helpful.

What about you writers out there? Do you use beta readers? If so, how do you guide their reading? Do you have any questions or suggestions to add that have helped you focus their reading, so you can get a good handle on the strengths and weaknesses of your novel? And beta readers – do you have any questions you’d like authors to ask? I’d love to hear from all of you!

Also, see my post, “12 Essential Steps from Idea to Published Novel” here on TKZ.

And for a lengthy list of WRITERS’ CONFERENCES & BOOK FESTIVALS in North America in 2015, with links, click HERE.

 Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Captivate Your Readers, Fire up Your Fiction, and Writing a Killer Thriller. She has also published two clickable time-saving e-resources to date: Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage. You can find Jodie at www.JodieRenner.com, www.JodieRennerEditing.com, her blog, http://jodierennerediting.blogspot.com/, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

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Indie Authors – Should You Revise & Republish Some of Your Earlier Books?

Jodie_June 26, '14_7371_low res_centredBy Jodie Renner, editor & author  @JodieRennerEd

I  often get contacted for editing by authors who have previously published a few novels, either on their own or through a small publisher with limited resources for editing. Their earlier works, while promising, were prematurely released and sales are slow, with few or mostly negative reviews.

These authors were often unaware at the time of any weaknesses in their books and just wanted to get them out there, perhaps on time for Christmas sales or for some other self-imposed time deadline. Many of these early works really needed an edit on some level: a major developmental edit for help with premise, plot, & structure; a content edit to address plot holes, inconsistencies, character motivations, point of view, etc.; a stylistic edit to address slow pacing, convoluted phrasing, too many author intrusions (backstory, info dumps, too much neutral description, telling instead of showing); or just a good clean-up of grammar and flow.

If those authors are serious about building a career as a respected novelist, leaving those books out there in the shape they’re in will only harm their reputation. And if they’re just out as eBooks on Amazon, it’s pretty easy to take them down and upload a revised, more polished version. I’ve done it several times with both of my books – quick and painless, really. Amazon doesn’t seem to care how many times I revise and re-upload the same title – I love the freedom! If you know basic formatting (here’s a how-to article on formatting your manuscript), you can make the changes pretty quickly and get the e-book back up.

Here’s an example of an email, typical of many I’ve received:

“Jodie, I have now read both of your books and your articles on point of view. Fantastic material. All of your comments and recommendations now make sense. With that foundation, I realize what an amateur job my first novel was. Maybe someday we can revisit and do major surgery or a lobotomy on [title of book].”

James Scott Bell has spoken here on TKZ about the need for “a long tail” – a backlist of other attractive titles by you that readers can choose from if they happen on one of your books for the first time and enjoy it. That’s the way to keep the royalties rolling in over the long term.

But of course this means all your titles need to be strong, of high quality. What if your earlier books are nowhere near the quality of recent ones? What if your worst, most amateurish production is the first one of your books someone reads? Do you think they’ll look for any more by you? Worse, they could write a nasty review saying they won’t waste their time with any more of your books. So you could also think of the “long tail” as a chain connecting readers to you. You don’t want any weak links to break that chain!

I’ve confidentially advised some authors, either my clients or not, to get one or more of their backlist titles cleaned up. Some agree and are grateful for the feedback, and others don’t seem to care, or even respond negatively. I don’t get that. If they’re getting bad reviews on Amazon for an early work and a professional editor suggests it would be a good idea to get it edited, why would they leave it up as it is? (And I’m not soliciting editing work here – I get way more requests for editing than I can handle.)

Some indie authors tell me they can’t afford to get their early books edited. I say you can’t afford not to, as those books are or could start dragging your reputation down and significantly reduce potential income. At the very least, If you’ve already (or since then) honed your fiction-writing skills by reading some great craft-of-writing books and/or attending writers’ workshops, here are three resources I recommend specifically for tips on revising fiction: James Scott Bell’s excellent Revision & Self-Editing, Elizabeth Lyon’s Manuscript Makeover, Jessica Page Morrell’s Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us, and my Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power. All have very useful, concrete tips, with examples, for taking your fiction up a level or two and making your story more compelling. And if you’re struggling with making your first page zing, check out some of the great first-page critiques here on TKZ (links on side column). Then, after you’ve used the advice to revise your early book(s) yourself, be sure to follow it up with a low-cost or free final proofread for typos, grammar, and punctuation.

If the process of going back and revising a whole book feels overwhelming, here’s a great step-by-step plan of action for revision and self-editing. If you don’t have the time or inclination to do that right now, consider pulling any prematurely published early books out of circulation and resubmitting them later when you’ve had time to get them cleaned up or do it yourself. Don’t leave amateurish books out there where they can start collecting critical reviews and tarnish your name as a talented author. Or, if your muse just took a vacation on your WIP, take a break and use the time to revise an earlier novel.

Here’s what A.D. Starrling said in a recent comment (Oct. 22) here on TKZ:

“I have done a revised edition of Book 1 while simultaneously writing Book 3 (I know, one should really STOP rewriting once the darn thing is published, but the feedback for Book 2 was so good, I just had to bring Book 1 up to that level!).”

So my advice, as a freelance professional in the business of helping authors turn good stories into stellar ones that garner great reviews, is to take the time to make sure that at least the weakest links in the chain of your backlist are brought up to your current standards. Of course, I’m mainly talking about eBooks and self-published books here, which are so much easier to revise and republish.

Writers – what do you think? What if one of your early titles received a bunch of negative reviews on Amazon? Would you consider taking it down and revising it, then getting it edited by a professional, then republishing? Then you could always consider changing the title so you can lose the old, negative reviews.

What do the rest of you think of this?

See James Scott Bell’s excellent related post here on TKZ yesterday: Facing Down the Harsh Realities of Publishing.

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Captivate Your Readers, Fire up Your Fiction, and Writing a Killer Thriller. She has also published two clickable time-saving e-resources to date: Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage. You can find Jodie at www.JodieRenner.com, www.JodieRennerEditing.com, her blog, http://jodierennerediting.blogspot.com/, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

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When is “Dark” too dark?

Nancy J. Cohen

One of the words I’ve been repeating in my works lately has been “dark”. You know, the man swung his dark gaze her way. He wore a dark suit. He had his dark hair brushed back over a wide forehead. Shadows darkened in a corner as he gave her a dark scowl.

Ouch.

This can be considered lazy writing, except I hadn’t even been aware of this fault until I ran one of the self-edit programs described in my personal blog at http://bit.ly/12iU9nZ. I embarked on a search and find mission to replace as many of these weak terms as possible.

Let’s start with clothes. Face it, men wear dark suits. To get a better idea of colors, I accessed this website: http://lawyerist.com/suit-colors-for-the-clueless/. Ah, now it became clear which colors are popular for men and suited to business. My descriptions of dark suits changed to black, charcoal, slate or navy. That’s a lot better than “dark”, isn’t it?

charcoal blazer

If you want to get even more particular, go online to a department store site like Macys.com and put in the search feature “suits, “blazers”, or “sportcoats” and you’ll get a wide variety of colors.

navy blazer

What about the character who has dark hair? Is it black or dark brown? Check this reference:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_hair_color. Instead of black hair, give your character raven, ebony, or onyx hair. Varying the descriptions adds spice to your story.

Jen4

Also watch out for redundancies like dark shadows & dark scowl. Both of these work well without the “dark” element.

Despite its ambiguity, this word is popular for movies. Witness Batman’s The Dark Knight; Thor: The Dark World; and Star Trek into Darkness.

The filmmakers can get away with it, but as a writer, you cannot. What other ambiguous words like this might you want to change?

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Before You Submit

James Scott Bell

The May/June issue of Writer’s Digest has a sidebar from YA editor Anica Morse Rissi, wherein she gives nine things you can do to elevate your manuscript before submission.

The list is right on, not only for getting a manuscript ready to submit to agents or editors, but also if you’re considering self-publishing. So I’m going to give you the tips with my own commentary on them.

1. Revise, revise, revise.

As the author of a whole book on the revision process, I’m not going to quibble with this one. You can, however, become “revision obsessed” and spend way too long on a project. In my book I give a process for getting over that, but you can just as well come up with one of your own, so long as you eventually send your work out. Not too soon, but not too late, either.

2. Start with conflict and tension.

This is perhaps the most important tip of all. Some of our highest traffic here at TKZ has come from posts on what to do — and what not to do — on first pages, as well as the numerous first page critiques we’ve done. Search those out in the archives. Now, conflict or tension does not have to be “big.” It can really be any sort of disturbance to the Lead’s ordinary world.

3. Don’t start with backstory.

An obvious corollary to #2. Backstory is best when it is delayed, although little sprinkles can be added to the first pages for depth. Just make the action primary up front.

4. Give the readers something to wonder about.

Mystery, unanswered questions, portents, threats. All good at the beginning and, indeed, throughout—so long as you are prepared to give satisfactory answers (unless you write for Lost, of course, then you can just keep on raising questions).

5. Avoid explaining too much, too soon.

A corollary to #4. My rule for the opening is act first, explain later. Readers do not need to know everything you do about the setting and characters at the start. They will wait a long time if there’s something dynamic and disturbing going on at the beginning.

6. Make sure your story has plot arc and emotional arc.

This is another way of saying that you need to give us the stakes inside the character, as well as outside. One way to do this is via internal conflict, which is the battle between two strong but opposing desires in the character. In High Noon, the town marshal must battle his desire to do his duty as a lawman versus his desire to keep his new Quaker bride (the producers raise the stakes nicely by having the Quaker bride look exactly like Grace Kelly).

7. Read your dialogue out loud.

This is a great practice. You hear it differently than you read it. An alternative (my own preference) is to have Word read it back to me in speech mode. Either way, you’ll catch things to change every time.

8. Use adjectives, adverbs and dialogue tags sparingly.

As far as adverbs, do a search for LY words and kill as many of those pests as you can. For dialogue tags, use said and asked as your defaults, and only when needed to figure out who’s speaking. Resist the urge to use things like he growled or he expostulated.

9. Make sure your details matter.

All details, and I mean every one in your manuscript, should do “double duty.” Not just describe, but describe in a way that sets the tone you desire. Details can characterize, foreshadow and carry motifs. In other words, don’t waste them.

To these fine suggestions, I would also add the following (from my chapter on “The Polish”)—go over each chapter and see how much you can cut from the beginning and the end. You’ll be amazed at how much faster your chapters grab, and how you’ll be left with a feeling of momentum after each scene.

So what other things do you do before you submit?

NOTE: I’ll be conducting a series of webinars for Writer’s Digest this month. The first is on novel structure. Would love to have you drop in!

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You’ve got to be Brave. The Revision Process at One AM.


By Clare Langley-Hawthorne
www.clarelangleyhawthorne.com

I’ve spent the whole weekend knee deep in revisions for my latest manuscript and I believe me, this aspect of writing is as challenging as writing the first full draft. Granted I forced my husband to be on twin duty the whole time, so he’s probably still recovering too, but it made me realize how much the writing process really is just that – a long and detailed (often arduous) process.

Writing historical fiction means that I have to incorporate a sense of time and place that is backed up by significant amounts of research. It also means that at every point in the revision process I find myself second-guessing historical accuracy. Not just the big stuff like making sure my characters aren’t jumping aboard the Concorde in 1912 but the little stuff, like the nuances of speech, use of slang, and the way people perceived the world around them. Sometimes I have to confess, if I don’t know and can’t find the answer I just go with my gut and make it up. Hey, this is fiction after all.

I view revising as adding the second and third coats of paint to a project – each layer adds a subtly and a depth to the characters, to the setting, and to the themes that swirl around the plot. What I find the biggest challenge is avoiding what I call ‘tinkering’ – changing my mind over a minute plot point only to find it has rolling ramifications and then (in total disgust) I find I have to go all the way back and return it all to the way it was. I guess this is what people call a ‘learning process’ but I seem to be a bit ‘learning challenged’ when it comes to this – and still find myself adding complexity where NO MORE is needed! ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’ is a motto I need to have branded to my forehead.


Those who want to see the writing process in action can find me sitting in my writing studio, a converted garage in the back of our house, bleary eyed at one o’clock in the morning, determined to finish the next chapter as I’m ‘on a roll’. I might be on the internet checking on a historical reference, looking up the architecture for a historic home or searching The Times database for an event the latest fashions for that year. I might even be using the delete key to liberal advantage as part of the revision process involves getting rid of all the extraneous stuff that I find stops the flow of the narrative (sometimes bringing tears to my eyes if it was a point of historical research I spent hours on!)

Yesterday I deleted a whole chapter – painful but necessary. I then merged two minor characters to streamline the plot. I decided one scene moved like molasses and I got bogged down in worrying whether the house should have gothic archways or not…Time passed. It was one am…Time to call it quits till the red pen, the axe and the delete key were brought back out to do it all again.

Ah the joys of revision. You just got to be brave…

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