Training the Eye (part 3): Knowing what to keep and what to cut

Good afternoon, friends!

Did you recently finish writing a novel? Or, did you finish one a while ago and now you’re sitting on the manuscript, dreading going into the editing phase? I’m with you, on both counts. I have a few manuscripts that are completed, manuscripts I’m just sitting on until I have the oomph to actually edit them. Which means that I’m also always just about to enter a new round of editing.

So I might be just the person to tell you a bit about what goes into those edits, and the things you should be looking for as you train your eye in the art of editing. All month long, let’s discuss, shall we?

 

Training the eye to edit (part 3)

 

Today, let’s go into one of the things we all dread, the things we hope we didn’t do so we don’t have to fix it while we’re editing.

 

1.      Unnecessary information

I’m sure you won’t be surprised that this is something I struggle with. I like to include a lot of information, a lot of detail, and I often find during edits that I need to go through and remove a fair bit of it. I also have a tendency to overwrite in certain situations, and find that I have to remove all those overwritten sections if only to make sure the finished product is actually good. I hope.

In any case, we’re all known to write information that’s just not necessary in the long run. Sometimes it’s a chapter, other times it’s a small scene or a section that just doesn’t quite work out the way it was meant to. Other times, it’s a phrase we use too often, one that adds no meaning to the sentence or the scene in question. Whatever the case, it all has to go. All of it. Leaving it in only proves to your readers that you can’t let go of the errant words you wrote, and you don’t want that to happen.

It’s a matter of training your eye (is that phrase getting annoying to you yet?) to find the words and sections that just don’t need to be there—and it helps to go in knowing that there are pieces that just don’t belong.

Of course, you know me, I always recommend keeping a copy of the original, just for you. That way, when it comes time to make cuts, you won’t miss anything in the long run. All your words are still there, still written; they just won’t be in the final version.

 

2.      Unnecessary characters 

I hate when this happens. Honestly, I do. I hate it. It’s pretty much the worst thing that ever happens in my writing, when I find in my editing that I have a character that just doesn’t need to be there. I hate it. I hate having to cut characters. It’s one of the most difficult things to do, one of the things I dread when I come across it… and yet one of the things I’m all too familiar with.

Sometimes it just happens. We wrote this whole story with this side character who we loved when we started writing, and then somehow they just… turned into something that didn’t need to be there. Their personality was outshined by others in the story, they meant nothing in the long run, had no part to play in the real story within your words, and you’ve found that it just makes more sense if they get removed before the book goes to print.

Not a fun thing to discover, not a fun thing to have to deal with, but it’s something you need to get comfortable doing. Of course, again, I’d say that it’s best to keep a copy of your original, if only so you don’t lose your character in their entirety by the time you’re done.

So, yet again, train your eye to look for one more thing that doesn’t need to be there, a thing that wants to have a part in this story but doesn’t need one, a thing that we probably fell in love with while we were writing, and that we now discovered plays no part in that writing at all.

*sigh* I’m sorry if this happens to you. I truly am. But it’s something you’ll have to learn to deal with, because the fact of the matter is that it will probably happen to you at some point in your writing career.

 

Rani Divine
Associate Editor, etc.

Training the Eye (part 2): Fixing the dreaded plot hole

Hello, my lovely writer friends!

Did you recently finish writing a novel? Or, did you finish one a while ago and now you’re sitting on the manuscript, dreading going into the editing phase? I’m with you, on both counts. I have a few manuscripts that are completed, manuscripts I’m just sitting on until I have the oomph to actually edit them. Which means that I’m also always just about to enter a new round of editing.

So I might be just the person to tell you a bit about what goes into those edits, and the things you should be looking for as you train your eye in the art of editing. All month long, let’s discuss, shall we?

 

Training the eye to edit (part 2)

 

Today, we’re talking about a big one, one I’m sure you’ve heard about every time any writer mentions editing at all.

 

Plot holes and continuity errors

 

See? Told you you’d heard of it before. Plot holes are one of the biggest things writers fear when we reach the editing phase. They’re the thing we’re all hoping we didn’t write into our manuscripts, and yet the thing we all know we did. It’s inevitable. There’re always plot holes in first drafts, usually in second drafts, and very often in third and fourth drafts, too. It’s incredibly difficult to spot every single one of them, and yet, we try.

But what is a plot hole, you ask?

 

I’ll give you a very good example: it’s when a character is in more than one place at once. It’s also when a character does something in one chapter, but then has no recollection of it four chapters later. It’s a hole in the plot, and one that we never intended to be there.

 

Now, I’ll say that sometimes there are holes in the plots of books belonging to a series, but those holes are there to be filled in one of the later books. It’s a question that will be answered later on, one that readers look forward to finding an answer to. It’s not where you include a hole and never fix it, in a standalone novel, where there will never be more to mend the error.

And how do we find them? There’s really only one way.  

You need to know your writing, inside and out. You need to know your story like it’s the back of your hand, like it’s the very air that you breathe. You need to know every little thing about it. You need to have read your manuscript so many times that there’s no doubt in your mind that you’ve answered every question that needs answering. When you know your book that well, you’ll know when there’s a plot hole. In fact, you’ll probably be able to feel it coming, when you come across one.

Just like with last week, it all comes down to training your eye to know what to look for. Once you’ve done it for a while, once you’ve been working on it long enough, you’ll get better at it.

But it’s not just those dreaded giant plot holes that we need to keep an eye out for—it’s also continuity errors, mistakes where a character changes personality or hair color, where a house shifts up the street or a lawn grows grass that was only planted two days ago. None of these are things you want in your manuscript.

Once again, to make sure you don’t have any of these in your manuscript, you need to know your manuscript. You need to know your characters well enough to feel as though they’re friends of yours, as though you’ve known them all your life. You need to know your settings, to be able to see them with your eyes open or closed, and to notice when things aren’t quite described correctly. If that means taking meticulous notes and making maps of the street view of your Victorian town, then so be it. It’s the only real way to make sure you keep everything continuous.

Fact of the matter is, your readers will notice if there’s an error. Not all of them, mind you, but several. And unfortunately, the ones who notice tend to be the noisy ones. All we can do is try to remove every error we see, to make our readers as happy as we can.

 

Rani Divine
Associate Editor, etc.

Training the Eye (part 1): Teaching yourself to find the mistakes

Did you recently finish writing a novel? Or, did you finish one a while ago and now you’re sitting on the manuscript, dreading going into the editing phase? I’m with you, on both counts. I have a few manuscripts that are completed, manuscripts I’m just sitting on until I have the oomph to actually edit them. Which means that I’m also always just about to enter a new round of editing.

So I might be just the person to tell you a bit about what goes into those edits, and the things you should be looking for as you train your eye in the art of editing. All month long, let’s discuss, shall we?

 

Training the eye to edit (part 1)

 

I’m going to be talking on two points, today. Not because they go together at all, but because they’re both equally as important, and I thought the rest of my series would make more sense if I got both of these points out of the way from the start.

 

1.      Grammar, Word Usage, and Sentence Structure

Of course, these are the main things you probably already know you should be looking for. We all know one of the biggest pet peeves of readers is finding grammar errors in their favorite author’s books (I don’t know why it bothers them—there’re typographical errors in every document ever written). You can see how much that annoys me, I’m sure.

I’ve digressed. See, grammar and word usage are two of the biggest things you need to train your eye to edit. I know you know the difference between their, they’re, and there, but can you spot them on a page full of hundreds of other words? Can you find the teeny tiny incorrect punctuation mark amidst the chaos of your longest paragraph? I couldn’t, when I started out. But over the years, I’ve trained my eye to find them, wherever possible.

Word usage is another matter. All of us have words we love, specific words we adore and love to use as often as we can—unfortunately, a lot of those words also have tendency to jump off the page, in the eyes of our readers. Take myriad, one of the words I adore. It’s not a word we hear all the time, not a word we’re accustomed to reading or hearing on a daily basis, so when we do read it, it jumps off the page in an instant. That’s not something we want. That’s something that draws attention to the writing itself, and away from the story within the words. We want our readers to be immersed in our story, not in the words we used. Realistically, we don’t even want them to recognize the words at all. What we really want is for them to envision the world and the scenes we’ve created, without ever reading something that pulls them out of that word.

In the same way, we need to watch the way we structure our sentences. And I know this one can be difficult. I have this problem, in all my books, where I tend to write sentences with the exact same structure over and over again. That can get old, and is something you need to train your eye to find. Look at your sentences with scrutiny, searching for ways to vary your sentences. Use fragments. Add run-ons when you think they’re necessary. Remember, you’re writing a book: many of the sentence structure rules you learned in school can be thrown out the window. Just make sure the story is well-written, and that your sentences aren’t a thing that pull readers out of your story. 

Because whatever you do, make sure your readers remain immersed in your world. Don’t break the bubble you’re creating on your pages, the bubble in which you’ve made your story take place.

 

2.      Over explaining the simple stuff (and under explaining the complex stuff)

This is something I’ve been working on, too. I have a tendency, in my writing, to go into far too much detail on things that don’t really matter—which breaks one of the cardinal rules of writing. Don’t give it much detail unless it’s important. It’s a good rule of thumb, in general, while you’re writing. And it’s something you can train yourself to get better at while you’re writing, as well. But, if you’re like me and you just want to describe like crazy, then learning to fix it while you’re editing works just as well.

See, sometimes we get an image in our mind and we really want to show it to our readers. We really want our readers to see everything exactly the way we see it, even if that thing we’re describing doesn’t matter in the long run. On the other hand, sometimes we don’t describe things when we really ought to. Our character is using a tool we invented for our story, but we spend zero time to say what it looks like or even what it does, so that our readers has no chance to really understand it.

Either one is a bad option, and therefore becomes something we must train our eyes to look for, both when we’re writing and when we’re editing.

Genre, however, will play a large role in determining how much you describe in your book. For instance, if you’re a thriller writer, you’ll probably only describe very specific things, things to drive the tension forward. If you’re a romance writer, you might focus on the romantic nature of things. But if you’re like me and you’re a sci-fi or fantasy writer, your readers will expect you to add a fair bit more detail throughout. Especially with fantasy, readers want to be able to see everything in the world you’ve made. In sci-fi, they want to see the technological side of things in your world. It gives you license to use more words (which I use with mild abandon, honestly).

And there you have it. Two things for you to start with, things you should be looking for while you’re writing but also while you’re on your first round of edits. Next time, we’ll start to get a bit more in-depth.

 

Rani Divine
Associate Editor, etc.

The Writers Zodiac (finale)

Let’s finish up.

Libra: With your keen desire for balance you are often the pinnacle of objectivity, able to see and understand differing facets of a situation. You enjoy diplomacy so much you’ll collaborate to the point of letting the other author do all the work because you loathe conflict. While you’d make a great editor because you are usually unbiased and fair, don’t relax into a lack of creativity when it comes to your own work. If you’re concerned about your written words becoming divisive, try flirting a little with your audience. That skill is in your wheelhouse as well.
Suggested Genre(s): non-fiction communication training manuals, plea bargains. Editing.

Scorpio: Let’s face it. You’re scary. If Stoker and King had a literary baby it would be you. You don’t actually write, you puncture the paper, injecting it with venom until it foams at the edges and bleeds out in convulsive horrific glory. You make children and old people cry with your words and you wear terror like a crown. Combine this persistence to the point of gutting anyone who gets in your way and the fact that horror sells, if you don’t lose your mind before you’re published, you may be quite successful. And I don’t just say this because I know a writer who is a Scorpio and I value my life.
Suggested Genre(s): horror, terror, with lots of mauling and pillaging.

Sagittarius: You are nothing if you are not optimistic, except maybe tactless. While you usually have a conversational style that makes you an easy read, and adept at dialogue heavy voluminous works, you’re not big on details. You’re also not good with differing opinions, so topics like politics and religion probably aren’t for you. Unless your target audience is full of like minds. Then by all means, go for it.
Suggested Genre(s): travel blogs, suspense, material for Sarah Silverman.

Capricorn: Ambitious and disciplined, whatever the topic, you’re all in and eyes on the prize. Success is not an option for you. It is an inevitability. Never collaborate though, because you’ll no doubt have to drag the inert body of your lessor-abled partner over the published writer finish line and that will cause you embarrassment. And you hate to be embarrassed. You’ll do it of course because you are unstoppable. And probably offended by this post, but unable to tell me because you really embarrass easy, don’t you?
Suggested Genre(s): anything you want. Just don’t ask me to collaborate with you. I hate being dragged.

Aquarius: Eccentric, eclectic and light years ahead of your time you can create worlds with your imagination and yet be astonished that the rest of us might want to inhabit them because your logic won’t allow you to buy into what you created. Unfortunately, you struggle writing much of anything because you are often incapable of inhabiting a point in time for more than a nanosecond. In your head it’s a novel, no wait a screen play with a soundtrack and a companion board game, but on paper….nothing. If you want to write, give yourself a little more time before you morph into the next persona. It will be worth it.
Suggested Genre(s): Fantasy, myths and legends, astrology posts.

Pisces: If you can dream it, you can write about it, and my fishy friend your head is simply full of beautiful writerly dreams. You have all the feels inside your squishy heart and can reproduce the human condition with truth and empathy but you need to grow some alligator skin and quit letting the humans you so love walk all over your delicate finny tail. Don’t grasp for a series or even a standalone novel because we all know how easily bored you get. Try a bit of flash fiction, or a poem so you get a taste for finishing things you start.
Suggested Genre(s): free verse, vignettes on the human condition, your own personal journals to be found after your untimely demise.

And now the truth: We are all gifted and inept as this thing we do. No matter when you were born, you have your own skill set and your own wonderful way of bringing your story to the page. Never stop being you. This world needs writers who are genuine, human and able to laugh a little at themselves.

As for me? Even though I put no stock in astrology, I’m a Taurus and yes, it is all about that bacon.

Peace
Tammy Boehm, Associate Editor

The Writers Zodiac (part one)

Let’s have a little fun. I don’t believe in the zodiac any more than I believe in Santa Claus, but if I did… this is how I’d make a writer’s zodiac.

Aries: Aggressive and dominant by nature, you never back down from a challenge. Whatever you write, rest assured you’ll have readers or you’ll bludgeon them with your completed series of tomes. No is not in your vocabulary, nor is it allowed in the vocabulary of those around you, especially those whose opinions actually merit something, like your editor and your public relations manager.
Suggested genre(s): medical research books, tax law, assembly instructions for toys.

Taurus: Once you roll out of your 100-count Egyptian cotton sheets and polish off half a pound of bacon, you are always a ready, steady, and reliable writer. Unfortunately, because you rash up at the slightest discomfort you rarely step out of your groove and write something unpredictable. Step back from the line between determined and pigheaded and live a little, will you?
Suggested genre(s): food blogs, luxury vacation spot reviews, Amish romance.

Gemini: With your natural curiosity, your mad social skills, and your smarts, just think of the stuff you could write if you’d stop talking about it and grab a pen! A real Gemini does not know the feeling of writer’s block because the ideas never stop coming. If you really want to produce something read-worthy, hone in on things that keep you up at night, that make you stop and ponder. Don’t be a goldfish.
Suggested genre(s): science fantasy, fiction thrillers, fox news articles.

Cancer: It’s no secret that home and family life are important to you. You undoubtedly have a plethora of photos with paragraphs on the backs of them, newspaper clippings of family events and several volumes worth of dirt on everyone who shares a bit of DNA. I might even be able to find you with an ancestry.com membership, regularly posting on a discussion board. Which is why you haven’t written that historical fiction novel yet. When you’re finally ready to use your formidable perceptive skills to craft characters of your own instead of chasing leaves on your genealogy tree, you might pen a book. Or several.
Suggested genre(s): tabletop devotionals, historical fiction, scrapbooks.

Leo: Charismatic and attention seeking, if we aren’t immediately blown away by your brilliance, we’ll most definitely succumb to your prowess in chapter two because you are the epitome of performer. Most days you could write about pond scum and make us salivate for a bowl of it but unfortunately for you and your larger-than-life ego, not everyone likes you all the time. Chill out, will you? The pond scum is better scum for your efforts, and the majority of us who do love you are fat and happy. Really.
Suggested genre(s): Pirate novels. Slapstick comedy skits. Slam poetry.

Virgo: Precise and analytical, if you pen it your reader can believe it because you do your homework. You are a consummate fact checker and you’re never flippant about your efforts. You’re a unicorn where editors are concerned because you would rather dig out your eyes with a spoon than miss a deadline. There isn’t any style of writing you can’t tackle and we all know it so quit being so harsh on your fellow writers. You’re making us look bad.
Suggested genre(s): self help, sestinas, Speaking Mandarin for Dummies

We’ll finish up next week.

Peace
Tammy Boehm, Associate Editor