Training the Eye (finale): Showing and telling

Hi there!  

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 (finale)

 

It’s finale day in our series on training the eye while you edit, and today I want to talk about something from two different sides—because despite the fact that everyone always says it one way, there are two sides to everything.

 

1.      Telling, not showing

The thing everyone tells you: train your eye to make sure your story is shown, not told.

You all know this, if you’ve been writing for any length of time. You know that both writers and editors will tell you to make sure your story is always shown and never told. You know that story reads much more beautifully, more poetically, if it’s shown. You know that telling a story can turn into a boring read, because you’ll find yourself skipping over the important parts, the parts that allow your reader to connect with your story, in favor of telling in order to get to the scene you want to show.

So once again, I’ll tell you: train your eye to look for moments where you’re telling and not showing. Look for pieces of the story that could be better described, better shown, and fix them. Mend them. Allow your readers the chance to connect with every single little bit of your story, with every character and every event taking place, show them what it’s really like to live in the world in which you write.

It’s generally a fairly easy thing to train your eye to find, especially if you’ve been aware of this notion since you started writing.

 

2.      Showing, not telling 

The thing nobody tells you: train your eye to make sure you’re allowing yourself to tell the sections of your story that don’t need to be shown.

Yeah, I said it. There are parts of your story that shouldn’t be shown. It’s true, even if you never considered it before. Do you have any idea how long every story would be, if every little thing was shown and not told? They’d be as long as a lifetime. And that’s why we need to be okay with a little bit of telling, here and there.

So train your eye to look for moments where you can tell. It’s a tricky thing, because it’s a tricky balance between the two, but my best advice to you is to read. Read your favorite authors, and see how they do it. Look for moments where they’re telling and not showing, and see if you can mimic their method. It’s not stealing, I promise. Most of us would be flattered (or tell you who we stole the idea from) if you asked us.

Point is, you’ll need to train your eye to look for both. You need to be able to recognize the difference between showing and telling, and you need to be able to determine whether something ought to be shown or ought to be told.

It’s a long process. It’s a life-long process, if I’m being honest. But stick with it, and it’ll get easier along the way. I promise.

 

Rani Divine
Associate Editor, etc.

Training the Eye (part 4): Excessive dialogue and exposition

Hi, everyone!

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 4)

 

Only one more week left in our series! I hope you’ve all been learning some things this month, and I’m glad if I’ve been able to help you even a little bit, as you work toward honing your editing skills. To that end, let’s talk a bit about dialogue and exposition, and more things you’ll have to learn to cut while you’re editing. I’m sensing a theme, here…

 

1.      Gratuitous talking

Dialogue is one of those things that draws reader’s eyes. In fact, I would say it’s the thing that draws their eye the most. It’s even something that I do, when I’m reading. If there’s a page full of exposition, my eye goes straight to the dialogue and works backward from there. I don’t know why we do it, but we do it. So, dialogue needs to be extremely intentional. It needs to be something you put a lot of thought into, something you consider carefully when you write it (and I know none of us have that instinct, trust me).

If you haven’t had a character that won’t shut up, then I’m not sure you’ve written. We all have them, now and again. They just show up. Characters who stand there on the page and won’t stop talking, talking, talking—all about nothing in particular and in no way that means anything to the story at large. The trouble with those characters is that they draw our reader’s eyes more than they should, in a way that’s not very pleasing to read. We don’t want that to happen.

Yet again, I’ll tell you to train your eye. Read your dialogue for things that no one would ever say in a million years. Read your dialogue and ask whether or not this needs to be said, whether it needs to be said by this character, and if it needs to be said at this precise moment and in this exact scene. Asking these questions will help you determine real intention with your dialogue, and help you know what needs to be cut and what ought to be kept. You’ll get better at it, with time.

 

2.      Gratuitous exposition

On the other hand, exposition can be just as important. Exposition is the thing that defines our dialogue, that sets the scene for that dialogue and explains what’s going on around the dialogue. Realistically, exposition is just as important, if not more important, than your dialogue. The thing is, you can afford a few more extra words in your exposition than you can in your dialogue, simply because exposition is a place where more readers are known to skim just a little bit.

In any case, once more, your words must be intentional. Anything you’re describing in this scene needs to be described with reason, with purpose. There has to be an answer behind everything, a reason to include it where and when it’s included. Whether you’re intentionally foreshadowing something down the line or drawing attention to one specific thing so your reader will know it’s about to be important, you need to have purpose in your exposition. Wordiness is never something we want, in our writing.

Again, again, I tell you to train your eye. Study the things you read and the things you write, and discover whether there are things you do in your writing that really don’t need to be there. It’s all right if there are, really. We all have it happen, no matter how long we’ve been writing. Don’t worry about it. Just get used to finding it, to cutting it, and to getting your manuscripts to the paces they need to be.  

One more week to go, in our study on training the eye!

 

Rani Divine
Associate Editor, etc.

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.