Monthly Archives: September 2013

Edit 4 (description)

I don’t do description. My novels have been described as “place holders in a shadow world” because there is little or no description. Shapes, colors, scents, sounds, all have to be added after the fact.

The descriptive edit consists of colors, textures, smells, sounds, movement, and even size. Does a character look up or down at another? Are her fingers small? What color are the leaves on the trees?

Trying to fit all the senses in, after the fact, is more difficult to me than the emotion edit. It’s just an artifact of how I see the world.

I like reading books with a solid physical presence, so I try to put those things in my novels. This edit and the emotion edit take the most time.

I’m afraid I have a desire to appeal to everyone, so I want those who like description to be drawn in by the description, and those who like characters to be drawn in by the characters. There’s something for everyone here.

I just need to make sure there’s not too much, but that hasn’t been a problem to this point. If anything, my readers want more than I’m giving them.

I’m much better in this sense than I used to be, but it’s still a continuous struggle.

Edit 3 (Emotion)

I have a very difficult time putting emotion into my novels. To me, their emotions are obvious from their actions, but my readers (almost unanimously) say that they need some indicator of what these people are feeling.

Honestly, if an ex husband comes back with the stated intention of taking custody of their son, I think the woman’s emotions can pretty well be assumed. But apparently not.

So the third edit I do is emotion. At this point I have to put in the little actions, words, descriptions, that will tell my readers what I already feel is obvious.

Makes it difficult, and some might say that if I think it’s unnecessary I should skip it. Since I like the books better when this edit is done, I continue to do it.

This is another step of character development, and unfortunately many of my books are set in a world where visible emotion is frowned on. In many cases what I do is create physical tells for each character. So a character might pick at her skirt when she’s angry and fiddle with her hair when she’s being sarcastic, or whatever. If I can create distinct “tells” for each character they start to pop off the page, just a little.

I go through the book as many times as necessary, trying to put at least three emotion words or sentences on each page. Doesn’t always work that way, but I try.

Then it’s time for the other hard edit, even worse. Description.

Edit 2 (voice)

Edit two is the voice edit, and although part of this gets taken care of in the first edit (mostly on accident) I still need to tweak things. This is usually a short edit for me, making sure the characters are consistent and recognizable.

I need to make sure that each of them is distinct, even if only to myself. I have a bad habit of transferring traits, which leads to using the name of the stolen character in places where they do not belong. So I know that if I use the wrong name for a character they’re blending and I need to fix it.

One thing I have difficulty with, particularly in first drafts, is differentiating the ages of various characters. Some act too old, some act too young, and I have to keep in mind that the way the other characters treat them is going to make a difference in how my readers judge ages.

It doesn’t help that I can’t name those ages outright because days and years are different lengths on different worlds. This leads to my readers saying “What? He isn’t acting 13!” when the character is actually physically 17 or some such thing. So the actions have to stand in for statements to tell my readers what age they’re dealing with.

Again, this is one where I have to trust myself. Do I like (or hate) the characters? Are they distinct enough that I can read straight through without getting stuck on some odd little quirk? Am I trying to figure out who is speaking?

If everything’s good it’s time for the description and emotion edits. These two are the hardest for me.

Edit 1 (Triage)

Ava posted last week about words I use as a crutch, words I have to check to make sure they are actually needed.  It reminded me that I’ve never posted here about my editing process.  So, without further ado…

What I call the triage edit is the biggest one for me. I’m a pantser, so I write from beginning to end without any kind of outline. This leads to plot holes, characters that slip in and then slip out again, as well as a multitude of other problems. Things that happen in real life, but they’re “not acceptable” in writing.

For me this is the best way, even though it leads to more work after the fact. I like the fact that my stories are unpredictable, that the story develops as if these things are actually happening rather than that sense of deliberate construction that I get with many books.

The triage edit is the post-writing surgery phase, or the storyline edit. I read through the story, complete, once. I usually also hand it off to a reader at this point, if someone is available, because I literally can’t see many of the problems.

I am getting better at that, but I’m not there yet.

After I’ve got the plot straightened out (or at least unknotted and the pieces welded together correctly) it’s time to go back, fix the broken characters, put in missing scenes (I seldom have to take scenes out because the writing is so organic) or move them around.

Here’s where I have to decide on the final “shape” of the book. Could one character’s POV be removed or transferred to another more central character? Would a prologue be helpful? Did I start the book in the right place, does it need more or less backstory?

What about the conclusion? Is it satisfying? Does the climax follow the three-act crescendo, or is there a gap in the middle? These are all things we’re used to in the books we read, and although we don’t miss it in real life readers notice if it’s missing.

When I’m done with this I read through it again.

I have to trust myself on this piece–I can tell that something’s wrong, or something’s missing, but not always what. I can see it in other people’s writing, but not my own. If I feel something’s wrong, I’m right. So if necessary I pass it off to another reader.

Once I feel comfortable reading it all the way through, it’s time for Edit 2.

My Problem (and a few tips)

By Ava Mylne

I have this problem.
I’ve written four full-length novels,
and written to the miserable middles of four more,
but I have yet to submit anything—seriously–for publication.
My problem?
Even after twenty years of practice, nothing
is ever good enough if it came out of my head.
I’m still learning, you see. I still don’t know everything.
No matter how well written something looks to me now,
I’m going to see it in another year and cringe at how flawed it is.
I don’t want to see my own literary flaws
immortalized on some bookstore shelf–
If I ever get that lucky.
I have a lot of very encouraging friends who tell me,
“Just keep trying,” and I do.
My back-brain tells me, “Just keep writing,”
and I will.
Someday I’ll be able to read my own writing
and judge accurately what needs to stay and what needs to go,
but for now, I rely on a dear friend:
Other people’s ideas.

So now, without further ado, I give you: Lauren’s List of Words to Eliminate! (Is this plagiarism? Now excuse me while I go do some editing.)

sound of
made of
so, finally, of course
precisely, slowly, quickly, quietly, softly
all forms of to be
could, should, may, would, can linked to a verb
have, has, had, will, shall, might, must
The word “breathed”—or “hissed” or “growled’ or any other animal sound– used as a tag
amusement vs interest
stare or staring
names of animals–appropriate?
Names used where they should not be (mainly in conversation)