Editing and Revision Tips for Your Work, Part 2
Ready for Part Two?
A few weeks ago, I’ve shared some awesome editing and revision tips from my local writer’s conference I’ve attended back in late March in the first installment with some computer shortcuts and easy ways to do it via hard copy. Now here’s the last half of that workshop I’ve attended on how to self-edit eight various aspects on your manuscript to get it into refined and polished glory. If you’re bored with the first draft or impossibly stuck, take a hard look at the premise, the characters, the inciting incident, the motives behind the story. Before you invest weeks, months or years in it, a significant shift in one or more parts of the work might be required. You may abandon it or shelve it for a later time. If you story continues to follow you around or fascinate you, it deserves your attention and effort on the page. It’s your job as the author to make it compelling to the reader. Once the all-important first draft is on the first page, the editing/revising process can be more manageable if you approach it aspect by aspect instead of tearing into the text whole cloth. Go through the entire draft with one aspect in mind (like pacing for example). Then go through the whole thing looking at another aspect, such as voice. Repeat until you’ve examined the text for each aspect.
You can make detailed notes on the manuscript and revise after completing all passes, or make changes to the text after you go through each aspect. Here’s a list of the eight aspects in an intentional order, but you can mix it up. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the very idea of editing, start with an aspect that seems easier than the other. You may just come to love the process, believe it or not.
Mark Your Calendars to Schedule Self-editing Sessions With Sticky Notes
This Checklist is Handy to Use as you Write and Edit Each Scene
The 8 Aspects to Self-Edit
1. VOICE—Agents and editors look for a compelling VOICE over just about every other element when evaluating a manuscript. In memoir and personal essay, do you have a consistent tone? Does it feel like YOU speaking, or some other person? Feel authentic and honest? In fiction, do you have a compelling narrator? Characters speaking in way that feel true to their persona? Don’t forget that SETTING is often a “character” of the story and must be portrayed in an evocative way.
2. NARRATIVE ARC/PLOT—Every story, essay and memoir has a narrative arc that the reader wants to follow. It can be a quiet one in some cases, but in all cases, something or someone needs to change from the beginning to the end of the work. Is there an arc? Are there dead spot in the text that move slowly? Why?
3. TENSION/CONFLICT—If the author isn’t actively engaged in the subject or wrestling with some issue on the page, the reader will lose interest. Again, this doesn’t have to involve fireworks or epic events. In essay, it can be a quiet insight gained, or a new question created in the narrator’s mind. It can be a small discovery. The longer the reader’s investment of time, i.e.,a novel or book length memoir, the more there will be at stake on the page.
4. STRUCTURE—Structure can involve many decisions. Point of View (POV) is a big one (first person, second person, third person intimate, omniscient, or alternating back and forth between two characters’ POV, for example.) Most memoirs, but not all, are told in first person. Like the television drama “24”, for example, when it was structured around each episode moving minute by minute through 24 hours of unfolding action, when structure can mean a kind of framework for the story. In the classic novel Flowers for Algernon, it was brilliantly delivered by diary entries of the main character as he evolved into a genius through scientific intervention, then back into severe intellectual decline. Many memoirs start the reader at a critical point in their lives and then go back in time to describe what led up to it. Some books are physical journeys, braided with the deeper story, such as Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. Have your chosen your structure that best delivers your story?
5. LANGUAGE—Are you using cliches? A string of adjectives, when one well-chosen descriptor will do the job? Are you employing adverbs in dialogue, when it’s the dialogue itself than should be delivering the tone and emotion felt by a character? Do the words fit the action and character’s voice? Are you using passive voice too often? Active verbs are almost always the better choice (Think “She walked” instead of “She was walking”.) Can you tighten and delete anywhere, so that you aren’t saying the same thing several different ways? Does the writing have a certain “music” to it? When you read it out loud, does it flow easily off the tongue?
6. PACING—Are there dragging parts? Beware of the “sagging middle” of a novel that loses its momentum. On the other hand, is there no relief to breathless action, suspense and/or trauma? Sometimes the reader needs a few quiet pages to absorb, process or savor big events. Again, think of the way music flows, with various movements.
7. BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS—Is the beginnings compelling enough to invite the reader into the story immediately? Or the opening paragraphs too preface-like, the author “clearing his or her throat”? Is the ending satisfying without trying too hard to wrap up every loose end or hammer home a point, leaving some discovery for the reader?
8. SPELLING/GRAMMAR/ACCURACY—Don’t rely on spell check. And if grammar isn’t your forte, hire a proofreader or be willing to offer some in-kind service to another writer in exchange for their skill in this area. FACT CHECK for accuracy. Anything that can be verified should be. if you want a character drinking in the scent of some fragrance bloom in a California garden, for example, make sure you choose something that actually grows there. And that it actually has a fragrance. And that it blooms during the month the scene takes place. If the main character is literally driving into a spectacular sunset, make sure they’re not heading east. That kind of thing. You can’t be sure that some reader will catch your error and gleefully bring it to your attention. Even if you’re writing fantasy, your created world must be consistent with itself.
A Must-Have for all Writers on Revision and Editing for all Forms of Fiction and Nonfiction
Well, that’s the end of this two-part editing and self-editing revision hub series from my local conference workshop I attended in late March. I hope these eight aspects of self-editing helps you prune and fine tune your manuscripts into a polished hard copy. Stay tuned later this month for the core of elements on writing a novel in 60 days or less, which would help you get ready for Camp Nano (or Julno) this summer, or even for Nano this fall. As for my fall local full-day conference, I’ve just checked the website for the fall workshops and the price, too. I’ll get back t you real soon, if I’m going and what classes I might be going to for future writing hubs this fall and maybe winter.