Tag Archives: editing

13 Helpful Tips for Revising Your NaNoWriMo Novel (Guest Post)

Hopefully you’ve been letting your novel sit since you finished it to give you some distance from it before you start revising. When the time does come to start your revisions my guest poster today, Brittany Lyons, has some great tips to keep in mind to ensure your novel becomes perfectly polished.

13 Helpful Tips for Revising Your NaNoWriMo Novel

You’ve taken the National Novel Writing Month challenge and after a month of writing feverishly, you now are left with something less than perfect. Yet although you want to get your novel into shape, the task may be so daunting it seems like you are completing one of the world’s toughest PhD programs instead. Don’t despair. Here are some simple, self-editing tips that can help you polish your piece.

1) Make sure your book opens with a sentence or paragraph that grabs the reader’s attention and keeps them reading the next sentence, and the next, and the next.

2) By the end of chapter one, there are a few things that should be revealed to the reader:

  • The genre and time-period in which the story is taking place.
  • The main character, or at least one of them.
  • The main conflict(s) the character(s) are facing, or a foreshadowing of what they are going to face or what is keeping them from attaining their primary goal in life.
  • The setting – the reader must have a sense of where the characters are at all times. Descriptions of rooms and awareness of space and flow are important. Drop these images in naturally so readers understand the “blueprints” to buildings.

3) Make sure you haven’t created perfect characters. Real people are riddled with faults, so a character who has nothing wrong with them in any way is not believable. Without credible characters, your story won’t be interesting. Likewise, avoid describing the character in a paragraph or two. Instead, drop in tidbits about them organically throughout the story.

4) Examine whether your dialogue advances the story – are beats and tag lines relevant to the scene? It’s best to not overuse these, and make everything count.

5) Look for overused, unnecessary, and pet words and phrases. These are the biggest offenders:

  • “That,” “however,” “because,” “of course” and “after all.”
  • While it is okay to use conjunctions like “but,” “and,” “for”, “then,” and “well” to start sentences, don’t begin too many of them that way.
  • “Just” and “very”.
  • Avoid using “begin” and “start.” The moment someone begins or starts to do something, they are actually doing it. These are empty words.
  • Repeating adjectives won’t make something more intense. Watch out for describing something with “very, very” and similar repetitions.
  • Worn out clichés and trite phrases.
  • Don’t begin consecutive sentences with the same word or phrase, unless for effect or to heighten intensity of a scene.

6) Beware of over-explanations that insult the reader. Assume that most of your readers will be able to figure things out for themselves. Example: “I don’t understand why you said that to me,” Margie said, confused. The dialogue already shows Margie’s confusion, so there is no need for further explanation.

7) The most popular point of view (POV) today is third person past tense. When using this tense, write each scene from only one character’s POV. That means you can only describe the scene from what that particular character can see, feel, hear, taste and know.

8 ) Check your work for “information dumps.” It is common for authors to want to explain technical or historical information to the reader. Don’t dump it all in one spot, but rather drizzle it into the story in smaller tidbits so you don’t overwhelm the reader.

9) End each chapter with either a cliffhanger or in the middle of an unresolved scene. The idea is to entice readers to keep reading because they can’t put the book down.

10) Beware of state-of-being verbs that render your sentences passive. If you can rewrite a sentence to get rid of “was” and other forms of “to be,” your work will be more active and interesting.

11) Eliminate adverbs ending in “ly” whenever possible. They are considered “telling.” It is more desirable to “show” the scene. Instead of writing that a character said something excitedly, rewrite it to show us what “excited” looks like for that character.

12) Make sure that when you write “the end,” the story has a satisfying ending. Conclusion to your novel doesn’t have to be happily-ever-after, but all major conflicts must have been resolved, and the reader needs to feel content when they close the book.

13) Lastly, do a final run-through to check for punctuation, usage and grammar errors.

Editing can be a lot of work, but implementing these tips will tighten your writing and give it focus, taking it from blah to ah! The more polished your manuscript, the better chance it has of catching an agent’s or editor’s eye.

Brittany Lyons aspires to be a psychology professor, but decided to take some time off from grad school to help people learn to navigate the academic lifestyle. She currently lives in Spokane, Washington, where she spends her time reading science fiction and walking her dog.

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Writing Effective Description

This week on #scribechat on Twitter (Thursday 9pm ET US/Friday 11am AEST Aus.) the topic was ‘Editing your Manuscript’. One question that came up was regarding description. So today I’m going to address the topic of writing effective description in your novel.

Show, Don’t Tell This is the most important thing to remember when writing description. I’ve written a post about this before (Show, Don’t Tell). What is the difference between showing and telling? Telling is exactly that: telling. You tell the reader that the character is ‘tall with long brown hair and blue eyes’. Sometimes the writer tries to be more subtle about it, the biggest cliche being a character looking in a mirror to describe him/herself, but it is still telling. Showing means interweaving the details in the story. If the character is tall you might write, “His head brushed the top of the doorframe as he entered the room.” In this example you are showing the reader the character is tall, without having to even use the word ‘tall’.

When I am editing I use a blue highlighter to highlight any sections of my manuscript where I am telling instead of showing.

Use All 5 Senses This is related to showing rather than telling. Whenever you describe anything in your novel, don’t just think about the visual elements, try to imagine the smells, tastes, sounds and how things feel. It’s the difference between your reader viewing a photograph of your scene, or becoming immersed within the scene. You want your readers to feel like they are there, experiencing what your characters are experiencing. Instead of just telling the reader there’s a building on fire, describe the sound of the flames crackling, the smell of the smoke and how the smoke burns your character’s throat.

Here’s an exercise: Go sit outside and close your eyes. What sounds can you hear? Are there birds tweeting in the trees, or cars revving their engines? What can you smell? Can you smell the sweet aroma of flowers, or maybe you can smell rain in the air? What can you feel? Is the sun warm on your face, or is the wind sending chills through your body? Now when you write your next scene think about where your character is, what time of year it is, what time of day and what is going on around him/her and incorporate the different senses into the scene.

Move the Plot Forward It’s important to keep your plot in mind no matter what you are describing. Avoid adding excessive details that do not relate to your plot. Is it important that your main character’s best friend has a mole on her chin? Does it matter if someone’s eyes are blue or brown? Character development and world building are both necessary to give your story life, but try not to bog your story down in too much detail or readers will be inclined to skip over the long drawn out descriptions. Cut out what is unnecessary, then build up the parts relating to your plot. Instead of spending a page and a half describing what your character looks like, use that space to delve into who your character really is and what motivates him/her. Instead of telling your reader your character has a scar on her left knee, you might write, “Liz ran a finger over the scar on her knee, remembering how she’d fallen off her motorbike in the Championship race last year and lost the race.” From this we find out Liz likes to ride motorbikes competitively and if the story is related to her racing it might show us how she is out to prove herself. This shows a very different character to one who might have got the scar from a knife fight.

These are the three main points I keep in mind when writing/editing description in my manuscript. Do you have any other important tips you follow for writing effective description? Please share them!

More Helpful Writing Sites and Blog Posts

Fresh back from my holiday away I thought it was time for another post on helpful sites and blog posts I’ve come across in the past month.

Twitter Chats for Writers

A comprehensive list of the various twitterchats for writers (from children’s writers to script writers to genre writers) and the days and times they take place. It also outlines what twitterchats are and a few tips for those who are new to twitterchat.

25+ Favourite Twitter Hashtags for Writers

A list of the best hashtags for writers on Twitter (with links).

Three Act Structure

Jenn Johansson posted on her blog this great article about the three act structure of a novel, including a diagram of what the 3 act structure looks like.

Three Simple Stages of Self-Editing

If you are in the process of editing or about to start editing your novel then Jody Hedlund’s blogpost is worth a look. She describes the three main types of edits: Substantive/macro-edits; line-editing; and copy-editing/proofreading.

Workshop: Writing the Novel Synopsis

This in-depth article by Sheila Kelly sets out step by step how to write an effective synopsis for your novel.

Secrets of a Great Pitch

If you ever go to a writer’s conference or happen to meet an agent in an elevator, do you have a pitch prepared? Literary agent Rachelle Gardner outlines the important points you should include when pitching your novel (and also what you should avoid).

Process of Writing: From Draft to Published Novel

In this four minute video author Kate Forsyth describes her writing process, with visual examples, from the initial idea all the way through to receiving her author’s copy of her book. It’s a bit of insight into the entire process.

Hopefully there is a little something here for everyone, no matter where you are on your writing journey.

The Revision Process

Back in February I talked about how I planned to do my first lot of revisions once I finished the first draft of my manuscript. Now I have finished those initial revisions, I am now doing more revisions (does it ever end !) so I thought I would dedicate a post to what my focus is in this part of the revision process. First a brief recap of what I did for my first lot of revisions.

FIRST ROUND REVISIONS

Main focus: Structure and technical elements

1. Listen to chapter read aloud on ywriter and highlight flaws.

2. Read chapter, fix spelling and grammar and make additional notes.

3. Go back over highlighted parts of text and rewrite (highlighted parts generally indicate telling rather than showing and awkward phrasing)

4. Read aloud chapter to myself and fix anything else that stands out.

SECOND ROUND REVISIONS

Main focus: Tightening manuscript and fixing plot flaws

1. Delete all unnecessary words, descriptions and anything not relevant to the plot. This includes getting rid of words like ‘that’ and backstory that contributes nothing to the plot. I also deleted the entire prologue.

2. Make a list of plot holes then go back and fix them.

3. Rewrite beginning (multiple times) until it hooks the reader.

4. Raise the stakes! Delete anything boring and add more conflict.

5. Restructure chapter breaks. Instead of ending chapters at mundane natural breaks (like falling asleep at the end of one chapter and waking up the next morning at the start of the following chapter) use chapter breaks in high-tension places to hook the reader into the next chapter.

6. Create more natural dialogue between characters.

7. Work with critique partner to pinpoint flaws I have overlooked and to see what impressions a reader would have of the manuscript in its current state.

What do you do when you revise? Do you follow a similar structure or do you revise in a completely different way?

First draft written! Now onto the editing.

Last week I felt a great deal of pride and accomplishment as I typed the final words of the first draft of my novel.  It felt so good to know that I had just written over 50,000 words/20 chapters and got all of the plot that had been floating around in my head all typed up. But of course I am by no means finished my novel, and as much as I felt relief at finally get my entire story written down, I also knew I still had a big task ahead of me: editing.

The prospect of editing this novel is a bit scary, to be honest, since I wrote most of it without looking back, so I’m prepared for lot of typos and sentences that make no sense. In the past I have taken the approach of editing a lot as I write, constantly going back, revising and correcting. I decided to take a different approach this time around, mostly inspired by the NaNoWriMo process. So I wrote this novel without looking back, I let my muse take over and just typed, without worrying about typos and other writing disasters. Now I cringe to think what terrible descriptions, spelling mistakes and illegible sentences I will find as I proofread the finished product. Despite this, I actually think it is a good thing in a way because I will be proofreading with fresh eyes. Since I haven’t looked back since I started writing the novel it will be the first time I have read what I have written and hopefully this will mean I will more easily pick up on parts that need to be fixed.

I have a bit of a system for editing my novel, which is something else I am trying for the first time and so far I think it is proving to be helpful and efficient.

1. First I listen to the chapter on ywriter (since it has an option for the scenes to be read aloud). The voice lacks intonation and pronounces some words wrong, but it’s good being able to listen to the words read out and is helping me pick up on any typos (for instance, if I’ve written ‘form’ instead of ‘from’) or sentences where I’ve repeated myself. Sometimes when reading your mind doesn’t pick up on these errors, and even when reading aloud to yourself your mind reads as you think it should read, rather than what is written, so you miss those little errors.

2. As I listen to ywriter I fix up those errors as I go, but I also make notes on areas that need more description, more detail or need to be reworded.

3. After listening to ywriter, I go back and read the chapter in my head, making more notes. I’m using a colour-coding system: yellow highlighter for parts that need to be reworded; green highlighter for parts that need more description; purple highlighter for parts that need more detail (this is different to description – it means I need to add more content to the scene); and blue highlighter  for parts where I believe I am telling more than showing. I also write any extra notes in red, such as ‘check if this part is consistent with the letter from the first chapter’.

4. I then go back and fix up all the parts I highlighted, adding more description/detail or rewording where necessary.

5. Finally, when I believe I fixed everything in the chapter, I read it aloud to make sure I haven’t overlooked anything and it sounds alright when read with proper intonation. Then it’s onto the next chapter.
With my shorter stories I usually like to print out the story so I can read the words on paper and scribble notes with pencil in the margins, but considering the length of this story, I decided to skip this step (too much paper and ink!).

I really want this novel to be perfect because I have every intention on sending it off to publishers. I’m in the process of proofreading and editing chapter four at the moment (I’m up to step four and procrastinating because there is a lot that needs fixing in this particular chapter). Once I finish proofreading and editing through the entire novel I am hoping to get a couple of beta readers to read through the entire novel. The role of a beta reader is to read through and pick up any spelling or grammatical errors/plot inconsistencies/character flaws/etc. Basically it means having a fresh pair of eyes looking over the story and giving a different perspective.

I’m really very excited about this novel 🙂