Saturday, August 21, 2010

Editing and Revision, Part 2

Back to the fun process of editing!  Did you know that if you use Microsoft Word, you can utilize the "find" function to find all the everyday words you've used, and probably shouldn't have?  I'm going to list a few of those words, so you'll see what I mean:

And, but, that, just, that ( when you mean who ), few, many, nearly, anyway, only, then, felt or feel, really, almost, because, begin or began, very.  To name a few.

Now these are perfectly good words, words we use in both speaking and writing all the time.  But ( one of those we shouldn't use much) sometimes we overuse them in writing when we don't have to.  Take the word "that."  How many times do you use "that" in a sentence like this:  I thought that he was coming, too. Or here is one I took right out of our local paper:  The design that he is going to create was inspired by the Salinas River.

Now try reading it this way:  I thought he was coming, too.  And:  The design he is going to create was inspired by the Salinas River.   Has the meaning of either sentence changed because I took out  "that"?  No, it hasn't.  However, each sentence reads more smoothly,'re eliminating two words in your word count.  So here is one word in particular that you can usually get rid of without changing the meaning of your sentences or paragraphs, and all it does is to lower your word count.  On the other hand...if you are using that word excessively, as well as some of the others listed, to boost your word count, then you have a problem!

All of the words listed above are valid words, and there are times when it is necessary for the flow of your paragraph or dialogue for you to use them.  But a good rule is to go through your manuscript sentence by sentence and see if you can eliminate them...especially "that!"

Another type of word to avoid whenever possible are the adverbs...all "ly" tell something instead of showing it.  For example:  She walked angrily into her bedroom and shut the door.  This sentence is telling the reader that the character is angry.  What about this sentence:  She stomped into her bedroom and slammed the door so hard all her pictures rattled and swayed on their hangers.  A longer sentence, true, but doesn't that give the reader a clearer picture of how she was feeling?  Doesn't it show the reader her feelings rather then telling how she is feeling?  Showing rather than telling usually does add words, but it is a much more active way of drawing the reader into the story, rather than just telling the reader everything.

Other than specific words, a couple of other important points to conside when reviding and editing are chapter openings and endings, and the story ending.
Chapter Openings and Endings:

Be sure that all of your chapters open and close differently.  Don't have them all open at the same time of day or evening, or with dialogue, or with exposition or backstory.  Vary each one, so the reader doesn't know what to expect each time she begins a new chapter.

The same with your chapter endings.  Do they end with a cliff-hanger?  With some kind of unresolved tension or conflict?  Do they end in such a was as to keep your reader turning the pages?  Every chapter can't always end in conflict or tension, we all know that.  But you should read through each chapter carefully, and make sure that you have at least left the reader wondering what might happen on the next page.  Sometimes that means splitting a chapter in a way that you hadn't intended, but if it adds to the overall suspense in terms of emotional tension, a dramatic scene, or perhaps a physical conflict or confrontation left unsolved until the next chapter, then it is the right thing to do.

Story Ending:

The final ending is very important.  Make sure that you haven't left any loose ends hanging.  For example:  Taylor (MC) and Allyson ( secondary MC) had a big fight in Chapter 12 over a boy that both of them liked.  Some harsh words were exchanged that Taylor finds hard to forgive.  In Chapter 13, the two girls make up.  Chapter 15 is the end of the novel...have those harsh words that Taylor couldn't forgive in Chapter 12 been taken care of?  Did the girls make up, but no mention of those words was made?  Would that leave Taylor still unforgiving towards Allyson as far as what she said?  Don't leave loose ends unresolved,  however seemingly minor.  Kids will be sure to pick up on that one point, and ask, well, what happened about this  Make sure as you go back through all your chapters during your edit, that everything said and done has some kind of conclusion.

That's not to say that every novel has to have a happy ending.  They don't, but the ending at least has to satisfy kids that everything that should have happened, did, in one way or another.  Sometimes, if a series is going to occur, you may want to leave one minor little detail...umm, not hanging, exactly, but not resolved completely,  with the idea that maybe someday something else is going to happen in another book.

Editing and revision is a long, drawn out process, but a very necessary one.  The bright side of that process is that often, we find ways to make each page, each chapter more interesting and more exciting to the reader.  The end result is almost always a better novel.  Just remember, perfection is beyond us mere mortals, so don't strive for that.  Strive to produce a story that agents and editors are going to be happy with, and kids are going to fall in love with!

Until next time, that's a wrap.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Process of Editing and Revision

If you're like most writers I know, including myself, the editing and revison process can be a nightmare.  I think we all hate it, yet we know that it has to be done.  We can't submit a manuscript without doing a mountainous amount of editing and revising.  If we did, that would be like going bowling butt naked!  Even if your team consisted of only women, it's still not the best way to present position, is it?

I'm now editing and revising AJ's story for the last time.  I mean it.  The absolutely, positively, definitely LAST least, until an agent or editor asks for something else.

Right now, AJ is not cooperating at all.  She's the little gal who woke me up in the middle of the night, demanding to have her story told.  Which I have done...over...and over...and over...and over.  Each time she has more or less agreed with me, but now she is a sulky little witch, pouting and telling me I am NOT getting it right.  She has become demanding and obnoxious.  I am sure if she could come out of the computer, she'd be standing over me with eyes glaring and fists on her hips.  Neverthe less...

We all do revisions differently.  Some people are very organized, have a system that they follow, and others, like me, start with the first sentence and go on from there.  But there are a few things I believe we all need to be aware of as we go along.  These are:

First Five Pages:  How do we get started?  Do we begin with dialogue, backstory ( always a bugaboo), narration?  However we begin, will those first few paragraphs grab the reader's attention, and keep them reading through the next four pages?  Do we start with some kind of action, or does it take more than five pages to really get into the meat of the story?  ( If the answer is yes, that's bad news.)

The Main Character:  Will the reader know what the MC is all about within those first five pages?  Will the MC display enough of his/her characteristics to cause the reader to bond with her?  Is she someone who changes and grows in some way be the end of the story?  What about her will make the reader want her to succeed:  is she a heroine in some way;  someone who is the underdog but overcomes it; someone who is funny and sarcastic;  someone who knows what she wants and how to get it, and lets nothing stand in her way?  In other words, do YOU know this character well enough for her to know herself, AND the reader to fall in love with her?  or even, Love to Hate her?

Conflict:  Is there more than one conflict?  Is the MC engaging in this conflict emotionally, physically, mentally or spiritually, or any combination of those?  Is the conflict believable for the MC's age?  Is there more than one conflict, and if so, are you weaving them together concisely and believably, or do you have a loose end somewhere?  Is the conflict one that your reader can relate to, in terms of both age and experience?

Voice and POV:  Both are difficult, but I think voice is probably the hardest for all of us.  First, we have our own voices, the way we write, the style we use.  Then we have to consider the voice of each of our characters.  We can't have a 13 year old girl sounding like a 6 year old child, or a 30 year old woman.  Not only do we have to have a realistic voice for our MC, but the voices for each of the characters must be different, too.  If the MC is a 13 year old girl, she shouldn't sound like her 16 year old brother.  If we have 10 year old twins, they can't sound like their sister, brother, or mother.  ( In case you're wondering, AJ is the 13 year old, with a 16 year old brother and 10 year old twin sisters.)

So finding the right voice, in terms of vocabulary, how she or he speak, the phrases and words they use...all the elements that go into having a distinct voice for each character...are all very important.  They are definitely things to edit closely.

POV is another sticky wicket.  I love to write in 1st person past tense, but this is not the easiest thing to do, and I sometimes slip up.  For one thing, it's hard to carry 1st person through a whole novel, because nothing can happen in the novel that your MC is not privy to.  She has to be with the other characters in every scene, or she has to be in some place where she can see and hear but not be seen or heard.  None of the other characters can think about something, because she would not be able to know their thoughts.  They can't have "looks" come over their faces, or "feel" something, because the MC can't do that for them.

Most writers use 3rd person past tense, and write from the MC's POV.  But even that can cause problems, if you're not careful. 

We'll talk more about some of the other pitfalls of editing next time.  In the meantime, when you begin your edit, pay close attention to the things we've talked about here. 

Until next time, that's a wrap.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Good Intentions

Good intentions gone awry!  I had every intention of posting here at least twice a week, after my last post which was in July.  And as you can see, that was almost a month ago.

Worst part is, I have no excuses.  Except:  let's see, I was busy working on getting my assignment finished;  I had 6 chapters to do an almost complete rewrite on;  I had three query letters I've been working on ( one is harder to write than an entire novel, let alone three different ones);  I had a three-day conference to attend ( okay, okay, so it was online, I still had to be there, didn't I?); and then, well, there's just life in general getting in the way.

Besides all that, I'm still mulling over what one of my favorite agents said ( no, she's not my agent, but she's at the top of my list) about blogging in general.  She said that there is really no good reason for an unpublished writer to have a blog or a website.  According to her, the main purpose for either is to promote our books, and if we don't have one published yet, we don't really need to take time away from writing to work on a blog or website.  Although, she did say that if blogging was just something you really loved, you should stay with it...but don't allow it to take away from your real writing time.

I agree with her a lot, but not entirely.  However, this is just one of those times when one reputable agent says one thing, and another one says the opposite.  I've also read agents say how important it is for a beginning writer to have a presence or a platform for themselves on the Internet.

I'm still not sure what a platform is all about.  But a presence?  I can go along with that.  Then, of course, comes another question and differences of opinion.  The question is:  who are you writing your blog for? Kids? Teens? Teachers/librarians?  Other writers?  Or even, none of the above?  For me, the answer would be, other writers, especially those just beginning.  I try very hard to post some good information and/or tips about writing that I have learned through courses, books, conferences, and other experienced writers.

Kids don't read blogs.  Teens don't either, unless they are by some favorite/fabulous author like Stephanie Meyer or JK Rowling.  And I'm not sure what teachers and/or librarians would be looking for in a blog, so I concentrate on putting out something that will ( hopefully) benefit less experienced writers.

The agents' grapevine also says it is a good thing to talk about your writing: the ups and downs ( not necessarily rejections), how your ideas come to you, how you go about putting those ideas into action, and even posting exerpts occasionally from some of your work.

So stay tuned.  This week I am for sure/absolutely/positively going to have some new stuff on my blog...and it may even surprise you!

Until then, that's a wrap.