Tag Archives: story arc

NaNoWriMonkey 2014

Hellooooo! And brrrrrrrrrr! The season has officially shifted—the temps are dropping, the days darkening, and lattes everywhere are getting infused with pumpkin spice whether they like it or not. I can smell Halloween in the air, and the day after that will be…National Novel Writing Month!

Now, I won’t pretend that I’m the most consistent, most winningest NaNoWriMo participant out there, but this year especially, I have a lot to be grateful to this event for. Those who’ve followed me awhile might recall my virgin yet Herculean (if I may say so myself) NaNoWriMo effort in 2011, when I first started in the middle of the month and still met my 50,000 words! The craziest thing about what I churned out over those couple of weeks is that I salvaged most of it as not pure and utter crap—I don’t credit my command of the craft for that so much as the OUTLINE I had going into it. I wasn’t writing purely off the top of my head but with specific plot points in mind for Manuscript #2, which gave me the destination to aim for even if the path I took was allowed to roam (which is really when the magic happens, I think…when you let go and just immerse and write, which leads to tapping into your storyworld so directly you almost feel like you’re just transcribing what already exists, not something you’re creating—see my NaNoWriMo follow-up post for more reflections on that experience).

In any case, what I salvaged from NaNo 2011’s 50,000 words can now be found in the novel that was published this year. So needless to say, I bow down to NaNoWriMo as a worthwhile endeavor no matter how ready or not you are. I’ve been itching to get back in the game ever since and attempted to last year, but I couldn’t knock my editing hat off to wear my writing one for long enough. And, granted, I wasn’t prepared with another WIP outline at that point; in lieu of that, I was going to try my hand at an anthology for all the miscellaneous paranormal ideas I have floating around. I did manage to write almost 8,000 words for one of those stories, which was in response to a call for submissions that had opened at the time. The publisher was looking for urban legend retellings, so I cranked out Bloody Hell, Mary!  It wasn’t accepted and certainly not the best I could do, but I appreciate the practice it gave me as I try to warm up my writing muscles for Manuscript #3…

…which is my NaNoWriMo goal for 2014. I still need to shape my next novel idea into an outline, but I’ve written a crapload of notes and wrote my first chapter yesterday. If I can start to find my groove over the course of October, I’m hoping November will be the month when Manuscript #3 gets officially underway.

And as for dear, sweet Manuscript #1…it’s hangin’ in there. I’ve revamped its opening chapters quite a bit and would like to tighten its second half around a more cohesive story arc. We’ll see. I know she isn’t going anywhere–which is both a relief and just what I’m afraid of. 🙂

All right, gang, so who’s with me? Who’s planning to get NaNoed this year? Write on!


The Red Pen: Stating the Obvious that Obviously Needs Stating

I’ve been wearing my editor hat again the last couple weeks, working with someone’s raw manuscript that is pending rewrite for resubmission. For confidentiality reasons, I apologize that I can’t be more specific than I am. What follows below are merely some overarching concerns that a rookie can easily overlook (hey, I’m one, too!) and sometimes get the Monkey’s head beating against the trunk of its tree:

1. Research – They say, “Write what you know,” but one doesn’t have to live in a place or serve in a certain profession, for example, to be able to research authentic details relating to such. Writing fiction doesn’t give the liberty to entirely fabricate a place or occupation if it’s one that actually exists. The internet is a beautiful place for research, as are books, site visits, and interviews with people in the applicable locations/fields. Be knowledgeable of your story’s setting and subjects and use common sense to discern what claims need to be fact-checked, then verify them accordingly. (see also “Settingcategory)

2. Narrative – Do NOT “tell” versus “show”! That is Writing 101. Your story shouldn’t read like an extended synopsis that lists events rather than describes them in such a way that immerses the reader. Don’t say that your character is making a facial expression that looks angry, show that his brows are furrowed and lips screwed into a menacing sneer. Don’t say that the room is filled with expensive-looking furniture, show that it’s cluttered with ornately carved oak chairs upholstered in embroidered silk astride side-tables trimmed in gold leaf (I don’t know if that’s “expensive” or just tacky…). And don’t say something in dialogue that you then paraphrase in narrative—communicate the info/insight one way or the other; to do both is redundant.

Also, avoid an abundance of character introspection. Readers really don’t need to know every single thought and motivation of your character. Make them privy, yes, if it’s from a certain character’s POV, but it’s also more interesting and vivid to visualize if you concisely show their body language and actions and let the reader reasonably infer some of what they’re thinking or feeling. Telling all on characters and the labyrinth of questioning they’re wondering their way through is tedious and doesn’t let readers form questions of their own that’ll make them keep reading in search of answers. Leaving something to the imagination not only indulges one of the joys of reading but can heighten a story’s sense of conflict and climax when the reader isn’t already in the know of everything. (see alsoDescriptive LanguageandSensory Detailscategories)

3. Dialogue. In keeping with the above, character conversation can come across as unnatural when too much information is shared by this means. Be subtle when doling out back-story or insight via dialogue, otherwise it’s blunt and awkward: your manipulations of story become too transparent, and the characters don’t sound like real people. (see alsoDialoguecategory)

4. Characterization. The above narration/dialogue factors are just as important to building a strong sense of character. Do your characters sound believable? Are you showing enough description of features, mannerisms, and personality such that your reader can visualize your characters (yet not so much that you’re telling readers everything about them and leaving nothing to the imagination)? And are you giving your reader reason to remotely care about them and whether or not they reach their goals? Without any of this, characters aren’t even two dimensional; they’re stick-straight lines. Boring. Flesh ’em out and make them more interesting with flaws if they seem too goodie-goodie or benign—or with redeeming qualities if they’re otherwise the Devil incarnate. No one likes a purely good hero or a purely evil villain. (see alsoCharactercategory)

5. Story Arc. Tensions need to rise as the story progresses. Not overly telling and giving everything away (as discussed above) will help contribute to this as readers speculate character motivations and future actions and reactions; scan and replace lengthy sections of introspection with concise, external descriptions of character body language/expression and leave readers to their own interpretations. Add complexity by interweaving relevant back-story and subplot(s). Foreshadowing is also a useful device for enhancing curiosity along the way as readers form predictions, but it will blow up in your face if the seeds you plant are too obvious! Don’t lead up to your big reveal only for your reader to go, “Uh, derr!” That reeks of anticlimax.

It’s not to say everything should be a surprise for the reader—it can be just as suspenseful when the reader already knows something the character doesn’t (like in horror movies when you know the killer is lurking right around the corner from the innocent victim), but only when it’s deliberately played to this effect. There’s a craft in pulling that off, so don’t think simply telling your reader everything and leaving your character in the dark is an easy shortcut—be discerning in what you share and withhold.

Your big revelations can likewise be a let-down if your characters’ own responses fall flat. Think about what you’re wanting your readers to anticipate, to get excited about, and make sure you deliver it in a commensurately enthusiastic fashion. If there’s a big secret out there that your reader knows and is dying for your character to find out, is the character finding out in an exciting and unexpected way? Or is, for instance, another character just explaining it in a straight-forward conversation, garnering a reaction as enthralling as, “Oh.” (see alsoStory Arccategory and, more specifically, Pacing Your Pages” Parts I & II)

6. Other: Plot Elements (in general). Map out all the major and minor elements of your plot and subplot(s) alike and make sure every piece of them flows/connects logically. Ensure not a single important question they could raise is left unanswered if it’s vital to understanding and believing in the story. Loose ends that leave something to the imagination or tease for a sequel are one thing, but overlooking major gaps in how a character got from Point A to Point B (just because you want them to get there for the sake of driving the story forward in other ways) undermines a story’s entire credibility. Don’t just say something happened if it’s not entirely logical for it to have happened and assume your readers won’t notice, that they’ll just take your word for it. If something is complicated whether you like it or not, do the work to figure it out; stop writing and start reasoning through it (via outline or time-line, perhaps). Do more research if it’s necessary. And if it’s not working, accept it and change it to something that will.

Readers’ disbelief can only be suspended so far; you have to earn their trust if they’re going to follow the journey you want to take them on. Even the most fantastical of story-worlds need plausibility (working within the rules/parameters the author so designs for those worlds if it’s not the one we actually live in), so the reader must understand how plot events feasibly come to happen and tie together for the story to be realistic and identifiable.

Speaking of “Uh, durr!” and “Oh,” that’s probably your reader-response to all of the above. But you’d be surprised what we writers can’t see in our own writing that we so clearly do in others. As the author, the mental full-picture we see tends to automatically fill the gaps of the written story that our readers otherwise trip into. With that in mind, never underestimate a pair of fresh eyes; it really does pay to have others read your work. So toughen that skin and git ‘er done! Constructive criticism has groomed the Monkey’s own fur into a nice thick and glossy coat. 🙂


The Red Pen: Stylistic Variation, Story Arc, and Other Manuscript Concerns

Hey there! I haven’t shared any editing anecdotes in a while. To date, my first assignment has been published, the second has been passed on to the managing editor, and I’m getting started on my third. I’d never commented on the second one, so thought I’d retroactively share the issues addressed.

To start is advice I gave the author on stylistic variation:

Where sentence structure is concerned, you describe a lot of consecutive or simultaneous character actions, and, to convey that, “as he” and “as she” are very frequent (as are –ing verbs following a comma—these are called present participial phrases). While not technically incorrect, it’s when repetitions of this structure become noticeable that they can be an issue, so just keep an eye out and consider ways to vary the syntax of your sentences to mix it up. Reading aloud is an awesome way to work through sentence/paragraph flow and catch where words/rhythms might repeat!

Examples:

“As she turned on her heel, she smiled and took his hand to lead him through the forest.”
“She smiled and turned on her heel as she took his hand to lead him through the forest.”
“She smiled and turned on her heel, taking his hand to lead him through the forest.”
“She smiled while she turned on her heel, took his hand, and led him through the forest.”

Etc., etc.

Story arc also needed work. This happens to be a rather sexy romance, so:

A key element to pacing is varying the functions each chapter serves. Too much of the same “function” served by too many consecutive chapters risks flattening the story arc. In this case, the recurring function I see is sex, either with purpose or gratuitous. The sex is of course what readers will love about it, but from a story development standpoint (not a prude one :)), I’m concerned that the frequency of sex scenes is making the middle/third quarter of your story fall flat, with the underlying plot getting a bit lost. There can be too much of a good thing, and too much of anything can make reader attention wane no matter how exciting or saucy the action. And the function that sex serves in a romance novel is not only entertainment, but a vehicle for moving the central relationships forward, so it really ought to only appear when it does move the story forward, rather than be there for its own sake.

Don’t worry, if you ever read it, there’s still a-plenty left in it to warrant hosing yourself down afterward (hot damn!). Other issues addressed:

  • more than one dialogue tag used in a paragraph of the same character’s dialogue (not technically wrong, but judge when it’s superfluous)
  • dialogue tags used for almost every line of dialogue in a conversation – starts to sound overly “he said/she said” when it’s otherwise easy enough to tell who’s talking. Sometimes a corresponding character action suffices in place of tag; e.g.:
    • “Wait a minute,” she said as she held up her hand.
    • “Wait a minute.” She held up her hand.
  • redundancies in description / tendency to over-describe using lists of adjectives when one or two suffice
  • overly repeated (verbatim) words and phrases
  • use of “began to”/”started to” for actions that are followed through, not interrupted.
  • keeping each section within only one character’s POV (in keeping with 3rd person limited, multiple perspectives)
  • time continuity – matching the time-frame of an intermittent subplot to the main plot.
And regardless of how polished the new manuscript I’m editing is, I’m still encountering pretty common grammatical errors—I’ll pop back later this week to share these. Good luck with your own writing/editing!

Happy Endings

Friday night: Curled up on the sofa in a state of despondency. So quiet and lackluster that my husband continually asks me what’s wrong. To which I *sigh* and say I’m fine, just wiped out after a few days of steadily revising manuscript #1…yet again. What I don’t proceed to say is that I think my ending continues to suck, and I don’t know how to fix it, and I can’t wrap my brain around it anymore, and I’m so sick of my manuscript, and all I wanna do is lie curled there and sip from my glass of red wine and watch TV to lose myself in other people’s stories until I drift to sleep.

Saturday afternoon: Husband comes into our second bedroom/office to check on me at the computer because, masochist that I am, I couldn’t stay away from dear ms #1 for long. I look at him, smile, and proceed to bounce in my loudly creaking chair over and over and over again in a way that surely makes the neighbors think we’re up to something naughty. They’re not entirely wrong, because I am at  this point climaxing and reveling in a satisfying ending. My manuscript’s ending. The first version of it I’ve ever been happy with as providing decent resolution. My mind was massaged and able to get off in the end…it almost needed to smoke a cigarette afterward.

Sunday morning: I tweak a bit more at the ending and review how it follows after the climax (a bit tricky, this, as working with two narrative threads has kinda resulted in a climax-within-a-climax…I have zero clue if I’m handling it right, but it feels appropriate). And I realize that for all the work I just put into it, the revision of this ending wasn’t even a rewrite at all! Honestly, it was done through mainly structural changes in which I pulled earlier scenes (that worked better as falling versus rising action) and inserted them into the last couple chapters. It’s hard to explain how it works, but O-M-freaking-G it does!

One of my issues with story arc was an overly quick resolution. It wasn’t “satisfying” and failed to clarify what the heck had actually happened during the climax. This was a pure product of me thinking I’d be so clever and not hand-hold my readers through anything, make them work it out themselves and leave it fairly open-ended so the readers can do the work there, too, and form their own conclusions of what happens next…basically, make them do my job because I think I was honestly too tapped (or lazy) to figure it out myself. 🙂

Well, that’s fine and all, but when it comes down to it, I’ve learned we do need to throw readers an occasional bone. In my previous post on marketability, I’d mentioned the strategies I’d try to make my work more commercially viable but had come to realize: “Is that writing commercially exactly or just better?!” Writing in a way readers can understand and enjoy is not commercial. Writing a well-resolved, satisfying ending isn’t selling out. “Satisfying” doesn’t have mean “happily ever after” or that every single loose end is tied up and explained in full. No, we don’t have to dumb everything down so readers are not only hand-held but pushed along in an adult-sized stroller and spoon-fed a purée of the unthinking obvious—and that’s not me being a snob as a writer; that’s me being a snob as a reader who finds stories like that mind-numbingly dull if not insulting. Resolutions should be like “a flick of the wrist,” I’ve been told, so I think it’s left to the writer’s  judgment which matters can be wrapped up concisely, which developed a bit more, and which left to the reader’s imagination. I think a healthy mix of all of the above can be satisfying indeed for any novel.

I’m not saying I’ve written the perfect ending. It might not be satisfying yet to someone else or even to myself in a few days. It might go through dozens more face-lifts. But what I am saying is that the towel has been flicked at my arse, waking me up to the fact that the ending in my head wasn’t on the page, and mind-reading psychics aren’t necessarily my target demographic that would maybe make that okay. This is not only my story; it’s for future readers, so I need to be less selfish with what I share of it. And such is the moral at the end of this story. 🙂

How about YOU? What issues (if any) with your endings need some massaging out?


Write or Get off the Pot(tery), Monkey!


Greetings, all! I managed to fall out of my tree again, having traveled 4 out of 6 recent weekends and hosting a close friend all last week right after the excitement of the royal wedding, and now I’m prepping for a 2-week trip to the States (split between Chicago and New York) as of this coming Monday. On top of this, I’ve had both my editing assignments fall back in my lap, so have been trying to sort those simultaneously.

I did manage to revise and submit my manuscript in time for a fiction contest in the midst of all this, but otherwise still feel the need to sit down with it properly and tend to its story arc before more serious querying. I’ll have to share with you the feedback I’d received at the writing festival, but what remains now is my own personal criticism of my protagonist’s development. Once my days extend to 36 hours apiece, I just might get to revisit that at some point…

Anyway, today’s post is sponsored by Eda Pottery. 🙂 I mentioned before that I was going to write vignettes for each pottery piece my sister-in-law Marlena creates for her new brand, as inspired by that particular item. Well, I’m pleased to announce that she’s already started displaying pieces for sale at her Eda Pottery website and on Etsy.com. I’ve also started posting my vignettes here on the blog, which you can find at:

thefallenmonkey.com/human-persona/eda

I’ve written a dozen so far, just little bite-sized bits with the corresponding pottery photos and links to Etsy if anyone’s interested in purchasing! My friend Joanna who was just visiting me is also a writer and good friends with Eda’s mastermind, so she may join me in writing for the brand as Marlena continues crafting her pretty pots. 

In any case, as you’ll see if you check out that link, I’ve added “Primate Portfolio” to my main menu as another way of throwing my fictional poop around. If you hover your cursor over its categories, Eda and fanfic titles will appear; otherwise, they’re also linked to their applicable category pages. When I’m feeling confident enough, I’ll perhaps post a chapter of my manuscript…it has a little ways to go yet…

All right then. Off to edit someone’s else’s manuscript. Hope you’re all well and am looking forward to swinging back into your blog trees, too!


The Second Coming: If at First You Don’t Succeed, Write and Write Again

Image from etsy.com

I’ve got lots and lots of material to share and will do so in the coming days (or weeks, more realistically, given the bat-shit craziness of my sheh-jule these days…). And what I’m noticing right now is that my writing life is experiencing a rebirth of sorts that has me coming back for SECONDS…

To start, while the jury is still out on the POV issue plaguing my first editing project (see “POV for Vendetta“), I’ve been assigned my SECOND PROJECT, which is already presenting issues of its own. In this case, the author is safely applying 3rd person limited across different characters by only shifting POV in new sections and/or chapters. However, its story arc is sagging in the middle due to a repeating element that flattens it out through lack of variety. In future posts, I’ll speak to both my editorial comments on this specific manuscript as well as pacing a story in general.

In the last couple weeks, I have also been mapping out a SECOND MANUSCRIPT of my own! Idea remnants that got left behind as I finished my first manuscript have inspired another story line altogether, so I’m working to apply all I’ve learned from my many, many mistakes on manuscript #1 to what will hopefully be a better planned and executed #2. Outlining the plot from the get-go is a first for me, as I’d nearly written myself into a hole the first time around and didn’t know how to bring it all together (see “Fraying at the End“). So while ms #1 accordingly still needs a lot tender lovin’ care, ms #2 is providing my mind a healthy diversion for a while. Having a second project in the pipeline also keeps me from placing too much pressure on that first one navigating its path to publication. As presenters at my workshop said last weekend, hardly any new author’s “debut” novel is actually the first book they’d written.

Speaking of workshop, I got a SECOND WIND for tackling both the manuscripts I’m writing and editing by attending the Festival of Writing in York this past Saturday and Sunday. In addition to two ten-minute one-to-one meetings with a literary agent and published author (the latter being Charles Darwin’s great-great-granddaughter, no less), I attended several workshops on topics like plotting, pacing, and marketability. It gave me gobs of food for thought, so I’ll share what smattering of notes and resources I can with you.

Finally, while I admittedly didn’t churn any creativity out during the month of February for Write 1 Sub 1, I feel I’ve gotten a SECOND CHANCE this month thanks to my sister-in-law, as fate would have it. This ridiculously talented lady is a graphic designer by day and painter, photographer, and potter by night. Her latest endeavor is to create a website for her lovely pottery, and instead of presenting each with an ordinary catalog-type description, she’s opted to pair them with short stories inspired by their design and function. So guess who’s the lucky gal who gets to write these?! I’ve written five short-short pieces so far with five to go (as far as I know), so hopefully these will be appearing online by mid-April. While I still aim to write stories for submission to literary publications in subsequent months, I’m hoping this gig at least covers me for March.

All right, time to shut my yapper. Just a preview of more posts to come after I take a SECOND to catch my breath… 😉

What’s on your writing agenda these days? Any writing firsts or seconds to celebrate this month?


The Red Pen: Editing Another’s Manuscript – Part II

Hello again! Just accommodating the overspill from yesterday’s post, as I yet wanted to address developmental edits on my first manuscript assignment in this capacity. Again, I can’t share any comments that would give away plot/character specifics, and I’m obviously not including the little microediting minutiae here (like reworking sentence structures), but what I am doing is grabbing the meatier highlights of what I found to be the most prevalent issues in the hope it helps reinforce what to check for in your own manuscript as it did for mine.

So to speak on a macroediting level today, this author’s main focus now as she makes her edits (due back to me later this month) needs to be on her ending. We’ve talked story arc before, and a scene after a critical moment of rising action in a later chapter seemed to drag out too long as the reader nears the story’s climax, for which I noted:

[…] I’m not suggesting cutting these parts out, as they serve a purpose in the story and provide important information. Yet perhaps if they’re condensed a bit the pacing could keep flowing toward that climax. What’s key is to determine what you perceive as this story’s pinnacle and make sure everything is building up and up to that, keeping the reader compelled and not bogged down in too much talk or description that tends to flatten out the story’s trajectory when it should be climbing. Dialogue can be [tightened], limiting it to what keeps moving [the characters] and the reader forward.

And whereas that section seemed to drag on too long, the last chapter forced too much into too short a space in seeking a complete resolution. This is a romance novel, so that resolution naturally involves the two main characters attaining closure on where their relationship stands:

Hm, this sounds like a lot to load onto [him] all of a sudden […] when they’re only just working out whether they’ll stay together. I know in assessing that they may as well get all the big deal-breaker topics out of the way, but it still seems like a lot at once. Could she possibly just reference [her wants] in such a way that’s meant to show [him] she’s in for the long-haul with [him], too, in the spirit of taking it one step at a time?

And with romance novels, there’s always the risk of confusing “romance” with “sex,” so when the latter comes up (“up,” quite literally) right at the end and after a sweet moment of sentiment, I suggested:

Hm, seems to undermine the sincerity of the emotion. Maybe [this] can just be coinciding with his revelations of love for her, helping to unleash these realizations rather than being the way he chooses to show her his love after the fact (it’s a little caveman). Some description of her engagement with it might help as well to show this love as something they share in both the emotional and physical sense.

I expressed this merely as my reader’s POV, and not as a prude or a feminist. There’s a way sex can be written romantically, but this just wasn’t it, and I think the author agrees that the resolution can take a less easy, but higher road out.

Another item on the agenda is character development, and, in this work, I felt the two main characters were developed fully. I genuinely liked them and, from the romance aspect, really wanted them to get together—they made sense as a couple. Most importantly, I believed in them—they felt real, through their dialogue, actions, back-stories, chemistry, etc., and that’s all to the credit of this writer and her keen insights into people and engaging writing style. Where I did encounter some mixed feelings concerned the female protagonist and her ex-lover, a secondary character who is integral to the plot and the protagonist’s growth, yet himself appears very rarely in the story. Even so, his development felt too one-dimensional to me:

He is just so vile, and this makes perfect sense given his animosity toward [her revenge] and that he’s just a bad fit for her. What it leaves me wondering, though, is what it was about him that she used to care for. While I can see her insecurities leading her to choose the wrong men, [she] also has too much substance to go for someone with zero redeeming qualities beyond the materialistic.

Not that this would have to be developed in depth, but consider such opportunities where she’s [already] reflecting on him to somewhere incorporate (even just a sentence or two) the appeal he did once have for her, even if it only ended up being fake or that he changed.

In this case, the secondary character’s lack of believability could impact the protagonist’s, so this was a strongly suggested change to preserve consistency in her character—and, even better, it’s a quick, easy fix. Likewise with the following case where the protagonist still seemed to pine over her ex during the final scene with her new love:

From the way you’ve depicted him, I’m highly doubting [her ex-lover] would ever want [what she claims here], so I don’t see this as being the issue with him that would come to light at this point. I’m actually surprised that she’d be talking about him at all right now and getting choked up in residual emotion over it – [there was] sufficient enough closure [earlier]. Plus, she just [made several  grand gestures to win her new lover]—she’s all about [that guy] right now, and it doesn’t seem appropriate for her to bring up old flames in this intimate setting. […] Her not reflecting on him as anything that ever mattered would be a most convincing way of [showing her growth].

But that’s my take on it, which is why I label this as a “suggested” change, albeit a very strongly suggested one because I felt disappointed in [her] when she started saying all this.

And this last comment shows how I do try to approach my edits of another’s work delicately, keeping ultimate stylistic/plot control with the author while also trying to earn trust in my feedback. It’s very easy for all of us to get protective of our writing, but if we really want it to become its best, we need to consider reader response seriously. (Tahlia Newland addresses this fact and several other awesome tips on ms revision in her recent Lethal Inheritance post on how to know when your manuscript is ready.) And as I learned in teaching, the key with feedback is balancing the positive with the constructive so a writer isn’t feeling like there’s nothing of merit in his/her work; be honest, but preserve some pluck for carrying out those revisions effectively!

How about you? Have you ever had to edit someone else’s writing? How did it help you with your own?


The Manuscript Manicure – Part II: Micro-Editing

All-righty, finally back with my next installment on editing a manuscript (refer to Part I if you missed it). Once again, this is all thanks to the ladies at Room to Write for sharing insights that might be new to you or least validating of what you already know. Nothing compares to that face-to-face conversation, but I love the interaction that occurs between writers online via blogs. As they said at the workshop, there is so much to be learned beyond our own work, after all—it’s as important to listen to and learn from the projects and experiences of others.

It also teaches us to peel back our skin and not be overly protective of our work. I had to laugh when author Wendy Robertson spoke on all the emotional loading that goes into the critique when we offer it to others for feedback; she said something to the effect that when we give our work to someone else:

“You’re giving your critiquer the power to upset you.”

Ain’t it the truth. Perhaps this is why when I sent the full edit of my first assigned manuscript to its author this afternoon, I cushioned my email with empathy and compliments of everything that was done well, hoping she’ll receive my suggestions for improvement in stride and be willing to work with me constructively.

Anyway, when it comes editing for ourselves, remember that we must become self-conscious of who we are as a writer and what it is we want to achieve. To do that best, we need to identify our style and describe it in a few words. If you read 50 pages of your own novel, what comes across on the page? Is your style spare, lyrical, conversational, whimsical, direct, abstract (to offer a few), or combination of more than one?

We are now shifting from macro-editingto micro-editing and need to explore our style in relation to our content:

– I mentioned the “shape” of the novel last time, which relates to your story arc. This might continually ascend like a surging wave or start thin (yet interesting) and thicken in density to an explosive climax—Wendy likened this to the body of a whale, with the tail being the interesting opening and the blow-hole the climax. Or maybe your chapters are individual stories unto themselves that link together in some way to provide continuity and relevance, like a chain with a large loop toward the end where this progression culminates into the climax (Blackbird House is an example of this shape).

Shapes can vary, but there should always be conflict (tension), climax (crisis), surprise and revelation. And from a micro-editing standpoint, this needs to apply to each of your individual chapters as well.

– Speaking of chapters, as mentioned last time, ensure there’s continuity between them, yes, but also within them on a paragraph-to-paragraph, sentence-to-sentence level.

– With continuity maintaining our story’s consistency and logical progression, we must also make sure the words and sentences flow. This concerns the musicality of the language itself, and the best way to determine this is to read it aloud so you hear it.

– Your musicality and style will be greatly impacted by your sentence construction, so evaluate your writing on a sentence-by-sentence level. Is the syntax effective? Does it flow? Does it make sense? It’s important to ensure you’re applying correct grammatical conventions through punctuation and arrangement of clauses. Use commas, semicolons, and colons for sentence variety and make sure they’re used correctly.

Of course, creative writing allows for creative departure from conventions as well, but make sure that if you do deviate from the rules, there’s a specific purpose for it that strengthens what you’re trying to say. If it’s not producing the intended effect, revisit it and, all else fails, run with the convention rather than muddle your ideas in unclear writing.

– The language you use is the building block for everything, so you need to evaluate your writing on a word-by-word level as well. Make every word count, the strongest choice it could be (English in particular is too word-rich to not take advantage of it!). And obviously don’t allow excessive repetition, incorrect/inappropriate use, or incorrect spelling distract and otherwise undermine your writing.

– The “look” of the page is important as well, so ensure ample inclusion of “white space” now and then to allow your reader’s eyes to “breathe.” This is usually achieved through dialogue that isn’t overly bogged down in paragraphs of description. Section breaks provide white space as well to help accentuate shifts in time/setting.

And if you’re cutting down for word count or tightening, rather than prune on a word/phrase level, they seemed to opt for removing whole chunks, if not lifting an entire chapter to see if the story even misses it. I would suffer some major separation anxiety in that case, but I know some of you have said in your blogs that you’ve done it and lived to tell the tale. And it might not be a matter of ridding of it entirely. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying:

“Don’t throw your babies out with the bathwater.”

Well, they warned us of this as well, and it’s actually why they cautioned not to overly prune on a word/phrase level—making our sentences sparser could deprive the story of some of its joy! And even lifting an entire chapter may just be a structural change by which you drop it into a different place in your manuscript. (Now that I have done, and it works so much better!) At any rate, they said:

“If you kill your darlings, don’t put them in the bin—save them for something else!”

Another novel, a short story, a poem, who knows?!

All right, folks, if I haven’t successfully made your eyeballs roll out with all this reading by now, keep them sucked into those sockets—I’ll be back with a little bit on what they had to say about manuscript formatting, publishers, and self-promotion.

PART I Macro-editing

PART III – Submitting a Manuscript

PART IV – On Publishers & Publicizing


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