The Writers Circle: Changing Grammar Rules

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

A question by a writer friend:

My editor keeps changing my “he said” or “she went” phrases to “they said” and “they went”. He also keeps changing sentences and making them end in a preposition:  “The person with whom I spoke” becomes “The person I spoke with.”  Is this a universal change in the writing rules we are seeing? 

My friend wanted to hear what other writers were experiencing in this regard, so I’m posing it here.  What changes in long-held grammar rules have you noticed? Are your editors pushing you toward using the singular “they” instead of gender-specific pronouns? Where do you choose to hold onto the rules we learned in school and where to let go of them?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.

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19 Self-editing Tips

Help!

Help!

Now that I’m close to publishing my first novel, To Hunt a Sub, I can say from experience that writing it and editing it took equally long periods of time (and I’ve been warned that marketing will be just as involved). After finishing the final rough draft (yeah, sure) and before emailing it to an editor, I wanted it as clean possible. I searched through a wide collection of self-editing books like these:

The Novel Writer’s Toolkit by Bob Mayer

Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne

The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing by Evan Marshall

…and came up with a list of fixes that I felt would not only clean up grammar and editing, but the voice and pacing that seemed to bog my story down. Here are some ideas you might like:

  • Use ‘was’ only twice per page. This includes ‘were’ and ‘is’.
  • Limit adverbs. Search for ‘ly’ endings and get rid of as many as possible.
  • Watch out for bouncing eyes–
    • He dropped his eyes to the floor.
    • His eyes roved the room
  • Use gerunds sparingly. Search for -ing endings and eliminate as many as possible.
  • Eliminate ‘very’.
  • Eliminate ‘not’ and ‘n’t’–switch them to a positive.
  • Eliminate dialogue tags as often as possible. Those you keep should be simple, like said. Instead of tags, indicate the speaker by actions.
  • Be specific. Not ‘the car’, but ‘the red Oldsmobile convertible’.
  • Eliminate but, the fact that, just, began to, started to. Rarely do these move the action forward.
  • Use qualifiers sparingly. This includes a bit, little, fairly, highly, kind of, mostly, rather, really, slightly, sort of, appeared to, seemed to--you get the idea.
  • Run your manuscript through an auto-editor like Autocrit. It’ll find problems like sentence length variations and repetition of words so you can fix them.
  • Run your manuscript through a grammar checker like Grammarly or Hemingway.
  • Don’t have too many prepositional phrases in a sentence. There’s no set rule, but if you get lost before the sentence ends, you have too many.
  • Secure each chapter in place and time. A quick reminder of where characters are and whether it’s in the present or past is good enough.
  • Don’t repeat yourself. It’s tempting to retell events when a character is talking to someone who didn’t live through the last few chapters, but summarize instead–briefly. Your audience already knows this material.
  • Verify that time tracks correctly in your novel. Make sure the day is correct and that characters have enough time to get from here to there in the timeline.
  • Verify that your characters are wearing the correct clothing and have the right reactions for their position in the timeline. For example, if they were in a car accident, when they appear again in the novel, make sure they act accordingly.
  • Describe with all senses. Add what your character smelled or heard along with what they saw.
  • Don’t tell what you’re showing. Use one or the other, preferably showing.

A great way to find these mis-writings is with Ctrl+F, the universal Find shortkey. It will highlight all instances of whatever you’re searching on the page.

What these don’t address is character development, plotting, or living scenes so you’ll still have to deal with those prior to sending it to your editor.

More on self-editing:

11 Tips to Self-Editing Your Manuscript

How to Edit Your Novel (according to Yuvi)

20 Hints that Mark the Novice Writer


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

Three More Points about Story Craft

hourglassWriting a story takes skill, time, and work ethic. Here are three more strategies to apply to your work in progress.

1. Gather verbs

Verbs are action words and action is story. This one is so simple but it can’t be overlooked. Figure out exactly how your characters do everything they do and use the word, the single most perfect word, that describes just what that is. Render each action succinctly and accurately.

There’s always more than one way to write a sentence. Get a book of clichés so you know what has already been used and scrape all of them out of your story. He’s chomping at the bit was a great sentence with an action verb at its core when first written a million years ago. Gronk’s fans loved it.

Use your thesaurus carefully. Every word listed as a potential synonym is also a potential drop into the language sinkhole. Open the page of any thesaurus and choose a word.  How many of its attributed synonyms do you really know? If any poke awkwardly in your mouth, spit them out. Find another. The wrong word can turn a gripping mystery into a joke. If you don’t really know what the alternate word means or precisely how to use it, don’t.

Write the one sentence that provides the most sensory, physical but unique experience possible. The thrill your reader gets will make her turn the page, page after page.  Write the next sentence just as well. The craft of writing is in the construction of words into sentences and those into story. Verbs are the most important kinds of words at your disposal. Scuttle, cringe, bustle, gawk, flounder, prickle, notch, chasten, scorch – we react at the sounds of these words. Understand every verb intimately and get lots of outstanding ones into your book.

You know what the director said: Lights, camera, action! Yes, another cliché. Gronk’s fans loved this one too.

2. Try out your acting chops

Nothing helps an author sense the drama and intrigue of her story better than reading it aloud. You shout, whisper, cry, jump, and cringe at the words on your page. You wipe away tears, laugh out loud, and snort in derision. You wish the protagonist had more common sense and the antagonist had some decency. You try accents, speed, volume, and you hear the poetry, the power, the flow. Words repeated repeatedly are exposed so you can delete them. (Got that, didn’t you?) You catch the words are that out place of and the rung words that you meant two right – the stupid things we all do that Spell-Check didn’t catch. (Got that too, didn’t you?)

Most importantly, you will hear how consistent your characters sound, whether or not they speak in their own vernacular or have borrowed another voice. You’ll sense awkward scene shifts and unintended changes in points of view. You’ll spot what’s missing in action and what’s excess verbiage. Reading out loud especially while gesturing points out problems and skill like nothing else. And I have to admit: it’s pretty funny to see my husband’s reactions when I’m so engaged. Even Gronk guffaws to hear me and he doesn’t speak English.

Read your story out loud and you’ll know the drama, humor, and success of your creation.

3. Give it time

Let it ferment for a while. Ever try making beer? Bathtub beer, as my son and daughter-in-law sometimes make, boutique beer as specialty breweries make, commercial beer like the name brand companies make –  it all has to ferment or it isn’t beer, it’s dirty dish water. Coffee percolates. Stew simmers. Bread dough rises. Everything takes time while it gathers essence and establishes desirable qualities. (And the fragrances – ah, intoxicating.)

Writing is much the same. Write your story, edit, revise, rewrite, and then let it sit. For a month or so, shift your completed book to an unopened folder while you work on something else. Maybe you’ll try making beer.

Over the month you’ll forget a bit of the details. You’ll forget on exactly what page the lovers first made whoopee, what was the speed of the train wreck, who stashed the knife in the parlor. Then read your story again, beginning to end. It will have a fresh smell and you’ll detect aspects you didn’t observe before. Did you write the story you meant to write? Does the plot progress and excite? Did you end it as intended? Are the loose ends wrapped? Did the hero react according to character and in consideration of all she has learned? Is the story arc consistent and complete? Is there resolution to the original quandary? In this less familiar state, you’ll figure out what needs to be addressed further or deleted altogether. Like adding more hops to beer, salt to stew, sesame seeds to bread dough. Like realizing coffee doesn’t need raisins. Gronk figured this one out.

No point tasting the beer till it’s fully brewed. No point presenting your story till it’s truly done.

Ahhh, now that’s good stuff.

Absence Makes the Heart

heart I’ve been too long absent from my personal blog site, http://sharonboninpratt.wordpress.com/ having spent the last two months making final edits on two of my three adult novels. The activity doesn’t account for all of my lengthy absence, but does excuse much of it. A personal life with job and other family obligations (read problems) has taken over most of 2015, making it an unproductive year at Ink Flare. Still, it has not been a waste.

Absence makes the heart – you know the rest of the well-worn maxim. I’m not sure if anyone misses me at my blog, but the work I’ve done on my books will move me forward in pursuit of publication. It had been a very long time since I’d looked at the first two books, as I’ve worked on the third for the past three years. And a funny thing happened on the way to prepping for book-in-print stage – there were lots of mistakes, weepy phrases, repetitive words, boring filters, mixed metaphors, vapid words, and the most common of my mistakes: the word “that,” sometimes written more than once in a sentence. Ugh! You know that you must edit with a sharp knife when what you’ve written comes across as more clumsy than that which you remember. (Please laugh. OK, maybe chuckle. Grin?)

I’ve edited my books so often, some sections are memorized. I’d even memorized a few parts I’d already excised. Also discovered I’d forgotten some minor characters, or at least, certain traits I should know about them. What’s that guy’s name again?

My great discovery proved what I’ve long said must be done about one’s own writing: take lots of notes and read all your work out loud. Notes make it easier to check back about details: what a person looks like, how you chose to spell a name, when an important event was introduced, the dates of births, marriages, and deaths, etc. Reading aloud points out the clumsiness of one’s writing, inconsistent verb tense or points of view, and gaps in the story arc. It helps you tighten the story because no one wants to read a loose bag of words. No one will publish it.

I scrapped about 2500 words to my first book, but also added about 600, making incidents better realized and motivations more likely.

There is another thing I learned during this round of editing: I’d forgotten so much, my stories read like new to me. My own novels were my summer beach reads, absorbing my attention. I was able to track the build up of suspense, character development, plot elements, and chronology of events.

My favorite revelation has me convinced I should continue on this challenging course of writing, eventually seeking agents and editors. I like my books. They are works of passion but also of intellect. My protagonists are too flawed to approach sainthood; my antagonists have a nugget of humanity. The problems are complex and don’t offer ready solutions; the resolutions are satisfying but incomplete, leaving room for future and for wonder. Subplots are engaging and themes hint at underlying psychological confusion. In short, I like the books I write. They are similar in kind to the books I enjoy reading.

May your summer prove a wealth of opportunity to write and edit your works in progress. May you be stimulated by your writing. And may any absence from your writing make your heart grow fonder of this journey, whether avocation or occupation. At least, may your journey lead to new adventures, all of them exciting and worthy of your time.

The Ideal Reader(s)

It’s been said that every writer needs his/her ideal reader. Not the reader or readers who will eventually enjoy the book, poem, short story, essay in its final form, but the reader before those readers, the reader who the writer trusts to be kind, constructive, complimentary, but also brutal, if need be.

I have been searching for my reader since I started writing, hoping to find all those elements in one human, only to be too complimented by one, or too criticized by another. I started to think that the ideal reader is a bit like “the one” concept for love: there is only one person for us, and if we don’t somehow find that person, we might as well pack it in. Over time, I shifted my thinking a bit to acknowledge that maybe there was more than one reader for me, just as I came to acknowledge after my first heartbreak that there is more than one “the one” for me.

What I need from a reader varies, depending on what I’m writing. For poetry, I need a reader who knows something about poetry. It’s all well and good to give a prose writer one of my poems and ask for critique, but odds are, I’m not going to get the kind of line by line, genre analysis I’m looking for. So, if it’s poetry, I send my work to a dear friend of mine who has wrestled with this genre himself—he’s insightful, witty, and brutal, in the best sense of that word. It’s because of him that I renamed a poetry chapbook I’ve been working on for ages—to paraphrase, he told me the title was crap. It’s also because of his critique that I buried that same chapbook for nearly a year, because I couldn’t bear the thought of renaming it. I exhumed it recently, told myself to get over my title-related strop, and re-title it. And I did, and it’s way better than it was.

I also need a reader who will catch my grammar and punctuation errors, and give me a more bird’s eye view of my work—someone who enjoys reading and knows good writing versus bad. This position is shared by my parents, but depending on if I need a soft touch or a brutal one, I go for one or the other. I’ll take the 5th on identifying which parent fills which role.

And lastly, I need a reader who can just tell me that everything I write is awesome, it’s the greatest thing ever created, it rivals Shakespeare, Hardy, King, Atwood, and Oates, and every single letter should win a Pulitzer. That role goes to my husband. He’s the ego boost that I need, as a writer.

Each of these readers fulfills a necessary role for me; sometimes all four of these people see my work, and other times, only one or two. Often, my husband sees my work right away, because it’s important for me to receive that initial thumbs up to push forward into more rigorous editing. He puts an extra glow on my work, before I allow it be eviscerated, if need be, by my other readers.

Have you found your reader or readers? What qualities do you look for? Someone who will praise you ‘til the cows come home, or someone who’s got the red pen ready?

Seven Reasons For and Three Against Critique Groups

I tend to be a solitary person. I have no problem spending the day with myself, me and my computer (and a good book), exploring the world from the safety of my home-based office. I live through my characters, test my boundaries through them. I prevail over great adversaries and unbeatable bad guys. I out-think both friend and foe as I write, rewrite, and refine my story until it comes out exactly as I’d like it to. Nowhere in my real world can I be as popular, smart, strong, and energetic as I can be in my fictional life.

There is one compelling reason, though, that I venture into the physical world: Monday evenings, twice a month, with my critique group. I joined this wonderful group of fellow writers so I could bond with kindred souls, be around others who could talk non-stop and forever (literally) about authors, books, POVs and story arcs. I found not only that, but more as I wandered down the yellow brick road in search of authorial fame and fortune. Some glorious victories and a few hard truths (mostly about myself).

Here are seven reasons why I’ll never give up my writer’s group:writers group

  • They catch my factual errors. In fact, they announce them, challenge me, and dispute my research if they’re sure I’m wrong. I better know what I’m talking about before I’m on the hot seat.
  • They let me know if a scene sounds authentic. That’s a gem. It’s easy to think the image is perfect the 2,159th time I stare bleary-eyed at the same page. They read with fresh eyes.
  • They tell me when a scene sounds right and delivers what I’d hoped. I love that.
  • They force me to show my work to others. They saw my first and second novel before my husband did.
  • I get as much out of listening to the review of other author’s WIP as I do being on the hot seat myself. My fellow writers take their job seriously and do their best to accurately and intelligently decode the mistakes found in the selection being reviewed. I learn a lot from their words that I can apply to my story.
  • They are fascinating people. I could listen to their life experiences all day and when one of them misses a few meetings, I worry about them. I see these people more than most of my family. Well, that’s a good thing.
  • Agents want your work to be critiqued before you arrive in their mailbox.  They want to know they’re not the first besides your mother and dog who have read your story. A critique group qualifies.

That’s pretty convincing, isn’t it? These next three are all on me. They are personal quirks that challenge me even as I intellectually understand the pluses of having my work critiqued:facial expression boulder man

  • I am too shy. It’s difficult to put myself out there, bare my soul, share secrets I don’t tell anyone. Yet, here I am trying to explain to this circle of patient, caring writers the motivation for one of my scenes. I don’t like talking about myself and that will never change.
  • It hurts. I don’t take criticism well. I get upset. Sure, I should have a thick skin, but I don’t. I never have and–here’s the surprise–I don’t believe that should preclude me from being a writer. The fact that I die inside when people don’t like something I’ve slaved over for months doesn’t mean I’ll never make it.
  • They contradict each other sometimes. That’s not a bad thing. It means that in the end, it’s my decision to follow well-intentioned advice or toss it to the curb.

That’s it. The pros of my writing group vastly outweigh the cons so I’m sticking with them.

Are you struggling with a decision about joining a writer’s group–really committing the time and effort it requires to make it work? Here’s Holly Lisle’s take on that subject and Writing-World’s overview on the subject.

More on writing:

Writers Tip #52: Join a Writers Groups

Writers Tip #72: Don’t Worry About What Others Think

10 Tips from Toxic Feedback


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, adjunct professor, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. 

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The Writers Circle: Editing before Sharing

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

How ‘perfect’ do you need your work to be before you allow another human’s eyes to set upon it? What methods do you use for editing before sharing it with others? Do you read it out loud? Do you go line by line and word by word? Share your strategies, tips and tricks in the comments below or in the forums.

 

 

Writing fiction in layers results in more speed and less frustration

By Model Land Company, Everglades Drainage District (Everglades Digital Library) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Model Land Company, Everglades Drainage District (Everglades Digital Library) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Last week it struck me:  I’ve rarely read an article on how to write fiction—more specifically, how to actually put words down on the page!

When I started writing fiction regularly about eight years ago, I read many books and articles to help me create great plot, make dialog realistic, and strike the right balance between “show” versus “tell”.  I thought I was reading books and articles on how to write.  But instead I was actually reading books and articles on how to create great plot, how to make dialog realistic, and how to strike the right balance between show versus tell.

As a novice writer I’d sit at the keyboard for a couple hours and squeeze out two well-polished paragraphs that read as though they came straight from a book on the shelf of my local bookstore.  But the agonizingly slow pace raised self-doubt, and I’d quickly wind up with an unfinished manuscript of a story that I felt wasn’t worth telling.

Today I have a completely different approach to writing fiction compared to the past. Now I write my story in layers, resulting in a speedier process with overall reduced frustration and self-doubt.

Think for a moment about how a house gets built.  Most people don’t wake up with the idea to build a house and immediately run down to the hardware store to make a huge lumber purchase, or worse yet, buy a brushed-nickel faucet for the powder room.  In most cases building a home starts with an idea like desiring a 2-story, 4-bedroom colonial style home, then creating several hastily-drawn sketches, then more formalized measured drawings, then performing the rough framing/plumbing/electrical, then followed by the building shell until finally finishing up with the small details like soft pastel paint colors and finally that brushed-nickel faucet for the powder room.

Writing can be less painful if you write in layers:

Layer 1 – Outline

Start with a high-level outline.  I’m not talking about anything fancy here, so just go ahead and open a word processor and drop some bullet-point sentences on the page.  Re-arrange them.  Delete some.  Add new ones.  Get 10-20 sentences on paper in the right sequence that depicts the story you want to tell.  You can even insert page breaks after each sentence to visually depict the start of a new chapter.

  • Primary Lead attends wedding of his love interest to “speak up or forever hold his peace”

Layer 2 – Fleshing the Story Skeleton

Now go back to your word processor and start building in more bullet points to flesh out the story skeleton.  The objective here is not to write a polished product, but instead you just want words on the page:

  • Primary Lead attends wedding of his love interest to “speak up or forever hold his peace”
    • PL standing on church steps, conflicted whether to go inside
    • PL encounters another friend, Lauren, who challenges him on why he’s there
    • PL reluctantly goes inside, realizing he’s turned into “that guy”
    • PL doesn’t quite know his strategy, but feels this is his last chance for true love
    • Ceremony begins, bride looks beautiful, priest asks the infamous question to guests…

Layer 3 – Rough Carpentry

For me, this stage is where the real work begins.  However the frustration level is usually much lower because I can jump around to different parts of the story on different days, taking a sentence or two and writing a few paragraphs.  Maybe I spend fifteen minutes in one session, or two hours in another session:

Saturday morning arrived and I found myself standing on the steps of St. Bart’s Cathedral.  I was frozen, having now to decide whether this was really a good idea or not.  I felt a warm hand touch me on the shoulder.

“Kevin?” asked Lauren.

“Lauren!  What are you doing here?”

“I’m here to stop you from making a fool of yourself!”

It’s a sloppy mess and it won’t win me any awards, I agree.  But at least now I have something down on paper to react to when I come back to revise in another pass.

Layer 4+ – Revision

I generally find my full-length novel equates to about 20,000 words at this point in time.  What’s that, about 80,000 words shy?  Queue the self-doubt.  But alas, now you can begin seasoning your story and adding bulk.  Writing now gets even easier because you have something to react to:

Saturday morning arrived and I found myself standing on the steps of St. Bart’s Cathedral.  It was nearly six years to the day since I last stepped inside the church for my nephew Evan’s baptism.  But today was much different.  Today I was frozen, having now to decide whether this was really a good idea or not.

I stood on the granite steps for several minutes watching many smiling faces enter the church.  Every time the decorative brass doors opened, I could catch a whiff of the residual incense that burned earlier in the morning for Mr. Covey’s funeral.

I felt a warm hand touch me on the shoulder.  “Kevin?”

I turned to find Lauren with a tear on her cheek, and she immediately embraced me in a loving hug.

“You know, there’s still time to turn back…” she whispered in my ear.  “I’m here to stop you from making a fool of yourself.”

Iterate, iterate, iterate…

I’m skeptical whether there’s value to me in the lather, rinse, repeat directions provided with each bottle of shampoo.  When it comes to writing, however, I’m sold on the iterative approach to building long manuscripts.  For me, it’s invaluable to have something down on the page at each writing session to react to and revise.

8 Steps All Writers Follow When They Edit

Every author has a different approach to writing. I know this because I read Rebecca Bradley’s wonderful series on how writers do their thing. Each author she spotlights adds a personal twist that intrigues me.

Not so surprisingly, no one’s approach is like mine. Here’s how I write a novel:

  • Draft out events for the novel in a spreadsheet program like Excel. This gives me room to add columns and rows with new information, new ideas, notes to track an event through the story. Here’s what my spreadsheet for my latest WIP looks like:

plot with Excel

  • JK Rowling’s is low-tech, but still an obvious spreadsheet:

jk rowlings plot

  • Convert the draft to a word processing program like MS Word. Mine is usually 70+ pages.
  • Add details about timing, setting, characters, clothing, transitions, chapter breaks.
  • Start at the beginning and read for flow, timing, pacing. Edit diligently. I do this a day at a time. I finish a day’s worth of editing and start over the next day, repeating the process. Eventually, when I read to edit, it sounds fine (kind of) so I move on to the next part. I like this because I get some sense of continuity for the story. Otherwise, I forget what happened when. It sometimes takes until the third or fourth day of editing the same section to realize the character’s voice changed or s/he wouldn’t have said whatever I have coming out of his/her mouth.
  • Continue until I finish the entire manuscript
  • Search for obnoxious words like is, was, that, there, thing and change them. I’m identifying words that make the story passive, difficult to understand, and/or boring. I actually have a long list of them so it takes me a full twelve-hour day
  • Repeat the edit process(often, three-six full read-throughs) until the flow, pacing, and timing are fine and I feel it’s ready to submit.

99.9% of you are saying, Gee. That’s not how I do it. And that’s OK. There are rarely two writers who follow the same method and lots are successful. Find an approach that works for you and use it until it doesn’t. But, there are eight editing tricks we all use in some form. See if you agree:

  1. Ignore the fat lady if she starts warming up. Keep writing. You know what you’re doing and you’re going to do it well.
  2. Keep your pet snake around to greet detractors. Or tarantula, or scorpion. Whatever you have that will keep naysayers outside your orbit.
  3. Expect other people to get out of your way, do your chores, bring you coffee to keep you going as you prepare your Baby. Whatever they’re doing couldn’t be as important as writing a d*** novel.
  4. Repeat this mantra–Editing problems are only opportunities with thorns.
  5. When you scream at your mate (when s/he interferes with your writing) and s/he accuses you of needing anger management, remind her/him that the only help you need is for them to shut the f*** up
  6. Offer a crazed smile when people interrupt. That’ll back them off.
  7. When distractions call, let them go to voice mail.
  8. If you get unwanted visitors, quote Oscar Wilde–“Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.

Lest you think I’m the only one who writes like this, check out Gina Holmes at Novel Rocket or Adam Blumer here.

More about editing:
15 BIG Writing Blunders
How to Edit Your Novel (according to Yuvi)
10 Tips Guaranteed to Rescue Your Story
Book Review: Self-editing for Fiction Writers


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blog, Technology in Education featured blogger, IMS tech expert, and a bi-monthly contributor to Today’s Author. In her free time, she is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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Revision is next to godliness

To write is human, to edit is divine

Stephen King 

As much as I’d love to say that a perfect piece of prose can be obtained from a first draft, the truth of the matter is that good writing lays within the revision, editing, proofreading and analysis of a piece. Like a good curry, a well rounded piece of writing needs time to develop its own character, brew and settle. The following strategies may prove useful as you revise your next piece of writing.

  • Give it time. Revision over time will assist in organising your piece, ensuring that the theme and message you intended to share shines clearly. Even a few hours will give you a fresh perspective and draw you away from being too close to your work.
  • Start at the Start. Evaluate your introduction, ensuring that it grabs the readers attention, forms strong images or evokes the senses in order to draw interest.
  • Check the structure. Assess how you have organised your storyline and ensure that it leads your reader through a clear line of images and thoughts. Check you have done more show than tell!
  • Surf with the flow. If readers have to struggle up your stream of consciousness, its likely they will drown. Make it easy for your readers by creating smooth transitions and segues between paragraphs and interactions between characters.
  • Remove repetitive or habitual language structures. Particularly with flash fiction, every word must fight for its right to stay within the story. Every writer is guilty of favourite phrases and repetitive details. Revise any word repetition within sentences, replacing with alternative images or ways of expressing these ideas.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness. In a few words, write the theme or message of your work down on a separate piece of paper. Re-read your story and review its effectiveness in expressing this theme or message. Where could it be boosted? Where does it fall short of delivering?
  • Proofread. After you have made your initial content alterations, use a spellchecker to catch the errors and slowly read your work out loud to find grammar and syntax faults.  Printing your piece out will identify spelling and spacing errors quickly. 

Revision literally means to “see again” or to look at it from a new perspective. It’s an ongoing, organic methodology which gets easier with practice and experience.

Rewriting is the essence of writing well—where the game is won or lost.

William Zinsser