Shelley Widhalm

Fast Ways to Edit Fiction (or somewhat)

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Writing Advice on October 15, 2017 at 4:54 pm

To be fast and efficient in editing a short story or novel, it’s helpful to have a checklist and a plan.

The checklist helps avoid overlapping tasks, while also moving through them with speed and careful thought. The seemingly contradictory notions fit together when taking the short and long views.

Editing involves hours of work, but the work can expand if the edits aren’t broken up into parts and instead are carried out start to finish over and over again (the long view). Editing is better off in layers, focused on one step at a time (the short view).

First Editing Round

As a first step, read the entire manuscript through, looking for inconsistencies, areas where the story doesn’t flow or diverges unnecessarily and areas where boredom is the result.

When I edit my own work, if I question needing something, I cut and dump—and put the goners into my Cuts File (because I have trouble letting go). I read for overall plot to make sure things make sense and check for any inconsistencies in character, setting or action development.

Additional Editing

Here are things to look for in each editing pass, or grouped together if it makes sense:

  • Ask if the opening scene grabs the reader.
  • Cut any unnecessary scenes and strengthen weak ones. Make sure the scenes have a clear objective for the character and further the conflict, or opposition, to the objective to keep the action moving.
  • Look for any elements that are incomplete or not carried through, such as a dropped idea, a scene that ends too soon or a character that disappears without explanation.
  • Make sure the plot threads come together. Does the story have a beginning, middle and end? Are conflict and tension sustained throughout the telling? Does the story build with tension at the end of each chapter?
  • Make sure the characters are realistic with good and bad features and that they are distinguishable from one another. Are they fully fleshed out with personalities, backgrounds and unique physical characteristics? Does the reader care about these characters?
  • Ask if the dialogue is realistic and if the characters speak in ways that are distinguishable from one another. Look for consistency, accuracy and any repetitions in their identities, backgrounds and behaviors.
  • Remove any unnecessary back story, especially in the first 50 pages where action is needed to hook the reader, and make sure character histories are not provided too early in the story.
  • Make sure the pacing is compelling and right for the telling of the story.

A Final Thought

Remember, each time you edit, you get closer to the core of the story and the essential components, like a taut rubber band. The story becomes tighter, keeping the reader tense, on edge and ready to keep moving through the story.

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Loving Writing, But What About Editing?

In Editing, Improving Your Work, Novel editing, Revising on October 8, 2017 at 5:00 pm

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Editing is best done in several rounds.

In my personal work, I love to write—short stories, novels, poems, articles and, of course, blogs.

But I know, too, that part of writing is editing. I love editing the work of others, but when it comes to my own work, it’s mostly a chore. The first editing round isn’t so bad if I haven’t seen the manuscript for months, but by the 12th edit, I’m a bit sick of my work. So, how do I get over this?

First, I realize that a rough draft is rough and, for most writers, needs to be edited at the overall structural level for how the material is organized and then at the line level for the details. If I don’t edit, I have a messy manuscript stuck in a drawer or Word file.

Structural Editing

Structural editing looks at how the material or story is presented beginning to end and at what occurs in the middle. Are transitions used to seamlessly move from one idea to the next? Are the ideas fully developed with the right amount of detail presented? Is the manuscript readable, or does it feel choppy or go off on tangents? How do the ideas in the sentences flow to the next paragraph so that everything makes sense?

Additional edits help tighten up the writing, get rid of errors and fix any mechanical, syntax or grammatical issues at the line level.

The first two rounds may require one or more passes—typically one for blogs and articles, but short stories and novels often need more to tighten up the writing and balance action with character, so that everything in the storyline keeps moving at optimal pacing.

Three Rounds of Editing

Editing, to be most effective, needs at least three rounds: structural, line level and lastly, proofreading. Proofreading is a final pass to catch the errors not caught in the first and second read-through, since it’s impossible to see every single mistake in a solitary read.

Line level editing and proofreading require a careful, slow read, word by word, paying close attention to every aspect of the sentence, including what is inside it and the punctuation at the end.

Here are some other random things to look for while editing:

  • Identify areas that need more detail or to be cut because of overwriting.
  • Look for dropped ideas or elements that don’t carry through but should.
  • Make sure descriptions are consistent and accurate.
  • Use the active voice whenever you can and vary the sentence structures, so that not every sentence reads subject-verb-object.
  • Look for repetitions in ideas or ways of expression.
  • Check facts, name spellings and any numbers that are used.

Lastly, make sure the content is to a specific audience in a specific voice and style. Consistency is the key to good, clear writing.

A Perfect Match: Coffee and Writing

In National Coffee Day, Writing, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation on October 1, 2017 at 5:00 pm

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National Coffee Day is Sept. 29. I’m writing and drinking coffee to celebrate the day, though I feel weird taking a Selfie!

Coffee and writing go together—for me, they’re not exclusive. I have to have coffee when I write.

National Coffee Day was Sept. 29, a day dedicated to coffee shops giving discounts and free java. I have multiple stamp cards from the coffee shops I visit, because I seem unable to live without coffee and writing most days of the week.

A perfect cup of coffee has aroma, body, acidity and flavor. The same goes with writing that’s near perfection—writing can be crafted, edited and revised but never absolutely impeccable.

Coffee’s aroma is both in the cup after it is made and when the roasted beans are ground for brewing.

Writing and Coffee Components

In the case of writing, the aroma is the detail, or the layers of description that draw readers to the plot’s action, bringing life to what happens along the storyline, without hurrying to the end. The details for making coffee are in how the beans are grown and what happens along each step of the way, with stories about the coffee’s region and how it’s grown and crafted. The process of making coffee also cannot be hurried.

The body of a cup of coffee presents its main content, just like the body of a story is the storyline or the story arc of action from beginning to middle to end. It’s what happens to draw in the reader and gets them to the climax of the story and keeps them staying to the end. A good cup of coffee brings coffee lovers back for that second cup—in fiction, it’s wanting that sequel or to reread the story, because parting is too hard.

Contributing to a coffee’s good body is the coffee bean, the roast and the brew. The bean affects the flavor and texture—which is the mouthfeel, such as silky, creamy, thick or thin. Flavor also is affected by the roast from light to dark, or less to more body, and how the coffee is brewed, such as in a coffee pot or by using a French press.

Elements of Storytelling

With writing, the elements of a story and how they’re put together affect the texture and flavor of the telling. Is the focus more on character insight and identity? The genre might be young adult or literary. Or is the focus more on the plot action, such as in mystery and romance?

A coffee’s setting, or region, affects its acidity, while setting in a story can affect a character’s culture, background and attitudes, create atmosphere and mood that ranges from dark to light, and offer insight into a character’s emotions and responses. For coffee, higher elevations often result in better quality and acidity levels, with flavors that are brighter and dryer.

Coffee lovers appreciate both the flavor and the boost of caffeine—I like both, and in the case of writing, I like the details I can discover in the process of writing and the boost of inspiration and motivation that comes just by showing up.

For me, it’s that morning cup of brew I need to get going with my day. And it’s the morning sip of writing, or daylong trips back and forth to the coffee pot, that fill me up for more words.