Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Editing’ Category

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.

Top 10 Editing Tips

In Editing, Revising, Writing on March 5, 2017 at 11:00 am

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Editing helps you get your (geese) ducks in a row!

I’ve learned to not mention red when I talk about editing.

No, it doesn’t have to do with blood—it has to do with the dreaded red pen used by teachers of the past to mark up student papers with ink.

I’ve adjusted my color wheel and now use blue ink, keeping my red pens hidden in a secret spot—OK, not so secret, since they are in a pencil holder with my other pens in red, black, blue, green and yes—purple!—ink.

If you noticed the topic of my blog, “Top 10 Editing Tips,” you’d see I need some editing work. If I were to follow the title and write properly, I’d edit out everything I’ve just written because I’m OFF TOPIC.

Last week, I mentioned how every writer I meet has their top tips for writing to provide discipline and inspiration. Not many writers go around talking about their top editing tips, because that’s not as fun or sexy. Editing is the hard work of the writing process, because it takes time and precision.

Lucky for me, I’m an editing nerd. I like, no actually LOVE, to fix sentences and paragraphs, looking at grammar, punctuation and mechanics and the entire document for the structure and intended messaging.

Here are a few of my editing rules:

 

  • Editing once isn’t enough—editing takes several reads to catch errors, because not every error can be noticed the first time around.
  • Editing is best done by at least two people, bringing more perspectives to the project and additional ways to find or notice the mistakes.
  • Editing is best in layers. Do a first read-through for errors in spelling and grammar, words that are missing or misused, and sentence structure that is awkward or clumsy. Then ask if there are missing details or areas to be cut that give too much detail or repeat. Edit the overall structure to determine if everything makes sense and is in a logical order with any explanations and examples fitting with the message.

And here are seven things to look for while editing:

 

  • Determine if there are boring parts or parts that are over-explained.
  • Look for needless repetitions, awkward transitions and poor word choice.
  • Cut unnecessary words and sentences that do not move the message along or confuse what you’re trying to say.
  • Use the active voice whenever you can.
  • Get rid of any inconsistencies in how things are stated and look for any elements that don’t carry through, such as a dropped idea or an incomplete example of the main topic.
  • Vary the sentence structures, so that not every sentence reads subject-verb-object.
  • Get rid of clichés, unless used for a specific purpose, because they demonstrate a lack of creativity.

Writing without editing is a rough draft, work that’s incomplete, a thought that has an … after it. It needs that editing step, or a few rounds of making marks, to make it crisp, clear and concise. Each time you edit, you get closer to the core and essential components of what you want to say.

Shell’s Ink Spot launch

In Editing, Loving Writing, Writing, Writing Discipline on February 19, 2017 at 11:00 pm

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I reconfigured and launched my blog about writing and editing at my new website, http://www.shellsinkservices.com, on Valentine’s Day, which is fitting because I love writing and editing.

Here’s my initial blog at Shell’s Ink Spot:

Writing can be intimidating, especially figuring out where to start. Facing the blank page is something writers agonize over, because it beacons with, “Here I am. Write right here.”

The same goes with editing, especially when associated with the red pen. I’d considered making my tagline for Shell’s Ink Services “With a Flair of Red Ink,” but my family and friends, including one with marketing expertise, said to get rid of the red. Red is associated with love and passion (Happy Valentine’s Day!), but also with graded papers filled with things needed correcting.

Here at Shell’s Ink Services, I focus on writing and editing, because, though I face that blank page too many times to count, I love to write and I love to fix sentences. I’m taking that love to my Ink Spot. I’ll blog once a week on Mondays about writing and editing with practical tips but also reflect on the struggles associated with creating and perfecting content.

I’ve blogged for half a dozen years about the writing process and the writing life. My blog, shelleywidhalm.wordpress.com, is written from the vantage point of being a fiction writer to an audience consisting of other writers. But here, I’m writing from another perspective—I’m a new business owner writing my first blog, and I face a similar blank page. How do I fit all of my thoughts about writing and editing, plus owning a writing and editing business, into 300 to 500 words?

The best place to start is at the beginning. Writing happens in stages, such as freewriting, or writing whatever comes to mind, drafting, writing, editing and rewriting, followed by polishing. I can help writers figure out what they want to say and help them organize the content. What they say needs to have a clear message and voice and a good structure, cohesiveness and flow from the beginning to the end. The result is content that is “Crisp, Clear, Concise,” as stated in my tagline.

After the content is written comes the editing process that includes feedback from another writer or editor for a new perspective. Editing happens at both the line level, or each line of text for spelling, grammar, punctuation and mechanics, and the structural level, or what the entire piece looks like.

The editing is where I take out my pen, but I use blue or green ink, or the computer direct to copy. On that note, I’ve reached 400 words, and my blank page is gone, filled with ink.

Submitting to literary agents

In Editing, Improving Your Work, Revising, Writing, Writing Processes on January 18, 2015 at 4:00 am

I use journals as a way to get into the writing and editing process.

I use journals as a way to get into the writing and editing process.

I find submitting my work to literary agents to be a scary process.

Earlier this week, I submitted my young adult novel, “The Money Finder,” to a literary agent I met last year at a writers’ conference (in March, so I kind of procrastinated), but she said to not submit your work until it’s ready.

For me, that meant editing for grammar, revising for plot, character, setting and story structure and running more than half of it through my writers’ group.

My writers’ group, the Mountain View Authors in northern Colorado, found several things to fix in “The Money Finder,” about a 15-year-old girl named Grace who faces a drunk mother, potential eviction and taking care of a younger sister, Star, as she tries to fix the family problems through money finding.

The group said I needed to watch out for my use of tenses, smooth out some of my descriptions and avoid overusing adverbs, repeating phrases and summarizing when scene is needed. They said I had good descriptions and imagery, good solid dialogue and a great voice for Grace.

Here are some of the other things the group said I needed to address:

  • Give information regarding the sisters’ ages and capabilities at the beginning of the story, so their maturity levels are understood from the get-go.
  • Get a better understanding of who Grace is; if she’s mostly a good girl, ask why she is cutting down her peers with snide inner thoughts. Ask why she shies away from conflict in school but not at home.
  • Give Grace a confidant, so she has someone to tell her problems to and to guide her through her facing homelessness.
  • Make Grace less whiney about her situation and more proactive, so that she’s acting instead of simply reacting to everything that happens to her. Ask how you want her to present herself to those around her.
  • Make the mother more of a real person by adding depth to her character, so she isn’t just a caricature of an alcoholic. Soften her a bit and show her vulnerability.
  • Think or ways to amp up the tension. Ask what’s at stake for Grace and Star.

I worked on editing the novel for a year, doing six or seven revisions. In the last revision, I found several logistical errors, such as the timing of Grace’s classes and the sequence of days Monday to Sunday, so that they actually occurred in order.

Combining the outside input from the input I received from the writers’ group, I was able to tighten my manuscript that much closer to publication ready.

Avoiding new writing projects

In Editing, Revising, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on September 14, 2014 at 11:00 am

Every time I finish a big writing or revision project, I feel lost, unanchored and unsure.

I recently fixed up my heart (re: Writing with a Broken Heart), but this time my heart rip is about re-finding that purpose in my writing life.

I get so caught up in the world of my story, whether it’s fresh writing or editing and re-editing an older piece, I don’t know how to let it go to clear the slate for new writing.

In other words, I get scared. I have a list of ideas for short stories and a couple for novels, but I haven’t started on any of them yet, because it’s easier to move forward from the middle place.

Starting at the beginning requires finding the story structure, figuring out character identity and doing a great deal of groundwork, plus writing that first sentence and the next one and the next one after that. I prefer continuing working on the same project, because it’s comfortable and what I’m used to, but comfort can be taken to the extreme in over revising.

With my latest revision of “The Money Finder,” a young adult novel about a 15-year-old who uses her money finding abilities to try to solve her family crisis, I fixed up a few paragraphs and sections of dialog that sounded just as good as before I put in the work.

For instance, I read a piece aloud to a group of friends that was unrevised from my latest editing session and changed a few of the sentences back to the original because I liked how they sounded out loud.

My revision (the fourth in six months) wasn’t a waste, though. I found areas in the manuscript where I had inconsistencies in character, setting and plot facts, errors in the timeline and logistics, and lack of transition or movement in the scene due to choppy or incomplete descriptions.

I added in sensory details, such as making sure that when one of my characters with a drinking problem drank too much that her speech patterns matched. I added more emotional response from my main character to the tragedies happening in her life when I had scene description but not her reactions. And I made the behavior of a seven-year-old more appropriate to her age both in her actions and conversations.

My latest revision showed me that a manuscript is ready to be put aside when the editing involves mostly reading, making only minor fixes and fixing sections only to change them back. I learned that revising can become a problem if it serves as an avoidance technique for starting new writing.

So, yes, now I have to face that Blank Page.

Tips for revising novels

In Editing, Revising, Shelley Widhalm, Writing Processes on August 24, 2014 at 11:00 am

I have been into novel revision lately, not because I love to read my work for the millionth time, but because I want to get everything publication ready.

The revision process takes a whole-view perspective and a line-by-line look at the work created. The whole view is looking at structure, including plot, character development, setting and dialogue, while the myopic view considers all the details.

When I revise, I tend to see what’s happening on the page clearly but, in the process, become nearsighted about the structure. I tend to get caught up at the sentence- and paragraph level.

Over the past week, I did a hard copy edit of my fifth novel, “The Money Finder,” a young adult book about a 15-year-old who tries to take on the responsibility of her falling-apart family by finding money in odd places.

Since June, I have been rotating between this book and my third book, a Christian fiction look at a Bible study gone wrong in “One April Day.” I edited the Christian fiction by reading it through twice, one after the next, focusing on the sentences, sections of text needing transitions and gaps in scenes.

I found a lot of overwriting, where I gave too much detail about how things looked and what happened in a scene to move a character from one point to the next, both physically and emotionally. I used metaphors or descriptions that, when I looked at them again, didn’t work because I couldn’t picture the image or the word usage was awkward. And I cut pieces of dialogue, scene descriptions and character reflections that seemed to repeat, so that my character wasn’t thinking the same thing over and over again and the storyline didn’t move forward.

I ended up cutting 35 1 ½-spaced pages and 10,300 words.

In “The Money Finder,” I only cut three pages and about a 1,000 words. That’s because I’m a more experienced writer – I wrote the young adult during the 2013 NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, and the Christian fiction in 2011.

In the young adult novel, I mostly did a line-by-line hard edit after doing a half-dozen edits on the screen. I found some inconsistencies in facts, such as giving the main character’s sister two different ages of seven and eight and changing the days of some of her classes.

I cut awkward descriptions, thoughts of the main character’s that repeated too much and details from scenes that made the action drag. In essence, I tightened the piece with little tweaks here and there.

Recovering from mistakes in writing (and life)

In Editing, Shelley Widhalm, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Discipline on July 20, 2014 at 11:00 am

When I make a mistake in my writing, I get to revise, edit and ask for advice, either through my writer’s group or my writing/reading friends.

But a mistake in life doesn’t give you a do-over (or a revision), particularly when you are dealing with other people, businesses and employer/government rules and regulations. My largest mistakes in life, so far, include:

• Taking my car to a particular brand-name dealership and believing (at least initially) in the list of non-necessary and expensive repairs, instead of finding a trusted, local mechanic. I should have clued in on the first bogus set of repairs, but I had a warranty and very little knowledge about what is important to keep the vehicle fully operational, versus those preventative maintenance and repair items that sound plausible, but are not needed.
• Hiring a national mover and not pursuing the BBB when the company lost and broke some of my items, and then charged nearly double the initial estimate.
• Believing people in positions of authority instead of questioning their motives, such as making money, using others as their lab rats and trying to get something for the price of dishonesty, greed or some other poor behavior.
• Not considering how to word written memos or handle phone conversations when I need to make a change to a place, thing or device that I rent or own, such as a housing unit, cell phone or electronic device.

These life mistakes, if I were to ask around, are most likely pretty universal. We all meet less-than-questionable and power/money-hungry people and deal with businesses with non-customer-focused practices out for the bottom line.

The problem with making a life mistake is it usually costs you time, money and even self-confidence. You usually don’t get a redo, editing what you said or did or didn’t do.

But in the writing world, mistakes (such as incomplete drafts, not gathering enough writing experience before trying to publish and sending your work off too early) can be remedied by researching what agents and publishers want, writing a pithy pitch and query letter, learning what other writers do to get their work out there and accepting rejection as part of the process. I have my own personal rejection pile from short story submissions, contest entries and query letters.

But I don’t beat myself up for these “mistakes,” because I consider the arc of the writing life a learning process. I become better because of my mistakes by fixing what I did “wrong” and carrying that lesson into my next writing project, so that with each novel my plots are tighter and more closely follow the story arc, my characters are more fully developed and my setting is better tied to plot and character.

That’s because with writing you get to start again and again and continue trying until you get published or meet your other writing goal. There’s Writer’s Market; there are thousands of agents and places to get your work out there, including blogs, magazines, journals and writing contests; and there’s the comforting stories of how many times the now-famous writers had to get rejected before their work was considered: Karen Stockley, Stephen King and James Michener.

The only costs I’ve found with my writing mistakes are the contest fees, the price of paper for mail-ins, and time. But it’s worth it. I don’t have to beat myself up over my list of mistakes, thinking only if … after the fact when it’s too late.

Motivation to Revise

In 52: A Writer's Life, Editing, Revising, Writing on October 13, 2013 at 11:00 am

Normally I’m not a procrastinator until it comes to editing my own work.

But once I start editing, I want to get to the end of it, so that I can say I’m finished. To complete my self-assigned task, I put in the time just so I can be done.

My problem is that editing a novel isn’t a one-time affair. It requires several revisions from the overall structure down to the grammar.

That means nine months later I’m still editing my nearly 90,000-word novel, “The Fire Painter,” about a 30-something artist named Kate who loses everything in an apartment fire and tries to get back her lost things.

In my fourth edit, which I finished in early July, I revised directly on the computer screen, reading the manuscript from start to finish. I noticed where I got bored and asked way.

I tightened up description to speed up the pace. I slimmed down the dialogue, noticing where it got repetitive or boring or included conversational fillers. And I looked at the beginnings of each paragraph to look for variety, cutting any repetitions of “the,” “I” or other words.

I read through Kate’s sections first to keep her story whole, seeing that there was a plot gap when I assumed a mention in the secondary character’s section was enough. I also noticed that I started two scenes one after another with Kate looking in her wardrobe deciding what to wear.

Nice catch there, I have to admit, because a wardrobe malfunction isn’t good, on stage or in a book.

I then took two months off before my edit on hard copy, where I tried to be a picky reader. I looked for missing elements and things I liked and didn’t like. I looked for inconsistencies. And I evaluated the depth of my main characters, adding to their voices.

Editing on screen allowed me to immediately make changes as I edited, while the paper version doubled the workload – I had to type in all the changes after making them in pen.

But editing on paper makes mistakes more glaring – black against white instead of on a computer screen with the programming tags on the borders. For me, editing this way feels more natural, growing up in the paper-and-pen world of the 1980s.

Writing Clean-Up

In 52: A Writer's Life, Editing, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on March 31, 2013 at 11:00 am

Cleaning out a storage unit parallels editing a novel.

Storage units can be messy, piled with too many unlabeled boxes or organized with nice pathways and everything catalogued.

Mine falls somewhere between the two.

I didn’t want to touch my unit, except I promised my mother, who needs to store a few things. I made the promise in late January and somehow didn’t find time to start until last weekend.

Call it avoidance.

The same thing is happening with the third revision of my novel, “The Fire Painter,” which is about a 35-year-old artist working in retail who loses everything she owns in an apartment fire. She tries to replace some of her belongings only to learn that things aren’t what matter.

I learned the same lesson as I sorted through belongings I held onto for sentimental reasons or possible use later.

In one area of my belongings, that of books, I got rid of more than half of the boxes.
As a journalist at a metro newspaper, I received dozens of freebie books and kept them, but I could never read all six boxes worth considering everything else I want to read. I looked at their covers and thought, “That book’s nice, but why do I need to keep it into eternity?”

I reduced to my book core, keeping the classics, a few reference materials that are useful to my writing life and personal interests, and the books I know I’ll read.

Not just books, I found I had extra clothes, kitchen and bathroom items, and household decorations. I didn’t need any of it.

Likewise, I don’t need the extra words and scenes that add fluff to my novel. The words I wrote, even if I think they sounded pretty, didn’t matter if they weren’t part of the story’s core.

I got rid of half of the things in my unit but only about 4 to 5 percent of my novel. It took me four hours to sort through the boxes, but 50 or so to cut out 4,000 words.

Editing books takes longer than editing life, I suppose.For one, my editing process isn’t organized. I read the novel over and over, cutting and adding until I feel like the language is clean and the storyline has a good arc with compelling dialogue, character development and interesting setting. I read it until I’m sick of it.

Just like I’m sick of my things, I edited out the fluff in my life down to the essentials.
However, I wonder why it takes me so much longer to get sick of my own work. Is it because it’s more directly connected to the inner-me than stuff ever could be? Is it because words have more lasting power than material, the spoken, airy stuff versus the hard surfaces that confine meanings into the objects they are?