Archive for the ‘editing’ Tag

If You Missed the SWO LIVE CHAT . . .

. . . you weren’t alone.

For those new to the blog, I just had to move my online writing group from Ning to Grou.ps, and the new network is buggy: I tried to send a reminder about the chat to all SWO members today to no avail (I found out that feature has been defunct the last two days—grr!), one of my regular attendees couldn’t access the network at the time of the chat, as well as a host of other wonky things with the new site.

Eeeeeeeeh - the site is buggy, Doc!

Overall, I’ve been impressed with Grou.ps.  After all, it can’t be easy for them to accommodate the Great Ning Exodus of 2010.  They have a tech support group for administrators, which has been helpful to me, and they seem to be actively taking care of buggy things as people report them.  However, don’t mess with my chat!

I suspect they’ll have all the kinks worked out before the May chat.  (I hope! I hope!)

THE GIST

If you missed our chat on revision and rewriting tonight for whatever reason, here are the highlights:

  • Re: Revision & Rewriting: What’s Your Process & How Do You Know When to Stop?
    • We discussed a method of editing I use: editor Bobbie Christmas’s “Find and Refine Method” as outlined in her out-of-print book, Write in Style: Using Your Word Processor and Other Techniques to Improve Your Writing
      • In the book, Christmas discusses how to tighten your writing and lists words and phrases you can search for within your manuscript to quickly find the problematic areas—all using your word processor’s “find” function (i.e., passive verbs, adverbs, certain words and phrases writers often overuse, etc.)
    • One member mentioned a CD called Writer’s Mind, which is designed to engage patterns of your own EEG and stimulate your creativity
    • We talked about reading your manuscript aloud
      • Doing this not only makes others think you are strange, but it also enables you to catch spelling/grammar mistakes as well as pinpoint problematic syntax, etc.
    • We touched how allowing space/distance between yourself and your manuscript is key
      • If you are too close, you’re not going to catch as many errors—your brain kind of fills in missed words, etc.
      • We debated how much space one needs—how much distance—and this, of course, is subjective
        • Some felt sleeping on it and revisiting the manuscript the next day was sufficient
        • One person suggested you not live, touch, or breathe the MS for at least a month before editing
        • Some mentioned sending the piece to beta readers and working on something else to get your mind off said manuscript
          • By the time the betas have read it, you should be sufficiently recharged

    Make like Michael Strahan's front teeth, and get some space between you and your MS!

  • This led to a discussion about beta readers—Re: where to find them and how to know if you can “trust” someone to give you constructive feedback
    • Some places suggested to find beta readers included: listservs, online writing groups, writer friends you make at conferences, etc.
      • One of my favorite comments of the chat: “Beta readers = fellow writers. Avid readers. Not Mom, Not Dad. No one you’ve slept with.” :)
    • Re: How to know if the betas are going to be any good
      • We pretty much agreed that it’s a crap shoot
      • You want to be on the lookout for someone with a “good eye”
        • You might establish this by getting a feel for the person through e-mails, chats—get to know them—see if they’re a good fit—research them.  THEN, make your decision.
        • One member said he has his betas complete a questionnaire so he can elicit constructive feedback—a very interesting way to guide the beta reader to focus on whatever you need them to focus on!

You could also pick up a beta at a pet store for, like, a dollar.

  • Re: How to know when to stop editing
    • We pretty much said it can be kind of a gut thing
    • My rule:  When you’ve revised so many times that you hate yourself—and your manuscript—and you feel like you might physically die if someone made you look at it again, then you *might* be done . . . but you should probably still have someone else look at it at that point.  Get that distance we mentioned.

Rappers from the '90s have surprisingly good advice for revising. (It was a toss up between this and one with "Stop - Hammertime" spray-painted on it.)

  • Re: Miscellaneous
    • We discovered that the new chat has awesome—but random—emoticons that we just stumbled upon
      • For example, by typing “(rain)”, a raincloud appears in place of the words—WHA?
      • This distracted us several times.
    • We discussed light versus edgy YA, as a few of us learned we had been hearing similar comments from agents about our MSS.
    • Marice decided she’s going to host a writing conference at her place Down Under. ;)
    • I invited myself to Australia, Los Angeles, and Macon, Ga.

Now, it’s your turn.  Anything to add to the conversation?

You Have a Question? I Have an Answer: How to Break Up Long Manuscript Using Arcs

“You Have a Question?  I Have an Answer” is a feature that answers real questions from real writers.

Q:  Ricki, I’m currently editing my manuscript (it’s YA fantasy), which many people have suggested might be too long.  It’s intended to be a series, so I’m trying to figure out if I can split it—but I’m thinking I might be too close to it.

In your post on editing last week, you mentioned the word “arc.” You said if you had two arcs, you could maybe split your manuscript into two.  Can you explain this a bit?

–A.C.

A: Thanks for the question!

When I said arc, I was referring to the dramatic arc, or plot.  If you already know this is a series, it sounds to me like there must be some over-arching plot and a lot of little sub plots.  This is good!  It means you have a lot of material to work with, and that will help you in your editing of the first book.

This will probably ring a bell from seventh-grade English, but each story arc is made up of these six basic parts:

  • Exposition
  • Conflict
  • Rising Action/Complications
  • Climax
  • Falling Action
  • Resolution

For instance, let’s look back at the Harry Potter series (and I’m assuming, if you’re writing YA fantasy, you’ve read Harry Potter.  If not, you need to drop everything and read it NOW because you should be using these books as your bible!  Also, if you haven’t, *SPOILER ALERT*).

But I digress.

In the HP series, you’ve got the overarching plot of Harry vs. Voldemort; but, in each of the books, J.K. Rowling focuses on something different.  Although you get that it’s Harry vs. Voldemort, it’s a different piece of the puzzle each time.

In the first one, you’ve got Harry learning he is a wizard, learning about the existence of Hogwarts/this whole wizard world, and learning about the overarching theme (Voldemort is a bad guy, who seeks to return to power and destroy him).

And while “Harry vs. Voldemort” is the bigger-picture plot, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’s arc/plot in the dramatic-arc breakdown looks something like this:

EXPOSITION

  • Harry’s an orphan
  • His aunt & uncle are heinous to him
  • Oh yeah—and he’s a wizard

CONFLICT

  • They learn of the attempted robbery of the Sorceror’s Stone from Gringotts Bank
  • This incites talk of why someone would want to steal it (because it has the power to give a wizard what he wants most) as well as who might want to steal it (He Who Must Not Be Named—a.k.a. Voldemort)
  • Harry learns from Ron and Hermione that people say Voldemort is planning to return to power

RISING ACTION/COMPLICATIONS

  • Harry learns the ropes of coming into his wizardry
  • Malfoy’s a pain in the ass & Snape’s not much better
  • Voldemort lost his power after killing Harry’s parents and trying to kill Harry, and he’s probably not too thrilled that his attempt on Harry’s life failed
  • Harry, Ron, & Hermione suspect Snape is after the Sorceror’s Stone because he hates Harry, and they think he tried to sabotage Harry with a spell during the Quidditch match
  • Harry and his friends venture past the three-headed dog guardian of the Sorcerer’s Stone because they believe Snape is going to steal it (the series of challenges they face on the way to the stone, etc.)

CLIMAX

  • Harry finds Professor Quirrell is about to steal the SS—not Snape—and it’s because he serves Voldemort
  • Voldy is feeding off Quirrell’s energy, and he wants the SS so he can restore his power and come back to life—ya know, without residing in the back of Quirrell’s head
  • Quirrell/Voldemort tries to take the stone from Harry, but Q/V burns up when he touches him

FALLING ACTION

  • Harry’s in the hospital
  • Dumbledore tells Harry that Voldemort is likely to return—and he’s probably pissed at Harry

RESOLUTION

  • Harry goes back to his aunt/uncle’s for the summer
  • Even though they’re awful, he’s happier because he knows he has Hogwarts and a whole wizarding world of his own to look forward to in the fall.

My suggestion would be to read (or reread) Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets.

You said yourself you’re too close to your book right now to know what to cut, and this can be a good break.  But it’s not just a break from your book—it’s research.

Read those two books and study J.K. Rowling’s use of exposition—how she sprinkles it in.  She really does make each book capable of being a stand-alone, but they each fit into the overarching plot—and that’s what you’ll want to do as well.

I would also suggest, for the sake of your own series, plot out Chamber of Secrets (and maybe even more of the HPs—even if you use Wikipedia summaries for the rest of the series) in the same way I just did above.  This will get you accustomed to figuring out how to break down stories this way—and that will be key in breaking apart your own.

Once you get away from your book and immerse yourself in this task, you’ll have a fresh pair of eyes for the trimming and tightening—I promise!

I hope this helps!

Editing: Get Distance, Get Advice & Get Over It

When I finished my first manuscript—well, the first time I finished it (heh)—there was one nagging question I had in the back of my mind: is the time span too long?

It started with my protagonist in her sophomore year of college, flashed back through some of high school, and ended up just after her college graduation; so, while the span was technically only two years, it seemed like six or seven because of the flashback.

SEEK HELP

I swapped manuscripts with a few other YA writers—without mentioning my concern about time span.  I figured, we’ll see if it slides.  For the most part, I received positive feedback, but one woman—the one whose manuscript was the best out of all those I critiqued and the one who, during our swap, landed a literary agent—mentioned she thought I should set the whole thing in high school somehow.

Ugh—I wanted to query—but I knew she was right.  So I set out to make it fit within the parameters of my main character’s sophomore through senior years of high school.

NOT SHORT ENOUGH—SHOOT ME, PLEASE

Halfway through the manuscript makeover, I attended the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop and had a critique with Waxman Literary’s fabulous Holly Root.  When she said three years is still too long of a time span for young adult lit, although it killed me, I knew she was right. As a friend at that conference put it, “Three years in YA is the equivalent of War and Peace.”  So I trudged home, consulted several fellow writers, read several YA books and studied those I’d already read, and even asked YA author Lauren Myracle for some advice.

Myracle reiterated what most people had said, most kids’ books take place over a very short period of time (a few weeks, a semester, a school year at the longest). In addition, she asked if I had more than one arc—because, if I did, I could split the book into two.

GET SOME DISTANCE AND GET OVER IT

During that month of researching and gearing up to edit once more, the biggest thing I had to overcome was wrapping my head around mushing my story from three years into two semesters.  I was too close to it at the time, and I just didn’t see how it was possible.

I thought a good deal about what my editor and friend, Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest Books, had said when he reviewed my pages: there was a lot I could cut—if the reader “gets it” with just one scene, why drag it out and have three similar scenes?  He said he often sees this when writers add autobiographical elements to their manuscripts; they want to stay true to “how it happened” and they end up sacrificing story because of it.

So, with some distance from my novel and armed with lots of great advice, I put marker to dry-erase board and plotted out my story.  I looked at every scene and evaluated its worth to the overall story.  With the fictionalized autobiographical scenes, I let go of the “how it happened”—and in most cases, I eliminated them altogether.  It all began to click into place.

SO . . .

It took about a month of revisions, but what I now have is a much tighter, much better, much more marketable story.  I ended up changing my focus pretty much completely, playing up my hook, adding/deleting scenes—and it still wound up being 20K words shorter.

I’m not saying this process won’t likely happen all over again when/if a lit agent is interested in it—and then probably again when/if a publisher is interested in it.  But the most important lesson here is that, if you’re too attached to the “how it happened,” too in love with your words, and too close to your manuscript, you cannot be an effective editor.

In the below Vlogbrothers video, YA author John Green talks editing.  He says he deletes over 90% of his original words and that all the things people like about his books emerge in later drafts. Enjoy!

In the Blogosphere: 2/8-2/12

“In the Blogosphere” is a weekly series, which lists links to writing-related blogs I’ve stumbled upon throughout a given week.  Most posts will be from that week, but if I find some “oldies but goodies,” I’ll throw those up here as well.

I never find as much time to read blogs as I want, but here are a few posts that struck me this week.

RESOURCES

If you’re entering the editing stages, this post by YA author Natalie Whipple is for you.  On her Between Fact & Fiction blog, Whipple discusses different ways to edit.

Stuck on structure?  Aspiring sci-fi author Andrew Rosenberg has a great series on story structure at The WriteRunner—and here, he’s begun another one on scene structure.

Need help with your synopsis?  The good people of Writer’s Digest have provided this checklist for your perusing pleasure.

There is a serious drought of boy books in young adult fiction, but before you try your hand at breaking your way into this area, check out this post over at YA Fresh.  In it, Tina Ferraro shares tips on writing for guys, as outlined by YA authors Michael Reisman and Ben Esch at a recent bookstore appearance.

This isn't the kind of boy book I'm talking about, but it's good too. :)

LITERARY AGENTS

If you’re in the query stages and you’re not getting any bites, see how your query stacks up against a really good one.  Here, Caren Johnson Literary‘s Elana Roth analyzes a query letter that grabbed her.

I know I’ve been linking to her a lot lately, but WordServe Literary‘s Rachelle Gardner keeps writing terrific posts!  In this one, she talks craft, story and voice.

THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND

In a world where real journalism is dying and blogs are taking over cyberspace, the folks at Hyper Modern Writing remind us of the importance of fact checking.

As well, at Ragan’s PR Daily, Christine Kent says short, snappy subject lines might be the key to freelancing success.

If you’re thinking about joining a writing group, Australia’s Marsha Durham gives you a few things to consider before making a commitment, over on her Writing Companion blog.

IN THE NEWS

I just added this link so I could post a picture of Taylor Lautner (just kidding).  In The New York Times, director of the American Indian Studies Center at the University of California Angela R. Riley opines about Twilight saga author Stephenie Meyer‘s use of the Quileute Indians.

Someone get this poor boy a towel!

INTERVIEWS

Over at Writer’s Digest, check out what 179 Ways to Save a Novel author Peter Selgin has to say about agents, writing and the publishing industry overall.

As well, The Knight Agency‘s Lucienne Diver had an interesting little chat with The Naughty List author Suzanne Young over on her blog, Authorial, Agently and Personal Ramblings.

In case you missed my post earlier in the week, I interviewed fellow Southeastern Writers Association presenter inspirational author Emily Sue Harvey.

Also, Shenandoah Writers Online member Katy Doman conducted our first Author Spotlight with nonfiction writer and poet Dana Wildsmith. You must be a member of SWO to access this interview, but e-mail me at ricki@rickischultz.com, and I’ll send you an invitiation on the double!

GRAMMAR HUMOR

Hehehehehehe.

FACEBOOK FUN

Think your Facebook etiquette is decent?  Better check, using this cartoon at The Oatmeal as well as this YouTube video.

You Have a Question? I Have an Answer: To Query or Not to Query

“You Have a Question?  I Have an Answer” is a feature that answers real questions from real writers.

Q: Does my novel need to be complete when submitting a query to an agent? If not, how close does it need to be to completion?

–E.L.

A: Thanks for the question!

Yes. Yes! YES!

No, I’m not reenacting the deli scene from When Harry Met Sally; I’m saying what every literary agent in the world is thinking with regard to completion of a manuscript and querying.

You absolutely need to complete your novel before querying agents; not doing so could lead to big trouble.

HERE’S WHY

If you’re not currently finished writing your manuscript, that means you’ve got a ways to go in terms of rewriting.

While there’s no hard and fast rule as far as how many times one must rewrite her manuscript, if you haven’t taken an ax to it at least twice since first writing the words “the end”—twice at the very least—then your manuscript isn’t ready.

Agents want your work to be as close to perfect as possible.  If they are going to invest the time to read your manuscript, they want to know you’ve invested the time to edit it.  If you haven’t, they’ll be able to tell—and you’re just asking to be rejected.

Rule of thumb (according to pretty much everyone): If you aren’t sick to death of your novel, you aren’t ready to query.

Get it out, baby.

Now, if you are rewriting and you know exactly where you’re going with the editing (and, perhaps, you’re just getting antsy because you’re sick to death of your novel), you still aren’t ready to query.

The reason being, what if you do so and an agent asks for a partial? Or—gasp!—a full?  Stranger things have happened.

If you have to write back with, “Just kidding!  It’s not finished!  Glad you’re interested, though.  I’ll send it when I’m done,” they’ll more than likely respond with, “Just kidding!  I’m not interested! Don’t bother querying again!”

That is, if they respond at all.

BOTTOM LINE

Agents have very little time, and if you’ve hooked them with your query, you have a microscopic window of opportunity to sell them on your work.  They want to know you can finish a novel, because that shows you are professional and capable.  If an agent is interested in your work and then discovers you queried before you completed it, she might feel betrayed—or, at the very least, annoyed.

SO…

Demonstrate you’ve got what it takes to follow through by writing and rewriting (and rewriting and rewriting)—then query.  That way, you’ll be sending out the best possible representation of your work, and you won’t burn any bridges.

What’s Your Editing Process?

I’m about to sit down with a cup of banana nut bread coffee (yes, it is really a thing—and yes, it is amazing) to edit, edit, edit my manuscript.


In talking to another writer friend yesterday, we discussed the editing process a bit—like, do we set aside page number goals, allot certain times during which to work, etc.

I have edited this manuscript several times—this last go around is just to cut down the time span.  And even though I’m pretty anal about sticking to schedules, I find that, when I’m under a little bit of pressure to finish something, I tend to throw all my scheduling ideas out the window and work as much as I can—whenever I can.

I wonder, is this the best approach?

Furthermore, what’s your process?

You Have a Question? I Have an Answer: Rewriting & Editing – What’s the Difference?

“You Have a Question?  I Have an Answer” is a feature that answers real questions from real writers.

Q: What is the difference between rewriting and editing?  To me, rewriting sounds like starting with a new, blank page.  Editing is going through and proofreading, making sure that plot sequencing and continuity work, and making sure that everything makes sense and remains engaging throughout the work.  Clarification there would be helpful.                                               -E.B.

A: When agents and others in the writing and publishing industries mention rewriting, they aren’t necessarily talking about starting with a clean slate.  I mean, sometimes they are, but not always.

These two terms are used somewhat interchangeably because they tend to be intertwined.  In fact, I would say rewriting is actually the umbrella under which editing falls because you almost can’t have one without the other.  However, I suppose it depends what kind of editing you mean.

The rewriting umbrella can save you from a downpour of rejection.  Yes, I'm a dork. :)

The rewriting umbrella can save you from a downpour of rejection. :)

Line editing is more like proofreading. When line editing, you go through, line by line, and check for grammatical, spelling, punctuation, and formatting errors—and generally, that’s it.

Copy editing takes the aforementioned into account (what good editor doesn’t notice those things?), but this is where you look at everything as a whole and focus more on character, plot, cohesiveness, sequencing, etc. Chances are, if you are wired to do either of these things well, you probably cannot completely shut off your grammar/spelling/formatting switch when you’re trying to focus on the piece as whole, and that is how these two become intertwined.

Rewriting is something that happens whenever the writing transforms.

You almost can’t have one of these without another (unless you scrap the whole thing and begin again at page one) because if you find that you need to alter something with plot sequencing or character, it’s usually not just a matter of changing one word.  You fix those things by weaving in new details in various places of your novel, and you omit what doesn’t work. Any time you tighten a paragraph or clean up a sentence, your original manuscript becomes something else—transforms into something better.  Translation: You are rewriting.

One example of something that toes the line between editing and rewriting is replacing passive verbs with active verbs.  Say you notice that you’ve used mostly passive verbs throughout your manuscript.  If that’s the case, you must rewrite because those are countless opportunities for revision.

Let’s take a look at a very basic example.

She is drinking the tea.

This is a passive sentence in that we’ve used a passive verb form here (present progressive form, for my grammar nerds out there).  We can do a number of things with this sentence, but even using an active verb can transform the writing.

She drinks the tea.

OK, so here, we’ve kept it in present tense, and we’ve cut down a whole word.  If you’ve got a manuscript chockfull of is/are/was/were, cutting down on just that one word per sentence will add up big time.  Paring down word count is definitely a transformation.  Depending on how much you cut, it can mean the difference between an agent asking for pages or rejecting your query.

But this sentence is kind of boring.  Not as much of a transformation as I’d like to see, as it doesn’t give the reader much of an indication about the character.  We could certainly use a better verb to convey something more—even if that’s all we change.

She slurps the tea;  She sips the tea;  She downs the tea;  She gulps the tea;  She ingests the tea;  She swigs the tea;  She guzzles the tea.

And so on, and so forth.  But you get the idea: One verb can mean the difference between proper and boorish.

Each of these verbs does something more than the original sentence, and—though it may be painstaking to some—it’s these kinds of decisions that make the writing clearer and cleaner.

To me, if you’re putting that kind of time and care into your editing (as we all should be), that goes beyond just editing and fits more into the category of rewriting.

I hope that answers the question!

Resource:

This book changed the way I write and edit.

This book changed the way I write and edit.

My favorite editing book—in fact, it changed the way I write and edit—is Bobbie Christmas’s Write in Style.

Christmas’s patented “Find and Refine Method” provides lists of words and phrases to put into Microsoft Word’s “Find” function to make for speedy editing.  If you follow her suggestions throughout your entire manuscript, adding, omitting, and revising where necessary, your writing improves 100%. 

Unfortunately, it’s out of print, but you can still get it here.

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