This week, as well as completing another read through of my manuscript whilst annotating madly with ideas for revisions inspired by the feedback I received, I’ve also been reading some other very useful books.
The first of these is Self Editing for Fiction Writers – or, how to edit yourself into print. Now I do kind of know what I’m doing with the whole editing thing. I’ve been an avid reader (almost) all my life, and add to that ten years as an English teacher and it’s safe to say I know a thing or two about what makes a good novel. It is amazing though what almost two years of late pregnancy and motherhood will do to one’s brain – both in terms of actually erasing some of the skills and knowledge that were vital when I breezed through the editing process of my first novel, but also (and perhaps more importantly) eradicating the confidence that’s needed to trust whatever instincts still remain.
As I was reading through this self-editing handbook, I was heartened to find that none of the top tips or pitfalls it described came as a surprise to me: it seems I haven’t forgotten everything just yet. Nonetheless there were a few things that rang alarm bells, technical and stylistic points that might explain why some parts of my manuscript don’t read quite as well as I’d like them to.
These have made it onto yellow post-it notes around my monitor: six prompts for me to look at when I reach those points in the story that don’t quite ring true so I can check and double check there’s not a simple solution that I’ve overlooked.
These six prompts are:
- Showing and telling: does any of the narrative summary need converting into scenes? (Or vice versa?)
- DIALOGUE: Sound? Attribution? Beats?
- Beware ineffective REPETITION (words/ideas/chapters etc)
- R.U.E. Resist the Urge to Explain
- White space
- Watch the adverbs – find STRONG VERBS
I’m not sure if they will make any sense to anyone else outside of the context of my head or the advice in the book, but I just thought I’d share. If you’re grappling with an edit yourself I would highly recommend checking out the book in its entirety. It’s not rocket science, but it seems to have helped to sharpen my brain which is never a bad thing.
The other two books I’ve found useful this week are similarly simple in their content and approach, but again have helped focus my thinking – this time in the area of characterisation. They are The Positive Trait Thesaurus and its counterpoint for negative traits – basically lists of the characteristics that make up different personalities with ideas about what might have influenced these traits developing and how they might play out in behaviour.
Having spent months getting to know my key characters inside my head and on the page, it’s been really interesting to see what other people have made of them. And I’ve had to face the stark and slightly frustrating reality that they’re not quite the people I thought they were.
What these books have provided me with is a mirror I can hold my characters up against, identifying the positive and negative traits I believe them to have – and also the ones that have come out accidentally. What I’m left with now (on my pink post-it notes) are the traits that I need to ensure are clearly embedded in my writing of these characters – and also, particularly in the case of my protagonist, some negative ones which I realise have come out in the way she’s ended up on the page but which I really need to play down if she’s going to be the person I want her to be.
There is a part of me that feels like I’m cheating having turned to these books to prop me up at this stage in my writing process. But it can get quite lonely sitting alone with my manuscript, and ultimately I reckon my brain just needed a bit of a boost.
It’s raring to go now, and though there are some more books I want to dip into to help me tackle the tricky business of my characters’ mental health I’m planning to fire up Scrivener tomorrow and start putting this thinking into practice. Wish me luck!
Self Editing for Fiction Writers is one of my favorite books, and Becca and I both are constantly quoting RUE when we critique. Seriously, it is one of the best books ever!
I never see books as cheats. To me, anything that helps me brainstorm better means I’m doing less grappling with possibilities, and more writing. With time being a premium, anything that gets me writing faster is a total win!
Glad you have found The Positive and Negative Trait books to be helpful, and thank you for the kind mention. Here’s to many rich and interesting characters to come!
It is a great book – and yes, anything that gets my brain whirring faster so I can focus on writing can only be a good thing! Your books were brilliant for that – I have a feeling they’re going to be very well read by the time I’ve finished with them so thank you! 🙂
LOVE Self Editing for Fiction Writers. I created my own editing checklist from that book that I use when revising every fiction manuscript. It’s kind of a thrill to see our books sitting there with that one. Definitely good company :).
Great to have a book that you can adapt to fit your own writing style rather than feeling like you’re being shoe-horned into someone else’s. Yours definitely fit into that category too. Thank you! 🙂
We all need a bit of help now and then hon, you shouldn’t view reading these books as cheating at all. Quite the opposite in fact as they will only enhance your skills as a writer. They sound great btw, and if I ever venture into fiction I’ll buy them first 😉
Never under estimate the effect baby brain can have over us mums, it’s a curse but you’re clearly on top of it all. Sounds like you’ve made a fab start on your edit, and I bet you will fly through it now this week. Is Arthur still having his two hour naps?
Best of luck xxx
He generally manages a two hour and a one hour each day so I’m lucky with that! Nights haven’t been so hot lately though… And all sorts of other things got in the way during the day this week… So not feeling all that on top of it at the moment! But I’ll get back there 🙂 xx
I absolutely think that our brains need help at some point in the writing process. And quite often at the editing when our brains are utterly frazzled (and too subjective!) #WhatImWriting
Yes, you’re right – I’ve found the books have really helped me put things in perspective. Still waiting to put it into practise though!
I don’t think it’s cheating all all! It sounds very sensible to me. And I’ll be looking those books up for sure. Reading this partly makes me long to be at the editing stage of my novel but partly feel relieved to be at the free, first draft stage when I’m just throwing ideas onto paper! It sounds like you’re making excellent progress. Thanks for linking to #WhatImWriting again – another excellent post.
They’re great books – I’d definitely recommend them. I’m still trying to find my editing mojo so kinda longing to be back at the writing stage at the moment! But I’ll get there I’m sure 🙂
I have been looking forward to this post since the picture of your post its last week.
The tips are very handy. Do you find it hard to keep yourself distanced when editing? I keep finding myself getting to close and not cutting bits I should cut because I’m in love with a snippet of dialogue. Editing is hard. No one really tells you that.
Will be investing in the books. The first one has particularly piqued my interest.
Good luck with getting it all set up in Scrivener. I still haven’t found my way with that programme but I do love it.
Thanks for linking up with #whatimwriting x
Editing is SO hard! It’s the distance that’s really tricky – trying to see things from the point of view of a reader when you know the book so well! I’ve ended up doing more reading rather than actual redrafting this week which is helping get my head into the right place I think. Should probably knuckle down and get on with it though…
It’s definitely not cheating, every job has reference books! It just sounds sensible to me, and I think that an objective voice, as it were, when you’re editing something that you have invested so much of yourself in, is probably essential. It sounds like it’s going really well x
I know – silly really. I used to love reading books on pedagogy when I was teaching and it’s not so different to that! I’m just starting to feel suitably objective though a little behind where I was hoping to be by the end of the week… Ho hum! X
Absolutely not cheating-writing is incredibly lonely at times and any opportunity to take advice or support in whatever form should be embraced I think. And being able to get help in taking a step back from something so personal as your own work can never be a bad thing 🙂
You’re right. I’m loving the support from this linky too – great to know how many people there are out there going through similar things 🙂
Cheating? Pah! Every single writer out there will look to those kinds of books for help at some point. Your prompts make total sense to me, I’m at this stage myself and learning a lot about my characters too. It’s a tough job. I hope your work pays off. 🙂 #whatimwriting xx
Thank you! It is a tough job, and there’s been a bit of psyching myself up this week for the challenge ahead… I’ll get there though! X
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