Be Brutally Honest

Today we are going to work on being honest when editing. I always like to think of editing as having three major factors: being honest with yourself, with your writing, and with your audience.

First: Be honest with yourself

There are times when all you want to do it edit, and other times when you dread the idea. Whatever the case, ask yourself these questions before you begin.

  • Are you tired? Take a nap before you edit so you are alert enough to notice mistakes.
  • Have you had a bad day? Just come out of an argument? I suggest not editing then, because you’re upset. Everything is going to look bad to you, and that’s not constructive.
  • Have you had the most wonderful day of your life? Don’t look at your WIP with rose-colored glasses. Realize that your good mood might make you think your writing is better than it is, which is also not constructive.

In other words, realize that your mood will change how good you think your writing is. Train yourself to be objective no matter your mood.

And if you become frustrated, or if your eyes start to burn from reading too much, stop. Take a break and come back to it tomorrow. There’s nothing worse than getting burnt out, because then you get lazy with your editing.

Second: Be honest with your writing

It helps to know what sort of writer you are, i.e. character-driven, plot-driven, etc, and then look for your weaknesses. I had you print your work in a different font yesterday so when you read it, the words themselves will look unfamiliar, thus helping you recognize flaws.

  • Are your paragraphs more than five lines long? That’s a lot of exposition. We’ll discuss this tomorrow.
  • Are you relying on dialogue to explain details? Better summarize it in a paragraph and move on. We’ll discuss this on Thursday.
  • Does everyone sound the same? You’ll only know this by reading aloud. When you’re at a restaurant, try eavesdropping on conversations just to get a feel for how people really sound.
  • Are you lacking setting? Keep the five senses in mind (but don’t info-dump), and you won’t go wrong.
  • If you have to read a sentence twice, it doesn’t matter if it’s clever. Look at it this way… you had to read it twice to know what you are talking about, which means everyone else will have no idea. Rewrite it or get rid of it.
  • If you find a page that has beautiful writing but has nothing to do with that chapter, move it somewhere else. If it doesn’t belong in the book, it doesn’t belong in the book. Save it later for another project.

This is what I mean by being honest is hard. You have to be strong enough to let go of that perfect sentence… because it turns out it isn’t so perfect after all. But whatever you do, don’t erase any of your edits, and don’t cross lines through your printed text so you can’t see what you wrote. You need to see where you came from to know where you’re going.

Third: Be honest with your audience

Sometimes when we get into the thick of writing, we forget we are writing for an audience. This is the time to look at your work from their point of view by keeping these things in mind while editing:

  • Do you like your protagonist? Have you fully realized your antagonist? Make your reader care about your characters, even the bad guy, and you’re on your way to a solid manuscript.
  • Do you know where everyone is in the room? What room are we in, anyway? Did you even tell the reader? Shame on you.
  • Was someone out in the rain in the last chapter, and miraculously don’t have a cold or any sniffles in this chapter, only an hour or so later? Continuity is a big thing for readers, oddly enough. It helps to keep a timeline so you don’t run into this problem.
  • Does anyone even talk like that? This is why you should read your dialogue aloud. If you’re stumbling while reading, change it. Reading aloud will also help with purple prose; if it sounds cheesy, it probably is.

Your reader wants to love you and your book, so please, help them. Your reader will notice if something seems contrived. Strive for a simple, honest story at its heart, throw some twists into the mix, and everyone will be happy.

Frustrated? Stay with me. Tomorrow we’ll discuss how that vague mantra, show, don’t tell. Comment with your questions, suggestions, or what you find hardest about editing to enter the free Worderella critique contest.

Books to Buy: Revision and Self-Editing, Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore

Links to reference: Proofreader’s marks, Editing Fiction, Twelve Tips for Editing Your Fiction, Writer’s Editing Checklist, Revise, Revise, Revise

This five part series is my participation in Lynn Viehl’s Left Behind & Loving It (LB&LI) convention. I’ll tackle a different facet of editing each day:

  1. Monday: Put that shitty first draft away
  2. Tuesday: Be brutally honest
  3. Wednesday: Show me, don’t tell me
  4. Thursday: Tell me, don’t show me
  5. Friday: Focus on those nitty gritty details

Read more for details about winning a free Worderella critique at the end of this week!

28 thoughts on “Be Brutally Honest

  1. Great checklist. When the printer is working again I'm going to print this post to use when I'm in revisions. 🙂

    My problem right now is I know where the book doesn't shine, but am never really sure why it's not shining, like the beginning. I realized I didn't need most of what's there!

    Like

  2. Great checklist. When the printer is working again I’m going to print this post to use when I’m in revisions. 🙂

    My problem right now is I know where the book doesn’t shine, but am never really sure why it’s not shining, like the beginning. I realized I didn’t need most of what’s there!

    Like

  3. Glad to help! A lot of the time, we put all of the information into the first draft because we're learning about the setting, plot, and characters as we write. As we get into the second and third drafts, we learn to peel away the extra stuff.

    Like

  4. Glad to help! A lot of the time, we put all of the information into the first draft because we’re learning about the setting, plot, and characters as we write. As we get into the second and third drafts, we learn to peel away the extra stuff.

    Like

  5. Loved the checklist of questions. Reading the dialogue outloud like you suggest really helps me find the weak spots. I've had it recommended to me to read my story into a tape recorder and then listen – the person swears you'll hear even more. Thanks for all the help.

    Like

  6. Loved the checklist of questions. Reading the dialogue outloud like you suggest really helps me find the weak spots. I’ve had it recommended to me to read my story into a tape recorder and then listen – the person swears you’ll hear even more. Thanks for all the help.

    Like

  7. Tape recorder. Check. I love that idea. Plus, it will help you prepare for public readings once you’re published! You’ll hear if you mumble, read too quickly so no one can understand you, or too softly so no one can hear you.

    Like

  8. Tape recorder. Check. I love that idea. Plus, it will help you prepare for public readings once you're published! You'll hear if you mumble, read too quickly so no one can understand you, or too softly so no one can hear you.

    Like

  9. Great checklist! Some of those I know will need work on my part (right now, I find my main char incredibly dull and LOVE writing one of the evil minions – if I don’t like her, I can’t imagine anyone else doing so. I’ve kept plugging away at it, hoping that her character develops into something special as I go and that when I go back to revise later, I can fix the beginning. She’s getting more likable, but slooooowly).

    Some of your points I hadn’t thought of though. The one about “if you had to read it twice… fix it”, reminds me of the saying that if you grab a shirt off the dirty clothes pile, do the sniff test on it, then sniff it again just to make sure… that you need to just put it back on the pile. 🙂

    Like

  10. Great checklist! Some of those I know will need work on my part (right now, I find my main char incredibly dull and LOVE writing one of the evil minions – if I don’t like her, I can’t imagine anyone else doing so. I’ve kept plugging away at it, hoping that her character develops into something special as I go and that when I go back to revise later, I can fix the beginning. She’s getting more likable, but slooooowly).

    Some of your points I hadn’t thought of though. The one about “if you had to read it twice… fix it”, reminds me of the saying that if you grab a shirt off the dirty clothes pile, do the sniff test on it, then sniff it again just to make sure… that you need to just put it back on the pile. 🙂

    Like

  11. This is such great information. I especially liked the part about which mood I’m in. Sometimes I read things I’ve written and wonder what in the world I’m doing. So now I can tell the hubby I need a nap! 🙂

    Like

  12. This is such great information. I especially liked the part about which mood I’m in. Sometimes I read things I’ve written and wonder what in the world I’m doing. So now I can tell the hubby I need a nap! 🙂

    Like

  13. This is great advice. If we can’t be honest with ourselves about what we’re writing, then do we have any business writing in the first place? I think the hardest part of editing is realizing what must go in order to make the story better and a part of the process is being honest enough to admit when something isn’t working. Only then can we change it for the better.

    Like

  14. This is great advice. If we can’t be honest with ourselves about what we’re writing, then do we have any business writing in the first place? I think the hardest part of editing is realizing what must go in order to make the story better and a part of the process is being honest enough to admit when something isn’t working. Only then can we change it for the better.

    Like

  15. hardest part for me is getting all those edit issues covered in under 8+ full manuscript edit cycles! I end up going over the manuscript at least that many times. Would love to get it down to say a happy 4 fullbook edits…

    Like

  16. hardest part for me is getting all those edit issues covered in under 8+ full manuscript edit cycles! I end up going over the manuscript at least that many times. Would love to get it down to say a happy 4 fullbook edits…

    Like

  17. Amy D – I never thought of a bad sentence as a stinky shirt, but you know… it’s the same sentiment, right?

    Elana – I will use any excuse for a nap, in all honesty. But I have found that my mood really impacts my editing ability.

    LJ – No kidding. That’s by far the hardest thing about editing, writing, revising… our entire craft.

    Margay – Glad to help! It took me years to be really honest with myself about my writing. I think it just takes time, and growth, to realize what that means and how to do it.

    Sandra – It’s hard, I know. I used to have a lot of edits, too, but then I realized I wasn’t focusing. For me, all of my edits were because I was still experimenting. Now, I’ve decided that I need to focus on a single idea and make sure everything goes back to that idea. Does that help?

    Like

  18. Amy D – I never thought of a bad sentence as a stinky shirt, but you know… it’s the same sentiment, right?

    Elana – I will use any excuse for a nap, in all honesty. But I have found that my mood really impacts my editing ability.

    LJ – No kidding. That’s by far the hardest thing about editing, writing, revising… our entire craft.

    Margay – Glad to help! It took me years to be really honest with myself about my writing. I think it just takes time, and growth, to realize what that means and how to do it.

    Sandra – It’s hard, I know. I used to have a lot of edits, too, but then I realized I wasn’t focusing. For me, all of my edits were because I was still experimenting. Now, I’ve decided that I need to focus on a single idea and make sure everything goes back to that idea. Does that help?

    Like

  19. I suppose the hardest part I have with editing is the fact that I do a great deal of it more formally for the day job, which makes it hard to come home and revise my own work–even though fiction is way more fun to read!

    Like

  20. I suppose the hardest part I have with editing is the fact that I do a great deal of it more formally for the day job, which makes it hard to come home and revise my own work–even though fiction is way more fun to read!

    Like

  21. Kathleen – That certainly would make it hard to focus on your own work. What are some of the things you do to keep your motivation going?

    Like

  22. Kathleen – That certainly would make it hard to focus on your own work. What are some of the things you do to keep your motivation going?

    Like

  23. For me, there are two hardest parts to editing: The opening (which I’ve rewritten 6 times and it’s still not good), and having to cut scenes I love. Okay, I admit most of what I cut really didn’t belong, but one scene in particular, I’m still tempted to put back in …

    Like

  24. For me, there are two hardest parts to editing: The opening (which I’ve rewritten 6 times and it’s still not good), and having to cut scenes I love. Okay, I admit most of what I cut really didn’t belong, but one scene in particular, I’m still tempted to put back in …

    Like

  25. Marti – The ending is hard because we want to make a good impression. On Friday I'll talk about how to edit your beginning, hopefully this will help you.

    And if your orphan scene belongs to the plot and continues the story, then put it back in! If you're doubting the purpose of it, however, then as hard as it is, you should probably put it away.

    Like

  26. Marti – The ending is hard because we want to make a good impression. On Friday I’ll talk about how to edit your beginning, hopefully this will help you.

    And if your orphan scene belongs to the plot and continues the story, then put it back in! If you’re doubting the purpose of it, however, then as hard as it is, you should probably put it away.

    Like

Comments are closed.