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.
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:
- Monday: Put that shitty first draft away
- Tuesday: Be brutally honest
- Wednesday: Show me, don’t tell me
- Thursday: Tell me, don’t show me
- Friday: Focus on those nitty gritty details
Read more for details about winning a free Worderella critique at the end of this week!