Posts Tagged ‘fiction writing tips’

To Edit or Not to Edit: This is Not a Valid Question!

I read a lot. I have also judged numerous writing contests in various genres, and I can tell if a book has been properly edited. If it hasn’t been, my level of confidence in the author plummets, as does the credibility of the story.editing


Types of editing:

  1. Substantive Editing: the big-picture edit. Does the story make sense? Do events happen via cause and effect? Do the characters act consistently with their characteristics? Do they evolve reasonably? Does the whole work hang together (cohesiveness)?

Does each scene have goal, motivation and conflict? Does every scene move the story along? Is the dialogue realistic, unique and consistent? Does it move the story ahead / aid in character development?

In my opinion, a self-edit at this point is possible, but it takes time, objectivity and copious note-taking. Character arcs, plot division, fact checks and many more areas must be subject to scrutiny. Key words here are cohesiveness and consistency.

  1. Copyediting: a closer view of the manuscript that includes what I call PUG: punctuation, usage and grammar. Does the work contain anachronisms?

If you’re a grammar guru or a spelling pro, go for it. If not, ask for help. Maybe a fellow author will copyedit your work if you return the favor. If you use Spell Check, please follow up with a read-through by you or someone else. One of my pet peeves is misuse of homonyms (sound the same but differ in meaning, e.g. die / dye) and homophones (sound the same but differ in meaning and possibly spelling, e.g. to / too/ two). It matters!

  1. Proofreading: “the detection and correction of production errors,” (Wikipedia). This is the time to fix minor mistakes such as the way numbers are used (20 / twenty), grammar, and generally catching anything missed in the previous processes. This is the polish.

*One method of self-editing at this stage is to read the entire work aloud. You may even choose to read it out of order so your brain concentrates on the words instead of the storyline. It’s also a great idea to ask several people with good English skills for feedback at this stage.

Where to find Editing Help

  1. Self-edit if you feel competent and are obsessive about perfection. A few great resources:
  1. Trade skills with fellow writers.
  2. Ask your writing group for feedback.
  3. Hire out the editing, one or more levels, to a professional.
  4. First readers – non-professionals who will read and give feedback on early drafts.
  5. Beta readers – non-professionals who will read your “next-to-final” draft.
  6. Final readers – professionals who agree to read the ARC (Advance Reading Copy) you send them. They may also write an endorsement if requested (payment usually a copy of the book when it’s released).

NOTE: If you plan to publish via the traditional route, don’t think your editing problems are solved. A poorly edited manuscript will not even be considered. There’s neither the time nor the budget for it. It’s up to you to submit a saleable piece of writing.

The traditional publishing industry is in constant flux right now. Many houses have closed or amalgamated, and there are editors out there who have formed their own businesses. They are well-qualified and experienced in editing, and for a fee, they will make your work much more publication-ready than you or your non-professional friends can make it. The choice is yours—ours.


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Point of View can be a tricky subject. Basically, it refers to how we decide to relate our story, the perspective from which we see it. Which character(s) will communicate the story most effectively? Do we want to tell the story from one person’s perspective?

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A short story is often told from one perspective because of the limited length of time to develop characters. A novel, on the other hand, may use several perspectives to relate the story.  many people




Will we choose first person or third for this narrator?

This is first person: “I can still feel the heat of the fire.”

Consider the story To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, told in first person through the eyes of a young girl called Scout. Her every observation, every judgment, is sifted through her limited experience and perception, but it’s enough for the reader to grasp the greater significance.

And this is third person: “She could still feel the heat of the fire.”

Lord of the Rings uses this perspective.

The first person approach is the most intimate, but is also limiting as to how much the first person character can know and observe. The third person is less intimate, but allows for more than one character to share the point of view focus.

Besides that choice, we must decide whether the point of view character(s) will be limited to what they alone can perceive or will be privy to other characters’ thoughts and feelings? This latter POV is known as omniscient, for obvious reasons.

An example of omniscient POV:

“Alice saw the woman duck behind the counter when she entered the store, so she decided to investigate. Meanwhile, the woman crouched in fear, wondering where to hide.” Here we see from Alice’s point of view as well as the crouching woman’s. It’s like a bird’s eye view narrative.

Currently, the omniscient viewpoint is not commonly used in fiction, as it distances the reader from the characters and fragments the focus.

If we’re unsure of what point of view will best suit our story, we are free to try several options to see which works best. The experiment take time and effort, but is worthwhile.

A good tip: once we decide which perspective to use, we must be consistent. If, for example, we choose third person for a longer story, we have the option of seeing the story through the eyes of several characters, thus giving us a broader vision, but we must be clear in each instance which character is “seeing.”

The rule of thumb, at least for novice and intermediate writers, is that only one point of view should be employed in any given scene. The late Ron Benrey, agent/editor/author, suggested envisioning a camera on the head of the point of view character to help us remember that he or she can only see what the camera sees.camera

If we are writing about what Alice saw, then for that entire scene (one place or time in the story—think of a scene in a movie) we should only record what Alice senses or knows. If we wish to portray the story from another character’s point of view, we must create a new scene and maintain that character’s perspective throughout that scene.

Jumping from one character to another within a scene is known as head-hopping, and is generally frowned upon because it makes the story difficult to follow.

Another tip gained from Ron Benrey’s workshop is to make sure the reader is well aware of who the point of view character is. Mention the name at or very near the beginning of each scene so the reader isn’t left wondering.

Lack of understanding regarding point of view is one of the most telling signs of amateur writing. There are many books available that clarify this crucial element. Check out Writer’s Digest Books, specifically Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card.

For a more in-depth look at the various point of view options and how they work, check out this site.


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