Monday, October 3, 2011

Tips From the Edited

Okay, so I'm not professing to be a professional editor. I worked my freaking tail off to find one of those for my books, so I could suck. (LOL! Not really. I mean, I still work hard to make my books the best they can be.)

But nothing compares to having an objective, professional, extra set of eyes. As someone who's now been through two books, both of which required some pretty heavy edits in spots, I'm going to give you the low-down of what I've learned.

Now, both you and I would be delusional to think this is a comprehensive list. In fact, I might do a blog series on this or something.

But let's start with the top 3 things I've come to realize about my writing and how to make my books better BEFORE I send them to my agent/editor.

1. Don't be indulgent. You know those scenes you write just so the main characters can kiss? Yeah, you do. I do too, because I've written them in the past.

Take those out. Kissing scenes are fantastic--don't get me wrong--but they have to be carefully placed, and very rarely do we need a whole blow-by-blow of such actions. (Consider your genre, please.)

You know those scenes you write where you think you're being all clever? Yeah, you do. I do too, because I put them in my books too.

Take those out--or at least consider them very carefully. EVERYTHING in the story should be there for the sake of the story--NOT so the author can feel clever. I've learned to put my indulgences in my pet project.

The books I'm writing for publication (or submission) are indulgent-free. Every word I write in them goes toward establishing 4 things: plot, character, world, or emotion. If it doesn't, it doesn't belong.

Trust me, when I get my edit letters, those are the first things my editor calls me on.

2. Relationships can drive plot. I'm a lover of fast-paced books. It's a struggle for me to insert setting and world-building. I like "things to happen" and all the time.

I'm also very angsty. I like to pour that into my characters, and use it to drive my plot forward. This may sound basic, but it's hard to do.

Sometimes, we read books where there's only relationship things going on. And then the next chapter is plot things. Then relationship. Then plot.

I think it's better to layer the relationship INTO the plot, so they must co-exist. My editor thinks so too, as she's always calling me on the half-baked relationships I put in my books. One of my heaviest edits is always in the relationship realm.

I'm really trying to think about the relationships in my new books in advance, and USE THOSE RELATIONSHIPS to BUILD THE STORY.

3. Take the time to find your character's voice. I find my voices overlapping, and it's a problem for my editor (and me), trust me. She doesn't want a book that has language exactly like my previous book.

So do some writing exercises to find your character's voice. You won't be sorry, and neither will the agent/editor you're submitting your work to. (I have a post about this here. Might be worth a read.)

So there. Sorry this is such a long post. Maybe I should've split it up today. But now that I'm drafting like crazy again, these are the top 3 things I'm trying to do BEFORE my editor calls me on them.

What are your top 3 editing tips?

61 comments:

Bish Denham said...

Wow, am I the first today? Excellent post Elana. We all need to learn how to edit and revise. Learning some tips from someone who's been there and who is doing that is very helpful.

Thanks for sharing.

Laura Pauling said...

I think this goes past your normal word count for a post. :)

Great editing tips. They are all good to remember, esp the indulgent tip, and the voice tip, and the relationship tip. :)

Miranda Hardy said...

Great tips. I have none to supply, yet. I'm sure I will in a month or two. Have a good week.

Jemi Fraser said...

I've been wondering about one scene in my book. I love it, but... Yeah, I'm going to have to cut it. thanks :)

Natalie Zaman said...

Great advice! Gonna print this out so it's handy for the next round... xxx

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great tips. This would be a great blog post series. I definitely struggle with the character development and voice issues. I know I'd get called out on them too. Though I do try to fix them.

Carrie said...

Great tips. I'm not in the being edited phase but I would say pay attention to advice from critiques. An author critiqued my pb manuscript at a conference last year. At first I wasn't ready for all the changes she suggested but now almost a year (and a couple rejections) later I was ready to try some of her suggested changes and it really did improve the story.

Becky Wallace said...

Thanks for sharing your wisdom. My tips are pretty simple: 1) Read your work aloud. If it trips you up, it will do the same thing to a reader. 2) Can you combine characters? Each character needs a distinct purpose. 3) Search for over used words and phrases. Sometimes there's too much repetition to just be voice!

Christina Lee said...

Fantastic points, E! I especially like the four things to consider: plot, character, world, or emotion. NOTED!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Awesome post, Elana. Can't wait to read the next half (because girl there will DEFINITELY be part two of this).

Great insight into the editor's thoughts. :D

Katie Ganshert said...

This is fantastic advice Elana. I struggle with the clever things....not whole scenes, but little lines here or there that I think are clever, but really are just distracting.

I learned SO much from my line editor about this!

J. A. Bennett said...

Those are great tips. Just the thing I need to get me inspired this morning!

Ron Smith said...

Great post. I attended a talk by Jay Asher once and it was all about mini-cliffhangers for each chapter end. I think that is really good advice.

Also, as much as I hate to say it, those passages that you love so much, the ones that show off you oh-so-clever talent at writing prose? Well, if it doesn't drive the plot, hit the delete key.

It's surprising to see that once you delete that passage, you no longer miss it. In fact, that scene just seems a little bit tighter, doesn't it?

Kara said...

This is an awesome list and one I really needed to read! Thank you:)

Christine Fonseca said...

hmm, three things - mine are pretty similar to yours 1) every word moves the story forward in some way; 2) watch those repetitions (yea, I know!); 3)authenticity of emotion.

yep, that's it

salarsenッ said...

Ooh, coexisting is so true--a must!! I love your three tips but #2 hit home. I think that's what's holding me up in writing my current WIP--like I mentioned to you the other day. I have three first chapters, all of which could be the beginning and the others could be edited to move the story forward. Struggling to meld character growth within the new world I'm building.

Great post!

Michelle McLean said...

I think my biggest one (so far) was trying to jump right into the action without giving my readers enough about my MC to make them care about the action. Definitely something I try to work on before my pages go to my agent now lol

Jessie Humphries said...

I only have one I can think of right now--cut the pet words. Its an easy one, why not do it yourself. Just control find all those suckers and delete them.

Kelly Lyman said...

Great tips! I find that character voice is the most difficult for me--I'm working on another story right now and I find my MC from my other book sneaking in every once in a while....

anonymeet said...

Great tips. I really like the advice n layering relationship into plot. I find myself with scenes in which my protags just talk to each other about each other. SNOOZE! Will have to work on making something happen in those scenes . . .

Shannon O'Donnell said...

This post is SO HELPFUL, Elana! I love the idea of you doing a series of posts on this subject! Yes, please!! :-)

Jennifer Hoffine said...

Cool stuff! I think the best advice I ever read was to make everything in your story pull double or even triple duty when you can...that speaks to both your first and second rules...everything needs a purpose (or two or three) and relationships should drive plot.

I find that varying the voice from book to book is the hardest, esp in first person. It's good to have a professional perspective to help catch that.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Clapping (hear beautiful clapping sound) at your #3. It really does take months sometimes and I'm learning not to force it, to stuff in descriptors or language that simply doesn't apply.
~ Wendy

Janet Johnson said...

Love that first tip! Plot, character, world, or emotion. I need to read with that in mind. Thanks!

My #1 tip is to read what you write out loud. Especially dialogue. For me, that is like a big arrow, glowing with lightbulbs, pointing out the stuff that doesn't work.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Excellent tips, Elana. Mine - be open to all suggestions!

Jen Chandler said...

Super helpful post, Elana! Thank you!!!

A series on this topic would, of course, be fabulous. I'm pretty sure no one would complain :)

Cheers!
Jen

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Thanks for the great advice, Elana! I need to work on that first one a little more. Sometimes I am way too indulgent with a scene. :)

Alice said...

Thanks for sharing your editing advice. Someone recently suggested to me to listen to my story on my computer and take notes as I do to get the whole picture. I'm going to try that with my next edit.

Krista said...

Ah. So needed this! Thanks! Your advice will help with my WIP.

David Powers King said...

That's hilarious, Elana! I had to edit a kissing scene like you said. Two pages. Gone. Works better now.

Great advice! :)

J.A. Palermo said...

Great tips here! A few more --

Say it once. Edit out those repeats no matter how clever they are.

Watch those dialogue tags and internal thoughts scattered throughout dialogue. Make sure nothing slows down the action to a snore.

Angela Brown said...

I'm with Christine Fonseca regarding making every word count. Sometimes we get caught up on word count that we could drag a story down with things that don't move the story forward or doesn't add to the story.

Abby said...

This is great. Right now my top editing tip is... go read Elana's blog on editing! Seriously - you rock!

Meredith said...

These are awesome tips! I have such a hard time identifying and taking out indulgent scenes, but you're right--the book is so much better when you do!

Christa said...

I'm not sure I can get behind ever cutting out indulgent kissing scenes. But I'm sort of that way:)

Definitely agree with the rest!!!!

Angie said...

I find I have to make sure I have enough emotion and sensory details, or conversely not too much of those things. It's a paradox.

Krispy said...

These tips come at the perfect time. Not editing yet, but going to get back into some major writing this week. So it's good to have some of these things in mind. :)

Nichole Giles said...

Great tips, thanks!

Randy said...

Great post. It would be interesting - for some of aspiring authors - to see an example of a "half baked relationship" that an editor wanted changed. And then see the change. Of course, that would make a good interview for me.

I don't have any good editing tips, other than I get critical feedback from my writing group. Then again, I write much slower than you and spend a significant amount of time plotting the book before I start writing. So, my tip is: plot more - edit less.

June G said...

This post really hit the spot. I was told the voice of two of my characters sounded too similar and it was hard to tell them apart. I, too, am not fond of writing setting and worldbuilding and I've been called on that as well. I LOVE to write about the relationship--guess that's why I'm a therapist! Lol...I'm reading Shatter Me. It has some pretty heavy love scenes--almost made me blush...ha ha ha...It wasn't hard to figure out exactly what that character was thinking: "the cargo pants set a little too low on his hips...my fingers fumble down his abs...My fingers rest on the button holding his pants together...I want to taste...

I guess I'll stop right there! LOL...This book's getting major buzz, so I guess they're liking the hotness...see...you just never know!

Great post, Elana.

Mindy McGinnis said...

Great post!

Even though it's the biggest "UGH" moment of a writer's life, writing your synopsis is a great way to edit yourself. I notice that if I'm only hitting salient points for a two pg. synopsis, I'll think, "Hey, but if I jump to the next time something happens, I skip like 50 pages!" Uh.... well then I guess I don't need those 50....

Jodi Henry said...

Great post, Elana.

These are the reasons I have an awesome writing group. So they can catch my weaknesses and help me make them my strengths.

Kelly Polark said...

Excellent and useful post, Elana.
I now have plot, character, world or emotion written on my sticky note on the right hand of my laptop.
Thank you!

REINHARDT! said...

This is a great post! I guess my top 3 editorial tips would be (in no particular order):

1. You have to know what your main character is doing at any point in the book, and you have to know why. Really. ANY POINT. Same with the main antagonist.

2. A tried and true one: If you can begin the story at a later point, do it. Start the story as close to the action as possible.

3. Remember that most people only say what they need to say and nothing more. Dialogue should be as concise as possible, unless a character has a good reason to be long-winded.

WritingNut said...

Great advice Elana, thank you so much for sharing :)

Carolyn V said...

Great post Elana! And great advice.

Amy Richardson said...

Thank you! Awesome post. I love reading tips from published authors about anything to do with the process. This is definitely something I will keep in mind as I write!

Theresa Milstein said...

Excellent post. Nice to know what an editor will point out. I'll keep this in mind with rough drafts and the editing page.

My tips:

Watch out for too many adverbs and dialogue tags. Be spare.

Look for repeated phrases.

If you put the draft down for a while and continued it, make sure there was no change in voice.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I really enjoyed this post. My tip is to :

Remember the Reader -

If it's not on the page, the reader can't see the images in your head.

Put him in the scene :

have him/her -

taste the salt of the sea in the storm breeze.

feel the hammering of the wind as it rocks his tiny life boat

see the sharks circling his fragile, leaking craft.

lurch in the boat as one of them scrapes underneath it.

hear the lonely cry of the gull so high in the sullen sky above, so unreachable --

as unreachable as safety and the love who died in his arms just moments before.

Remember the Reader. Thanks for such a great post. Roland

Elizabeth Mueller said...

Great tips!

Mine are to always have varying sentences. You don't want the reader to pick up on a dull rhythm same sentence structure after same sentence structure.

Another is inner conflict with each character by showing it via visceral reaction--body language, you know, show, don't tell?

The next one is if it doesn't move the plot/character forward, cut it. ;)


♥.•*¨Elizabeth¨*•.♥

Hannah Kincade said...

I do agree on you should layer the relationship with the plot and it should flow together.

Unfortunately, I've read a ton of books where there's too much focus on the relationship and plot...is full of holes. Giant holes. But hey look, I have a torrid romance going...you see what I'm saying?

All good points though!!

Kamille Elahi said...

I find the last one to be such a struggle. I try to define my characters as people different from me but they usually all end up being just like me.

Donea Lee said...

I can't indulge in my clever self???? :) These are fabulous tips. Thanks for sharing! One of my tips-to-self, that was a long time coming, is not to edit as I go. There needs to be a somewhat complete story to really edit first.

Susan R. Mills said...

Great tips! I'm especially guilty of the indulgent trap. Must work on this.

Ghenet Myrthil said...

Thanks for these tips! I'm currently revising my WIP. I especially love this line:
"Every word I write in them goes toward establishing 4 things: plot, character, world, or emotion." It's hard not to overindulge sometimes but you're right that every scene has to have a specific purpose.

Stacy Henrie said...

These are fantastic tips! I especially like the one about relationships and plot entertwining and moving things forward.

Jaime Theler said...

These are fantastic and spot on. It's amazing how shiny our own writing looks until someone else points out the tarnished spots. Please do a blog series on it. I would love more insights!

Catherine Stine said...

Wise words. I just had a convo with my agent today about getting rid of clever, but extraneous words and paragraphs!

Leslie Rose said...

Thanks for revealing your tiger traps to help us not fall into them. My tip is to never let your MC really have the time to take a breath. Then you know they are zipping through the story. If you are feeling benevolent a breath may be added later.

Kristine Asselin said...

I love this: plot, character, world, or emotion. It really boils down to those four things. Good post, EJ!

Slamdunk said...

Wonderful tips Elana.

I am a firm believer that relationships can drive a plot--using the term relationships in a comprehensive manner rather than just those physically attracted to each other.

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