Thursday, May 30, 2013

Go Beyond Wordsmithing With Edits and Critiques

When it comes to editing, I do honestly believe that many authors are barely skimming the surface to their manuscripts. I will often see projects that supposedly have been edited, or have gone through extensive rounds with critique groups that still need a huge amount of work done. So what happened?

For the most part, when people are editing, or when people are reviewing other's writing in critique groups, the emphasis is often on plot development. Writers spend hours finding the right Goals, Motivations and Conflicts for their authors. They work to create great scenes that stand out. They work on lines that everyone will want to hear. Now, while all of these ideas are great, these really are only the tip of the iceberg.

When it comes to editing, I like to go back to a model that I have used when teaching composition classes. Although the ideas were developed for an academic setting, the ideas do work well with any type of writing. This is known as the 6+1 Trait Writing Model. Let's look briefly at things to focus on.

IDEAS AND CONTENT This is where a lot of the authors spend most of their time. This is where you will want to look at the plot and character development. But, in this section, you will want to take it one step further. The idea here is that the reader should not be left feeling like there are holes or questions unanswered. Hopefully most of this will be taken care of during those critique sessions, but take it a step further. Does the reader have a three dimensional picture of your world?
ORGANIZATION - This issue is one that many pantsters miss. Because they are writing the story as it unfolds for them, they are often not seeing how things really fit together. We need to see that every scene and every page in the book has a unique place. This issue can also come about by the limited time authors have to edit books. Although we don't often have time to edit an entire book, we need to make time to now and then. If we focus too much on those individual scenes, we won't see how things in Chapter 4 relate to things in Chapter 20.
FLUENCY This is the readability issue. One of the tests I look for in a piece of writing is the desire to read it out loud because it simply sounds good. If we have spent so much time creating perfect words or scenes, we often forget about the flow of the story. We don't want our readers to put the book down. We want a great hook at the end of a chapter so we want to read more. We don't want stories that are a series of small episodes. Things have to flow!
WORD CHOICE - I do have to say, I see this more and more in what I would term "modern fiction." These are the stories where it seems as if the author has labored over finding the right word to get the feeling across. Sure, there are times when we want to find the right word, but when we get into "thesaurus over-load," then the story seems forced and unrealistic. We see this also when we read someone new to the romance genre. Words seem to be used because they thought that was the way you described things. We have to remember that the story needs to be accessible to the reader and flow off the page.
VOICE - Do you have a unique voice and style? In the case of voice, so often we find authors who are trying to duplicate what they think they see in another author. In the end, they end up only creating a carbon copy of that other author instead of letting their own voice and story come across.
CONVENTIONS - Yes, grammar, punctuation, spelling and typos need to be fixed. One word of warning. DO NOT just let your grammar checker find things as you are going. You have to physically change the settings to look for grammar and style, and then, you have to physically ask the computer to check for things. You might be surprised and what errors you are making.
PRESENTATION - This one is crucial when submitting projects to editors and agents. All of those formatting rules we talk about have a purpose.
  • Name and title on the project so we know who owns the story
  • Properly formatted manuscripts (typed, 12 pt. font, double spaced, single sided)
  • Properly formatted query letters
  • Electronic submissions in the proper format (.rtf, doc, pdf, etc.)
In simple terms, failure to do so tells the editor or agent you might not know your stuff.

So what are you missing with editing?

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