Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Self-editing, part 5

Continuing from previous posts...

1. Evaluate the amount of the character’s history included on the first 1-3 pages. Often authors think the reader needs this up front before the action starts. Not so. You, as the author, need this backstory to create the scene, but the reader can learn the information as the situation demands or as needed by the second character. Revealing these details in dialogue or as short internal thoughts is most effective.

2. Show scene breaks by inserting four asterisks centered on a line by themselves. Usually with no white space between. One publisher asks authors to remove all chapter breaks in manuscripts under 80 pages.

3. Vary your characters’ speech patterns. If one character is educated and the other is less so, their speech should reflect it. Make each character unique without being a stereotype. In short, give each character a bit of character of his/her own.
Avoid, however, overuse of brogue and other dialogue affects that will slow your reader down, frustrate your reader, perhaps to the point of setting the story down. A little goes a long way, as the saying goes.

4. Alternately, make your characters’ voices consistent. Check each character’s speech patterns individually. Make sure each maintains the same voice throughout.

5. No idle chatter. Speaking of voice, don’t include idle chatter in dialogue. Yes, it will mirror real life but it will also bore your reader. They’ll start skipping ahead, and may skip something crucial.
Cut any dialogue that does not advance the story line. However, if it seems idle at the time but somehow provides a clue to an important event later, include it.

6. Read your story aloud. Editors recommend you read your work aloud at some point in your self-editing process. If not with a critique group, then at least to the dog. Your ear will catch what your eye often overlooks.

John Updike said: "(Writers) find the quick of human experience and use words that make it sing." Make yours a song with full orchestral backup with diligent self-editing.

Holly Lisle posted some great advice on how to revise in one pass-through (something I've yet to accomplish but now will attempt!) It includes advice similar to mine on planning ahead for publication.

In the final installment in this series, I'll provide a list of reference books I've found useful in self-editing.


Emma Lai said...

Great tips Cate!

Debra St. John said...

These are great reminders. The more work we do before we send our work to our editors the sooner we see the final product! Thanks for sharing these tips.

Cate Masters said...

Thanks for stopping by, Emma and Debra!

Mary Ricksen said...

Absolutely the best advise I ever heard!
Exactly Emma Lai, great reminders of what we need to focus on.