This weeks guest is going to be a little different, she’s an EDITOR!!! She would also kill me for that last sentence. To tell you all you need to know about Leigh, not really, there’s a lot to her, I asked for betas for Head of Steel Part 1, she volunteered. Eight hours later I had a completely edited copy back in my email. I didn’t ask her to do that. I didn’t pay her to do that. She did it because she is a great person and an editing nerd.
Ten Reasons This Editor Grouses
–B. Leigh Hogan
Writers love to write, and you love to write about writing. And I’ll tell ya, that’s one thing you do that drives me crazy. Why? Because you all do it. You all talk about the burning passion of writing.
Guys, it’s always about the passion, but it’s not always about writing. Sometimes it’s about painting. Sometimes it’s about laying brick. Sometimes it even about the beauty and horror of destruction and loss.
And sometimes it’s about editing.
Since plenty of us are failed writers—cuz there’s no reason to pretend otherwise—we know the technicalities. Plenty of you guys didn’t bother to learn them. Yes, guys, that’s precisely what makes an editor grouse: we prepared to be writers, but some of you successful writers just write willy-nilly and expect us to fix it.
Now, a few of you have already signed on for Special High Intensity Training from me, but if you wanna avoid the grousing editor, you polish your rough draft into something nearly finished. Yes, that means doing a ton of editing for yourself, several reading passes with as much time between them as possible.
So, my suggestions for self-editing:
1. Learn the rules.
Sure, break them with abandon, but learn them. If you’re interested, there’s a few chapters of the Chicago Manual of Style that American writers should read once a year just to keep the rules fresh in your minds.
If memorizing rules seems too much for you, try Grammarly or the grammar nazi built into Word. They aren’t as good as an editor, but they do spot tons of things. I’ll admit it: I have Word underline what it thinks is wrong. Most of the time I agree, and most of the time I’d die if it slipped past me, since a machine was able to catch it!
At the very least, pay attention to what I’m changing consistently in your writing and adjust accordingly. The fifth novel with the exact same errors becomes tiresome!
2. Read dialog aloud.
A lot of narrative issues will work themselves out if you read it aloud, but dialog in particular benefits from being vocalized. If you can’t say it, the character isn’t gonna do so well in the effort either. If you’re winded, the character ought be winded. If you wanna work on something else while you listen, use the reading software that comes with most computers.
3. Use contractions in fiction.
Frankly, use language the same way as when you talk. If you say gonna instead of goin’ to instead of going to, write it that way. Your reader is your best friend; there’s no reason to be formal. A lack of contractions in dialog comes off as particularly stiff. One exception: if you have a particularly strong accent or your dialect tends to vary significantly from Standard English, you might wanna be just a tad more formal in your writing just to be understood by readers outside your social bubble.
4. Fiction without a climax sucks.
You have to control the tension in your work. When I suggest massive rewrites, it’s usually an issue with tension. Ninety percent of the time, I want to see the tension build in staircase fashion toward that climax where the most intense emotions are felt near the end. Otherwise you likely have a string of vignettes instead of a novel.
5. Things you ought be able to justify your use of:
passive voice and “was” in general
one sentence paragraphs
wall of dialog without actions
italics, quotations, parentheses, and brackets
dashes and ellipses–and they’d better be good reasons!
filler words: just, only, suddenly
6. Show the interesting stuff.
Tell the boring stuff. Or better yet, skip it entirely. Your reader wants to get lost in a world that feels real, but not so real that boredom exists.
7. Get your finger off the delete button.
Yes, it’s perfectly normal to hate your rough draft. However, once you hit The End, you shouldn’t hit the delete button and start over. We call that the next novel, and for right now, you wanna make your current novel the best it can be.
8. Keep It Simple for Stupid.
Keep sentences from turning into barely comprehensible monsters that sprawl across the page. One idea per sentence, and one topic per paragraph. If two complete sentences share one idea, use the semicolon; if you don’t know the difference, don’t even think about semicolons.
9. Dialog tags are not your friends.
The dialog and actions of one speaker belong in one paragraph during an exchange so you don’t have to constantly add dialog tags. If you need a dialog tag, you need it early in the paragraph, so there’s no reason to add tags at the end of some half-page speech.
Also, if it’s not a dialog tag, use a period instead of a comma. Examples of common non-dialog tags: smiled, laughed, grinned, frowned. Yeah, we don’t say words through facial expressions.
10. Finally, CONCRETE, CONCRETE, CONCRETE.
Is that old truck a blue beater with pockets of rust or a preserved classic in candy apple red with a dozen layers of clear top coat? And for all that’s good and holy, no pronouns without CLEAR antecedents.
Be specific. Be interesting. Be different.
I’ve got no problem when you leave the hard parts to me. For some issues like over-reliance on certain words (was, look, smile) I have macros to help me. For other issues, particularly homophones, I have years of experience. Still other issues, like when a gerund or adverb weakens a sentence, I’ve learned tons from the other wonderful grouses of the world.
Now, go forth and write faster.