Come on in and grab a cup of coffee and a piece of cake, because I have a treat in store for you today.
Jacqueline Diamond has been a mentor to me for two years, teaching out of the Long Ridge Writer’s Group. I have learned a lot from her. This is why I wanted to post her very helpful article on self-editing for novelists. I’m sure you will find it valuable. I found that each idea stirs up a mess of thinking that might help you solve any issues you may be experiencing.
For the past thirty years, prolific author
Jacqueline Diamond has been proving that writers can’t be pigeonholed. She’s sold more than 90 novels including romantic comedies, Regency romances, fantasy, mysteries and paranormals. A former Associated Press reporter and TV columnist, Jackie received a Career Achievement Award from Romantic Times magazine. Jacqueline Diamond invites you to visit her at home, on her website, for added bonuses on advice and discounts on all her wonderful books.
Self-editing for Novelists: Key Points
The problem with self-editing is that we don’t see our own errors, whether they’re grammatical or story related. Even the invention of Spell Check, which ranks right up there with the wheel and dental floss, hasn’t fixed that problem.
With the rise of the self-published ebook and print-on-demand, editing one’s own work has become even more common. There’s no substitute, of course, for a professional editor, but you can make a lot of improvements on your own.
Important note: beta (advance) readers can be extremely helpful. These might be critique partners, with whom you exchange critiques, or friends who demonstrate they have a good eye and a strong story sense. Some critique groups are very helpful too, although watch out for know-it-alls and put-downs.
I could write an entire book about self-editing (I actually did write an ebook called How to Write a Novel in One (Not-so-easy) Lesson), but let’s hit a few highlights.
Areas to look at fall into three basic categories: overall story and characterization; grammar and spelling; and formatting.
For the self-published, sites such as Amazon and Smashwords post their own free formatting instructions that you can download. Most editors and agents prefer conventional style—double-spaced, indented paragraphs and no extra line between paragraphs–but more and more accept Internet style, which means single-spaced with an extra line between paragraphs and no indentation. Consult their submission guidelines.
Hardly anyone can fix her own spelling and grammatical errors, unless they’re simply typos. You really need someone else to do this. However, I recommend buying a grammar book—Essentials of English, or something similar—and studying it a page or two at a time. Call it bathroom reading. It’ll help prevent you from making those errors in the first place.
Now for the hardest but most important stuff: revising the overall writing and shape of the book. Let me share some tips based in part on my years as a writing instructor.
Think like a reader, not an author. Read the first page as if you’d never seen it before. Does it make sense? Do you know where you are, who’s present and whose viewpoint you’re in? Is it off-putting, boring, hitting the action so hard your teeth ache, or filling in tons of background that you don’t yet have a reason to care about?
- Does the first chapter set up the story? If there’s a prologue, does it have a clear purpose?
- In the book as a whole, have you included the important scenes? Don’t make the mistake of skipping over the conflict, perhaps because it pushes you out of your comfort zone, and then having the characters reflect later on what happened.
- Are the time sequences clear? Are there transitions so the reader can move smoothly from scene to scene and chapter to chapter without getting lost?
- Have you skipped the boring stuff, such as chitchat (“Nice to meet you”) and unnecessary details about physical actions (“She stepped into the room, walked to the couch, put her hand on the sofa arm and sat down”)?
- Have you grounded the reader with visual and other physical details, letting the reader see, hear, smell and feel the setting? Have you shown the reader what the characters look like?
- Does the narrative have a sense of forward motion? Are you building toward turning points where the action shifts into a higher gear? This is important even in a novel of character, such as women’s fiction.
- By the end of the first three chapters, have you launched the main action of the book?
- Are the characters believable? Do they act, think and react like real people? Watch out for characters who are TSTL—too stupid to live—and for Convenient-for-the-Author Syndrome, in which characters do and say things because it suits the plot. For example: If you’re writing a mystery with an amateur crime-solver, don’t have the police simply dismiss evidence for no good reason.
- Be alert for clichés. While these can be useful shortcuts, too many clog up the story and weaken the writing. On the other hand, avoid metaphors and similes—no matter how clever or original—that are so convoluted or confusing they pull the reader out of the story.
- Have you done your research? If you deal with medical issues, police matters, government agencies, etc., have you worked to be authentic? After doing as much research as you can, try to find a beta reader who’s knowledgeable in the subject and can catch your mistakes.
- Do the threads planted in the early chapters pay off later in the book? Have later developments been foreshadowed?
- Does the climax spring logically from earlier events, even if it’s a surprise? For instance, a mystery reader should be able to go back and find the clues you planted. Don’t just throw in a bunch of suspects and pick one at the end.
- Does your main character change and grow during the book?
While I’ve just scratched the surface here, I hope these topics will spark your thinking and help your self-analysis, as well as your writing. Good luck!
You will also find Jacqueline on Facebook where she welcomes your friendships.