Monday, August 29, 2016

Editing for the first time? 5 Thoughts To Help You Make Sense Of It.

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street, which releases in February 2017. Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

Rachael wrote to me and said, "I'm 9k into my second draft, and it's taken me a year to get there. I feel like I'm trying to edit everything all at once--so much so, that it's almost like writing a first draft all over again, except this one isn't supposed to be bare bones--and I've gotten really discouraged. So my question is this: how do you know what to edit in the second draft, and what to let go for now? How do you keep it from being so utterly and completely overwhelming? There will always be another draft, but I don't know what to focus on for this one. Characters? Plot? Beginning/end? Everything seems vital, but it's too much to handle all at once."

Oh, Rachael! Hugs!

I'm sure many other young writers nodded along as they read your words. This might not make you feel any better but I nodded along! Here are some things to keep in mind:

1. It's okay to rewrite.

When you are a young writerwhether you're literally young or just new to writing novelsyou are learning a lot very quickly. Even if it doesn't feel like it. I never edited the first few complete manuscripts I wrote because by the time I finished them, I could see that they had serious problemsincluding that I was too bored with the story and characters to care enough to fix them.

Eventually I wrote the first draft of the book that became my debut novel. I rewrote this book three times because of what I learned during the process. Sometimes the best thing to do is just open up a blank document and try again.

I don't know if this is encouraging or discouraging, but even after you've been writing for a while, some first drafts just come out messier than others. That's true for my current work in progress. I wrote the draft last year, when I was pregnant and had inconsistent work time.

On top of that, I normally write my stories in first person with one narrator in good ol' Microsoft Word. But I wanted to try Scrivener, and I thought I would need multiple point of view characters, so I decided to write in third person.

I was about 20,000 words into the book when I admitted Scrivener didn't work for me, and that my voice loses something when I try to write in third. I eventually finished my first draft, and the result was a poorly thought out story that wandered here and there before ending in a very jarring way. And I've been a published novelist since 2009!

When it came time to edit that book, I just opened a new Word document and started over. I could still use a decent amount of my material from the first draft, of course, but I found it easier to just copy and paste bits of scenes rather than trying to fit all the new material around the old.

2. Embrace the mess.

I was recently helping my eight-year-old daughter clean her room. She's a sentimental, artistic type of kid, which leads to moments where I pull a bin off her closet shelf and find it contains a school assignment, a rock, a cup from a party 6 months ago, a crazy straw, and the fancy necklace she was given for Christmas but never could find.

To really clean McKenna's room, we have to take out all the bins, sort all her belongings into piles, and then distribute the piles. In short, we have to make a big mess.

Editing is similar. To do the job properly requires making a mess. I've tried again and again to be so organized about my first draft or the editing process that the mess never happen ... but if that's possible to achieve, I've yet to figure out how.

I think the smarter approach is to just embrace that editing is a messy process.

3. Editing is a skill

I've said this before, but editing is its own skill. You've learned how to craft a story, how to stretch it over the course of thousand and thousands of words. If you're like I was as a young writer, maybe you've written tons of story beginnings, or you've made it all the way through a book a time or two, but you've never edited one before.

Editing a novel is different than editing an essay or an article. It's possible you will read your first draft, know that it needs to be fixed, but not really know how. This is one reason why we encourage writers to learn about story structure and to analyze the stories you take in. Understanding components of stories that resonateand stories that miss the markwill help you identify problems in your own manuscript.

As an example, I wrote a book in my late teens/early twenties that I pitched several times to agents and editors. They would like the sound of it, but no one ever read more than a chapter. "The book just didn't work for me," or "There wasn't enough of a hook for me to sell," are the responses I remember.

I didn't know what to do. I believed them that something was wrong with my book, but I didn't know what, so I definitely didn't know how to fix it.

Several months later, I was reading a book that I just couldn't get into. Then I realized a similarity between that opening scene of that book and mine:

This author's book opened with three friends meeting up at a bar after work to have a drink together. The first scene was mostly just their conversation.

My book opened with two friends meeting up at a coffee house after school. The whole scene was just these two friends having a disagreement. I had thought the tension of the dialogue was enough to hook a reader, but when I saw it play out in the other author's book, I could see that it was boring.

So if you read your manuscript and you have trouble pinpointing what's not working, you might eventually figure it out by reviewing story structure or reading.

4. Prioritize problems.

Chances are that you know at least some things that need to be fixed. Jill wrote a great post on Wednesday about the "macro edit," which is that first big picture edit. This would be a great one for you to read if you haven't already. We also wrote the Go Teen Writers book to help writers through edits, so that can be a good resource too.

Since Jill talked about this in depth on Wednesday, I'll just summarize briefly. The instinct for most writers is to edit their book from start to finish. But if we try to edit for everythingplot, characters, theme, grammar, sentence structure, consistencyall at once ... that's a lot to try and hold in our heads.

So I read through my first draft and make a list as I go. Things that need to be researched, story questions I raise but never answer, character motivations that seem thin, and so on. Then I divide my list into bigger issues and smaller issues.

Big issues that I will tackle in a second draft might be, but aren't limited to:
  • Something I didn't bother to research in the first draft that could make a big impact on the story. 
  • A major character who I don't understand very well yet. I will usually take time to write a character journal if I haven't already and then rework scenes from there.
  • A villain who is too convenient/too obvious/shows up too late in the book to feel satisfying. Often I need to add scenes early on to help with this.
  • A beginning that drifts too much before the real story starts. I'll figure out what can be cut.
  • A twist that I don't set up properly, or one that doesn't feel as twisty as I'd like.
Further down the list I usually have a list of questions I want to process. These are things that usually don't impact many scenes, but my gut says that I need to take the time to answer them. Some examples are:
  • Why does my character choose to go to this place? I never explain that.
  • What is my villain doing during the off-stage time?
  • I say this character is going to be gone for two weeks but they're only gone for one.
  • My character knows a piece of information before they're told. How can I rearrange this?
After I've made the list, it's time to dig in. I always save a "first draft" version of the manuscript so that as I'm working on edits, I know there's a back up of the original version should I need it.

5. Someone out there knows how to fix your book.

It amazes me every time.

I will be struggling with a story problem. Like, "Why did the mother steal the necklace?" I'll roll this question around for a few dayswhile I'm brushing my teeth or walking my kids to school. I might come up with an idea or two, but nothing that feels like I've landed on the right solution.

Then, I'll send my writing friend, Roseanna White, a message. "I can't figure out why her mother steals the necklace. It's driving me crazy."

About 30 seconds later, Roseanna will write back something like, "Did she need the money? Does it have sentimental value? Was it for revenge?"

Within a few minutes, Roseanna will have helped me come up with something that I love and can't wait to write. There's something about her distance from the manuscript that makes her amazing at solving the problems. She's not the one who has to do the hard work of revisions, and she's not limited by the rest of the plot because she only has a loose idea of what it is.

Maybe you don't know why your opening scene isn't working, or how to make that action scene more exciting. But somebody you know does! They don't have to be a writer, either. It's great if they are, but I was 22 before I made my first writing friend.

Rachael, I know edits are difficult and overwhelming, especially that first time. I hope something in this post was helpful to you!

If you have other thoughts or encouragement for Rachael, leave them below!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Editing for Musicality by Olivia Farnsworth

Happy Friday, friends! Shannon here. I have the crazy privilege of introducing you all to Olivia Farnsworth. If you'll remember, we sent out a call for article submissions a while back and Olivia's concept was chosen as a winner! It was a such a joy to work with Olivia as we polished up her article and I'm so excited to share her and her work with you all. She taught me a little something and I think you'll see she has a lot to offer the writing community. 

Please welcome Olivia Farnsworth!

Olivia Farnsworth is fifteen years old and lives in Burns, Oregon, with sixty acres of desert pasture, her parents, two brothers, and several assorted trailer-loads of critters. She is currently pursuing her dream career of being a novelist through her two YA Christian fiction books, one in the editing phase and the other still in the first draft stage. When she isn’t typing or working her summer job for the BLM, she enjoys running paths in the fields with her border collies and hanging out on Go Teen Writers.
Whether you realize it or not, music and writing have much in common, and understanding their similarities can help you when you edit your novel. In writing, musicality refers mainly to the sound created by prose and relies on pleasing rhythm, diction (word choice), and occasional sound devices. While nearly every area of editing for musicality requires use of a well-developed "author's sense," there are some specific techniques you can use to give you a head start. The ones I'll be introducing today are tips for creating pauses in dialogue, establishing mood and mood shifts, and creating overall musicality and balance in your manuscript. Let's dive into these three tips, starting with what your characters say—their dialogue.

Tip #1: Creating Pauses in Dialogue
If you have ever studied conversations, then you know that the participants are prone to fall silent at some point during the exchange. Maybe two acquaintances run out of things to say, and an awkward emptiness fills the air between them. Maybe one person tactlessly breaks some bad news to a friend and now watches anxiously, waiting for the reaction.
Of course, the opposite can be true as well. When one character interrupts another or shatters a peaceful silence with a shouted interjection, the novelist has to manipulate the word choice and order to capture the moment in the desired emotional light. No matter the situation, timing is essential to creating natural dialogue. Take a look below at an excerpt I took from the rough draft of my WIP. This segment is written from the perspective of Armand, so we hear the exchange through his ears. He is focused solely on an injury his leader suffered, which is the original topic of the discussion between him and the other speaker, Uriah. However, Uriah has other things on his mind, which provides an interesting dilemma in writing their conversation—a dilemma I did not handle correctly at first. See if you can spot the timing error in the original copy below.

            “Got the lung, aye?” Uriah stood and stretched.
            “It appears so.”
            “Arrows are better than bullets.”                  
            “Is that so?” Armand squinted at him, trying to track the abrupt swing of subject matter.
Did you catch it? Uriah's change of subject was abrupt, as I intended it. His mind was occupied with a problem he deemed more severe than an injury—the effect the blast of a discharged bullet could have on their stealth mission. Armand's comeback, however, was too quick. Of course, he would try to sound like he was on top of things, but he needed time to process the situation before doing so. Here's the edited version.

            “Got the lung, aye?” Uriah stood and stretched.
            “It appears so.”
            “Arrows are better than bullets.”
            Armand squinted at him, his mind scrambling to track the abrupt swing of subject matter. “Is that so?”

A little switcheroo, a few more words tossed in, and we're good to go. The narrative and dialogue work together to create a natural pace that does not confuse the reader.
Below is another example from my novel. Unlike Armand in the previous excerpt, Hums retaliates quickly when startled. To achieve this, I placed his dialogue first to reveal his outer reaction, and the narrative second to show his emotional response. This excerpt is written from Hums' perspective. FYI, Mason and Stitches are both horses.

            He (Hums) checked the remaining three hooves, but nothing was awry. He ran his cold fingers through every inch of Mason’s thick winter woolies, then began to examine Stitches.
            A voice echoed out of the darkness that swamped the barn. “He’s got a puncture wound.”
            “Would you quit that?” Hums snarled into the empty space around him, though his fury was at himself for starting.
For interruptions or a quick reply, as seen above, it often works best to position the reply immediately after the initial dialogue, with no narration in between. While it is not always necessary to follow this suggestion, it is helpful when a certain degree of abruptness is desired.

Tip #2: Establishing Mood and Mood Shifts
When reading fiction, you may want to study what makes it rhythmic so you can better create musicality through your own writing. The style of prose found in novels isn't meant to be all straight-lined and even, the way poetry is. Prose has its own sound, like the rushing of a river—loose, disorganized, but united. If your sentences all start sounding the same, your writing may feel stiff, interrupting the flow. To keep the reader tuned, you need every sentence to glide gently into the other.
This brings us to the topic of mood. While you've probably read many things about conveying emotion, the idea I want you to recognize now is that the mood you portray will be strongest if you focus on either one or two at a time. Take the following excerpt from my WIP, which contains two different moods and two different tempos, or speeds. The first paragraph is fast paced action—your typical fight scene. However, Uriah was bitten by a venomous snake just prior to the battle, and the second paragraph introduces the first wave of the symptoms. Paragraph three (shortened for space efficiency) brings us back to the urgency of the situation as the fight continues, now with heightened stakes. Be on the lookout for the details that create the change in mood and tempo among the three paragraphs. FYI, the environment here is an underground hot springs.

            He (Uriah) drove the man back with a series of punches to the face. Steve flinched heavily with each, and a stream of blood darkened what little Uriah could see of the man's face in the dim light underground. Uriah's jaw clenched, and his anger powered each solid, calculated attack. He drove Steve backwards, and the man stumbled over calf-high rocks behind his boot heels and fell backwards into a frothy mineral bath. Fists clenched in tight wads at his sides, Uriah strode forward in pursuit.
            A wave of confusion scrambled his vision, and his feet swept him sideways into some rocks. He straightened himself and tried to shake the vapors out of his head. The motion only mixed the potion and made him feel faint. His knees felt loose and liquid, and he stood stone-still, afraid if he tried to walk, they would betray him.
            Steve hit him from the side and drilled him into the granite boulders beside him. The jagged teeth of the rocks struck his shoulder and dug their spikes into his ribs as the heavier man bore his weight down on his prey.
When something happens to change the mood of your POV character, the shift should be clear and concise. It's often quick, too, so your wording and the sentence structure around it are important. Think about this as you read the next tip.

Tip #3: Creating Overall Musicality and Balance
There are two key components that contribute to rhythm, which is a vital piece in creating musicality. The first is sentence combinations, as mentioned above, and the second is accents, or the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in words and sentences. While there are no specific rules involving accents, it is something to consider when you edit. The pattern of ups and downs created by words in a sentence should combine well and have enough variety to feel natural. In addition, using words that sound alike in close proximity can throw your readers, so be careful. The length and structure of your sentences also come into play, since the pauses created by punctuation affect the rhythm.
If any of you have ever taken a music theory class, you're probably familiar with musical phrases, stanzas, and a thing called cadence. Phrases and stanzas are the sentences and paragraphs of the music world, and recognizing their positions can help a composer write chord progressions. This is where cadence comes in.
Toward the end of a stanza, the chords begin to cycle back through a specific pattern to the I chord, which is the simplest chord and the one on which almost every stanza begins and ends. The gradual return to the I chord is cadence. The listener, subconsciously hearing the pattern, anticipates the conclusion. The same is true for paragraphs. Most paragraphs have a beginning, a middle, and an end, all of which form what could be called a paragraph arc. Be aware of this structure during the editing phase and correct any paragraphs that do not have a satisfying conclusion. This will create a much smoother transition of ideas throughout your story.
As a quick example of what cadence looks like in a paragraph, here is another excerpt from my WIP. Take note of how the different aspects I mentioned bring the musical aspect of cadence into the writing.

A tiny eel squirmed within her warm heart as he stood there against the wall, so brown he almost blended in. The dark irises and dilated pupils, filled with quiet mystery and brutish fear, sent a tingle through her skin. Only a strange and dark past could form such a creation, and in the back of her mind Judy resolved to discover that past.

One word of caution before we close: when finishing a paragraph with a decision or an opinion the character has reached, state it subtly so as to aid the reader's understanding of the situation without insulting their powers of deduction.

Musicality in fiction writing may be new to you, but understanding it will help you make your manuscripts shine. 

Have you ever noticed the similarities between music and writing, or is this a new concept to you? Have you struggled with any of the scenarios I brought up? 

Feel free to post your own examples of editing improvements you've made and how it relates to the idea of musicality in fiction.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

#WeWriteBooks, Post 25: The Macro Edit

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She's currently writing a post-apocalyptic book with all of you called THIRST in conjunction with the #WeWriteBooks series. 

Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website, where you can read THIRST. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.

Welcome to week twenty-five of #WeWriteBooks Wednesdays, where we are writing books together. I finished my first draft of THIRST a few weeks ago. The book needs a major rewrite, which I don't have time to work on right now. I hope you all were able to see how messy my first draft ended up being and how much work I still have to do. Click here to visit the chapter archives, if you want to read it.



Week one was genre (THIRST is post-apocalyptic YA). Week two was premise. Here's my premise:

A waterborne disease has sprung up in every corner of the globe, decimating the human race. Young survivors Eli McShane and his friends journey toward Colorado and the rumored location of a safe water source.

Week three was Storyworld.
Week four: maps and floorplans.
Week five: protagonists and main characters.
Week six: side characters.
Week seven: prewriting.
Week eight: plot structures. 
Week nine: Theme.
Week ten: creating a plot outline or list of key scenes.
Week eleven: point of view.
Week twelve: narrative modes.

Week thirteen: how to write a scene.

Week fourteen: Where to start.

Week fifteen: Prologues.
Week sixteen: Dividing Your Book Into Chapters and Scenes 
Week seventeen: Write Fast and Free
Week eighteen: Dialogue and Thought
Week nineteen: Character and Author Voice
Week twenty: Action
Week twenty-one: Description
Week twenty-two: Exposition
Week twenty-three: Pacing
Week twenty-four: Beginnings and Endings of Scenes and Chapters

The In-Between

One of my favorite quotes is from author Michael Crichton. “Books aren’t written—they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.”

That’s so true.

Now that you've finished your first draft, you'll need to rewrite that book!

But first, you really should take a rest.

You've been slaving away over this book. You are so close to it right now. Too close. Take a couple days (or maybe even weeks) to rest your mind, read a craft book, or work on something else before you dive in to the edits. The time and space will make you sharper when you come back.

Still not convinced to take a break? Check out Stephanie's post called Six Reasons to Take Six Weeks Off From Your First Draft. It's really good advice.

Today's Topic: The Macro Edit

Once you've taken a break and are ready to edit, you will first need to do a macro edit. This is the BIG edit. The overall edit. You'll be looking at plot, characters, storyworld, and theme to try and smooth everything out. It will still be rough. You're trying to get a consistent draft with all the parts in place. The writing might still be messy and sub-par, but you can fix that in the micro edit.

Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant explain the writing process as such:

1) Write it. (Write the rough/first draft.)
2) Write what you mean. (Take your manuscript through the macro edit.)
3) Write it well. (Take your manuscript through the micro edit.)

You've completed step one. Now you're on step two. You know so much more about your story now. You know where the holes are. You know what needs to be fixed. You know if you have too many characters or not enough. It's time to go in and make this story say what you meant to say. Add description. Get all your facts in order. Put the right characters in the right place. Make sure the characters are saying things they'd actually say. Add those missing plot threads. Add scenes that need to be added. Delete scenes that were unnecessary. Get your character quirks and eye colors right.

If you're feeling overwhelmed, you can use the Go Teen Writers Self-Editing Checklist to help you. 

Here is how I tackle the macro edit:

1. I take a break
I take my time off. It might be a week or two. It might be several months. It might only be a few days. No matter what, I need time away from the manuscript to rest my mind.

2. I read the book carefully
I read the book straight through as quickly as I can. I ask myself about the concept of the book. Is it unique? Is it universal? Can people relate to the story? I look at my protagonist. Is he likeable or relatable? Can readers identify with him? Learn from him? Follow him? Root for him? What about the plot? Are the stakes big enough? Are they primal? How does my hero interact with the plot? Does my hero have a goal? Does he work to solve the story problem himself without secondary characters sweeping in to save the day?

As I read, I make a scene list so that I can see the entire book in two-three pages. This helps me see any big plot holes. I also make a list of problems to fix. This gives me a checklist to work from and helps me not worry that I'll leave out something important.

3. I rank the list of problems 
I rank my list of problems from biggest to smallest.

4. I fix the big stuff first 
It might seem daunting to start with the biggest problems, but since they are so big, it is a relief to fix them first. That way, things get easier as time goes on. I specifically look for:

-Plot holes
-Main character problems: Internal and external motivations, growth arc, likability.
-If I have a sagging middle
-Whether or not my dark moment works
-Do I have a powerful climax?
-Do I have a great ending?
-Are there inconsistencies in the story?
-Are my timelines working? Do I need to make a calendar to check my dates?
-Do I have an imbalance of characters? Do I need to add, cut, or combine characters?
-Do I have some research to do? This often happens if I have a cop scene or medical scene and I just made things up for the first draft. Now I have to check my facts with a professional. (Always check your facts!)

5. I read the book again for smaller stuff
Once I feel like my draft is mostly consistent, then I go in to look at the smaller stuff. 

-Description: I add description where I had none. This could be descriptions of settings, characters, action, magic, adding the five senses, all that good stuff.
-Secondary characterization: I look for description, tags, voice, quirks, etc. I want to make sure each character stands out and is memorable.
-Subplots: Are they consistent? Do I need to go back and plant clues here and there?
-Magic: Is it consistent? Is it believable?
-Storyworld: Is anything confusing? Do I need to find places to explain more or delete where I've explained too much?
-How is my pacing?
-I look for places I can go in and add references to theme or symbolism.

6. Send it off!
If I have time, I send it off to a few beta readers to see what they think. If I don't have time, I send it to my editor, who will give me a macro edit and ask for another rewrite. This is a good thing, especially if I didn't have a chance to give the story to beta readers. I want opinions. I want to know what's working and what needs work.

More posts to help you

Assignment time

I realize many of you won't be ready for a macro-edit right now, so I'd like you to think about some things you know aren't working in your story. For me with THIRST, I have several problems. I've mentioned the book might need to be divided into two. My main character has a love interest my readers hate, so that isn't working. There is no antagonist until halfway through the story. I forgot to remove trackers from my characters before they escaped into the woods at the end of the book. I also forgot the doctor they kidnapped to remove these trackers. He was supposed to stay in the compound. He just sort of vanished. So, lots to fix.

How about you? Any ideas of what you will need to work on? Share in the comments.