Editing With Netta-Your Cast of Characters

 

file7551283339240*Photo courtesy of scy from morguefile.com

While plot is a story’s backbone, the characters are its heart, and like the heart, complex and complicated. These are the people with whom your readers are going to fall deeply in love, or come to loathe with the passion of a thousand suns. And that’s exactly the way you want it.

Some writers like to construct a character sheet, write out entire biographies including a physical description and entire back stories before they even start to write. These character sheets can then be tweaked out when the story is complete, because as we all know, characters can have a mind of their own. For editing purposes, a character sheet is not a bad thing to have (although not necessary, especially if you’re using a style sheet) to keep track of age, physical characteristics, idiosyncrasies, etc.

When you’re going through your editing round with the focus of characterization, keep these things in mind:

1. Are your characters strong and interesting enough to carry the story? Or are they stereotypical, boring, cardboard cut-outs? Your aim is three-dimensional, real people with whom your reader can identify. Yes, this most definitely includes the secondary characters.

2. Is your hero/heroine perfect? You know, gorgeous, smart, funny, flawless? Is your villain so evilly evil their evilness is totally evil? WRONG. Perfect anything is boring and unbelievable. Real people are not all one thing or another. Your heroes need faults; your villains need at least one sympathetic characteristic.

3. Do your main characters have a good supporting cast? Fab. Do they have too many? Not so fab. The little guy in the corner with the monkey—is he inimical to the plot, the setting, or to establish the personality or goal of the MC? No? Then he’s got to go. Don’t cry. Write a short story about him as bonus material.

4. In the same vein, make your secondary characters memorable, or don’t use them at all. Even a small detail, like parting their hair in the middle and gelling it down or having an embarrassing skin condition is enough to round them out. Maybe they have a stutter, or an annoying habit like honking through their sinuses or picking their hangnail. Use people you observe as a tool to make your characters real to the reader.

5. Characters should fit your genre, era, setting, etc. This ties in to making your world, whatever it is, believable to the reader. Yes, there is genre blurring but we’re just covering the basics here and this is a topic for another time.

6. Does your character behave in a logical way according to how they are crafted? Not that a character can’t behave uncharacteristically, which could add conflict, but you still have to stay within the personality and behavior you establish with your character. For instance, say your MC is a nurse, and she comes upon an accident by the side of the road. You wouldn’t have her just pass by the accident without stopping to help, unless you’ve established a believable reason for her to do so. Maybe she’s on her way to a more urgent errand, or she stopped at an accident once before and was either injured or sued. You have to lay the groundwork for such an action.

Characters are the beating heart of your story. They are telling the story, after all. Step out of the way of your own ego and let them do their job. Listen to them and what they have to say. If they tell you, “I’d never do that!” or, “I need to do this!” then by all means, work with them. Remember, your outline is not set in stone.

Next week we’ll explore setting—the window dressing for your story.

Friday, You Arrived Too Fast

Friday? AGAIN? Where the hell did the rest of the week go?

This explains EVERYTHING.
This explains EVERYTHING.

*Photo courtesy of aiana at morguefile.com

Busy is good, so a former boss used to say, but at this rate it will be ten years from now next week. No, don’t bother trying to figure it out. I’m confused, too.

I can blame some of it on having a birthday this week, causing a huge rift in the space-time continuum. Or maybe the fact I ate some of Paula Deen’s ooey-gooey butter cake and about passed out from a sugary carbohydrate overload. Damn, but that stuff is evil.

Seeing as it’s the 26th time I’ve turned 29, I think I’m getting good at this. It prompted me to write a short status on Facebook:

You know, one thing about a birthday, especially when you pass the halfway mark, it encourages you to take a good look at where you’ve been and where you are now.

I did that. And you know what? I have walked through fire. Several times. Been burnt to ash, at times with no hope of ever recovering. Of times wishing I wasn’t even here. And when I look at my life now, I am so, so grateful I didn’t quit. I never, never quit. I just kept on going and the result is, I have everything I could have ever hoped, wished, or dreamed of. Two daughters who are the light of my heart. A bubbe who is the joy of my soul. Friends who are the best people I’ve ever met and who are my family. A career that brings me more satisfaction, exhilaration, and challenges than I ever thought possible, a career I love with every last cell of my body.

When I look back, I can see how my journey took me into many dark places, but I can also see I couldn’t have arrived *here* if I hadn’t been *there*. As painful as it was; as close to the brink as I have been, it was all worth it. It was all worth it because today I am the happiest I have ever been.

I am a blessed and grateful woman. In spite of Paula Deen trying to kill my pancreas yesterday.

***

I had an absolutely amazing birthday. We’ll put that in the WIN column.

***

In addition to the birthday thing, there have been releases of new books, and I love that. I believe all links have been updated on my Editing Work page; feel free to check them out. Hunter of Demons by Jordan L. Hawk: Prolusio and Games of Fate by Kris Austen Radcliffe; Ashes and Ice by Rochelle Maya Callen.; Dark Promise by Patti Larsen. Amazing talents, and amazing stories. Proud of each and every one of them. There’s more coming, and I’ll post them as soon as they hit.

Also this week I started a class at Coursera and it’s been fabulous. Go ahead and take a look. Some interesting courses and subjects from universities all over the world–I have a feeling me and Coursera are going to have a long and fruitful relationship.

And last, but not least, I have discovered Windows Movie Maker and fun like this should be illegal. I actually made two book trailers and it was a blast.

All-in-all, it was a Very Good Week. Wrap it up, I’ll take it.

How did your week go?

Editing With Netta-The Plot

Last week we talked about story structure—the basic framework on which to hang the flesh and blood of your story. Keep in mind this is just the basic structure. There’s a circular structure, the Hero’s Journey, etc. but at the core, it all boils down to these five elements. I could go on and on about story structure; it’s an obsession/fascination for me, but for the sake of self-editing this is what you need to know.

A Word About Outlining

There has been and probably always will be an endless debate about outlining. You have your die-hards who will outline to the very last detail down to the color of their character’s underwear, and others who paint broad strokes and leave the rest to the actual writing process. I’m not going to get into that here—everyone has their own way of writing a story and there is no right or wrong way. However, I will say once you start editing your story, it’s quite helpful to create an outline of what you’ve already written.

But Netta, you say, isn’t that backward? No, not really. An outline before you write can keep you (mostly) on track, but we all know outlines are not written in stone. Many things can change as you write. Characters can get a wild hair up their ass and take off in a different direction; that’s part of the creative process. So it’s a good idea, in your first read, to construct an outline of what you’ve really written. This will help you chart your tale, and pinpoint areas which need work to flesh out, tweak, and help you evaluate your plot line.

The Backbone of Your Story—Plot

Think of the plot as the spine. Without a strong plot line, all you have are a bunch of random people wandering around doing random things. After you complete the first read and construct an outline, take your red pen and read over the outline with these things in mind:

1. Do you have a clear story goal? In other words, what is the point of the story? Even in a series with an overall story arc, your novel requires a clear story goal within the arc of the series.

2. Does your story start in the right place? You want to establish your protagonist’s problem early, and hook your reader from the beginning. Ideally, this should happen in the first two chapters.

3. Does the plot make logical sense? No matter the genre, you are asking your reader to suspend their disbelief, but if you establish rules/parameters for your world, they need to make sense within the constructs of your world. For instance, if angels are invisible in Chapter One, you can’t make them visible in Chapter Twelve unless you lay the groundwork for this to be possible.

4. Do your hooks, twists, and turns make sense and are they related to the rest of the plot? Or are random fixes appearing out of nowhere?

5. Are there too many or not enough sub-plots? Is it clear what’s going on? Or are you leaving your reader lost and confused in the maze of Too Much Happening?

6. Do you have the right point of view (POV) for the story you are telling? If you’re writing in the first person, how might your story look in the third person instead?

7. Have you maintained a balance of narrative, action, and dialog? Or are there pages of backstory, info dumps, and long conversations going nowhere?

8. Is the climax sufficiently dramatic? Is that deep, dark, black moment ripping out the guts of your readers? Good. Clean up in Aisle 5. If not, go deeper.

9. Did you resolve the main story goal or problem for the protagonist? It’s okay to leave some sub-plots dangling, especially if it is a book in a series, but regardless, the major issue needs to be resolved even if it’s a part of a series.

Cliffhangers

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*Photo courtesy of hotblack from morguefile.com

A word about cliffhangers at the end of a volume in a series: Some readers love them, many readers hate them, especially if they have to wait a significant amount of time between books. If you are writing a series, it might be a good idea to finish the series before launching, especially if you include mind-blowing cliffhangers at the end of your volumes. Otherwise, you can easily lose your reader following and really piss them off and this way, too, you can control the timing of release.

Make notes in your outline as you read through a second time, targeting soft spots in the plot and ways to shore up the story. With a strong outline based on what you’ve written, you can easily see where important tweaking needs to be done. Don’t be afraid to cut and paste, change things around, or mark certain spots for a re-write. DON’T BE AFRAID. You always have the original document, so if you feel you’re messed things up beyond all repair, you can always return to that. Think about one thing as you evaluate your plot: If it doesn’t advance the story, it has got to go. Period. Yes, it’s a lovely scene. Yes, it might be the best writing you’ve ever done. Yes, it’s gorgeous and you love it and it amuses you. But does it ADVANCE THE STORY? That’s the real question.

Here. Have a tissue. You’ll get over it, I promise. Cut and paste into a new document and save it. These bits and pieces can be used in a variety of ways–blog post extras, a short to include in the back of the book as a bonus, a collection of outtakes for your adoring fans. Your main focus here is to create the strongest story you can. It only hurts for a hot minute. Keep your story goal foremost in your brain.

Any questions? Leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.

Next week, we’ll take a look at your cast of characters.

All Of This And A Bag Of Chips

Well, chips are off the menu and have been for quite a while. Still, January was all that and a figurative bag of chips.

So incredibly evil, these delicious tidbits of evil evilness. *sigh*
So incredibly evil, these delicious tidbits of evil evilness. *sigh*

Photo courtesy of perfectsariah of morguefile.com

I pumped out a lot of work in January, and February is filling up. I’m happy about that–January was all about getting ‘scripts out the door I’d been working on for a while. I’m really excited to see some fabulous fiction hit the ground running, so keep an eye on my Twitter and Facebook for shout-outs as they release. I also add them to my sidebar, although the list is getting so long I will most likely try to put together a page just for the editing work.

Being a content editor puts me in an awkward position. Obviously, any review I do could be considered biased, and after thinking long and hard about it, I decided it was a conflict of interest for me to formally review any of my clients. Amazon’s TOS makes it very clear they feel the same way. Especially in the wake of the “sock puppet” kerfluffle, which is nothing new to publishing if you know anything about publishing at all. Evidently Amazon feels writers cannot be readers in certain cases, which sucks. Because of course writers are readers. Or they should be.

It’s a sticky wicket. Let’s just say I don’t take on work I don’t like. I can’t. If I don’t like the story, I won’t be able to do my job. So while I may not formally review books my clients produce, you can bet I love each and every one of them, and I support my peeps with a shout-out on their release day and as time allows. I’ll leave it up to you, the reader, to read and review.

Here’s a list of books ready to go or have been recently released:

Jordan L. Hawk will be releasing Hunter of Demons on February 5th. I am so in love with this series!

Ashes and Ice will also be out February 4th by debut author Rochelle Maya Callen. Very exciting!

Sassafras made his debut, by the amazing Patti Larsen, and I have it on good authority Dark Promise will be available in the next week or so.

Just now on the shelves you can find Games of Fate and Prolusio, a fabulous new series from Kris Austen Radcliffe.

There’s a lot more where that came from. Lovely, exciting, haunting, fascinating, tantalizing fiction. WHOOHOOO! And congratulations to all on your releases 🙂

***

All that and here’s my bag of chips–if you haven’t heard about Coursera, hie your heinie over there POST HASTE. You will find college courses offered FOR FREE from some of the most prestigious universities in the world. That’s right, you heard me. IN THE WORLD. These are serious, hardcore college courses with all the hard work you’d expect from a quality college course, but for free? Seriously? And from the comfort of your own home? HELL TO THE YEAH.

Have you heard of the University of Michigan? John Hopkins University? Stanford? University of Edinburgh? Princeton University? How about Duke?

It’s an amazing opportunity, and I was like a kid in a candy store. I wanted to sign up for about 32 different courses, but of course that’s not possible because there are still only 24 hours in the day. (SOMEONE NEEDS TO FIX THAT.)

MOAR MOAR MOAR
MOAR MOAR MOAR

*Photo courtesy of octaviolopez at morguefile.com

I’m only taking one at a time, like a sensible person, but I had to stop looking at everything being offered because it’s as addicting as crack. And we all know crack is whack.

So, hello, February! I can see we have a lot to do! BRING IT ON.

Hope your January was productive. Give a shout and let me know what you’ve been up to. Because I’m nosy that way. Heh.

Happy Friday!

Editing With Netta–Story Structure

In the beginning, I advised you start the editing process by throwing your masterpiece into a drawer or a closet for at least a couple of weeks before you begin digging in. This is to not only give your brain a much-needed rest, but to also give you distance so you can look at the manuscript with “fresh eyes.”

Don't be scared. Unless you're writing about the undead. Or spiders. *shudder*
Don’t be scared. Unless you’re writing about the undead. Or spiders. *shudder*

*Photo courtesy of kconnors from morguefile.com

You will be surprised—maybe even shocked when you take it out and look at it again. It might be better than you thought it was, or it might be worse. A word to the wise: a writer is the worst judge of their own work. A close second would be your mother, or your Best Friend Forever. At this point you want to maintain a certain amount of objectivity, or at least as much as you can muster. Please refrain from blasting it out to everyone you know, because at worst you will get a ton of back-patting, which serves you not at all, or at best, a ton of back-patting which serves you not at all when it comes to editing.

Yes, you just wrote a book and you should be proud. But let’s wait until we pretty it up a little, okay?

The first thing you need to look at is the basic story structure. This is the framework on which the rest of your story hangs—the skeleton, if you will. There are many ways to look at the framework, but it basically boils down to this:

1. A character has a problem. (Also known as the “inciting incident”.)
2. Bad things happen and conflict intensifies.
3. Climax
4. Resolution
5. The hero learns something about self/life. Or not.

It sounds really simple, doesn’t it? It’s just that easy and just that difficult.

Take the time and resist the temptation of the red pen just yet. What you want to do here is keep a notebook and pen handy, or whatever writing implements float your boat, and read the manuscript. Jot down notes about what “feels off” as you read. Ask yourself the following questions:

1. Does the beginning drag? This is a common issue with many manuscripts, because in your first draft you’re getting your feet wet, putting your back into it, finding a way to open the story. The beginning of your book is crucial–this is where you will either hook your reader or not. Start with a bang, not with a boring conversation or long description of the setting. Grab your reader by the balls and take off. This might mean cutting a paragraph, a chapter, or even the first two or three chapters. Try to look at it through the eyes of the reader. Have you engendered enough curiosity for the reader to turn the page? No? Then cut it.

2. Is there enough conflict? As bad as you’ve made it for your protag, can you make it worse? If the Prince is on a horse to rescue the Princess, break the horse’s leg. BE MEAN. Then be MEANER. Cry in your Kleenex if you must–I know, I hate being mean to my characters, too–but if you’re crying, then your reader is crying. But without conflict there is no story.

3. Is there a satisfying climax? Do the events come to a resounding crescendo? Or do you leave the reader unsatisfied and wondering why the hell they just slogged through two hundred pages only to be left hanging? Readers don’t like this, people.

4. Is your major plot point resolved? Or are there dangling bits which need a solution? If it’s a stand-alone work, you need to make sure your subplots are dealt with in a satisfactory manner, but if it’s a series, these can dangle for the next work. However, it’s necessary the MAJOR PLOT POINT of the book is resolved. Readers don’t like this, either. As a matter of fact, if you don’t resolve your major plot point, be prepared for pitchforks, fire, and possibly tar and feathers. Worse than that, those readers will most likely never buy another thing you write for fear they’re going to be left hanging once again.

5. The story goal—what has changed about your protagonist? What has s/he learned from this experience, or what have they missed? If there’s no change in the character, then why? And there’d better be a compelling reason, or you just lost the whole point of the book.

Once you’ve got your notes jotted from the first read, then you can take out your red pen and work on specifics. This is what we’ll talk about next week.

Next week--IT'S THE RED PEN!
Next week–IT’S THE RED PEN!

*Photo courtesy of jppi of morguefile.com

Enter Friday

Wow, how did Friday get here so fast? It seems like last I knew it was Monday. Or at least Tuesday morning.

Busy week was busy. And in the ranks of the self-employed, it’s not over yet. However, in my travels I have come across some interesting tidbits I shall now pass along to you.

On Monday, I read this fascinating article on birth control for men. It seems quick, easy, and relatively painless, which is a lot more than I can say about labor and/or getting your tubes tied. Of course, I don’t have balls (at least, not in the physical sense) so I can’t say for sure, but this procedure may also might have the “side-effect” of destroying the HIV virus. WHOA!

Then there was Tuesday, and I posted an amazing article by Timothy Smith regarding social media. It is well worth the read, trust me. Also on Tuesday, which I missed until Thursday, the lovely Patti Larsen had a few things to say about her editor. *Ahem*. That would be me. I’m still blushing 🙂

On Wednesday, my good friend, erotica writer Eden Baylee, had an article published about her recent trip to Gold Clouds Villa in Jamaica. She did such a great job I’m drooling. Especially this time of year, I WANT TO GO THERE. NOW. So beautiful! And the villa is, too. Heh.

Also on Wednesday I came across this information about Dwayne Johnson, also known as “The Rock”, and one of my favorite prints ever. I actually have a print of it framed and hanging in my bedroom. Is it the teddy bear protecting the child from the monster or the other way around? Maybe we’ll find out when The Rock completes his project. Squeee!

Not this rock. The handsome, hunky Rock. With the muscles. Who played the Tooth Fairy. Oh, never mind.
Not this rock. The handsome, hunky Rock. With the muscles. Who played the Tooth Fairy. Oh, never mind.

*Photo courtesy of ameins of morguefile.com

Thursday I saw a post on Facebook from Kathy Frederick which really struck a chord. I mean, I know eventually I’m going to die, like we all are, but due to a recent and minor health disturbance, the question came to my attention–what happens to your computer shiz when you take the Next Step Beyond? Yeah, okay, maybe I should be worrying about what’s on the Other Side and all that, but there’s nothing wrong with taking care of business on THIS side. To that end, Kathy posted a link to help you Get Your Shit Together. Take the time, people. It’s worth it. Once you step across the line, it’s over–and you may have some specific ideas of what to do with the shit you leave behind. If you love the people left alive, don’t leave them with a mess.

Also on Thursday, I talk a little bit about the prep work in my Editing With Netta series. Next week we will discuss story structure. I also took a rare time-out and watched the pilot episode of The Following, starring Kevin Bacon and JAMES FREAKIN’ PUREFOY. Oh holy shazzam! Twisted, demented, cerebral, graphic, and totally mesmerizing, I have found my Next Favorite Show.

And last, but certainly not least, I’ve discovered Coursera and signed up for “Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World”. I am so excited! And they’re not playing, y’all. These are actual college courses taught by universities from all over the world. FREE. I’m like a kid in a candy store, and I had to physically restrain myself from signing up for eight different subjects. (One at a time, Netta. These aren’t peanut M&Ms.) What really thrills me is not only the material (Grimm, Stoker, Doctorow, Wells, Poe, etc.) but the fact the students in the class are international, affording a broad perspective I probably wouldn’t experience in a “traditional” college course. Did I say I’m excited? WELL I’M EXCITED! It’s a lot of work, but I think the benefits will be well worth it.

I'm going to need a lot more of THIS.
I’m going to need a lot more of THIS.

*Photo courtesy of jppi of morguefile.com

The plate. SHE IS FULL. And that makes me happy.

So tell me, dear peeps, how did your week go?

Editing With Netta–The Prep Work

Okay, you’ve let your manuscript stew in its own juices. Yeah, it sounds nasty but it’s not, really.

Think of it as a nice, juicy roast. Only don't try to eat your manuscript. It will give you a tummy-ache. Don't ask me how I know this.
Think of it as a nice, juicy roast. Only don’t try to eat your manuscript. It will give you a tummy-ache. Don’t ask me how I know this.

*Photo courtesy of auttiedot from morguefile.com

Now you’re about ready to start carving up your tasty hunk of meat. But before you start, there are a few things you need to know and a few things you need to do.

No, not the dirty dishes. You don't have time for that.
No, not the dirty dishes. You don’t have time for that.

*Photo courtesy of vilhelm from morguefile.com

What You Need To Know

What you need to know is you’re not going to be able to sit and edit an entire manuscript in one sitting, just like you can’t write one in one sitting. Unless you have super-powers. And if you do, please tell me where I can get some of that.

No, editing is best taken in small bites, and in rounds. If you try to do it all in one super-powered burst, you’re going to miss things. Important things. Staring at a computer screen at the same story will, at the very least, cause small hemorrhages of the brain, eyeball malfunction, and intense crabbiness. My advice is to work on a ‘script for no more than 90 minutes at a time, and then do something else for at least 30 minutes. Like, pee, feed the cat, check your mailbox, walk around, FEED YOURSELF. Give yourself a break.

Typically, I’ll look at a manuscript and edit in “rounds”. Meaning, the first round will usually address glaring plot issues (which we will cover next week). You have to fix those before you get into the finer details. This might take more than one round, depending on the issues you run across. You’ll look hard and long at the plot to make sure everything hangs together and makes sense. At the same time, or in a separate round, you’ll pay attention to characterization and the story arc.

Then, and only then, you’ll move into the round of line editing. This is where you go over each and every word, each and every sentence, and evaluate your dialog, narrative flow, and the combination of action and exposition.

At this point you might want to pull out all of your hair. That’s why it’s important to take breaks, and determine the best time of day for you to be most productive. Some people edit first thing in the morning; some do better as night owls. It really just depends on what works for you. For instance, I’m not much of a morning person as far as editing goes. Most of my editing is done in the afternoon and late at night. Because it’s my job and I work for myself, I can squidge my schedule around deadlines, appointments, and other extra-curricular activities as needed. Occasionally I’ll edit first thing in the morning, but only after the coffee IV is set up.

Like this. Only with COFFEE.
Like this. Only with COFFEE.

*Photo courtesy of mensatic from morguefile.com

The other thing you need to know is editing is as much of an art form as writing. No two writers ever do it the same, and that’s okay. Find your own personal groove, just like you did when you were writing. If things start to blur, you know it’s time to walk away for a bit. This is normal. Well, as “normal” as it gets.

What You Need To Do To Prepare

I work mainly in Word with the Track Changes option. But, I also have handy a pen and a yellow legal pad for notes to myself or the author. Ideas which occur to me, things to double-check, and sometimes a reminder to get up and walk around lest all my blood pool in my ass.

Another valuable tool is a style sheet. A style sheet is usually used by copy editors, but for writers editing their own work or for content editors, a style sheet rocks. This is where you note the spelling of names, locations, and other details. This saves you the time of running back through the manuscript to figure out if you spelled a secondary character’s name as “Ann” or “Anne” when she rears her head in Chapter 22 after being introduced in Chapter 4. This keeps your ‘script consistent.

Keep a thesaurus handy, whether it’s online or in paper form. I use both. I’m actually a fan of Word Web (no relation), a free app you can download on your computer. It comes in mighty handy, especially when you’re reaching for that one word you know but can’t quite grasp. You know the one. Yeah. That one.

If you get lost in the word forest, a timer can help bring you back to reality. My bladder makes sure I’m not sitting too long, but those with younger bladders might benefit from a Free Alarm Clock. It’s better than wetting your seat. Don’t ask me how I know this, either.

Optional is a steady stream of caffeine, a hammer, and a sharp implement.

On second thought, never mind the hammer or sharp implement. Some temptations are better left out of reach.

Next week, we start on plot. Woohoo!

Thursday Editing Tips, Tricks, And Observations-Where To Start

Well, you’ve finished your masterpiece, and finally written THE END. Omg, what a relief! And congratulations! There are many, many writers who haven’t gotten to this point. Pat yourself on the back, because this is a huge accomplishment.

HOORAY!
HOORAY!

*Photo courtesy of hotblack at moreguefile.com

But now what?

Finishing a manuscript is a rush, no doubt about it. You did it! You wrote a book! You’re dancing around the house, maybe envisioning millions of dollars just roaring into your bank account; ready for the critical acclaim you just KNOW is coming your way, movie deals, interviews on Good Morning America, hitting the NYT best-selling list. Maybe an HBO series.

Then you sit down to re-read what you’ve written.

And here starts the cycle. The cycle of, “Holy shit, this really sucks, I suck, who wrote this crap?” and moving on to, “I’m so brilliant I can’t stand myself,” to “Just what the hell did I write here? Nothing is making sense!” And then it starts all over again.

The first draft of any manuscript is full of holes, errors, and tangents. No matter how well-plotted, it’s a first draft. It’s not supposed to be pretty. It’s supposed to be butt-assed ugly; raw, bleeding, and in dire need of CPR. But it’s also glorious in its rawness–your story is now on paper, and there is very little which can’t be fixed in an edit.

First off, let me just tell you a writer is their own worst judge of their story. Why? Because it’s in your head, perfect and complete, but transferring that to paper is very difficult. Sometimes a writer errs on the side of caution, and holds back essential information the reader needs. Other times, a writer may suffer from diarrhea of the keyboard and lets all of the cats out of the bag at once. Pacing could be off, the plot needs thickening, some of the characters are as dimensional as a hunk of cardboard. It’s a first draft, so that’s to be expected.

You might feel the urge to send your masterpiece to close friends and your mother. Restrain yourself, cowboy. I know, trust me I do, you want to crow about this to everyone. But you still have a lot of work to do before your story is ready for an honest critique, and in light of your joy, the people who love you will not tell you what you need to hear. They’ll tell you what you want to hear. Although that may be very gratifying at first, it’s not going to help you take your story to the professional level for which you’re striving. WAIT. It’s difficult, I know! YOU JUST WROTE A BOOK! But…that’s just the beginning of the process.

So, where do you start the editing process?

You start by sticking it in a closet and leaving it alone. That’s right. Throw it in drawer or closet, lock it, and forget it. I guarantee you if you start editing as soon as you finish, you’re never going to see what needs to be fixed. You’re too close, you’ve been living with these characters too long and you know what’s going to happen before it happens. What you and your manuscript need is some space apart.

That's right. Throw it in there with the rest of the stuff, like the treadmill you never use, and LOCK THE DOOR.
That’s right. Throw it in there with the rest of the stuff, like the treadmill you never use, and LOCK THE DOOR.

*Photo courtesy of ronnieb at morguefile.com

My advice is a minimum of two weeks. A couple of months might be even better. Leave it alone and start on another piece. Get your head OUT of your book and into something else. Let the manuscript marinate for a while, spend some time alone to ripen and for you to develop a bit of distance so when you do go back in to re-read and note the issues which need work, you can do so without feeling as if you’re ripping the arteries out of your heart.

So the first step? Closet, drawer, whatever. Mark it on your calendar to take it out in a couple of weeks, longer if you can stand it. Start on your next story.

Next week I’ll tell you the next step in this editing wonderland. Don’t be scared. You’ll love it.

Jennifer Wingard–Guest Post Tuesday

This is another case of social media serendipity–Facebook serendipity, in fact.

I met Jennifer Wingard in a group on Facebook. When I first started freelancing as a web copy writer, I met Chris Anderson, a now-senior editor at Huffington Post. We were both freelancers at the time, and bonded over a particularly hysterically funny squirrel video (don’t ask). We also discussed the difficulty of finding good-paying freelance work, and Chris started a group of freelancers on Facebook so we could pool our resources. He made me a co-admin, and to help out, he also appointed Jennifer.

Right away I liked this feisty, snarky, and off-beat redhead. We had a lot in common. Heh.

Not only do I admire her Mad Copy Editing Skillz and an astounding work ethic (the woman is amazing and is my own editor), but I also admire and respect her as a person. There is no bullshit with Jennifer; what you see is what you get. She’s honest, works hard, and tells it like it is with a bucketful of humor. She’s good people, with a lot of integrity. I’m proud to know her and work with her regularly. You just can’t get better than that.

Here she talks about what it was like to read indie material and what’s changed over the years.

I only wish I looked this good. I'd hate her, but she's just a gorgeous inside.
I only wish I looked this good. I’d hate her, but she’s just as gorgeous inside.

Several years ago, I bought my first stack of indie- and self-published books. I tore into the first with all the excitement of a child opening gifts on Christmas morning. My enthusiasm didn’t fade; it died a sudden, horrified death. Book after book joined the first in the stack headed for the garbage bin. The crisp pages lost their appeal as my eyes roved over error-riddled sentences, entire chapters without any logical ties to the plot, undeveloped characters, and dialogue or narrative that included nearly every known cliché. Not only did I throw away that first stack of books, I warned all the readers with whom I discussed books to shy away from purchasing from authors who didn’t get their works published via mainstream houses.

Fast forward a few years. In my unending quest for reading material, I stumbled upon a book and fell in love with the author’s style and the clean copy. Imagine my surprise when I discovered my newfound author crush had published through an indie house. Suddenly, my opinion of non-mainstream books experienced a shift. Determined to give these independent books another chance, I splurged on another towering stack.

The second time around ended with fewer books in the landfill. Poring over the books, the author’s websites, and the publishing houses associated with some, I found one common characteristic in the books I decided to keep: the authors or publishers had chosen to invest time and money to edit the manuscripts before publishing.

From inside the independent publishing world, this may not seem a big deal, but to a person who spent their life with mainstream works, who carefully evaluates the worth of a book and judges an entire industry on the spines of its works, this is huge. The determination of a few publishers and authors to turn out polished, professional books converted a mainstream reader to a fan of the independents.

Saving your hard-earned money only to hand it over to an editor hurts. What is the return on the investment? The payoff is readers, fans who will buy every book you write because you have a quality product, followers who may also become fierce proponents for the independent publishing industry itself. To the outsider looking in, quality matters.

Bio
Jennifer edits and sometimes manages to eke out a few words of her own. When she’s not editing or writing, she hangs out with her family and makes crafting or cooking messes. She lives on Virginia’s eastern coast and enjoys swimming with the dolphins, eating mountains of local seafood, and pretending she’s a pioneer during tropical storms.

Website: The Independent Pen
Facebook: The Independent Pen
Twitter: Independent_Pen

Thursday Editing Tips, Tricks, And Observations–Contracts

Contracts can seem like a tricky business, especially when you’re dealing with the creative process. And each situation is uniquely different. When it comes to editing, one thing I’ve learned is it’s better to be safe than sorry, and much better to have all parties on the same page when it come to what’s expected, a time frame, and of course, the fee for services.

I will admit with my oldest repeat clients, our contract is often spelled out in email, and this has worked well for us. There’s a paper trail, and it serves. Still, to keep issues at a minimum, it’s a good idea for both the writer and the editor to have a contract signed, sealed, and delivered before work begins. This really goes for any service you contract, be it cover art, formatting, editing…anything pertaining to BUSINESS. Yes, even if you’re close personal friends, or even BECAUSE you’re close personal friends. You want to protect that relationship, for sure. This is business, not personal, and you want to keep it that way.

My contract and Terms of Service are two pages long. I tweak out the contract to individualize it for each client, depending on the terms and time frame we work out in advance. This keeps us both on track and hopefully, avoids any problems in the future.

The standard form I use can be found at the Editor’s Association of Canada. Believe me, I searched high and low for something to work for me and my business, and I was able to make changes to accommodate what I offer, what’s expected by both parties, and to spell out what exactly the writer can expect from me. It also details what I expect from the writer, because it is a two-way street.

Like I said, each situation is unique. With this form, I’m able to incorporate exactly what my client needs and if there’s any question, we can both refer back to the contract. I made extensive changes to the Terms of Service, for example, because I don’t offer everything detailed on the example, but it gave me a good template and a place to start.

It’s your choice, of course, whether to use a formal contract or not, and every business transaction is different. However, it’s a good idea to always CYA. Because, you know, no one like to see a bare ass hanging out there.

Except, you know. This kind of ass. Because he is pretty cute.
Except, you know. This kind of ass. Because he is pretty cute.

So, whether you’re a writer or an editor, my advice is to put a contract into place and detail expectations. It makes for a much smoother process and keeps things on an even keel. Be flexible, but make sure you both understand the terms of what is offered, what you receive, the fee, and how it’s to be paid.

Any questions? Leave them in the comments and I’ll answer the best I can.

Next week on Thursday Editing Tips, Tricks, and Observations we talk about where your editing begins. Stay tuned!