Tag Archives: revision

Says the Editor: She Noticed


Didja notice?

Yes, noticing things is the topic for the day. I find I’ve been making a lot of comments to my clients of late, asking them why someone notices something right then. What happens to trigger the character’s attention?

I get it: authors often use she noticed as a way of drawing the reader’s attention to something.

But she noticed is telling. It’s reporting what the character does, instead of letting us share her discovery. It could work, when used sparingly — and with reason.

She looked the gorgeous attorney over, head to foot, and noticed a stripe of fur across his shins, about two feet up. Small dog, or a cat? The difference would either increase or decrease his desirability in her eyes. That was a given.

So here, she’s looking him over. There’s your precipitating action, the prompt for her to notice.

Contrast that with

She was thinking about how hot he was, hotter than the coffee she’d bought that morning at Starbucks. She took a drink of her coffee, feeling the flavor spread across her tongue in that way only a good latte could, and was glad she’d taken the few minutes to stop in before the meeting. She noticed that a bird had pooped on the office window.

Umm… huh? Where’s the connection? What prompts her to shift from the hot guy and her coffee, and over to the bird poop? (Because this entirely made up story is going to turn into something akin to Hitchcock’s classic, the poop turns out to be important later on. Just so you know that — because many times, what I’m seeing with these odd, unprovoked instances of noticing, is that they are vital to the story somehow.)

Hey, did you skip over that parenthetical? There’s important stuff in there. The jist of my explanation, in fact: These odd, unprovoked instances of noticing are almost always vital details.

Remember: writing is a craft. Go and let your characters notice things all over the page in the first draft. Absolutely.

But when you revise, make a mental note to revisit all the times you use the word notice and make sure that what’s noticed is an action that’s prompted.

And, as always, holler if you need help.


Revising Me #atozchallenge


I have an editor friend (well, I have a BUNCH of editor friends, actually, but we’re talking about one editor friend in particular right here and now) who says there’s a difference between editing and revising.

Editing is what you pay for.

Revising is what you do yourself.

Either way, let’s face it: even my clients who send me their first draft have engaged in some form of revision. They have worked their prose as they’ve created that first draft, shaping and honing their past words as the present unfolds on the screen in front of them.

I say it fairly often: in the quest to make the best book possible, you have to recognize that writing is a craft. You have to hone your tools, push and pull and mold your clay, your canvas — your manuscript — into its final form. It doesn’t just happen by itself. You have to work it. And work it. And work some more.

So, yeah. Revising your work, whether you do it as you go or you go through multiple drafts, is essential. There’s no rule about how much revision work you’ll have to do, and not only does it vary from author to author, but it varies from manuscript to manuscript and project to project, too. Sometimes, even chapter to chapter, scene to scene, and yes, paragraph to paragraph.

But you have to do the work. Bring that baby up to its best possible form. And then, because revising is what you do and editing is what you pay for, you send your masterpiece to your editor, who sends you comments and sets you up for another round of revisions.

Whoever said writing wasn’t a lot of work was either amazingly blessed or lying.

Or they don’t care about quality.

Trust me. I’m a voracious reader. Quality matters.

And how.

*And hey, do you like my post title? It’s a play on a certain Metallica song. (I particularly like this version, so if you’re convinced you don’t like Metallica, or you’re not sure, this would be a SUPER link to click on. Seriously. As we say in Ultimate, chilly chilly chilly!)


#SaystheEditor Character Consistency



“Why is it,” I muttered under my breath, or maybe in that part of my writer’s brain that’s always writing and narrating, “that the boy is so damn good about getting up every day at 6AM for school but can’t get up at 8AM twice a week to volunteer at the local township’s camp?”

The answer, of course, is multi-layered:
1. Mom’s cranky when she has to get him up in the morning
2. He doesn’t care as much about volunteering at the local township’s camp as he does about not missing the bus
3. It’s summer and he wants to be lazy and have zero responsibilities, even though he’s started to work on his Eagle project
4. It’s summer and he’s been staying up late, as is the right and responsibility of every teenager ever. Circadian rhythms and all that.
5. He likes being awakened by a smart-aleck of a mom.
6. It’s two days a week instead of five, and harder to find a rhythm.

But if you strip out those reasons, you’re left without character consistency.

In fiction, this can be taken a few ways:
1. It’s bad writing because characters should be consistent to themselves
2. If this was Young Adult, it’s a Sign! Of a Big Problem! a Tragedy! And the parents must now investigate, but they are bumbling idiots, so it’s up to the younger sibling (usually a girl) who is the main point of view character and who will now save the day.
3. The author is using the lack of character consistency to signal a left turn in the plot and character arc that you didn’t see coming (refer back to #1)

Most of the time, it’s taken as a sign of bad writing, not a flaw in the character. (note: MOST of the time) And a lot of the time (note: A LOT, not all and not most), you can avoid being called a bad writer by taking a bit more time to show what’s going on. The mom who wakes up at 1AM to see the light seeping through the cracks in the door, or hears him talking to his friends via Skype or voice chat or whatever he’s using this week. Maybe you show that the kid needs the interaction with his mom, who’s a lot less cranky two hours later and a heck of a lot funnier or more reasonable (You’d have to ask him how different I am without the pressure of “No, I am NOT schlepping your rear the whole way to school so get moving” and all.) — as always with fiction, there are a million possibilities.

Which means that it’s okay to let your characters be inconsistent from time to time, especially in the early drafting stages. You can revise them into submission later. But, like I’m always encouraging you, push yourself. Stretch. Don’t fall into Reason #2 time and time again. Do you see how many cliches I packed into that one point?

Don’t be a cliche packer. (wow. That sounds… wrong)

Push yourself. Stretch your writerly wings. Once you do, you can either revise and work on crafting it into perfection, or you can revise and edit it out until no one knows you tried.

But you’ll know. And if you’re the kid of writer I know you are, all you who struggle with Inherent Writerly Insecurity, you’ll learn from the experiment. Which means that next time, you’ll be less likely to fail.

Go for it. Character consistency. Character INconsistency — except, it’s not inconsistent. Not when you get done with it.


#SaystheEditor: When Short Gets Long


It was supposed to be a quickie road trip. In, out. Lots of time in the car and not nearly enough with the family. But when you’re with your favorite cousin (sorry gang, but ’tis true. Always has been), when air traffic goes down in DC, stranding a teen roughly the same age as your own and you want to be backup just in case the next three planes don’t fly (two didn’t), well, the short little visit got to be longer.

What’s this got to do with writing and editing? Well, I’m a day behind, that’s for sure! I’d planned to take last Friday off for the long trip down. And I’ll admit that I’d played with the idea of staying to yesterday. Just hadn’t expected to.

But more to the point. I run out of fingers and toes, those essential counting implements, when I try to think of the number of author friends and clients who have tried to write a short story or novella, only to realize there was more story there than they originally wanted to tell. Same thing for the friends and clients who outline before they write. The story takes hold and takes over.

And that’s my point today (although I really really want to rant about the misspelled book title. Seriously? People, you give literature a bad name!). To give in, to cede control every now and then. Let the story take you where it needs to go. Let it reveal itself, its twists and turns, its neat little character traits, to you. Let it be the proverbial onion that you peel away, layer by layer, ring by ring.

This is a first draft technique, to be honest. I’ve edited books where the author has let the plot get away from them and they haven’t been able to see it happening. (In these cases, I advocate scene cards) Their book turns into a hot mess and it’s next to impossible for me to straighten it out because at this phase, I don’t know what story you are trying to tell. Only you know which elements of the unwieldy plot are the ones you want to bring out. I can only make suggestions and hope they are the right ones.

Which means that yes, I advocate going nuts on your first draft. I say often enough that first drafts are for finding out where the story ends. Then, through revision and work with beta readers, figure out how to make the beginning and middle match your ending. (If you get into trouble along the way, or if you think you’ve got it but aren’t 100% certain, then you should bring in a content editor, either myself or a good friend of mine.)

Writing is a craft, remember.

But it’s in this early stage that short becomes long. This is the time to give control to the story. To extend your trip by a day because you truly don’t want to leave (is a move in my future?) or to turn a short story into a novel.

Then go back and winnow it down. Figure out what you put there because you, the author, need to know this information. Figure out what of that information helps you create a living, breathing character but is stuff the reader doesn’t need to know. Less experienced authors, you will be surprised by this! More experienced authors, you’re scoffing and saying yes, you get how it is. But stop scoffing a moment and go back to a time when you were struggling with this concept. And then take a good, hard look at your own manuscripts. Just to be on the safe side.

My extended trip gave me a lot to think about. It widened my horizons (and let me set foot in another National Park… another one I’ve got unfinished business with) and let me experience things I hadn’t expected to.

I’m a better person for it. And when I sit down to write and edit, it’ll make me a better writer and editor.

Happy writing. Happy revisions. And don’t forget to book your editing slots; fall’s filling up!