Your Editing Toolbox

Posted: March 2, 2016 in Writing
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I’ve talked a lot about cutting things from one’s manuscript – what to cut from one’s manuscript, why to cut from one’s manuscript, how to deal with the cutting….

I may have given you the impression that cutting is the best way to edit. It’s not, of course. There are many ways to improve the scenes in your manuscript, and which tool you use on a given scene depends on what is wrong with the scene.

 

TOOLS:

Rewrite It: If the scene is important and you need to keep the vital elements of the scene, but it just isn’t working, you may need to revise it or replace it with a new scene containing those same elements. Maybe the dialogue needs work or pacing is off. Problems which can be fixed, such as being too passive with your verbs or the pacing being too slow or too fast can usually be whittled into shape by going through the scene and chipping or sanding the parts that don’t work until they are smooth.

Move It: Sometimes a scene is great, but it jars because it switches gears or derails the storyline. Maybe it’s just in the wrong place. Sometimes simply lifting a scene and putting it somewhere else will make all the difference. Usually you only have to patch the edges with a little fresh plaster and paint to make it feel natural. Just make sure you don’t leave any leaky pipes sticking out – check your consistency.

Add Some Tension: Often the easiest way to punch up a boring or slow scene is to add some suspense or tension. I had a scene set in a library, where my MC learns important details about the secret fantasy world she has discovered she is a part of. It was pretty boring. So I upgraded it with a time limit and the notion that she had to keep it a secret from her disapproving mother. Fine tuning included injecting an out-of-control little brother who kept interrupting and drawing Mom’s attention. I turned an info-dump into a ticking time-bomb.

Foreshadow: Don’t forget your foundation – the promise you make to the reader of what the book is about and what kind of story they are going to get. I have a favorite scene early in a book that readers and critique partners have suggested I should cut, because it reads like a detour away from the promise set up at the beginning. In fact the scene is vital because the scene causes the MC to make a decision that sets up the rest of the book. So rather than cut it as suggested, I made it an integral part of the plot by foreshadowing it from the start – by adding it to the promise. Now, when the scene unfolds, it is something the reader anticipates and is invested in.

Cut and Run: Yes, sometime you have to cut. Face it like a trooper. Therapy is available.

 . 

NUTS & BOLTS: 

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Replace Passive Verbs: This is another flavor of show, don’t tell. Instead of “She began to cry,” write “She cried.” Instead of “He was falling,” write “He fell.” It’s cleaner, more to the point, and more visual. Your whole book will flow more smoothly and unobstructed if you unclog the plumbing.

Cut Repetitive Words: This is where a good weed killer comes in handy. You get a word stuck in your head, or even a phrase, and find yourself using it over and over again. A thesaurus makes a good weed killer. Vary your words. Instead of using “fight” three time in a paragraph, change two of them to battle and conflict. Those are the obvious weeds. Careful reading will reveal more sneaky repeats, such as “like” and “actually.” Pull ’em out!

Cut “Weasel” Words: Pests will ruin your garden or vegetable patch. Eradicate them! A weasel word is a modifier that undermines or contradicts the word or phrase it accompanies. “Suddenly” is a common weasel word; “She suddenly screamed.” Well, naturally, one doesn’t gradually scream. These are also sometimes called “filler” words. Examples are Just, That, Very, Every, Some, Most, Arguably, Actually, Clearly, Help. There are many lists available online; find one that works for you and keep it my your keyboard.

Read It Out Loud: I know, this feels weird. Just pretend you are practicing for when your book has sold and you recording the audio book. The very best mechanics claim they can tell if an engine is running right just by listening to it hum.

Get Feedback: I’ve said it before – no writer creates in a total vacuum. You need to gauge the reactions of those who read your work. Find a good critique partner (or three) who reads understands and enjoys your genre, and listen to what they say. Even if they aren’t writers, they are readers, and so is your audience.

Let It Age: Sometimes you just have to separate yourself from your project with time. Put it down for a week or a month, then read it again with fresh perspective. Give it time to for the glue to set and the paint to dry before you work on it again.

 

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Comments
  1. Great advice! And, the fewer issues still in your manuscript when it gets to an editor, the more the editor can focus on the story, pacing, and characters without tripping over overused words, passive verbs, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] Move It: Sometimes a scene is great, but it jars because it switches gears or derails the storyline. Maybe it’s just in the wrong place. Sometimes simply lifting a scene and putting it somewhere else will make all the difference. Usually you only have to patch the edges with a little fresh plaster and paint to make it feel natural. Just make sure you don’t leave any leaky pipes sticking out – check your consistency. Read more: Your Editing Toolbox […]

    Like

  3. authorguy says:

    You forgot another important technique. Most of your suggestions involve cutting. For those of us who write lean, sometimes what’s needed is a bit more text, to provide more background or connectivity for the scene i question, so when the reader gets there it makes more sense.

    Like

  4. Would like to reblog on my website. You don’t have a share button for that….

    Like

  5. Editing… Yeah right!

    As English is my Second Language, I’m still trying not to make TOO many mistakes And within it all, finding someone who would Far Better pick-up on all I do wrong…
    Yet, I’ve found many a time that Re-reading my own work, it does give rise at locating many of the Mistakes – then again, HOW easy it’s not to Miss them, seeing it’s My own work…
    Another point of view should be Par for the Course in that Idea of Editing as well…

    Thanks for the Insight,
    All The Best To You!

    Liked by 1 person

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