Notes on Self-Editing

A while back, well before I started on The Blizzard and probably when I was starting on my Hawaiian novel, I read a book titled Novel Writing by Evan Marshall.  Self-help books targeted for the writing industry can be a great source of learning.  Maybe not always teaching you something new but reminding about something you already knew but forgot.  In any casde, I commend them to new and aspiring authors.

I took notes as a read Marshall’s book (he has other writing books, by the way) and am passing them on to you with my comments in bold.

 Story Sense and Logic

– Does time track correctly?  Several times in The Blizzard I had to go back and rewrite entire sections because an addition or change in one part threw off the timelime in other parts.

– Are characters’ goals always clear, whether stated or implicit?  The reader must always know exactly what a character is going after.

– Do characters’ reactions to one another make sense in light of what has already transpired?  Do you have them refer to previous events or interactions when it would be natural for them to do so?

– Do characters behave logically in light of what has already happened to them?  In light of what they know?

 Describing Action

– Use adverbs sparingly.  Delete unnecessary ones.  I know of one editor who hated adverbs and generally cut every one.

– If you use an adverb, use only one, and put it in the right place.  For full effect and if possible, put it at the beginning or end of the sentence.

– Delete unnecessary details.  If the reader knows the mechanics of an action, skip the details.

– Have you written in speaking language that would come naturally to your viewpoint character? 

Describing People, Places, and Things

– Use adjectives sparingly — one at a time, never a string of them — if at all.  Choose a more accurate noun.  Not “a light wind” but “a breeze.”

Very is one of the weakest adjectives.  In almost all cases you can strengthen a sentence by removing very.

– Scrutinize every description?  Is it too long or even needed at all.

– Spare us the weather reports.

– Don’t use simile or metaphor unless it would occur to the viewpoint character through whom you’re writing.   (SIMILE – a figure of speech in which two unlike things are explicitly compared, as in “she is like a rose.”  METAPHOR – a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance, as in “A mighty fortress is our God.”)

– Whenever possible, focus on details, which add realism like nothing else.

– Don’t describe what doesn’t need describing.  Describe an object only if it differs from the reader expects.

– Descriptions filter through the viewpoint character.  Characters see objects differently, and one character may notice something another does not.

– Use the five senses when you can, though not all at once.  Don’t forget to have your characters not just see things, but hear and smell them, as well.

– Whenever possible, give description in action, not just static reporting.

– Think of walk-on characters as furniture.  They don’t need describing unless doing so would evoke the setting.  And rarely do they need to have names.

– Describe only what’s essential to what’s happening.

– Write in the positive.  Tell what is, not what wasn’t.

Next time: Simplicity and Redundancy, Clarity and Precision, and Grammar, Usage, and Style

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