The S-Word Again

So first, a project update–yes, I’ve been working on my summer edit. I’m about ten chapters in, and it’s going well, if a bit slowly. Not because there’s a whole lot to mark up–a relatively small number of pages actually look like the one in the photo–but because, well, it’s summer. There’s a lot going on. But I don’t want to let Bare Knuckle Writer down, so I am plugging away.

However, the sad realization struck me the other day that once I finish this editing pass, I’m going to have to write a synopsis. I could wail and moan a bit about that, but I won’t, because it is part of the writing process (well, if you want to submit your work anywhere, it is) and simply a Thing That Must Be Done. Instead of griping I thought it would be more productive to offer some advice on writing one.

I’ve found that there are two things about writing a synopsis that I really find difficult. One is starting. The other is holding the whole novel in your head in the proper order, so you can distill out the important bits. Fortunately, I’ve hit on one method that effectively deals with both these problems.

Note: if you are an outliner, you probably don’t have either of these problems. You already have the bones of your synopsis in your outline, so you just need to flesh it out. I might hate you a little bit, but I digress.

Since I never have an outline that’s an actual outline before I start writing (I might have pages and pages of story notes, but that is not an outline that’s of any use in creating a synopsis), I’ve learned to outline as I go. I’ve mentioned before that I use Writer’s Cafe Storylines for this. I write a scene or chapter, and either when I finish it, or at the end of the writing day, I create an index card and jot down just a couple of sentences about what just happened. I note where the scene or chapter takes place, and who is present. If I have multiple storylines/subplots, I might have cards going for each of those, too. I do the same thing for the next scene or chapter, and the next, etc. If I go back and insert a missing scene, I insert the appropriate card(s) for it, as well.

In this example, I have three rows of cards going. The dark purple row is the scene-by-scene breakdown. The light purple row tracks which characters appear in which scenes. (That helps avoid that “whatever happened to character X?” question.) The green row tracks the time and setting of each scene. Each column is a scene, and the black headers show me where the chapters break. (I have the wrapping option turned on, so that’s why you can see a second set of colored cards.) You might also note that some scene cards bear a checkmark–those are the ones I’ve marked up in this editing pass. I can see my progress at a glance.

So, the outliners out there are probably wondering how this helps me write the story–it doesn’t. But what it does do is twofold: it shows me at a glance an overview of the arc of the storyline (very helpful when I start revising), and later, it gives me a jumping-off point when it comes to writing a synopsis. Because I can run a report in Storylines and export the information from the cards that I want, and I have a rough outline of my synopsis. All the important stuff is there…because that’s what I’ve jotted down on the cards. The bones are good.

The rest–well, the rest is mostly rewriting it in coherent and well-formed sentences, and polishing it until it’s intriguing, explanatory, and shows the editor that you’ve got a solid story told in an engaging fashion. Yeah. That’s the easy part.

Note: You can use this method perfectly well via the low-tech method of real paper index cards, too. But I’m a big fan of Writer’s Cafe and all the other things it can do as well.

Summer Project

So, that Bare Knuckle Writer really knows how to pull the strings and make me dance, whether intentionally, or not. She’s got me blogging more often (almost, like, regularly), and yesterday she threw down a gauntlet. (Yeah, she’s a little confrontational, but in a very endearing way.)

You really should go and read her entire post, because it’s fun and quirky as usual, but here’s the gauntlet part:

Every writer’s got one. That project whose time never comes. All it needs is a little love, but somehow it keeps getting pushed back in favour of new things and shinier ideas…This is its time. Dig that thing out, take it out to the back deck or the beach or the patio with you, and get to work.

And…she’s right. Of course she’s right. Who doesn’t have one (or more) of those projects, whether it’s a half-finished story, a novel, or something else? Honestly, I have more than I care to admit, but I’m not going to think about that or I’ll start crying into my keyboard. Or start a new chocolate binge. Possibly both. But I digress.

After reading the challenge yesterday, I printed out the manuscript you see in the photo above. It’s so close to being done that you can almost smell the done-ness on it. One more line-edit pass, that’s all it needs. It’s already been rewritten, revised, substantively edited and mostly line-edited.

Why has it been lying around for so long in this state of almost-finished-ness? Because it’s a bit of a strange project. A bit unclassifiable. A mash-up of genres. In plain words, I have no idea who might want to publish it.

But that’s not really the point, is it? The problem of what to do with it is not a problem until it’s done. So I’ll finish it. And then I’ll worry about what to do with it.

Sounds like a plan. BKW, I hope you’re reading this.

Self-Editing For Dummies

By Kadellar (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsOh, calm down, I’m not really calling you dummies. But after thinking about my post the other day regarding the dearth of attention paid to editing lately, I realized that some portion of the blame must come to rest on the author, as well. The better we are at self-editing, the lesser our dependence on outside editors to catch all those little things that are dragging our stories down. Which, of course, puts us in a better light–both when editors and publishers read our submissions, and when our work (eventually, hopefully) finds its way into the hands of our readers.

So–how do you become a better self-editor?

1. Practice. Repeat after me: the first draft is not a finished work. Yes, you may complete your first draft in a rush of adrenaline and endorphins and think it’s the best thing anyone has ever written, anywhere. It’s not. Never send out something until that first fine rush has ebbed and you start to doubt. Once the doubt is there, you can start looking for all the things that are wrong, and begin to fix them. And fix them, and fix them, and when you think they’re fixed, see #2, below.

2. Other Eyes. My friend Steph has a great post over here about the necessity and value of first readers. The more eyes you can get on your work–knowledgeable, practiced eyes–the more chances you have of finding those things that editors will (or should) only fix later anyway. So those problems won’t be there to trip up your readers later.

3. Tools. Don’t underestimate the value of your word processor’s built-in spell-check and grammar-check; at the very least, they should make you slow down and look at possible problematic areas of your work. But they’re only the very minimal basics. One tool I love is Cliché Cleaner. Run your work through this handy little program to find clichés, overused expressions, and internal repetitions. It’s amazing how much one tool like this can help you clean up your work. You may have your own favorite cleanup tools–just don’t forget to use them.

4. Distance. Remember that first rush we talked about, that comes with completion of your first draft? One way to avoid falling victim to its siren song and sending your story out too soon is to get some distance from the work. Let it sit until it’s no longer totally fresh in your mind–a week, a month, even longer if you have the luxury. There’s nothing like coming back to it with some heightened objectivity to clear away the tint of those rose-coloured glasses.

5. Humility. No matter how competent or skilled a writer you are, you will always benefit from remembering that you are not perfect and neither are your early drafts. Expecting that your work will need polishing allows you to see its flaws more easily. Accepting that others will spot problems that you haven’t seen will make you more open to using their suggestions wisely.

For more advice on good self-editing, I highly recommend Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne & Dave King. Got your own self-editing favorites? Share them in the comments!

Image courtesy of Kadellar (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Where Have All The Editors Gone?

Okay, okay, I know that all the editors have not gone away. I know that there are many dedicated editors out there slaving away in the word mines to help writers wrangle their manuscripts into things of beauty. I do not want the entire Internet editorial community to descend upon me, angrily wielding their blue and red pens as weapons of vengeance.

But.

I detect a noticeable lack of editorial input in far too many of the books I read these days.

If you follow me on Goodreads or take note of my occasional reading update posts hereabouts, you’ll know that I am not a snob when it comes to reading. I read traditionally published books, I read self-published books, I read e-only books, I listen to audiobooks and self-produced audiobooks. If it sounds interesting to me, I don’t quibble about the format or the provenance, I’ll give it a try.

In fact, I will even cut some slack to the authors who are self-pubbing, to a certain extent. If the writing and plotting and characterization and ideas are strong overall, I can forgive a few little grammatical or syntactical missteps. I usually find it a bit sad when a story fails to reach its full potential due mainly to a lack of editing, but it won’t make me bail on the story.

But traditional publishers, I have to say: I hold you to a higher standard. I expect that you will have given your authors the benefit of proper editorial input. You are supposed to be the “gatekeepers”, after all; the setters-of-standards. This is not to say that I expect to love every traditionally published book–there’s no accounting for taste, and there are plenty of (IMHO) bad tradpub books. But regardless of how far they fall short of my expectations in story or plot, I expect them to be line edited.

And I am disappointed, with increasing frequency of late.

I expect words to be used properly. “Occupied” is not the same thing as “preoccupied”.

I expect you to weed out repetitions. When the word “faience” comes up five times in three pages, it’s kind of noticeable.

I expect that characters’ names will remain the same throughout the story.

(Sadly) I could go on. But I won’t. Maybe I’m just in an editorial frame of mind lately, having recently finished an intense bout of line editing for Unearthed. And I won’t say I caught everything there, either. But if traditional publishers want to continue to publish good authors–if they want to be thought of as some kind of legitimizing force in publishing, I think they owe their authors something. And their readers, too.

I think they need to spill a little more corrective ink on those manuscripts. Or soon there’ll be nothing at all setting them apart. And then where will they be?

Image courtesty of jppi.