Editing for Booksie
All people have a need to talk about what is on their mind. All people who write expect someone, sooner or later, to read what they have written, no matter if it is an epic novel inside us all, a grocery shopping list, or the recording of Death Valley temperatures during the year 1881. The task of writing well is just too hard and time consuming if no one is expected to read it. Some stories contain so many errors that the reader will give up trying to read it and just click away. This short guide will remind you of the basics of writing and editing.
Before you can edit, you must write. Write your first draft out completely before investing any time editing. The reason is because the story may change from your original design. Also, because writing is such hard work, fatigue and distractions will try to convince you to do something else instead of completing the project. Keep at it and finish it and you will be glad that you made the effort.
Do not enter your story directly into the submission form. Use a word processor and use the spelling and grammar checkers.
First Proof reading – Look at the words to determine that the right words were used. Most spelling checkers can not determine that you meant “from” instead of “form” or “too” instead of “to” or "you're" instead of "your" or “bringing” instead of “brining”. A human must determine the correct application of the right word.
Check for tense agreement. Most grammar checkers can determine a mismatch of tenses within a sentence; they can not find mismatches within a paragraph. An example in a simple sentence might be “Let’s go to the store and we drank a soda each.” In this example, “Let’s go…” is in the present and suggests a future action while “…we drank…” is past tense, and suggests an activity that has already occurred.
Second Proof reading – Look at sentence construction and determine if some words can be omitted or if a phrase can be shortened. From about 1850 until 1920 it was all the rage to write in a wordy manner. Moby Dick and King Solomon’s Mines are good examples of novels, which if written today, might lose 2/3’s of their bulk. This is the era of the short attention span reader and commercial publishers working with narrow profit margins.
At this stage of editing, wait as long as you can before proceeding; wait at least one day but preferably at least two weeks in order to give your brain objectivity again.
Third Proof reading – When the story is read again, read it aloud. If there are others nearby then mute your mouth. This way you can hear if there are any of these common mistakes made:
The run-on sentence is where two or more sentences have been combined to form one overly long sentence. If you find a run-on sentence, break it in to smaller, easier to read and understand sentences.
Conversational language is not always readable. I could say to you, “Are our friends here, yet?” and you would understand but the voice which reads in your head might pick up on a yapping dog “Are our…” Instead, write something such as “Have our friends arrived yet?”
In other words, if you stumble over a passage due to the words or sentence construction, rewrite the passage to sound smooth and natural to the ear.
Make sure the point of view of the story teller is consistent. You may change point of view within a story but not within a paragraph.
Be diligent with the point of view. What is wrong with this first person narrative? I spit at Trevor and reflexively he slapped me to the ground, leaving a red mark on my cheek. Did you spot the inconsistency? How could the speaker see the red mark on the cheek? (Lets assume the two characters were not in a hall of mirrors.)
Consider the reader; will this story interest the reader? Are you publishing in the right medium and category? I believe it is worse to have no readers than to submit a poorly written story, and I loath poorly written stories.
Does this story have conflict? Without conflict the story is only a travelogue or erotic passage. Does the spoken word contain conflict? There is conversation and dialog. We speak in conversation and good story characters speak in dialog, because dialog contains some element of conflict and / or the delivery of purposeful information for the character and the reader.
Does action move the story along to a resolution? Without action, you may lose the short-attention-span reader.
Do the main characters sound alike in their dialog and act alike? If so, the reader may assume they are identical twins. Give thought to how the characters are different and how different they sound.
Have you provided a physical description of each scene location or are you relying that the reader knows what you mean? For example, you know kitchens vary from home to home and so does your reader. The scene takes place in what kind of kitchen?
Does the story move along too quickly and you want to slow the pace? This is a good time to insert physical descriptions.
The first commandment of good writing is “Show, don’t tell”. Don’t tell us she was tall; instead, “she bent slightly to follow Trevor through the door of the Irish pub”.
Many stories have a back story, that is, a narrative of events which occurred before the instant action. While it is acceptable to just write this at the beginning when first drafting the story, remove this block of narrative and cleverly slip in only the necessary pieces at the necessary times. In other words, hide it in plain sight. Don’t have the characters conduct a conversation for the sole purpose of informing the reader. This is boring and causes the story to lose momentum.
Determine that everything you submit is as free from mistakes as is humanly possible. This means emails and text messages. Set the high standard for yourself and stand apart from others. Take ownership of professionalism. Human nature is such that if the reader sees obvious mistakes then the reader will assume (correctly or not) that the writing is severely flawed, too.
Now I will answer that question that has been nagging you. You have asked, “Isn’t it smarter to check spelling after everything else is complete instead of first?” If this question was not on your lips it soon would have been, right? The answer is that, for me (a former school teacher) anyway, my orderly brain won’t allow me to proceed with an obviously flawed story. If you look past obvious mistakes to the more serious editing opportunities, then do what works for you.
Of the many good writers publishing on Booksie, the following two Flash Fiction examples demonstrate tightly edited and richly written prose within the confines of a small word count (971 and 1340, respectively).
An example of solid writing on Booksie is Jimmy’s Girl Friend by Ben A. Vanguarde.
An example of solid adult writing on Booksie is Two Wrongs Don’t Make It by Allan H. Arbinger.
Still not convinced you can do it or do you long for another set of eyes on your story before publishing?
Contact Rachel, an Australian Booksie reader who is willing to edit your NON-ADULT work for free. You can submit directly to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like to volunteer as an editor, please leave a comment.
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