The book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers has plenty of practical advice and exercises for editing fiction. The following are the reminders that stuck with me after reading the book. It should be noted that these aren’t as black or white as they may seem. Ultimately, the right balance is required in a story.
- Look out for over narration. Scenes can be harder to write which is why people slip into narrating a story rather than unpacking it. By merely summarizing some instance you can take away from the engagement of your story. Scenes are generally more engaging and they do a better job of bringing a story to life because you have to include specific details, dialogues, and characters in a scene. Good way to go about implementing this is by identifying those blocks/pages of texts and seeing if they can be broken up into smaller scenes or dialogue.
- Remember to Resist the Urge to Explain (R.U.E.). When it comes to your character’s emotions, make sure you aren’t just explaining them to the reader. The reader should be able to understand the emotions through action and dialogue. So, if you do your job correctly, you can simply cut away any explanation of a character’s emotions and not lose anything.
- Show the character. Unpack the characters’ personality through his actions, reactions, interior monologue, and dialogue. Or, if you have to describe the personality, let it come from the point of view or dialogue of another character who tells us his/her opinion of the character. Or let the personality come through the attitude of the character by describing something from the viewpoint of the character.
- Speaking of viewpoint, keep in mind what the character will notice and what will go unacknowledged. An 80-year-old man notices different things than an 8-year-old girl. For the 80-year-old, the falling snow may be a nuisance but for an 8-year-old it might be pleasant and fun. However, if there is no emotion attached to what the character is seeing, then your writing is emotionally detached, which only works if you’re aiming for an emotionally detached story.
- Well written dialogue should erase a lot of explanation. The dialogue itself should let the reader know that a character is astonished or scared. The reader shouldn’t need to read the descriptive tag. In fact, the best thing you can do for your dialogue is to never explain it.
- Be conscious of the beats in your text. For a tense dialogue scene, fewer beats the better. However, beats also allow you to ground your story. They can unpack setting and character traits/habits which allows the reader to use their imagination.
- Read your story out loud. By reading out loud you get the sense of the rhythm of your story, especially your dialogue. You can hear where the pauses should be, where some action is required, where there is too much talking and so on.
- Be aware of repetition. You don’t want your sentences to convey the same info or your paragraphs to establish the same traits or have multiple characters fulfilling the same role. Repetition can take away from your story.
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