I am lucky enough to be part of a great writing group who have really spent a lot of time reviewing my work and providing me with constructive criticism on how to make my writing stronger and tighter. This post contains a lot of their ideas and tips that I have found very helpful, and will surely find helpful again. Basically everything in this post came from my writing group, run by Sandy Vaile - excellent romantic suspense author, as well as an extremely lucky encounter I had with Vikki Wakefield - YA author extraordinaire, at a writing festival.
Any mistakes in these ideas are completely my own.
So here we go, I have broken the information I have into different sections to make it easier to work through, starting with the basics, which, if no one teaches you, aren't really all that basic at all. This stuff is important!
This is a really important aspect of writing to think about. Besides, if your novel is that long (like mine was) you may find you have a lot of content within it that really needs to be cut.
YA novels typically have chapters sitting at around 1.5-2.5k words as a general rule.
FORMATTING YOUR WORK:
So the first time I submitted my work to anybody I was a freaking idiot and had absolutely ZERO formatting on my manuscript.
In fact it actually read like some kind of weird poem instead of a book.
These days though I am super open to learning how things work, and here is the low-down on some very interesting formatting lessons I was taught:
Here is some more great advice I received (quoted from Sandy Vaile and Vikki Wakefield - any mistakes are definitely my own!):
HOW TO ACTUALLY EDIT:
I do not have all the answers here. When it comes to structural edits and major changes to a story you are kind of on your own.
But the nitty gritty line by line editing is what I have been learning about.
So here are the tips I have been taught:
Watch the overuse of adverbs: suddenly, blankly, furiously, quickly, helpfully, finally, eventually, truthfully, abruptly, automatically, sadly... Try to use active verbs instead wherever possible,Even though it is a pain, the best thing to do is to actually word search your identified repetitive words throughout your manuscript, checking that each really is necessary and cannot be changed for a better word. Some of course will still be fine to use, but if your characters spend the entire novel staring at each other you may want to find some alternate ways to place an action into your text.
Repetitive Sentence Structure.
Aside from repetitive words, you may have repetitive sentences.
This is a big issue with my writing, and I hope now I am becoming aware of it I can learn how to nip this one in the bud.
So, because I was having trouble figuring this one out in my own work, and because Vikki Wakefield is the nicest person ever, I have a before and after example from my own work to highlight an instance where I used overly repetitive structured sentences:
Hopefully you can see that the second, edited, example is much cleaner and tighter, not to mention shorter. The reader is not bogged down in information repeated just for the sake of it. Once an author has told their reader something, they shouldn’t tell them again (this is so hard!) because a reader will pick up straight away if you are treating them like an idiot who can’t follow a plot. I know I absolutely hate being spoon-fed when I am reading!
Use Questions instead of statements.
Another cool idea told to me by author Maggie Best, was that distancing statements like:
Can be changed to internal questions like:
Again, this reduces your word count and gets things more directly to the point.
In Anne R Allen's excellent post (her whole blog is excellent actually and a great writing resource) there is a really interesting post by a guest (Kathy Steinemann) called: Filter Words and Phrases to Avoid in Writing Fiction.
Definitely check that one out.
Remove the word 'THERE' from sentences.
Another distancing word is 'there', particularly used in sentences that describe the surroundings or situation your characters are experiencing.
For instance: 'There are mountains in the distance' could become 'Mountains rise in the distance.'
I think it's good to do a word search on the word 'there' and if appropriate, see if there is another way to write that sentence to be more immersive for the reader.
These are words that you can remove from a sentence easily without changing the meaning behind your words.
Basically, it is a good idea to do a word search on all of the below, and follow each word through your manuscript one by one, checking whether they are essential.
And look, it’s possible that there may be one or two instances where you feel like these words should remain, but if you look closer you will realise the majority of the time they really are not at all essential. They just add words to your sentences for no reason at all.
If you remove these, your writing will become tighter. The meaning behind your sentences will become clearer. Your writing will be less clunky and more streamlined, and therefore flow better for your readers.
Words like sat up, bent over, climb up, fell down. Without the redundant word, it still means the same thing.
To end on a Positive Note:
I hope these tips will help. I know they will help me when I need to come back and refresh myself!
Mostly though, I think it is important not to get overwhelmed.
It does suck to think you are finished a project, only to realise you have so much more work to do, but then again, it is exciting too. Afterall, for me, fulfillment is progress. And every time a manuscript goes through another edit it is being made stronger and better, and that is definitely progress.
Even if it is slow progress, progress is always a good thing.
It is the best!
I can’t help remembering back to Australian author Jennifer Mills speaking during a panel called ‘Road to Publication’ at the Salisbury Writers Festival.
Persistence is even more important than talent.
If you have a cool story to tell. Tell it.
And then edit the shit out of it.