Just watched: Brothers & Sisters
on the iPod: Paparazzi by Lady Gaga
The next day, when I return to my WIP, I have to read the last scene or chapter to centre myself, to get myself back into the characters and the story. And because I can’t help it, I tend to edit as I read. Some writers like to get the whole draft down, then do the editing. Most of the time I just can’t NOT fiddle 😀 If I see something that needs to be fixed, I have to fix it… unless I can’t think of a solution, then I’ll bookmark that passage and come back to it later. Of course, I always do another sweeping edit after the book’s written because I end up picking up other bits and pieces that need to be fixed. So here’s a few things that I always look at when I approach the editing.
The Time Line
Because I tend to have a lot of in-depth backstory, including birthdays, public holidays, first meetings, divorces, accidents and tragedies, pregnancies, deaths, marriages, changes of season etc etc., when I prepare events and important dates (both past and present) for a story, I need to plot them on a calendar – if I don’t, I end up confusing myself (and my editor!) and the story flow suffers. Because I’m a visual learner, I use an A4 perpetual calendar, complete with days and little squares for typing details. I made one up in Publisher but you can download printable calendar templates from here or here.
This calendar is either on my pinboard or in my wip folder for quick reference. For example: one of the major turning points in my June release, The Billionaire Baby Bombshell, was the death of the hero’s father. I wanted it on a significant night – Christmas Eve. I also wanted to set the present-day story around August, which is not too hot for the Outback. So, all the rest of the events (the heroine’s pregnancy, the age of her daughter in the present day, the h/h past history, etc) had to flow logically around that one important day. There was a lot of math going on in this story, for reasons you’ll discover when you read the book 😀
Each writer will be different and have their own list of overused words. If you don’t I suggest you start one. It’s a smart way of weeding out those words you tend to fall back on, plus it gets you thinking about alternatives that could do the job better. Mine so far are:
- throat (when talking about breath)
I do a word search to find out where it occurs within the story and if I can use something different. If I can’t, I read the sentence to see if I can reword that. An excellent tool I’ve used is Wordle, which lists those words most commonly occurring within your story and puts them in a cool word cloud. I tend to remove locations and characters’ names, plus ‘said’ and ‘the’ when fiddling with this tool.
Point of View
Another of my ‘problem areas’ which gets a heavy edit. Because my books have dual POV, there will be some switching within a scene, so obviously I don’t advocate the one-scene-one-POV rule (in fact, you’ll find most writing ‘rules’ aren’t rules at all – some are house guidelines, some a reader expectations. Most should be taken with a grain of salt). It really does depend on what you’re trying to achieve in the scene and whether you have single, dual or switching POV.
I’ve heard it said that you should work out whichever character has the most to lose in that scene, and then to stick with their POV. So, for example, if you have a scene where your hero is about to tell your heroine that her father’s just died, then stay in your heroine’s head. However, a caveat. In a high-stakes story with lots of sudden revelations, it can get tiring as a writer to effectively write how that character is feeling without repeating yourself. And if you’re in the hero’s head, seeing your heroine through his eyes, taking note of how she handles (or doesn’t!) major life-changing news, and how he reacts to HER reaction, can be a powerful scene indeed.
Throughout my years as a contest judge, I’ve seen the gamut of head hopping – a terrible affliction that takes the reader from one character’s thoughts to the other character then back again multiple times. The worst I’ve encountered was literally every paragraph, where each para consisted of two sentences… and this went on for ten pages!
So how do you spot change of POV? Here’s an example:
“You’re gorgeous, Abby.” Greg reached for his wine glass and took a sip, eying her over the rim as she flushed prettily before her gaze went to her plate. His blue eyes widened and he shoved back his black hair with one tanned hand. Surely she’d heard that before?
“Thanks,” she said, the blush still staining her cheeks. Why was he flirting with her? She wondered curiously. What could he possibly want that he hadn’t already taken from her family?
Here’s what I’d do.
a) Either stick with one or the other’s VP. The more changes you have the more risk you run of confusing the reader and stopping the story’s natural flow. You want them invested in the story, not thinking, “whose head are we in now? Who’s speaking?”
b) edit it like this:
“You’re gorgeous, Abby.” Greg reached for his wine glass and took a sip, eying her over the rim as she flushed prettily before her gaze went to her plate. He frowned. His blue eyes widened and he shoved back his black hair with one tanned hand. Surely she’d heard that before?
“Thanks,” she Abigail said, the blush still staining her cheeks still warm. Why was is he flirting with me her? She wondered curiously. What could he possibly want that he hadn’t already taken from her family?
In the first para, we’re in Greg’s VP, so he cannot see his ‘blue eyes’, ‘his black hair’ and would not think ‘tanned hand’. When was the last time you scratched your head and thought “my fingers ran through my long blonde hair?” 😆 I also took creative license and made him frown, which added weight to the last sentence.
In the second para, let your readers know who’s POV you’re in by stating their name (I got that little tip from Stephanie Laurens!). And because we’re in her POV, she cannot see the ‘blush staining her cheeks’. She can, however, feel the warmth on her skin. I made the next sentence deep POV, which makes ‘She wondered curiously’ doubly redundant: 1) you’re already in her VP and 2) by her deep POV question, the implication is she’s ‘wondering curiously’. You could also make the last sentence deep POV too, so it would then read “What could he possibly want that he hadn’t already stolen from my family?”
Okay, so I did a bit of editing with that example too 😀 If you haven’t already, check out the Show v’s Tell article I wrote for RWA’s Hearts Talk magazine, here.