Self-Editing: Guest Blogger Deana Birch bakes us a writing cake
Hello, my little bunnies and thank you Evie for handing over the reins of your brilliant blog to, moi, as Miss Piggy would say. And I say it with a toss of my non-curly and need-to-be colored locks.
In discussing the subject of my guest blog, Evie gave me one goal. Help Writers. And I want you all to know I am so, so, so about that. As is she. That’s why I love my Evie. I dipped into my relevant pool and came up with, dun dun dun…
Self-editing. Because I just edited the heck out of my next book.
No! Don’t leave. I know you hate it. It can be hard. It can be crushing to delete those 400 words that are the funniest part of you book. It can even make you cry or worse, avoid.
But let me tell you, bunnies, editing WILL make your book better. Editing will make your writing stronger. And editing will make your story viable.
“Ugh… but I don’t wanna.” Too flipping bad. You must. Sorry and totally not sorry. Writing your book is like cracking the eggs for your cake. It is mother flipping step one, bunnies. Step One. Editing is all the important steps you take to get that cake in the oven, bake, and then finally cool. Marketing is slicing it and choosing which plate to serve it on, which I won’t go into in this post.
Step One: You’ve cracked the eggs. Good start. Sadly, three eggs, no matter how you beat them, will not make a cake.
I really hope you like your story, because you will need to read it a lot. Over and over. And then six more times. So, before anyone lays eyes on your raw eggs, here are the big picture things I suggest:
Look at your main characters
If they have their own POV, they need a proper arc. An internal flaw that they overcome and an external goal that they either succeed or fail at. This is the heart of every story. The hero’s journey. Write down where they start and where they end. If they are in the same place at the end with either, you will need to address that. Ideally, this should be done before you write the story, but I know there are a lot of pantsers out there and this is a good way to check yourself. If you want to reel in your wild happy pants one day and try outlining (DO IT!!!) read this book.
Check your word count
Not just the overall word count that should fit in your genre, your word count in each chapter. Try and keep it as consistent as you can. This is one of those rules you can break once you know it’s a rule. Personally, I like my chapters around 2,500 until the last 25% of the book where I trim them down to less than 2000. If you are writing in multiple POVs, check the balance. In dual, my editor likes for me to aim at 50/50 but doesn’t slap my wrist (she would never do that, she is a walking godsend) unless it goes more than 60/40. If you have more than two POVs, ask yourself if you really, really, really need that one chapter from the villain’s perspective. Balance and revise as necessary.
Analyze the voice of the book and make it pop
This is the mood you are going for. Is it dark? Is it a RomCom? Do you want to pull at heartstrings? Go chapter by chapter and make sure that voice is in there.
Scrutinize the voice of your POVs
This is essential if you are writing more than one. They must be different. Their internal thoughts must reflect how they actually speak in dialogue. I like giving my characters a unique word that only they use, but a tick they have is also super effective here.
Break down each chapter
I know, I’m sorry. I really am. This is a lot of work. But remember, we’re making a cake, not an omelet. In each chapter, whichever character’s POV it’s in, there must be a goal. It doesn’t have to be big. It can be as simple as putting laundry in the dryer. But along the way their goal is interrupted by ACTION and the character must deal with whatever roadblock comes along. Then, they think back to the goal and either complete it or not. I call this “turning left.” We’re chugging along, happy in our little plan and then BOOM, we have to turn left. I still want to get my laundry in the dryer, but my dog just puked on my shoes and I need to deal with that before I can do anything else. That’s not fiction by the way, it actually just happened to me. The struggle is real with an English Bulldog.
But I digress… Chapter action / goals is really important because having your hero sitting alone in a café reflecting on what has already happened is boring AF. #NotSorry The majority of audible groans I’ve made while reading occur when writers take me on long inner thought journeys. Side note to more than one POVers: Please don’t write the same scene from another POV. We’ve been there and done that. Forward Progress in the plot, always. Except for those roadblocks.
Please don’t hate me, but I’m going to ask you to:
evaluate the subject of your sentences
Three sentences in a row that start with “He” are going to bore your reader. Avoid repletion at all costs. Even in the same kind of subject. Two in a row is fine. Three in a row is snooze. I’m actually really sorry about this one, but it had to be said. The good news is you won’t do this in your next story. I promise.
That was a lot of work, I know. I just did it. But hopping along to progress! We’re almost ready to put our cake in the oven and then send a taste to our CP’s or beta readers. Don’t know what those are? Here’s a link about it when someone else was kind enough to let me monopolize their blog for my own musings on writing.
The big heavy lifting is done, now it’s time to make good use of the search function of whatever it is you wrote your brilliant book in.
Shall we talk about adverbs? I like adverbs and probably abuse “softly.” But they are part of our language so as writers we are allowed to use them. There was a big push to edit them all out of our manuscripts and I think the intention got lost in the panic. It’s how you use them that matters. Try and avoid them in your dialogue tags at all costs. I just read a snippet that was “…, he said honestly.” Does that mean the person usually lies? Now I’m doubting everything out of that character’s mouth. I like it when adverbs are used in a voicey way. For example: His ridiculously stupid dimples. That being said, search “ly” in your document and make sure if you’re using adverbs, it’s for extra punch and not lazy writing.
Side note: Avoiding adverbs can put you into a “gave” trap. I know because the word gave bundled me into its net for a long time. Let’s say you found the adverb, “quickly.” And you decide to replace it. It used to read: “quickly tapped” and you change it to “gave a quick tap.” I’m not saying you can’t do this, I’m saying don’t do it to ALL your adverbs.
This is my all-time favorite link for editing. I go back to it again and again.
Our cake is almost in the oven, we just need to handle our own personal crutch words. This is different for every writer and fortunately there is a brilliant web-site to identify them.
Pop your book baby in there and edit away, my bunnies.
Ahhhh…. The cake is ready to bake and cool. That gives us plenty of time to read our manuscript OUT LOUD. Yep. Remember how I said you better love your story? This is one of those times. Speaking the words you’ve written will help you catch your echoes, find those jokes that fall flat, spot the extra word that didn’t get deleted, and tighten your overall pacing. Doing this changed my life and my book.
There are many other things I could go on about, gerunds, filter words, or weird descriptions of body parts. But my work here is done.
Let’s all eat cake! 🍰
Contemporary romance and erotica writer Deana Birch was named after her father’s first love, who just so happened not to be her mother. Born and raised in the Midwest, she made stops in Los Angeles and New York before settling in Europe where she lives with her own blueeyed Happily Ever After. Her days are spent teaching yoga, playing tennis, ruining her children’s French homework, cleaning up dog vomit, writing her next book, or reading someone else’s.
Her debut novel Faster, a Rock and Roll Romance, released June 26, 2018. She's a Mid-Western girl transplanted to Europe where she lives with her own happily-ever-after and two daughters.
Note from Evie:
Check out my review of Faster to see why you absolutely must buy this awesome book!
Also, I'd just like to extend a big, huge thank you to Deana for agreeing to do a guest post and share a little bit of the massive wealth of knowledge she possesses! Although I'm hesitant to admit it, Ms. Birch is among my elite group of beta readers/CPs that I occasionally mention in my posts. (Don't you dare try and steal her away... she's spoken for!) She's a fellow RChat gal and, well, without her? I wouldn't be anywhere near where I am today. Heed this woman's brilliant advice and, beyond doubt, follow her for more! She's rife with insight that'll blow your hair off.
Until next time,