Editing: 3 Methods for Transforming an Idea into a Masterpiece

Editing.

There, I said it. Don’t cringe, it’s nothing to be afraid of.

Think of the last time you made brownies. You put together all these great ingredients, and sure, it tastes good to lick the spatula, but how much better do those brownies taste once they’ve been baked? Editing is the baking of a story. It’s what brings a great idea, and great writing, together.

So you’ve finished writing your story. The brownie batter tastes good, but not that good. What does it really mean to edit a story? What did you think of when you saw the first word of this post? Fixing grammar? Throwing in commas to break up run-on sentences? Clicking spell check? Those little fixes are important, but they’re like mixing the brownie batter. It’s important, but other elements, like the temperature, how long it bakes, etc., have a much greater impact on the result.

There have been countless books written on editing, so I’m going to focus on just a  few key elements to keep in mind when putting the finishing touches on your fantastic story. Please feel free to comment and add what editing techniques have changed your good story into a great story.

1. Consistency

Recently, I’ve been editing my latest novella, Speechless. As I was going through the story, I realized that the more I had written, the more I was personally discovering about the story. Some of the history was slightly changed, characters suddenly had something new about them, and so on. Writers often do this. You can only do so much pre-writing before you have to just hold your breath and dive into the story. As a result, you’ll end up discovering new elements of characters, history, and environment, that may differ from something you wrote earlier.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this. It’s exciting, as a writer, to discover your own story as you write it. These discoveries, however, need to be linked together to form a realistic feeling of consistency. Whether you’re writing a mystery, or an epic fantasy, the reader needs to feel like your world is real. Consistency of ideas and elements is what brings that sense of reality.

What does it really mean to maintain consistency?

Life has consistency. We may learn more about it every day, but history will always be history. Physics will always be physics. Your friends have traits that don’t usually just change overnight. These are constants that need to be consistent in your story. Names are the same. History is the same. Characters act the same (unless there is a significant event that changes them). Environments are the same.

Remember when you explain something in narrative, or have something explained to your character. You know how annoying it is to have someone constantly telling you the same story. As a writer, you may forget that you’ve explained or introduced something, and may accidentally introduce it a second, third, or fourth time. Readers will notice this. It disturbs consistency.

2. Tone and Mood

Your brownies are starting to smell great. The consistency of the batter was just about perfect, but it’s the baking that really brings out the flavor. Tone and mood are what bring out the power of your story. An author creates tone, which evokes a mood within the reader. When we read, we want to feel something. We want to feel what the character feels. Joy, sadness, dread, anticipation, etc. Words have the power to create emotion, if used correctly.

As you edit your story, pay careful attention to how you feel. There is no reason why you shouldn’t feel the way you want your reader to feel. If you don’t feel the emotion you’re trying to evoke, figure out why. Is there so much description that it takes away from the power of the words? Are your characters showing, not telling, how they feel?

Tone and mood bring a reader into the world, and into the shoes of the characters. They relate the reader to the story, inspire them, and get them thinking. This is where you create the connection between reader and story.

3. Dynamic vs. Static

The brownies are just about done. You’re about to stick in the toothpick, and see if it comes up clean. You’ve read through your story, likely several times, and you’ve picked up on inconsistencies, holes in the story, the tone, and all the little spelling and grammar errors. How do you feel at the end? Was there progression in your story? Did your characters accomplish their goals? Did they grow and develop through their experiences?

Characters are often defined as being either dynamic or static. A dynamic character grows, develops, and learns throughout the story. They progress. A static character doesn’t change much. Their progression is limited compared to the more dynamic characters. Every writer needs to ask if they’ve written a dynamic, or static, story.

A dynamic story leaves a reader feeling satisfied, like they have just completed an exciting, inspiring, motivating, moving, and thought-provoking story. They feel like they’ve progressed and moved from one point to another. This progression brings a sense of satisfaction, that sigh you breathe after reading something inspiring.

You’re brownies are done. They taste great. They’re ready to be shared with family and friends. See? Editing isn’t so bad. There are many methods, other than these three, used to bring a story together. Feel free to add any additional comments or editing tips.

Thanks for the exchange!

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One thought on “Editing: 3 Methods for Transforming an Idea into a Masterpiece

  1. I just saw this and must give the credit to author, Judy Cullen, who posted it on LinkedIn. I hope she won’t mind my sharing it here. I thought it was good.

    Author Tips to Guarantee Your Book’s Dialogue Success by Judy Cullen

    To spice up your self help, non-fiction or fiction book and even promotional writing, you need to use much more dialogue.

    Why? Because dialogue presents your story through your characters’ hearts and minds.

    A story engages your reader rather than bores him with too much telling. Know that present tense ( I see) writing is far more powerful and readable than past tense ( I saw) and the wicked past perfect (I have seen). Yes, use some past tense narrative to tell, but keep it down. Discover how dialogues will juice up each chapter and hook your readers to keep going.

    If your aim your book at agents and publishers, the first action acquisition editors make is to find a section of dialogue. If it is good, they start reading the rest of your book.

    It is difficult to put just the right words into dialogue – to convey character and emotion.

    Avoid props or tricks to be professional.

    If not, forget it.

    If you self-publish, take heed.

    You want to make your book sell within each chapter. When your audience reads all the chapters because they are juicy with dialogue, you’ll have a fan forever who will go out and spread the good word about your book and you.

    Eight Tips to Guarantee Dialogue Success

    1. Don’t explain your dialogue.

    “You can’t be serious,” she said in astonishment. This dialogue patronizes the reader. As a book coach I call it lazy writing that undermines the reader’s involvement. You don’t want the reader to know the fact; you want her to feel the emotion.

    So, show how astonished through dialogue or beat. (more on beats later) “She dropped the whisk, spattering meringue up the cupboard door.”

    “You can’t be serious” or You’ve got to be kidding” – two examples of different characters. Readers learn about them through the dialogue. When you tell, your characters don’t come to life. You non-fiction writers, who use case studies and stories, need to use dialogue too.

    2. Don’t explain the content of the dialogue.

    You have heard about “show, don’t tell” and all -ly forms tell.

    Stop using -ly verbs such as “I’m afraid it’s not going well,” he said grimly.” This bit explains and is condescending. Grimness can come across by what you say and do through word choice, body language, and context rather than by how you say it. Avoid those telling adverbs that end in -ly.

    “Keep scrubbing until you are finished,” she said harshly.

    Take all forms of “suddenly” out of you writing. Think instead, how you can show “suddenly.”

    Examples:

    “Percy burst into the zoo keeper’s office. Their callous mistreatment was killing the wombats and he wasn’t going to stand for it.”

    “Is something wrong, sir?” the zoo keeper said.

    3. Don’t repeat unnecessary information.

    “Don’t you realize you’re killing those poor innocent creatures, you heartless fascist?” Percy yelled. (We already know he’s shouting)

    4. Don’t open dialogue with speaker attributions.

    Writers use them only to show who is talking when more than three characters are in the scene. Open with the dialogue. Place speaker attribution at the first natural break.
    Instead of Vera said, “….” Use this: “I don’t know,” she said, “I’ve always felt plungers were underrated as kitchen tools.”

    Sharing is Caring!

    Which of these dialogue tips was an “aha” for you? Are you now more willing to use dialogue in both your non-fiction and your fiction? Think about writing promotional blurbs. They too will shine brighter with a little dialogue. Give an example here of how you repaired some bleak writing using dialogue.

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