The Writer's Bag of Tricks
I’ve written several stories over the years, but my most recent work in progress is an urban fantasy novel. It’s actually the first thing that I think is not crap. Now, I realize that I am overly critical of myself, so for me to think it’s not complete crap is a good sign. I’ve decided to publish it next year. This is both horrifically terrifying, and about freaking time exciting.
There are a few things I am doing to make sure that I have the best possible manuscript before I send it out to my editor. Yes, I am an editor, but even editors need editors. Here’s the thing. I know the story. I know what is happening at any given time with my characters. I know what things look like. But there is always the possibility that what is in my head is not actually made it to the page or just doesn’t work as I’ve written it. And this is why I need an editor. It’s also why YOU need an editor. This is why I need a writing partner, and a critique group, and a beta reader, too. I want my novel to be the best it can be, and I need other people to make that happen.
I have a writing partner. We work out plot issues over dinners and pots of coffee, and we review each other’s outlines, pages, and chapters with utter bluntness and honesty. I trust my writing partner’s opinion. When my writing partner says something is shit, I believe him, and I work on revising my story. My writing partner often sees motivational issues I hadn’t thought of and ultimately after revision I end up with a better story. I need my writing partner.
I have a critique group. After I work out any story issues from earlier meetings with my writing partner, I submit chapters of my novel to my critique group. My critique group reads my pages (and I read theirs), and notes what works for them and what doesn’t, and then they write up their critique of my work. We talk about what they thought, and I have their notes to refer back to later when I am doing revisions. My critique group is made up of fiction writers of varying craft levels, but who all are in the process of learning the craft of writing fiction and are willing to do the work to become the best writers they can be. Each has a different skillset and specialty. My critique group is spectacular and they help me with the spit and polish issues. I need my critique group.
I have a beta reader. My beta reader is not a writer, but they are a voracious reader of fiction. My beta reader will read my pages as a reader, not a writer, which is a completely different perspective, and then let me know what doesn’t work for them. And I trust them to tell me the truth. If they see repetitive words, or if they are not able to visualize a scene, they let me know. If they don’t like something, the let me know. I trust my beta reader to give me their honest opinion of my work. I also trust my beta reader to let me know if the work if viable. I need my beta reader.
I have an editor. My editor is a professional and has been working in the publishing industry for a long time. They know what works for what genre. They see the pages as an editor sees them, which is different than a writer sees them, or a reader sees them. I need my editor.
But, before I send my pages to my editor, I read my entire novel to myself, out loud.
Yes, out loud.
When you read something out loud, you hear things with your physical ears that you don’t hear when you read something to yourself in your mind.
• You hear the awkward sentences, and unnecessary words, and repetitive words which you can then edit. The end result is better sentences, and tighter writing.
• You hear continuity issues like your character had shoes on and then was barefoot. The end result is you don’t look like a dumbass later when a reader points it out.
• You hear what the dialogue actually sounds like when spoken. The end result is dialogue that actually sounds like people rather than cheese.
• You find typos and misplaced words which you then revise and end up with a cleaner manuscript.
• You hear how longwinded some of your sentences are especially when you run out of air in the middle which you can then edit into something more intelligible.
• You get a clear sense of pace and tone so you can adjust if needed.
The end result is a better book (and a happier editor). Yes, it’s a pain in the ass. Yes, it takes a long time. But if you want to produce the best possible book, it’s a necessary step that I am willing to take. So should you.