Put It On The Shelf

…or, the best way to fix your “baby’s” ugliness.

Ben’s post from last week resonated with me a lot for various reasons. Right now, I’m finishing up a B.A. in English so naturally I’m being exposed to piles and piles of papers written by other students. Sometimes, those papers aren’t bad. Other times, they would best serve as kindling.

This fact was most apparent in the “Writing Fiction” class that I took. I have no illusions as to the quality of my writing, but some of this stuff…


As a writer, there are so many different suggestions for how to go about self-editing, but one of the most effective ones that I’ve used to the suggestion to take your finished manuscript and put it on the shelf for some period of time. The most common suggestion is 6 months, but I’ve found that even 3 months can be enough if you have sufficient work to do elsewhere and you can change your focus.

With the end of the semester approaching, I’ve had so much on my plate that I’ve had no choice but to put The Hydra Offensive on the shelf. But with my time freeing up, ever so slightly, I’m back at the keyboard, editing Hydra.

I’ve found that leaving the manuscript alone and doing other work has given me a different perspective on the prose and has allowed me to make edits that I might not have made otherwise.

Do you use this method with your writing? How does it work for you? Any other suggestions for solid editing methods?

40 Tips For Editing Your Novel

One of Guild of Dreams’ most popular posts is My favourite proofreading tips from by Scott. Our readers are working hard on their books, proofreading, editing, and revising. Here is a master list of 40 Editing tips, some original and some gathered from around the web. Some suggestions will naturally follow others, and some are different ways of accomplishing the same thing.

The Number One Editing Tip

1. Step away for a while. (Stephen King recommends this in On Writing, and many other authors see the wisdom in getting away from your work for some time.)

Reading Your Manuscript

2. Read it out loud. Your eyes glance over typos and misspellings, but when you read it out loud, you’re forced to slow down and put a voice to what you’ve written.

3. Have someone else read it to you. Employ a friend or significant other or writing partner.

4. Or use a program to read it out for you. Get some text-to-speech software on your computer or eReader to read it for you while you follow along in your word processor.

5. Change the font. Sometimes, just changing the font can change the way you look at it.

6. Set your word document up as a real book. Work with your word processor to make your pages 8×5 and side by side, with page numbers and the whole shebang.

7. Or read it on your eReader or phone. It’s now an ebook, not a draft you’ve been working on in Word or Scrivener for ages.

8. Read through it once, not making any edits but instead making comments. Write these down or use your comments feature.

laptop 2 small

The Big Picture

9. Look at the big picture first: what did you see when you read through it about the pacing, the plot, what you learned about the characters? Was the ending satisfying? Did you know enough about the main characters?

10. You should also look at it in chunks: does the beginning draw the reader in and make the conflict clear? Does the middle move the plot along in a way where the conflict builds on each other? Is the ending satisfying and leave the readers wanting more of your writing, whether for this series or for another one?

11. One recommendation from the book Now Write, a collection of writing exercises edited by Sherry Ellis, is to look at the novel seven times, examining the manuscript for something different each time:

  • Character
  • Conflict
  • Setting
  • Voice and POV
  • Plot and Structure
  • Language
  • Symbol


12. When going through a scene, use different colored highlighters to underline how much you use different elements. For example, yellow for description, pink for dialogue, blue for emotion, orange for conflict. This way, you can see when a scene might need more or less of something. (Adapted from Margie Lawson’s writing classes.)


13. Look at your novel’s scenes, on post-it notes or 3×5 cards. See if you can cut any scenes, combine them, or rearrange them. (Adapted from What If? by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter)

14. Look at each scene and ask:

  • Does the scene belong in the book?
  • Is this scene a story in miniature?
  • What is the conflict of this scene?
  • Does the scene contain elements that no longer fit the story?
  • Is the scene well-written?
  • Does the scene fit logically in time and space?
  • Is your scene full of weak words?
  • Is the word-count right?

From Holly Lisle’s amazing One-Pass Manuscript Revision. Visit for in-depth explanations of the above questions.

15. Engage all five senses in a scene. Some authors try to engage at least two per page: what is the main character seeing, smelling, hearing, feeling, or tasting?

Dialogue & Character

16. Read your dialogue out loud with someone else.

17. Study dialogue and make sure you have a balance of body language, emotion, and tags with the dialogue.

18. Remember that the most interesting dialogue is when something isn’t said.

19. Summarize dialogue where you can.

20. Reveal the majority of your main characters’ personalities in the first half of the book. Don’t surprise the reader at the end of the book with a new talent that will save the day.

21. Be sure to give the reader at least one or two distinguishing physical characteristics about every major and secondary character you introduce. Authors know what their characters look like, but do the readers? Mention them again later, but not excessively.

Sentences & Words

22. Be sure your adjectives and adverbs enhance your nouns and verbs. Use strong verbs when you can instead of an adverb and a weak verb. (From What If? by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter)

23. Cut unnecessary “that”s. Many ‘thats’ in relative clauses you don’t need. Example: I knew that he would be there.

24. Cut unnecessary “started to” constructions unless your character is going to be interrupted. I began to walk down the road becomes I walked down the road.

25. Look for POV filtering and cut it unless totally necessary. She felt sweat break out on her forehead is stronger as Sweat broke out on her forehead. 

26. Cut unnecessary filler words: just, very, only, merely, said.

27. Change “There was” constructions into phrases with stronger verbs. There was a painting on the wall can become A painting hung on the wall.

28. Make sure your sentence constructions are varied. Underline how many sentences start “She [verbed]”. You can use adverb phrases at the beginning (“After taking a shower”), or make your subjects inanimate objects, as long as it fits with the verb (“His voice was tense”).

29. Eliminate unnecessary “was [verb]ing” phrases. He was standing in the room can easily become He stood in the room.

Getting Feedback

3o. Join a local writers group or a critique website where you can get feedback in chunks.

31. Search writers forums for beta readers. Be willing to do swaps, so you can help the person who’s helping you.

32. When looking for a beta reader to read your entire novel, start with the first chapter. You may find that the two of you don’t match, and you don’t want to commit to an entire novel without knowing for sure.

33. Get as many opinions as you can. People will have different opinions, and the key is finding which feedback is consistent.

34. When interpreting the feedback, ask yourself which is personal preference (your beta reader doesn’t like love triangles so she wants you to get rid of it) and which is objective advice (your beta reader sees that your main character leads on the boys in the love triangle and they don’t even care or notice). You won’t be able to please everyone’s reading preferences, but there are other issues you can fix.

35. Make a list of issues you can agree with and consider how to fix them. Not enough backstory about your villain? Consider where exactly you can put that backstory. Having a plan can help with actually doing it.

36. When searching for a professional editor, know the different kinds of editing and which kind(s) you need. Content/developmental edits focus on the story, characters, plot, and pacing. Copy/line edits focus on the writing, mechanics, and sentence structure. Proofreaders give the manuscript one last read for typos, misspellings, and wrong words.

37. When hiring a professional editor, get a free sample first. Same as the beta readers: you want to be sure your styles fit. Get samples from a variety of editors and see which style you like the most. Which gave you the most in-depth editing for the investment they’re asking?

38. Make sure the editor is open to follow-up questions. You don’t want to harass them for weeks after their job is finished, but you may need clarification. Some editors offer a second pass for free.

39. Don’t be overwhelmed by revisions after getting feedback. Make a list of the changes you need to make, another list of how to make them, then take the time to make them. You can do it!


40. See my tips during the beginning of the list about reading in different formats and views and check out Scott’s favorite proofreading tips.

Do you guys have any other tips? Let us know in the comments!

Emily Ann Ward is the author of Finding Fiona, Le Garde series, and The Protectors series. One of her first stories featured a young girl whose doll came to life. The rest is history. Aside from writing, she loves traveling and she’s the managing editor of the Rush line for Entranced Publishing. Currently, she lives in Oregon with her husband Chris and their cats. Visit her website at http://emilyannward.com

5 Ways to Edit (and when to use them)

by Autumn Birt

You finished your novel and you know the next step is to edit, right? I mean, everyone keeps saying to edit. But what does that mean? You read through it a couple of times, run spell check and any fancy apps you might have to check for comnas and such. Then hit publish, right?

No, NO, NO!!

This is a mistake that over half of all first time Indie authors make. And it has given us ALL a bad rap for poorly edited novels. I’d like to think the stereotype is changing… but I’m so wrapped up in writing and editing that I might be missing the complaints.

Editing is a skill, just like writing. But if you haven’t recently taken a writing class that focused on editing, you might not know where to start. I didn’t. It took research, listening to other author’s on how to edit, and then practicing A LOT to figure out some steps that work for me. I had to break the process down into a strategy with a purpose.

So, this post is for all those other first timers, as well as anyone else, struggling with what editing means beyond a few read throughs.

1. Overall flow, missed plot lines, and content edit.
Editing - when a writer gets their hands dirty!

Editing – when a writer gets their hands dirty!

This is the first read through after you finish that first draft. Some people like to put their work away and let it rest a bit. Not me. I’ve just finished writing the ending, it is fresh in my mind. I’m dying to know if what I just wrote is crap. I flip (scroll) back to page 1 and start reading. But that isn’t all I’m doing.

For this edit, I keep notes on Chapter number (I’ve missed numbers before, especially if things get moved around), POV of chapter (my novels usually have a few POVs), new names (so I can keep the spelling consistent), notes on the main plot lines and events in the chapters (just a few sentences), and finally, what needs work. This last part is where I write things like ‘polish,’ ‘needs tension,’ ‘good,’ and ‘REWRITE!!!’ In one case the note reads: “When did you write this??? It doesn’t even have a chapter number!!” Yeah, problems like THAT.

As I mentioned, I do this right after I finish writing. I know what plot lines made it to the end. Now I can double check they were there in the beginning. And find any ideas that I dropped before reaching the last page (without a resolution).

By the time I’d done with this stage, I have a solid book outline with lots of notes and know where things are weak or disappeared. I usually fix easy spelling mistakes and such, but that isn’t the point of this edit. If I find I used the word ‘picaro’ three times in a paragraph, I just highlight it and move on. This isn’t the editing round to deal with word choice. After all, I may be deleting the sentence/paragraph/chapter where there are problems. I’m just not sure yet.

2. Rewrite, Reorganize

This is the point when I take those notes and head back to the problems. Chapters might need to be moved to make the tension and pacing flow better. Chapters might need to be added! POV might need to be switched. Sections of lost plot lines need to be added: sometimes sentences, sometimes scenes.. And those chapters where I marked ‘rewrite,’ well they need to be dealt with. In the end, the writing that remains is what I’m planning on keeping. Cleaning up the whole novel to what, I hope, is the finished organization is the point of this round.

3. Spelling, grammar, and rough edges

Now that I know the sentences in the novel are the ones I’m hoping to keep, its time to clean them up. Run spell check, read it all again, add commas. Does every sentence end with some sort of punctuation (mostly periods). All the dialogue has quotation marks? No extra spaces in front of paragraph beginnings, right? No weird paragraph breaks in the middle of a sentence? I’m assuming you know what a formatted novel should look like. If not, there is a slew of help out there. Make it look pretty and make it technically sound.

4. Word choice

Word ChoiceNo, you’re not done. Now you should read through the whole thing again out of order and preferably backwards (most author’s say they are sick of their novel by the time they are done with edits. I’ve never reached that point, but I am usually VERY much ready to move on to a new project by the time editing is done. Keep this in mind as a standard. If you aren’t sick of it, keep going.).

Seriously. This is not a read through. This is not to check for dropped plot lines or incomplete action. You should have caught that all by now. This is an edit to look for those mistakes you’ve breezed over without even seeing it. But you have to fool your mind into SEEING them. I’ve heard people advocate changing the font size to something larger or reading aloud. Use whatever tactic you must, but you want to NOT be reading your novel and getting caught up in all that clever writing. You want to see what you actually wrote.

My tactic is to start at the end and read backwards paragraph by paragraph. It is amazing how many flaws are there that I’ve never noticed before. Misspellings, words reused too many times, words that could simply be more outstanding or gripping. They jump out at with this method. Fix them. And yes, I do occasionally find that someone makes an exit without my having written that they walked off screen. It is amazing what you, the author, think is there but that you never clued anyone in on.

5. Send your manuscript to a professional editor

Seriously. You think you got them all. Hah!

My only note here is that expense does not always equal quality, nor does cheapness necessarily equate with poor quality. Look around, shop around, get samples. If they won’t edit a few pages for you for free as a demo, don’t use them. If you don’t have much money, check the Goodreads forum. Search Twitter and Facebook using #editor or #editing. Don’t just google ‘book editors!’

Once you get your novel back, read through the editor’s suggestions. Make more corrections. After that… well, you are on your own. Beta readers are great. Maybe you should let it sit a bit, read again, and then make a few more corrections. Maybe you are ready to publish. Don’t forget final formatting based on the site where you publish!

I do highly recommend sitting back at this point and enjoying the realization that you just wrote a novel. And its awesome. 🙂


Do you want to help make Spirit of Life, book 3 in my epic fantasy series, happen? I’m running a Pubslush campaign and would love your support. What, you’ve never heard of Pubslush?! Follow the link and check it, and my campaign, out. I’d love to hear what you think!

– Autumn is the author of the epic fantasy series on elemental magic, the Rise of the Fifth Order. She just survived the editing process outlined above for the final book in the series, Spirit of Life. Expect to see it this spring! And now… she is VERY happily moving on to another WIP. 🙂

My favourite proofreading tips

By Scott Bury

Don’t you just hate it when you see a typo in work you’ve just published, posted on a website or sent to a client?

Every writer needs to learn how to proofread. As a professional editor for over 30 years, I have a few
favourite techniques for effective proofreading. Here are some, plus a few ideas I picked up from some other professionals.

1. Plan for proofreading. Set aside a number of hours in your schedule. Proofreading is a step as essential as researching, outlining or drafting. Never send your work to an audience without checking it over. Set aside enough time to allow you to proofread your work more than once.

2. Leave it alone. When you re-read your own work, you often don’t see what you actually wrote — you see what you intended to write. Put the document aside overnight, if you have the time. Leaving some time between writing and proofreading will help you spot the keystrokes you did not intend to make.

3. Post a list over your desk of words you often misspell, and the conventions for the document — whether you’re using Canadian, British or US spelling; acceptable short forms; units of measure; whether you use the Oxford comma or spaces around em dashes, and so on — that could change from one project to the next.

4. Proof once on-screen. Take advantage of the spelling checker function of whatever word processor you use. Look for the wiggly red lines and fix the errors they identify.

5. Don’t depend on the spelling checker. It can’t tell whether you meant form when you typed from, and it doesn’t always know when you typed its when you should have typed it’s.

6. Don’t depend on your on-screen proofreading. We don’t read words on screen in the same way that we do on paper, so you’ll find different kinds of errors — and miss different errors, too — depending on which medium you use. Print out your document and read it on paper.

7. Proof BIG. One of my favourite proofreading techniques is to print out the document at large size, twice as big as you would normally. When I was a magazine editor back in the days of waxed paper galleys, we would copy our 8 x 10 inch pages onto double-size ledger paper (11 x 17 inches). The mistakes would practically jump onto your face. If your printer can’t handle large-format paper, you can still print out your document with 18-point type. You’d be amazed at the difference.

8. Use a brightly coloured pen to mark the errors. If you use a graphite pencil, it’s harder to see the corrections you made when you’re entering them into the computer file.

9. Read it backwards. This will take your attention away from the meaning of the text, and reduce the tendency to fill in errors with your intentions.

10. Read it aloud. Hearing the wrong word reinforces reading it.

11. Read headlines and sub-headings in a separate pass. I find that the errors that I miss are often in display text, which seems counter-intuitive, as this is larger and more visible than body copy. After you’ve read and re-read the body, go back and pay close attention to only the display text.

12. Review different elements separately. Take another pass through the document to proofread image captions, tables, page headers and footers, call-out text, etc.

13. Take another pass to review numbers, facts and the spelling of names.

14. Read it over once more, just to make sure.

15. Get someone else to do it. Someone unfamiliar with the text will find more errors more quickly than the author will.

Thanks to Bards and Prophets blog http://bardsandprophets.blogspot.com

What’s your favourite proofreading technique? What’s your most common error?

Scott Bury is author of The Bones of the Earth and One Shade of Red. He’s based in Ottawa, Canada, but you can visit his GoD Author page or his own blog.

How many times do you edit?

Image courtesy Gawker.com, via Daily Galaxy

By Scott Bury

A colleague said to me last week, “Now I know what you go through.

“I thought I had proofread a page carefully. Then I saw a typo on it, after I had approved the ‘final’ version.”

He was right about going through an experience similar to one of mine. I once handed out a hundred or so copies of a page I had written, before I noticed that I had typed a “9” instead of an open parenthesis — right at the top of the sheet.

At the time, my business card read “Editor.”

Where I miss typos tends to be the places that should be the most obvious and easiest places to see typos: headlines, photo captions, call-outs — wherever the text is big and bold and easy to see.

I have long held that “you can’t proofread your own stuff.” That’s because when you read what you’ve written, you don’t read what’s on the page or on the screen; you’re reading what’s in your own mind.

In your mind, everything you write is perfect. It expresses your thoughts precisely, captures every nuance and convinces your audience not only to hang on every successive word, but to involuntarily shout “YES!” to your argument.

Put that bit of undying prose aside for a couple of days, come back to it — and if you’re lucky, what you see is just embarrassing. If you’re not lucky, it’s career-ending.

We need to re-read and re-write our work several times, and we need someone else to read it over again to give us a dispassionate second opinion.

I think I have figured out the minimum number of times we need to re-write and re-read our work to achieve a professional standard of writing.

The zero draft

The first step is to compare the zero draft (it’s not a first draft until you’re ready to show it to someone else) to the outline. Have you answered the question that you started with? Have you covered all the points you wanted to?Have you even stated your thesis clearly? Is there enough in the piece to support it?

Even in fiction, every chapter needs a central idea, a unifying thought. It has to be about something. Does your zero draft have a central idea? Has it answered the audience’s questions? Does it tie up one idea and lead logically to the next?

Three re-reads, plus one

Next, let your writing sit for a while — ideally overnight, but if you don’t have that much time, then at least a couple of hours. That gives the text a chance to drain from your brain, so that when you re-read it, you’re reading more of what’s actually on the page or screen than what’s in your best intentions.

On your first re-read, look for consistency, and ask whether the document achieves the goal you want to achieve. Does the writing make sense? If you started with a rhetorical question, have you answered it by the end? Are your statements and points in the right order? Does it all hold together, or have you missed critical elements?

The second re-read is closer, for finer details like verifying the spelling of names and checking that you got dates and times right. Make sure that the words you’ve chosen actually mean what you wanted to say. For example, did you write “comprised” when you meant “composed”?

Is your writing gender-neutral? Do the pronouns agree with the nouns and verbs in number? Are your verb tenses correct?

The third re-read is for the little details: spelling, punctuation, formatting. Go over it carefully. This is where you will see the difference between “You’re too tense” and “Your two tents.” Make sure that your periods and commas are inside the quotation marks (always, if you’re writing in English in North America). Did you use “it’s” correctly? In lists, are you using the serial comma consistently?

After your three re-reads, you have a first draft. Now, give your work to someone else to proofread. An independent person doesn’t have to look through the filter of your intentions to read your writing, and he or she will find mistakes in passages you were sure were perfect.

Next is the “plus one” I mentioned: after you’ve corrected all the mistakes that your independent party found, after you’ve checked that you’ve corrected them all, re-read your piece one more time. You’ll still find errors, or at least things you could improve. The longer the document is, the more you’ll find to fix.

If the document you’re working on is a book, fiction or non-fiction, that you intend to publish, then you’ve reached the stage where you are ready to submit it to a professional editor. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the friend you asked to proofread your first draft can fill that role. Publishing is a competitive and unforgiving world, and you need to use professionals to ensure your work achieves a professional standard.

Don’t despair

It can seem that with every reading, you find more typos, more bad grammar and more things you want to change. The process may seem endless, especially if you’re been working on your book for months or years.

Don’t give up! I don’t believe there will ever be a perfect book or magazine or report, but there are excellent ones. You can achieve excellence if you take the time.

Step by Step

I was discussing my various goals as far as my writing goes with my husband the other day and he said I should lay it all out in a blog post. I’m not one for writing rules (guidelines perhaps but non-technical “rules” are stifling to my creativity) and I’m not even that fond of writing tips, so you can just consider this my observations and how they gave me direction – not that it would necessarily apply to you.

Step 1 – Write things: You can talk about writing until you are blue in the face, you can research the craft in infinite detail, you can scribble down character bios and plot ideas ad nauseum, but if you don’t actually start writing, you’ll have nothing to show for any of it. Pantsing or plotting, long-hand or typing, it doesn’t matter. Eventually, you need to stop talking and thinking about it, and just do it. You have to practice to actually get anywhere with your writing and that requires moving past the point of contemplation into realization.

Step 2 – Finish things: A million half-finished stories don’t add up to anything complete. Barb pushed this point for me. I had finished a few short stories and a novel when I introduced her to my writing but had otherwise left things languishing, in part due to lack of confidence and in part due perfectionist inclinations. She didn’t care if things were perfect, she just want to see them done and demanded exactly that from me. Without her push, this one’s more of a challenge for me, but I’m not about to forget that this is a necessary step. I’ve found other self-inflicted ways to enforce this.

Step 3 – Polish things: It’s important to learn the ins and outs of the craft so you can polish after you write. In order to achieve Step 2, you have to recognize that the first draft should not and will not be perfect. Editing incessantly while getting the story out is not an effective way of writing, either. Figure out what works for you stylistically, as well as where your weaknesses lie (too many “that”s is a big one for me) so you can watch for likely problems when you’re ready to edit (I put first drafts aside for three months or more before coming back to them with a fresh perspective.) All of this is useful – once that first draft is actually finished and you can work at making it go from a good story to a great story. Some people like to suggest their first draft is crap. I prefer not see it that way – that bothers me. It’s an ugly way of viewing your work and any story worth writing is not bad at any stage. When you seed a garden, your plot is not crap…your seedlings are not junk… but you still need to water and weed it before anything worthwhile will grow out of it. The same goes with your story.

Step 4 – Submit things: For real success as a writer, you need to be read. If you don’t want that limited to close friends and family, you need to get it out there. Submit to agents, small presses, bigger publishers or to self-publishing venues – whatever you feel will help get you read. Expect rejection and be prepared to let it roll off your back (or in the case of self-publishing, be ready for public critique that might be biased towards the negative because you haven’t been vetted by the gatekeepers. Those of us at the Guild are familiar with that one.) Then resubmit. Stay constant even when some of the feedback might be harsh enough to sting.

Step 5 – Build a fan base: This is where I’m at now, having submitted and been published. To be honest with you, because I’m pretty lousy at self-promotion (although not for lack of trying) I’ll probably be stuck at this step for a while (if not for good.) The challenge is to find new and innovative ways to engage readers and that’s just not my area of expertise. I also don’t have the money to invest in someone else’s expertise, but I plan on learning all I can and once the third book in my Snowy Barren Trilogy is out, I’m going to push hard for this step. If I can reach more readers I’ll have more reason for writing. That sounds like good cause for this objective to me.

Step 6: Achieve bestseller status: I pretty sure this is the ultimate goal for all writers. Not that the journey ends here, but this gives you the opportunity to have the greatest impact with your writing. It gives you name recognition, and this means you will be receiving requests from publishers to participate in anthologies (even with just a reprint,) invitations to guest at conventions, and even the chance to represent your favourite charities. It’s what ultimately brings more fame and fortune – and we don’t all get there. But it’s on my list of goals, and I’m working my way towards it.

So there you have it, my six steps to writer success, and I’m sure it may vary from person to person. Everyone hopes to fast track to Step 6 but few ever do. In fact, only so many make it there at all. In the meantime, I’ll just continue to work at the first five, hoping that someday my hard work will get me to where I want to be. After all, I’m a heck of a lot closer to it than I was a few years ago.

Spring Cleaning of the Writerly Kind

I started my spring cleaning in April. I’m not talking the housecleaning and elimination of clutter you might expect. That doesn’t happen in a household of borderline hoarders with their imaginative heads in the clouds. As they say, an untidy home is the sign of a creative mind, and we have oodles of creativity here.

No, my spring cleaning was of the writerly variety. I started in April by taking everything I had yet to be published and ready for submission that was sitting on the shelf gathering dust and sent every single one of those stories out to an appropriate venue. I even finished two older stories that were kicking around incomplete and sent them out too. It was liberating in a strange way, like I had unburdened myself in the process. I’ve already had some success from the venture too, a couple of acceptances along with a handful of rejections (about a 40/60 success rate so far.)

Now that I’ve cleaned away the writing clutter, I’m working on the edits I’ve been putting off for a while, prepping things for submission at some point in the near future, readying query letters and just organizing what I have on the go. I want everything tidied up for the summer, when I’ll be working on the next Fervor novel followed by my NaNo project late fall. This isn’t the most productive year for me for an assortment of reasons. I’m hoping a round of solid clean-up will help change that.

To finish this up, I’ll give you a little taste at what I’ve been editing, a fantasy novel based on Sami mythology, called The Trading of Skin:

Ignoring any protests Dáidu and Jaská might have, Oaván turned to meet the oncoming spirit-hunters. Jaská had once described them as looking like men but having something essentially wrong with them. Oaván felt she was partially right. They did have the shape of men, but nothing beyond that suggested they were anything like the Sami people. Oaván could now detect the odour his mother had complained of. They smelled of anger, fear and death, of broken promises and sullied souls. Just being in their presence carried with it a strong sense of foreboding and a bone-piercing chill, things Oaván had not noticed before because of the distraction of other discomforts. He felt trapped by their stares, their eyes burning embers beneath creased brows as they leered at Lieđđi hungrily. Oaván refused to succumb to their intimidation, holding steady.

Show and Tell

There are numerous adages for writers to follow. They are bounced around classrooms, websites, and editing groups.

“Write what you know”

“Write every day”

“Use active voice”

“Have the courage to write badly”

“Edit mercilessly”

“Read – a lot”

Working on editing my current work-in-progress Rule of Fire, I’m doing my best to keep them in mind without being overwhelmed by the clutter (It is a lot to fit in my head!). Sometimes I think it is best to edit in layers: clean up the plot and look for holes or breaks in logic (yes, even fantasy has logic!), double check characters for consistency, work on sentence structure, polish every word, and finally send to editor/beta readers for suggestions before beginning the sequence again (this step can be done earlier, but you might not like what they say). I’m looking forward to the polish phase!

But right now I’m still on the big edits, taking out chunks of chapters and building new blocks. Every once in awhile I find myself working on some of the nuances. One of the biggest to clean up early is “Show, don’t tell.”

Let’s face it, too much description and too much explaining, is just boring. But when you are writing, explaining everything to get it right in your head as the author can be important. More than that, describing a scene is a neat trick to overcoming a dose of writer’s block. However, the reader doesn’t really need to suffer along with the writer.

Since this is about showing rather than telling, to demonstrate, though I’m embarrassed to share something I feel is so bad (and has happily been deleted!), below is a snippet that when I going through the first read of my manuscript got me rolling my eyes, snarling, and circling in heavy, black marker. It just wasn’t going to do!

There had been nothing beyond the stunted grass and scrappy pines fading to the north. Only once had they seen a group of horses in the distance. Khodan’s heart had leapt to heights he had not known existed, growing greater with warmth than the sun. He had expected to see children at any moment tending to the sleek ponies. His ears listened for the call of a greeting on the wind.

But there had only been a faint neigh and the sound of hooves over the sodden earth. No riders appeared, no nomadic village of lightweight willow huts with skin coverings. The horses, they could see when they finally walked stealthy close enough, were covered in mud with untrimmed hooves. There was no one to care for them.

Khodan had remembered the springs around which his people had camped. He’d found them. But there had been no sign of people nearby, no trampled grass or mud, no signs of grazing or manure. The moors rolled on endlessly in all directions, each as blank as the next. After the hope born of the horses, Khodan felt hollow in comparison. He was as empty as his homeland.wildhorses2

After a bit of work, it became:

It was over an hour later Laireag stopped abruptly.

“What . . . ,” Niri began, but he held up a hand, tilting his head.

“Don’t you hear?” Laireag asked. Then Khodan did.

Over the next hill, a horse neighed, another snorted. Khodan dropped his satchel and bedroll, running up the last of the ground to the hilltop. Over a mile away, a herd of horses jogged across the higher grassland. He had found his people.

It was like the sun had risen within him. He could not contain the joy as it leaked tears from his eyes. Any moment, he knew, riders would cover over the hill. They would be children, who tended the herds. The little group of four would be seen, greetings yelled in a language he only heard now in his sleep. Khodan held his breath and waited.

The breeze whispered through the stiff grass. The horses, a group of over twenty, slowed, bending their heads to eat. The sound of their hooves died away. The world was silent.

“No,” Khodan whispered without meaning to say the word.

“Perhaps,” Laireag began, but stopped.

Together, they walked cautiously toward the herd. The stallion watched them come, his ears flicking forward and back as they approached. Khodan guessed that Laireag calmed him somehow, but he couldn’t be sure. The stone he wore blocked all sense of such things. It didn’t matter though, he didn’t have to get very close to see what he feared.

Mud caked the horse’s hides. Untrimmed hooves were long, sinking into the damp earth. The animals were uncared for. Khodan closed his eyes, unable to look at them.

“A wild herd from animals that escaped?” Niri hazarded. Ty snorted. Khodan’s hand curled tight as his side, then the heat in him disappeared.

After the hope of the moment before, he felt empty. As empty as the moors. Khodan swallowed, taking back his satchel from Laireag, who had picked it up for him.

“The camp is still a few days away,” Khodan said. His voice finally spooked the wild animals. They tossed their heads, galloping away as if they had never seen people before.

Harry-and-Marlowe-escape-by-Carrie-Vaughn-575x442I hope you see an improvement! And I’m not done yet. I still have a lot of that polish to rub on! Oddly enough, to prep for that, I follow the last adage: Read – a lot. I keep a few of the best stories or sections of chapters I’ve run across on hand. I go through those as I edit to see why I find them so incredible (the list is top secret, sorry). Then I turn back to what I’m working on.

I wanted to share a recent find that truly swept me away: Harry and Marlowe Escape the Mechanical Siege of Paris by Carrie Vaughn. Even if you are not completely in love with the characters and story by the end, I hope you can see it is a fantastic bit of writing! Does Ms. Vaughn tell at all? Man, I have so much work to do . . . .

What are some of your favorite writing and editing proverbs?


Autumn is the author of the epic fantasy novel Born of Water, its Novel Companion, and most recently the compilation of adventure travel stories Danger Peligros! All are available at Amazon, Smashwords, and other retailers of enovels.