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by Lee Masterson and Tina Morgan
When editing your own work, it is often easy to miss or overlook minor problems. This is usually because you are so familiar with your own work that your mind automatically replaces the tiny typo with the correct word. There are also times where your mind will completely overlook glaring holes in your plot line, because you know what your story is supposed to look like.
Let's skip the simple editing problems, like typing errors, or grammatical errors, and take a look at some larger issues.
In order to edit your own work properly, you will need to go back through your story remembering to read it as a reader would. This means stopping to analyze your choice of words, or phrases, or dialogue and taking particular notice of all the loose-ends being drawn neatly together before the resolution.
Here are some things you should look for:
1. - Is there a clear, believable main plot?
2. - Is your plot clearly resolved, so that the reader understood the sequencing of events which led to this resolution?
3. - Are your characters seeing any real consequences to the plot-line you've thrown them into, or are they simply along for the ride?
4. - Do the subplots advance the story or are they simply window dressing to stall on ending the piece? Is your sub-plot more than just a thinly disguised, overly drawn-out love scene?
5. - Do all of your subplots reach their own individual conclusions? Are they all wrapped up neatly before the end of the story?
6. - Keep in mind that writing a short story is far different than a full novel. Squeezing six subplots into a short story will not only be difficult to resolve, but will also feel rushed, without providing a sense of realism.
1. - Does the plot move fast enough to grab the reader's attention?
2. - Did the plot move so fast you're still trying to catch your breath?
3. - Have you glossed over important details in your hurry to get to a more interesting scene?
4. - Does the pacing match the style and genre of the story? i.e.: A melodrama should not be moving at the same pace an action/adventure story.
5. - Are action (or crucial) scenes written in a direct fashion, propelling the reader along towards a climactic resolution? Are subtle scenes drawn out far enough for the reader to catch the nuances?
1. - Does the description of the setting transport you into the fictional world between the pages or are you still sitting in your chair bored to tears?
2. - Do the descriptions amble on for pages or are they interspersed throughout the story, via character's observations or through the effect each setting should have on characters?
3. - Do the characters, their actions and the time period agree or conflict? A American Civil War-time attitude won't work for a Chinese woman in the Ming dynasty. Nor will current slang work for an 1800's western.
4. - Does the order of events remain consistent throughout the story? Was the main character's hair dyed blue the night before only to have her wake up in the morning with her brown hair miraculously restored? Did the action hero cut his arm to the bone only to be using it the next day without any pain or loss of motion?
1. - Are the characters 'real'? Do they feel like stereotypes of all the books you've read? Are they complex enough to hold your interest or are you yawning by page two?
2. - Were the characters consistent? This is where research can be so critical. A character who has a disability cannot suddenly 'lose' that disability half way through the story or perform feats of strength/intelligence that are beyond the character's innate abilities. Small details make a large difference to the believability of a character. Having a character's eye/hair color change half way through the story can be very distracting.
3. - Does the protagonist undergo some sort of change in the story? If not, what is the purpose of the story? The change does not have to be a good one, nor does it have to be a major one. But it does have to show where the character came out of the conflict a better/changed/happier/sadder person.
4. - Is the character's background given in one large lump or small manageable pieces? Was there too much information? Background needs to be unfolded, almost like showing the reader different layers of your character with each event, deepening the understanding and empathy.
5. - Is your antagonist cardboard cut-out of all the cartoon villains you saw on the morning kids' shows? Is he a worthy adversary for your hero? Or have you allowed your hero to simply beat him because he's a "bad guy"?
1. - Does the dialogue match the time frame?
2. - Is the dialogue punctuated correctly?
3. - Did the dialogue include unnecessary profanity, too many sentence fragments, clichés, or too heavy a dialect?
4. - Have your characters rambled on, chit-chatting away into banal obscurity?
5. - Does each character have their own manner of speaking, like real people do?
6. - The dialogue should match the conflict that is happening between the characters, whether it's sexual, social, physical or political.
Point of View
1. - Did the short story stay in one character's point of view? Did each chapter of a longer work stay with one character or did it jump around, telling the reader what each individual character thought about during each scene?
2. - If you begin your story in first person (I walked through the valley.), or third person (he watched him walk through the valley) it should not meander through several different POV's.
3. - A shorter story should stay in the same POV (point of view) throughout, however, this isn't always possible. Provide a scene-break to identify a change in viewpoint character. These types of POV shifts should identify the character leading the scene quickly and easily.
4. - In a third person POV the story should stay with either omniscient point of view (all knowing) or limited point of view (the reader sees only what your protagonist sees, all clues to other character's motives are through their actions and dialogue).
A story should grab the reader's from the very first paragraph. Not all stories need to be spine-tinglers, which have you clutching the pages with a white-knuckled death grip. But they all should have some forward momentum, moving the reader through the story to find out what happens next.
Don't be afraid to cut whole sections out of your work. If there are any redundant scenes or descriptions, take them out, or perhaps rephrase them with stronger writing. Anything you cut can always be recycled, and put to good use in another story at a later date.
Once you have ruthlessly skimmed all the fat out of your story, re-read it again. You will usually find that your tale is more gripping, more exciting, and much easier to read than it was before you edited!
© Copyright 2001 Lee Masterson and Tina Morgan
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