Who knew there was so much to writing?
Well not me for one. Surely you have a creative idea or just something interesting to write about, then just put one word down on the page after the next, make sure your punctuation and grammar stacks up okay and hey presto! Done.
Of course this is not so.
Since finishing the first draft of Prophecy of Innocence back in January, I have discovered numerous focuses for editing and I keep finding more. Every time I find a new one, I have to go back and re edit.
So for any other novice authors out there, here are 8 really useful tips for writing which I’d wish I’d known before actually writing, complete with links to the original blogs I found help and advice. I hope you find them as useful as I have.
Number 1: That or which?
I never even knew I had a problem with this until it was pointed out to me by a relative who read my story. Apparently I used “that” excessively (over 700 of the blighters in a 70,000 word document)! It was only after having it pointed out to me I could see plainly how dreadful my work sounded (see point 2). Co-incidentally, shortly afterwards I found the following blog on this very topic. I am now far more enlightened and it was the first error to be subject to my editing axe. http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/which-versus-that.aspx
Number 2: Proofreading aloud.
I have already blogged on this very subject (see Reading Aloud) and perhaps if I had followed the advice to read my manuscript aloud in the first place, I maybe would have spotted the terrible overuse of ‘that’ much sooner. But this tip was part of a wider set of tips on proofreading aimed actually at blogging. Nevertheless the principle remains the same for writing a novel and it works! http://www.problogger.net/archives/2013/05/22/7-steps-to-proofreading-like-a-pro
Number 3: Verbs.
Ah. To be or not to be? Well I avoid it like the plague where possible because, although I do know the difference between been and being (theoretically) I still never seem to choose the correct one 100% of the time. Or even 75% of the time if I’m really honest. Luckily for me, the entire rest of the world can do this and so anyone who has read my work for me has spotted any errors in this department!
However the use of strong verbs is always one of the first edits to be done as when I write I just write whatever verb comes into my head first and then I use a thesaurus to search for stronger verbs if they are needed or if I have repeated the same one too much.
The main issue I found with verbs was some advice I found on using the past tense. The blog basically stated that wherever you had used a verb ending in ing replace it with the past tense. Strangely I had peppered many sentences with present tense verbs, thinking I was enhancing the variety of my sentence structures (here comes the teacher in me!) but this very straightforward advice has really improved my story.
Verbs for dialogue are another interesting conundrum. Overuse said and is it boring? Overuse it and are you patronising or distracting your reader? I find writing a children’s book tricky as I feel it is almost my duty to introduce them to an array of interesting verbs. But perhaps this is the teacher in me surfacing again rather than the author. The following blog touches on this area.
and brings me to the next editing issue:
Number 4: Dialogue.
As the above link demonstrates, writing dialogue is in itself a huge challenge. Personally I prefer it to description which I consider to be my weakness, nevertheless I have edited the dialogue endlessly to ensure it propels the story forward, gives insight to motives and actions of characters and makes sure I have not overused the character’s names either in speech or in dialogue tags. I have had to edit how some characters show their accents or give them a quirk which makes them different in some way. The other elephant in the room when it has come to dialogue is the overuse of adverbs after or preceding speech.
Number 5: Adverbs/Show not Tell/Head hopping and Point of view.
Once again the teacher in me felt compelled to pepper my story with adverbs. Surely (yes, I have just used an adverb) they make a sentence come to life and enhance the verb we have used? They build a picture in our head don’t they? They show us how a character feels? No they don’t. Well at least not sufficiently enough to allow our writing to come alive.
First of all they encourage telling rather than showing and I discovered eliminating most of the adverbs I had used really forced me into thinking about showing the actions and emotions of characters in more detail rather than telling the reader about them. Using adverbs also encourages head hopping form one character’s point of view to another which is confusing. I’m not sure I want to be responsible for confusing children when they read my story! Furthermore, I read somewhere else that Stephen King avoids the use of adverbs where possible. Apparently they are the sign of a ‘lazy’ writer. I think they serve their purpose well enough in first draft, but they definitely need to be used wisely and sparingly (no irony intended there).
Number 6. Semi colons
Does anyone really know when to use a semi colon? I had used a lot of them. Largely because whenever a green squiggly grammar line appeared on my screen, popping a semi colon in seemed to eradicate it! So it seems even Word doesn’t know when to use a semi colon. Then I found the following blog. I’m not sure I still fully understand the intricacies of their use but I will be using this to help me edit those pesky punctuation marks. (As well as ignoring Word’s squiggly green lines!)
Number 7: Back stories.
All characters have back stories. But do their back stories need to be told explicitly? After having read the blog on the following link, uh oh – here was another mistake I’d made – thankfully, I had not delved in too deep and so the subsequent edit was not as painful to do as others have been. I personally like back stories told in novels. I like to go back in the story and find out why a character has acted in a certain way but I realise this is something which is very tricky to achieve without stopping the flow of the main plot.
Number 8: Self editing.
I thought to myself: “I can’t be cut out for writing a book if I am having to learn all these things and go back and change them and change them again and change them again. Consequently, there have been so many times I have been ready to give up. Then I read the following blog and immediately felt more positive about the whole process. Even established authors with editors often edit their own work numerous times first. It was this blog which has helped me to focus on a timeline for editing and proof reading before I begin to delve into the murky waters of self publishing.