I think one of the skills all writers need to have is the ability to edit their own work. This isn’t to replace professional editors, freelancers, or your critique partner. It’s to help them help you better. Because when you’re trying to help someone, little things really add up and get in the way. For example, and the most obvious one, grammar mistakes. An occasional mistake is understandable, but every single line? No. It is not time well spent for your CP or editor to have to stop every three minutes to fix things you should have already fixed yourself. The only time it’s okay is when it’s just your CP and it’s first draft material and you really need to know if something is working or not.
There are many benefits to being able to do this yourself, but I will only list one: in cases where you HAVE to depend on yourself because you can’t find anyone (or they’ve flaked on you), the thought of sharing your work paralyzes you to the point you can’t function, or you’re a starving artist and editors cost money, which you have none. People like this especially need to know how to aim a wide-scope critical eye on their work. Because they have no one else to do it for them. After all, you can’t wait around forever.
This excerpt is from novel #9 Dark was the Night. Chapter 2, but should have been Chapter 1. It was the last novel I wrote before I figured out why I sucked so bad and started working so hard to remedy my flaws. I edited this extensively, but I badly needed to rewrite it from scratch, I just didn’t know that at the time. I wanted to use an even more horrible example, but I’m too lazy to type something up and the purpose of this is to show you awesome folks how I rip my work apart. I can find help now if I really need it, but I couldn’t in the past. So, maybe it seems mean. But if anyone can beat me up, it’s me because at the end of the night, I think I’m awesome. ^_^
Raika hurried into Lincoln High under the pouring rain. She closed the umbrella and carefully shook out the excess water before hanging it in her locker. Here would be a good time to add some descriptive details to ground the reader in the scene. Right now, this girl could be in any high school in the world. There’s no sense of what time of day it is, what kind of school it is, or even if she’s alone in the hallway or not.
Two girls,It really isn’t necessary to say this, we can tell their genders by their names. her friends Connie Davis and Pauline Newgrass, ran up to her screaming.
“How was it?”
“How much fun did you have?”
“What was it like working with Bruce Waverly? Is he even cuter in person?”
“Did you hang out with him a lot?”
This is what I call “talking head” syndrome. It actually works for this part of the scene because it gives the sense that they are talking at the same time and bombarding her with questions, so we’ll leave this alone.
Raika held up her hands to silence them. “You guys, I just got back,
like this is an example of author intrusion. I happen to say “like” a lot in real life. Raika isn’t as ditzy as me, so it’s really not necessary for her to say “like” here. this morning.”
“Well?” Connie blinked at her expectantly. “You can’t keep us hanging. We’ve been waiting months!” Okay, so Raika has been gone.
“It was great,” Raika said
casually.Really don’t need this adverb here. It’s obvious from what’s she’s saying that she’s glossing over the what they really want her to talk about.“I had fun. The weather over there was really nice for this time of year.”
“Raika!” Pauline stomped her foot. “Nobody cares about the weather. What about Bruce?”
Raika rolled her eyes. “Yes, I hung out with Bruce. But he’s not at all cute. He is the biggest jerk and conceited and arrogant. And selfish. And his muscles are way too big. They’re
like like again all massive. It was kind of scary.”
Connie laughed and flipped her blond curls over her shoulder as they walked down the empty hallway to class. Now I mention the hallway is empty. Should have mentioned that before. “He sounds wonderful!” At this point, I’m noticing an overuse of exclamation points. Stop it.
Raika sat down and pulled out a notebook. “Polly, can I borrow your notes?” What notes? This is very generic. But the good thing about this sentence is that we learn Raika calls Pauline “Polly.” (Which is a horrible name, but that’s irrelevant.)
Pauline rummaged through her bag and pulled out a large binder. “I made copies for you.” Still very generic. And more talking head syndrome. Only this time, we need to fix it. We don’t know what class they’re in, what the classroom looks like, what subject Raika is getting notes on. WHY she’s getting notes in the first place. Yes, she’s been gone, but WHERE? Also, while I think it’s obvious from this that Polly is smarter than Connie (because I wrote it), that is not in any way, shape, or form clear. I know this because I haven’t given the reader ANYTHING to go on. We don’t know what she looks like and so far her “voice” is almost identical to Connie’s – they could be the same person. We can’t tell them apart. And this is a characterization issue and a big reason why sometimes getting feedback on a first draft is a good move to make.
“Thanks, you’re a princess.”
“Uh, Raika, there’s something we should tell you before you go running amuck around town at night,” Pauline said, readjusting her designer glasses.
Raika looked up from her notes. Okay, this is driving me crazy. WHAT NOTES and why does she need the?. They say she’s been working, but that tells us nothing. “Like what?”
Pauline shot Connie a hesitant glance.
“Police have been finding dead bodies in the alleys,” Connie said.
“What’s so strange about that? It’s happened before.” This is an interesting look into Raika’s personality. Dead bodies and she doesn’t care? Doesn’t even blink an eye.
“All kinds of bodies,” Pauline explained. “Cats, snakes.” She paused. “Bears.”
Raika’s eyes widened. “What?”
Pauline counted them off on her fingertips. “Dogs, monkeys, lions, and of course, people.”
Okay. This is roughly 300 words. From this we can tell a few things off the bat. There are overall issues with setting, characterization, description, and point of view. We can assume it’s from Raika’s POV because we start with her. But there’s no voice. The reader would like a sense of who this person is that they’ve just been introduced to. We can’t tell anything about Raika from this except she might care about her grades, she’s a girl, she could care less about dead bodies, and she’s been away and around some guy named Bruce. I’ve given you no reason to care about her.
We need to think big picture when we edit and during one of those edits, we need to look at our stories from the eyes of the reader. If you didn’t know the backstory and who your MC was, you have to ask yourself if what you’re writing is getting the point across. This isn’t. Let me fill you in. Raika is a naive 18 year old high school senior and aspiring Puerto-Rican American actress. Her parent’s are filthy stinking rich and she goes to a high school full of other over-privileged rich kids. She’s been away shooting a movie in Belgium alongside one of the biggest playboys (and douches) in Hollywood. Connie is not an airhead, but she’s a super shallow C student and has been friends with Raika since middle school. Pauline is an A student, has short brown hair and bangs. She’s irresponsible but informed and a classic case of nerd who’s cool by association. She’s been friends with Raika since third grade.
I’m not saying all these details need to be included in the first 300 words, but did you get ANY of that from the excerpt above? Anything at all? Other than big important douche bag, that is. I didn’t think so.
So what needs to be included in this opening – Raika’s been away shooting a movie with a big Hollywood name, she’s greasy rich, feels super safe, and has been friends with these girls for a long time.
I’m not even going to harp on the fact that if Raika’s been away, she doesn’t need Polly’s notes because she probably had a tutor since finishing high school is something she cares about. And like, why she going to school when she’s jet-lagged? A better way to start this scene is to have Raika meet them after school in their usual hangout and start over from there. Or better yet…take school completely out of the equation. Because this is the ONLY scene in the entire story that takes place at school. This could be like summer vacation before they all go their separate ways. And if you knew anything about the story, you’d know, like I do, that that scenario would be perfect for the story.
But these are classic mistakes I used to make ALL the time:
-Not paying enough attention to detail
-Not filling the reader in on what’s going on
-Not describing things enough/painting a picture/grounding the reader in the scene
-Floating head syndrome
-Every character says “like” like, all the time
The biggest issue, specific to the above example:
-There is no voice.
It comes in later, but it’s nonexistent now. You can’t have voice showing up later. It needs to show up now. People need to know who they’re reading about now. They need to care NOW. Or else, they’re not going to keep reading.
See anything I missed?