Monday, March 16, 2009

A Little Review

The family is home for March break this week so I won't be online a whole lot. I've got to get up early for working before the munchkins and hubby rise and the day of togetherness begins. I'm looking forward to this week of extreme bonding.

I wanted to share a review of a cheat sheet I created years ago, as I've learned that I'm in great need of it once more. I never should have let it slip out of sight this past while it would appear. I received a professional edit back that reminded me of my need to revisit this wonderful listing created from the writer's craft book Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.

It's always good to be reminded of the basics of fiction writing. I hope you find it useful too.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers Cheat Sheet

Show & Tell:
Narrative summary – avoid long passages where nothing happens in real time. Can it be converted into a scene? Especially summary’s involving major plot twists.
Make sure you take a breath now and then with needed Narrative summary.
R.U.E. If you’ve mentioned emotions outside of dialogue, can they be shown instead of explained or told?

Characterization & Exposition:
In scenes or chapters that introduce character(s), do you spend time describing them when the traits will be transparent in later dialogue and action?
Cut life stories and back story to necessities at the time only. Place what you need, when you need it.
Does certain dialogue exist only to put exposition across? Don’t!

Point of View:
For intimacy use first person.
For distance use third person or omniscient.
Separate change in viewpoint by line spaces.
Check that your language is appropriate for your viewpoint character.
Are your descriptions conducive to how your viewpoint character would explain them and what they would notice, too?

Details of your descriptions should be in proportion to your viewpoint’s characteristics.
Are the characters and locations you develop integral to the story as a whole?
Do your tangents (little subplots or descriptions) advance the plot or characterization appropriately?
Are your favourite topics and hobbies depicted in appropriate proportion to the story? Overkill is easy to do here!

Dialogue Mechanics:
Check dialogue for explanations. Remove and then rewrite the dialogue if it’s worse without them.
-ly adverbs – Get rid of them!!
Speaker attributions – Almost always, if needed at all, should be: he/she/name said. Remember: always name before verb. To be used sparingly, if at all, some are: with an edge, cool, mutter, icy, ticked.
Should some speaker attributions be replaced with a beat?
Avoid starting a paragraph with a speaker attribution.
Have you referenced a character in more than one way in a given scene or chapter without good cause? Fix it, if so.
… ellipse for gaps, hang-on’s, & - dash for interruptions, blunt stops
Paragraph dialogue for needed white space and easy readability.
Don’t underestimate the use of silences. Ie. A look, a stare, a shudder, averted eyes, dropping …, knocking …

See how it sounds:
Read aloud – if tempted to change your wording as you speak you should probably modify the written word in alignment.
Could your dialogue read smoother with more contractions, more sentence fragments, and more run-on sentences?
Is your stiff dialogue disguised exposition?
Have you included the realistic factor here and there? Ie.: Interruptions, misunderstandings or lies?
Is your chosen dialect really necessary or can you rewrite in clearer fashion to get the same effect accomplishing an easier read for your audience?

Interior Monologue:
How much do you have? Italicized and other?
Is any of it dialogue description in disguise? R.U.E.
Are you using internal monologue to show what should be told?
Are thinker attributions used when it could be recasted in third person, set in italics, placed off in its own paragraph, or simply dropping the attribution?
Do your mechanics match your narrative distance?

Easy Beats:
How many do you have and how often do you interrupt your dialogue?
Are your beats adding to the story or characterization or are they just there to break up the dialogue?
Watch for repetitive, similar, boring beats.
Do the beats fit the rhythm of the dialogue?

Breaking up is Easy to Do:
Is there enough white space in your manuscript?
Are there too many long paragraphs that run over half a page?
If a scene is dragging, paragraph more frequently.
Is there a balance between long and short paragraphs?
Do your characters make little speeches together? Would they in real life?
Varied lengths of scenes and chapters are the goal.

Once is Usually Enough:
Are you repeating characterization, words, descriptions, emotions in varying ways? Pick your best depiction and scrap the rest in most cases. 1 + 1 = 1/2
Do you have more than one scene, chapter or character accomplishing the same thing?
Do you have a plot device or stylistic effect you over-use?
Are your villains believable? Do they have at least one redeeming character trait?

How many –ing and as phrases do you write? The only ones that count should be ones that provide a bit of action in a subordinate clause.
Too many short sentences? Try stringing some together.
Avoid –ly adverbs, exclamation points (!) and lots of italics.
Avoid figures of speech.

Voice is all encompassing – a mix of characterization, plot, and writing. It’s how you portray your story.
Let it develop over time! To begin to see it, though, you might want to highlight those words (phrases) that resonate on the page to you. The more you see them, acknowledge them, the more you may find and create that voice of yours.

With every scene ask yourself:
1. Does the scene contain dramatic (heat, conflict) or comedic value?
2. What does it accomplish? Enough to be worthwhile? Or should you introduce that information or activity into another fuller scene?
3. Does it move the story to another place?
4. Does it expose another side of one or more of the characters?

If the scene does none of the above, or too little, ask yourself: Do you really need it? If so, rethink it and rework it until it’s worthwhile.

Key things to Do:
Highlight all –ly, -ing, and as in your document. Make the necessary changes.
Check speaker attributions. Remember, almost always, said is the best way to go.
Don’t repeat words, phrases, descriptions, style, actions, scenes, etc. without direct intent.

Surrendering to Him,



sherrinda said...

Wow...nice list and very thought provoking, but I have a couple of questions. What is easy beat? And what is R.U.E.?

As a newbie, I find this kind of list extremely intimidating! I am just trying to get my story down first and then go back with the hard work of making it right. I have read so many books and blogs on writing, but find that I get discouraged in thinking of all the rules that it paralyzes my writing. Did you feel that way when you started to write?

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Good Morning, Sherrinda!

Easy beat? Instead of saying "Sherrinda said." an easy beat would be something like: "Sherrinda shifted her weight, contemplating where she wanted this to go." It notifies the reader of who the speaker is in an informative way between a string of dialogue usually.

R.U.E.? Resist the Urge to Explain. Often writers over explain when something is quite obvious. When we R.U.E. we lessen the chance of insulting our readers.

And, yes, Sherrinda, you're totally on the mark with all these rules stifling creative writing. It's best to file this list and once your story is down on paper go through it with your story in the editing phase. Although, having some of it handy in your head as you write can help lessen the amount of fixing needed in the end. It's that whole balancing thing. Apply what comes easy as you write, and save the rest for the editing phase.

I sure hope this doesn't ruin your writing day. Just ignore it for now, keep writing and then if you like, make use of it when the time is right.

sherrinda said...

Aahhh. Got it. Thanks for the explanation! You explained it very well.

It shouldn't hurt my writing day. I am just hoping I am not too tired at the end of the day to write. We are cleaning out the attic as a family to get ready for a garage sale. A nightmarish affair, to say the least. And so much for for spring break, don't you think?

Jody Hedlund said...

Hi Eileen,

I had two blog posts with tips from this very same book!! I love it! It has been one of my favorite books for practicality. It's definitely one to constantly keep reviewing.

Have a great week with your family!

jess said...

I bought that book because of you, Eileen, and I've never regretted it. Never, shall we say, RUE'd the day.
Thanks for a great post.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Jess, I'm so glad this book helps. It's wonderful for the basics that we all need to be reminded of every so often.

I'm working through a new one that I hope to create another cheat sheet from to share. Might take me another month or two, but I will post it once I get my act together. It's called Don't Sabotage your Manuscript.

Jessica said...

Oh my gosh! That is more like a cheat book! LOL Very intimidated here. Sigh. So much to learn, so little patience.
Thanks for posting this Eileen. I think I'll copy and paste it for when I'm more brave.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Self Editing for Fiction Writers is a must have for all writers in my opinion. If you don't already have the book, I'd highly recommend adding it to your wish list. The examples and indepth descriptions are priceless to a writer.