Category Archives: Craft & Skills

10 Steps After “The End”

Guest Post by Editor and Author Adria Laycraft

So you wrote a book … CONGRATS! Not as many people as you would think make it this far. Writing and completing a novel is a big accomplishment. Take a moment and relish that. You deserve it.

Now here are ten steps to take before seeking critiques from others:

1. Let it rest. The more space you can manage to put between yourself and the work, the more discerning you will be when you come back to it. But you MUST get some distance in order to see the work objectively.

2. You let it rest, right? No, overnight is not enough. Go write something else. Plant tulips. Walk the dog. Take up yoga. You’ve had your head in this story for way too long, you know it’s true, so really try and get clear of it … and only time can do that.

3. Now before we get into step three, I want to make sure you realize how serious I am about that rest time. If you’ve really done that, then it’s time to read through, make notes, and edit yourself. Draw up your plot points. Look for places to increase the tension. Be ruthless and delete what doesn’t further the plot, no matter how well written. You will likely do some line edits in this phase, but don’t let it consume you. There’s time enough for that later.

4. Write a back cover blurb. This tests your knowledge of theme.

5. Now write a synopsis. Two pages, single spaced, that sum up your story’s plotline, including the ending. This forces you to examine plot in big picture mode, and it will be useful later when you are sending in your submissions. Steps 4 and 5 are somewhat like reverse engineering–you want to take the finished product (your manuscript) and break it down to study the bare parts, the ingredients, and check their quality and coherency.

6. Search out your story promises. Does the opening reflect what’s important? Does the ending resolve the promises made? If your opening scene is romantic, but it turns into an action thriller, that’s not fulfilling the story promise. Does the opening hint at things that are never important later? Those story promises need to be filled, or the hints rewritten to point to important plot items. And first lines are important, so if there is a place, person, or thing featured in the first lines that isn’t an integral part of the story, it needs to be deleted.

7. Rewrite based on your findings, then scan through it again.

8. REST. Yes, again. For weeks. Months if you can stand it. Here again we benefit from seeing the story anew after we’ve ‘forgotten’ it a bit.

9. Now read again, fresh-eyed, and search for lines where you say the same thing twice and rewrite into one. Watch for where the word choices aren’t quite right and find better ones. Polish your prose so descriptions use subtext that enhance your theme, and subtle foreshadowing is in place to help make your ending surprising but inevitable. Check any spelling, punctuation, or grammar you are unsure of. You want your manuscript to appear as professional as possible.

10. You’re ready for beta readers! Remember to be clear on your theme and plot before receiving critique so you can see where suggestions work or don’t work for the story you are trying to tell. Be prepared for many more revisions! Even a book deal will mean more editing to come. Writing, and publishing, is very much a long game.


Editor, Author, and Wood Artisan, Adria Laycraft tries to use her fickle creative squirrel nature as a tool, bouncing between several projects at any given time while wondering why people stare. Her new website (coming soon!) is at www.adrialaycraft.com with information about editing services. Watch for her novel Jumpship Hope coming from Tyche Books.

How to Revise a Scene

A scene is a unit of writing which moves the story forward. There are two types of scenes: action and reaction scenes. Action scenes have an objective, an obstacle and an outcome. Reaction scenes have emotion, analysis and decision. If you need more information on scenes and scene structure, I recommend James Scott Bell’s book Revision and Self-Editing for Publication.

THE STEPS

A) THE SET UP
This section is a lot of work, but the benefits are worth it. Chances are, if you have an agent or an editor (publishing house or otherwise) you’ll be asked to submit a scene outline.

1) Identify and number the scenes. If I am writing in chapters, I‘ll number the scenes for Chapter 1 as 1a, 1b, 1c. If I’m not writing chapters but scenes, I number them as I go along.

2) On a spread sheet, write a one sentence (or two at most) descriptor about each scene.

3) Identify whether a scene focuses on the main plot (M) or subplot (S). This will help you see what kind of balance or structure your plot has.

4) Write an About statement which explains your story. It should be only one sentence long. For example: This story is about a boy who must understand forgiveness to defeat an evil wizard to save his school. Put this line at the top of your chart for easy reference. Sometimes this is called theme.

5) Turn the About statement into a question. This is the story question and it is what the climax must answer. For example: To save his school, can the boy learn to understand forgiveness in time to defeat the evil wizard?

6) Note if scenes are Action, Dialogue, Exposition, or Reflection/Reaction. There are many more types of scenes, but I like to keep it fairly simple and use only four. This will reveal how the story is balanced. For example, are action scenes followed by reflection/reaction scenes? Are there too many exposition scenes? Too much exposition scenes may mean that there is too much telling and not enough showing or clumped together, they may halt the pace.

7) Create columns for General Notes, Character Appearances, POV, Time of Day/Location or other things important to your story. Then look for balance and continuity and logic problems. For example, if you have one main POV character, but interject with a secondary character, it wouldn’t make sense to have the bulk of middle chapters form the secondary character’s POV. If you do, then you have to decide whose story this is and find the appropriate story telling balance.

B) DECIDE IF SCENES ARE NECESSARY BEFORE YOU REVISE
Neglecting this step and revising before you understand the problems in each scene can be a waste of time. Why put the effort into revising only to discover it should be deleted or that it needs to be rewritten because it’s not doing an adequate job of moving the story forward. Or that a bridge scene needs ot be written for effective transition which means that the scenes before and after need to be changed.

1) Determine if each scene reflects or addresses what the story is about (step 4). Each scene must also work toward answering the story question (step 5), or in other words, each scene must work toward the climax.

2) At this point in the process, I look to apply the rule of three, where things should happen or appear at least three times. If they don’t either they’re not needed and should be eliminated or must be added. For example, I have one scene with a secondary character who has a small but important contribution to a murder investigation. I am thinking that I’d like her to appear in other books in the series. To make her contribution and her character more memorable, I need to include her at least two more times in the novel. This might be done by adding her into existing scenes or writing new scenes.

3) Ask if the scenes are hitting all the beats, all the points of good story telling structure. This may entail looking at your story from the Three Act Structure or the Hero’s Journey, for example. If you are missing the Crossing the Threshold Scene, write it now.

C) REVISE THE SCENES
Your story structure is fairly sound now because you’ve got the list, you know what type of scenes you have and if they’re hitting story telling beats. Now, you need to make each scene as strong as possible.

Every bit of dialogue, exposition, action and reflection must move the story forward. If it doesn’t, that scene isn’t doing its job and it’s muddying your story.

To help me analyse the power of my scenes and exactly what they’re contributing, I use Jami Gold’s Scene Checklist and note what is working for each scene. Jami’s checklist is very comprehensive and I think it’s a good starting point but you still must address each point critically.

When using Jami’s system, I discovered that I had too many scenes in a row which did not increase the stakes. Sure, there was tension in those scenes, but in terms of the story goal, the stakes weren’t being addressed.

So the Scene Checklist helped identify problems, but how do you address them?

For every scene, ask:

1) Does it advance the plot?
2) Does it reveal character?
3) Has something changed for the character?
4) If it is an action scene, does it have a clear objective, obstacle and outcome?
5) If it is a reflection/reaction scene, does it have clear emotion, analysis and description?
6) Is the dialogue succinct and does it move the story/plot forward?
7) Is the exposition clear and succinct, create tension, and move the story/plot forward?
8) How can I address the problem identified in the check list?

Subplot scenes must, in one way or another, affect or contribute to the plot by complicating the protagonist’s goals. This could be by producing emotional or physical obstacles. Subplots are great for revealing character and increasing personal stakes. Do your subplot scenes contribute to story in these ways?

Using these questions as a guide, look for ways to strengthen each scene so that it is doing it’s job and has maximum impact.

When you’re happy that the scene is doing the work that you need it to, then it’s time to polish and make sure that every line and every word is doing it’s job, that voice is active not passive, that those pesky -ly words are minimized and you are showing and not telling, and dialogue is crisp and clean.

Revising scenes is a long hard process, there’s no doubt about that but the rewards of producing units of writing with maximum impact are certainly worth it for you and your readers!

Embracing the Pain – Receiving Editors’ Feedback

EditsReceiving edits back from an editor is like opening a Christmas present on the set of a horror film: exciting and terrifying at the same time.

Don’t get me wrong. I love editing. The process of revising and editing and polishing a story transforms it into its final, awesome form. It’s like taking a house that’s got external construction mostly complete, and internal walls roughed in and completing the construction, painting, and furnishing every room to make it a livable home.

Even so, that first scan of an editor’s comments can be painful.

As much as I know the draft I submitted is far from perfect, there’s a part of me that still clings to the hope that the editor will simply say, “Wow. I’ve never read anything quite that amazing. I can’t imagine how to make that better.”

Never going to happen. Instead, a good editor will shine a spotlight on every flaw, point to every weakness, and ask for clarification of every inconsistency. They’ll highlight every issue part of me was secretly hoping they’d never notice.

Feedback is something we authors desperately need and usually crave. When we’re new, we’re usually terrified by it, sometimes take it personally, treat is as an assault, or embrace the righteous anger of a parent protecting their precious child. All the wrong answers.

I still feel flashes of that sometimes when I’m first reviewing edits, and I’ve learned to laugh at myself. My pride is meaningless, my vanity useless. The story is what matters, and a good editor helps identify weaknesses and make suggestions to help that story fulfill its potential.

They do point out the things that do work, and that’s also extremely helpful, but the work and the growth comes from the constructive criticism.

So I always complete an initial quick scan of the feedback, then take a break, breathe deep, consider what I read, and sometimes take a walk as I mentally update my assessment of what I had thought I had written to the reality of what I had actually produced.

Only then can I get to work.

That’s when the fun begins. When I embrace the feedback, accept responsibility for the flaws, and embrace the work required to fix and improve the story, it’s always amazing how fast new insights and ideas flow. Sometimes that’s the point when I finally understand what story I’m really trying to tell. That’s when I can make it amazing.

Some authors are smarter than me, and perhaps their experience with editor feedback is more like a gentle, encouraging massage. For most of us, it’s a bruising beating that helps us grow stronger.

PerfectionWithout fail, when I keep an open mind and honestly review suggestions and critiques, not only do I see ways to better tell the story, but I gain insights into my own weaknesses as a writer. With every story, I grow. I discover blinders that I had on that prevented me from seeing weaknesses, I gain insights into higher forms of craft, and strengthen my skills.

So next time my manuscript will finally be perfect on the first try!

Or not. And I’ll fix it.

About the Author: Frank Morin

Author Frank MorinRune Warrior coverFrank Morin loves good stories in every form. When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities. For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers Contemporary Fantasy/Historical thrillers, check his website: www.frankmorin.org

Your Writing Poker Face

If you’ve ever played poker, and probably even if you haven’t, you’ve heard about the concept of tells. Every player, it’s said, has little physical cues they give that indicate whether their hand is a good one or a bad one. These cues are unconscious, a quick scratch of the nose or tiny movement of the face. Clearing a throat or a slight widening of the eyes. Savvy players learn to recognize these tells in their opponent, and even savvier ones can fake them to induce others to believe their hand is better or worse than it really is. Hence the concept of a poker face, a face and body language that give away nothing to the opponent.

Writers have tells as well it turns out. Every writer unconsciously favors certain words or metaphors, finds certain sentence or structures or syntax more appealing. This can extend even to broader topics, like plot or themes, than the writer likes to explore over and over again. Unlike in poker, these tells aren’t always a bad thing. In fact, they constitute part of the author’s voice, that often-mentioned attribute that makes every writer different from every other, even if they were all given the same topic to write about.

But improperly managed, your writerly tells can drag readers out of the careful illusion you’ve created. And some habits writers have are just generally bad ones, and should be culled from a manuscript as much as possible. That’s why it’s critical that every writer understand their own tics and tendencies. In an old post, I talked about writing science fiction, and how I tried to be cognizant of when I was inserting bad science, that I was willing to do so for the sake of strengthening the story, but that I wanted to be aware of doing so. It’s the same thing for your writerly tells. You want them to be in there intentionally, but you don’t want your story to be so thick with them that it reads like a parody of your writing and draws the reader out of the story.

This self-awareness process can be a painful one, particularly if you are self-conscious about your writing (so, if you’re a writer). And for that reason, you shouldn’t worry too much about it in your first draft, unless your tics are so broad they encompass your entire plot, but I’ll talk about that more below. But once it’s time for edits, cringe-inducing or not, figure out the words and turns of phrase you overuse. Perform a find function and grimace as it returns 73 instances. Then you can grimly soldier through them with your editing machete, hacking them down to only what is required. I usually leave this as one of the last steps, lest I cull most of my repetitions only to reintroduce them with later edits.

Repeating yourself at a plot or thematic level can be harder to avoid, but can also be easier to manage. Plenty of authors explore the same broad themes over and over again, and plenty of stories follow the same plot beats as other stories in their genre. Generally, you want to keep these repetitions as broad as possible. If you love exploring the themes of parents estranged from children, for instance, characters like that will probably keep cropping up in your work. But this is a broadly applicable, very human theme that lots of people will be able to relate to, so I wouldn’t worry too much about things like that. Now, if the specifics of each of your estranged parents stories start looking too similar, you’ll need to start finding ways to make them different. That’s when it goes from a writing style and voice to something I call self-plagiarism.

You’ll never get rid of all your tics, of course. And you wouldn’t want to. The very foundations of your stories are built from the tendencies of your thought and feelings, so tearing all of that away will simply leave you with no story to tell. But their can be and should be a balance. It’s really annoying to specifically look for and confront the crutches you use to tell stories, but it’s what you have to do in order to level up in your writing.

About the Author:

Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (all right, during) classes. He is the author of the Unwilling Souls series, as well as stories in the A Game of Horns, Dragon Writers, and Undercurrents anthologies. He writes the kind of stories he likes to read, fantasy and science fiction tales featuring vivid worlds, strong characters, and smart action all surrounding a core of mystery. He lives with his wife and their yellow lab.

You can reach him at his website (www.gregorydlittle.com), his twitter (@litgreg) or at his Author Page on Facebook.