Tag Archives: Story planning

Things I wish I knew about Editing Your Own Work when I started writing

Text: Things I wish I knew about Editing Your Own Work when I started writing.Editing is a dirty word for some, but for me, it’s the best part of writing.

It’s where ninety-five per cent of my effort goes (if not more), and it’s the part I can get lost in. A little too lost, sometimes.

I wish I’d known a few more things about editing my own work when I started writing, because I spent years trying to perfect sentences, paragraphs, scenes and chapters, yet I didn’t have a clue that some of my stories had bigger problems.

It was a classic forest and trees problem.

I had the editing part down, but not the story part. In short, I didn’t know how to edit for story.

Therefore, my advice to my younger self: Don’t start editing words until you’ve edited for structural issues.

That’s not all I needed to learn. Here’s some more fantastic advice I wish I’d known when I started writing:

“So, so many words can be deleted. I promise there will be another opportunity to use them later.” L. K. Evans

“No matter how many times you go through it, there will still be something an editor will pick up that will have you facepalming and wondering how you could ever be so stupid.” Ann Smyth

“I finally realised that the Rules of Writing are actually just guidelines, not hard and fast rules.” Roland Boykin

“Other people will always pick up things you won’t, so another perspective is crucial; preferably six or seven or ten if you can. If different people are saying the same things about your work then it needs some changes.” Mark Mercieca

“Add your text to a read back app on a computer or mobile device. Follow along on paper to mark the errors in spelling.” Glendon Perkins

“Keep notes to help remember if it was the ‘right hand or left hand that was burned’ later on in the book. Use this for characters and places and named objects.” Keith Keffer

“No matter how good of an editor you are for other people’s work, you will never give your own stuff the same diligence. I find myself overlooking simple things like typos much less giving my work the angry red pen that it really needs.” Colin Ritter

“Get Adobe Acrobat to read your stuff back to you (albeit in a robotic voice). You’ll notice missed/duplicate words, bad sentence rhythm, etc. more easily. If you read it aloud yourself, you may still miss things as you’ll read what you think is there. The computer won’t make that mistake.” Ann Smyth

“Use word count analysis to pick up spelling differences in names etc.” Mark Mercieca

“Know when to stop and pass it off to someone else. If you are on your fifth pass through and you find yourself second guessing what you wrote, hand it off.” Keith Keffer

“There are several things in life for which no amount of preparation will match the actual task, editing is one of these. Make it as much fun as possible because one edit is not enough.” Chantelle Griffin

“When you finally get around to writing a novel, you’ll discover its fun, until editing begins. The countless revisions (i.e. self-editing) is where it gets tough – and the author emerges. Outsourcing is recommended, especially proof-reading.” Karen Wyld

“Always read your work out loud. It means you read a little slower, and you can pick up on issues like repetition, syntax and rhythm that you may otherwise miss.” Angeline Trevena

“Write what you love (what you know will come), read it aloud (and repeatedly) because if you don’t want to, you KNOW something’s wrong; start strong (and then live up to that); and seek advice (then fight it).” Will Hahn

“When you get to the point when you’re changing a word, then changing it back, it’s time to stop.” Ann Smyth

“Edit in a different medium than you write, such as e-reader or paper.” Keith Keffer

“There is no such thing as great writing, only great rewriting.” John Skeats

“Text to speech is a great idea I wish I’d heard of earlier. The metallic computer voice is the ultimate impartial judge on your writing.” Mark Mercieca

“You have to wait before editing. Doing it the day after you’ve written a chapter will block your progress and never be good enough. It may end in an infinite loop of write and correct.” Era Metko

“Find great critique partners who pull no punches. It can be a little painful at first, but once the bandaid is pulled off it doesn’t hurt so much. And the scar makes your writing stronger.” Blanca Florido

“The best way to edit yourself is to hire an editor. Before I hire one, read it out loud, it’s a very different perspective on your work that you must have.” David Nelson

“When writing a story, you need to shut off you inner editor or you’ll never finish your work. Editing comes when the work is complete, not when you finish chapter one.” Chris Mentzer

“The best editing is done three years after you’ve lost your ms, stumbled on it again, said ‘this is really bad’ and started again. You just can’t edit your own work properly until it’s stone dead.” John Yeoman

“Take at least a few months off before making a final edit to make sure the material is no longer fresh in your mind.” Drew Briney

What’s your best piece of editorial advice?

Things I wish I knew about worldbuilding when I started writing

Things I wish I knew about worldbuilding when I started writing.Here we are for another collaborative blog post, this time on worldbuilding!

Worldbuilding’s a personal weakness of mine – I tend to write stories first and then go back and enrich the world. That, of course, changes the story and the characters and everything else, requiring further rewrites.

My own lesson is: “If you love a world you’ve created then reuse it; setting subsequent stories there will save you a lot of time.”

That is just one simple piece of advice I’d give to my younger self. There’s probably hundreds more I could impart. Here’s some more great tips from wiser and smarter people:

“Treat your real world locale like another character.” Penny Ruggaber

“You don’t need it to make sense. It just has to be internally consistent.” Hisui X

“Tools, philosophy, folklore, and spirituality. And don’t forget the little touches, like minor superstitions, and foods. Even if you don’t use them, they will inform the way you write and add richness.” Robyn McIntyre

“Make sure you create some kind of map to know where everything is. The last thing you want to do is send your characters north when the city is actually south.” Chris Mentzer

“1st check. Do YOU believe your world could exist, if you don’t, no one else will.” JW Arlock

“Don’t throw capitals at me every couple of pages.  You remember what they mean because you wrote the book.  I’m not likely to remember all those Circles of Pollyanna and Three Faces of Musili.Stanley Morris

“Always make sure your reader knows whether your story is centered in the northern or southern hemisphere. For instance, a reader in north America would get confused if your character heads south and the temperature got colder.” Roland Boykin

You don’t need to do as much thinking or research as you think you need to do before beginning.Mark Mercieca

“I’m a sucker for worlds in weird shapes. Flat worlds are awesome (I mean, who doesn’t like the ability to literally sail off the edge of the world?)” Joseph Stoll

“Just don’t forget that when worldbuilding, whether it’s in this world or another, every subculture has its own favoured art, music and symbols, as well as ideology. Hone those, as well as the history of the place.” Zena Shapter

“Don’t set the “World Map” in stone too early on–let it solidify around your story. I drew mine out and named every mountain range, forest and town years before the story had fully come together, and my uncle surprised me with an artist’s elegant, framed illustration of it. It’s been sitting in my closet for years, and would require a monster glob of white out to be updated.” Charles Murray

“Don’t forget that food, clothing, shelter, and all the other goodies come from resources, both local and imported. Knowing those plants, animals, minerals, water, etc., can go a long way to showing your characters living in the world instead of living on it.” Gerri Lynn Baxter

“World building is by far one of the most magical moments that take form before putting pen to paper; an ever-evolving beast that grows with every step. Without it the story would be a shadow, but add too much and the damage can be catastrophic. The intertwining link between the two plays out like a lover’s embrace, and when done well creates a world of delight.” Chantelle Griffin

“To bring the world alive, it’s not just the social and geopolitical aspects you need, its economics and how alien topographies might affect the story.” Mark Mercieca

“Creative boundaries set by your world can be great creative starting points.” Rik Lagarto

“A world needs to have it’s own myths, religion, heroes, villains… these kind of stories should come out naturally in the narrative and it can make your book stand firmly in a reader’s mind.” Vanessa MacLellan

Things I wish I knew about creating characters when I started writing

Text: Things I wish I knew about creating characters when I started writing.What is it you wish you knew about creating characters when you started writing?

If you could go back in time and give your younger self some advice on the topic, what would you say?

I’d tell myself to figure out what my characters want, what they need, and to understand the difference, but that’s just a tiny part of creating characters.

Here’s some more fantastic responses to that question.

“A good character is someone who wants something and a good story is about what’s stopping them from getting it.” Dave Versace

“Don’t let your characters take your story over.” Mark Mercieca

“Don’t be afraid of letting part of yourself show up in your characters.” Glendon Perkins

“Characters are people to. They see, feel, smell, taste, hear and have emotions.” Roland Boykin

“Develop a background story for your characters. Even if you never use any of the information in your book, it’s there to help flesh out your character and will help make your characters seem real in the way they act and react to situations.” Chris Mentzer

“Your characters know themselves much better than you. You can get to know them by speaking with them, but they’ll still know better than you. They’ll do what they want. What? The hands are yours, you type up the story? Illusions, my dear.” Era Metko

“No plot survives contact with the characters.” David Friedman

“Creating a character is like digging for treasure, opening the bejeweled chest buried six feet under and seeing it holds a doorway to a secret mine of wonders right next to a sewer.” Charles Murray

“When I try to impose my own ideas on the characters without listening to them? Disaster. The story stalls out and I have to re-write, every time.” Kyra Halland

“Every character needs a goal – whether a grand life goal or just a goal for two seconds in that scene. Characters who want something are more interesting, even without dialogue. They will be proactive rather than reactive.” Madison Dusome

“We don’t create the characters; we ask and they come to us. We then wrestle them into the story and compromise when necessary.” Catherine Green

“Don’t waste too much time filling out the character description, let them come to life on the page. The character will let you know what they like or dislike.” Chantelle Griffin

“There will be moments when your characters come to life, and feel more alive than ‘real life’ people. Choosing who to spend your time with will be difficult – balance is important.” Karen Wyld

Great advice, huh? What’s your best advice on creating characters?

If you liked this post, check out: Things I wish I knew about story development when I started writing and Things I wish I knew about writing when I started out.

A diagram showing most of the major elements of a novel.

Updated Novel Structure Diagram!

A diagram showing most of the major elements of a novel.Hey all, I’ve finally managed to update my Novel Structure Diagram!

It’s been a long time coming, mostly because I used a different program, which was pretty fiddly. It produced a much better diagram though.

Check it out and let me know your thoughts. It’s not all that different to the previous version, but does improve on it in quite a few ways.

As always, you’re welcome to print it out or link to it via your blog or social media sites, but please don’t post it elsewhere.

You’ll find the full sized image on the Novel Structure page.

The Story and the Plot

SwordsIf you’ve been following me in any of the circles I tend to move in, you might know I’m writing a novel about a blind swordswoman, and possibly that I’m struggling with it.

It’s set in the same world as my epic fantasy, but in an earlier time and in a different kingdom.

The plot is simple: it’s about her mastering a sword of power and defeating the ruling Warlord. Think Gladiator meets almost any Chinese martial arts movie in an historical setting, and you’ve probably got it.

Her story, however, is entirely different, and this is what I’m struggling with.

Any reluctant hero could fulfil the plot, but to give it emotional impact, the plot has to become just as personal as the things she cares about. They need to intersect.

What she cares about is her father, the local villagers, and the slave girl her father rescued a few years back.

She also has a bit of a chip on her shoulder. She’s blind, but determined not to let it hold her back.

She’s fought for years to become self-sufficient, to develop her skills with the blade, and to be able to look after herself without help. What she fears most is having that freedom taken away.

Her story, then, has to about protecting the people she cares about while fighting for freedom.

Therefore, to create a novel, the plot and everything she cares about need to come into conflict.

The question is, what’s the best way to do this? I’ve got a bunch of ideas on where I want it to go, but the beginning is really stumping me.

How do I set it up so all this comes through, without looking like I’m trying to set up anything?

If you’ve got any thoughts on matter, I’d be more than keen to hear them.

Otherwise, you’ll find some more interesting posts on story development in The Craft.

Need Vs Want

Give your characters something to pursue - something they desperately want. Do that, and you’ll create a far more interesting story.

Whatever they want, make sure it’s an external goal, something tangible and achieveable.

Put them through some hoops to get to it, but no matter how important it is - ensure they discover they don’t really need it before the end.

Getting what they want never gets them what they really need, and what they need is the important part.

Say your hero wants to rescue the princess (cliche, I know), but it happens (Luke Skywaker, anyone?). More than likely they’re going to do it (Luke does in fact rescue the princess).

However, is it what they need?

Do they really need prove something to themselves instead?

Maybe what they need is true love. Maybe its discovering or accepting something about themselves. Maybe its finally doing what they believe in.

Whatever they need, it will be internal.

Put simply:

  • Wants are an external goal, but getting them won’t fulfil your characters.
  • Needs are internal. When they fulfil their needs, the story is over.

It’s just another element to make your story more interesting and satisfying.

Read more about creating a writing/editing plan for your novel.

What’s the worst thing that could happen next?

Ever hit the wall and have no idea what to write next? Maybe you’ve just reached that point where nothing exciting is happening and you’re losing interest. And of course, if you’re losing interest, forget about your readers.

You might call it writers block. You might call it all kinds of blue-coloured words. You might simply take a break in the hope that inspiration strikes.

Worst scenario: you might give up.

Don’t! If you give up, you could be losing a fantastic story.

Instead, try this exercise:

“What’s the worst thing that could happen at this point in the story?”

Write it. Now. I’ll wait.

Very possibly, I’ve led you astray a little. The worst thing that could happen is all your characters catch a rare form of the flu and die, or an asteroid strikes the planet and they all die, or the sun explodes and they all die… you get the drift.

Okay then, lets peg it back a bit.

Your character tells a white lie – he’s had a fight with his wife, so she’s left him alone to deal with the business of running their ice-skating rink (or maybe something as simple as organising a dinner with friends). He’s too embarrassed to admit it, so he tells everyone she’s sick – caught a chill, and is resting up in bed.

What’s the worst thing that can happen? Someone’s got some medical qualifications and insists on helping.

Of course he could admit to the lie, but…

He tries to cover his lie and convinces someone to ‘play sick’ (maybe an employee, perhaps a neighbour), which not only deepens the lie, but draws someone else into it – and now you can see the snowball effect. “Oh no, it’s VERY contagious…”

And the worst thing that could happen at that point is…?

Okay, lets get back on track. We’re not actually building a story.

However, that sort of thing works particularly well with comedy, but also translates quite well into most genres.

Genre, you say.

Yes

Imagine you’re writing an action story – two tough cops go into a den of drug lords to rescue a kidnapping victim.

It’s time sensitive, and they make the call to go in early. What’s the worst thing that can happen – maybe one gets wounded and has to be dragged out – and the mission fails.

And of course, there are consequences.

Because they went in early and without backup, the kidnapping victim gets killed – and they get the blame. Suddenly they’re off the force, leaving them with the only option available – prove they did the right thing. Yet one of them is in hospital recovering…

You see where I’m going?

More than likely you’ll want to discard the first option (or four) that comes to you, but if you ever get stuck, if things slow down, or you simply can’t figure a way out of the mess you’ve created, ask yourself: “What’s the worst thing that can happen next?”