The Fiction Editing Files #3

Categories Editing tips

Welcome back! This blog continues the editing subject I started last week. This time, I’ll give you an example from my own novel (well, I would, wouldn’t I :-)). My offer still stands – I’ll give you a feedback on the first ten pages of your novel. They’re crucial. If you would like to take me up on the offer, subscribe to the blog and I will respond to your mail with an email address on where to send the PDF to. Or where you can send a Google doc link. Whatever works better for you. The Editing Files will continue, with a focus on descriptiveness. Stay tuned!

Tip # 4: Cut and drip-feed exposition. “Backstory” is essential, but we don’t need to have it all at once. Drip-feed what you need. When writing a series, develop a short and punchy text that sums up what goes before. You’d be surprised with how little backstory you can still fly. We need to understand who the character is, and why she is who she is. But we don’t need to know every little detail. Very often NOT giving all this information all at once creates suspense. Suspense is good. It keeps the reader reading.

Example: In my novel “In My Attic” I use that technique when the main character, Myrtle, refuses to visit the standing stones. She says she kept her eyes shut when her colleague drove into the village on the Swindon road, she leaves the village via the backroad, she tells her aunt just being in the same place with the stones feels like the kick of a mule. Why? We know her parents died in an accident. We don’t know what happened, when and why. Bit by bit, scene by scene, the reasons for her fears become clearer. But it is not until almost mid-point that we learn what really happened. And when we do, we are immediately confronted with another mystery.

Tip # 5: Also, make sure your descriptions are to the point. Readers need to visualise settings, need to feel them, smell them, hear them, touch them. Even taste bits if they can. But there comes the point when it becomes too much. Try to identify “telling details” that convey the essence of a setting. My protagonist is standing under the awning of a New Age shop, “orangey streamers snapping in the gale, wind chimes jangling.” That’s it. When she checks out the shop window, she focusses on an amethyst geode, a few knick-knacks – and a set of Tarot cards. That’s it. We don’t need much more. I’m not describing the teddy bear on the cash desk, or bother with incense (shop is closed anyway). A few well-chosen tidbits and the reader can convey their own image. Everything else can go.

Tip # 6: Telling versus showing: Once in a while you need to tell, to move the story on. Telling covers a lot of ground. By changing that to showing, i.e. presenting the plot in action, in dialogue and introspection you don’t cut, you expand. Still, wordcounts cannot be extended ad infinitum. So, you need to make sure you have cut enough of the fluff, to allow for the meaty stuff. When I edited “In My Attic”, I started off with roughly 87,7 K words. At least 30% of that was telling. I axed it and still ended up with 87,3 K words in the end.

It can be done – and you can do it.

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