A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments and often have guest bloggers. All our authors can be contacted separately, too, using their own social media links.

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Friday, February 1, 2013


Join the authors and friends of Not Your Usual Suspects for an occasional series of posts about their world of reading, writing and publishing.

Short and sweet, hopefully both informative and entertaining - join us at I-Spy to find out the how's and why's of what we do.

TODAY'S POST: I-Spy something beginning with ...

EDITING by Anne Marie Becker

a.k.a., Wielding a Machete Like a Pro

When the high of completing the first draft of a manuscript fades, you may emerge from your writer's cave, bleary-eyed, look around and find you’re in the jungle. And it’ll take a machete to work your way through the overgrowth of convoluted sentences, buried themes, and repetitive words that threaten to stifle your manuscript’s potential.

Love it or hate it, editing is the key to making a good story great. I’ve heard that 90% of writing is rewriting. Some of my manuscripts have been through more than a dozen drafts, and I've never produced a sparkling-perfect first draft, so I’d say that’s a pretty accurate estimate.

I don’t pretend to be an expert at editing, but after nine manuscripts, three of which are (or soon will be) published, I’ve learned a few things I’d like to share. (And thank you to my Carina Press editor Deborah Nemeth for the lessons she’s taught me.)

Manuscripts, Like Ogres, Have Layers

            In the movie Shrek, the ogre by the same name says “ogres are like onions.” They have layers. Manuscripts are similar. And thorough polishing requires paying attention to each layer.
(But first, a caveat - if you feel you can’t be objective in any of the areas I’ve listed below, and you’re thinking about self-publishing, consider hiring a professional editor. There is a distinct advantage to having someone other than yourself review your work. If you’re submitting to agents or editors but want that polished look, consider joining forces with a critique partner (or two). And then, go buy chocolate. Because when that revision letter hits your inbox, accepting criticism isn’t always easy, but sugar helps the medicine go down.)
When I’ve completed my first rough draft, I try to let my manuscript sit for a week or two before going back to it. Viewing it with fresh eyes lends me a new perspective.
1. Developmental (Story) Edits

            Just as it sounds, this stage of editing is the most global. We’re looking at the entire story (ahem, jungle) and trying to make sense of it, looking for themes, cohesiveness, dead ends, etc. For this layer, I recommend tying up your inner critic and leaving him/her in the corner (a gag helps). Read through and take notes, but DON’T make extensive changes to wording, grammar, etc., because some of those sentences you're trying so hard to make perfect might get chopped, and then you've wasted time. Perfect sentences/wording is not the focus of this go-round. (Of course, if you’re like me, you can’t resist adding a comma here or changing out a word there, but don’t let it pull you away from the task at hand – fixing the STORY.)
            As you’re reading, look specifically for the following and make notes of what to change (remember, you don’t have to fix things yet, until you get to the end of this re-read):

§ Opening
·     Does the opening line grab the reader’s attention?
·    Is conflict (or impending conflict) apparent within the first few paragraphs?

§ Characters
·     Are they likeable? Will the reader connect with them?
·    Do they have a goal? Is the growth arc apparent over the course of the story?

§ Scenes
·    Is the purpose/goal of each scene clear and important and is it written from the POV character's viewpoint?
·   Does it move the action forward?
·   Does each scene end on a hook?

§ Pacing
·    Where does the writing slog?
·    Are there things that make the reader’s attention wander or jerks him/her out of the scene?
·   What sections make you groan and stumble? Why? Are the characters being true to themselves? Is the scene’s goal clear?

§ Ending
·   Were there any loose ends?
·    Were all of the conflicts resolved in satisfying ways?

§  Check your facts
·    If there were references to actual items, historical events, people, etc., are they true to reality?

§  Theme
·    Is there a common thread that can be layered or woven throughout the story during the next layer of editing? If so, where is that evident? Where else can it be made evident?

2. Line Edits

            After you’ve read your story through again and made the necessary “global” developmental edits, it’s time to look at the manuscript more closely, line by line. Here’s a checklist of what I try to notice on this go-round:

§ Repetitive words
·     Get rid of common/overused words. In my case, I look particularly at the use of “said” and other such words and try to replace most of them with action tags. I also watch out for overused gestures, such as smiling, arching eyebrows, etc.

§  Tighten writing
·     Axe those darlings! (Even if you love something, if it's unnecessary or bogs down the pace, axe it. Then eat chocolate.)
·    Beware of the passive voice.
·   Use juicy words. (For instance, choosing "stalked," "skipped," or "stumbled" is much more descriptive than "walked." Where you can, choose the more descriptive way of saying something.)
·    Get rid of unnecessary phrases that denote the POV character (and deepen the viewpoint as a bonus!). (e.g., “She knew,” “she thought,” “she felt” are superfluous if you're in that character's deep third POV. Cut these phrases where you can.)

§  Tip: Read out loud
·      This allows you to hear the cadence of your words, gives a new perspective on the pacing, and catch overused words. With dialogue, it can help you identify sections that don't sound natural.

3. Copyedits

            In the final stage of editing, we’ve gone from global, to local, to microscopic.  Look specifically for anything that doesn’t appear visually correct – grammar, punctuation, capitalization, italicizing, etc. - as well as homonyms, misspellings, and word-by-word revisions. Try reading the document backwards to catch spelling errors.

Before submitting, I try to do a final read-through, because there are always (always!) things that are missed. And I feel better knowing I’ve tamed that jungle to the best of my ability by giving it that extra once-over. 

Here are a few resources I’ve found helpful in my editing process:

Strunk & White’s Elements of Style

Online Dictionary and Thesaurus

How about you? Do you enjoy the rewriting process? Do you have any editing tips or resources you’d care to share?



Anne Marie has always been fascinated by people—inside and out—which led to degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, and Counseling.  As a games hostess at Sea World, tutor, waitress, personal and family counselor, and high school counselor, she indulged her curiosity through sanctioned professions.  Now, as a stay-at-home mother of three, her passion for understanding the human race is satisfied by her roles as mother, wife, daughter, sister, and writer.  

She writes to reclaim her sanity. 

Connect with Anne Marie at her website, Facebook page, or on Twitter.


FUTURE POSTS will cover:
Kindlegraph / the art of research / writing male/male romance / rejection and writer's block / building suspense / writing love scenes / anti-piracy strategies / audio books / interviews with editors and agents / using Calibre.
We welcome everyone's constructive comments and suggestions!


Shelley Munro said...

I have to admit that writing the first draft is my favourite part of writing. I find the editing part more stressful. Great tips though :)

JB Lynn said...

I understand the importance of editing (just like I understand the importance of a healthy diet and regular exercise) but I don't enjoy it (ditto for diet and exercise, lol).

My tip: Read your work aloud. It's easier to hear clunkers that need fine-tuning.

Elise Warner said...

I tend to edit until an inner something says, "enough." Marvelous piece Ann Marie. (Curious--do any of your mysteries take place in Seaworld?)

Jean Harrington said...

Anne Marie, Deb N. is my editor too. She is fabulous at what she does, every suggestion right on point. Aren't we lucky to have her fine-tuning our work? (I should delete that question mark!) Good blog, indeed.

Rita said...

Zowie! This is brilliant. Thank you. Are you taking on any editing clients?

Anne Marie Becker said...

@ Shelley & @ JB Lynn - I'm with you! Editing is a necessary evil. LOL I'd rather brainstorm and write first drafts any day.

@ Elise - LOL - not yet, but I did have a few murderous thoughts while I worked there...I worked as a games hostess on the boardwalk. I get why caged animals pace all day. Pretty much felt like that.

Anne Marie Becker said...

@ Jean - we ARE SO lucky!! She is wonderful.

@ Rita - depends how much you're payin' ;) ... my dad, who is trained as an English teacher, taught me TONS when I was in high school. I've been building on it ever since. Unfortunately, it takes all my time just to finish my own darn edits these days. But, of course, the finished works are masterpieces. :)

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