Tips To Hone Your Writing

Here are ten tips to help you hone your focus and provide some actionable steps to knock your story/novel/ mystery into shape.

1. Identify theme or message
What drove you to commit to writing this book? What is the purpose of your story? What is the truth) you are trying to share with the world? Even a mystery can hold truths.

Understanding the story’s core will provide a lens in which to view your characters and scenes during the developmental editing stage.

Maybe you want to explore an emotion such as rage, or the consequences of acting on unconscious beliefs. Whatever the theme, ensure your book as a whole answers the question you implicitly proposed in the beginning.

2. Focus on the beginning
The first line sets the tone for the rest of your book. Rework it. Test out alternatives. Make sure it hooks the reader into your unique world and shows them what to expect.

As an example, compare the draft version of 1984’s opening line:
‘It was a cold day in early April, and a million radios were striking thirteen.’
With the version that went to print:

‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’

Can you see how a small tweak makes such a dramatic impact?

In one short line, Orwell has managed to convey something fundamentally wrong with the world he is about to plunge the reader into, and by the end of 1984, we understand what that is.

One of my favorite sayings is: ‘the end is in the beginning and the beginning is in the end.’ Review your beginnings and ends to see how well they tie together.

3. Identify core conflict and reveal it through action
You had big plans for your book and there’s so much in your head to somehow make real on paper. Trying to cram everything you want to say into the story will slow it down and choke the plot.

Keep in mind your theme or core message as you examine each scene, highlighting the crucial plot elements and gearing your efforts to revealing it through the actions, reactions and thoughts of your characters. Cut away anything that is weighing the plot down or isn’t pushing your protagonist to grow and adapt.

4. Avoid head hopping
Pick a point of view and stick with it. New writers tend to forget who is narrating each scene, chopping and changing between characters. This is known as ‘head hopping’ and can be very distracting, and usually means that the writer hasn’t decided who the reader should care about most.

The key is consistency – if you want to be an ‘omniscient narrator’ abide by your own rules. It’s usually a better idea to stick to either first person or third person limited, which means writing from one character’s viewpoint per scene or chapter.

That’s not to say you can’t have multiple points-of-view throughout the book, however, just be clear and consistent.

Another common mistake is to describe something happening when the character in question couldn’t see it from their point of view. For example, John is gazing out of the window when Jane walks into the office, yet he knows she is blonde before he even looks at her. Glitches like this destroy credibility.

5. Seed the background to your characters’ fatal flaws
No one is perfect, not even fictional characters. Having said that, the flaws they have should make sense and should be seeded throughout the book.

That goes for the antagonists too. There’s nothing more disappointing than when a bad guy fails against the hero because of some sudden, previously unknown flaw. Every thought, action, and reaction must be informed by your characters’ personal history and beliefs.

6. Give your characters quirks
Humans are complicated creatures and although your characters aren’t actually real, the reader needs to empathize with them as if they were flesh and blood. To do this, make your characters distinct from each other, with their own quirks and foibles.

Think about:

• Mannerisms
• Style of dress
• Physical imperfections
• Props (e.g., Indiana Jones’s whip)
• Nervous tics
• Unconscious habits such as whistling or pen clicking

7. Vary descriptions using other senses
People tend to favor one sense over the other, and for most of us, that’s the visual processing system. Writers are no different! But neglecting smell, touch, taste, and sound can flatten scenes.

Consider how these different types of smell can have such a dramatic impact on your environment, comfort levels, and memories:

• Perfume
• Body odor
• Freshly cut grass
• Decay and death
• Floral smells
• Cleaning fluid
• Animal smells

Think about the emotions these scents and odors would trigger in your characters. Can you see how broadening your range of descriptive devices can increase the reality of your settings?

8. Cut clichés
Clichés are so last century. Every word, phrase, and sentence should have an impact, but clichés dull the effect because readers have become numb to these hackneyed expressions.

The only exception to this is within dialogue; clichés can reveal the mindset and cultural background of your characters. Don’t overdo it though.

9. Maddening multiple metaphors
Metaphors are wonderful and add richness to your writing, but it’s easy to mix them together and lose the precise meaning – or use more than one in the same paragraph.

If this happens often, you’re probably trying to describe too much. Pick the essential point of the scene or paragraph and focus on that and cut the rest.

10. Keep raising the stakes
Conflict is at the heart of storytelling. No one wants to read a story where literally everything is perfect and nothing ever happens. What would be the point?

Make sure you vary the stakes at key plot points to maintain the reader’s interest and keep your characters challenged enough to grow and develop.

However, starting out with extremely high stakes in order to hook a reader in can backfire because everything that happens afterward can feel like an anti-climax. Pace yourself and turn up the dial of conflict as your plot develops to reach a satisfying conclusion.

After implementing the steps outlined above, your book should have an intriguing opening, a fast-moving, compelling plot, believable characterization, and enriching descriptions.

That’s not to say that you will have picked up on every issue within your manuscript. Objectively is very difficult when you are emotionally invested in your own work. Which leads me to your bonus tip:
Stop editing. Let someone else do it!

There’s only so much you can do alone. For those on a tight budget, this might mean handing your book to a trusted beta reader. For others, sending it to a professional editor is your best bet.

At the very least, by taking the time to really analyze your work, you’ll learn more about your unique writing style and develop a greater awareness of your own quirks and foibles. That can only be a good thing.

How To Be Human

Being human isn’t as easy as it used to be; it now requires gadgetry. Speaking as one who can barely operate a can-opener without risk of dismemberment, I would like to formally protest the ever-escalating onslaught of technological frippery that threatens far more than life, limb or thumb. The very soul of humanity is at risk (inasmuch as catatonic tweeters qualify as humanity). Humankind – or its reasonable facsimile – is on a collision course with electronic lunacy.

In an effort to look busy, The Department of Innovations in Frustration has developed the automated phone system. If you’ve ever felt the life-force drain from your body as you navigate through a series of buttons and recordings, you’ll long for the bygone days of simpler, yet more efficient systems like yodeling or smoke signals. Dropped calls on your cell phone spark nostalgia for the superior reliability of two tin cans joined by a string.

Fast-food intercom systems likewise confound communication. Ordering a bucket of wizened chicken should be a simple matter, yet something always seems to get lost in translation (namely your food). When speaking through those vexing voodoo boxes at the drive-thru, it’s often unclear whether you’ve successfully ordered hot wings or booked passage to the underworld.

Another source of dread is the ticking time-bomb of the computer keyboard: the “Reply All” button. One distracted slip of the fingertip and that scathing critique of your boss’s toupee threatens to render you unemployable.
And then there’s the sinister satellite signal that always seems to be lost during the play of the century (insert favorite sport here), but never during the antacid commercials.

What’s the antidote to these soul-crushing techno-traps? A refresher course in how to be human. Consider making a few subtle changes in your dependence upon technology:

Instead of paying for costly video games that simulate dancing, try dancing. Rhythmic movement of the arms and legs is a primal urge felt by many humans (and orangutans) that requires no formal training (with the exception of suburban males). The only risk involved is catching a glimpse of oneself in a mirror which can lead to self-loathing and isolation.

Rather than e-mailing a co-worker, utilize the power of human speech. Nothing separates man from beast so much as the capacity for verbal communication. Although, five minutes of mind-numbing conversation with your chimp-like office-mate is likely to send you reaching for a blunt object, a major setback to your anger management program.

Abandon the isolation of the exercise treadmill in favor of a brisk walk in the great outdoors. Push from your mind the time you stumbled clumsily into oncoming traffic and escaped certain doom only by falling down a coverless manhole.

Reject the dehumanizing practice of severing a relationship via text message and meet in person, preferably in a social setting like a café. Though risk of flying cutlery and public humiliation loom large, isn’t it worth it to reconnect with humanity?

On second thought, perhaps there are advantages to dehumanizing technology.
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Eileen Mitchell is an award-winning essayist and playwright with recognition from The Robert Benchley Society Thurber House and the Will Rogers Writers Workshop.

Beyond the Five Senses

We think there are only five senses: touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing. But neuroscience says this is wrong. There may be as many as 22 to 33 senses according to the latest scientific research. That’s what the neuroscientists tell us and that gives us between 17 and 29 more reasons to celebrate as writers.

The more tools we have in our writer’s toolkits, the wider our range and the more chances we have of reaching wider audiences.

We intuitively know about many of these ‘new’ senses but most of us neglect to apply these valuable gems in our writing. They can be vital for creating unique characters and character worlds.

As master writer Stephen King says, we want our readers to “prickle with recognition” when they read our writing and what better way than to manipulate some of the many senses most of us instinctively recognize but aren’t taught to identify as universal, human senses.

One of the most fascinating under-talked about senses is the physiological sense of balance. This sense enables us to walk without falling.

This applies equally to animals and humans. This means a dog or a cat with no sense of balance could provide as much comic relief as a person who lacks a sense of balance could provide tragedy in your writing.

Even something as simple as a character with a cast on his arm or leg loses the full sense of balance and can be used by an adept writer as a unique handicap in a story.

Consider riding on a merry-go-round. A disturbance with your sense of balance can make you feel nauseous, dizzy, or disoriented. This could apply equally to a character who has overdone it in an amusement park as it can to someone with Alzheimer’s or vertigo.

Another fascinating sense is the ability to detect magnetic fields to pick up direction, location, or altitude.

Roughly 50 different animal species that we know of use the Earth’s magnetic fields to get around. These include birds, insects, and mammals, including mice and bats.

This sense would come in truly handy when you’re trying to get somewhere, especially if you’re lost in a dark forest, in cold outer space, or in a magical maze.

Detecting magnetic fields, altitudes, and locations can be used by writers who stick with realism, too. We do have a mineral called magnetite in our brains and bones. Perhaps scientists might figure out that humans can detect magnetic fields, and that scientist might be the main character in your next novel.

A neglected sense in much of our writing is our sense of time. The ability to perceive long vs. short periods of time passing may come from two different parts of our brain, but either way, it’s a great sense to manipulate in your writing.

When did you last read a book in which one of the characters couldn’t track time? Yet, it opens up so many possibilities for unforgettable, relatable characters we can all empathize with. All of us know at least one person who doesn’t seem to have any sense of time.

I’m not even talking about toddlers who lack the brain structure to even comprehend a sense of time. Yes, little kids really do live in the ‘now.’ Emotions often run high around people big or small who have no sense of time and that makes for great drama in a novel.

I used the sense of time as a writing exercise in one of my classes and one class participant based an entire short story around it.

Another sense you may not be able to define and that you should add to your writer’s toolkit, is the ability to distinguish your body from the rest of the world and move it (i.e we can scratch our feet without looking because we know where they are).

Before we pick anything up, we have a sense of how much effort will be required to successfully lift it. If you take a deep breath and prepare yourself to haul a heavy suitcase only to discover it’s empty, you are momentarily thrown off balance.

Though I encourage writers to apply under-used or never-used senses to liven up their writing, it doesn’t mean the classic five are in the clear. At least two of them need to be revamped: smell and taste.

We can smell a lot more than roses. Here’s some information about our olfactory sense that you can use to apply the sense of smell in new ways in your writing.

You can move way beyond sweet, spicy, and citrus perfume, a trillion scents beyond, in fact. Yes, humans can sniff over one trillion scents, including fear and disgust (through sweat).

There’s a reason why your mom was always telling you to wash your runners. Women do have a superior sense of smell. Consider that the next time your heroine walks into a laundromat or a gym.

Everything one writes about smell applies to everyone’s favorite sense: taste. Don’t be afraid to explore beyond the standard sweet, sour, salty and spicy (crunchy peanut butter anyone?).

Scientists are split on whether we can taste savory (cheese, meat), fat and calcium. Why not have a heroine who can’t bear the taste of fat or calcium engaged to be married to someone whose greatest love is to cook for her using many fat and calcium-filled ingredients?

Could expanding your use of characters’ senses change and improve your writing? Please leave your thoughts below.

Writing Tips: 4 Mistakes To Avoid When Creating Your Protagonist

We writers have a habit of falling for our carefully crafted protagonists. I mean, after spending 70,000 odd words with them, what can we expect? It’s only natural we fall in love and/or lose the ability to be objective. It’s one of many reasons why editors are so important to our mysteries/sci-fi/novels or short stories.

So when writing, you need to know how to avoid mistakes when creating a protagonist. There are four common mistakes you can easily avoid when creating your protagonists.

The most common are:
1. A LACK OF OBJECTIVITY
2. NO DEPTH
3. NO GROWTH
4. FAILURE TO CONNECT

One of the biggest results of a lack of objectivity is a bloated manuscript. Those scenes spilling aeons of family history, or the minute details of your hero’s pug-puppy stamp collection, really aren’t necessary.

A LACK OF OBJECTIVITY

One of the biggest results of a lack of objectivity is a bloated manuscript.

DEPTH
Depth is somewhat subjective. What one reader finds beautiful, another may hate. But there are some easy wins you can implement to help you create depth.

Don’t give your hero an overwhelmingly positive personality – heroes who are overly positive make your reader feel like they’re being accosted by a perky cheerleader at the crack of dawn when they haven’t had caffeine. It’s a bit much, even for the most tolerant reader. We all have off days; it makes us human and gives us depth. Your hero needs the occasional off day too.

Your hero must make mistakes. Likewise, we all make mistakes. It’s how we grow. A hero that never makes a mistake can come across as annoying, patronizing and make the reader feel inadequate. LET YOUR HERO MESS UP AND LEARN LESSONS.

Your hero’s personality needs to be a consequence of his history – we are a product of our history. When a character isn’t, it can create an uneasy feeling in the reader.

The reason Indiana Jones is scared of snakes in Raiders of the Lost Ark, is because he fell into a pit of snakes as a kid. The audience knows this, so the fear makes sense. CONNECT THE DOTS. PLANT THINGS IN YOUR HERO’S PAST THAT BECOME RELEVANT IN YOUR STORY.

Actively drive the plot forward – your hero takes the risks and faces the greatest danger. It’s Harry that kills Voldemort. IT’S YOUR PROTAGONIST WHO MUST DRIVE THE ACTION FORWARD AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, MAKE THE FINAL BLOW DEFEATING YOUR VILLAIN.

FAILURE TO CONNECT
A failure to connect can happen on two levels: disconnecting with the audience, or the hero disconnecting with the other characters and the story. The cause and cure are one and the same.

The whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts.Your protagonist is the manifestation of your story; the web that pulls all the elements together: flaw, theme, supporting characters, plot, obstacles, change arc etc. should all be linked.

The entire story is connected, which is why it connected with readers.

Essentially, what you need to remember is this:

While your villain is the source of page-gripping tension, when the words are read and the dust has settled on your back cover, it’s the hero that your readers remember.

The hero should connect every element of your story. He should grow and change and drive the plot forward all the while representing our ‘flawed’ human nature.

Let your hero make mistakes. That way, when your hero has the ‘ah-ha’ moment, your readers will too. Much as it makes me weep, eventually, villains are defeated. But heroes are like puppies. They’re forever, not just Christmas.

Are you prone to some of these mistakes when writing your protagonists? Please leave your thoughts below.

Why I’m Glad My Mother is Dead

When I was a baby, my mother kept me in a buggy all day long. She said I cried all day and night. But what she didn’t know was that I was allergic to the milk she was giving me. I am still intolerant of the all-dairy products, that is, unless they are low fat. But the point here is, she didn’t hold me, cradle me or rock me in her arms.

Then when I was around six, she had another baby. He was a normal baby, but I was jealous. So I moved his crib around the room. This made my mother mad. And when she got mad, she yelled.

When I was nine, she had yet another baby. This baby was born with a closed stomach. So off to the hospital they went. Meanwhile, my mother hired a cook. The cook made us a ham. My father had never tasted a ham before. Not that we were kosher. My mother just never made a ham. She made lamb chops, chicken, meatloaf and a variety of other foods, just not a ham.

My brother came home. No more closed stomach. But now we were six people living in four rooms. I was sort of the middle child. My sister is five years older than me. My brothers are six and nine years younger than me.

But here’s the thing: I was ignored. My sister wasn’t nor were my two brothers. My sister got her learner’s permit, as did my brothers. I was told I wasn’t allowed to drive their car so why did I need a learner’s permit. I didn’t learn to drive until after I got married.

I ignored my mother too. She was too infantile to deal with. Look at me, pay attention to me. This was the way she was.

In fact when I got in trouble at school, I told my sister, not my mother. My mother used to grill my sister on what I said. To this day, I don’t know what my sister said.

But finally we moved to six rooms. After that my father kept moving us to smaller apartments. My mother never complained about that. But I could often hear her complaining about one thing or another.

One day when I was teenager I came home at dawn. My mother was waiting for me at the top of the stairs. Then she began to call me all sorts of names. Of course I ignored her.

Now we get to the part when she was old. My brother moved to Boston, my sister moved to New York. One of my brothers stayed in Chicago, but he turned out to have schizophrenia.

Then my father died. Who do you think took care of my schizophrenic brother? Me, of course.

After my father died my mother came to my house. It was Thanksgiving. We were invited to our cousin’s house for Thanksgiving. But my mother wouldn’t go and she wanted us not to go either. But we went. When we came back, she started yelling at me.

I also had a job. But she wouldn’t let me go to the job. She wanted me to stay with her. I almost lost that job. So I drove her back to her apartment. We didn’t speak as I drove. I had so much to say to her. But I thought what was the use? She was a grown woman yet but she acted like she was a child unloved (which I’m sure was the truth), and nothing could change her.

Then the day came when she moved in with her sister to a place where they had their own apartment. The first day my mother was happy. After that something happened (not sure what) but she got unhappy, and when she was unhappy, she got mean.

Finally, she moved into a nursing home. My sister came out to help me. By the time she got to the nursing home, my sister was glad to see me. My mother had been scared to go into a nursing home. So she got mean. My sister had never experienced her that way. When my mother was scared, she made everyone around her unhappy.

My sister went back to New York. And I began to be my mother’s ‘pal.’ I had to visit her at least once a week or I’d get a nasty call from her.

One day I got a call from my brother’s nursing home. He’d died in his sleep. So I went to my mother’s nursing home and told her. She hung her head. At that moment, I felt sorry for her. But it didn’t last.

I won’t go into his funeral. But a month later, my mother went into the hospital. She was scared, so she got mean. Some hours later she died. I was sad, but glad. I was finally free of her!

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Sue Powers has had stories and flash fictions appear in numerous zines and publications. Some were published by Saturday Evening Post, New Millenniums Writings, Blue Earth Review, and Another Chicago Magazine. She is a recipient of a fellowship and grant from the Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Prose, and two of her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

What Do Writers Do?

I’ve often been asked what writers do besides writing. Some work. Some volunteer. Some learn a new skill. Most write. Many like me work and write. But most of all I read. Reading provides entertainment and instruction, that is, if you’re reading what you like to write. I’ve met writers read what they aren’t writing. Even that is instructional by way of grammar and sentence construction. If you don’t read, how can you write?

I’m now reading the historical novel, White Houses, not at all what I like to write. But it’s such a good book I can’t put it down.

Novelists read novels. Short story writers read short stories. Mystery writers read other mysteries. I’ve read so many short stories I’ve begun to read other things. So I picked up this book and began reading and like I said, it’s such a good book I can’t put it down. Will I write a historical novel? I have written a mystery, but doubt I would write a historical novel.

I should be reading short stories, as I am a short story writer. Once I finish this book, I will start reading short stories once again.

What are you reading? Are you a writer?
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Sue Powers has stories and flash fictions appear in numerous zines and publications. Some were published by Saturday Evening Post, New Millenniums Writings, Blue Earth Review, and Another Chicago Magazine. She is a recipient of a fellowship and grant from the Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Prose, and two of her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Why We Write

Why do I write? Because I can’t stop writing. It’s simply part of me.

Like many of us, creativity and self-expression are fundamental to who we are — we’ve been listening to and telling stories from way back. In my case, since I was in kindergarten.

We aren’t the only ones who sees a story as essential. Freud saw it as central to human experience and as the means of healing wounded psyches.

Jung saw it as a way of dipping into the collective unconscious, the stream of experience that underlies all of history and humanity.

So, if creativity is so fundamental to our being, what makes it so hard sometimes to write what we see in our minds?

Sometimes life gets in the way. And sometimes we get in our own way by not understanding that there are stages to the process, which, like any other natural stages, cannot be hurried or one put before the other.

I understand both ways of slowing down the process. I have also learned about the way writing works: It’s an organic process that resembles the stages of butterfly development.

The way I think about this now is a ‘model.’ In the cycle of change model, people go through predictable stages of change much like a butterfly does.

Our natural tendency when writing is to push when we should be resting and to resist the difficulty when the process calls for discipline.

I find when I’m writing I forget to eat I’m so focused on what I’m writing. I forget to get something to drink. I forget everything, mainly because writing requires concentration. Without focus or concentration, you’ll be distracted by your spouse, your kids, your job or just the fact that you haven’t made dinner or cleaned the bathroom.

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Sue Powers has an array of publishing credits, among them Saturday Evening Post, New Millennium Writings and Another Chicago Story. She’s the recipient of a fellowship & grant from the Illinois Arts Council in Prose and two of her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She works part-time for the Association of Legal Administrators.

Editing your Manuscript

There are three stages of manuscript editing that will lead you through a progressive journey to creating the best book to offer your readers.

Each editorial process addresses separate issues of the story.
• Content edit. The big story picture.
• Line edit. The language you use.
• Copy edit. Grammar, spelling and syntax.

Each phase of editing addresses different aspects of your manuscript and they work in sequence. There’s no point editing for commas and typos if your story needs rewriting and additional plot points.

Hiring an editor is an investment that costs money. You can reduce those costs by first working through the three editing steps yourself. Every change you make saves the editor time and saves you money. But, the biggest benefit is learning how to think critically about your story and the manuscript.

As you work through the three phases, you’ll have a better understanding of how each process works and why editorial input will enrich your manuscript.

How to start editing your manuscript:

Creating a critical mindset is the first step in the editing process. As an editor, you will examine every part of your story to make it seamless and engaging from the first sentence to the last. You need to establish a distance to apply your critical eye to your novel. You can build your critical distance with a few steps.

• Put your manuscript away for at least a week. Several weeks are even better. You’ll want to apply fresh eyes to your story.
• In the meantime, read for excellence in your genre. Pick three writers you consider masters of your genre and then choose what you consider each writer’s best work. While your novel is set away, read each of these three books while practicing your critical approach. You already know these stories, so practice being an editor for your favorite professional author. Make notes. What improvements would you make? What are the writer’s strengths?
• After rereading these works, without looking at your manuscript, make a list of the ways you would like to improve your story and your writing based on the positive discoveries you’ve made in your reading.
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1. Content editing
Plan on making changes. As wonderful as your story is, you can make it better. Your aim is to make your novel as professional as possible.

You’ll be going through your story at least three times. The first pass at editing focuses on the story elements. There’ll be time enough for details like punctuation, spelling and grammar after you make your changes.

The story editing, often called the content or development edit, looks at your story structure, character arcs, dialogue, and scene sequence. Keep asking yourself, does this work in the story?

Print out your manuscript formatted for lots of white space — wide margins, double-spaced. You will hold it in your hands, make marks, and read it as a book. You’ll be entering “track changes” in your word processing software later.

Structure questions:
In this first editorial read, you’ll be scrutinizing your story. If you find smaller issues like grammar or spelling mark them knowing they may disappear as you rewrite. Be looking for ways to make your story sharp and crisp.

Does the first page hook you? Does it plunge you into the story? Does it clearly reflect the genre? Do your protagonist’s words and actions introduce his or her character?

Notice pacing like chapters or scenes that rush the story or get bogged down with detail or long descriptions.

Does each scene move the story forward? If not, mark it for improvement.

Does the story have a clear three-act structure? (or another form of structure that leads the reader through a book to a satisfactory conclusion).

Is your protagonist confused and thwarted in the first part of Act 2? Does she take the reins after the midpoint? Once the story reaches the climax, does it take too long to wind down?
Is the story predictable? How could you improve the twists, turns and reversals to challenge your protagonist?
Do two characters have names that start with the same letter? If so, find a new name for one character.
If your story feels overpopulated, combine two characters with similar motivations to keep your reader from being confused.
Do your subplots integrate with the overall story? Are they spaced throughout the storyline?
Is the voice consistent throughout the story? Is one passage in a different tone?
Do you need to research a location or an object to give it more punch?
Does each character speak in a recognizable voice? Would your reader know who is speaking by the way the character speaks? Does the dialogue reflect subtext rather than always being on point?
Is the point of view consistent throughout? Is each scene told from only one point of view? If your story is told from multiple points of view, is it clear who is “speaking” in each scene?

Content editing can be a long process. But it’s well worth going through your story looking for every way you can tighten your manuscript to give your reader the best experience in your genre.

Many writers hire a developmental editor at the story outline stage before they have a completed manuscript. Starting with a sound story structure speeds up writing time.

[Before you go to the next stage of editing, rewrite your story making the changes you noted during your critical editorial reading. Take as long as necessary to make your changes. Remember you are doing the hard work of becoming a professional writer.]

2. Line Editing (Language)
Once you’ve made your story changes, it’s time to look at the language you use to convey your story. Now you are looking to refine the language in the text.

You are not looking so much for mistakes as the best way to structure your sentences and paragraphs to improve the readability.
You want the language to be fluid, clear and pleasurable for your reader.

Language questions:
• Are your words precise rather than general? Have you avoided clichés?
• Do you repeatedly use the same words or sentences?
• Are there run-on sentences? Sentence fragments?
• Is the same information repeated more than once?
• Does the tone shift?
• Is the phrasing natural?
• Is the language bland causing readers to skip a passage?
• Do you use strong verbs rather than describing an action with adverbs?

After you read through to line edit your manuscript, you can use software tools to help you with your language editing.

Grammarly examines text for several writing style elements including readability, grammar, clichés, diction and dialogue.

Other people/ beta readers:
Once you have performed your content and line editing, is a good time to get feedback from other people. This is an extra step in the editorial journey but worth the time.

It is easy to get lost in your own story. Feedback from other people who read in your genre can help you spot content and language gaps you may miss.

If you are a member of a writing group, you can present your new passages for feedback and comments from members of the group.

This is a good time to get beta readers involved in your story. These are non-professionals who read in your genre and will give you honest feedback about your story.

You want these readers to share anything that gives them pause while reading your story from a passage that isn’t clear to a typo.

[Note: Be careful about involving too many other voices. YOUR voice is the most important in your project, so beware of ‘writing by committee’ that might just drown your voice out.]

3. Proofreading
This final editing process takes a fine eye for detail. You’ll want to do this in small batches because it is easy to overlook details if you spend hours working through the manuscript. You’ll be looking for consistency as well as grammar, spelling, punctuation, and syntax.

The Chicago Manual of Style is one option for guidelines around proofreading and editing your manuscript.

What to look out for:
• Double check spelling, grammar, and sentence construction (syntax).
• Make sure your usage is consistent. Throughout your book hyphenation, numbers, capitalization, and fonts appear in the same manner.
• Check for ambiguous statements or incorrect facts. Remember how you checked your research during the line edit?
• Internal consistency. Is your blonde always blonde? Does your stutterer lose his stutter? Is your setting consistent when it shows up in various places in the story?
• Mark your printed copy and then go to your writing software to make changes. The search and replace function will help you spot every use of a word to make it consistent throughout your manuscript.
• It’s next to impossible to find every error. This is especially true because your mind plays tricks and you see what you think is right.
• A copy editor has never seen your work before. Every sentence, comma, and character name is new. They bring an objective, professional view of text that is new to them.

One last check. Read your book aloud.

However diligent you are throughout your editing process, hearing your story read aloud can help you find awkward sentences, repeated words, and typographical errors.

You have several options to help you listen to your story. Text to Speech Reader has a Chrome extension that will read your text. Natural Reader provides several voices so you can hear your text read by male and female voices with different tones and inflections.

Open your manuscript so you can make edits as you listen. Before you send it out, approach the publishing process as a professional. Every step in the editing process refines your story to appeal to your target readers. They are the readers who love your story and become your fans.

As excited as you are to get your story out there, taking the time to go through the editing process. It not only improves your story, it gives you a better understanding of what it takes to make yourself a professional.

Keep in mind that best-selling authors take these self-editing steps and then work with a professional editor to find the spots they missed. Publishing houses will always assign a professional editor to your book.

Using professional book editing services works in the same way as beta readers but with a trained professional focus to give your book the best readability and flow.

If you are serious about your writing career, hiring an editor for each of the three stages of the editing process is a satisfying investment in your author career.

Just as you create story, characters and worlds, the professional editor has an eye for your story, your language, and the tiny details. Think of it as merged energy between you and your editor to create a professional manuscript.

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Sue Powers has 21 publications in various publications or zines. She won a Fellowship and Grant from the Illinois Arts Council in Prose and two of her stories were nominated for a Pushcart Prize.