Hey everyone! I’m back! It’s June, and that’s the month when most people are going to summer camp or Disney World. Meanwhile, I’m editing my book again. This time it’s a profitable edit, I promise. My editor has recommended some structural changes which I am now implementing. It’s so much fun to work on my book again, this time without the constraints of my old plot structure. I’ll talk more about that shortly. First, strawberry milk!
Isn’t it pretty? I saw a random Youtube video and decided, hey, you know what? Why not try to make that myself! I bribed my family to buy some strawberries, and voila! Strawberry milk. If you’re interested in that kind of thing, you can find the video/recipe here.
Back to writing talk.
I’m pretty far along on my self-publishing journey, and I’ve had to learn a lot. I won’t go into all the technicalities (I’m by no means an expert on any of it) but I do want to talk about some of the tips and rules of thumb I have learned throughout this process.
1. Edit your manuscript for the small things.
What exactly do I mean by this? Let me explain. You can make several minor changes to your novel to drastically improve it. I learned most of these from Story Embers articles and I’ll give a brief overview of each!
Give details a double meaning and balance dialogue tags.
This article demonstrated that details must have a point, preferably a double meaning. For me, saying that a character’s hair is red isn’t enough; instead, I said that it’s flame-colored like the wildfire in the forest. It connects the character to the scene and also alludes to the character’s personality.
(The final tip in this article, to “maximize thinking, minimize doing,” was not as helpful as the others for me. If I’ve learned anything from my editor, it’s that internal thoughts display a character’s reaction to a scene. She can react all she wants, but especially if the story is in first person POV, it’s important to have a balance between thoughts and actions. If the character displays no reaction to a scene, it’s hard to understand what she’s thinking. That makes for a bland main character.)
Make a few key stylistic edits.
Another article that helped me immensely was “5 Quick Stylistic Edits to Make Before Sharing Your Work.” Some of the tips were to vary sentence length, change up how sentences begin, make sure character actions aren’t repetitious, and describe scenes so your characters don’t just move around in a void.
Further stylistic edits, these more detailed.
This article was most beneficial to me as I self-edited my manuscript. If you only have time to read one of these three articles, this is the one I would recommend. Written by an exceptional editor in the Story Embers community, Mariposa Aristeo, I learned so much just from this one article. She recommends eliminating “character filters” such as the words “felt, saw, heard, and noticed.” Why? Because much more vivid words could be used to connect readers to the characters.
Instead of blatantly saying a character smelled smoke in the air, I could say something like, “The stench of smoke stung her nose.” See how that’s more vibrant than just “She smelled smoke”? Mariposa also suggests revising sentences that contain “it was” or “there was.”
Go check out the article! She does a way better job than I do at explaining how and why to make these changes.
2. It’s next to impossible to begin a book in medias res with a large cast of characters.
If you know a book that begins in the middle of the action and flawlessly narrates 5+ characters without them melding together or feeling bland, do tell me. Perhaps this is just a first person POV phenomenon, though. It might work in third person, but I’m not sure.
Regardless, be careful that you’re not introducing too many characters too quickly. Add them gradually. One or two at first, then more as the story goes on. It’s much more palatable for readers.
(Note: not even flashbacks or info dumps will help the characters out. It might give them more personality, but it doesn’t get rid of the problem of readers having to keep track of too many characters. In addition, trying to give so many characters distinct personalities will make a scene feel crowded and detract from the MC’s thoughts, leaving your story a bit lackluster.)
3. No head-hopping.
What does that mean, exactly? Though I’ve heard the term a few times, I have never seen examples of it and thus didn’t know what to look for in my writing. “Head-hopping” means stepping outside of what the point of view character is seeing/thinking/experiencing.
You’re hopping from the POV character’s head into another person’s head for a moment, and that ruins the continuity of the scene. If your POV character can’t actually see the other character gritting their teeth, substitute a more visible action. If your POV character is “reading into” the thoughts of the other characters, that’s indicative of head-hopping too.
“Brynna’s smile faded when she thought no one was looking.” This scene is in Ariella’s POV, not Brynna’s, so this wording wouldn’t make sense for that to be part of the narrative of the POV character, because Ariella wouldn’t have seen it. I changed it to something like: “But when the others looked away, I caught her smile fading.” That centers back in on the POV character.
Likewise, if Ariella is just guessing how Rendon feels about a situation, that needs to be made clear. In the original, this is along the lines of what it said: “To see it go was like saying goodbye to an old friend.” Saying overtly that this “was” Rendon’s perspective is a head hop. Something that hones in on Ariella’s perspective better would be: “To see it go must have been like saying goodbye to an old friend.”
That’s about it for head-hopping. I’m still trying to learn how to recognize it in my writing, and working with an editor has been immensely helpful in that area and many others.
4. Plot structure.
Last but not least is plot structure. Don’t discount this one. You can’t write a good novel without adhering to some kind of plot structure. Most common is the three-act plot structure which I learned so much about in school but had trouble actually implementing. After I tweak my book a little (or a lot) to align better with this structure, I think it will be a lot better.
Have fun writing the first drafts of your book, but when it’s time to publish, make sure your structure and pacing are enough to grab the attention of your readers.
And we’re done! (Life has been busy lately, so if this article is at all incoherent, please excuse me.) Thanks for reading, friends!