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Things You should Check When You are Editing Your Story

  • Are you story goals clear?
  • Do luck and coincidence play a part in any of your story events?   
  • Does every scene end in a setback?   
  • Is your protagonist happy with obvious solutions?   
  • Are conflict and opposition steadily becoming stronger?   
  • Could you make any of your Big Scenes bigger?   
  • Do your scene consequences or scene results show emotion before planning and decision?  
  • Are you protecting your protagonist?  
  • Are your characters appealing?  
  • Are your characters HUGELY exaggerated?   
  • Does each character—important or minor—have a set of tags to aid reader identification?  
  • Do you like your protagonist?  
  • Do you dislike your antagonist?   
  • Is there any character in your cast that you feel sorry for?  
  • Is there any character you feel indifferent about?   Does each character speak in a distinct, individual way?   
  • Is your protagonist capable of surprising readers?   
  • Is there any sympathetic aspect to your villain?   
  • Have you remembered to set up at least one ticking clock?   
  • Are time pointers clearly indicating day or night, or the passage of time?   
  • If you're writing traditional fantasy based on a pseudo-medieval model, do you have anachronisms of modern slang, time references based on clocks, showers, and poor understanding of blade weapons, combat tactics, or horses?   
  • Does the climax offer an obligatory scene?   
  • Have you skipped any steps in constructing your climax?   Have you resolved all the questions?
  • Is poetic justice served to all?

The Importance of Settings

"One of the biggest mistakes writers make in developing their story is neglecting the importance of setting. Character, plot, and dialogue are all essential to story progression; however, so is setting. It serves a purpose far beyond a backdrop for the action. Setting can frame mood, meaning, and thematic connotations."

― Haley Newlin

The more unfamiliar your setting is to your readers,
the more you have to describe it for them to experience it.

Have you ever been to Greenfalls, Wisconsin? Of course not, I just invented it. So how do you know what it looks like unless I, as the author, tell you? Perhaps the town suffers from its own hauntings. In which case, you'll want to set an atmospheric mood. Perhaps it's a 19th-century village trapped in a Brigadoon-like vortex. In which case, you want to describe buildings who have passed from memory, like the blacksmith's shop. In any case, descriptions are how the reader is going to get into the story. Because, in the end, there is no such place as 'anywhere in America.'

The interactions a divorcing couple in the bayous of Louisiana are completely different from the tribulations of separation in the lawyer-filled lower Manhattan… and different still from the cornfields of Iowa. And these same sights might be completely unrecognizable to Americans living in Adelaide, Australia. But the only way your readers are going to feel they are really there is if you describe it.

Sometimes a story world is small – extremely small. Take Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964.) There are only three locations in the story, just three. General Ripper's office, The War Room, and the interior of a B-52. It's an unbelievably small world. With such a limited world, the description becomes a critical element of the story.

But here's something important to keep in mind. It's easier to cut descriptions when you have too much than it is to add it when it was never there.

Here's an example of bringing a character to life without any dialog:

"I remember him as if it were yesterday, as he came plodding to the inn door, his sea-chest following behind him in a hand-barrow--a tall, strong, heavy, nut-brown man, his tarry pigtail falling over the shoulder of his soiled blue coat, his hands ragged and scarred, with black, broken nails, and the sabre cut across one cheek, a dirty, livid white. I remember him looking round the cover and whistling to himself as he did so, and then breaking out in that old sea-song that he sang so often afterwards…"

-- Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

Here are some examples of good setting that set the mood and bring the reader into the story:

"Cambridge by moonlight was light blue and brownish black. There was no mist here and a great vault of clear stars hung over the city with an intent luxurious brilliance. It was the sort of night when one knows of other galaxies. My long shadow glided before me on the pavement. Although it was not yet eleven o'clock the place seemed empty and I moved through it like a mysterious and lonely harlequin in a painting: like an assassin."

― Iris Murdoch, A Severed Head

"Turning to the open window above my head, I saw the full moon, glowing as bright as a pot of molten silver. Moonlight poured through the window, and through the gaps in the thatched roof, painting the interior of the hut with its gleaming brush. For a moment, the moonlight nearly disguised the poverty of the room, covering the earthen floor with a sheath of silver, the rough clay walls with sparkles of light, and the still-sleeping form in the corner with the glow of an angel."

― T.A. Barron, The Lost Years

"Then the vision of an enormous town presented itself, of a monstrous town more populous than some continents and in its man-mad might as if indifferent to heaven's frowns and smiles; a cruel devourer of the world's light. There was room enough there to place any story, depth enough there for any passion, variety enough there for any setting, darkness enough there to bury five millions of lives."

― Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent

For more on setting see: Good Story Setting and Novel Writing Help.

Writing Exercises in the Third Person

Choose a particularly compelling or problematic scene from a story you have recently written in the first person. Try to find a piece which includes both dialogue and exposition.

Rewrite the piece from the third person point of view. List who the POV character is at the top of the page. Consider whether or not you want to use third person omniscient or limited. (In moving from first to third, it might be easiest to try the third person limited first.) Check to make sure you kept the same POV character throughout the story.

How does the change in point of view change the mood of the story? If you have chosen the limited third person, is there anything that you learned about the character that you didn't before? If you have chosen omniscient, does the new direction inform or put limits on your storytelling?

Make a list of advantages of the new point of view: ways the new voice helps develop plot and/or character. Does the heart of the story change, or does it become more refined?

What are the limitations of the third person point of view for your story? Make a list. Is it the most effective way of telling this story? Were there ways in which it was harder to develop your central character with the third person? Did it force you to use other techniques in revealing your character?

Third-Person Point of View (POV)

Third-Person POV is a common choice for current fiction. Writing from this POV means using the pronouns "he, she, or it."

POV Chart

The advantage of Third-person POV is that it is comfortable and familiar to readers. It can be limited to a single character's point of view, or it's easily adaptable to multiple viewpoints. It allows you to use your protagonist's name. So that you can say: "Jim said" as opposed to: "I said." And you have the flexibility of deciding how much to share with your readers. This can be critical in say a mystery novel, where you may not want to let the audience in on everything the protagonist is thinking.

However, the third-person viewpoint can be difficult to control. It is common for writers to unintentionally shift from one viewpoint to another. Suddenly you're in a different character's head or seeing things your POV character can't see. This can make your book confusing to read. A common solution to this issue is the "one scene, one point of view rule" or limited third-person POV perspective. To use this you start a new chapter or leave some white space in the text before starting a section with a different character's POV.

The author James N. Frey writes, "Don't believe the pseudo-rules about what you can do in first vs. third person… Virtually anything you can do in first person you can do in third person and vice versa."

The Lord of the Rings movies are all built in the limited third-person viewpoint, as are many films. Perhaps this is why readers in the modern era are so comfortable with it. Filmmakers' will often fade to black while going from one scene to a different one with different characters. This is the equivalent of white space between POV's in a novel.

Another version of Third-person POV is omniscient viewpoint. Writing from this perspective allows the author to float from the mind of one character to another to share what each of them is thinking. It is the hardest viewpoint to write effectively and seldom is used in both films and commercial fiction. The Shawshank Redemption is written in the omniscient style as the character Red tells the story as an all-knowing narrator who knows the ending, even though he appears as a character.

The omniscient Third-Person point of view can provide instant insight into the emotions or motivations of multiple characters in the blink of an eye. It also has the power to create a muddle of chaotic thoughts. The worst feature of this POV style is that it makes it difficult for the reader to bond with any particular character. As a POV type, it's the least used… and with good reason.

For more of about Third-Person POV, see Article or Article.

First-Person Point of View (POV)

First-Person POV is all about telling only one side of a story (at least one side per chapter anyway.) If you wrote 'Tom turned his head.' That's not first person, because anyone could see this. But if you wrote 'I turned my head,' You're in downtown First-Person POV. To put it bluntly, whenever you use the word "I" or some variation, you're in First Person POV territory.

POV Chart

The classic movie for First-Person POV is Rashomon (made in 1950.) It's the story of a bride and the murder of her samurai husband. Everything is recalled from the perspectives of a bandit, the bride, the samurai's ghost, and the woodcutter who finds the body. The bandit is captured shortly afterward and is put on trial, but his story and the wife's are so completely different than a psychic is brought in to allow the murdered man to give his testimony (remember this is ancient Japan.) He tells yet another completely different story. Finally, a woodcutter who found the body lies and claims he saw the whole thing, and his version is again completely different from the others.

For another example, imagine Victoria is talking about her breakup with Ted, she can't say, "When I told Ted I wasn't in love with him, he felt as if he'd been gut-punched." But what she can say is, "When I told Ted I wasn't in love with him, the color drained from his face as if he'd been gut-punched." Victoria can infer or guess how Ted felt, but she can't come out and say it with certainty—unless, of course, Victoria is the type of character who always assumes she knows exactly how everyone else is feeling, in which case we'll know her assertion about Ted feeling gut-punched is meant to tell us something about Ted, rather than how Victoria felt.

Basically, there are Five points to First Person POV:

  • Every word the storyteller says must in some way echo their point of view. (Yes, it's Narcissism run amuck.)
  • The storyteller can't mention anything that doesn't affect them in some way.
  • The storyteller draws a conclusion about everything they mention. (Because as humans, everyone has an opinion… and we pass judgments constantly.)
  • The storyteller is never impartial; they always have an agenda.
  • The storyteller can't tell us what anyone else is thinking or feeling.

So how do you deal with the emotions of others in a First-Person POV chapter? One word – backstory. The storyteller might not be able to tell you about someone else's feelings. But they can remember a scene they'd seem with that character in the past that lets the reader intuit exactly how the character is feeling. Imagine a backstory where a young boy watches his parents brutally murdered. Now the reader has some understanding of what that character is feeling in Robin's personal narrative where he is the POV character.

For more of about First Person POV, see this article.

How to Identify an Unhelpful Editor

[This is taken from a YouTube video on Brandon Sanderson's YouTube Channel. Brandon is a well published author who was chosen to complete Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series after his untimely passing. He teaches creative writing at BYU. He's also the only author to make the short list for the David Gemmell Legend Award eight times in seven years. He has hit the New York Times Best-Seller List fifteen times, most recently at #1 with Oathbringer, which is also Audible's most pre-ordered book of all time. Brandon's books have been published in thirty-five languages.]

The worst kind of editor is the kind who wants you to change your story to be a version of the book the editor wants to read. Rather than the version you want to write. Most editors are able to align those two things. The want to make a better version of the book you wanted to write. So that people will enjoy reading it more. That is the goal and that is a perfect spot for an editor.

As a new writer, you have to be settling on what story you want to tell. You have to be deciding on what things work for you. You also have to be figuring out what you are wrong about. A lots of things such as being very info dumpy… in most cases you're wrong… that is weak writing you can learn to practice and get stronger at.

So, watch out for editors that you fell want to make you book into something… the way they would write it, rather than help you write it the way you would write it better. That's the number one thing.

Then of course, watch out for editor who are leading you toward scams… There were some editors who basically would pretended to be editors, pretend they could publish your book, but really what they did was they picked up your book… then recommended you toward a vanity press or toward editors from whom they got a kickback for if you worked with them.

It's not bad to pay an editor, a freelance editor… editing is totally a thing… worthwhile to do, but they should be upfront that they are a freelance editor. I'm always skeptical of someone you send a submission to for traditional publishing who then refers you to an independent editor.

Patterson

Other Book Sales Hints

Spiegel Research Center found that displaying reviews can increase conversion rate by as much as 270 percent, with the earliest reviews having the greatest impact on sales. This is also true for individuals considering buying your book.

Giving away advance copies of your book in exchange for honest reviews on Amazon or other listing sites will help build that initial credibility that gets hesitant readers to make a purchase. The more reviews you can get, the better your book will appear.

 

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