Finishing a story… editing a story. A new writers guide to self indulgence.

18 12 2009

So I finished a story today. I have habits in my writing (but no hobbits). I tend to get ideas all at once and, in a very nebulous way, complete in the major elements. This story came to me while reading a 1989 issue of National Geographic. I read one  sentence and I stood up and went to work on what would become my latest story. It is of course my best story. Whatever I most recently finish seems to me to be the best thing I have ever written. I don’t know why, but it feels that way. Usually after four or five rejections I calm down and my opinion becomes more subdued.

When I say that I have finished a story, I don’t mean that I wrote the last sentence. I did that several days ago. What I mean is that I have completed the minimum rounds of editing that allow me to feel comfortable with converting the file into RTF (more on that later) and sending it out into the world. Everyone has a different editing process and you need to find one that works for you, but I suggest that you do a minimum of three thorough reads. Your first read you want to keep focused on basic grammar and syntax. Here are my constant mistakes:

Form instead of From

Lose instead of Loose

It’s instead of Its

Their instead of There or They’re

And many many more in both directions. Also keep an eye on your narrator, 1st person, omniscient third, limited third, be consistent. If you don’t have the chops for subject/verb agreement to jump out at you when it’s wrong, read it out loud. I read mine out loud just about every time when I am editing. you will find sentences that, while grammatically correct, just don’t work. Slog through it, focus on the language. Remember, you are a painter and words are your paint. You don’t have to be an English teacher, but if you are screwing up your vision because you don’t know how to handle a dangling modifier, it’s time to bone up on your 101. (Here is a good article on dangling modifiers).

So you fix your unique spelling of the word, ‘spaceship’ and you are ready to get past copy and go for content. Your next read through should still keep grammar and spelling in mind but what you are really looking for are shifts in plot and action that have occurred at the end of your story so as to make sure there are no contradictions in the beginning. I have a published work that has a character changing names for a couple of lines. I missed it. The editors missed it. Several readers did not miss it. It still bugs me. So you want to be careful and keep consistency in mind. As you look for plot holes and non sequiturs you also want to take the opportunity to change or add to parts of your story that will aid in the development of the plot and its conclusion. This is a type of partial rewrite and you can make it it’s own read through. For complex stories that is exactly what I do.

Your last read through should be one of enjoyment. Sit back, and enjoy your creation. Laugh with your characters, cry with them, die with them. It’s your story and it’s almost ready for graduation, so savor the time the two of you have together before the judging eyes of the world turn you both into bitter, jaded, and hate filled shadows of your former exuberance. After your done. Put the story away for a few days, then read it again.

From this point you can either A: do a rewrite

B: Give it to a friend or take it to a workshop for opinions and return to step A or

C: Throw caution to the wind and start trying to sell that sucker!

I prefer step B, but not always. I always go with step A, I need to see if I change my mind or get a new idea as I think about the story, but I have certainly just said ‘to hell with it’ and shipped a story off. Sometimes it has worked. It has also bitten me in the ass, but hey, it’s your ass after all. Maybe it needs biting.

So that’s that. Editing your work. Remember if you are really new to this and don’t have much or any workshop experience I recommend you get some. Nothing will improve your self editing like editing other people and listening to how they edited you. It is worth the price of a course at the local college or bookstore to get this experience. Search the web, but up a post, but find a group of people who will help you with this. I can’t stress it enough, you need to get practice!  Write, read, edit- repeat.

That is the science of fiction.

Next time: The Turkey City Lexicon or Tropes I have loved, and some notes on formatting for submission.

on the horizon: SIZE MATTERS- a treatise on why 8,999 words might sell, but add two more and your getting a rejection slip buddy.

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