Sandra D. Bricker has been publishing in both the Christian and general market for years with novels for women and teens, magazine articles and short stories. With 8 novels in print and 5 more slated for publication through 2010, Sandie has carved out a niche for herself as an author of laugh-out-loud comedy for the inspirational market, and last year’s Love Finds You in Snowball, Arkansas garnered her three different readers’ choice award nods. Sandie was an entertainment publicist in Hollywood for 15+ years, and she is a frequent reader favorite author.
The Top 10 Reasons for Self-Editing
I remember seeing a cartoon once where a writer tells his editor that he looks revisions like he’s performing surgery; he cuts out the bad parts and then his story is cured. To which his editor replies, “I’m sorry to tell you … I think your novel died on the operating table.”
I’m often asked questions about my process as a writer. Do I edit as I go along, or do I just get it down on paper and go back through it afterward? When editing, what do I look for, and what makes it evident that a manuscript is in need of revisions? All good questions!
Taking what I’ve learned from my day job as an editor, I’ve put together a sort of Top Ten List, things I look for when polishing up a manuscript, and then I’ve gathered input from some of my favorite experts as well. I thought the writers here might find it interesting.
#10: THE DIALOGUE’S THE THING
Be sure to write your characters’ dialogue the way they would actually say it. Dialogue should be a simple window into a conversation between two people.
Charlene Patterson, Editor – Bethany House: One of my primary annoyances is expository, unrealistic dialogue. Don’t use character speech to explain things the characters should already know. And don’t overuse dialogue, or let the characters ramble about topics unimportant to the story you’re telling. I need interspersed description to be able to picture the characters and their circumstances.
#9: SHOW, DON’T TELL
Tom Merino, Filmmaker – FortuneTeller Films: This is not Biblically mandated, but it should be! Wherever possible, a writer should show the story rather than telling it to the reader. Every now and then, let the reader figure something out for themselves instead of telling them how to interpret what you’re giving them. It’s just good storytelling.
#8: HIT THE GROUND RUNNING
Don’t try to force the reader to “catch up” by jamming the first 10 pages with back story. Begin your story … then fill in as you go forward. If absolutely necessary, use a SHORT prologue; but only if it’s imperative. The sad truth is that most editors don’t read beyond the first page unless you give them a compelling reason to do so. Don’t open your story with the heroine looking at herself in the mirror. Start with a killer opening line, and build from there.
#7: POINT OF VIEW
This is not a reference to general head-hopping! Don’t shift into someone else’s eyes to tell the story.
Dianne Larrea – Freelance Editor: Every so often, I’m stopped in my tracks as I’m reading because of point of view. How does a character know that his eyes are puffy and bloodshot unless he’s looking into a mirror?
Marian Miller – Freelance Reader: Don’t deny the reader the experience of discovering a character’s flaws. Too much perfection makes for a really boring read. Maybe your hero isn’t going to move in on his best friend’s girlfriend … but you and I both know he’ll at least think about it. Let me see his inner scoundrel, if only for a moment.
#5: HAMMERING HOME A POINT
Don’t tell me half a dozen times what you can say in a few words.
Tamela Hancock Murray, Agent – Hartline Literary Agency: I often see people over-describing a character’s attributes to drive home the point. Okay. I get it. He’s horrible. Don’t keep telling me again and again.
#4: KEEP TRACK OF YOUR REFERENCES
If you use a Scripture reference in your masterpiece, be sure to add the Bible version you used. Don’t make the editor have to go looking.
Connie Troyer, Editor – Summerside Press: Give the information to your editor up front. The more the author does, the less I have to remember to check, and a cleaner manuscript is the result. The more confidence I have in my author, the less neurotic I am.
#3: KNOW YOUR BASIC GRAMMAR AND PUNCTUATION
It’s basic Respect 101. Respect for the editor, and respect for your own material. Many writers don’t realize how distracting a misplaced comma or misspelled word can be.
Susan Downs, Editor – Summerside Press: Probably my biggest peeve is when writers use possessive apostrophes when they shouldn’t (for instance, it’s/its or 1960’s instead of 1960s.) Also, many authors need to be reminded not to separate a subject from its verb with a comma. I prefer to use a comma after the final item in a series preceding the and, even though the practice of abandoning it is becoming increasingly common.
#2: WRITER VOICE VS. CHARACTER VOICE
Remember that you are not starring in your book. Each of your characters is a unique individual on their own, and each of them will walk, talk, react and act out in a different way than the others.
Rachel Meisel, Senior Editor – Summerside Press: I just hate it when all the characters have one voice—the voice of the author. Your characters are not you; they should each have their own unique voice, full of quirks and idiosyncrasies. They should use slang and idioms unique to them, for if they all sound like you, the reader becomes instantly aware that she’s not in the character’s head but in your head.
AND THE #1 REASON FOR TAKING THE TIME TO SELF-EDIT YOUR MANUSCRIPT: Because your editor wants you to!
Barbara Scott, Senior Editor – Abingdon Press: If I can’t figure out what an author is trying to say, how will the readers get it? If an author turns in the absolute cleanest manuscript possible, it can shave off weeks of stress time. When you multiply 20 manuscripts per year times the number of hours needed to clean up sloppy writing, you can see how it would make my life easier. Rather than spend time on convoluted sentences, I could make in-depth suggestions to an author to help make a story stronger.
Bostonian Cassie Constantine is only in Florida long enough to use her Christmas break to get the vacation house that she’s always despised ready for the real estate market. But her widow status is like a target on her back, and the elderly matchmakers around town manage to sidetrack her mission at every turn. Holiday is a land mine of golf tournaments, ballroom dancing competitions, shuffleboard and day trips. But the biggest obstacle of all? Nope, not Sophie the crazy Collie. It’s Richard Dillon, the stuffed shirt she’s paired with on the dance floor, that makes her heartbeat tap faster than the rhythm of The Quickstep.
For a review of Love Finds You in Holiday, Florida, click here.