Elements of a Great Story: Editing

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Aussie Owned and Read has spent this month exploring the elements of a good story. Their awesome articles have explored ingredients such as the importance of authentic characters – by identifying their values, their beliefs, their reactions; the power of dialogue – by including conflict and subtext; the importance of pacing – how we can pick it up with action and dialogue and short, punchy sentences; and the power of setting – one that has been artfully woven through our scenes and characters. It really impresses on us the complexity and layers a good story needs to grasp readers. That’s a lot of balls to juggle…

How do you make sure the creation you’ve spent untold hours and sacrifices for has ticked all these boxes? You harness the power of editing.

Editing is the process of putting a new, very valuable and incredibly important, lens on your story. Stories are our babies. And just like our children or siblings, we tend to overlook (or plain old not see) their flaws. In our eyes, their strengths outshine any flaws they might have. With our family, that’s the way it should be. With a product that’s going out to for stranger’s consumption, we need to raise the bar. Editing creates the space you need to look at your story in a new way, find the weaknesses, and shore up the strengths. Luckily, there’s more than one way to do it, and it can be free.

  1. Self-Editing

There is a lot of information out there, blog, books and courses, about undertaking your own editing. If you want to hone the skills, then I suggest spending some time with Google. In the meantime the first step I recommend if you’re going to self-edit is to let your manuscript rest for a spell. And I’m talking at least a month. The first thing that will happen when you come back with fresh eyes is issues (that you hadn’t considered) will leap out so fast you’ll wonder how you missed them. Next, consider a lens that you’d like to elevate to next level; maybe dialogue, maybe pacing, maybe weaving setting through more seamlessly, and go through your manuscript with that filter in mind. Last, read your manuscript out loud, you’ll be surprised what you pick up.

This stage is important and shouldn’t be skipped, but it depends on you knowing your strengths and weaknesses in the craft of writing, and I’m not sure I’ve found a writer who has that level of objectivity. I know I don’t. This is why I recommend the next step as a vital part of making your story ready for publishing.

  1. Critique Partners

The discovery of my critique partners took my writing from a level I didn’t know I’d settled into, to a level I couldn’t have predicted. Critique partners are fellow lovers of the written word that have some understanding of the anatomy of a good story. As a general rule, these are fellow writers, and you exchange your work to provide honest and encouraging feedback. Critique partners can find things you missed, plot threads you’ve left dangling, characters that are hard to connect with. What’s even more rewarding, is finding critique partners that share the writing journey with you – the highs, the lows, the unexpected turns. They provide a level of support and encouragement that is impossible to quantify.

The points you need to keep in mind is being selective in your critique partners – you want a critique partner you can trust; one that is insightful, knowledgeable, discerning, and kind. Sometimes that takes more than one try. The other point to consider is that critique partners are still invested in your writer’s ego (they don’t want to hurt your feelings), which can cloud judgement and complete honesty. They also don’t necessarily have the qualifications, knowledge and experience a professional editor can offer.

  1. Hire a Professional Editor

As a developmental editor, and a writer that has had my manuscripts professionally edited, I’m a firm believer in the power of hiring a professional editor. If you hire an editor, you get the experience and knowledge I just mentioned, but more importantly, you’re paying for objectivity that values the power your story over the protection of your ego. An editor will delve into your masterpiece, pull out the gems, and shine a light on the holes. Character inconsistencies, POV issues, story structure slumps will all be identified in a constructive way. Because you’ll be given a road map on how to make your story the best it can be. And you’ll learn from it. You’ll experience ‘aha’ moments that will open a whole new world of possibilities, which will shape your future writing endeavours. In my opinion, that’s money well spent.

What’s your experience of editing your book? How did you take your manuscript to the next level?


Tamar Profile PhotoTamar Sloan is a freelance developmental editor and the creator of the PsychWriter blog – a fun, informative hub of information on character development, the science of story and how to engage readers. Come and explore it at www.psychwriter.com.au. Tamar is also a passionate writer of award-winning young adult romance. You can find out more about Tamar’s books at www.tamarsloan.com. You can connect with Tamar on Twitter or Facebook.

What words made you bleed?

I’m a firm believer in that old Hemingway quote: There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit at a typewriter and bleed. When I sit down to write a book, that’s exactly what I do. Figuratively, of course, although occasionally literally, too (no one in my house will forget the Great Sticky-Tape Slicing of 2004).

And with this bleeding comes a strong attachment to the words. I’ve recently become a plotter, and love planning what will happen in my novels. Part of that means taking some huge emotional risks, and really opening a part of my soul in the process.

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Perhaps that’s why, in my upcoming novel (How To Save A Life) I had a slight problem when the scene I loved the most in the manuscript was not received so well by some betas. It was a fairly controversial scene and for me, it was a great snapshot of what the novel was about — it really took the love, the hurt, the manipulation and the emotional blackmail to a whole new level, and gave little hints at what had been in my lead character’s life, as well as foreshadowing what was to come.

Overall, seven betas liked the scene — and two did not. While that might sound like a very straightforward equation (quick, pick the seven!) for me, it wasn’t that simple. Because I loved the scene so much, I worried I was blinded to the reality. Still, I couldn’t just let the scene go. I sweated over that scene. I cried over it. I bled that scene. I opened my heart and let it all pump out.

In the end, I altered the scene, but didn’t delete. Part of being a good writer is learning to accept criticism, and knowing when to stick to your guns. I think I am capable of both these things, and that the manuscript is 100 times better for the minor change (or at least, I’m finally sleeping a full eight hours, instead of waking at 2am and worrying over WHAT SHOULD I DO?).

I’ve never been so torn up about a scene before, and I can only presume it’s because I was so emotionally invested.

What I want to know is what words have YOU bled for? Whether it’s something you’ve written or something powerful you’ve read. Figuratively, of course …

Would love to know!

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Lauren K. McKellar’s upcoming release, How To Save A Life, is available July 21.  Preorder your copy here, or join Lauren’s e-news list for more.