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Rewriting and Self-Editing Guide for Fiction

Isley Nicole Melton. Romi Moondi. Nick Shoveen.


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If not, consider cutting or combining minor characters.


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  4. The developmental edit!
  5. If you determined in the last step that there are story-level concerns, fix them now. For each major revision, I suggest that you start with a new Save As version of your manuscript. Being able to go back to your previous versions may be crucial. That way, if you decide you want to change anything back, you can do so easily. If you are adding or deleting large blocks of text, make sure your additions and deletions work in the context of the words around them.

    For deleted parts, make sure to take out any references you may have made to them elsewhere in the book. Then, come back and read it again with fresh eyes.

    Have you improved the story? Do the added parts flow seamlessly with the rest of the writing? Were any holes or questions created by deleted sections? The next round of self-editing is a bridge between the macro editing you have been doing to the micro-editing that is to come.

    If you just look at a random page in your book, notice that on a broad level you see only passages with quotation marks or passages without.


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    For the first type, make sure that you are showing—not telling—emotions and thoughts. Are you showing the reader thoughts and feelings only when relevant and interesting? For the second , are you showing action with enough detail and strong verbs that the reader will be able to visualize the action, perhaps even feeling like they become part of it? Tell just enough … when you need to tell it. If you find that such passages slow down the pacing of the story, consider deleting or reducing … or shifting bits to different parts of the novel where they might be most effective but unobtrusive.

    Dialogue has to pull its weight.

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    Dialogue in literature should not be a mundane recitation like it often is in real life. Use heightened but somewhat spare language. Look at your dialogue with an eye to tightening it to the point where it still seems natural while being a convenient shorthand to further the plot, reveal character, or build suspense … or any other reason that the particular piece of dialogue is at that point of the story.

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    Try it! You might be able to do these actions before or after a line of dialogue but not during. Consider, too, where to make paragraph breaks around dialogue. One paragraph of dialogue should revolve ONLY around one character, showing his or her words and accompanying actions. When another character starts to speak or act, time for a new paragraph.

    I once read a book where the author consistently had paragraphs with the actions of one character and the dialogue of another!

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    It took me a bit to figure out this was happening, and even once I understood, it was confusing! You may also want to start a new paragraph at a logical break point if one character has a particularly long piece of dialogue. Readers love visual breaks. Dig out your outline reverse, original, or both and any plot or character analyses you may have, and refer to them as you read and rewrite your manuscript slowly chapter by chapter. Look at the relevance and importance of each chapter and its scenes.

    After you read the chapter, look at your outline or plot analysis. How does this chapter fit into the overall structure of the book? Is point of view consistent throughout … even if you have a different narrator for each scene?

    The Anal-Retentive Line Editor Book by Dennis Cooper

    If not, consider condensing and combining with other chapters … or consider fleshing it out so it carries the weight it needs to carry in the story. Again, think of the structure you are trying to maintain and build for your story. Does this distinct piece of the puzzle serve its purpose for where it falls in the narrative? What happens in this chapter? Are goals being thwarted? Are problems being defined, heightened … or solved?

    Over the course of a book, characters grow and change as they confront the present, ponder the past, and plan the future.