Editing For Awesomeness – Part 2
Again, here’s your focus list for your targeted editing. I’ve broken it out here by association, but feel free to make use of the list in the order that makes the most sense in relation to your current project. The most important thing? Focus on them all while you edit, no matter the order.
Ares of Focus for Your Targeted Editing
Rehash of the same old-same old
Poor/wrong choice of tense and person
Time control errors
Point of view (POV) errors and poor point of view selection
The first grouping I covered in Part 1 in this series on editing. In this instalment, we’re going to focus on:
- Poor/wrong choice of tense and person
- Time control errors
- Point of view (POV) errors and poor point of view selection
We’ve gone past the basic creation of your story and by now, you’ve checked for unnecessary unnamed characters, are reasonably sure you haven’t come up with a crappy rehash of an old idea and you’ve checked that you’re writing in active voice, so you’re on your way! Now it’s time to get down to the nuts-and-bolts.
I always think of moving into this part of editing as pimping out the vehicle. You could have the greatest story in the world, but if you have a crap method of delivery it’s going to be a tough sell. Call me picky, but I think an awesome story should be delivered in a shiny, turbo-charged sports car rather than a donkey cart with a broken wheel. You owe it to your story to create the best vehicle possible and anything less devalues that creative twist you worked so hard to develop.
How can you build a better vehicle for your story? Keep on with the targeted editing!
Poor or wrong choice of tense and person – Tense is basic stuff and you have three major choices here: past, present and future. Same goes for the three or more choices of person: first, second or third.
80-90% of all fiction is written in the past-tense, third person with the rest written in past-tense, first person. For our purposes here, when I say “fiction”, this refers to novel or short story fiction, as there are different POV rules for script writing that we can focus on in a separate article in future.
If you’re unsure what the difference between the tenses looks like in use, here’s the same paragraph written both ways for comparison:
(past-tense, third person) Liam’s eyes narrowed as he sighted his target–a fat young buck. The villagers were counting on him and with arrows in short supply, he had to make the shot count. Food stores were thin now and the pressure of providing for the starving weighed heavy upon him while his hands shook with his own weakness. Blinking, he forced himself to concentrate, blocking out the cries of scavengers in the distance that were not starving as they feasted on the already-dead…
(past-tense, first person) A fat young buck crept into my view, skittish and hesitant, but I knew I could hit it. Had to. With arrows in short supply, I needed to make the shot count as our food stores had grown thin. The gaunt faces of the starving villagers continued to creep into my thoughts, distracting me with the weight of their need. Despite my best intentions, my hands shook with my own starved weakness and threatened to spoil my aim. I blinked back the cries of scavenges in the distance and concentrated on denying them more while they feasted on the already-dead…
Beyond those two main tenses used in fiction, there are situations when it might make sense to not use them and write in second-person, present tense or first-person, present tense. If you’re going to buck the norm, though, this is something that needs careful consideration of the gains to be had in doing it.
Charging forth with a story in whatever tense and voice happened to pop into your head when you woke up with that amazing new idea is not your wisest course of action. Stop and analyze what doing this will add to your story. If it adds nothing beyond experimentation or proving you can do it, this is not your best option for getting your work sold. It may be bold, it may be unconventional, but that uniqueness won’t get much more than an editor’s “Hm, that’s an interesting perspective”, but isn’t likely to get your manuscript out of the slush pile. Use the one that makes the most sense and adds the most to your story.
Time control errors – The biggest variation of this is seen in flashbacks, the needless kind, and should be removed during your targeted editing. If you’ve ever read books that have flashbacks in them and have been labouring under the notion this is some format you must conform to, again, I have one word for you – don’t. It’s not a literary convention and it’s not necessary.
Anything that confuses the reader while you’re taking them along on your journey should be avoided. Needless flashback, as well as flash-forward for that matter, can bring the story to a screeching halt and makes the reader have to step out of the story for a “What the hell is going on?”. Not the reaction you want from your audience. If the flashback or flash-forward makes them have to reread the last ten pages of your book four times, because you’ve lost them by doing it or forces them to give up and put the book down, those instances need to be removed during your editing. The more you make the reader step away to wonder what you’re doing, the more it breaks their willingness to continue their suspension of disbelief and continue to follow you on the journey.
Flashback and flash-forward, by their natures induce confusion and uncertainty and if used well, they can be great tools for creating a sense of drama. When used well, they should make the reader go “What the hell is going on?” and then dive right back in, hungry for more.
Dream sequences also fall in this time control error category and should be avoided until you learn to use them well, so look to pick these out during your targeted editing. Devices like nested flashbacks inside dream sequences are brutal on the reader and are too difficult to follow. It may seem like a cool concept in your head, but if you can’t get the reader into the exact same place you are and following along while you jump around in time, edit these out or don’t do them to begin with.
Always remember… You, the writer, know more than the reader about your story. You always will, because you know the implied and the unspoken which are often character motivations, etc. However, no one else will know what’s going on to this degree, so don’t take it for granted that they’ll know what you’re doing when you jump to some time they weren’t aware of with other characters they haven’t met. Ask yourself these questions: What does it add to my story to violate the natural order of time as it unfolds? Does it clarify something? Make it more exciting? Or does it just confuse the crap out of everyone?
Point of view (POV) errors and poor point of view selection – All righty, point of view… Here’s a quick rule to live by: One scene, one point of view only.
Much like flashback and flash-forward, jumping around from one POV to another is super confusing (that’s a technical term).
The same considerations that go into choosing the appropriate tense and voice should go into choosing the appropriate POV. You don’t want to go charging ahead into a scene without due consideration of what the most effective POV would be. As you’re editing for POV, things to think on are: Which character would have the most to give? Provide the most illuminating reaction? Say the most useful lines in that scene? If you find you’ve chosen a less effective POV, try rewriting the scene from some other character’s point of view and compare the difference it makes to the delivery or plot development.
If you use POV as part of your quest to “show don’t tell”, think about choosing the character who will allow you to reveal story elements in the natural course of their actions, so you don’t have to resort to narrative to do it. This will help give your story movement and excitement as the revelations come up through the action rather than only through narrative which can bog a story down.
See the related articles in this series: