Tuesday, June 23, 2009

From the Land of Self-Editing Books!

That's right folks, it's time for our first (and possibly only) edition of "From the Land of Self-Editing Books!" (please insert own echoing announcer voice here.) No, I'm not really back yet, but I stumbled across some information I thought you guys might find helpful.

Since I haven't been able to be near my computer a lot lately, I've been reading quite a few self-editing books. I've noticed some common themes in these and wanted to point out a few of the rules that have really made me think. Hope they help you too. :)

1 - Ignore the Thesaurus - Unless you are using your thesaurus to think up words that you know, but your sleep-deprived mind can't conjure at the moment... don't. In order for a piece of writing to flow as though effortless, it must feel natural. If it isn't something you would use in every day conversation (and having to look it up, by definition, means it isn't), then it will ring false to the reader.

2 - Go full steam ahead - For first drafts, let it be messy, let it need work, let it get on the page. Revisions are for editing and too many authors let a need for perfection the first time stop them from ever actually finishing the piece. Get out of your own way and get the words "The End" down on paper. Then go back and make it flawless.

3 - Give your characters (all of them) at least as many flaws as you have - We are people and we are writers... we have a hard time shutting up the voices in our heads--especially that nit-picky voice that tells us all the things that are wrong with us and what we're doing. For once, let's use that annoying voice to our advantage. Find flaws, rejoice over flaws, see the good and bad in life and people... and use it. No one is perfect, in reality or fiction. Give the reader characters they can believe in.

4 - Perfect the villain - Evil villains who are just bad are boring. Give them charisma, give them rational behavior (by their standards), make them relate-able. Unlike cartoons, few real people don't do things just to be bad. Villains shouldn't do that either. Give your bad guys motivation, a cause, something they find to be worth fighting for. If you can accomplish this feat you will find your villain just went from a stiff, cardboard cutout to a living, breathing, three-dimensional being.


  1. I love the last one. I'm reading a WIP of my friend's right now, and the villain's POV is amazing. He's so complex! And I actually have sympathy for him. That is perfecting!

    Great list! Thanks for the pointers.

  2. Great advice, especially the second one. I get bogged down in editing too much.

  3. Those are great points to keep in mind. They are all things I've heard before, but I like the way you put them all together.

  4. Bet you're revisions are coming along well! Kudos.

    Really strong, believeable villains can even have a few good/kind characteristics. Makes 'em even more frightening, really.

  5. If I ever wrote a book and my characters had as many flaws as me, that book would never end!

  6. Good points! I can't say enough to do as that paragraph says --to write down the draft without self editing!

  7. I consult my thesaurus regularly as I write--usually to find the word with just the right shade of nuance, and often, to find a *simpler* word than the one which comes first to my mind. I have a native tendency toward polysyllabicism which I must continually fight to restrain.

  8. #2 is a great advice. So many people don't even start writing because they are afraid to mess it up. Others give up with criticism. I know I almost did.