How You Write Determines How You Edit

Although I didn’t finish my YA mystery until December, I’ve been editing for months. Whenever my inspiration for writing my first draft failed to catch fire, I’d work on editing what I’d written so far. After working with my novel for so long, I understand how you write determines how you edit. Below are a few key insights into my writing style that helps me edit.

I write dialogue first.

In the first draft of a scene, my main concern is getting down the purpose of it. Since I write mysteries, the purpose is usually for my detective to gain information–a clue, an insight, or a conclusion. Sometimes a scene has a dual purpose, such uncovering a clue and developing a couple of characters. Most of the time these purposes are accomplished through dialogue, so the bare bones of my first draft are characters talking to each other.

When I go back to edit, I need to flesh out the scene with:

  • Descriptions for setting
  • Determining if it’s clear who is talking when.
  • Vivid action tags that reveal something about the character who’s talking
  • Thoughts of my main character.

I overwrite dialogue.

Since I write dialogue first, I tend to over explain. My family can tell you that’s a habit not confined to my writing. When I review a scene, I almost always cut down the dialogue. That’s helpful to know since I’ll add the other components I listed above.

I plot too much.

As my word count rose in A Shadow on the Snow, so did my anxiety as I realized I had shoved in too many characters with too many subplots. Once I knew my ending, I went back and edited out characters who weren’t necessary. I also simplified or eliminated the motivations of several minor characters. Not only did that lower my word count, it also allowed the necessary characters to become more important and complex.

What kind of a writer are you? Do you overwrite? Or do you write the bare minimum of a story and then beef it up during the editing process? I’d love to know what your writing style is and how it determines your editing style.

Winter Haiku

I haven’t had a poetry prompt in a long, long time, so here we go with a prompt for a winter haiku. My oldest took this photo when my family and I went birding on New Year’s Eve Eve. A flock of over a hundred swans milled about in a cornfield as we headed to Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area in Marion County. My oldest took this photo. I like the contrast between the white feathers, gray sky and black trees.

Black and white against

Gray. Winter strips the world to

Its elegant bones.

What does winter look like where you live? Of if it’s summer where you are, what the weather like? Leave your haiku about it in the comments.

If you’d like to try another form of Japanese poetry, check out my post on how to write tanka.

The Elements of Style by Strunk and White

Every writer should own a copy of The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. Yes, that E.B. White. I bought my copy when a professor required it for a class. I’d forgotten how essential it is until author Edwina Perkins recommended it in a workshop I took at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. The reason why I forgot is that this book teaches the very basics in good writing, going over rules I now know instinctively but forgot how I knew them. Those rules are so important to any kind of writing that I’m perusing the book. I can’t read it cover to cover or my brain will pop. But I’m finding it so helpful to review chapters as I tackle the edit of my WIP novel.

I own the third edition There’s a fourth available, but aside from a forward, I couldn’t find any differences. I studied the table of contents are identical in both volumes. But be sure to get the latest edition. Writing style does change over time and it might contain a few, small differences.

Including the index, my copy isn’t even a hundred pages long. But it has so much to offer. I’m eager to reread chapter four, “Words and Expressions Commonly Misused”, such as the substitution of “utilize” for “use” and the explanation that there are no degrees of unique. Unique means “without like or equal.” So if I’m describing a book, it can only be “unique”. The book can’t be “very unique” or “more unique”. I love seeing a pet peeve of mine upheld. Chapter five, “An Approach to Style”, lists twenty-one tips to make our writing understandable.

What books do you recommend for editing?

What are Your “Weasel” Words?

To kick off 2021, I chose editing for this month’s theme. I realized that I don’t have much posted about editing and thought I should fill that gap. It’s hard to have writing prompts about editing, so I will have to branch out for my Monday Sparks this month. But I did want to ask you what are your “weasel” words?

I’m borrowing “weasel” words from the authors of Go Teen Writers: Edit Your Novel. These are also called “weed” words, words that pop up far too often in a manuscript, usually in the first draft. I sometimes deliberately leave in a “weasel” word when I’m writing my first draft because I don’t want to break the flow. When I go back to edit, I watch out for those words and try to replace them with something better. I can get away with more “weasel” words in dialogue, but if I over use certain words, although it’s in character, readers will get bored or irritated.

Here are a few of my “weasel” words:

Just and only. I like to be precise when I speak, but in writing, these two words usually don’t add much meaning.

Eyes, smile, and grin. Because many readers expect a more cinematic experience in books, describing a characters’ body language and facial expressions is a way to cue them into the characters’ feelings. But I tend to overuse what the eyes and mouths look like. I’m trying to broaden descriptions to include how characters carry themselves and their mannerisms.

So what are your “weasel” words?

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