Duck. Duck. Pass!

I’ve been working with the theory of passing – a form of editing that involves checking your paper for a single aspect and then repeating through a list, and I feel like this method has been really working well for me. It keeps the task from feeling overwhelming, and helps me stay focused.

It also reminds me a lot of CUPS, which works in the same theory, working in passes over your paper while checking for specific aspects of copy editing.

I’d like to propose another acronym for editing. But first, I have to examine what I’d like to check for:

1. Concise writing

2. Understandable timeline

3. Tense conflict

4. Smooth transitions

5. Original plot line/characters

6. Many internal reflections + reactions

7. Evocative imagery

CUT SOME sounds pleasantly terrible when you consider it’s in respect for a book, not necessarily your dinner. Ha. And it’s a nice phrase to keep in mind while editing. I’ve found that I tend to deviate within my writing, and although it can be timely, a lot of the times, it drags out a scene and becomes distracting. Cutting has helped me a lot…

Also not a healthy phrase to say at a party.

But each of these is something I would recommend to check within a pass while editing. Change as you see fit.

For more help, look here!

Edit: I want to remind myself: Action, reaction, reflection. These are the most important pieces of a story, and without these, your story is lifeless! I definitely think there’s such a thing as over-editing, which might cause me to go back and write straight up scenes to inject life back into a piece. Tragic, I know.

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Story Arc

I really liked my kitty story but while working on it, I had to ask myself, was this the best story? If the characters and conflict were the same, was this way the best way to tell it?

I had to back track. Write down the motif of the story, and then rephrase the theme in a question: which would you choose…? I then looked to Freytag’s pyramid, which outlined the specific pieces of a story arc in the form of a “heartbeat” – seems fitting for a story that’s supposed to have a life of its own. I checked to see if I had all my pieces in order.

freytag pyramid

Image courtesy of Ohio University. 

This is a good way to either check your work or help construct a story. Mainly because all stories should have a beginning, middle, and end no matter how much you protest. If you cut off a movie before the ending, you’re going to have a crowd of angry people wanting their money back. So even if you want to break the “pattern,” you’re still going to have to include the most basic parts of a story.

Exposition: setting up the story with the main character, background, setting

Incident: the initial conflict

Rising actions: the complexities of the conflict evolve

Climax: the high point of the story, the tipping point when the character makes a difficult decision. This is when the reader should be feeling most anxious.

Falling actions: all the consequences of the climax play out

Resolution: events are wrapping up, everything’s about fixed

Denouement: the end

Now, not all stories will resemble this strict single “heartbeat.” Others will take the form of an actual life with multiple “beats” as the story moves up then down and repeats itself through multiple conflicts, straining to reach the overall resolution of the character’s goal. But this is a good place to start!

Inter-webular: A Community of Writers

‘Interstellar’ means between stars, which makes inter-webular between the world wide web which for some reason contains less syllables than ‘www’? That’s weird. English is weird. You know what’s not weird?

Me. Nah – I kid. I’m definitely weird.

But, I thought it was interesting how much potential is on the web. You can literally do anything if you have an idea for it. And, I think people have taken this rule and run with it. There’s a website for everything: how to write, why to write, ideas on what to write…You can search a million synonyms for the concept of writing: books, novels, stories, etc. and so much will come up! I’ve compiled a list here, but of course it’s short. The inter-webular is limitless.

Scribophile

This website is basically an online writing community, a digital critique group. You can edit/comment on someone else’s post (either part of or the entire story), and you win these little karma points for your good deed! Once you have enough karma, you can submit your own story for feedback. This has been my favorite site so far!

Wattpad

This one is pretty interesting – I’m not signed up yet – but in theory, this is a website where you can post chunks of stories. And, I’m assuming this is a good place if you just like to write and don’t want to be officially published on a money-making basis, more if you want followers and readers – like a fan base. Pretty cool in theory. Be a good way to start your publicity. Especially since you can update your stories in chapters and readers/followers get messages when you do.

Page 99

I do like this one. This is a website that caters more to your style of writing rather than the big edits that writers/editors will focus on. If you still need to work on your syntax, word choice, dialogue – the entire stylistic approach, this is a good website for you. Submit your 99th page and get feedback from the community!

WordPress

This is just plain good for blogging/websites, publishing anything for any apparent reason, as long as it’s within the general nature of the internet, which is of course, everything. I use this for fun, use it for school, apparently the school/state use this for teacher evaluations…Must be good if companies are using it. But, either way, I like it’s ease of use and customization. You don’t need to know HTML to use it.

Inkitt

From my understanding, this is another community for writers/readers. You publish a story, and people can read them. But while Wattpad offers a strict reader/writer relationship, Inkitt offers a lot of contests, catering more to the writer community. It uses a ‘like’ rating system, similar to Facebook, to let people review stories. I would see this more as a publicity thing, mainly to accrue followers.

Nanowrimo

This is probably the most famous of all the websites. It’s a month-long writing “contest,” where you compete with yourself to finish a goal of 50,000 words in 30 days. It’s supposed to give people the pressure and motivation they need to finish a project. And in return for participating, you get to meet up with other writers in physical groups or online forums. You get the nice writing tips, contests, discounts for finishing…all sorts of good stuff. I would recommend everyone try it once, to push yourself and see how much can you write.

Blogger

Similar to WordPress, except much more rigid in its web design, Blogger is another site you can write to your heart’s content. Mainly for writing. Actually mostly just for writing. If you want to write, post, and already have an account with Google, this is an easy outlet. I used it for a while. Would recommend purely on its ease of use.

Word Choice

Bird. 

When you read that, what did you imagine?

I thought of a cartoon bird, the kind you draw with an “m”.

If I say pigeon, what do you see?

Probably a pigeon. It’s a specific species of bird, so it’s hard to imagine anything but a pigeon, which is why word choice is crucial here. The mind constructs definitions through images, so every time you see a word, the time it takes you to read is the time you brain needs to see every word and interpret its meaning, which is why using highly visually-stimulating words is so crucial. Why word choice is such a big deal.

It also works with verbs.

She drew a dog.

She sketched a golden retriever.

Sketched to me is more descriptive in nature because it’s a specific type of drawing, when your hand makes light pencil marks to draw the outline of an object. Draw on the other hand is very bland. To draw something visualizes a drawing, a finished piece, rather than the action of the verb.

I would not suggest active-editing while writing, but going back through your work to look for better word choices where possible. If you can’t think something, try using a thesaurus, and if worst comes to worst, type in a description in google, like “word that means tiny and fragile”. A lot of times someone’s already posted it on a forum somewhere. (Microsoft Word has an automatic synonym feature – if you right click on a word, under synonym, it will give you a list of options.)

Strategies to copy edit

If I were a pathological liar, I would tell you that copy editing is when you clone yourself, manipulate your genetics, then step back and see the effect it has on your double. But, I’m not. And we’re not even up to that point yet (i.e. cloning humans). But, you should still know how to copy edit.

Strategy #1 CUPS!

CUPS is an acronym that goes like this:

C – capitalization

U – usage

P – punctuation

S – spelling

This method encourages a series of passes rather than edits by the reader, and usually works by writing CUPS vertically in the top right hand side of your first page. Once you completed one step, you write your initials as to not forget you checked that. This works good in elementary classrooms, but this will work just as good for you.

As extra resources, I always recommend the Purdue OWL. They have a lot of good resources on nearly anything and everything style- and grammar-wise.

And, if you want to act as editor, don’t forget to know all the secret symbols of the copy editors’ society. (There’s no secret society, but there is common symbols that editors will use to speed up the process, reminiscent of a time when everything was on paper and not the computer.)

Techniques to Edit

Here’s a few ideas on how to help you edit!

1. Create a reverse outline

This will help you create a summary of your story and to examine each piece to see if it helps with the overall theme. This is good for those people who don’t create an outline to start and instead just write, and write, and write…

2. Read it out loud

If you’re socially awkward, that’s okay. Do this in your own home! The point of this is because we learn language first through speaking, there is this ingrained correction feature when we say it out loud. (This works best if you’re a native English-speaker.)

3. Have a friend read it

Remember that comment I made how if we write it and then it’s hard to see its flaws? Kind of like how you have a child and you love them but it can be hard to admit they’re not perfect – yes, a lot of parents will disagree with me here. Well, by having a friend read it, they can give you all sorts of feedback on features you might able to see! Always helpful.

Note: Parents are helpful but can also be too close to you!

4. Step away from the story

Drop it. If you really want to, chuck it in a dark corner and come back to it later. The point is, give yourself time before editing.

5. Create biographies for your characters

Similar to #1, using your book, construct a biography filled with all the details and history you gave about “Billy Bob.” If something doesn’t match, or you’re missing information that’s still in your head, then you know what to correct!

6. Play the ‘What if’ Game

This is actually from Chuck Wendig, but I really like his suggestion. And, it’s a good way to vocalize what I do when I edit. Ask yourself ‘what if…’ for every situation. What if the reverse situation were true? What if something else happened instead? This will help make sure you pick the strongest (or most evil) trajectory for your character as possible.

7. Rewrite

I’m doing this with one of my stories now. It doesn’t mean you necessarily change anything, but just rewriting it without looking at your work sometimes brings a new perspective and life, especially if it’s been sitting there for a while and parts just feel dead.

8. Change the medium

I like the point Jenny Hansen makes. I find it difficult to read and edit on screen, and it really makes a difference to print it out and mark it up with a pen. You can color code for different kinds of tracking or edits. And, changing the look can help as well, such as changing font, size, spacing, etc.

9. Change your environment

Again, another good point by Jenny Hansen. By changing your surroundings, you can help yourself focus, or give you an environment more conducive to ideas rather than sleep.

10. Write 10 summaries

By Bryan Hutchinson, he said it’s good to write a summary in different ways. To quote him, “By telling a summarized version of your story ten different ways, you get new ideas about your book’s core essentials, who the main important characters are, which ideas are most central, and how to structure your book in the most interesting way possible.” Although it may feel repetitious at times, how much will you learn by re-examinations?

11. Hire a developmental editor

If you’ve really hit a wall, you can hire someone to help you look at your book. But, as I’ve mentioned before, these editors require money since they’re open for hire. And, this payment can vary in prices.

12. Draw a timeline

I’m going to take this idea and build on it a little bit. Bubblecow suggested we should write a narrative arc to see the clear framework of the story, but to expand upon this, I’m going to suggest that everyone write a timeline. If you want, create a timeline for every plot – but keep the same time frame for each of them. This help you examine what pieces add to the story, and what you may still be missing.

13. Do passes, not drafts

Suggested by Sullivan, I really like this for the fact it creates focus while you edit. There’s so much stress regarding editing because we’ve been taught that you should check everything at once. But, by breaking this into passes, similar to how all English teachers taught us CUPS, you will become less stressed and more focused.

If you have any more suggestions, please throw them by!

How to Edit

If anyone looks forward a post, they can see I mentioned “CUPS” – the acronym used by English teachers in elementary school to encourage proof reading, which I’m sure I will mention again in the near future. Well, CUPS is basically a ‘pass’ process, not by drafts, that encourages readers to examine their paper through different lenses. We can do the same for editing!

1. Character consistencies

When your characters first appear, just like with real life, they come across with first impressions and appearances. These should remain constant throughout your story. If Bob appears grumpy, he should remain grumpy, not suddenly become ecstatically happy, unless you gave him a reason to change. Your story is basically a persuasive essay. You have to justify everything.

2. Action, reaction

This may seem silly to include as a separate dimension of editing, but to me this is one of the most important. Your story must have emotion and affect your reader in some way. If your reader isn’t feeling anything, then you haven’t hit that point yet. A good way to start is to make sure your characters are feeling it first! Refer to the previous post on action, reactions.

3. Plot construction (and purpose)

Just like with characters, your plot should remain consistent, which will be harder and harder to track as you add sub-plots, but this means you have to examine every dimension of your story and see if it answers the question, does this add to my theme or conflict? Because everything has a purpose. And if it doesn’t, consider cutting it.

4. Style

This is one of the most common thoughts for editing. Your style must encourage readers to keep going. It must feel natural, not forced. This is not grammar editing, only overall stylistic edits. The difference between ‘he hit a wall’ and ‘when his car smashed into the wall, the front crumpled on impact’.

5. Singing Senses

These are not my own thoughts, but those of Elissa Field, and I am including them here because I feel they are an important part of the editing process. As Field said, writing is related to sight, and we should include as many sensory details as possible. But, what I love most of all is her conciseness, that “writing is overly preoccupied with details related to eyes and unnecessary sight direction. ‘He turned and looked toward the dock. The boat was on fire,’ is a great example of unnecessary sight direction. Better: ‘The boat was in flames.'”

As I mentioned, we can make this into an acronym to encourage a pass process, not a draft process. And if you look at my ordering – each first letter – this will make ‘CAPSS’. Not too far from CUPS. If you print out your manuscript like me, you can write this in the top corner and use each of these acronyms to remind yourself what to check for. It certainly will help me in the future!