Give characters distinct voices

Editors talk a lot about voice, and it’s a tricky thing to get a handle on. For one thing, there is an authorial voice; that is, each particular author has their own writing style that comes through regardless of the setting or topic of each novel. I prefer to think of that as writing style—though there’s got to be a better term for that—and preserve voice for talking about characters and narrators.

If you are writing in deep POV, your narrative should carry the same voice as the POV character. If you are not writing in deep POV, avoid generic narrator voice and give the narrator a distinctive voice of its own. (See The difference between your voice and the character’s voice.)

Each character has a distinct voice suitable to their temperament.

In my Word Weavers critique group, we read our pages aloud to one another — that is, someone else reads your own work back to you. This is a great method not only for uncovering awkward sentence constructions, but it can also reveal a wealth of dialog problems. Having someone else read your dialog to you is the number one way to improve your dialog. Reading it aloud to yourself is a close second. Continue reading

Substantive Editing: The Secondary Elements

When you finish your developmental edit, I won’t make you do a fast read-through again, unless vast whacking chunks of your book have changed. If that’s the case, another read-through may be warranted, as well as another examination of primary elements. A new writer may have to do several cycles of developmental edits before the story really gets into shape.

Once all the primary elements are in place, you’re ready for the next phase. Continue reading

Developmental Editing: Implementing Your Plan

We’ve now gone through the six Primary Elements:

  • Character
  • Viewpoint
  • Plot
  • Structure
  • Pacing
  • Setting

As I noted earlier, if any of these things have changed, they are likely to cause changes to the secondary elements. So we will do at least one complete editing pass to address any issues that may have come up in these areas. This kind of editing is often called developmental, content, or macro editing, because it deals with large building blocks of story.

We talked about writing your editing plan early on. Now it’s time to implement the plan. Continue reading

Use accurate details to develop your setting

The small details you include in your narrative make a huge difference to how the reader perceives the setting. It’s one thing to say a character made a phone call. Is her iPhone connected by Bluetooth to her car’s stereo so she can make the call hands free? Is she dialing a rotary phone and waiting forever for the dial to spin back after a 9? Does she lift the earpiece of a candlestick phone and ask the operator to connect her?

These two items on the cklst are related—pick the one that fits your novel:

If the story is set in the past, historical details are accurate.

If the story is set in the future, scientific details are plausible.

Both of these points require doing your research. But don’t let research keep you from writing. Be willing to stick in a note (could you telephone Paris from London in 1890?) and fix it later when you learn that no, the submarine cable between England and France wasn’t laid until 1891. Continue reading

There’s more to setting than time and place

The other day I wrote about the importance of establishing your setting early. The location and date are key pieces of data for readers to have, but setting encompasses a great deal more.

The culture and mood are evoked through description and character reactions.

Culture is a vital piece of worldbuilding, whether you’re writing a contemporary romance or a science fiction thriller. Of course, the topic of culture is itself deep water, as it encompasses many things. But for purposes of this discussion, consider the following and how they affect your storyworld: Continue reading

When you want to conceal the setting

Last time we compared minimalist fiction with the failure to provide adequate setting details. But sometimes, a writer may want to hold back setting details to provide a plot twist later. Like minimalism, this is a difficult technique to do well. It’s also been done before—a lot—so you have to ensure you’re doing it in a way that’s original.

The fancy name for this technique is “concealed environment.” Because it’s so often abused, it’s also earned a couple of less flattering epithets. The Turkey City Lexicon calls it “Jar of Tang,” and George Scithers, a former editor of Asimov’s magazine, dubbed it “Tomato Surprise.”

The TV Tropes entry on Tomato Surprise is especially enlightening about just how often this technique gets mishandled. Continue reading

Avoid blank stage syndrome

If readers don’t have enough sensory detail to go on, they can fail to engage with the story. Not knowing the story setting is very frustrating for the reader.

In The Art & Craft of Writing Christian Fiction, Jeff Gerke says a scene with inadequate setting details “is like one of those experimental theatrical productions with just gray geometric shapes on the stage.” Of course, those theatrical productions are done that way deliberately. So let’s be clear: we are talking about two different things.

stage curtain

Photo by Dominik Gwarek •

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