Alex Clermont Writes 3 things to help you self edit

3 Things To Look For When Self-Editing: Part 1

I’m not that great at self-editing; I’m no good at copy editing my own writing; although I freelance as a proof reader, when I look at my own writing, spelling and grammar mistakes pass me like water through a sieve.

These skills are really important, so if you have the same issues you can either enhance your own abilities or have someone else edit for you. The above certainly doesn’t constitute a sales pitch for my services (maybe a mediocre one), but I would suggest every writer improve their own editing skills as well as have someone take a fresh look at their writing.

For my upcoming collection, “You, Me And The Rest Of Us: #NewYorkStories,” I did just that. I checked out the Editorial Freelancers Association and reached out to a few developmental editors. I contacted about 10 editors to get fee quotes, find out who would be a good fit for the collection, and truly, to feel like a big-shot writer.

One of the folks I reached out to was Vancouver based editor Pat Dobie. With her permission, I’ve posted a few of her comments here. What I want to do in this little article is go over some of her notes on my short story, “Desperate Lives,” and then extract some general rules that can give you focus when you look at your own work. If you can’t join a local writer’s workshop, the next best thing is to workshop yourself.

About that narrative Hook

Alex Clermont Writes writing tips for self-editing narrative hook

The Hook Is The Thing

This is what Pat had to say: The story’s opening is where the reader forms an attachment to the point-of-view, character and to the story situation. If the attachment is strong enough, the reader will keep reading. There’s more than one way to create attachment, and in my opinion your opening works. (That being said, I did suggest a few cuts in the first paragraph, with the objective of getting us more quickly to the story’s terrific hook, the sentence “Keith Henry and his two friends had made headlines.”)

I totally agree that my narrative hook was awesome (I’m sure that’s the word Pat meant to use) but I had to work hard on it. She is very right in stating that the attachment it creates will keep readers reading—or not reading.

Think about yourself as you roam through book stores (or browse through titles online). If those first few words don’t hook you in, you move on. The idea that the starting sentences in your story have to be as tight and impactful as possible seems intuitive. I’ve read enough first drafts, however, to realize that people don’t work enough on their hook to get readers engaged. How to do that may be the topic of a future post, but for now understand that you have to aim for engaging, succinct, provocative and of course, awesome. This should be the first thing you work on in your edit.

The Characterization thing

Pat said: We get a good sense of who Keith is from the opening page. His mother’s car, a “rust-red four-door sedan,” tells us that he has few material possessions worth much… I get the sense he’s a disciplined man, probably in his twenties, who is both angry and despairing. You manage to keep him sympathetic despite the fact that he’s a murderer. This is quite a feat.

In addition to not spoon-feeding them the character’s state of mind, showing rather than telling keeps the readers’ senses engrossed.

If you took even one writing workshop class in college you’ve probably heard this phrase enough to make you want to throat-punch someone if you hear it again: SHOW DON’T TELL. This be-all end-all of creative writing advice is true, so do it. If, for example, you have a character who is realizing that his alcoholism has ruined his life, you can tell it to readers. “John began to realize that the answer wasn’t at the bottom of a bottle. It never was, and it took him years to figure that out. He was filled with rage at all the time wasted numbing himself. The drinks just didn’t work.”

Or do you can show it to readers, “he grabbed the bottle of whiskey with a strength he hadn’t seen in himself since his early teens—before his first taste. Walking with a steady stride he entered the bathroom and quickly upturned the bottle while violently shaking it. Filling the small space with the stink of alcohol John cried while gritting his teeth in rage. The anger of a wasted life hurt his heart, head and hands as he gripped the bottle with enough pressure to shatter the glass to pieces.”

Readers may not even recognize the mistake you’ve made, but they will certainly feel put off by your story.

The difference between the two is that the second passage gives the reader a scene they can play in. It gives details and allows them to make the connection as to what, exactly, is going on in John’s head. In addition to it not spoon-feeding them the character’s state of mind, readers’ senses are also engrossed; they smell the liquor, they feel the grip, they see the splashing whiskey. So yeah, SHOW DON’T TELL.

Point of view

Alex Clermont Writes writing tips for self-editing point of view

The Point Of View In Your Writing… Get It?

Pat wasn’t so happy with my point of view: There are some tricky elements to moving from omniscience to a close third-person point of view (Keith’s), then to a different character’s point of view in the same scene (Buck’s, for example, when he hears Keith sigh heavily). You need to pass what writer Richard Russo calls the “narrative baton.” Something must trigger the move… I would suggest staying out of Buck’s head at this point…

What I needed to do was use better transitions between point of view changes. The reader is in my protagonist’s head and all of a sudden I write something the protagonist wouldn’t have seen or noticed. In this situation you could “Pass the Baton,” as Pat suggests at a point, but I think eventually she’s right in that I should stick to one character’s POV.

It’s tempting to change it up and explore the minds of all your characters, but unless you do it particularly well you’ll trip along the way and end up with confused readers. They may not even recognize the mistake you’ve made, but they will certainly feel put off by your story. Practice makes perfect though, so nothing is forbidden. Stumble, try again, get better.

So, it’s a total coincidence that I’m posting 3 tips here and did the same with my last post “Stop Writing Crap and Start Submitting.” It will also be a coincidence when I post the second part of the this article next month. I think these 3 do a decent job of putting forward some points that will help you enhance you’re own story writing ability. Let me know if that’s true using the comments section below.

Comments
12 Responses to “3 Things To Look For When Self-Editing: Part 1”
  1. Pat Dobie says:

    Alex, thanks so much for sharing your reaction to my sample edit of You, Me and The Rest of Us: #NewYorkStories. Loved reading your work.

    • Alex Clermont says:

      Hey Pat! Thank you for taking the time to give me your perspective on “Desperate Lives.” It was very welcomed, you are very cool and I’m very, very thankful to hear you loved reading it! My month has been made : )

  2. Megan says:

    The second point is one of my pet peeves. I stopped reading a wildly popular book that I was assigned because of too much detail and insight. Unless you’re writing first person, there must be mystery. Actions speak louder than words.

    • Alex Clermont says:

      Thanks for the comment Megan, and for taking the time to read my post! That show don’t tell thing is one of the most stressed things in any creative writing class. In my opinion, we naturally want to write like we talk, and many of tell stories with a series of this happened, that happened. We rarely create a scene when we tell an anecdote to friend over drinks. I’m sure even the best writers struggle with it, even authors of wildly popular books.

      In stories, I think you’re right: actions should speak louder than exposition.

  3. Farah Samuel says:

    Thank you for sharing these useful tips that should work not only when writing stories but should work while editing other piece of writings as well especially tip number 1. Cheers :)

    • Alex Clermont says:

      Hey Farah! Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you found my little tips useful : ) I think you’re right about a good hook being applicable to many other pieces of writing. A screenplay without a hook isn’t gonna grab anyone. Neither is a stage play or a comedy routine. Whenever I start a story I try my best to grab readers by the b… uh… the cojones.

  4. Evelyn says:

    Learned many of these things in my writers critique group. But practicing them is another story. This is a great post. As for the hook, I had it in the center part of my memoir and pulled it out and used the hook on the opening sentence. I thought it worked great but then I was giving away the climax. So, I put a less exciting sentence to start with and then build up to the climax in the center of the book. How do I fix that?

    • Alex Clermont says:

      Hi Evelyn. Thanks for reading my post, and liking it enough to comment! Many of these points definitely get brought up in writers groups. That’s the main reason I posted them here. They’re important elements that, in my humble opinion, can’t be overstressed.

      As far as your hook, I wasn’t trying to say that you should give away the juicy, fun stuff first to get the reader involved. It’s more of your use of words to set up the story in an engaging way. If the story is about a bank robbery and you find out in the middle that one of the robbers is an undercover cop, you don’t open with, “They all had guns, but only one had a badge,” or some such thing. You have to use your skill with words to come up with a clever way to grab the reader by the… cojones. Something like, “The barrel of the pistol was small. Of course that’s relative term when you have one shoved in your face.”

      That sentence is action oriented, but it doesn’t give away a thing. Make it a fun writing exercise and write out a few. I’d be happy to read them : )!

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