To continue my series on self editing guidelines, I added five more rules.
On a side note, this Friday, July 6, I’ll be guest blogging on Mary DeMuth’s website. Please stop by and check it out! http://www.marydemuth.com/
POV (point of view). You can read all kinds of books on this topic. Let’s say you’re writing in 3rd person. Stay in one character’s head. In real life, we can’t see what other people are thinking, so don’t do that in your books. Only notice things your character would notice/see/smell/feel.
Same voice for all characters. This is probably my biggest downfall. It’s so hard to come up with different voices for every character without slipping into the cartoon clichéd characters with odd accents. It’s the vocabulary and tone that distinguishes each character’s voice. This will force you to build deeper characters, too.
Lack of Description. I think some people just want to get to the main action, or they’re afraid adding description will slow the story down. Too much description WILL slow it down but you do need hints of the scenery or what a person looks like to help your reader’s imagination get going. Now, don’t write an entire page on what the villain looks like. If it’s a minor character, use only one thing that stands out (glasses, mustache, cigar, etc). If it’s a major character, use at least 3 descriptions. As for scenery, if it’s a place where a lot of scene are going to take place, I always dedicate an entire paragraph. But remember to describe through the POV character’s eyes and in his/her voice.
Which sounds better?
The road had grass growing on it.
Grass crawled on the cracked pavement like veins that protruded on the back of Uncle Nobed’s hand.
“As she started the car, Janice pulled out of the driveway.” Really? Can you pull out of the driveway WHILE you’re starting up your car? No. This sentence structure should be used only one time per page, if even that. And when you do use it, use it correctly.
“As she hummed to herself, Janice started the car and pulled out of the driveway.” Yes, you can hum and pull out of the driveway at the same time. Just remember, when you combine a lot of actions like these, it weakens the verbs. So make sure whatever you’re character’s doing at the moment isn’t important. If it is, dedicate a single sentence to that action.
Telling vs. Showing. Since I’m still learning this myself, I’m just going to add a short example.
“She was surprised.” -Telling
“Her eyebrows shot in the air.” -Showing
Telling also happens a lot when the writer is trying to explain something that happened in the past. Just show it in the present, it’s a lot more engaging. Explaining something that already happened is kind of like a history lesson. Browne and King do a good job going into detail on showing vs. telling in their book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.
Professionals in the writing business tell us to read the kinds of books we’re writing. This is a good idea, because we sort of find our voice when we read other books. But here’s the kicker. A lot of best-selling authors brake all these rules because, well, they can. People are going to buy their books no matter what. Agents and publishers are going to sign with bestsellers because they know these authors are highly successful.
This is why I’ve struggled the past two years. I’ve been reading bestselling books and copying their sentence structure, use of adverbs, and their use of gerund. Since they’re bestsellers, their way must be the best way, right? But then I’d learn that the guidelines say not to do these things (a lot of which are listed above). Until you make it as a published author, follow the guidelines. It’s what agents and publishers want when they sign with new authors.