Sunday, October 30, 2011

My Self-Edit Checklist

Tool: To highlight problematic words or phrases for examination. Use Word's Find/Replace. Replace with "Format->Highlight". Set your Highlight color to a color other than "Clear". Replace the same word with the Highlighted version.

Content Pass:

I first read through my crits and look for plot holes and logic problems such as lack of linearity, scrambled cause and effect and any place your critters marked "huh?".

Then I create a spreadsheet, listing each scene, POV character, summary of what is happening, characters, sensory details, emotions, time/date/setting. I also use color coding to highlight the tension level: Red, Orange, Yellow on the POV character cell. Other colors I use are: Green - advance Protag objective, Blue - Opposition, Pink - Love scene, Beige - Characterization scene

The final column is time/date/setting. This is very important if you have pregnancies, and other external events you have to track.

Once I have the beat sheet, I can look for plot holes. Are the preconditions for a particular event correct? Who should have known what? Did enough time elapse for the baby to be born? How about the season? Do my descriptions match? i.e. weather, temperature, holidays?

My current story is fairly linear, so all I needed was a linear scene list. My next story has four interleaved plot lines. I will use a two dimensional table. The vertical axis is time, the horizontal is marked by the POV character. Obviously I can only describe the event in each cell and link it to a separate linear list of scenes. Can you tell I'm an engineer? Okay, onto the next pass. [Psst: to be honest, I have not finished filling in all the emotions and sensory details for each scene, nor have I completed the scene list to the end.]

Character Pass:

Now that I have the beat sheet. I pick a POV character and visit each scene for that character in sequence. I get into the mood by imagining I'm the character. I think about how things would look from her POV, and what her feelings are. I immerse myself as much as I can without going off the deep end (cliche). I then iterate with a different POV character, allowing a little downtime to get out of character. It gets a bit harder to be the antagonist after being the protagonist for a week or two.

While in character, I check each scene for POV slips. I also deepen the POV when appropriate. This is where my color coded tension chart comes in handy. If the tension is Red and Orange, the POV needs to be deep. If the POV is yellow, I think it is okay to draw back a bit. I'm a fan of Deep POV, but too much Deep-stream-of-consciousness follow-the-character's-nose-prose can feel like hammers pounding on the rooftop.

Read each line of dialogue aloud and pretend you're the actor trying for the role. Reword and simplify. This shouldn't be hard since you are, at the moment, the POV character. But you also need review the dialogue of the non POV characters at this time.

To Deepen POV, I highlight all filter words, "knew", "smell", "taste", "saw", "felt". I also watch for "telling emotions." Are you naming the emotion or showing the results of an emotion?

BEFORE: Joy turned her insides into a song.
AFTER: She hummed a perky melody as she brushed her long flowing tresses. Yes! She got the contract. Her insides bubbly, she flipped her hair over her shoulders and gave herself a high-five on the mirror.

About Internal Monologue: I'm not too good with internal monologue, and I usually have to go back and add it in. My critters tell me I'm too cinematic. They ask questions about narrator motivations. I have an allergy to internal monologue because I think it is "telling", and in a sense it is "telling". But they are useful and sometimes needed, especially at transition points.

I look over the crits and see if there are areas where motivation seem to be lacking and I supply a few lines of internal thoughts. I scatter them out. The only place in my current WIP that has a lot of it is in the dungeon scene. Even then, it doesn't last too long. I prefer to subtext and let readers figure out what the characters are thinking. I also like to rely on nonverbal communication and body language. BUT... like everything in writing, internal monologue has its place.

If you do the Character Pass correctly, it covers "showing versus telling." Description is also covered because you are in the character's mind and hence the description is through their senses.

Story Structure Pass:

Many will say this should have been done a lot earlier, during story planning, and they are right. I'm assuming you have already planned your story structure,and you know when the plot turns are, the midpoint, the pinch points and the climax and aftermath.

What I'm doing here is to see if I have the right balance of narrative passages and active scenes. It is okay to have narrative passages, i.e., during transitions and to jump from one place to another. But the high points demand active scenes. Check your beat sheet and mark the plot turns, pinch points, and climaxes. Now, go back and see if you want to expand a scene, supercharge the emotion, or change the tenor of the description

Line and Grammar Pass:

1. Introductory Present Participial Phrases (Highlight "ing") and Present Participial Phrases in general
[check to make sure you are time sequenced correctly, check for misplaced modifiers]

2. Adverb Usage (Highlight "ly") [Examine each adverb and see if it is really needed] Some people examine suffixes such as "ish", "ful", "ment"

3. List of Useless Words: just, really, very, nearly, almost, occasionally, actually, moreover, suddenly, probably, somewhat, sometimes, especially

Make your own list or check:

4. Some people check for "was" and "had", but I don't. "was" doesn't always mean passive. "had" is necessary for past perfect

5. Highlight "eyes", "nose", "nostrils", "hand", "leg", etc. to look for flying body parts.

His eyes scanned the room. -> His gaze scanned over the room. -> He scanned the room.
A putrid odor pierced his nostrils. -> A putrid odor filled the room, and he held his nose.
He raised his hand to pat the dog. -> He patted the dog.

6. Check for unusual dialogue tags. Eliminate whenever possible.

7. Things that rank high on an editor's annoyance-meter: "Smile", "laugh", "sigh", "chuckle". Are your eyebrows always arched or drawn, or constantly raking your hair? How about clearing throats, shrugging shoulders, or fluttering hearts? Or a surplus of tears and sweat? Or chills, shivers and quivers? Some people check for animal sounds, "growl", "roar", "howl", "purr".

8. Check for cliche's and overused phrases. You can use Autocritter, or Serenity Software Editor program or simply read through and look for echoes.

Not all echoes are bad. There is the technique of "Amplification" - repeating a word or phrase and adding more detail in order to emphasize a point. There is "Anadiplosis" - repeating the last word of a sentence at the beginning of the next or near the beginning of the next sentence, and "Anaphora" - repeating a word or phrase at the beginning of three more more successive phrases or sentences, "Conduplicatio" - starting a sentence with a key word from a previous sentence, "Epistrophe" - repeating the last word or final phrase in three of more subsequent phrases or sentences, "Epizeuxis" - the simple repetition of a word for emphasis, and the champion of repetition "Symploce" - using Anaphora and Epistrophe in the same sentence!

But... okay, that was a long winded way to say, if you echo, make sure you did it on purpose and have a fancy Latin name to go with it.

9. Check for correct time sequencing, and MRUs (Motivation-Reaction-Units). The action must precede the response.

He kicked the door shut while carrying her over the threshold. -> He carried her over the threshold and kicked the door shut.

This is where being cinematic helps. Play through your scene as if it was on a movie screen. Note the actions, reactions, and sequence of events. Words like "as", "when", "during", "while" and present participial phrases oftentimes signal simultaneous actions. Make sure a set of actions can truly happen in parallel.

10. Grammar check. By now you should probably know what your weaknesses are. Do you run sentences together, or do you add too many unnecessary commas? Do you confuse words. i.e. you're and your, their and there?

One last note. Each writer's style is unique. Don't be tempted to edit out all of your personality and quirks. And most of all, don't apply a rule just because someone told you to. Make sure you understand how the context changes when you apply a rule. Sometimes, it is just not what the story needs.

Other checklists:

For further study:

1 comment:

  1. Rachelle, I love this checklist! I've been working on one off and on, but it's nothing near this thorough. Thank you, and thanks for fixing the link so quickly! Another great addition to my writers' resources file :-)