Pitfalls... Now What?

Having finished my latest manuscript and getting ready for query letters, rejections, synopsi and hopefully an agent or bookdeal, the doors to the world of editing are opened.

It's time to celebrate! You have finished drafting your manuscript, you have even given it your first round of revision, and now you are goin online to start building your list of agents you want to query. Fantastic! But please wait a minute before you start doing so... Because there are still plenty of things in your story that will most likely need some work. Trust me, I learned this from experience. I lost count of the amount of times I thought I was ready, but then my editor came along and pointed me at something that I had completely overseen. Back to MS-Word, Search all - and replace... Here are four tips that might be of help if your are doing the editing by yourself.

1: Are your characters in control?
Sometimes when we write a story, we forget that our characters are like living people: they must make choices. One of the most common things to happen when we write, is that we forget to make our characters live. They become driven by the will of the author instead of driven by the choices your character has to make. While editing, make sure you take your time to check for each of your characters if they are making their own choices. You can simply do this by asking yoruself the following: Do things happen to this character? Or has my character done anything to make this happen. If your answer is yes to the first question, go back and take your time to find out where the crusial moments of choice-making are. If your answer is yes to the second question: great job! You are ready for the next step.

2: Put some beef in that conversation.
A good conversation can be a real treasure within a book. But oftentimes we loose ourselves in the words our characters spill, and we forget that living through an event is much-much more interesting than reading about it. So sit down and have a look at your conversations. Are they there to help move the plot forward? Or are they just info dump? Double check to see if you characters are only sitting and talking, or is there something happening while they speak? This last point was one of the things I personally struggled with. My characters would stand or sit, and talk. That's it. Nothing more. And no matter how well written the "spoken words" were, the conversation would fall flat, and my beta readers would check out on my story. Why? Because it was boring.
In a real conversation, people do things. They move their fingers, curl their hair, sigh, blink, breathe... load up the dishwasher. Anything. This is why we don't get bored when we exchange more than 3 lines of spoken text; our brains are occupied with more than just the conversation. Use this, for it works the same way in stories. To a reader, conversation is the one thing, and their brains need something else to do while 'listening' to the words. Why not have them imagine what it looks like when your character is trying to chop down a tree while talking about how his ex-wife stole his wallet?

3: The emotional escalator.
This is also something I had to become aware of. Sometimes, my characters would go from 100% fine to 100% drama within the same paragraph. What am I saying, the same sentence!The other way around has also been one of my pitfalls: something happens that would leave a huge impact, and my characters would simply shrug and walk away. The world doesn't work like that (no, really... it doesn't). There is alsways going to be a response when you slap someone in the face. There is always agitation before someone decides to go Hulk. Take a moment to check if your characters are taking the escalator and gradually build up their emotions, rather than strapping a bungee cord around their feet and make a jump for it.

4: Escape words... we all have them.
Escape words aren't words we use to describe someone fleeing from a certain situation, their are words writers use to satisfy their obsession. We all have them. Mine is chuckle, smirk, laugh, hawk, any any other synonym you can find for someone smiling. When I first edited my novel with a profesional editor, I did a search all for these words... they were there 500 times (I kid you not). Look for your escape word, because you have one too. Find it, and kill it... kill it fire. Then go back to writing again, with a post-it on your screen, reminding you 24/7 to not use those words.

Happy writing!