Tuesday, June 08, 2010


Posted by: Genene Valleau
Current Project:
Nine-book series
Status: Working through the timeline, adding scenes and drafting stories

Many thanks to Courtney Milan, the guest speaker at our writers' meeting last Thursday, whose presentation triggered the idea for this blog post. Courtney's presentation was "Editing for Voice." It could have been titled, "Editing Deeper to Take Your Story from Good to Great Using Examples and Exercises from Some of My Favorite Books."

A much longer title, but that's what Courtney did in this hands-on presentation. Her suggestions got me thinking about editing, and how changing one word or phrase in key places can give a story that illusive "voice" that entices editors and readers to buy our books.

I'm going to paraphrase a couple of her suggestions here, so my apologies to Courtney if I don't convey the full meaning of the edits she suggested.

One example she gave was to replace a literal word with an emotionally significant one. Instead of saying "John's green eyes..." watched her, say "John's reptilian eye..." While "green" is a fine and functional word, "reptilian" will generate an emotional reaction from the reader. Getting a reader emotionally involved with our characters is a good thing!

Using an example from her upcoming novel, TRIAL BY DESIRE, Courtney used several paragraphs of before-and-after editing to show how to give scenes give a consistent message. In the draft, most of the wording set a chilly scene: "a blast of cold air," "a pale and unforgiving light." However, the phrase "...painted his skin golden" snuck into this scene. The edited version made the tone of the scene consistent by replacing those warm words with "...as if he were a cold, hard statue of a god...instead of a man made of warm flesh and blood."

Courtney also offered examples of effectively using an unexpected phrase or an unusual reaction from a character to surprise readers. She led us through other exercises and examples, but I'm not going to give away all of her presentation. :)

I've added Courtney's suggestions to my editing arsenal--along with the other processes I use, such as highlighting point-of-view characters in different colors, checking for overused words, balancing dialogue and description, and making sure the hero's eye color doesn't change in mid-story. This is in addition to reading my stories out loud, and reading through several times to check that all subplots and/or story threads are resolved, and character arcs are complete.

Can you tell that I like doing edits? How about you? Do you have a favorite editing process or a suggestion for deepening the emotion in your stories and offering insights into your characters?

P.S. to Becky: thanks for the warning to expect to stay up late into the night to read Courtney's debut release, PROOF BY SEDUCTION. If anyone wants to know more about Courtney, her Web site is www.courtneymilan.com.


Paty Jager said...

Editing- I loathe. I'm a seamstress, but I hate repairing anything. I'd rather start from scratch then mend. Same goes with my writing. So, I don't call it editing- It's polishing, refining, making better. That sounds like less work. ;)

I, too, retained a lot from Courtney's talk. I like that there is always something new I can glean from other writers. So when I go through and polish the latest piece and the second Spirit book that has been waiting for a polishing so I can send it to the editor, I"ll be using the info we learned from Courtney.

After Becky's post, I will have to set Courtney's book to the side. At the moment I don't have time to read her book if I can't put it down. So, it may have to wait until winter rolls around and we're not so busy.

And yes, I fell off the wagon! I'm ont he internet first thing this mornign but only because I havne't had internet since last Friday and I have to let my Wednesday Promo person know that I received her info before she started worrying. And then you see where I ended up??? Yep, I saw there was a new entry here so I popped over. Now I'll be headed to e-mail and more blogs, and before you know it, I'll have wasted several hours on the internet when I should have been writing. All because I had to let someone know they were good to go.

But with no internet over the weekend I managed to write up 8 of my ten blogs I need for the end of the month and my twelve day blog-a-thon to promote my June release. So all's good. I'll just shut the internet off now.... Bye!

Genene Valleau said...

Paty, welcome back to the Internet--however briefly! I'll be in and out today, so not on the Internet much.

I like your spin on editing--I mean polishing/ refining/ making the story better. :) Whatever it takes to make our stories the best they can be!

Kudos on getting so many of your blog posts done! Maybe that will give you a minute or two to celebrate your latest release before you jump back into your other projects.

Now I'm signing off the Internet for awhile too, but will be back later!

Alice Sharpe said...

Genene, I like the examples you used from Courtney's talk and wish I'd been there to hear her.

Editing for me comes in many layers -- there's the original get the words down phase, then the endless tweaking. Seldom do I do a major overwrite although that's not saying I couldn't use it, just that I don't often have the time to go back and work on every word. And sometimes, when every word is tweaked it begins to seem forced and plastic to me if that makes sense.

Too funny, Paty. I don't think of editing as repairing in the same sense as there's a rip in the shirt, fix it. I think of it more along the lines of cleaning up (snipping loose threads, literally in sewing, figuratively in writing) and embellishing (wouldn't lace look nice here and maybe some darts would make it fit better).

As for this internet avoidance thing -- you people have lost me. Honestly, I am shaking my head. I like the connection but I don't feel bound by it and I can't say as it ever takes me away from writing, but that's probably because I am hopelessly old school and not into promotion. I noticed when HQ sent the contracts this time, they included information on that very thing. I figure I'll do my usual nothing this time and then after more than a year of no releases when the new series comes out, I'll dip my feet into the chilly, scary water of putting myself out there more.

meanwhile, staying connected and goofing off when I should be working is part of how I work, apparently. I have to think about this...

Paty Jager said...

Alice, I agree, what you all call editing is embellishing and cutting the loose threads. I don't mind that and that's why I call it polishing.

To me editing means cutting huge chunks and reworking passages- what I had to do to Perfectly Good Nanny and Marshal in Petticoats. I don't like gutting and rearranging stories. That to me is editing.

I like to refine and polish.

Internet avoidance. I'm cutting down on my online networking, I have to and have time to write. But I hate talking on the phone so to stay in touch with family and friends I e-mail. I've cut back on that, too. And I've cut back on reading facebook only once a day. I have to make the time to write and I'm the only one who can do that.

Alice Sharpe said...

Egad, Paty, if that's what you call an edit (I call that a nightmare) I agree with you.

As for the internet -- I was being flippant, and I apologize. We all have different things asked of us from outside forces -- I know that if I had half as many obligations and commitments as you do, I would be thinking of ways to cut down the stress, too.

Sorry if I sounded smug.

Paty Jager said...

Alice, You didn't sound smug, you sound like I wish I could be. Unfortunately I'm tied to the computer through promotion, family, and my freelance job.

But I do love my trips to Princeton when I can't get internet. It is quite peaceful, until I come back to 300 e-mails! Or I need to look up something for the book.

Genene Valleau said...

Egad! I missed an entire conversation by being out of touch with the Internet this afternoon. Fortunately, Paty and Alice managed quite nicely. :)

I appreciate you both clarifying what editing means to you. My definition of editing is very broad. It can range from the "gut and rewrite" Paty talked about to Alice's cleaning up/embellishing when I'm nearing the final version of a story. And the process seems different with each project.

Interesting perspectives on the Internet from both of you. I rely on e-mail and sending files electronically for writing and most of my promotion as well my other businesses. Yet I also find that I can spend several hours on the Internet that wasn't on my schedule if I don't pay attention--or if my doggies don't Interrupt me because it's time for dinner. :)

Thanks to both of you for offering your comments on editing and how you write. I'm endlessly fascinated by how other writers reach The End of a polished story, and I always learn something!