Refining Your Fiction

When you first start writing it is all about getting words on the page. When you’ve been writing for a while you begin to stretch yourself to refine these words into a novel, short story, poem or nonfiction piece. There are many ways to do this but one of my favorite ways is to review and replace the words that I use too much.

If you look over your work carefully you will find you default to certain words. Your default words can be anything. Perhaps you are describing a lawn and you always write that it is a lush verdant landscape or you have a constantly roaring sea or roaring villain.

Time and time again I find myself using the same word or phrase and do my best to weed it out of my writing. I want to write good fiction and not have the same rehashed descriptors. It might be a pain to look through my book or short story to kill my darlings were it not for Word Frequency Counter 

Word Frequency Counter is one of my favorite free tools. Simply copy and paste your work to the box on the webpage and press submit. It does not matter the lenght. I did it with my novel of 90,000 words. It will give you a list of words and you can also search for repeated phrases. Some of the general words are unavoidable like proper nouns or personal pronouns. But as you scroll down you will begin to see the default words.

I’ve provided the link to the website below.

Whatever you do this weekend I hope you look ahead and find some time to write. I’d say don’t kill yourself by staying up late or getting up horribly early but, if you want to get your work done, you just might have to do so! Godspeed my writing friends!




When Is A Manuscript Done?

I’ve been editing for some time now. It has been nearly three weeks since I started the process of cutting and manipulating seven chapters of the latest draft of my novel in order to submit it. I’ve found so many mistakes and plot lines that either needed to be removed or drastically accentuated that I am shocked I thought this draft completed in the first place.

This has caused me to do some serious reflection on what a draft is. I used to think that it was another step in the right direction, but a lot of times it is not. Lately I’ve deleted more words than I have kept. I’ve probably been more frustrated with writing through this process than I have ever been. However, I feel as though I am breaking through to another layer of writing that will make me that much better because of all of the toil I experience now.

The main question I wrestle with is, when do you know when a draft is done? You can have friends read it, have them pick over it and give their assessment, make changes based on those assessments, and then redraft. But at some point you have to get it out there. It might sound silly but at times I feel like I am coaxing a little bird along the edge of a branch preparing to push it off so it can take flight. The problem is I cannot be sure this little bird is ready to fly. I know I am ready to move on, but I don’t want to commit a novice mistake and get a rejection just because it is not ready.

I suppose it comes down to believing in your story. That your voice will shine through, and that the editor or slush pile surfer will forgive any inconsistencies that you missed. Hopefully, by the end of the week, I will pluck up the courage to push this feathered little manuscript out into the world. I just hope it flies.  



My First Mistake

When I started my novel, all those years ago, I thought ‘Wouldn’t it look cozy next to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy?’. Or ‘maybe I could nestle it between David Copperfield and War and Peace?’. I honestly had no idea what I was doing. This was my first mistake, a terribly aimed goal. I did not believe that my work was as good as a classic, nor should any writer. Everyone must find their own path and write what they love and know and let their book be what it is. However, I think a lot of beginner writers have a few presuppositions about big novels.

The main reason I wanted to write something long was because I thought 100,000 words was the magical number I had to see in my word count. And I did. But I did not know that Dickens was paid by the word as were most writers back then. Of course he could have tangents and funny anecdotes but that is how the publishing world worked back then. Not so today.

I recently heard an acquisition editors say that they train their slush pile surfers to toss manuscripts over 80,000 words. I am not saying this is a rule but something to think about. I realized now that 100,000 words are nice for Harry Potter, but that is not for me.

My practice now is to cut out as many words as I can to strip my story down. Chapter 1 was cut by 1000 words and chapter 2 by 500+. My goal is to create a streamlined story. One that is clear and concise and to the point. I my aim is not to get under 80,000 words just because. However, I am doing my best to kill my darlings. I hope you do as well.



How I Plan To Edit My Novel

After I finish my book proposal (more on that tomorrow) I plan to get back to making my novel better. Some might think this is backwards, but there are things I’d like to clean up as I wait patiently (all to eagerly perhaps) for that form rejection letter.

When taking gravity, mathematics, and the concreteness of reality out of the way, there are about a billion ways to do just about anything. Here is my bumpy  and unproven road towards a cleaner fourth draft.

Step 1: Create Small Goals

When I look back on my novel there is a lot of work to be done. But I plan to approach these corrections and tackle them like I remodeled me house, one room at a time. If I were to read through for grammar, characterization, plot, and other errors simultaneously, I would immediately become overwhelmed by the plethora of mistakes. So I plan to read my novel several times to sweep over each one. Also, I will to do a simple read through taking notes first, before I do any hacking and whacking to my manuscript.

Step 2: Create A Plan

Not only can the writer/editor become overwhelmed with the mistakes that have been made on an early draft of a novel, but it can be nerve racking knowing just where to begin. I plan to print of my manuscript three chapters at a time and each night before I go to bed, simply read through 5-10 pages. 400+ pages can be a lot of work, but if I were to get on a role and finish 10 pages a day for a week, there’s 70 pages right there. And that’s not to mention lunch breaks at work and the occasional morning where I might have the energy to get up and knock out 5-10 pages.

Step 3: Identify Areas of Improvement

As I do my casual read through, while scratching some notes, I plan to identify areas of improvement. For instance, if I have inaccurate descriptions, if I forget a character completely, if a whole scene needs to be rewritten, a new scene added, or, as William Faulkner say if he were standing over my shoulder, if that little darling part needs to be killed.

Again, as I said at the beginning this is not a sure-fire way to edit. I don’t think there is. I think there are formulas we can use that might help, but it is what fits the writer best. The most important thing for me is figure out a system that works, and to do it.

One word at a time.