G’day, patient friends! I know it’s been a while since I posted here (for me it feels longer than an afternoon spent with Mrs Figgs), but I’m finally back and with another collection of the best editing tips I’ve found in three years’ worth of hunting. So far I’ve covered structure, point of view, showing instead of telling and characterization, and it’s been amazing to see all your likes and shares so I certainly hope to see them again. In the meantime, put your red pens to paper for…
The Over-do-er’s Editing Checklist: Setting
1. Do your layouts work? If you’ve made up an imaginary house or town, draw a map and ensure your descriptions always match and always fit together. Ensure, too, that the position of your characters is clear and consistent. For example someone could start a scene by leaning against a door frame, and later you can re-iterate this position by showing them idly picking at a splinter in the door jam.
2. Use props to create movement and make your scenes more dynamic. A frustrated businessman could spend a whole scene sitting at his desk, with the occasional slam of the telephone as his only means of expressing his emotions. But say after one call he throws his mobile across the room and later, when he finally decides to tell his boss to stick-it, he’ll have to get up to grab his phone. That movement may lead to him losing confidence with every step, or pacing the room as he blasts his boss with two years’ worth of pent up emotions, or even jumping for joy as he realizes his life will be completely fixed if he starts a career writing easy listening instrumental tracks for people waiting on hold.
3. Any time you switch to a new setting, establish that setting in the first sentence. Mentioning a symbolic and instantly recognizable object can be enough, but beware of becoming so used to a setting that you make an assumption your reader might not. An example is using a character as the symbolizing object – just because they are almost always in one location, doesn’t necessarily make that location clear when you start a scene with them.
4. If you’re visiting a location for the first time, use enough description to ground the reader in reality but do also watch out for descriptive information dumps. Think of your world like a painting – how much more interesting would it be if you discovered new little details every time you went back to it?
5. Give your characters props to enhance setting, personality, emotion and, on a practical level, to ensure two characters don’t interact with each other in the same way for so long that the reader forgets the setting completely. And as with the point above, make sure your reader can feel those objects, too.
6. Including physical sensations in your setting will instantly add greater realism and immerse your reader more. Sights, smells, tastes, textures – go through them all (although not every time, or you’ll end up with a descriptive paragraph the length of a dictionary and the range of a shopping list). Even more subtle things, like the overall color scheme of a location from the color of the light, the dirt and so on, can enhance mood.
7. Keep the amount of description appropriate to your genre. For example, sci-fi or a historical thriller will need more details and more accuracy than, say, a character-driven, YA novel. And if you’ve had to do a stack of research to gain that level of accuracy, don’t be tempted to cram it all in. Always stick to the question – is this vital to the telling of the story?
8. Even though you’ve probably already checked for adjective and adverb abuse and the use of cliché, check your descriptions again as they can be a perfect hiding place for such little nasties. I don’t need to know that the dainty stars were twinkling brightly in the pitch-black depths of the sky (although I might be interested to see the moon trudge between avenues of stars like the world’s slowest game of pacman).
9. Lastly, it goes without saying, but don’t stereotype. Sure, when you first began your pot, your dentist had an immaculate appointment room full of model teeth. But now you’re in the editing stage you should be thinking, what if there were a bunch of lolly wrappers stuffed in the wastebasket? Your reader is bound to be intrigued.