Wednesday, August 31, 2016

#WeWriteBooks, Post 26: The Micro Edit


Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She's currently writing a post-apocalyptic book with all of you called THIRST in conjunction with the #WeWriteBooks series. 

Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website, where you can read THIRST. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.

Welcome to week twenty-six of #WeWriteBooks Wednesdays, where we are writing books together. I wrote the first draft of a book called THIRST and finished a few weeks ago. Click here to visit the chapter archives, if you want to read it.



Contest Announcement Coming Tomorrow!

Tomorrow I'll be announcing the details for the opening of the #WeWriteBooks contest. We got a few weeks behind this summer, but we're all set to launch tomorrow. So, stay tuned for details!




  

Recap

Week one was genre (THIRST is post-apocalyptic YA). Week two was premise. Here's my premise:

A waterborne disease has sprung up in every corner of the globe, decimating the human race. Young survivors Eli McShane and his friends journey toward Colorado and the rumored location of a safe water source.


Week three was Storyworld.
Week four: maps and floorplans.
Week five: protagonists and main characters.
Week six: side characters.
Week seven: prewriting.
Week eight: plot structures. 
Week nine: Theme.
Week ten: creating a plot outline or list of key scenes.
Week eleven: point of view.
Week twelve: narrative modes.

Week thirteen: how to write a scene.

Week fourteen: Where to start.

Week fifteen: Prologues.
Week sixteen: Dividing Your Book Into Chapters and Scenes 
Week seventeen: Write Fast and Free
Week eighteen: Dialogue and Thought
Week nineteen: Character and Author Voice
Week twenty: Action
Week twenty-one: Description
Week twenty-two: Exposition
Week twenty-three: Pacing
Week twenty-four: Beginnings and Endings of Scenes and Chapters
Week twenty-five: The Macro Edit



Today's Topic: The Micro Edit

Now that you have a consistent draft of your novel with all the pieces in place, it’s time to smooth it out and make every word count. You’ve written your first draft, then you fixed it to make the story say what you wanted to say, and now you’re going to say it well. That’s what a micro edit is all about, making your writing sing.

Stephanie wrote a great post on the micro edit. This stage takes as long as it takes--or sometimes as long as you have before the book is due. But this is where your editing skills shine, where you add the finishing touches on your masterpiece. It's a beautiful--and somewhat tedious--thing. Again, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, use the Go TeenWriters Self-Editing Checklist to help you take things step by step.

Here is how I tackle a micro edit:

Calendar/Timeline

I always have a timeline or calendar that chronicles the time that passes in my books. I try to maintain the calendar as I write the first draft, but it always gets messed up. This is one of the things I need to go through and check in my editing stage. I will read the story for the passage of time and make sure that everything lines up okay. This is especially important in books with more than one point of view character.

Description

I will read the book with an eye tuned on all types of description: physical settings, people, creatures, objects, magic, etc. My goal is always to describe only what is necessary and delete the rest. I want to set the stage for each scene, but I don’t necessarily want to stop the story to do so. I’ll tweak static descriptions to make them active, which simply means I might describe a castle as my character moves through it rather than giving a paragraph of description as if my character stepped out of the story briefly to narrate that to me. I will shorten any descriptions that are too long and lengthen those that didn’t do their job well enough. I like to give the location and time of day at the start of each scene (in the first paragraph, if I can) and also state who is present and mention if there is an object that might come up later. This is to avoid having people or objects magically appear in the scene. I also make sure that any description is given in the voice of the point of view character. What would he notice? What words would he use?

In any description, I try to state where the character is in one simple and strong noun. Like: forest, bedroom, office, coast, classroom, sea. I pair the noun with descriptive verbs like: curved, stretched, crouched, stood, towered. And occasionally I add a visual adjective like: rocky, thick, bare, crowded, grassy, colossal, and specific colors. I avoid “ly” adverbs.

I also take time here to really look at my word choice. I want to choose specific nouns, verbs, and adjectives that set the proper mood for the scene. I want to make sure and incorporate the five senses here and there, as well.

Point of View

I read the book for point of view errors. This isn’t one of my major weaknesses, but I do sometimes slip into omniscient when my POV character somehow knows the emotion of another character in the scene. I try to fix all of that and show any emotions through actions, dialogue, and description. If point of view is a tough one for you, take extra care to watch for places where you drift from one head into another. Don’t tell the reader anything the character doesn’t know. Don’t jump into someone else’s thoughts. And if you must jump back and forth between points of view, stay in one person’s head at a time. It’s best two switch at scene or chapter breaks.

Telling vs. Showing

The difference between telling and showing looks like this. Imagine you are with friends out camping. You're sitting around the campfire and someone starts telling a story. "It was a dark night in the forest..." You listen, and you experience the story that way. That's telling.

Now imagine a movie or a stage play. Your watch characters act out a story for an audience. They're real, flesh and blood. You see their actions and expressions. You hear their voices. When an author puts words on a page in a way that readers can see this type of realistic detail in their minds, that's showing.

That's what you want. Stephanie wrote a fabulous post on this subject.


Telling Word List
I use the “search” function in Word to seek out telling words one at a time and rewrite those sentences.

The word “seemed” tends to enable a point of view character to interpret the minds of those around him. This is telling. Instead, I try and show other characters's emotions through their words and actions. Using the words “with a” is another type of telling. Ex: "He said with a smile." Instead, I would have the character smile, then speak.

Keep in mind, just because a word is on the list below doesn’t mean I can’t use it. It also doesn’t mean it’s for certain a telling word the way I've used it. In general, the following words facilitate telling, so I like to search for them, then consider the way I’ve used them in the sentence and if there might be a better way. I try to show action whenever I can rather than telling the facts. Showing gives me the opportunity to describe setting, characters, senses, and action. It helps me be specific. Every word matters. Choose wisely.

Here is my list: it, was, felt, saw, tasted, heard, smelled, sensed, gave, started to, began to, notice, found, with a, spotted, experienced, looked, feeling, felt, watched, wondered, spotted, listened, tried, seemed, thought.
  
Adverbs
Adverbs that end in “ly” tend to be overused and they are always telling. Every once in a while it’s okay to use one, but for the most part, cut them and use strong descriptive verbs to convey emotion instead. I might use one of these per novel.

Make Cliché Phrases Your Own
I try to avoid clichés in my writing. It can be hard to find them because some are so common I don’t even realize how cliché they are. But I do my best to keep an eye out for them as I rewrite. If I find one, I rewrite it to make it my own.
  
Over-Explaining
I watch for places where I explain something I've already revealed to my readers. This is often in another point of view, so it feels like that character needs to hear the story for himself. But he doesn't. So I just recap it and move on. For example, "He told Mike about what had happened with Susan and the dog."

Info Dumps
Information dumps are similar to over-explaining, but here I am simply dumping a load of facts into the story where they don't belong. I try to never do this and instead look for places to weave such facts into the action of the story.

Flashbacks and Backstory
If I've been building up to reveal that "major moment” that changed everything for my character, then I might use a single flashback or a section of backstory to finally reveal it. Any other flashbacks or bits of backstory I wouldn't likely deem unnecessary and would cut them. If I found some in my edits, I would see if I could find another way to work the information into the story.

Author Intrusion, Preaching a Message, or Forcing a Theme
Author intrusion is when I, the author, project myself, my views, my knowledge, or my opinions into my story. This is distracting to readers and interrupts the flow of the story. This often appears as a forced theme or preachy statement the author is forcing upon the reader, but it also can show up as having the wrong technology in a storyworld, real people like Einstein in a fantasy world, or misinformation when an author hasn’t done her research.

Also, just because we live in the 21st century doesn't mean that our characters should think like people today. If you're writing historical fiction or fantasy in an ancient world where there was slavery, chauvinism, different gender roles, or religious beliefs that are different that what you believe, stay true to your storyworld. Don’t force all your characters to be free thinkers who are ahead of their time. It’s bad writing to force modern-day beliefs into a story where they don’t fit. Fight the urge to force your story to be politically correct. The mark of a great writer is someone who can write any type of character honestly.

As to theme, I do try to foreshadow and plant my theme in this stage of edits. I just try to make sure that I'm being subtle and showing my theme rather than telling and forcing it.

Dialogue

I take extra time on dialogue when I can. I will go through the story for each of the main characters. Using the “search” function, I look for each use of their name so that I can study them closely. I’m looking for several things. I want each character in my story to come to life, and dialogue is one of the best ways to bring life to a character. I will study the dialogue for character voice, word choice, syntax, accent, slang, and trueness to that character. (Is this something he would actually say and do?) I will also study internal thoughts, action tags, and description tags to add in those details specific to each character and also to make sure that I haven’t overdone those details.

I also study the dialogue as a whole for rhythm and flow. I read it out loud to hear how it sounds. I want it to sound natural. If I’ve used too many said tags, I try to take some out or exchange them for action, thought, or description tags. I also look hard for generic action tags and try to rewrite these into something meaningful.

Tightening My Prose

I do as many read-throughs as I possibly can before it’s time to turn in the manuscript. The more the better. My goal is to tighten my prose and cut any and all clutter. 

First I go through and look for cliches that need to be tweaked for originality, for adverbs that can be cut (I do a search for "ly"), vague words (I search for: it, them, they, their...), then I'll search out all the words on my weasel word list.

Weasel Words
Weasel words are those pesky words that sneak into your sentences like “just” or “very.” I search my manuscript for these one at a time. Yes, it's very tedious, but it really makes a difference in my writing. You can tell when I've done it in a book and when I didn't have time. Click here to see a list of weasel words.

Cut Needless Words
I try to never use two words when I can use one. No need to say my character is a little tired. I would just say that she is tired. No need to tell my readers that she walked quickly when I can say she strode. Instead of writing that "the walls of the castle were stone" I can say "the castle's walls were stone." Cut. Trim. Tweak, tweak. Remember this magic formula: 1 + 1 = ½. That means, if I overuse descriptive words, I might make my story worse, rather than better. No need to say that Kate was tired and weary. She's weary. It's the stronger of the two words. Less is more. I pick a word and stick with it.

Vague vs. Specific
As I edit, I change any vague word I see. They weaken my writing. "She had pretty hair" doesn't do as much as "Her hair fell in black waves over her shoulders." The goal is to choose concrete words that offer a clear, intentional picture to the reader. Good writing is in the details.

Emotion Words
My author dream is that every word in my story would be chosen for a reason. That doesn't always happen because of deadlines, but it's a good practice. I also like to choose descriptive words that fit the overall emotion in a particular scene. These carefully chosen words will bolster the the emotion I'm looking to convey. 

Word Pictures
I use word pictures, metaphors, and similes whenever possible because they create instant mental images for the reader. A great simile or metaphor can really help a reader picture things, but those that are too creative can jerk the reader out of the story. I take care to use only the ones that work well. 

Quirks and Habits
Every author forms habits that can become monotonous to the reader. I tend to add way too many metaphors and similes. Another habit of mine is to use triplet sentences like: He walked down the hall, got a drink from the fountain, and went outside. Triplet sentences are something I have to watch for and tweak to create a better rhythm. And I also tend to start a lot of sentences with "and." *grin*

Passive vs. Active
I search my story for passive linking verbs and trade them in for active ones. Click here for a post on this topic.

Impossible Action, Action Out of Order, and Confusing or Bad Sentence Structures
Fiction should be shown in order: action, reaction. I search for the words that create continuing or simultaneous action like: as, when, while, after, and continued to. I always try to make sure those sentences are in a logical order—action, then reaction.

I check any sentences that begin with —ing words.These infinite verb phrases tend to create physical impossibilities. For example: Grabbing a textbook, he crammed it into his backpack, slammed his locker, and ran to class. 

Since he can’t physically grab a textbook, cram it into his backpack, slam the locker door, and run to class simultaneously, that sentence isn’t humanly possible and needs rewritten.

Paragraph and Sentence Structure, Pacing, and Flow
Today, most readers like lots of white space in their stories. That means shorter paragraphs and lots of dialogue. If you pick up a book and flip through it, notice the amount of text on each page compared to the amount of white space (where there’s no text). You want a good balance in your manuscript. We've talked about pacing before, so I watch for that as I edit. I continue to delete needless words, tighten sentences, survey the length of sentences, vary them, and break up really long paragraphs.

There's Still More?
There are so many more things I look for, but I'm writing a novel here in this blog post! Try not to get overwhelmed. As you perfect your writing craft, you won't make many of these mistakes anymore. All this will become second nature and your first drafts will be stronger, though they'll still need lots of attention. Until then, I highly recommend checking out the Go Teen Writers book where Stephanie and I go into depth teaching how to edit a novel. But here are a few more topics that you could Google if you'd like:

-Use progressive tense only when you actually mean to. Otherwise you can cut one word.
-Don't use double verbs unless they are factual and someone "started to do" something and did not finish. 
-Cut out all redundant phrases. "Her brain was pulsing in her head." Unless she might be an alien, the reader knows her brain is in her head, so you can just say: "Her brain was pulsing," even though that's a weird example...
-Don't repeat yourself. It's natural as we write to say the same thing a few different ways for effect, but when you go back in an edit, pick the strongest one and delete the others.
-Work hard on your beginnings and endings. Click here to learn more about that.
-Cut What's Boring. You might think, “Duh, Jill.” But you’d be surprised how much you can miss in your own manuscript. So keep an eye peeled for sentences or even paragraphs that really don’t matter, even if you like what you wrote. If the story is the same without it, it’s probably something that can be cut.


Read to Tweak

In my last pass through the manuscript, I read to tweak. I try to read the book out loud to someone. Reading aloud to an audience enables me to catch so much more than I would reading silently or even aloud to myself. There is no better method for me to catch things than doing this.

Comments and Placeholders

You'll need to run a search for any placeholders you may use. A placeholder is a word that some writers use as a flag to themselves to come back and fix something. Stephanie uses the word “GIRAFFE.” I don't use placeholders. I either highlight the text that needs more work or I’ll add a comment to remind myself what I need to come back and fix.

Ideally by this stage I should have fixed all these types of problems, so I would then run a search for them to make sure I didn't miss any.
  

Formatting, Punctuation, and Spell Check

Format
Formatting your manuscript correctly is very important. Here is a quick list of things to do, and if you need more help, I also have a YouTube video on the subject that is quite thorough.

-Your title page should be single spaced. The rest of the manuscript should be double spaced.
-Use 12-point Times New Roman or Courier font. No exceptions. Don’t use a fancy font—it’ll mark you as an amateur.
-Each chapter should begin on a new page. Don’t hit “Enter, Enter, Enter” to get your cursor to a new page. You must insert a Page Break at the end of each chapter, then begin typing a new one on the next page.
-Start each chapter ¼ to ½ of the way down the page.
-Format all chapter headings the same. It doesn't matter if you write "Chapter One" or "1," as long as you're consistent.
-Use only one space after punctuation, not two.
-Use italics for inner thoughts and to stress a word. Don't go overboard.
-Avoid all fancy formatting, like drop cap letters to the start of each chapter, flowery scene breaks, or any other decorative graphics.
-Scene breaks should be marked with asterisks or a number sign. Again, you could use one asterisk *, five in a row ***** or three with tabs in between *      *      *. It doesn't matter as long as you are consistent throughout the manuscript. 

I always use the "search" function in Word to check all my chapter titles and asterisks to see that they're all formatted the same. I also search and replace two spaces for one until there are no more left.

Double Check
Double-check for correct punctuation, grammar, and common typos. Run a search for words you tend to misspell or create typos of like “chance” when I mean “change.” Also: its/it’s, know/now, loose/lose, past/passed, they’re/their/there, thing/think, and though/through/thought.

Punctuation

Proper punctuation is really important for writers. We must learn the rules if we are going to be professional authors. I highly recommend picking up a punctuation book for your own reference. The Chicago Manual of Style is the reference for the book publishing industry. Add a used copy to your wish list. It’s a great tool to have on your shelf. Here are a list of my Punctuation 101 blog posts. They are still relevant, so follow them!


Run Spell Check


Don't rely on Word's wavy red lines to catch all your misspellings. I ALWAYS run a spell check as the very last thing I do before turning in my manuscript. And even then I sometimes manage to miss things.


More posts to help you:


Help for Editing Secondary Characters:
Secondary Characters

Macro edit links I missed last week:
Time for the Forest




Assignment time

Just like last week, I know some of you aren't ready for this stage of edits, but if you're planning to enter the contest (details coming tomorrow!) then you'll need to at least start editing your first chapter. What are some things listed above that you know you need to work on? Share in the comments.




Monday, August 29, 2016

Editing for the first time? 5 Thoughts To Help You Make Sense Of It.

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street, which releases in February 2017. Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.


Rachael wrote to me and said, "I'm 9k into my second draft, and it's taken me a year to get there. I feel like I'm trying to edit everything all at once--so much so, that it's almost like writing a first draft all over again, except this one isn't supposed to be bare bones--and I've gotten really discouraged. So my question is this: how do you know what to edit in the second draft, and what to let go for now? How do you keep it from being so utterly and completely overwhelming? There will always be another draft, but I don't know what to focus on for this one. Characters? Plot? Beginning/end? Everything seems vital, but it's too much to handle all at once."


Oh, Rachael! Hugs!

I'm sure many other young writers nodded along as they read your words. This might not make you feel any better but I nodded along! Here are some things to keep in mind:



1. It's okay to rewrite.

When you are a young writerwhether you're literally young or just new to writing novelsyou are learning a lot very quickly. Even if it doesn't feel like it. I never edited the first few complete manuscripts I wrote because by the time I finished them, I could see that they had serious problemsincluding that I was too bored with the story and characters to care enough to fix them.

Eventually I wrote the first draft of the book that became my debut novel. I rewrote this book three times because of what I learned during the process. Sometimes the best thing to do is just open up a blank document and try again.

I don't know if this is encouraging or discouraging, but even after you've been writing for a while, some first drafts just come out messier than others. That's true for my current work in progress. I wrote the draft last year, when I was pregnant and had inconsistent work time.

On top of that, I normally write my stories in first person with one narrator in good ol' Microsoft Word. But I wanted to try Scrivener, and I thought I would need multiple point of view characters, so I decided to write in third person.

I was about 20,000 words into the book when I admitted Scrivener didn't work for me, and that my voice loses something when I try to write in third. I eventually finished my first draft, and the result was a poorly thought out story that wandered here and there before ending in a very jarring way. And I've been a published novelist since 2009!

When it came time to edit that book, I just opened a new Word document and started over. I could still use a decent amount of my material from the first draft, of course, but I found it easier to just copy and paste bits of scenes rather than trying to fit all the new material around the old.

2. Embrace the mess.

I was recently helping my eight-year-old daughter clean her room. She's a sentimental, artistic type of kid, which leads to moments where I pull a bin off her closet shelf and find it contains a school assignment, a rock, a cup from a party 6 months ago, a crazy straw, and the fancy necklace she was given for Christmas but never could find.

To really clean McKenna's room, we have to take out all the bins, sort all her belongings into piles, and then distribute the piles. In short, we have to make a big mess.

Editing is similar. To do the job properly requires making a mess. I've tried again and again to be so organized about my first draft or the editing process that the mess never happen ... but if that's possible to achieve, I've yet to figure out how.

I think the smarter approach is to just embrace that editing is a messy process.

3. Editing is a skill

I've said this before, but editing is its own skill. You've learned how to craft a story, how to stretch it over the course of thousand and thousands of words. If you're like I was as a young writer, maybe you've written tons of story beginnings, or you've made it all the way through a book a time or two, but you've never edited one before.

Editing a novel is different than editing an essay or an article. It's possible you will read your first draft, know that it needs to be fixed, but not really know how. This is one reason why we encourage writers to learn about story structure and to analyze the stories you take in. Understanding components of stories that resonateand stories that miss the markwill help you identify problems in your own manuscript.

As an example, I wrote a book in my late teens/early twenties that I pitched several times to agents and editors. They would like the sound of it, but no one ever read more than a chapter. "The book just didn't work for me," or "There wasn't enough of a hook for me to sell," are the responses I remember.

I didn't know what to do. I believed them that something was wrong with my book, but I didn't know what, so I definitely didn't know how to fix it.

Several months later, I was reading a book that I just couldn't get into. Then I realized a similarity between that opening scene of that book and mine:

This author's book opened with three friends meeting up at a bar after work to have a drink together. The first scene was mostly just their conversation.

My book opened with two friends meeting up at a coffee house after school. The whole scene was just these two friends having a disagreement. I had thought the tension of the dialogue was enough to hook a reader, but when I saw it play out in the other author's book, I could see that it was boring.

So if you read your manuscript and you have trouble pinpointing what's not working, you might eventually figure it out by reviewing story structure or reading.

4. Prioritize problems.

Chances are that you know at least some things that need to be fixed. Jill wrote a great post on Wednesday about the "macro edit," which is that first big picture edit. This would be a great one for you to read if you haven't already. We also wrote the Go Teen Writers book to help writers through edits, so that can be a good resource too.

Since Jill talked about this in depth on Wednesday, I'll just summarize briefly. The instinct for most writers is to edit their book from start to finish. But if we try to edit for everythingplot, characters, theme, grammar, sentence structure, consistencyall at once ... that's a lot to try and hold in our heads.

So I read through my first draft and make a list as I go. Things that need to be researched, story questions I raise but never answer, character motivations that seem thin, and so on. Then I divide my list into bigger issues and smaller issues.

Big issues that I will tackle in a second draft might be, but aren't limited to:
  • Something I didn't bother to research in the first draft that could make a big impact on the story. 
  • A major character who I don't understand very well yet. I will usually take time to write a character journal if I haven't already and then rework scenes from there.
  • A villain who is too convenient/too obvious/shows up too late in the book to feel satisfying. Often I need to add scenes early on to help with this.
  • A beginning that drifts too much before the real story starts. I'll figure out what can be cut.
  • A twist that I don't set up properly, or one that doesn't feel as twisty as I'd like.
Further down the list I usually have a list of questions I want to process. These are things that usually don't impact many scenes, but my gut says that I need to take the time to answer them. Some examples are:
  • Why does my character choose to go to this place? I never explain that.
  • What is my villain doing during the off-stage time?
  • I say this character is going to be gone for two weeks but they're only gone for one.
  • My character knows a piece of information before they're told. How can I rearrange this?
After I've made the list, it's time to dig in. I always save a "first draft" version of the manuscript so that as I'm working on edits, I know there's a back up of the original version should I need it.

5. Someone out there knows how to fix your book.

It amazes me every time.

I will be struggling with a story problem. Like, "Why did the mother steal the necklace?" I'll roll this question around for a few dayswhile I'm brushing my teeth or walking my kids to school. I might come up with an idea or two, but nothing that feels like I've landed on the right solution.

Then, I'll send my writing friend, Roseanna White, a message. "I can't figure out why her mother steals the necklace. It's driving me crazy."

About 30 seconds later, Roseanna will write back something like, "Did she need the money? Does it have sentimental value? Was it for revenge?"

Within a few minutes, Roseanna will have helped me come up with something that I love and can't wait to write. There's something about her distance from the manuscript that makes her amazing at solving the problems. She's not the one who has to do the hard work of revisions, and she's not limited by the rest of the plot because she only has a loose idea of what it is.

Maybe you don't know why your opening scene isn't working, or how to make that action scene more exciting. But somebody you know does! They don't have to be a writer, either. It's great if they are, but I was 22 before I made my first writing friend.



Rachael, I know edits are difficult and overwhelming, especially that first time. I hope something in this post was helpful to you!

If you have other thoughts or encouragement for Rachael, leave them below!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Editing for Musicality by Olivia Farnsworth

Happy Friday, friends! Shannon here. I have the crazy privilege of introducing you all to Olivia Farnsworth. If you'll remember, we sent out a call for article submissions a while back and Olivia's concept was chosen as a winner! It was a such a joy to work with Olivia as we polished up her article and I'm so excited to share her and her work with you all. She taught me a little something and I think you'll see she has a lot to offer the writing community. 

Please welcome Olivia Farnsworth!



Olivia Farnsworth is fifteen years old and lives in Burns, Oregon, with sixty acres of desert pasture, her parents, two brothers, and several assorted trailer-loads of critters. She is currently pursuing her dream career of being a novelist through her two YA Christian fiction books, one in the editing phase and the other still in the first draft stage. When she isn’t typing or working her summer job for the BLM, she enjoys running paths in the fields with her border collies and hanging out on Go Teen Writers.
 
Whether you realize it or not, music and writing have much in common, and understanding their similarities can help you when you edit your novel. In writing, musicality refers mainly to the sound created by prose and relies on pleasing rhythm, diction (word choice), and occasional sound devices. While nearly every area of editing for musicality requires use of a well-developed "author's sense," there are some specific techniques you can use to give you a head start. The ones I'll be introducing today are tips for creating pauses in dialogue, establishing mood and mood shifts, and creating overall musicality and balance in your manuscript. Let's dive into these three tips, starting with what your characters say—their dialogue.

Tip #1: Creating Pauses in Dialogue
            
If you have ever studied conversations, then you know that the participants are prone to fall silent at some point during the exchange. Maybe two acquaintances run out of things to say, and an awkward emptiness fills the air between them. Maybe one person tactlessly breaks some bad news to a friend and now watches anxiously, waiting for the reaction.
            
Of course, the opposite can be true as well. When one character interrupts another or shatters a peaceful silence with a shouted interjection, the novelist has to manipulate the word choice and order to capture the moment in the desired emotional light. No matter the situation, timing is essential to creating natural dialogue. Take a look below at an excerpt I took from the rough draft of my WIP. This segment is written from the perspective of Armand, so we hear the exchange through his ears. He is focused solely on an injury his leader suffered, which is the original topic of the discussion between him and the other speaker, Uriah. However, Uriah has other things on his mind, which provides an interesting dilemma in writing their conversation—a dilemma I did not handle correctly at first. See if you can spot the timing error in the original copy below.

            “Got the lung, aye?” Uriah stood and stretched.
            “It appears so.”
            “Arrows are better than bullets.”                  
            “Is that so?” Armand squinted at him, trying to track the abrupt swing of subject matter.
            
Did you catch it? Uriah's change of subject was abrupt, as I intended it. His mind was occupied with a problem he deemed more severe than an injury—the effect the blast of a discharged bullet could have on their stealth mission. Armand's comeback, however, was too quick. Of course, he would try to sound like he was on top of things, but he needed time to process the situation before doing so. Here's the edited version.

            “Got the lung, aye?” Uriah stood and stretched.
            “It appears so.”
            “Arrows are better than bullets.”
            Armand squinted at him, his mind scrambling to track the abrupt swing of subject matter. “Is that so?”

A little switcheroo, a few more words tossed in, and we're good to go. The narrative and dialogue work together to create a natural pace that does not confuse the reader.
             
Below is another example from my novel. Unlike Armand in the previous excerpt, Hums retaliates quickly when startled. To achieve this, I placed his dialogue first to reveal his outer reaction, and the narrative second to show his emotional response. This excerpt is written from Hums' perspective. FYI, Mason and Stitches are both horses.

            He (Hums) checked the remaining three hooves, but nothing was awry. He ran his cold fingers through every inch of Mason’s thick winter woolies, then began to examine Stitches.
            A voice echoed out of the darkness that swamped the barn. “He’s got a puncture wound.”
            “Would you quit that?” Hums snarled into the empty space around him, though his fury was at himself for starting.
           
For interruptions or a quick reply, as seen above, it often works best to position the reply immediately after the initial dialogue, with no narration in between. While it is not always necessary to follow this suggestion, it is helpful when a certain degree of abruptness is desired.

Tip #2: Establishing Mood and Mood Shifts
             
When reading fiction, you may want to study what makes it rhythmic so you can better create musicality through your own writing. The style of prose found in novels isn't meant to be all straight-lined and even, the way poetry is. Prose has its own sound, like the rushing of a river—loose, disorganized, but united. If your sentences all start sounding the same, your writing may feel stiff, interrupting the flow. To keep the reader tuned, you need every sentence to glide gently into the other.
             
This brings us to the topic of mood. While you've probably read many things about conveying emotion, the idea I want you to recognize now is that the mood you portray will be strongest if you focus on either one or two at a time. Take the following excerpt from my WIP, which contains two different moods and two different tempos, or speeds. The first paragraph is fast paced action—your typical fight scene. However, Uriah was bitten by a venomous snake just prior to the battle, and the second paragraph introduces the first wave of the symptoms. Paragraph three (shortened for space efficiency) brings us back to the urgency of the situation as the fight continues, now with heightened stakes. Be on the lookout for the details that create the change in mood and tempo among the three paragraphs. FYI, the environment here is an underground hot springs.

            He (Uriah) drove the man back with a series of punches to the face. Steve flinched heavily with each, and a stream of blood darkened what little Uriah could see of the man's face in the dim light underground. Uriah's jaw clenched, and his anger powered each solid, calculated attack. He drove Steve backwards, and the man stumbled over calf-high rocks behind his boot heels and fell backwards into a frothy mineral bath. Fists clenched in tight wads at his sides, Uriah strode forward in pursuit.
            A wave of confusion scrambled his vision, and his feet swept him sideways into some rocks. He straightened himself and tried to shake the vapors out of his head. The motion only mixed the potion and made him feel faint. His knees felt loose and liquid, and he stood stone-still, afraid if he tried to walk, they would betray him.
            Steve hit him from the side and drilled him into the granite boulders beside him. The jagged teeth of the rocks struck his shoulder and dug their spikes into his ribs as the heavier man bore his weight down on his prey.
             
When something happens to change the mood of your POV character, the shift should be clear and concise. It's often quick, too, so your wording and the sentence structure around it are important. Think about this as you read the next tip.

Tip #3: Creating Overall Musicality and Balance
            
There are two key components that contribute to rhythm, which is a vital piece in creating musicality. The first is sentence combinations, as mentioned above, and the second is accents, or the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in words and sentences. While there are no specific rules involving accents, it is something to consider when you edit. The pattern of ups and downs created by words in a sentence should combine well and have enough variety to feel natural. In addition, using words that sound alike in close proximity can throw your readers, so be careful. The length and structure of your sentences also come into play, since the pauses created by punctuation affect the rhythm.
             
If any of you have ever taken a music theory class, you're probably familiar with musical phrases, stanzas, and a thing called cadence. Phrases and stanzas are the sentences and paragraphs of the music world, and recognizing their positions can help a composer write chord progressions. This is where cadence comes in.
            
Toward the end of a stanza, the chords begin to cycle back through a specific pattern to the I chord, which is the simplest chord and the one on which almost every stanza begins and ends. The gradual return to the I chord is cadence. The listener, subconsciously hearing the pattern, anticipates the conclusion. The same is true for paragraphs. Most paragraphs have a beginning, a middle, and an end, all of which form what could be called a paragraph arc. Be aware of this structure during the editing phase and correct any paragraphs that do not have a satisfying conclusion. This will create a much smoother transition of ideas throughout your story.
             
As a quick example of what cadence looks like in a paragraph, here is another excerpt from my WIP. Take note of how the different aspects I mentioned bring the musical aspect of cadence into the writing.

A tiny eel squirmed within her warm heart as he stood there against the wall, so brown he almost blended in. The dark irises and dilated pupils, filled with quiet mystery and brutish fear, sent a tingle through her skin. Only a strange and dark past could form such a creation, and in the back of her mind Judy resolved to discover that past.

One word of caution before we close: when finishing a paragraph with a decision or an opinion the character has reached, state it subtly so as to aid the reader's understanding of the situation without insulting their powers of deduction.

Musicality in fiction writing may be new to you, but understanding it will help you make your manuscripts shine. 

Have you ever noticed the similarities between music and writing, or is this a new concept to you? Have you struggled with any of the scenarios I brought up? 

Feel free to post your own examples of editing improvements you've made and how it relates to the idea of musicality in fiction.