Editing (and writing) tips

I recently got a question asking about writing tips in general, and especially related to editing. For privacy reasons, as usual, I won’t name the person–but I’m writing a post here instead of replying directly because 1) I always ramble like fuuuuuuuck and 2) maybe someone else out there is curious about the same thing from my perspective.

First, as always, I’m obviously not a professional. You’ll definitely want to go with what professionals say, if anything goes against my thoughts. But for what it’s worth, I helped a family member edit her book and a professional who worked with her on the book was really impressed with my feedback. Which I am not saying to pat myself on the back; I say only to mention that maybe, hopefully, some of this is useful and not totally leading people down the wrong path lol

Writing

I have some posts on writing advice here: http://ais-n.tumblr.com/tagged/writing-advice — and there should be some that Santino and/or I wrote under “writing questions” here: https://aisness.wordpress.com/2016/05/01/icos-master-list-feb-2016-edition (Note that there may be some overlap between the two links, also I’m not sure if all those links still work–if you see any specifically that don’t, let me know).

I have lots of thoughts on writing, but they’re all pretty informed by my personal writing style which is very much aimed toward writing what makes sense for that story and those characters, and “rules” be damned. I don’t like the idea of confining oneself to expectations if it interferes with the natural, organic progression of a story. That does mean I tend to go pretty hardcore into stuff I write because if I’m writing a dark story, I’m not going to pull punches; and I tend to add a fair amount of darkness into my stories because it doesn’t feel realistic to me otherwise. But this also means my style doesn’t work for people who want to feel like they always know what’s coming or at least know the limits to which the story will go. After all, as we’ve seen, you cannot trust me to not totally fuck up a character because it feels like the right progression for me. And that’s not fun for some people to read, you know? But it’s super hard for me to write a more chill story because it’s not the kind of story I tend to read. I try to do it and then I get bored, but other people can do that same concept and story in a fantastically beautiful way and really excel at it.

What I mean by this aside is that I have maybe a bit odd of a viewpoint on writing stories compared to some more traditional or mainstream views, so that may make me a terrible person to ask for thoughts for you, or it may make me someone who vibes better with your personal style. I think it’s most important we’re all genuine to ourselves so whatever writing style works for you is the perfect style for your stories. There’s a story out there for every occasion, every voice, every idea, every feeling.

There is no right or wrong way to write; in my opinion, the only way you can do anything “wrong” is by not believing in your own personal voice, your own personal style; by silencing your individuality if it doesn’t fit the stronger, louder voice. If it does fit, that’s perfect and you should run with it. If it doesn’t, don’t change yourself or your world or characters or story into something it isn’t. That feeling of dissonance will be what is taken away from your story instead of the story itself, at least to readers like me. Because I do believe what Maya Angelou said is true: people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. In my personal opinion both as a reader and a writer, I think that applies to stories as well.

I also think research is really important but I guess that’s a whole other thing. I’m getting too much into writing tips right now so I’ll leave it at this and the linked posts above — but if anyone is curious about anything in particular, let me know. If you’d be curious about my personal thoughts on anything, I’m happy to answer 🙂

Editing:

Editing is a pain, but also kind of fun. I have a few thoughts on it– most of what I’m first talking about below is you editing your own work. I touch a little on editing someone else’s work afterward.

**Read or edit for the overall flow as much (or IMO more) than you do the specific grammatical nitpicking. I know that’s going to go against what a lot of people feel about editing, but here’s the thing: stories are translations of the heart, whether it’s the heart of the overall story, the heart of the writer, the heart of the characters, the heart of the reader, the heart of whatever it represents. To me, a story is poetry on a larger scale, or it’s a song, or it’s whatever artistic endeavor that represents something that, to you, feels moving or meaningful.

Yes, it’s important that we understand what you’re trying to say. For that, yes, having someone check the grammar is definitely useful.

But the rules of grammar are not the rules of language. That may sound like an odd thing to say because, yeah, technically it is– but think about when you’re learning a new language. If it’s anything like when I’ve taken classes in the multiple languages I’ve taken classes in, the teacher tells you all the specific grammatical rules so you’re speaking properly, politely, in complete sentences with all the correct intonation and all the right tenses. You can definitely get your thoughts across if you learn a language that way, in that people will understand the concept of what you’re saying because you are literally speaking textbook to them.

But then think about your native language. Do you speak or type grammatically correct all the time? Do you avoid contractions, run-on sentences, do you not indulge in hyperbole, do you not have fun dropping an Oxford comma or two? If you’re feeling an intense emotion, aren’t you even more likely to play the strings of the language you know best? Changing vocabulary to emphasize meaning or form, adding intensity in your tone or your chosen verbal attack, throwing in swear words or cutting your sentences in half then in half again and again until it’s just partial words because you’re too upset or excited or something else to properly form a complete sentence?

There may be people out there who don’t do this, I don’t know. But for me, this is how I function, and it seems to me how a lot of people around me function. We rarely speak perfectly politely, perfectly properly, in our native tongue 100% of the time. Even languages built very much on the concept of polite and proper, even cultures with a clear sense of in group vs out group, have variations set in place in their language to indicate intimacy, friendship, a sense of understanding. Those levels are there so we can share that connection with others in something as simple as the word we choose when we call them, or the name we use when they come close.

To me, stories are like levels of language. There are different ways of telling the stories based on the story that’s being told. If it’s a character who’s distant or cold, or a setting that requires a sense of detachment, writing in very proper, polite, grammatically perfect sentences makes sense because it provides that sense of out group you would get in your native tongue. If it’s a story that should feel visceral, cloying, catastrophically vulnerable, then it’s meaningful to write in an ebb and flow of emotion dependent on the feeling of the character or the feeling the writer wants to create within the reader. Words breathe life into the story they relay, so the chosen words matter. Most of the time, I think stories benefit from a variation in the telling of them; perfect in some places, very imperfect in others, a constant reflection of the tapestry of emotions and motion in the world or story itself, or a view into the mind of the character displayed.

So, although it’s important to have someone who can help with any egregious and unhelpful grammatical mistakes, or spelling errors or the like, I also don’t think that should be the primary focus. It’s the sort of thing that’s important to take into account so that no poor wording accidentally jolts the reader from the story, but it shouldn’t be the be all and end all because that could result in losing the more emotional flow needed for what the story is trying to get across.

I think of it like this: writers are the translators for a character’s life. How would the characters feel at different points in the story, and therefore how best can that be worded to make the reader feel the same way reading it? How can you make the reader feel like they are experiencing that same emotion the character is feeling? That’s the best way to bring alive a world or plot or character, in my mind: by making it real.

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Julian Files chapter 8

Julian Files master list + what is it?

Continuing the sad train to dysfunctionville, I present to you:


Julian Files chapter 8

Thursday July 21, 2005
Carlisle Windsor School, All Saints neighborhood
Lexington, PA

When they pushed him, Boyd stumbled and fell. He had been paying so much attention to the book he hadn’t expected anything else, so he wasn’t prepared to catch himself. His foot missed the edge of the steps and he tumbled all the way down the stairs, bumping and rolling until he crashed to an abrupt halt at the bottom.

His knees skinned on the concrete, and his arms jolted. His head snapped forward.

It hurt.

The suddenness scared him. His heart thundered in his chest.

He curled his fingers against the concrete and focused on that instead of the startled pain that tried to overcome his natural ability to stay unaffected. His chin wobbled so he clenched his teeth.

He wouldn’t cry. Boys didn’t cry, and he couldn’t be a girl. They already called him that and more.

Carefully, he pushed himself up. It hurt even more doing that, and for a horrifying second he thought he was going to cry anyway. Everything got all blurry the way it did when he had tears. But he managed to hold it in, and he thought his mother and dad would have both been proud.

He could stay quiet no matter what. He was a good boy.

As long as he stayed a good boy, his mother and dad would always remember him. They would still want him.

As long as he stayed a good boy, Mr. Cole wouldn’t take them away.

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Julian Files chapter 7

Julian Files master list + what is it?

There’s a lot I was going to say about the 2 month gap between posting the last update in this book, and why, and how this book is super draft mode. It takes too long to explain, though, so I may post it separately. For now I will just say:

I MAY NEED JULIAN FILES BETA READERS!

If you are interested, let me know–especially if you are a Boyd and/or Vivienne fan because you may have paid attention to details I might have forgotten in our many reworkings of ICoS.

As for this chapter, it’s one that some of you may have been waiting for, and others maybe never wanted to read.


Sunday July 17, 2005
Cedar Hills neighborhood
Lexington, PA

Vivienne knelt in the dusty attic, the only place she felt safe from prying eyes. Her gaze, as always, strayed to the box that held her deepest treasure. And, as always, she made her gaze move away.

She had chosen her path and she did not regret it. She did not make choices lightly, and refused to question actions she had made to the best of her ability at any given time. Doubt was the path toward self destruction, as far as she was concerned; the path that only the weak and insecure took.

Still, there were days that drew her up here again, away from her husband, away the child that haunted this house. Up, up to where she could breathe freely with the trapdoor shut and the darkness surrounding her in comfort.

Cedrick was asleep, as was their son. Although Cedrick had difficulty falling asleep, once he achieved it he could sleep through anything. Their son never strayed from bed once he had settled in–whether it was because he slept through noises or was intelligent enough to not bother anyone, she did not know. It was a small thing she could be grateful for on nights like this. A small thing she wished could be part of a greater whole, but no matter how hard she tried it didn’t seem to happen.

When he had first come screaming into her arms, she had felt a detachment she had never expected. Exhaustion and a need to get away. From when he had been growing inside her to even now, years later, there were days on end where she barely wished to eat. Days where she found solace at her work because it was easier to concentrate on her expectations as a professional than it was to confront her inability to be the perfect mother, or even a proper mother at all. She was used to excelling at what she put her mind toward, yet her inability to meet even the most basic of expectations of motherhood felt like a betrayal; whether of her own mind and body, or of society, or of her son, or anything else, she could not always decide.

Perhaps it had been that or something else that had made his red, crying face bring to mind the image of the Nain Rouge. Vivienne had once met a woman from Detroit who, upon learning Vivienne was French, had talked at length about the Nain Rouge and how she viewed it.

Harbinger of doom, she called it. And Vivienne’s first sight of her only child had brought that swiftly to mind.

Vivienne had tried to ignore the thought, but perhaps her addled mind had known best. Only days later, the war had taken Vivienne’s family, and everything had twisted in Vivienne’s life from then on.

It was in memory of that family that she was here now.

As had been the case since she had birthed that child, she had been unable to sleep; caught forever in the shroud between dreams and the waking world. That restlessness had drawn her from the warmth of Cedrick’s side, down the quiet hallway, up the stairs, up the ladder, to sit with her knees pulled to her chest, where her gaze was drawn again, again to that box. 

It was Amy’s birthday.

Did Cedrick remember this and pointedly not speak of it each year? Or had he forgotten, now that the date no longer held significance?

It would always be meaningful to Vivienne.

Today, Amy would have turned fifty. Today, Vivienne would have insisted on bringing her somewhere special; buying her something beautiful. She would have made Amy breakfast if Braeden or Cedrick had not. She would have sat by her side and felt the comfort of her presence.

In a world that had not seemed ready to accept Vivienne since the sudden death of her parents when she was eight years old, Vivienne had grown accustomed to keeping everyone at a distance. She had come to expect negativity sent her way. It no longer bothered her, because her grandmother’s lessons had worked. Mireille had taught Vivienne how to live in a world like this and how to rise above it. To not care what others thought, so she could be free to do what she believed was best.

Life is war, her grandmother had told her since she was brought, orphaned, to Mireille’s Parisian home. Do not lose yourself in the battles. Think always of the long strategy. If you plan ahead, you will always win.

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Some advice on sharing, if it helps

“For years my friend has told me to share my writing but I’ve been self-conscious about how it will be received or perceived. Lately, I’m wanting to post, but I don’t know where to start. Do you have any advice?”

I got the above question in an email (don’t worry, email friend! I will not name you for any privacy concerns) and since I thought it was a good question that others may wonder about too, and since I wrote a long answer, I figured I’d post it here too in case it’s useful for anyone.

Basically, I totally understand self-consciousness; I feel the same way a lot too. It’s a tl;dr story but writing and sharing fanfic is what helped me start to feel more confident in my writing abilities because strangers said such nice things. I had a hard time believing all the nice things my family/friends had said my whole life about my writing was anything other than them being nice or taking pity on me. So I think sharing can be incredibly important if that feels like the right step for anyone at their current point in writing.

Below is from my emailed reply — I’m putting it behind a cut for length but I go into these topics:

**Sharing for free, **sharing for money, **compiling the story, and **how to look at feedback from readers if you are unused to sharing.

For posting, I should first of all say I’m not an expert so I may not be super helpful. But in case any of this is helpful, here are some thoughts I have:

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Julian Files chapter 6, scene 2

Julian Files chapter 6, scene 2 — read scene 1 first


Saturday July 16, 2005
Westwind Hospital, Financial South neighborhood
Lexington, PA

“Why did we have to come back?”

Cedrick mused how his five year old son passed the gift shop without a second glance but Cedrick, the twenty-five year old dad, slowed and eyed the wares longingly. The notebooks! They had his favorite sizes, although a bit more melodramatic in style than he preferred. He didn’t really need something gold and flowery proclaiming “be well” on it, but—but then again, it looked like it would fit into his back pocket well, and there was something to be said about hiding important notes in plain sight, and…

No.

Shaking his head to himself, he tugged Boyd along as he sped his walk. He had entirely too many notebooks already. Soon, they would run out of room in the library and Vivienne would not be pleased.

She actually liked the library.

On the rare days she wasn’t working or doing errands or otherwise engaged, sometimes he found her curled in the library’s corner chair with her hair tumbling over her shoulder as she slowly flipped the pages. Her free hand would be curled around a warm mug of jasmine tea with milk. Once upon a time she had scoffed at the addition of milk but after his mom had introduced it to her, she had continued to add it even on her own, even after his mother had passed.

Sometimes on those days, when he walked into the room and if she was really taken with a story, she wouldn’t notice his presence until he was behind her and kissed her on the neck. On those days she would turn, startled, and her sky blue eyes would be unguarded. He would get the luxury of her flushing cheeks, and a flash of the smile that had broken his heart and mended it back together the first time he’d seen it. A genuine, brilliant pull of her lips that brightened her entire face and made her, for once, look her actual age, if not even younger.

It would remind him of when they had been teenagers, back in France when they’d first met. The time it had taken him to win her over, to convince her he wasn’t just trying to use her or hurt her; that he wasn’t mocking her or demanding she become an entirely different person to become someone worthwhile.

The time it had taken her to believe in the idea that someone could like her for who she was, not who they wanted her to be.

On those library days they were years younger again, and it was the first time he saw her smile, the first time he heard the clear bell of her laugh, the first time she gripped his hands and danced on light feet backward, facing him and smiling while the wind swept her hair into a pirouette circling to the sky.

It was all the many firsts in one moment; all the times he got a glimpse of the fierce and lighthearted woman she might have been if her grandmother had let her be human.

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Julian Files chapter 6, scene 1

Well, I forgot about having to post this about 20,000 times so I’m posting it without trying to perfect it further. It’s a little cheesy, sorry. Also it may feel a little bit repetitive from last chapter because I had hoped to write a new chapter in between them.

Oh well. You get another Cedrick and Boyd hang out chapter. Except this time, something a bit more important happens….


Julian Files chapter 6, scene 1

Saturday July 16, 2005
Vickland neighborhood
Lexington, PA

“–and we’ll have enough time to stop by the art store if you want.”

Cedrick had been talking for eight minutes straight and didn’t think his son had heard a word of it. Boyd trotted along at Cedrick’s side, small hand engulfed in Cedrick’s palm, but his wide eyes had been roaming the streets around them ever since they had left the used clothing store. Cedrick didn’t know what it was that had the five year old so intrigued, but it had left him in an even quieter mood than normal. Used to his son’s quirks, and accustomed to comfortable silence with his wife, Cedrick didn’t think much of it. He filled the gaps with stories and plans for the day the same way he always did.

As they passed down a main thoroughfare, Cedrick felt a tug at his hand and looked back. Boyd had slowed nearly to a stop, his head craning at an awkward angle as he looked intently to the side. When his feet stilled, Cedrick was forced to stop as well. He looked in the direction Boyd was staring, but it was too crowded for him to make out anything other than a bunch of people and some stores.

“What is it?”

Boyd didn’t answer. His fingers tightened on Cedrick’s hand.

Cedrick crouched down. “Boyd?”

He brushed fine blond hair off Boyd’s forehead and tucked it behind his ear, but Boyd only frowned at first. His amber eyes flicked over to Cedrick, back to the shadows, and then with a tick in his eyebrows he looked hesitantly at his father once again.

For a second, Cedrick thought his son might be afraid of whatever he saw, and was about to tug him along in case there was unseen danger he couldn’t detect, but when Boyd spoke all Cedrick felt was perplexed.

“Are we… so very much in a hurry?”

The way that kid worded things, sometimes… Good thing Julian wasn’t here, or he’d probably upgrade Boyd to a British alien now.

“Well…” Cedrick rubbed the back of his neck. “I don’t know, really. We need to be somewhere at four but we have time. Why? What’s wrong? Do you have to go to the bathroom?”

Boyd scrunched up his face, as if the very thought of him needing to do something so plebeian as to pee at a time like this was insulting. Cedrick had to hold back a laugh; all he could see was Vivienne in that unnecessarily haughty stare.

“So, I’m… not in trouble if I see something?”

“No, Boyd, of course you aren’t. You’re never in trouble if you see something and you’re never in trouble if you tell me something. Where do you get these ideas?”
Boyd hesitated, his lips moving between pursing to thinning out, before settling into a contemplative frown. He didn’t look away from the direction he’d been staring. After a long moment, he finally spoke.

“I think the skeleton needs help.”

“What?” All Cedrick could see was a bunch of people walking around, going about their busy days without paying much heed to their surroundings. “What skeleton? I don’t—”

But in a gap of people, he saw it.

Her.

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Julian Files chapter 5

 

I’m gonna be honest, you guys. This chapter is particularly slice-of-life. I don’t know if that means it’s super boring. I feel like it is.

But it’s also dorky and possibly humorous, and has lots of baby Boyd possibly being cute? I have no concept of this stuff. Maybe it’s just dumb, or maybe all this makes it okay. I have no idea!

I feel like this chapter is kind of fluffy and I’m super unaccustomed to writing (and not deleting) fluff. If this sucks then I apologize for the boring inconvenience 😦

Oh right, if you want to see my artistic interpretation of what Cedrick drew, I put it in my first newsletter. When you get to the end of the chapter, or that scene, feel free to scroll down at the link and finally understand all that confusion 😉

 



 

Tuesday June 28, 2005
Cedar Hills neighborhood
Lexington, PA

“Goooood morning, sunshine!”

Boyd shot up in bed, his blond hair a mass of tangles and fluff. His golden eyes were wide, turning to the door even as his little Batman pajama shirt fell partially off his shoulder. Cedrick grinned and took great hopping strides into the room, all the way to the bed.

“How’s my favorite son today? Did you sleep well?”

Boyd rubbed at his eyes and frowned. “What are you doing, daddy?”

Cedrick threw himself onto the bed, looping his arms around Boyd and dragging him down with him. He hugged him close, rolling back and forth while Boyd let out a startled huff.

“Guess what I did already today, Boyd? Can you guess?”

“No.”

“You didn’t even try!”

Boyd giggled as Cedrick shifted to ruffling his hair. “I don’t know!”

“Well, if you aren’t even going to guess I’ll just tell you. I called in sick for you and me.”

Boyd twisted around to look at Cedrick, amber eyes large and confused. “Why? I’m not sick. Are you?”

Cedrick had already run through his mind how he would handle this today, so he smiled and said, “No, but you do well in school and that should be rewarded. I’m instating a new system, where if you do super well, we’ll get to play hooky sometimes and go around together doing all the fun things we want. Besides,” he added, “this is just the summer academy right now. They won’t mind if you take one day off.”

Boyd frowned but it was more thoughtful than anything. “Then what are we doing today?”

“You’ll see!” Cedrick sat up and pulled Boyd along with him, absently smoothing down his hair. “Okay, get ready, buddy. I can help you with your hair. Do you want help with your clothes?”

“No.” Boyd scrunched up his face.

He had liked choosing his own clothes for a while now, preferring not to be treated like a little kid. Cedrick thought it was adorable, but didn’t say anything because Boyd Would Not Appreciate That.

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