Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Advanced Plotting Tools and Techniques: A #Writing class via Zoom, 4 weeks in July - #AmWriting better this summer!

Advanced Plotting Tools and Techniques
4-week Course: Saturdays: July 10, 17, 24, and 31
3-4:30 pm MT (2 PT/4 CT/5 ET) via Zoom

$60 SWW members; $90 Nonmembers

Many books and workshops teach the basics of plotting: conflict, complications, climax. Now learn advanced techniques that will make a decent plot dynamic. Start with a “grab you by the throat” opening to pull readers into the story. Learn how to pack the plot full by complicating your complications. Control your pacing through sentence and paragraph length. And finally, cliffhanger chapter endings ensure late-night reading under the covers. Learn techniques to make any story or book better. Novelists will benefit from these insights, whether they are just starting out or have years of experience.

Students in Chris's most recent class said:

  • Exceptional job!
  • I couldn’t have asked for a better experience!
  • Chris is an incredible instructor.  I really like the depth she brings to her teaching
  • I learned a lot from the course, too. I thought it was terrific!
  • This writer’s series was hands down one of the best I have attended!

Chris Eboch is the author of over 60 books for young people, including mysteries, ghost stories, fantasy, and historical fiction. Learn more at ChrisEboch.com or her Amazon page.

As Kris Bock, Chris writes novels of romance, mystery, and suspense. Her Furrever Friends Sweet Romance series features the employees and customers at a cat café as they fall in love with each other and shelter cats. Her humorous mystery series about an injured war correspondent who moves home again launches in May. She also writes romantic suspense novels about treasure hunting, archaeology, and intrigue in the Southwest. Learn more at KrisBock.com or visit Kris Bock’s Amazon page.

Register: by calling the SWW office (505-830-6034, Monday-Thursday, 9:00 am – noon), or by using the online registration form. (Our online payment portal utilizes PayPal, but you’ll be given an option to pay by credit card without signing into PayPal.)

Zoom Meeting: The Zoom invitation link and the password will be emailed to those who purchase this class. For more information, please contact the class/workshop coordinator at Info@SWWriters.com.

The classes will be recorded for those who have to miss one.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

You Can Write for Children: #99c sale - #amwriting #KidLit #writing

On sale May 13-20:

You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers 

Just 99 cents for the KindleAlso available in paperback or in Large Print paperback.  

Remember the magic of bedtime stories? When you write for children, you have the most appreciative audience in the world. But to reach that audience, you need to write fresh, dynamic stories, whether you’re writing rhymed picture books, middle grade mysteries, edgy teen novels, nonfiction, or something else.

In this book, you will learn:

How to explore the wide variety of age ranges, genres, and styles in writing stories, articles and books for young people.

  • How to find ideas.
  • How to develop an idea into a story, article, or book.
  • The basics of character development, plot, setting, and theme – and some advanced elements.
  • How to use point of view, dialogue, and thoughts.
  • How to edit your work and get critiques.
  • Where to learn more on various subjects.

Whether you’re just starting out or have some experience, this book will make you a better writer – and encourage you to have fun!

"A must for your writing library!"

"If you want to write for children or the children’s market, this is the book for you."

"If you have thought of writing a book for children, this book will take you from the “idea” stage all the way through to the “finished” stage."

"This is a terrific resource book for anyone who has considered writing for children. Each chapter has a tip section as well as specific resources, concrete examples, and easy to understand explanation of terms and topics. Excellent book!"

"If you've ever dreamed of writing for children, Chris Eboch's book is a great resource. An accomplished writer, Chris knows just what it takes to turn this dream into reality and shares her knowledge in multiple chapters that discuss getting ideas, building conflict, story structure, setting, dialogue, themes, and much more. A definite winner in the how-to-write book library."

Chris Eboch is the author of over 60 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure used in many schools; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Her other writing craft book is Advanced Plotting.

Learn more at chriseboch.com or her Amazon page

Monday, May 3, 2021

Plot Like a Screenwriter 2 with Douglas J. Eboch #scriptchat #scriptwriting #amwriting

Last week I posted a partial excerpt of an essay by my brother, scriptwriter Douglas J. Eboch. Here's a little more about plotting like a screenwriter, from his essay in my writing book, Advanced Plotting. Last Friday I posted the section about the Dramatic Question.

Apparent Failure/Success

There’s one other critical structural concept you need to understand. That is the moment of apparent failure (or success). Whatever the Resolution to your Dramatic Question is, there needs to be a moment where the opposite appears to be inevitable. If your character succeeds at the end, you need a moment where it appears the character must fail. And if your character fails at the end, you need a moment where they appear about to succeed.

This moment should come late in the story as the tension is building toward the climax. We need it so the audience can’t predict how the movie’s going to unfold. We may know that in a big Hollywood movie the hero will beat the bad guy and get the girl, but we shouldn’t be able to figure out how they’ll accomplish that. In screenwriting, we call this moment of apparent failure/success the Act Two Break.

[For a full explanation of the three act structure, pick up Advanced Plotting or explore Doug's screenwriting blog, Let's Schmooze.]

The Act Two Break

The Act Two Break is one of the most critical beats of your story. It’s often referred to as the “lowest moment,” though I don’t like that because I think it’s misleading. Seldom do I see a successful story where things start getting better right after the Act Two Break. I think “moment of greatest failure” is a better description. It’s also sometimes called the “all is lost” moment, which is pretty good. The point is that this is when it looks like your character is doomed to fail. The Act Two Break in E.T. is E.T. apparently dying and the breaking of the psychic link with Elliot.

That assumes, of course, that ultimately your character will succeed. Some stories, like Little Miss Sunshine, end with the character failing in their goal, and in this case you have to reverse the Act Two Break. It becomes the moment of greatest success. Gangster movies often work this way—the gangster seizes control of the gang at the end of Act Two and looks like he’ll be unstoppable. But by the end he’ll be lying dead in the street, riddled with bullets.

Why is this so important? Because the ending won’t be satisfying unless it’s hard to achieve. And you don’t want your movie to feel completely predictable. This is the point where the audience needs to think, “Boy, I know the hero must be going to beat the bad guy and get the girl (this is a movie, after all), but I sure don’t know how he’s going to do it. It seems hopeless.”
http://screenmasterbooks.com/hpb.html

Hope and fear come into play here. What is the audience rooting for? Do they want the character to succeed or fail? (Both are possibilities depending on your premise.) This is the moment where you make them think the opposite might actually happen. Or in a tragedy you make them think they might get the ending they want, only to snatch it away from them. Romeo and Juliet hatch a plan to run away together… maybe it will all work out after all….

The Act Two Break in Star Wars is when our heroes escape the Death Star in the Millennium Falcon… but we learn that Darth Vadar has put a tracking device on their ship. It’s their biggest failure because they’re going to lead the bad guys right to the rebel base.

The Resolution

The Resolution is the climax of the movie. It should be big and exciting and emotional. It is also the moment when the Dramatic Question is answered either positively or negatively. Thus, it is what we’ve been waiting for since the Catalyst.

In addition to making this a big moment, it is crucial that you make it a final moment. The Dramatic Question must be answered definitively. If our hero can just go out and try again, then we don’t feel like the question is resolved. The Resolution must be the last chance for success or failure. If Luke can’t destroy the Death Star, then the rebellion will be crushed. It’s not just another battle; it’s the climactic battle.

The resolution is usually pretty obvious. Luke destroys the Death Star. E.T. gets to the spaceship. In Little Miss Sunshine, Richard gets up onstage with Olive and dances with her in support, and in defiance of the pageant people who want Olive off the stage. Olive may lose the pageant, answering the Dramatic Question in the negative, but the previously dysfunctional family has come together.

These are [some of] the structural stages Hollywood screenwriters use to build well-plotted scripts. Of course, a well-structured script isn’t the same as a good script. You still have to write the actual characters and scenes. But if you have a strong plot, then you have a solid foundation that will allow you to tell a truly great story.

Douglas J. Eboch
wrote the original script for the movie Sweet Home Alabama. He teaches at Art Center College of Design and lectures internationally. He writes a blog about screenwriting at Let's Schmooze where he shares techniques like the ones in this article.

See Doug’s entire 4000-word essay covering all the dramatic story points of three-act structure, plus much more, in Advanced Plotting. Buy Advanced Plottingfor $9.99 in paperback or as a $4.99 e-book, free in Kindle Unlimited.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Plot Like a Screenwriter with Douglas J. Eboch #scriptchat #scriptwriting #amwriting

If you've been following this blog for long, you've probably “met” my brother, scriptwriter Douglas J. Eboch. I love talking about writing with him and following his screenwriting blog,
Let's Schmooze. Novelists can learn a lot from movie writers. Here's an excerpt from the essay Doug wrote for my book Advanced Plotting. This works with our exploration of building your novel.

Plotting Like a Screenwriter
by Douglas J. Eboch

Now let’s look at the components of three act structure. Probably the most important is the Dramatic Question. If you understand nothing else but the Dramatic Question and the Moment of Failure (which I’ll get to in a bit) you’ll probably end up with a fairly well structured story.

What the Dramatic Question Is

The Dramatic Question is the structural spine of your story. On some level all Dramatic Questions can be boiled down to “Will the character solve their dilemma?” Of course that’s not very helpful to the writer trying to crack a particular story. You need to ask that question with the specifics of your character and dilemma.

So in Star Wars (written by George Lucas) the question is “Will Luke Skywalker defeat Darth Vadar?” In E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (written by Melissa Mathison) it’s “Can Elliot save E.T.?” In Little Miss Sunshine (written by Michael Arndt) it’s “Will Olive win the beauty pageant?”

Those sound simple, right? Simpler is better when it comes to the Dramatic Question. But it’s not always easy to be simple. You have to know who your character is and what their dilemma is before you can craft a nice simple Dramatic Question. But then if you haven’t figured out your character and their dilemma, you’re not really ready to start writing yet anyway!

I also think it’s good to phrase the Dramatic Question as a yes or no question. So it’s not “Who will Susan marry?” it’s “Will Susan marry Bill?” Keeping it yes/no helps you tightly focus your narrative.

What the Dramatic Question Is Not

The Dramatic Question is not the theme of your movie. It’s not the hook. It’s not necessarily the character arc (sometimes it is, but not usually.) It doesn’t define whether your story is sophisticated or facile.

Do not think the Dramatic Question determines the quality of your story. It’s simply the spine on which you’re going to build your story. What you hang on that spine is going to determine how good your script is. Just because a person doesn’t collapse under the weight of their own body doesn’t mean they’re beautiful, intelligent, interesting, or emotionally complex. However, if your spine isn’t solid, none of the other stuff is going to work properly either.

How to use the Dramatic Question in your story

The Dramatic Question is an unspoken agreement with the audience. It tells them what the scope and shape of the story is going to be. They need to know what the question is fairly early in the proceedings or you will lose them. If too much time passes before they understand the Dramatic Question they’re liable to walk out of the theater or turn the DVD off or put down your script. They’ll say something like, “I couldn’t figure out what the movie was about.”

The moment when the Dramatic Question becomes clear is called the Catalyst. The Catalyst is where the audience understands who the main character is and what their basic dilemma is. They may not understand the entire dimension of the problem, but they have an idea what the story arc will be about.

So in E.T. the catalyst is when Elliot sees E.T. for the first time. We don’t yet know that his mission will ultimately be to get E.T. home or even that first he’ll have to hide E.T. And we don’t know that E.T. will start dying from the Earth environment. But we know that this kid who nobody takes seriously just found a little lost alien—and that some scary men are looking for it. We have a character with a dilemma.

Similarly, when the audience knows the outcome of the Dramatic Question, your story is over. The audience will stick with you for a few minutes of wrap up, but if you go on too long after resolving the dramatic question, they’re going to get restless. They’ll say things like, “it was anti-climactic” or “it had too many endings.”

Once E.T. takes off in his space ship, the movie ends. Credits roll. The story is over. Compare that to the Lord of the Rings trilogy (screenplay by Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson). The Dramatic Question is “Can Frodo destroy the ring?” He does, but then the movie continues for another forty minutes or so. Kind of got tedious didn’t it? The story was over. We wanted to go home.

The structural beat where you answer the Dramatic Question is called the Resolution.

Douglas J. Eboch wrote the original script for the movie Sweet Home Alabama. He teaches at Art Center College of Design and lectures internationally. He writes a blog about screenwriting at Let's Schmooze  where he shares techniques like the ones in this article.

See Doug’s entire 4000-word essay covering all the dramatic story points of three-act structure, plus much more, in Advanced Plotting. Get more essay like this one in Advanced Plotting, along with a detailed explanation of the Plot Outline Exercise, a powerful tool to identify and fix plot weaknesses in your manuscripts. 

Buy Advanced Plottingfor $9.99 in paperback or as a $4.99 e-book on Amazon - free in Kindle Unlimited.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Critique Group Characters: #amwriting tips for better feedback on your #writing

This 
excerpt from How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers is from the chapter on Critiques. See the list of topics to the right to find more on critiques.

Here are some specific character types to watch out for in your critique group.

Critique Group Characters

Watch out for the following personality types in a critique group:
  
It's all wonderful!
Art by Lois Bradley
  • The Cheerleader. She loves everything you do! This is gratifying, especially when you are doubting your talent, but it’s not particularly helpful in improving your work.

  • The Grammarian. He doesn’t have a lot to say about the content of your work, but he’ll circle every typo in red pen and may insist you follow strict grammar rules that have gone out of date. (By the way, I never use red pen on critiques – blue, purple, or green ink stands out from the black text, without that negative association of graded English papers.)

    Me? An opinion?
  • The Mouse. You can’t tell whether or not she likes your work, because she never voices an opinion. She might hide behind the excuse that she’s not experienced enough to offer feedback. She’ll do this for years.

  • The Perpetual Beginner. He truly isn’t experienced enough to offer feedback, and he never seems to improve. This type can be divided into The Rut, who brings in the same manuscript over and over without ever making substantial changes (despite all your thoughtful advice) and The Hummingbird, who throws away a manuscript as soon as it’s gotten one negative comment, preferring to work on something new.

  • The Chatterbox. She wants to talk about anything and everything – other than the manuscripts you’re supposed to be critiquing. This person sees a writing group as a social occasion, not a way to improve your craft.

    That's not how I'd do it.
  • Father Knows Best. He always has an opinion, which he voices clearly and often. He prefers to discuss how he would write the story if it were his own, ignoring the author’s vision.

  • The Bully. She enjoys tearing apart your manuscript. No suggestions, just criticisms bordering on insults.

All these characters have one thing in common. They don’t help you improve your work. Having one Cheerleader in the group can be nice, as it means you’ll hear some praise. The Grammarian may be useful, although often those comments are unnecessary and time-consuming when you are still developing a story and focusing on the big picture, not proofreading.

The Mouse and the Perpetual Beginner don’t do a lot of harm, but they waste your time. Why should you spend hours doing thoughtful critiques when you’re not getting anything in return? (Note, sometimes these people can learn over time. Ask for the type of feedback you want, such as "Please point out where you got bored or confused," or encourage them to use a critique form that asks specific questions. But if they won’t make an effort to be better critique partners, it may be time to end the relationship.)

Some people hate everything
The Chatterbox is an even bigger time waster. Sometimes that person can be controlled by having a set time for visiting, perhaps the first or last half hour of each meeting. Including some social time is a way for the group to bond. Some critique groups like to start or end with a nice potluck meal. You could also have one or two meetings a year that are purely social. If there’s a way to get Father Knows Best or the Bully to change their behavior, I don’t know it. They should be avoided.

A good critique is kind and supportive, pointing out both good qualities and weak spots in your manuscript, and giving you ideas for how to improve it. The best critiques leave you fired up and ready to get to work on revisions, even if you know you have a lot of work ahead. Look for people who can provide that.

If you've run into these characters, do you have advice on dealing with them? Are there other character types to watch out for?

You can get this whole essay, and a lot more – including a chapter on Advanced Critique Questions – in You Can Write for Children: A Guide to Writing Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and TeenagersOrder for Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback.

Cat emoticons by Lois Bradley.

Chris Eboch is the author of over 60 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure used in many schools; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Learn more at chriseboch.com or her Amazon page.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Editing Your Novel during #NaNoEdMo – Editing Tips - #Writing #KidLit

In honor of #NaNoEdMo (National Novel Editing Month), I'm sharing some advice from You Can Write for Children: A Guide to Writing Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. Two weeks ago I offered advice on “big picture” editing. Last week I covered Fine Tuning. Here are some final quick tips on editing to help you through NaNoEdMo.

Editing Tips:

Don’t try to edit everything at once. Make several passes, looking for different problems. Start big, then focus in on details.

Try writing a one- or two-sentence synopsis. Define your goal. Do you want to produce an action-packed thriller? A laugh-out-loud book that will appeal to preteen boys? A richly detailed historical novel about a character’s internal journey? Identifying your goal can help you make decisions about what to cut and what to keep.

  • Next make a scene list, describing what each scene does.
  • Do you need to make major changes to the plot, characters, setting, or theme (fiction) or the focus of the topic (nonfiction)?
  • Does each scene fulfill the synopsis goal? How does it advance plot, reveal character, or both?
  • Does each scene build and lead to the next? Are any redundant? If you cut the scene, would you lose anything? Can any secondary characters be combined or eliminated?
  • Does anything need to be added or moved? Do you have a length limit or target?
  • Can you increase the complications, so that at each step, more is at stake, there’s greater risk or a better reward? If each scene has the same level of risk and consequence, the pacing is flat and the middle sags.
  • Check for accuracy. Are your facts correct? Are your characters and setting consistent?
  • Does each scene (in fiction) or paragraph (in nonfiction) follow a logical order and stick to the topic?
  • Is your point of view consistent?
  • Do you have dynamic language: Strong, active verbs? A variety of sentence lengths (but mostly short and to the point)? No clichés? Do you use multiple senses (sight, sound, taste, smell, touch)?
  • Finally, edit for spelling and punctuation.

(For detailed editing questions, see my Plot Outline Exercise. It’s in my book Advanced Plotting or available as a free Word download on my website.)

Editing Description

For each detail, ask:
  • Does it make the story more believable?
  • Does it help readers picture or understand a character or place better?
  • Does it answer questions that readers might want answered?
  • Does it distract from the action?
  • Could it be removed without confusing readers or weakening the story?
  • For illustrated work, could the description be replaced by illustrations?

Use more details for unusual/unfamiliar settings. Try using multiple senses: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and the feeling of touch. Especially in picture books, use senses other than sight, which can be shown through the illustrations.

Editing Resources:

Print/Ebook
Advanced Plotting, by Chris Eboch
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King
Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power – An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction, by Jodie Renner
Manuscript Makeover, by Elizabeth Lyon
Novel Metamorphosis, by Darcy Pattison
Revision & Self-Editing, by James Scott Bell
Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us, by Jessica Page Morrell

Online
I haven’t tried this, but the “Hemingway App” is designed to identify overly long or complicated sentences, so it might be helpful in learning to simplify your work for younger audiences.

Grammarly is a free app that claims to find more errors than Microsoft Word’s spelling and grammar check option, including words that are spelled correctly but used incorrectly.

Resources for Writers, by editor Jodie Renner, list several of her editing books as well as blog posts on various writing topics.

The Plot Outline Exercise from Advanced Plotting helps you analyze your plot for trouble spots. 

Middle grade author Janice Hardy’s Fiction University blog has great posts on many writing craft topics.

Author and writing teacher Jordan McCollum offers downloadable free writing guides on topics such as character arcs and deep point of view.

Subscribe to get posts automatically and never miss a post. You can use the Subscribe buttons to the right, or add http://chriseboch.blogspot.com/ to Feedly or another reader.

You can get the extended version of this essay, and a lot more, in You Can Write for Children: A Guide to Writing Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers.available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback. Advanced Plotting also has advice on editing novels.

Chris Eboch is the author of over 60 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure used in many schools; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the StairsLearn more or read excerpts at www.chriseboch.com or visit her page on Amazon or Amazon UK. (For other countries click here.)

Chris also writes novels of suspense and romance for adults under the name Kris Bock; read excerpts at www.krisbock.com.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Online Writing Class in April: Write Stories Children Will Love - #KidLit #AmWriting #Writing

Writing Stories Children Will Love

4-week Course on Zoom

Saturdays: April 10, 17, 24 and May 1, 

3-4:30 pm Mountain Time (2 pm Pacific, 5 pm Eastern)

$90, with discounts for SouthWest Writers members.

Remember the magic of bedtime stories? When you write for children, you have the most appreciative audience in the world. But to reach that audience, you need to understand the business of writing for children, including the requirements for different genres, the age ranges, and markets. You also need to write fresh, dynamic stories, whether you’re writing rhymed picture books or middle grade mysteries or edgy teen novels.

In this hands-on class, we’ll explore the children’s book markets, discuss the elements of writing for kids, and brainstorm appropriate ideas. Then we’ll look at the essential elements of writing for children, and each participant will start developing a story. Expect to leave this workshop with an article or story in progress, and a list of ideas for future development.

Register: by calling the SWW office (505-830-6034, Monday-Thursday, 9:00 am – noon), or by using the online registration form. (The online payment portal utilizes PayPal, but you’ll be given an option to pay by credit card without signing into PayPal.)

Also coming in July:

Advanced Plotting Tools and Techniques
4-week Course on Zoom

Saturdays: July 10, 17, 24 and 31,

3-4:30 pm Mountain Time (2 PM Pacific, 5 PM Eastern)

$90, with discounts for SouthWest Writers members.


Chris Eboch is the author of over 60 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure used in many schools; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Learn more at www.chriseboch.com.


Chris also writes for adults under the name Kris Bock. Her Furrever Friends Sweet Romance series features the employees and customers at a cat café. Watch as they fall in love with each other and shelter cats. Get a free 10,000-word story set in the world of the Furrever Friends cat café when you sign up for the Kris Bock newsletter. Learn more at www.krisbock.com or visit Kris Bock’s Amazon US page or Amazon UK page. (For other countries click here.)

Monday, March 8, 2021

Editing Your Novel during #NaNoEdMo – Fine Tuning #Writing #AmEditing

In honor of #NaNoEdMo (National Novel Editing Month), I'm sharing some advice from You Can Write for Children: A Guide to Writing Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers
Last week I offered advice on “big picture” editing. Once you're comfortable with the overall structure and content of your novel, it's time to consider the details.

Fine Tuning
 
Once you are confident that your characters, plot, structure, and pacing are working, you can dig into the smaller details. At this stage, make sure that your timeline works and your setting hangs together. Create calendars and maps to keep track of when things happen and where people go.

Then polish, polish, polish.

Bill Peschel, author of Sherlock Holmes parodies and other books for adults, and a former newspaper copy editor, says, “Reading with a critical eye reveals weak spots in grammar, consistently misspelled words, and a reliance on ‘crutch words’ [unnecessary and overused words] such as simply, basically, or just. While it can be disheartening to make the same mistakes over and over again, self-editing can boost your ego when you become aware that you’re capable of eliminating them from your work. It takes self-awareness, some education, and a willingness to admit to making mistakes.”

This stage of editing can be time-consuming, especially if you are prone to spelling or grammatical errors. “Be systematic,” Peschel says. “Despite all the advice on how to multi-task, the brain operates most efficiently when it’s focusing on one problem at a time. This applies to proofing. You can look for spelling mistakes, incorrect grammar, and your particular weaknesses, just not at the same time. So for effective proofing, make several passes, each time focusing on a different aspects.”

One pass might focus only on dialogue. “Read just the dialogue out loud,” editor Jodie Renner suggests, “maybe role-playing with a buddy or two. Do the conversations sound natural or stilted? Does each character sound different, or do they all sound like the author?”

Wordiness (using more words than necessary) is a big problem for many writers, so make at least one pass focused exclusively on tightening. “Make every word count,” Renner advises. “Take out whole sentences and paragraphs that don’t add anything new or drive the story forward. Take out unnecessary little words, most adverbs and many adjectives, and eliminate clichés.” Words you can almost always cut include very, really, just, sort of, kind of, a little, rather, started to, began to, then. To pick up the pace in your manuscript, try to cut 20% of the text on every page, simply by looking for unnecessary words or longer phrases that can be changed to shorter ones.

Make additional passes looking for grammar errors, missing words, and your personal weak areas. For example, if you know you tend to overuse “just,” use the “Find” option in a program like Microsoft Word to locate that word and eliminate it when possible.

Even if you’re not an expert editor, you may be able to sense when something is wrong. “Trust your inner voice,” when you get an uneasy feeling, Peschel says. “It can be something missing, something wrong, something clunky, and if you stick to it – read it out loud, read it backwards, look at it from a distance – the mistake should declare itself.”

Fool Your Brain

By this point, you’ve read your manuscript dozens of times. This can make it hard to spot errors, since you know what is supposed to be there. Several tricks can help you see your work with fresh eyes.

Peschel says, “Reading the same prose in the same font can cause the eye to skate over mistakes, so change it up. Boost the size or change the color of the text or try a different font. Use free programs such as Calibre or Scrivener to create an EPUB or MOBI file that can be read on an ebook reader.”

Renner also recommends changing your font. Print your manuscript on paper if you are used to working on the computer screen. Finally, move away from your normal working place to review your manuscript. “These little tricks will help you see the manuscript as a reader instead of as a writer,” she says.

“An effective way to check the flow of your story is to read it aloud or have someone read it to you,” freelance editor Linda Lane notes. “Better yet, record your story so you can play it back multiple times if necessary. Recruiting another person to do this will give you a better idea of what a reader will see.” Some software, such as MS Word 2010, has a text-to-voice feature to provide a read aloud.

Lane adds, “If recording your story yourself, run your finger just below each line as you read to catch omitted or misspelled words and missing commas, quote marks, and periods. Also, enunciate clearly and ‘punctuate’ as you read, pausing slightly at each comma and a bit longer at end punctuation. While this won’t catch every error, it will give you a good sense of flow, highlight many shortcomings, and test whether your dialogue is smooth and realistic.”

Some people even recommend reading your manuscript backwards, sentence by sentence. While this won’t help you track the flow of the story, it focuses attention on the sentence level. Finally, certain computer programs and web platforms are designed to identify spelling and grammar errors, and in some cases even identify clichés. While these programs are not recommended for developmental editing (when you’re shaping the story), they can be an option for later polishing. (They can also make mistakes, though, so don’t trust Microsoft Word’s spelling & grammar check to be right about everything.)

How Much Is Enough?

How much editing you need to do depends on your goals for the story. If you simply want to write down the bedtime stories you tell your children as a family record, a spelling error or two doesn’t matter too much. If you are going to submit work to a publisher, you need to be more careful. Some editors and agents say they will stop reading if they find errors in the first few pages, or more than one typo every few pages. If you plan to self-publish, most experts advise hiring a professional editor to help you shape the story and a professional proofreader to make sure the book doesn’t go out with typos. Weak writing and other errors could cause readers to get annoyed and leave bad reviews.

Looking at all the steps to successful self-editing may be daunting, but break them down into pieces, take a step at a time, and don’t rush your revisions. “This whole process could easily take several months,” Renner says. “Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by putting your manuscript out too soon.”

Each time you go through this process you’ll be developing your skills, making the next time easier. “Like anything else, self-editing becomes easier the more you do it,” Peschel says. “When it becomes second-nature, you’ll have made a big leap toward becoming a professional writer.”

Stop by next week for final tips on editing – or subscribe to get posts automatically and never miss a post. You can use the Subscribe buttons to the right, or add http://chriseboch.blogspot.com/ to Feedly or another reader.

You can get the extended version of this essay, and a lot more, in You Can Write for Children: A Guide to Writing Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperbackAdvanced Plotting also has advice on editing novels.

Chris Eboch is the author of over 60 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure used in many schools; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Her writing craft books include You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, and Advanced Plotting.

Learn more or read excerpts at www.chriseboch.com or visit her page on Amazon or Amazon UK. (For other countries click here.)

Chris also writes for adults under the name Kris Bock. Her Furrever Friends Sweet Romance series features the employees and customers at a cat café. Watch as they fall in love with each other and shelter cats. Get a free 10,000-word story set in the world of the Furrever Friends cat café when you sign up for the Kris Bock newsletter. Learn more at www.krisbock.com or visit Kris Bock’s Amazon US page or Amazon UK page. (For other countries click here.)