Showing posts with label Book Editing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Book Editing. Show all posts

Keep Your Self Editing on Track

Secret in the Mist: An Abi Wunder Mystery
has taken many months to write and revise.
I never gave up on it. It will be available soon.

By Linda Wilson   @LinWilsonauthor

It’s been a while since posting my Writers On the Move article, “One Last Edit: Re-think before Submitting,”, and yet I’m still editing the same book as when I wrote that post. It’s my latest chapter book, the second in the Abi Wunder Mystery series, Secret in the Mist. As we all experience, life intervened, and I had to delay the project. I picked it up again and have been editing and revising ever since. In a nutshell, here are some of the points made in the section, “Take One More Look,” of the above article that I haven’t yet covered.

  • Making sure each character has an arc.
  • Making sure my main character’s flaw/need is satisfied by the end.
  • Doing scene checks to give them a beginning, middle, and end, and to make sure each scene moves the story forward. 
  • Checking the clues and red herrings to make sure they are in place.

A More Detailed Final Check

  • Timeline: Make a sketch of the timeline to make sure the days and times of day are accurate. In Mist, Abi, the main character, has come for a visit at her friend, Jess’s house, at the end of the summer. There are only a few days left before the first day of school, and due to circumstances beyond their control, the mystery needs to be solved during this short visit, or it could be too late.
  • Do a Story Overview: After a timeline check, I found that studying the story overview was valuable as the next step. The overview is for continuity, to make sure the events follow in sequence. Most important is making sure that each scene moves the story forward. Before  embarking on a story overview for Mist, I realized the word count had swelled beyond the suggested word count for Chapter Books, 1,500 to 10,000, or for Young Middle Grade books, which is 15,000 to 25,000 words. I took a hard look at scenes and realized about three of them—which were long— could be cut out. I took the ax to these scenes, but I’ve saved them in a separate file for later use if needed. The word count is about 25,000, for a Young Middle Grade book.
  • Check Chapter Word Counts: Some Mist chapters were too long. I broke these chapters up to make them shorter, being careful to leave cliff hangers at chapter endings. This sometimes took a bit of revision.

Tie Up Loose Threads by Making Lists

Make sure there is follow through with each part of your story, and avoid repetition. My method for doing this is by making lists. Here are a few examples from my recent work on Mist.

  • List each time the ghost appears: Each time the ghost appears I hope to give my readers the goosebumps. I have copied and pasted these scenes into a new document titled, “Ghost Sightings.” I have given the text throughout the book from this list a beginning, middle, and end. I’m making sure each appearance escalates the tension, from a somewhat “soft” first appearance to a grand-finale story climax. I’ve paid special attention to the way the ghost appears, making her appearances as eerie as possible, to how she’s dressed. Also, other details are checked for accuracy.
  • List the characters: This can be done in Word by using “Find.” I copy and paste each mention of the characters to make sure the changes they experience are the result of their efforts, and that their arcs come to a satisfying conclusion. Particular attention is paid to the main character, Abi, followed by her sidekick, Jess. Also, it’s important to make sure each character has a role in the story. Characters who don’t have a role need to be removed.

In the first Abi Wunder mystery, Secret in the Stars, thanks to the help of Chris Eboch, the professional editor I hired to review the book,, I had to remove an entire chapter about kittens. Chris was very gentle with me. She said she knew that the chapter must have been dear to my heart, but it didn’t move the story forward. I took her advice and left it out of the story. At the time I had photos taken with two kittens by a professional photographer because of that chapter. Regardless, I have used these photos. And now in Mist, a kitten has a teensy part as a supporting character. I'm hoping the kitten in the story along with the photos will find their way into readers’ hearts.

  • List each time special symbols are mentioned. A locket is an important symbol in Mist; listed is how the locket is described and when it appears in the story.
  • List the clues and red herrings to make sure they’re done correctly.

Now that the Mist story is complete, there are still some checks I need to do before sending it off to beta readers and a professional editor. I’m preaching to the choir when I say that editing and revising our work seems like a never-ending job. I thought Mist would have been finished long ago. As an editor once told me, it’s not so much the talented among us who make it to publication, it’s those writers with determination. Reader, you must have the talent and determination to aspire to publication to be reading this article all the way to the end. Please be sure and let us know here at Writers on the Move when your book(s) comes out! We’d like to congratulate you for a job well done, and mainly, for sticking with it!

The kittens in this photo finally
found their home in the second
book of the Abi Wunder mystery
series, Secret in the Mist

Linda Wilson is the author of the Abi Wunder Mystery series and other books for children. Her two new releases are Waddles the Duck: Hey, Wait for Me! (2022) and Cradle in the Wild: A Book for Nature Lovers Everywhere (2023). You’ll find Linda on her Amazon author page, on her website at, and on Facebook.

Learning to Love Passive Construction

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of the multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers including the winningest in the series, The Frugal Editor

Writers of fiction are often told to avoid passive sentences. Nonfiction writers sometimes get the same advice.

The reasons for such admonitions are many. After all, they tend to tug on the forward momentum we are usually after. But passive construction can be used effectively, too. When we sense that there would probably be no passive constructions, we should listen. Our writing may improve if we force ourselves to accept passives regardless of their ugliness. We can utilize what they’re good at in our writing and—at the same time—recognize their flaws so we can avoid them when they are just plain ugly.

Luckily, good editors are here to help. Yours may help you avoid passive constructions by making suggestions to “activate” them. There are times, however, when you must do your own editing. Here are some examples to try your hand at.

1. "I was offended by the President's proclamation." (Some argue that this isn’t a true passive because the hidden subject is evident, but when you pick up the object of the preposition, “the President’s proclamation,” put it up front, and ditch the helping verb, you’ll see how the sentence comes alive.) Scroll down a bit to see the magic this makes!

2. "Catherine was being watched."
~Your edit:

3. "Catherine was being silly."
~Your edit:

Here is your cheat sheet:

For the first you would, of course, make it "The President's proclamation offended me."

For the second, you'll have to provide the intended subject. It might look like this:

"The fuzz watched Catherine."
(So, maybe you'd be more formal and call them "coppers!")

The third example might throw you a curve. That's because it isn't a passive sentence according to the strictest of definitions. Here's the thing. We tend to assume a construction is passive when we see helper verbs and "ing" words. But these are not always passive indicators. That's one more thing for you to figure out in addition to deciding whether you want to avoid a passive construction. You’ll find a complete discussion of the dreaded “ing” words in my The Frugal Editor.

You can still avoid the not-so-active sounding helper verb with a mini rewrite:
“Gracie thought Catherine was being silly.”

You might ask, “So, if these slowpoke constructions stall the forward motion of my prose, what are the good reasons for using them?”

Few, if any, etymologists argue that language usually doesn’t develop or change unless there is need. When we recognize what passive construction and its copycats can do for us, we may grow to love it. Here are reasons you might want to intentionally use passive verbs:

1.    You want to slow down the movement in a saga sent in the 19th century. I do some of that (very judiciously!) in myThis Land Divided now being shopped by my agent. That the first chapter of that book won’s Scintillating Starts contest proves that passive is pretty—sometimes.

2.    You need to set one character’s dialogue apart from another to avoid overworked, fussy dialogue tags or because the tenor of that voice suits that character’s personality better than strong active verbs.

3.    You’re writing political copy and you want to avoid pointing a finger at, say, the FBI because you don’t want to get put on the dreaded US No-Fly list. So instead of saying “The FBI is watching Carolyn.” You say, “Carolyn is being watched.” It’s a device that lets you avoid pointing a blaming finger at the perpetrator.

4.    If you write copy for pharmaceutical TV ads, your career could depend on knowing how to use passive voice. I watch TV commercials carefully because I do some acting and the voiceovers behind all those happy, healthy faces make me cringe. The use of passive voice clearly avoids assigning any responsibility for all those side effects and deaths. One actually says, “Deaths have happened.”

We need to know how to make verbs active, when to leave them alone, and, yep. When to use them to our advantage. That way, we can take a red pen to them when they are likely to brand us as amateurs, occasionally put them to very good use, and even learn to love them. 


Carolyn Howard-Johnson is an award-winning novelist, poet, and author of the HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers. She taught editing and marketing classes at UCLA Extension’s world-renowned Writers’ Program for nearly a decade and carefully chooses one novel she believes in a year to edit. The Frugal Editor ( award-winner as well as the winner of Reader View's Literary Award in the publishing category. She is the recipient of both the California Legislature's Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award and the coveted Irwin award. She appears in commercials for the likes of Blue Shield, Disney Cruises (Japan), and Time-Life CDs and is a popular speaker at writers’ conferences. Her website is

The Three Most Important Components for Publishing Ebooks

Three Neglected E-Book Considerations 

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of the multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers.

A website owner was asked what the “three most important components are for publishing a professionally produced e-book” and he referred the question to me. As long as I was figuring out the answer to this all-important question, I figured I’d pass it along to you but publishing an e-book is harder than reading one so I thought it better to simplify a bit. I took the liberty of qualifying it with an introductory clause and here it is. 

A self-publisher must be a jack-of-all publishing trades and many readers are still not comfortable with e-books I want to tackle the question with those considerations in mind. I also believe in frugal publishing and e-books are ideal for that. So, the three most important components of publishing an e-book are:

1. The cover. Visuals are powerful tools. A great book cover may be even more important for an e-book (even though it's virtual) than for a paper book. It will probably be the only visual a reader will have to connect the reader to the author's (and publisher's) credibility. Self-published authors can do a pretty good job of producing a decent cover using the free app provided by Createspace/KDP on the website. 

2. Great editing. Too many authors and e-book publishers think that great editing is merely the process of eradicating typos, but it's a lot more. It's grammar. It's the conventions of writing (like punctuating dialogue correctly). It's even the formatting. And it’s knowing about the things that your English teacher may have considered correct, but they’re things that tick publishing professionals like agents and publishers off! If an author can’t afford (or won’t!) spend the money for a full-service editor, read The Frugal Editormake corrections as you go and then get a few extra pairs of eyes to give you additional input. 

3. Formatting. I list this last because most e-book services like Amazon, Createspace, BookBaby etc.  make it clear that formatting is essential and provide guidelines for getting it right.  I included expanded step-by-step instructions for formatting your book for Kindle in the Appendix of my multi award-winning book on editing, The Frugal Editor

Note:You should know that when a reader buys your e-book on Amazon, he or she gets to choose what reader format they prefer for his or her preferred device after clicking the buy button. When you use Createspace/KDP, you reach most everyone short of those who refuse to buy from Amazon and you save accounting time tracking different online e-book distributors. You will also saves time reformatting from a print version to an e-book and get distribution and marketing benefits when you use them exclusively. 

PS: The fourth most important component of e-books is marketing. No e-book—no book!—is truly published if it hasn’t been marketed. It’s part of the publisher’s job no matter how it is published or who the publisher is. And if it is self-published, marketing is as much the author’s job as the writing of the book. Everything you need to know to market your book the way a professional would if you had the money to hire her is in The Frugal Book Promoter 


Howard-Johnson is the author of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. She is also a marketing consultant, editor, and author of the multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers including the award-winning second editions of The Frugal Book Promoter (where she talks more about choosing and the advantages of winning contests and how to use those honors)  and The Frugal Editor. Her latest is in the series is  How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically. Learn more about her and her books on her Amazon profile page Little Last Minute Editing Tips for Writers is one of her booklets--perfect for inexpensive gift giving--and, another booklet, The Great First Impression Book Proposal helps writers who want to be traditionally published. She has three FRUGAL books for retailers including one she encourages authors to read because it will help them convince retailers to host their workshops, presentations, and signings. It is A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. In addition to this blog, she helps writers extend the exposure of their favorite reviews at She also blogs at all things editing--grammar, formatting and more--at The Frugal, Smart, and Tuned-In Editor Visit Carolyn at

Writers: Fine Tune your Characters' Friendships

Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small.
We haven't time, and to see takes time - like to have a friend takes time.
Georgia O'Keeffe
Friendship, I think it's safe to say, is an issue in most if not all children's books. Now that my MG mystery is finished and in the hands of editors, I realize a subconscious exploration of friendship had been going on during the writing, some good, some bad.
Friendships are important - if not crucial - for our well-being.

An Aha Moment

The book was done. Fini. Caput. Honest. Time away, in its wisdom, has continued to fine-tune unexpected areas that felt complete only days ago. The questions began to rise like the broth in vegetable soup: Did I cover enough ground in my portrayals of my characters' interactions? Can I make their growing friendships more meaningful?
There are four major friendships-in-the-making:
mc + sidekick
mc + grandpa
mc + dog
mc + cat and her kittens
The antagonist isn't having it:

antag - bullies mc
antag - is jealous of mc
antag - is mean and cruel - a bully
antag - her egotism blocks any hope of friendship unless she changes
The antagonist's problem? The eleven-year-old mc and her sidekick compliment each other. Friendship blooms. She doesn't know how to be friends.
Nothing can replace the value of a close friendship.

Example of a friendship-in-the-making:

Sidekick:                                                                     mc:

not in tune with subtleties of others                           empathetic to the extreme

athletic                                                                        not athletic at first

cautious, not wanting to get in trouble                       is willing to take chances, curious,                                                                                         adventuresome

entrenched in her immediate surroundings                 thinks outside of the box

outdoors type                                                              artistic, prone to indoor activities

By the end of the book, the characters learn from each other and share their qualities. The master plan is to expand this book into a series. The characters will grow. Their friendships will deepen. That's the goal.

Develop Positive Traits of Friendship

As I wade through this partial list of how my characters can become better at being friends, think of the portrayal of your characters' friendships. Do they need fine tuning?

Making and retaining friendships isn't easy.

Choose your friends wisely.

Believe in yourself.

Be introduced.

Be loyal.

Be positive.

Be reliable.

Be respectful.

Be trustworthy.

Be careful not to be hurtful.

Be a good listener.

Be truthful.

Be confident but not egotistical.

Have fun.

Have the shoulder a friend can cry on.

Keep in touch.

Make eye contact and smile.

Remember birthdays and special occasions.

Show interest.

For more information, check out the entire articles that contributed to this article:
Photo: By Linda Wilson

Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 100 articles for adults and children, and six short stories for children. Recently, she completed Joyce Sweeney's online fiction courses, picture book course and mystery and suspense course. She has currently finished her first book, a mystery/ghost story for 7-11 year-olds, and is in the process of publishing it and moving on to new writing projects. Follow Linda on Facebook.

Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Pt 7: Apostrophes

Sometimes people underrate the importance of punctuation. If your work is full of errors, you risk not only confusing and/or annoying your readers, but you also risk losing credibility. Punctuation errors are bad enough in a novel or a short story, but if you're writing non-fiction, your readers may think, “Hmm...if this guy can't put apostrophes in the right place, can I really trust his expertise in the subject matter?” This is something you do not want your readers to think.

Recently I read an independently published non-fiction book plagued with so many apostrophe errors that the author unwittingly inspired today's post. Here are the main types of errors he made, over and over again:

1) Wrong: His mothers fears
Right: His mother's fears

If you're showing possession, you need that apostrophe. Otherwise is looks like a plural. This would be doubly confusing if it were “His mothers fear” because that reads like he has two mothers and they both fear something. It's not until the next word that the reader is jarred into the intended meaning: “His mothers fear was made reality.” Oh...his mother (or mothers, we're still not sure because it's not punctuated correctly) had a fear and it came true.

2) Wrong: Humanities primal urges. Also would be wrong: Humanitie's primal urges.
Right: Humanity's primal urges

When a word ends in y, and you want to make it PLURAL, you change the y to i and add es. But when you want to make it POSSESSIVE, you do not change the y. Just add apostrophe s. The city's streets are clean. Not many cities are so clean.

3) Wrong: A process which Heracles labours are forcing him to undergo.
Right: Heracles' labours... OR Heracles's labours

The correct way to punctuate names and singular nouns that end in s is debatable, and depends on which style guide you use, though nowadays most lean toward adding the apostrophe s instead of just the apostrophe. Charles's camera. The bus's back tires. But of course, if the noun is plural, you just add the apostrophe. The girls' playhouse (there are at least two girls).

4) Wrong: The sea's were troubled.
Right: The seas were troubled.

It's a plural noun. The apostrophe has no place here. Exceptions may be made (depending on which style guide you follow) for acronyms, years, and other strange cases. Some people write CD's, DVD's, etc. when they mean multiple CDs or DVDs. They write the 1980's when referring to the decade, instead of the 1980s. I personally think this is imprecise and potentially confusing, but it's common and often considered acceptable. You should use an apostrophe in plurals of some one-letter words that would be confused with other words if you didn't add the apostrophe. So, for example, you can write “I replaced all the a's with i's in my secret message.” These a's and i's are plural, not possessive, and would generally not use apostrophes, but if you don't add the apostrophe, you get this: “I replaced all the as with is in the secret message.”

5) Wrong: Helios see's all things.
Right: Helios sees all things.

Never put an apostrophe s in a verb UNLESS you're making a contraction with is or has (he's tired, she's singing, Mary's awake, the cat's never caught a bird before, the world's been going downhill..) Otherwise, just don't do it. Please. A regular s is sufficient. Helios sees. Helios hears. Helios knows.

6) Wrong: It's muscles flexed.
Right: Its muscles flexed.

This is a very, very, very common error. It's is a contraction of it and is (It's hot in here). Its is the possessive of it (This book is complicated. Its appendix of characters is twenty-seven pages long.). I think most of us know this, but it's easy to make the error in haste or with bad typing and then not catch it later because we know what it's supposed to say, so our brain skips over the error. If you're worried about it, there's a long, boring solution: use the find feature on your word processor to hunt down every example of both it's and its in your manuscript and make sure they're all right. While you're at it, check you're and your.

A few other things to remember:

“My parents' house is old” means that the house belongs to both your parents.
“My parent's house is old “ means that the house belongs to one of your parents (and for some reason you call this person your parent instead of your mom or dad.)

Let's is not the same as lets
Let's go swimming this afternoon. Mom never lets me go swimming.

Who's is not the same as whose
Who's going to cook tonight? Whose carrots are these?

They're is not the same as their
They're going to cook tonight? But their carrots are old.

You're is not the same as your
You're invited. Your invitation got lost in the mail.

We're is not the same as were and he's is not the same as his. Yes, these last ones should be obvious, but I've seen the mistakes in work people felt ready to publish.

The problem with these types of errors is that spell checker will never find them. Your grammar checker won't help a lot either. You have a sacred duty to your readers to find somebody (yes, an actual person, and preferably several of them) that will be able to hunt down and correct errors like this after you do your best to correct them yourself.

Happy hunting.

For more punctuation help, see my other posts:
Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Pt 1:  Commas Save Lives; the Vocative Comma
Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Pt 2:  Commas and Periods in Dialogue
Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Pt 3:  Commas with Participial Phrases
Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Pt 4:  The Mysterious Case of the Missing Question Mark
Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Pt 5:  Adjectives with Commas
Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Pt 6:  Hyphens in Compound Adjectives

Bait and Switch Editing

Bait and switch tactics don't usually work well in writing.  Of course, surprises and twists are good, but if you write a romance and market it as a psychological thriller, you'll disappoint readers.  If you start a novel as a realistic, contemporary mystery, and near the end reveal that the real culprit was a vampire, you'll alienate the contemporary mystery audience.  If you title an article, "Seven Ways to Avoid Ironing" and then talk only about the history of ironing, you have failed. 

I've been reading a lot of self-published novels the last few years, and a different sort of bait and switch pattern has emerged in an unfortunate number of them.  This is a bait and switch of editing.  The book starts well, with few typos and other errors.  Then it begins to deteriorate.  Sometimes this is so dramatic that I have to believe the author hired a professional editor but only wanted to pay for the first few chapters.  

These authors must believe that once the reader is invested enough in the character or story line, they won't care about the editing and will keep reading to see what happens.  This works—in part—on me.  I want to see what happens in the end.  But I do care about the editing too, and I get increasingly annoyed with the author.  I feel almost betrayed, like he didn't have enough respect for his readers to properly edit the whole thing, and decided instead to purposely trick us.  I'm probably extreme in this, but even people who aren't as sensitive to errors as I am will often feel disappointed, and many will decide against reading more by the author.  And you always want to leave the reader wanting more.

If you're a regular to this site, with all the editing tips and resources included here, you probably wouldn't dream of intentionally baiting and switching like this.  But sometimes it happens even if you don't mean it.  We've probably all edited the first one to three chapters of our novels more heavily than any other part, because that's what agents want to see.  The first chapter is what will hook or let go of a reader.  But do not neglect all the other chapters.  Use the hints and tips on Writers on the Move to make sure you don't fall into this pattern.

Melinda Brasher's newest story sale went to NOUS magazine.  It's a tale of a corporate unhappiness and a "take that" scheme that doesn't go as planned.  Check out the magazine here:  NOUS.  Other travel articles and short fiction appear in Go NomadInternational LivingElectric SpecIntergalactic Medicine Show, and others.  For an e-book collection of some of her favorite published pieces, check out Leaving Home.  For something a little more medieval, read her YA fantasy novel, Far-KnowingVisit her online at

Is "I Just Like Them" a Good Reason to Use Ampersands?

Ampersands: Pretty Is as Pretty Does

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

I added a new section to the second edition of my The Frugal Editor because ampersands seem to be so popular these days. It’s especially important for editors and those who publish books to both know a little about their history, how to use them, and how Lynn Truss’s of the world might view them.  So, I thought I’d share this excerpt today.
The ampersand is a real pretty little dude but it isn’t a letter nor even a word. It’s a logogram that represents a word. Its history goes back to classical antiquity, but interesting history and being cute are no reason to overuse it in the interest of trying to separate one’s writing from the pack. Better writers should concentrate on the techniques that make a difference rather than gimmicks that distract. Here are some legitimate uses for the ampersand.
  • The Writers Guild of America uses the ampersand to indicate a closer collaboration than and, in other words, to indicate a closer partnership rather than a situation in which one writer is brought in to rewrite or fix the work of another. For those in the know it is a convenient way to subtly indicate that one writer has not been brought in to rewrite of fix the work of another.
  • Newspapers, journals and other choose to use it when they are citing sources. That’s their style choice, not a grammar rule.
  • In similar citing, academia asks that the word and be spelled out.
  • Occasionally the term etc. is abbreviated to &c, though I can see no reason for confusing a reader with this. Etc. is already an abbreviation of et cetera and the ampersand version saves but one letter and isn’t commonly recognized.
  • Ampersands are sometimes used instead of and to distinguish the and is part of a name rather than the typical conjunction used when naming a series of items, though here, too, it feels like a stretch and more confusing than helpful. Wikipedia gives this example: “Rock, pop, rhythm & blues and hip hop.” This also seems like an unnecessary affectation if we would but use the traditional serial comma like this: “Rock, pop, rhythm and blues, and hip hop.”
For a little style guide from the point of view of academia go to To see a graphic artist’s creative use of the ampersand, one based on the authenticity of its simply being visually attractive,  and go to the back of  multi award-winning The Frugal Editor for a free offer for the readers of that book. It's a gift from Chaz Desimone.
Carolyn Howard-Johnson brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers and the many classes she taught for nearly a decade as instructor for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program. All her books for writers are multi award winners including both the first and second editions of The Frugal Book Promoter and her multi award-winning The Frugal Editor won awards from USA Book News, Readers’ Views Literary Award, the marketing award from Next Generation Indie Books and others including the coveted Irwin award. Her next book in the HowToDoItFrugally series for writers will be Getting Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically.
Howard-Johnson is the recipient of the California Legislature’s Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award, and her community’s Character and Ethics award for her work promoting tolerance with her writing. She was also named to Pasadena Weekly’s list of “Fourteen San Gabriel Valley women who make life happen” and was given her community’s Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts. 
The author loves to travel. She has visited eighty-nine countries and has studied writing at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom; Herzen University in St. Petersburg, Russia; and Charles University, Prague. She admits to carrying a pen and journal wherever she goes. Her Web site is

Tips on Polishing your Novel

Reach for the moon and you might catch a star
You've finished your book. All the major edits and rewrites are done. Now it's time to polish. Polishing includes the obvious edits, including making sure the story elements are present, verbs are active, every chapter moves the story forward, etc., as in the Fiction Short List put together from the collection I've made over time for self-editing, which appeared in my December 28, 2015 WOTM post. 

Fiction Short List:
Does the beginning draw you in? Or could the story be started at a different point?
Does the main character appear soon enough? Is there enough dialogue in the beginning?
Does the story show and not tell?
Is there a beginning, middle and end? Can you form a circle from beginning to end?
Do the scenes flow and advance the plot?
Does each character have an arc?
Does your main character have a goal?
Does your story have conflict?
Is your story predictable?
Did you explain everything well?
Does the main character grow and change by the end?
Would a different point of view, such as first person as opposed to third person, make the story more interesting?
Are there any shifts in point of view?
Does the dialogue sound natural?
Are there any description "dumps" where pieces of the information could be spread out, ever so briefly? Does the story come to a satisfying conclusion?
Are you finished? Not quite. Now it's time to polish. Check to see if you've covered these technicalities, which I've collected since recently finishing my mystery novel for 8-12 year olds.
Edit each Item One at a Time
1. Each chapter beginning establishes "place" and each chapter ending entices your reader to find out what happens next.
2. Check past drafts to add any spicy details that were inadvertently edited out, such as brief descriptive phrases and personal thoughts of your main character.
3. Make sure you've covered the story elements, such as: Concept, Plot, Characterization, Voice, and Structure; beginning, middle and end, in a nutshell, the basics.
4. Are there are any "dead spots" where the story doesn't move forward? Delete them.
5. Change any "telling" sentences to "show" what your character is doing and thinking.

6. Be specific. Check for anything vague or general and change to specific.

7. Do a drama check. Heighten the drama wherever you can.
Try this simple outline for each scene from Elaine Marie Alphin's book, Creating Characters Kids will Love:
  • Situation
  • Dialogue
  • Main character's thoughts and feelings
  • Action
  • Show moves or gestures and facial expressions to show feelings
I prop Alphin's book in front of me when I'm creating a scene. Her example on page nine is especially helpful, as this excerpt shows:

His sneakers were braced against the roof's shingles. Slowly, Benjy took one hand off the sill and gripped a lower shingle instead. Then he took a deep breath, told himself very firmly not to be afraid, and let go of the sill with his other hand . . . Why couldn't he have been a few inches taller? Benjy cursed his height silently. Even just a couple of inches would have meant his toes might have been able to feel the bench beneath him. But wishing wouldn't make him grow.
6. Scrutinize every word. For example: Make sure you've cut out unnecessary prepositional phrases, haven't overused adjectives as too many adjectives weaken nouns, haven't relied on unnecessary words such as these words listed by author Margot Finke on her website: seemed; thought; started; might; she said; he saw; got and get. Use fresh figurative language; no clich├ęs. Use clear, concise language that paints a picture. One editor described this in a way that you won't easily forget: "Write it plain then make it fancy."
7. Make sure every scene builds toward an explosive climax and satisfying ending.
8. Collect important information in one place to help write your letter to the publisher and market your book:
  • The story problem 
  •  The main character's special need or flaw
  • The theme: Does your theme clearly stand out (without stating it)? My favorite example is Bruce Coville's, The Skull of Truth. Charlie Eggleston has a not-so-slight problem telling the truth. On page three "a familiar voice sneered, 'Well, look here--it's Charlie Eggleston, king of the liars.'" Telling the truth carries throughout the book; the last line finishes the theme off with, "And that was the absolute truth." Even though 'truth' is brought out in many not-so subtle ways--it appears even in the title--the book is such fun to read, the message of 'telling the truth' is integral to the story and never stated.
  • The encapsulation of your story in as few words as possible.
  • The synopsis: Tell someone or say out loud what your book is about--not always easy for someone who expresses herself/himself on the page.
  • The book jacket blurb.
  • The list of characters, brief descriptions, their goals and their own character arc.
  • The list of chapter titles and page numbers.
9. Tie up loose ends: Jot down each part of the action and goal of each character and make sure you've followed through.
10. Last but Most Important: Your first sentence and first chapter are the most important part of your book. Make sure they contain what is necessary to interest an editor and your reader. Somewhere in my research I read that Stephen King has been known to spend a year on the first chapter. That's how important it is to get it right. There are very specific points editors look for that must be covered.
Here are samples from two books I use to help me get the correct information in the first sentence, first paragraph and first chapter. In the opening, a few sparse words establish "place," establish a bond with the main character and tell you what the entire book is about.
The Green Ghost by Marion Dane Bauer.
"Papa! Look! isn't it beautiful?" Lillian breathed the words, long and slow. In the cold air, her breath clouded the store window. She wiped it clear again with a corner of her scarf.
The cloak was beautiful. It was dark green wool . . . All that green made Lillian think of a Christmas tree.

We don't know it yet, but we've met our ghost--she is the main character who came from an earlier time, 1938. In Chapter two we meet Kaye who is riding with her parents to her grandmother's house for Christmas in a snow storm. While reading the book I thought Kaye was the main character. Later when I analyzed the story I realized that though most of the book was about Kaye, Lillian was the main character. She became the green ghost wearing the green cloak, which was made clear in the above first two paragraphs but was so subtle I didn't catch it until I thought about it.
When My Name was Keoko by Linda Sue Park
1. Sun-hee (1940)
"It's only a rumor," Abuji said as I cleared the table. "They'll never carry it out."
In one amazing first sentence we learn what the book is about. The chapter goes on to explain the details about the rumor and how it is planned to be carried out. The theme is established on page two:
"Nobody ever told me anything. I always had to findout for myself. But at least I was good at it. You had to do two opposite things: be quiet and ask questions. And you had to know when to be quiet and who to ask."
The next paragraph explains the details, and so on.
A valuable resource for editing and polishing your ms is The Frugal Editor by Carolyn Howard-Johnson and then when you're ready to promote your book, be sure and follow-up with Howard-Johnson's, The Frugal Book Promotor.

Your comments about this post will be appreciated: Please let me know what I've left out. As you might guess, I'm in the process of polishing my mystery story for 8-12 year olds. If you're like me, you want to make sure your masterpiece is the best it can be. The only way to do that is to check and re-check your draft and know that your editing is probably not done when it gets in the hands of an editor. But never fear, your hard work will be worth it. Your editor and publisher will help you spin your magic and place your book into the waiting hands of your readers.

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Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 100 articles for adults and children, and six short stories for children. Recently, she completed Joyce Sweeney's online fiction courses, picture book course and mystery and suspense course. She is currently working on several projects for children. Follow Linda on Facebook.


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