Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Final Edit Workshop

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (with members from California to Florida) sponsors workshops on a regular basis. This past Saturday, Charlotte Cook walked us through a few editing concepts. She's the first to tell you her strength does not lie in copy editing, but in story editing. If you ever have the opportunity to attend one of her classes, I encourage you to do so. She's been doing this a long time, and it shows.

Wait. That came out wrong. Charlotte?

When I was very green, I would attend writing workshops and get very little out of them. Most of what was discussed was so far over my head, I could only try and grasp a few of the ideas that happened to flutter down a little closer to ground level.

Now, I'm almost overwhelmed with what I know I don't know, and a little terrified to consider what I don't know I don't know.

Here are a few of the notes I took during Charlotte's full-day workshop:

AVOID sentence fragments in action scenes. This is one I have to think about. I'm guessing in this quick aside, she was alluding to the differences between sentence fragments and short sentences.

First pages should be VIVID, VIBRANT and IMMEDIATE.

Do not bury dialogue. AVOID prose followed by dialogue. She says very clearly in a handout from the workshop: "The reader's eye is looking for dialogue. Don't bury or hide important dialogue from the reader's eye. . . . When dialogue and behavior/action aren't simultaneous but sequential, separate the two into different paragraphs."

Move powerful sentences toward the end of paragraphs where they have more power. Think "chronology."

Edit by paragraph, not line. Does each paragraph tell a story? I think if we were to take away one thing from her presentation, this would be what she'd like to have us remember.

USE USE USE USE dialogue tags. Huh. Maybe this is what she would want us to remember. She's including, I believe, action beats in this statement, but is thoroughly convinced there are far too few "he said" and "she said" tags running around in our manuscripts. On this I have to agree 100%. As a reader, I'm never frustrated by too many tags. I'm often frustrated by having to backtrack to figure out who's talking.

Be careful of any sentence you can add a "that" to. It's telling.

THREE books that Charlotte recommends:

Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman for the best prologue ever.

Straight by Dick Francis. I'm not sure why she chose this one, but I do know she's a huge Dick Francis fan.

Underground Man by Ross MacDonald for its excellent crafting of backstory.

CR: The Neighbor by Lisa Gardner (My first of hers, and so far I'm impressed.)

It's all better with friends.


  1. Dialogue tags are essential. I would rather see lots - but keep things straight - than have to back track.

    Also, a very good point about burying dialogue. I'll keep an eye out for that in my current work in progress.

  2. I would have loved to hear her talk about publishing and editing for a week. Especially "war stories" from her experiences.

  3. So interesting what different people find essential in the writing (versus the story or characters). I never would've thought of any of those (except perhaps the tags...I agree, having to look back jars me right out of the plot.) Sounds like a great place to go while in the throes of polishing, Peg!

  4. Charlotte Cook was (is? can one ever stop being something so dedicated?) an acquisition editor and a publisher. I'm sure as she digs, she's into the stories and the characters and how things hang together.

    What she was helping us with was fresh voice and vivid writing. How to get the attention of an acquisition editor in a few words. The people attending the workshop ran the gamut from undeniably green to multi-pubbed.

    I made an executive decision on my old cow. I changed a couple of the things Charlotte pointed out . . . one magical thing that involved switching a few sentences around . . . but I'm done until someone who wants to team up with me says I'm not.

    Moving forward with my new, more exciting, love interest.

  5. Very interesting. I especially like the idea of editing by paragraph, not line. I'll have to work on that.

    Straight From Hel