Life, the Universe, and Everything: A Writing Symposium


My friend Corey came to me a couple of months ago and asked me if I wanted to go to a symposium in Provo, Utah.

My first reaction was something like, "What's in Provo, Utah?"

She had been watching Dan Wells' video series from YouTube about the seven-step story writing process. (See my links section) The videos had been recorded at a previous LTUE Symposium.

We decided to go, booked our hotel, and we have now spent the past two days filling our heads with great advice and knowledge from authors and editors. I went to a couple of sessions about horror that will really help me in my development of my antagonists in my current project.

So far I have learned about action, scaring people, writing a great first paragraph (that will keep the readers turning the pages), plots & subplots, avoiding slush piles, writing a good villain, creating a fictional language, research, the problem of sequels, and rewriting.

One of my favorites so far has definitely been David Farland's session on rewriting. He suggests writing your whole story and then rereading it six or more times looking for different things each time.

Triage Edit

This edit is where you look over all of your scenes and decide what each one needs to be made "whole". This is where you cut, add, and rewrite.

  1. What do I need to add so that it says what I need it to say? (to the scene and the book) Edit to clarify the theme you're trying to get across. Add something to the character to make him more believable and clear.
  2. What can I delete? Chop off any backstory that keeps the reader from getting to the real story. Backstory is necessary, but it can't be the face of the book if it is merely a historical recount of the characters. Make the story start where the action/conflict begins. That will hook your reader. Delete extraneous scenes, anything that doesn't advance the plot. Take out or edit down long passages that don't add to the story. Sometimes even extra characters can be removed if they are merely a distraction. Sometimes you have to nix your favorite creations for clarity's sake.
  3. Look for things that need to change. Answer the statement: This world would be better if ________. When reading through the book, make a note of any changes you wish to make along with the page number and come back to it later. That way you can maintain focus on your book and still remember where the changes need to be made.

Consistency Edit

After the blunt force of the Triage Edit, you move on to the consistency edit. This is where you look for dropped words, how to make your descriptions better, and any other minor changes that would improve the section you're working on. If you're having trouble getting into the scene, reread previous pages to get yourself into the rhythm of the story.

Important scenes are worth taking the time to fix. Here is another time where it would be good to keep a list of edits so you can come back to them later.

Character Edits (aka Voice Edit)

Here is where you read your story for consistency of voice. Is the dialogue true to the character who is speaking it? Are the words they're using words that character would actually say? Limit the vocabulary to words that character would know. Three year olds aren't usually going to use words like "enthusiastically" in normal conversation.

Add dialogue tags to remind people of the traits and habits of the characters, but don't overuse them. Only remind them when necessary so the reader remembers that a person has a limp, or green eyes, or a scarred face, etc.

Descriptive Edits

The fourth edit is where you reread your book for places where you can add more descriptions or take them away. In scenes that are important to the story, where the character is interacting heavily with the world in which the story is built, involve all of the senses. Tell what they saw, felt, heard, smelled, and tasted along with what they thought.

Look at the story from all sides in order to make it better.

  • Through the eyes of the characters, would they believe events of the scene?
  • From the perspective of the world, does the scene maintain the rules you have created for the world? Are you changing the laws of physics just to make your scene happen?
  • Pacing: Is the story progressing at the best rate for that section?
  • Is the timeline logical? Does something need to be taken out to speed up the resolution?
  • Is the POV the best choice for that section?

Syllabic Edit

After everything else is done and you think the story can hold its own weight, reread it thinking, "How can I make this story as short as possbile?" Cut words, conjunctions, adverbs, anything that doesn't need to be there for the meaning to get across.

  • "Finally" - When something "finally" happens, it indicates that what was before was boring and you just couldn't wait to get to the next part. Cut out the "finally".
  • "Then" - We went to the store to buy cookies and ice cream. Then, when we came out, we... "Then" is placed to show the order of events but it is already implied by the order in which the actions were stated in the scene. There is no need to add it to your writing.
  • Cut out paragraphs/sentences that detract/distract from your goal.
  • Cut overwritten/overwrought areas from your text.

Shot Gun Edit

Quickly reread and look for every weakness you can find and fix it. This is where speed reading comes in handy.

Line Edit

After all of this, put your document into a new typeface and size, single-spaced, and read it aloud. Doing this will change the order of lines and make it so that you notice dropped and doubled words. Glaring errors that your eye missed before can be caught at this point.

The most important thing throughout the editing process is that you look for different things each time. This will ensure that you're putting your best revision through to the publisher or editor.

One thing that David did mention was that rewriting, while important, can become almost a neurosis to writers. If you find yourself going over and over the dialogue or specific scenes and rewriting them time and again, you're probably over editing and possible removing the initial passion you had when you wrote it.

There is still another day in the symposium and then we'll be back on the road to Boise (about 6 hours away). I'm hoping to get some writing in before I have to return to work on Monday.

editing everything life ltue symposium unverse

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