Creating a Strong Story by Rebecca Monterusso – Certified Story Grid Editor

I’m thrilled to host Rebecca Montrusso, a Story Grid certified developmental editor, as a guest. Rebecca is sharing her expertise on how you can become your own story editor.

Creating a Strong Story

(Before you call in an editor)

by Rebecca Monterusso

I am a developmental editor. Meaning, I help people learn to tell their stories better by focusing on the fundamentals (read: story craft and structure). I like to say that I help people write masterfully, read actively, and live intentionally because I believe they are all necessary to live as a creative person. I also teach people how to practice in the right ways to be the writer they’ve always wanted to be (see my latest post), but that’s beside the point in this case.

What’s most important is that I study how to write effectively, do so myself, and use those skills to help other people improve their work.

That said, it might be surprising when I tell you (beg you, perhaps) to become your own editor. And I mean before calling in someone like me to take a look at your work.

Wouldn’t it make sense for me to tell you I can fix any story no matter how rough? Shouldn’t I have you send me even the most cursory drafts so that I can earn a comfortable living? Perhaps, but that’s not how I run my business.

There are a number of reasons you should write and edit your own story before hiring an editor. 


First and foremost, I don’t want to take your money if I can’t help you make significant changes that will bring your workable draft closer to being finished.


Lying about how good or bad your novel is to make you feel better won’t make you a better writer and won’t allow me to do my job effectively. A draft that is so rough I can’t even begin to improve it (meaning, it lacks structure, consistency, movement, active characters, etc), isn’t something I feel good about taking on. I want to feel like I’ve made a difference in the work of the authors I help and I can’t do that if I can’t actually help. Save your money.

When you become your own editor, you learn, improve, and remember that knowledge for your future drafts.

I’m not saying you’re going to be able to write a perfect draft that will require no edits. But, your first drafts will (probably) require fewer and fewer edits the more you improve your craft. That’s because you’ll know where your novel is going and be more likely to get it there when you understand what your audience expects. Do the work now and you’ll be able to grow that much more when telling future stories.

Other writers self-edit themselves.

Not that I’m telling you to do something just because others do it. But, think of the most prolific authors, the most well-told stories. Chances are, those authors learned how to improve their own work before sending it to someone else. Compare that to the masses of people who write a novel in a month (or any designated amount of time) and send it off to an agent without even reading it through themselves. If you’re going to copy any sort of strategy, the one that gets authors published and out of the slush pile should be adopted.

Your next drafts will be better.

As you learn to critique your own work in an honest way (not too gentle or harsh), the future drafts of that story that you produce will become better and better. This is because of brain science and the fact that knowledge is cumulative. Taking time to study and you’ll gain more and more knowledge along that way that will enable you to challenge your initial ideas and build upon them to create unique stories.

You’ll better appreciate the books you read.

Learning how to write well and understanding the mechanics that make a story work will change the way you read. Reading stories and analyzing them will improve your writing, just as improving your understanding of the craft of writing will improve your understanding of the books you read.

All that aside, how do you improve your story before sending it to an editor?

Showing your work is a necessary step. Feedback is irreplaceable. That said, you could find an editor or coach who works with beginning writers (which might seem counter-intuitive, but there are people specifically interested in that). Or, use beta-readers or family members who read a lot and might be able to help. (Though I don’t recommend that route because they could do more harm than good, it is an option if you trust the people you send your work to.)


You could study every craft book you can get your hands on. The Story GridStory GeniusStory, Story Engineering, to name a few. Take the time to peruse websites like www.thecreativepenn.comwww.janefriedman.comwww.storygrid.com, etc. Listen to podcasts. Figure out and act on the habits of successful writers like Steven Pressfield, Stephen King, etc. Plenty of writers outline their learning methods in books for you to find. Or, you could attend events like Robert McKee’s Story Seminar or take Masterclasses by Margaret Atwood or Dan Brown.

Finally, you can use the tool at your fingertips and subscribe to Fictionary. Not only will you have access to the computational analysis, but you’ll get emails on craft to continue to teach you. Using this tool will enable you to take learning into your own hands. You’ll see your novel laid out in many different forms and learn what that means for what you’ve crafted. Then, you can act on that analysis and keep working to improve what you’ve learned. Though that doesn’t replace hiring an editor, it is a great first step to improve your first drafts immensely.

Rebecca Monterusso

Rebecca Monterusso is a Story Grid Certified Developmental Editor, which is a fancy way to say that she helps writers learn to tell their stories better by focusing on writing, reading, living, and practicing with intention.

She spends her time traveling the world, writing whatever takes her fancy, and deconstructing the many stories she reads on her blog to better understand the craft of writing. Ultimately, she believes that stories are the only way to change the world, which makes writers mighty powerful people.

Rebecca Monterusso Workbooks

If you’re looking for a method to get that book started and written well, Rebecca has a couple of workbooks that will help you.

Practice to Improve Your Writing workbook will help you learn by doing, by actually writing. It will help you practice in the right ways so that you improve, turn writing into a habit, and story stories you want to emulate. Use it to take actionable steps towards your goals.

Write A Story in 7 Days walks writers through the steps they need to take to come up with a fully-formed story that works. It helps them get words on the page and continue to improve their understanding of craft as they learn.

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Free 10-Day Story Editing Course

I’ve partnered with Reedsy  and created a free course on Story Editing.  Reedsy has a series of courses for writing, editing, and publishing. All are free. All are 10 days. You’ll receive an email each day with your course material.

Here’s the blurb from Reedsy for the Story Editing for Authors course.

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Want to learn how to perform your own story edit? Go scene-by-scene and evaluate each story element to learn how to improve your whole story and make everything flow together.

In this email course, author and Fictionary CEO Kristina Stanley shares her method for ensuring that your story is well-told, well-paced and highly effective. Over ten lessons, you will be guided through the process of reviewing your story, scene-by-scene, with the help of a downloadable resource that you will receive in lesson one.

What you’ll learn in this course:

  • Why you need to perform a story edit
  • How to choose the best location for a scene
  • How to identify problems with tension and conflict
  • How to effectively deploy flashback and backstory
  • How to engage your readers with the story arc

If you take the course, I’d love to get your feedback. The course will help you if you decide you use Fictionary for your story editing.

 

Top 5 Fiction Elements For A Mystery #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2Thank you, Raimey Gallant for organizing the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop.

This is a monthly blog hop on the theme of resources/learning for authors: posts related to the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, blogging tips for authors, reviews of author-related products, anything that an author would find helpful.

To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, just hop on over to Ramey Gallant!

This week, I thought I’d focus on my favorite genre – Mysteries (my fav ’cause that’s the genre I write in).

Top 5 Fiction Elements For A Mystery

Self-editing a mystery is one of the joys of the writing process. You get to use your imagination to lead the reader through your story.

 

If you’re a mystery writer, it’s important to keep track of your story, and not only in the context of what you share with your readers but also what your characters know.

You don’t need to keep track while you write your first draft, but once you’ve written a draft, go back through your manuscript and rewrite it with the following 5 key elements of fiction in mind.

1. CLUES

A clue tells the readers something that will help them solve the mystery. You don’t want to give clues too early and have the reader guess who the villain is. You also want to give enough clues, so when you reveal the villain, the reader is surprised, but also feels the choice is logical. You can also call this a revelation. Any you let the reader know that’s important to the story.

2. FORESHADOW

Think of a clue as a piece of a puzzle. You need all the pieces to solve the puzzle. Foreshadowing is hinting at some future event. It’s not solving the puzzle. Foreshadowing will keep the tension rising throughout your story. It’s the anticipation of something bad happening that will draw your reader in.

Usually, I’ll put foreshadowing as the purpose of a scene if it includes foreshadowing. Then I can quickly check where I’ve done this.

3. POINT OF VIEW CHARACTERS

You need to decide early if your antagonist will have the point of view (POV) for any scenes. If your antagonist has a POV scene, you cannot let the reader know everything the character is thinking.

In a thriller, the reader often knows right away who the villain is, but in a mystery, the villain is kept secret until the very end.

4. WHAT PROTAGONIST KNOWS

Keep track of everything the protagonist learns. You need control what she/he knows versus what the reader knows. Your protagonist can only act on information she/he has.

5. WHAT THE READER KNOWS

This is very important if you write from multiple points of view. Keep track what the protagonist knows and if the reader knows something from another POV character that the protagonist doesn’t know.

Happy editing!


Check out Fictionary’s  free 14-day trial  and tell better stories.

Fictionary is online software that simplifies story editing.

Learn How To Self-Edit #AuthorToolboxBlogHop: Flashback Vs. Backstory

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2Thank you, Raimey Gallant for organizing the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop.

This is a monthly blog hop on the theme of resources/learning for authors: posts related to the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, blogging tips for authors, reviews of author-related products, anything that an author would find helpful.

To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, just hop on over to Ramey Gallant!

Flashback Versus Backstory

flashback takes the reader from the current time to a previous time. This usually happens quickly, and then they are returned to the present.

A flashback is told as an action scene.

Backstory is the story that happens before your novel begins. Sometimes during the story, you need to inform the reader of something that happened earlier in a character’s life. You may have files upon files of information you store elsewhere that you use to develop your characters, but what we’re concerned with here is what the reader needs to know.

Backstory is told as narrative.


Flashback

A reader lives a flashback is if it were a regular scene. Flashbacks can be a sentence, a paragraph, a scene, or an entire chapter.

The importance of a flashback should influence its length. So look at each flashback and ask yourself how important is it to the story. This is where the rewrite comes in. You may have a flashback in which a murder occurs, and the murder is the driving motive for your protagonist in this story. In that case, give the flashback time to develop on the page. Don’t shortchange your reader with only a few sentences.

Remember a flashback is a scene. It must be immediate. It must have conflict or tension. You’re taking the reader out of the story and into the past, so make it worthwhile.

When you’re revising your flashback, check how you got into and out of the scene. Did you give the reader a clue you were jumping back in time? How do you let them know you are back in the present.

You can use an object to do this. An object in the present can trigger a character to think about something in the past, and that’s your lead into the flashback.

A sound or loud noise can jar the character from the flashback and back into the present. Any of the senses will work for this.

Are the flashbacks clustered together or spread throughout the story. If too many flashbacks occur close together, maybe they could be repositioned or grouped into one flashback.


Flashback Checklist

  1. How important is the flashback?
  2. Is the flashback written as a scene?
  3. Did you give the reader a clue you were jumping back in time?
  4. How do you let readers know they are back in the present?
  5. Are there too many flashbacks clustered together.

Backstory

By keeping track of the backstory, you can decide if you’ve started your novel in the right place.

If you have more backstory than current story, you may want to start your novel earlier in the character’s life.

A good backstory is an event that hurts your characters before page one. The backstory can create motives or character flaws.

You may be writing a novel that is over half backstory. In this case, you’ll be using a technique where you bounce between the present and the future. Do you give a fair balance to past and present?

If you’re writing a novel with a small amount of backstory, then you don’t want too much backstory early on in the manuscript. Only dole out the information as the reader needs to learn it. You don’t want to give too much backstory at one time. This can cause the reader to lose interest in the story if they are jarred out of the immediate story.

Part of re-writing backstory may include moving some of the backstory to later in the manuscript. If you find you have a lot of backstory in the first scene or chapter, consider moving some of it to later in the novel.

Ask yourself, does the reader need the backstory information? If the answer is no, then cut it from your story. If the answer is yes, ask yourself does the reader need the information in the current scene or can you move it to later?

Your characters need to do something interesting before too much backstory is included.

One final thought on backstory. Curiosity is what drives the reader forward. If your character has a past that’s driving their motivation, then don’t tell the reader too soon.

Keep the reader curious.


Backstory Checklist:

  1. Do you have more backstory than current narrative?
  2. How early in your novel does backstory occur?
  3. Does the reader need to know what you’re sharing in the backstory?
  4. Does the backstory cause a character pain?
  5. Is the backstory important enough to be shown as a flashback

How Fictionary Can Help You

Below is the Story Map in Fictionary for Look The Other Way (by Kristina Stanley). In Fictionary, you can select only the key elements of fiction you want to evaluate

In the Story Map, I’ve selected the POV character for the scene, backstory and flashback

You’ll notice I don’t have a flashback in any of the first 6 scenes. I have one later in the novel for a key event in Shannon’s past.

For Backstory in each scene, I’ll show why the backstory is included.

Scene 1: Shannon quit previous job. This is important to the scene because Shannon is being fired. Now she’s regretting leaving her last job.

Scene 2: Debi’s boat history. The story takes place on a sailboat and this lets the reader know Debi is qualified to go sailing.

Scene 3: Previous fight. Shannon and Lance are engaged, but I let the reader know there is trouble in paradise.

Scene 4: Jake was a cop. Now the reader knows Jake’s purpose in the novel. He’ll be believable when tracking a killer.

Scene 5: Jake’s past hurts. Here, I’m letting the reader know Jake is carrying a past that was difficult and it will serve as the reason why he has trouble getting close to Shannon.

Scene 6: Boy’s bedtime ritual. This backstory shows a closeness the boy feels to his father, so when the father dies, the reader will understand his pain.

I hope the above illustrates who using select backstory can engage your readers.

The History of Fictionary

Fictionary is a new interactive web app for self-editing fiction that helps writers turn a first draft into a story readers love.

Creating Fictionary began when I (Kristina) finished the first draft of my first novel. By then I’d read over 50 how-to-write and how-to-self-edit books. I’d taken writing courses and workshops, and had 100s of writing and rewriting tips swirling about in my head.

I knew I had to begin the rewriting process and improve the quality of my draft before sharing my work but I didn’t know how to go about it. How was I supposed to remember the torrent of advice and apply it to each scene? To address this problem, we built Fictionary.


Post written by Kristina Stanley, author of Look The Other Way (Imajin Books, Aug 2017).

Image Source: Kristina Stanley

Kristina Stanley is the best-selling author of the Stone Mountain Mystery Series and Look The Other Way.

Kristina is the CEO of Fictionary, and all of her books were edited using Fictionary.


Why not check out Fictionary’s free 14-day trial and turn your draft into a story readers love?

Story Editing. Copyediting. Proofreading. What in the world are they?

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2Thank you, Raimey Gallant for organizing the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop.

This is a monthly blog hop on the theme of resources/learning for authors: posts related to the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, blogging tips for authors, reviews of author-related products, anything that an author would find helpful.

To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, just hop on over to Ramey Gallant!

In today’s publishing environment, it’s up to an author to ensure all the major steps of revision/self-editing have been completed.

After you’ve written your first draft, you’ll need to work your way through the revision process. So what are the different steps in self-editing fiction?

Here is our take on it. After you write your story, the first step is a story edit,followed by your rewrites. Then you’ll do a copyedit and finally a proofreadStory editing, copyediting, and proofreading combined make up the revision process.

Following this order will save you time on editing. If you copyedit or proofread too early, you may have to repeat this work. Of course, you can fix obvious errors when you see them, but don’t spend time on copyediting until you’ve finished a comprehensive rewrite.


Write

Image Source Fictionary

Create your story and complete your first draft. Easier said than done 🙂

That’s why there has been so much written about how-to-write fiction! Whether you’re a plotter or a panster, it’s up to you to decide how to best write your story.


Story Edit & Rewrite

You’ve completed a draft and may have been told to put your work in a drawer for a few weeks and then come back and reread it with fresh eyes. This never worked for me. Even if I ignored my draft for weeks, I needed a structured process to evaluate and rewrite my manuscript. I realized I was doing my own story edit.

A story edit focuses on the big-picture of the novel. You’ll evaluate:

You’ll check for consistency and clarity, and you’ll end up rewriting scenes in your manuscript to improve content and structure. This is the most time-consuming step of self-editing, however, your effort spent on evaluating and rewriting your draft will ensure your story makes sense and is ready to polish and share.

So no surprise…this is where Fictionary will come to the rescue!


Copyedit

Now you’re getting into the details of each sentence with a focus on style. It’s time to check for:

  • Language errors including punctuation, grammar, and spelling
  • Run-on sentences (you may want these in dialogue or thought — just make sure you do this on purpose)
  • Repeated information or words
  • Clichés
  • Too much description
  • Unclear or confusing passages
  • Boring or passive language
  • Showing versus telling
  • Too many adverbs
  • Sentence length variation
  • Consistent spelling (For example: US versus Canadian)
  • Consistent hyphenation, fonts, and capitalization

Both ProWritingAid and Grammarly are great online tools for copyediting and proofreading. I use both, ‘cause I like them both.


Proofread

At this phase, you shouldn’t be finding too many errors. This is the final check before publishing your manuscript. You’ll notice you’re not changing your story or your style. Here you’ll check for final spelling or grammar mistakes, then ask yourself:

  • Are all chapter headings formatted the same?
  • Are any pages or headings omitted?
  • Is the page numbering consistent?
  • Are the headers and footers formatted the same?
  • Are italics consistently used?
  • Are paragraph indents formatted the same?
  • Are there any double or triple spaces between words?
  • Are there any double spaces after a period?
  • Are times formatted the same — am, a.m. AM?
  • Is the spacing between ellipses consistent (… and not . . . )?

How Will Fictionary Help You Story Edit

Fictionary is a new interactive web app for self-editing fiction that helps writers turn a first draft into a story readers love.

Developed by writers to help fellow writers, Fictionary is the first online tool for editing the story, not just the words. Writers are guided through a scene-by-scene evaluation of their manuscript by analyzing key story elements for characters, plot, and settings.

With interactive reports and writing advice for each element, writers can visualize their story and see where and how to improve their writing. With automated progress tracking, writers save time on self-editing and can be confident that their work is ready to share.

How Fictionary Works: A writer imports a manuscript. Within seconds, Fictionary automatically creates a character list, links characters to scenes, plots word count per scene, and draws a story arc.

The writer then inputs key story elements for each scene, evaluates and edits the manuscript based on output from Fictionary, and then exports the updated manuscript. The output from Fictionary is dependent on the writer’s input and is specific to each manuscript.

Why not check out our free 10-day trial?

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Conquer Your Story Edit and Finish Your Novel (NaNoWriMo Guest Blog)

Conquer Your Story Edit and Finish Your Novel

Every year, we’re lucky to have great sponsors for our nonprofit events. Fictionary, a 2018 “Now What?” sponsor, is a breakthrough tool for editing fiction. Today, author and Fictionary co-founder Kristina Stanley shares her editing expertise, as well as the details of the Fictionary Finish Your Novel Contest:

Tell me a story!” your reader demands. “I want to feel happy, sad, frightened. Take me to a new world and make me care about what happens.

That’s a big ask of a writer. How do you go from the first draft of your novel to a story that works and captures readers? Think about some of the best novels you’ve read. What do you remember?

Read More…

Conquering the Blank Page by Editor Eric Anderson

It happens to all of us. The dreaded blank page stares at us with high expectations. Our fingers freeze. Our eyes glaze over. The blinking cursor demands words from us.

There is no need to fear the blank page when you have concrete steps in place to finish your novel.

Today, we have editor Eric Anderson with us to share his advice on how to conquer the blank page and get your story written.

Over to Eric…

Conquering the Blank Page

by Eric Anderson

It doesn’t matter if I open a new document on my computer or take a notepad to a cozy café, the moment I look at the blank page, my mind follows suit. All the ideas I had percolating inside seem to vanish, and I’m left either doodling in the margins or distracting myself on Twitter. Some writers are able to sit down and start writing immediately, letting the ideas flow out of their minds onto the blank page. I am not one of those writers.

For me, having a smart outline is essential before I ever start filling in sentences. Think of it like building a house: you need to draw up the blueprints before you start to pour the concrete. I’d like to share a useful strategy to help conquer the blank page and set your writing project on the path to success.

Begin with the basics. Grab a piece of paper and draw a horizontal line. At the left is the beginning of your story. Here, make a few notes about what the story’s world will be like on the first page. Keep it simple. Add general things like the date, location, and other foundational details. On the other end is the last page of your story. Here, note where things will end up. Is it in the same year, or the same place? Are all of the original characters still alive and together?

From there, you can fill in the major plot points where they fit on your developing timeline. Since this is an introductory exercise, you don’t need to be detailed. Don’t wrack your mind at this point — it’s just a matter of getting the big events in order. At the start of the line, you can add characters introduced at the beginning of the story (even if they change later). Others can be added along the line where you imagine them being introduced. How far down the timeline will you bring them in? Add important details to flesh this out, but don’t let it get too unwieldy. The idea is to use it as a guide as the story develops, so avoid the temptation to make it too complex.

Here’s an example I created for a recent sci-fi story:

The next step is to create a more detailed outline. Whereas the timeline was horizontal, this is vertical. To start, open a new document on your computer or grab a blank notebook page make a list of ten chapters. Your book may eventually have more, or fewer, but this is a good place to start until you have a sense of your story’s length. Under the heading for chapter one, insert all the details from the beginning of your timeline, including the date and location, initial characters, and other important establishing information. Fill in the other chapter sections with the rest of the information you have so far. For example, if you’ve added a major plot point or introduced a character halfway through on your timeline, put that under chapter 5.

Under each chapter, add the main points you want to cover, and then under each major event, add smaller details like the characters involved and how they interact, important aspects of the setting, or even key lines you have already drafted. When these are organized, it will begin to look like a cascading list of details. Major points will have smaller details under them, which can be ordered and expanded on as you progress. You may find that some pieces, or even whole chapters, need to be reordered to make a cohesive plot, and that’s easier to do now than when you’re working on your first draft. Let’s look at a small piece of my outline from the sci-fi example above.

Eventually, you will have chapters that start to feel a little full. In that case, it’s easy to add another chapter to break up that section of the story. In my example, perhaps I find there is so much to say about Paolo’s time on the highway that I want to make his arrival at the hidden city into its own chapter. With a working outline, that’s easy to do. Conversely, you might find there isn’t enough to fill ten chapters, and you can then easily use a shorter outline or add more events to fill it up.

The key to this process is flexibility. While the outline and timeline are great tools for getting past the blank page and starting the writing process, they should also be living documents that change as your project develops. You may start writing and discover that a character should be introduced earlier than you originally planned. No problem! You can easily go back to your outline and play with the new structure, moving sections around as you write to make sure the changes don’t introduce any issues like continuity errors or plot holes.

When it’s finished, the outline should be a nearly point-for-point overview of the story and may be several pages long. You can see where subplots begin and end, when characters are introduced or leave, and how each chapter will flow from beginning to end. Then, when you being the real writing process, it’s simply a matter of fleshing out the points you’ve already listed. You can write any section that inspires you at the time, without worrying that it will change the order or development of the story. Are you most excited by the big fight scene towards the end? Write that first while you have the spark, without worrying that it will mess up things that came earlier. By using and adapting a working outline, you can keep things organized while focusing on the aspects of the project that excite you the most. Soon, you’ll look back and realize that maybe the blank page isn’t so scary after all.

Eric Anderson is a freelance book editor specializing helping self-published and independent authors reach their goals. For more information, visit his website at BrutallyHonestEditing.com.