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.

Structural Editing. Copyediting. Proofreading. Steps To Revising Your Fiction. – Feedback For Fiction

After you’ve written your first draft, you’ll need to work your way through the revision process. In today’s publishing environment, it’s up to the author to ensure all the major steps of revision/self-editing have been completed. So what are the different steps in self-editing fiction?

We’re glad you asked. Here is our take on it. The first step is a structural edit, followed by your rewrites. Then you’ll do a copyedit and finally a proofread. These steps 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…

More at Source: Structural Editing. Copyediting. Proofreading. Steps To Revising Your Fiction. – Feedback For Fiction

Feedback For Fiction | Self-Evaluating Scene Endings and Novel Structure

Self-Evaluating Scene Endings and Novel Structure

Imagine sitting on a plane next to a man reading your novel. You watch him read. He gets to the end of a scene and quickly turns the page to the next scene. He does this for hours. You watch the entire time, thrilled that he just keeps reading. He doesn’t take a moment to talk to you, to eat, or to drink. The TV shows and movies aren’t enough to draw him away from your book.

Isn’t this what we all want?

Read More and find out how to create great scene endings at: Feedback For Fiction | Self-Evaluating Scene Endings and Novel Structure

Write Better Fiction: Learn How To Edit

Today on Write Better Fiction we’ll cover Learning to Edit. Write Better Fiction is a process to help you critique your own manuscript and give yourself feedback. This will help you improve your novel, so you’re ready to submit it to an editor.

Now that we are fifteen episodes into Write Better Fiction, you’ve probably guessed I have a passion for learning how to edit, and since I blog about the writing process, I wanted to share a little story with you.

I believe to become a better writer, I needed to learn to edit my own story. What about you?  Before sending your story to beta readers, writers’ critique groups, or to an editor, don’t you want your story to be the best you can make it?

The story I’m going to share with you involves Jodie Renner, editor & award-winning author

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Early last fall, Jodie put out a call for submissions for short stories written about British Columbia. The accepted entries would be published in the Voices From The Valleys anthology. I submitted Deirdre Hunting Season, and Jodie accepted it into the anthology.

Once I stopped jumping up and down, and doing the happy dance, I read through Jodie’s website. As all proceeds from the sale of the anthology go to Doctors Without Borders, Jodie asked for volunteers to help proofread. So with a great cause in mind, I volunteered.

Jodie sent me each story she accepted into the anthology and asked for my comments. Over the course of several months, I read every submission that Jodie accepted, sent her my comments and then read the final version.

This gave me the opportunity to see what Jodie did with her edits. It gave me time to read a story, not just because it was a wonderful story, but to read with the eye of an editor. It made me think about spelling, punctuation, and grammar. About word choice, head hopping, and inconsistencies in the story line.

So if you’re looking to improve your editing skills, why not find a project where you can volunteer your time, help a good cause, and learn at the same time?

Besides learning from an expert, Jodie was kind enough to mention me in the acknowledgment section of Voices From The Valleys. Tell me that’s not a thrill.

To entice you to read Voices From the Valleys, Jodie has posted excerpts from all contributing authors at http://www.jodierenner.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/VOICES-FROM-THE-VALLEYS-EXCERPTS.pdf

I’ve put the excerpt from Deirdre Hunting Season below…

Next week, I’ll return to Write Better Fiction with Scene Middles.

Thank you, Jodie!

Deirdre Hunting Season

Excerpt as published in Voices From The Valleys

Due to the shortage of deer in the area, our community restricted deer hunting to bucks with four point antlers. The doe in the area needed more males. Well, so did I. I was forty years old, and my buck just married a doe half his age.

In our small town nestled between the Rockies and the Purcell Mountains of British Columbia, everyone knew everyone. I did the books for half a dozen businesses on Main Street and was known as the accountant with the cheating husband. That’s me. Failure at marriage extraordinaire. What did I do to deserve this? I’m a rule follower. I do good deeds. I volunteer. I’ve never even received a parking ticket. So what happened in my life surprised me.

The day mother nature blew the leaves off my tree, I came home unexpectedly. We’d hired a local company to clean our air ducts, and the guy doing the work was supposed to come the following day. He called and asked if I could meet him a day early. I rushed home, even though I was busy, unlocked the front door, and headed toward the back of the house. I’d told him I’d leave the kitchen door open for him.

Fifteen years of marriage pinholed to one moment. A naked woman standing in my kitchen, leaning against my sink, drinking water from my glass.

“Hey, Babe. Get back here. I don’t have much time,” my then husband called from our bedroom.

The glass of water froze at the babe’s lips as if she’d stuck her tongue on a metal swing set in winter. I recognized her from my husband’s office. Deirdre something-or-other.

Before You Submit: The Use of ‘That’

Do you have a draft of your novel or short story and are thinking of submitting to an agent, publisher or writing contest? My series called Before You Submit might help. This series contains hints and tips I’ve received from professionals in the publishing industry. Each week I’ll share a new tip.

This week I’ll write about the use of that.

My editor thought ‘that’ should only be used if it was needed to keep the meaning of the sentence clear. Here’s an example of where it’s not needed.

Kendra smelled the odour of sweat coming from the ski boots that were resting askew on the floor.

The easy fix my editor recommended was to remove ‘that were’ from the sentence. The new sentence becomes:

Kendra smelled the odour of sweat coming from the ski boots resting askew on the floor.

I think the editor was reminding me to cut back on words. There are many places on the internet to get find the detailed rules, but I thought a quick example would give you something to check for in your writing.

I hope this helps improve your writing.

See Before You Submit:Likeable Characters for the first blog in this series and an introduction the benefits of submitting even if you get a rejection letter.

 

 

Thanks for reading . . .

 

Before You Submit: As If Versus Like

Do you have a draft of your novel or short story and are thinking of submitting to an agent, publisher or writing contest? My series called Before You Submit might help. This series contains hints and tips I’ve received from professionals in the publishing industry. Each week I’ll share a new tip.

This week I’ll write about As if versus like.

Learn the difference between ‘as if’ and ‘like’. That was the clear message from an editor. 2008 was the year, and wow, did I have a lot to learn.  How embarrassing that my very first draft was full of errors when it came to using ‘like’.

I’ll give you an example:

On his way out the door, Darren turned back to me. He looked like he might say something …

Really, what it should have been was:

On his way out the door, Darren turned back to me. He looked as if he might say something 

I found a clear definition of ‘Like versus as if’ on Clifford Garstang’s blog, Tips for Writers. You can also check out GrammarErrors.

I hope this helps improve your writing.

See Before You Submit:Likeable Characters for the first blog in this series and an introduction the benefits of submitting even if you get a rejection letter.

Thanks for reading . . .

Before You Submit: Should Your POV Look

Do you have a draft of your novel or short story and are thinking of submitting to an agent, publisher or writing contest? My series called Before You Submit might help. This series contains hints and tips I’ve received from professionals in the publishing industry. Each week I’ll share a new tip.

This week I’ll write about Point of View Characters looking at things.

As usual, this advice is coming from an editor who knows what he/she is talking about. In an early draft of my novel, I had too many places where the POV looked here, looked there, looked everywhere.  The editor pointed out that if the writing describes something, then the reader assumes the POV can see it.

So a sentence like this:

Kendra submerged herself in the hot tub behind the chalet and waited for dawn. A twig cracked. She turned and looked as a cougar sauntered under the dome of light and silently lifted its upper lip, displaying an impressive array of fangs.

Turned into a sentence like this:

Kendra submerged herself in the hot tub behind the chalet and waited for dawn. A twig cracked. A cougar sauntered under the dome of light and silently lifted its upper lip, displaying an impressive array of fangs.

The second sentence is tighter and hopefully more suspenseful. This is similar to what I posted last week, but I thought I’d include the advice to reinforce checking for ‘saw’ and ‘look’.

I hope this helps improve your writing.

See Before You Submit:Likeable Characters for the first blog in this series and an introduction the benefits of submitting even if you get a rejection letter.

Thanks for reading . . .