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Monday, October 16, 2017

Working with Teasers




About a year ago I went to the bookstore and started pulling books off the shelf to see how many of them had prologues, then I grabbed about a dozen books with prologues, sat down, and started reading them.

A lot of people in the writing world say prologues are horrible and that you should never ever ever ever ever write one.

I've always had mixed feelings about that advice.

Especially since all growing up, I liked prologues. Still do.

As I started reading all these prologues, I realized not only did the books do a no-no by having a prologue in the first place, but so many of the prologues broke dozens of writing rules. It would be enough to make any aspiring author want to rip out her hair. How come everyone who is teaching me to write stories tells me not to do these things, but then a quarter of the books on shelves are doing them in the very opening?

But I realized when reading through prologues that day, that most of them were teasers. A teaser functions different than other parts of the story, and if you don't know how to discern them or understand them, it can mess up your writing. Not enough people talk about teasers, which is why I'm doing this post.

Teasers inherently break a lot of writing rules, so it's unfair to compare them to everything else. They have a different purpose and function in storytelling. Teasers function off emotional promises to the audience.

Let's start with where the general public has heard the term--in reference to movie trailers. There are two main types of movie trailers: theatrical trailers and teaser trailers. A theatrical trailer is longer than a teaser trailer. It conveys the basic plot of the story. It communicates what the story is about.

Since I'm getting excited for the second season of Stranger Things to come out this month, let's look at their trailers for examples.

Here is the Stranger Things theatrical trailer.




Notice how the trailer guides us through the plot's set-up. It conveys to the audience that the story starts with a boy who has gone missing, having met some kind of ill fate, and his mom and others are looking for him. Eventually, his friends meet a girl who might know where he is.

Now, most theatrical trailers will have some kind of voice over or text on the screen to guide the viewers, and tell them what the story is about.

A teaser trailer is different. They're short. They usually don't really guide the audience through the plot's set-up, but instead show flashes of what kinds of emotional appeals the story is making to the audience.

Watch this Stranger Things season 2 teaser.



While there is text on the screen, it doesn't actually tell us about the plot of the story. But what it does do is make promises to the audience about what kind of emotional appeals it has.

- We get the retro 80's feel from the very beginning, which appeals to that feeling of nostalgia.

- We get yelling and then heavy breathing, which appeals to the feeling of fear.

- We see friends together, which appeals to the feeling of camaraderie--buddy stories.

- We see hints of a government conspiracy, which appeals to a feeling of wonder and horror and stirs the intellect.

- Finally, we get the feeling of wonder and horror when we see a dark creature outside.

Teasers don't tell us a whole lot about what the plot is about--just glimpses of it. They don't give us much, if any, context. They promise the emotional journey that will be delivered if you watch this show.

However, what else teasers promise, is that if the audience watches, they'll get the context.

One of the most important things about teasers is that they are short. If you want to do some research, look up theatrical trailers and teaser trailers for the same movies. The teaser is always shorter.

This is because an audience will sit through a lack of context for only so long. If it goes on too long, especially in the opening of the story (prologue usually), they'll get antsy. They need meaning. They need to be able to interpret what they are viewing or reading on their own, in order to become invested in the story, in order to care. They have to be able to participate, not just be dazzled with camera shots of creepy creatures. Maybe once that would have been enough to hold an audience back in day, but not today where so much entertainment is so accessible.

The less context a teaser has, the shorter it needs to be.

If it has a little more context, it can be a little longer.

If it has a little more context than that, it can be a little longer than that.

But one of the defining qualities of a teaser is the lack of context. If you give full context, it's not a teaser. You might have a theatrical trailer prologue, which is perfectly acceptable, but it's not a teaser.

So how do you handle a teaser? You appeal to emotional promises and beats. Luckily, you do not have to appeal to all your book's emotional beats in a teaser prologue. This is why often after teaser prologues, you get a chapter one that appeals to different emotional beats, and hopefully having dual openings gives your reader a sense of what kind of emotions this story is going to sate overall. And again, not everything needs to be in the opening, just the promises for what kinds of things will be in the story.

If you watch multiple teaser trailers for the same movie, sometimes you'll see that each teaser focuses on certain types of emotional beats. For example, in the Harry Potter movies, you may see how some may focus on the slice-of-life stuff at Hogwarts, while others focus on the dangerous Voldemort stuff. Usually, you'll see appeals to both, but if the movie has a big marketing campaign, you might get emotion-targeted teasers.

Teasers don't only appear in prologues. They may also appear as short scenes in the story, usually in the first half of the story. When you are working with a story where the threat is at a distance until the midpoint, you might get short teasers about what that threat is doing or planning to do, to remind the audience of their presence, promise again that trouble is coming, or sate the audience's emotional need. The movie I am Number Four, is a good example of this. The Twilight movie also does it.

Again, these teasers function the same way. They are short. Have less context. They make emotional promises.

Teasers that take place in the story, as opposed to the prologue or opening, don't have to necessarily promise trouble. They can speak to other things. For example, in a fantasy where your protagonist hasn't yet discovered a magic system, you may show a teaser of the mentor character using it in a fascinating way, with the promise that we will learn more about it in the future.

There are obviously differences between movie trailers and books. For example, movie teasers will often show short clips, quick shots, that inherently appeal to certain emotions. So for romance, there might be a quick shot of two people kissing, then a shot of a couple holding hands. These shots might come from two entirely different scenes from different ends of the movie. We can't and shouldn't write our teasers like that (usually). As a teaser in a story, especially a written one, you're more working with a teaser scene. The audience already lacks some context. Trying to jump between multiple scenes is just going to be more confusing. As a rule of thumb, don't intermingle and jump around scenes like that in your teaser passage. You can probably get away with sequential teaser scenes, as long as the teaser passage doesn't go on too long.

On a micro-level, some teasers aren't scenes, but lines in a scene--a sentence here or there that has that emotional buzz attached. And some of those bleed into this post on the Mechanics of Rendering Mysteries and Undercurrents.



Monday, October 9, 2017

Boom! Bang! Pow! Using Onomatopoeias Well



Today's article is going to be rather short, because that's all it needs to be for this particular lesson. But first, a couple of announcements: 1) I was recently in the news for one of my Comic Con panels. You can see and read that here. 2) I only have about 4 days left of my Fawkes Editing Thunderclap campaign, and I only need 7 more people to reach my goal. It's completely free to pledge! So please help me get the last 7. Go here. Thanks!

An onomatopoeia is a word that expresses a direct sound. You learned about them when you were a toddler: meow, oink, woof, moo. Then there are also the other sounds: ka-ching, sizzle, squawk, whoosh, zoom, and onward.

In creative writing, we are taught to appeal to all senses: sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound. That's when onomatopoeias become relevant. However, there are good ideas and not-so-good ideas on how to use them.

Not-so-good

I went out into the backyard. My neighbors next door had a thing for raising pigs to compete in fairs. 

"Oink! Oink! Oink!"

I hoped I'd be able to ignore them as I practiced my lines for my next audition.

"Oink, oink, oink, oink."

I hoped.

Many new writers will approach onomatopoeias this way. I think by default, we are taught about them in this way, as toddlers. But when you use them like this, unless you are writing a children's story or maybe even middle grade, it usually cheapens the story. We aren't toddlers anymore.

Another exception to this is comic books, manga, graphic novels, and maybe even visual novels--stories where pictures convey much of the story, usually in panels, and the classic onomatopoeia usage is naturally tied to the medium.

Personally, I think this is largely because these mediums are more visual than a typical novel, with little narration (usually) so that's naturally how to convey sound, similar to how in a movie, you would simply hear the sound effect. I could be wrong; I'm not an expert on these mediums by any means, but that's the vibe I get.

Good

I went out into the backyard. My neighbors next door had a thing for raising pigs to compete in fairs. I closed my eyes in a moment of annoyance as they oinked to unprecedented volumes.

I hoped I'd be able to ignore them as I practiced my lines for my next audition.

The oinks reached a new obnoxious pitch.

I hoped.

For typical fiction writing, you handle onomatopoeias by turning them into verbs or nouns or adjectives. "They oinked," "The oinks," and its work with other words.

Seagulls cawed along the shore.

Bacon sizzled in the pan.

The scooter zoomed down the street.

The child's screech could have made us deaf.

He had a barking tone.

This way you convey sound in a way that's natural to narration, without it drawing too much attention to itself.

There are some exceptions, particularly with dialogue. Sound words that actually are naturally said are usually fine. For example, "Oof!" is a sound that people actually make. However, pigs don't actually sound like "Oink!" Oink is just a way us humans invented to describe and convey the sound. This is why in different languages, you may have different sounds. In America, cats say "meow." In Japan, they say "nyan."

So the following are often going to read fine, and you'll see them in fiction sometimes:

"Uugh, that was the worst meeting I've ever sat through," Sandra said.

"Uh, is that . . . a spider?" Jeffrey asked.

"Oof--what was that for?" Mitch rubbed his head. "That hurt."

"Pfft, like that would ever happen." 

"Ahem, are you listening?"

However, some words do sound a little strange, unless you are using them jokingly.

"Boo-hoo!" Sally cried.

No one I know actually makes that sound when crying.

There are some cases where the classic Boom! does work, but almost never ever. Other than a few of those common dialogue words, like "um," "er," and "uh," you almost always want to turn the onomatopoeia into a verb, noun, or adjective.

Monday, October 2, 2017

On-Page or Off-Page? Discerning Significant Scenes




Like a lot of writers, you've probably, at some time, been at a point in your story where you wondered if an event needed to be a scene or not. Could it happen off-page and be referred to? Does it need its very own scene? Can it be shuffled into the beginning, end, or middle of another scene? Or you may have found yourself writing scenes about events that you later realized didn't really merit a scene.

Once in a while when editing, I come across stories where an important event of a viewpoint character happens off-page. Sometimes this is done simply to try to surprise the audience as to a character's decision. It might create false suspense. Other times it might be done to shorten a story. Some writers might do it because they don't want to write the scene or don't know how to.

In contrast, some writers may include every event of their viewpoint character on-page, which may lead to drawn-out pacing and inflated storytelling (and readers wondering, do I really need to know this?)

Of course, like all writing rules, what does and does not merit a scene can be somewhat subjective. That's why they are more like guidelines rather than rules. For organic stories, this may be even more true. In formulaic stories, especially if you are following a beat sheet, it's clearer what should have a scene and what shouldn't. In any case, there is some leeway, and of course, it depends on the story you are telling and effect you want on the reader.



Generally speaking, however, significant events in the story should happen on-page, in a scene. The exception to this is backstory. We don't need a flashback scene for all of your character's backstory. But in most stories, from the moment the story begins to its ending, significant events should happen on-page. The more significant the event, the more likely it should happen on-page. This means that if one of your plot lines deals with romance, and someone confesses they are in love with your protagonist, it should probably happen on-page. If the Grinch's heart grows two sizes, it should probably happen in a scene. If your protagonist battles an enemy, it should probably be on-page.

The less significant the event, the less likely it needs to be on-page. What your character ate for supper each night probably doesn't need to be in its own scenes (unless your story deals with cooking or worldbuilding, or magical creatures that eat a lot like Peregrin Took). A full-blown scene on the drive to work probably doesn't need to be in your manuscript.



But trying to explain all this is like trying to hold water in your palms. There are a lot of different stories, so what might merit a scene in one story might not merit one in another story. It's not black and white. For example, in a story that has a rich fantasy world, like Harry Potter, a scene about what Harry had for dinner during the sorting ceremony might be completely appropriate, as one of the main draws of the books is to transport the reader to Hogwarts.

So another important factor is why the audience is picking up the book. If you have an adventure story, you darn better include the biggest adventure moments of your character on-page. If you are writing fantasy, the moments that have the highest amount of wonder that your viewpoint character experiences, should probably be on-page. In a horror, the scariest moment of your protagonist should be on-page.

Moments that significantly affect your protagonist personally or moments that influence their character arc or alter their motives should probably be in a scene.

If these things don't happen on-page, the writer should have a valid reason for not including them. What you definitely don't want to do is leave your reader feeling cheated. If I pick up a romance story, I sure as heck better see the moment where the protagonist and love interest confess their love for one another and kiss.

Remember, the more significant the event, the more likely it needs to happen in scene.

Other times, you may have important events that the reader needs to know, but aren't significant enough for a scene. In these cases, you can put the information in summary. For example, if you are writing a story of an adventure, but there is a stretch of land where the characters have to get through a huge bog that is difficult (but rather boring) and only a couple of interesting things happen, then you would probably want to summarize the bog. Now some people may say you should replace the bog with something else or find a way to make it exciting. You can try that, but it depends on what your story is. My point is, in almost every story, there are parts that needs to be summarized.



I don't need to read full scenes about every one of Harry's Quidditch practices. I just need a summary to convey how hard the players are working, what their interactions are like, and the rivalries that are building up.

However, keep in mind, that summary still needs to be interesting, either in content, or in the way it's told (preferably both).

Almost all stories should have information or events that happen off-page. Why? Because it makes your story feel more real and authentic. It also makes the story "bigger than itself." Often this sort of thing best happens with backstory. Your characters don't exist in a void. They should feel like they were alive before the story began, even if it's in small ways, like your protagonist remembering in passing a time when she slept through church. Side characters should also have their own lives off the page, which should be alluded to.

In any case, here are some questions I've come up to help you discern if an event should happen on-page or off-page:


- How significant is this event?

- Does the event alter the storyline? How much?

- Does it alter an important character in a significant way? How much?

- Does it convey important information to the audience? How important?

- Is it a very thematic moment? (Often thematic scenes do not seem important, as they are often just two characters talking, but usually they are significant in conveying the theme, and should be included.)

- Does it feed the audience's emotional needs? (for example, in a story about a traveler, chronicling what happens each day fulfills what the audience picked up the book for.)



As for writing scenes, you can find a lot of great information online. Ideally, scenes accomplish multiple things at once. So for example, if your protagonist tells his mom he lost the love of his life, and later tells his best friend the same thing, you might want to see if you can set-up a scene where he tells both of them at the same time. When looking at your theme, you might want to ask yourself if there is another scene you can fit into.

Some scenes are better left simple. Deeply personal moments or vulnerable moments might happen better in mostly their own scene (though you can still convey other things about character). You don't want to stack things inappropriately. For example, in some classic romances, it might be inappropriate to have your character confess his love when his sinking ship is being attacked by the undead. HOWEVER in an adventure story, it might be entirely appropriate for them to get married in that moment, like in Pirates of the Caribbean. 



Almost all scenes should show a change. In rare cases, the point of the scene might be to show how things stay the same. But 9/10 times, the scene needs to convey change. It can be external and part of the plot at hand, or it can be internal, about how a character changes. Some changes are very small. Some are big. But scene should almost always change the story in some way.

And with this topic, we could try to get very nit-picky, but storytelling doesn't always work that way. Often what is significant or not significant depends on how the story is set-up to the reader, so don't give yourself a headache trying to nail all this down like science. Many writers have a good internal sense of what should happen on-page. What should only happen off-page may be harder to discern for people. Take this article as a guideline to help you consider when to do which, and don't feel like you have to adhere to everything perfectly. There may be special cases where something very significant is much better in summary than scene, or off-page than on.

Thunderclap - Thank you to everyone who has helped my with my Thunderclap campaign for my new editing website, FawkesEditing.com. We now have 70 people who have pledged on it. Yay! But I still need 30 more! So if you haven't helped out yet, I would really appreciate it if you did. You can learn more and help here

Monday, September 25, 2017

Meeting Elijah Wood (Frodo), Seeing Back to the Future Actors, Among Other Things


So over the weekend, this happened . . .


Now, I'm not saying I'm the coolest aunt, but . . .

That's Elijah Wood (Frodo in Lord of the Rings) showing us The Ring.

I've heard that one of the reasons they cast Elijah Wood as Frodo was because he has such big, bright, blue eyes.

They weren't kidding.

When I was standing this close to him and talking to him, his eyes were so big and bright and blue--it was like he had these two huge flashlights shining out of his sockets.

Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but they were so big and bright, like, not just in color, but happy-bright. And he just seemed so present and so happy, and energetic, but it was like, contained and controlled.

I get that he's an actor, and he was technically working at the time, but considering the fact he was meeting literally thousands of people, he was really present and happy. (But of course, after you've endured 16 months straight of filming, what's a convention?)

(More on Elijah Wood below)



Also last week, I had pit tickets to see Muse and 30 Seconds to Mars!




You probably aren't as big of a Muse fan as I am (who am I kidding? No one is.), but imagine being that close to your all-time-favorite band or musician, in a big pit full of the best audience you've ever been surrounded by in all your concerts throughout the years. Yeah. If you haven't experienced that, you need to.

The people I was next to in the pit were HUGE fans--so naturally I fit right in. We were freaking out the whole time Muse was on stage. One of the guys was jumping and dancing around almost the entire time.

30 Seconds to Mars said it was the best audience that they'd played for on this tour (and it was the last performance of the tour). When Muse was done, they said Salt Lake City was always their favorite audience in the U.S.A. Matt, their frontman, even broke his guitar, and chucked it in the air, and pieces were falling out before it hit the stage.

They are so dang talented. I would give anything to be as good at writing as Matt is at vocal range, guitar, piano, songwriting, and stage presence. 30 Seconds to Mars was really wonderful too! Definitely some of the best performers I've seen.

It was so fun being so close to my favorite band and being surrounded by so many people all rocking out and singing along too! If I could, I would turn around and buy that same ticket and experience it all over again.



Comic Con also had Christopher Lloyd ("Doc") and Tom Wilson ("Biff") from Back to the Future. And all I want to say is that Tom Wilson is hilarious! And super entertaining.

Fun fact: the word "Butthead" was invented by him, because he didn't want to say "a-hole" which was in the script. 😆 From there, he invented all the other off and wrong things Biff said.

Tom sang us two ridiculous songs that had everyone laughing, one included all the FAQs he gets about Back to the Future and their answers, so no one needed to ask him those questions. Oh and he sang us this dumb KFC biscuit jingle he still remembered from pre Back to the Future, when he did commercials. He was in the commercial that introduced the first ever KFC buttermilk biscuits.



They had the DeLorean there too. I wanted to get a picture with it, but every time I went by it, they were doing photo ops with the actors (which I hadn't bought) or I had other things going on. Oh well.

Of course, Comic Con always has tons of pop culture booths--like tons. I found this cool terrarium booth. It was amazing. And I totally fell in love with this one.


I did four panels this year.  My favorite was probably the one on Harry Potter characters. There was a really great energy between the panelists and the audience. Way fun. But something new I did this year was help out with the kid section. For the first time, Salt Lake Comic Con wanted to do panels for the kids, so they put me on the Pokemon one. GREAT turn out. All the seats were full and kids were sitting on the floor (mind you, the sitting area for the kid panels are much smaller than the others, but still). I brought Pokemon cards to give out to all the kids, and it was a hit. (Maybe too much so, because they got a little difficult to control after that). But it was so fun because they were so excited.

Salt Lake Comic Con is so amazing, because, like the concert, everyone is there having a great time, celebrating what they love, and everyone is so friendly and nonjudgmental, and you can strike up happy conversations with any stranger. 

This has definitely been the most fun I've had this year so far. I mean, it's pretty hard to beat those concert tickets AND meeting Elijah Wood. Everything was a blast. Everything. I didn't want to come home!

Overall, this trip reminded me how great life can be. Yes, there are low moments and difficulties, but life can be just so dang good sometimes. If you ever feel like it will always be doom and gloom, please know that there are wonderful moments and experiences to be had in the future. And never forget to make time to have fun! When you are having lots of fun, many, if not all, those things you worry about, were annoyed about, stressed about, melt away and feel small and insignificant--all that matters is that you are doing what you love.


Elijah Wood's panel highlights:


- His first film role was in Back to the Future 2, when he was 8 years old. (And the group who got a picture with him before us, actually had him hold a hoverboard haha)

- He actually did a lot of film as a child actor, and of course, his mom had to travel around and everything and be with him. (Imagine all the things his mom did to help him with his career and no one even  knows what she looks like or what her name is.)

- The Hobbit feet took a while to put on, and they had to glue them to their own feet. They were made of silicon, so their feet were all sweating like crazy.

- When he returned to the role of Frodo for The Hobbit, it was so easy to slip back into, that it was as if no time had gone by.

- "By the time The Hobbit was being filmed they had Hobbit feet boots." (Elijah Wood getting very animated) "The actors had it so easy. They had NO IDEA what it was like!"

- "They were still silicon though, so your feet still sweat like crazy! You'd take them off, and it was just like this huge river of sweat coming out!"

- "And the cast of The Hobbit, I mean, they have no idea what it was like." (Still animated and jokingly) "They have like layers and layers, and huge jackets, and boots, and everything. Meanwhile in the Lord of the Rings, we filmed in so many locations that were freezing, and we are in shorts and thin shirts, and we're progressively wearing less and less clothes and they are getting more and more raggedy."

- "And in Mordor, it was freezing! And it's supposed to be really hot and volcanic and we're supposed to be all sweaty. They didn't want to spray me with water, so they put baby oil all over my shirt like sweat. And it was freezing, and my costume was all tattered, and I was all sticky and smelled weird." (Everyone is laughing.)

- The most emotionally difficult scene for Elijah to film was near the end of the series, before Frodo collapses and Sam carries him. And having to keep getting into that emotional state for each shot was something.

- Someone asked him to say his favorite Frodo line, and he had a hard time picking one, and then said he was getting really nervous and was afraid he'd remember it wrong in front of everyone, and that he was afraid he wouldn't be able to do Frodo's accent anymore. (And I'm thinking, Frodo had an accent? . . . I guess a little.) So he did this one:




Monday, September 18, 2017

Comic Con Schedule + Why You Shouldn't Use Adverbs

Hey everyone! I'm busy getting ready for Salt Lake Comic Con happening this week. Also . . . I got pit tickets to see Muse and 30 Seconds to Mars 😍 . I'm pretty obsessed with Muse if you haven't noticed . . . here . . . or here. . . . It's gonna be amazing. The concert is Wednesday night and Comic Con starts on Thursday afternoon (so I should be able to get some sleep . . . if I'm not too excited.)

Here is my schedule in case anyone else is going to be there and would like to see me!



Harry Potter is My Bible: Fandom as Faith :: 251A
Thursday September 21, 2017 :: 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm

People turn to fandoms for more than just entertainment. We find comfort and inspiration, guidance and even spirituality, in the art we consume. Drawing on the example from the podcast "Harry Potter and the Sacred Text" this panel will discuss the deeper ways fandom can help us in life.



Harry Potter and the Cast of Unforgettable Characters :: 151D
Thursday September 21, 2017 :: 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm

Every book in the Harry Potter series may bear Harry’s name, but each fan knows that Harry is only the beginning when it comes to the series’ well-developed characters. Join us as we discuss who our favorites are, who we hated, who we most related to, who we wished were our best friends and family members, and more. We’ll also discuss what makes the cast of Harry Potter so rich, universal, and timeless



(For kids)

All Things Pokemon
Saturday September 23, 2017 3:00 pm to 3:30 pm
Kid Con - 155

We will be talking about everything Pokemon--games, shows, cards, whatever--and invited the kids there to do the same.
 


Searching for the Sorcerer's Stone: 20 Years of Harry Potter :: 151D
Saturday September 23, 2017 :: 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm

From the publication of the Sorcerer’s Stone in 1997 to the home release of Fantastic Beasts in 2017, the Harry Potter universe is now 20 years old. Join us as we discuss Harry Potter then and Harry Potter now, stroll down our favorite wizarding memories, and consider how Harry Potter has changed the world. Later we’ll open it up for you to share some of your own favorite moments with us. Will Harry Potter still be here in 20 more years? We certainly hope so!


I'm also excited to meet Elijah Wood, who played Frodo in Lord of the Rings. 😍

It's gonna be a good week.

Other than all this, I still need help with my Thunderclap campaign going on. If you missed last week's post, I'm launching a freelance editing website at FawkesEditing.com, and I'd love to get some help spreading the word. If you aren't familiar with Thunderclap, it's a service where people vow to share a link on social media on a specific day (ours is Oct. 13). I need at least 100 people to vow to do this, and you need to do it through my Thunderclap.





Thanks to everyone who has already joined my Thunderclap.


And since I'd hate to leave you guys without a writing tip this week, I'm linking to my latest tip on Youtube, where I discuss the writing rule that you should not use adverbs and should only use adjectives sparingly.




In my follow-up video, I'll explain when and how to break this rule.

Monday, September 11, 2017

6 Things I've Learned as a Professional Editor



I usually talk about the writing process on my blog, but today I wanted to talk about the editing side of my life. I also have a little surprise at the bottom of this post, but if you feel like you can't read through my points to get there, I guess you can scroll down and come back.

I love editing because I love helping writers grow and take their stories to the next level. In middle school and high school, whenever we had to write down our career plans, my plan A was always writing, and my plan B was editing. For over five years, I've gotten to live both my plan A and my plan B every day. 😍

I thought it would be helpful for other writers to hear my thoughts as an editor and important points I've learned (or that have been validated to me) from that perspective.

1. It's Your Story, Not Mine

As you probably know, I work for a best-selling author, but he also teaches and does editing too. One of the things I've heard him say is that ultimately, it's the writer who puts in the real work. It's the writer who came up with the vision for the story. It's the writer who puts in the hours. It's the writer who put something on the page. Sure, everyone else in the process may hold a little claim to the development of the project, but it's small in comparison. A fraction. And while there are editors and other professionals in the industry who may request changes, ultimately it's the writer's story.

Your story should reflect your vision, not mine.

I work in freelance editing, not for a publishing company, so my perspective may be a little different than editors of New York, but in my case, I strongly believe that the suggestions I make on a manuscript are just that: editorial suggestions. They may be educated suggestions and experienced suggestions, but they are suggestions nonetheless. It's up to the writer to decide how he or she shapes the story. My job is to help them see how to make the story better. How to nail their vision for the story and the audience's experience of it.

But they should write true to themselves, not true to me.

It's your story. Not mine.

2. Writing can be Learned

If you peruse things other writers have said, especially older famous writers, you won't go far until you meet the concept that being a good writer is something innate and can't be learned, let alone taught. This is elitism at its finest. I've also seen quotes from writers who portray that no writer (or anyone for that matter) really knows what he or she is doing and why it works.

Both of these ideas are completely ridiculous.

People who say writing can't be learned, don't know how to teach it. People who say they don't know how to do what they do are people who don't know how to explain it--because for them it's subconscious and intuitive.

Both these concepts are thwarted daily--by people who do know how to teach writing and by writers, like Brandon Sanderson, who know exactly how to explain what they are doing.

Writing is a tricky topic to teach and a tricky talent to gain because almost everything about it is intangible. But writing can be learned just as anything else. If you want to write a better story, and you have the capacity to read and understand this post, you can become a better writer. Don't believe any other crap you hear.

3. Everyone Starts at the Beginning

Remember that concept that writers must be born, not made? I hope so, because it was just in the last section. One thing I have learned and know to be true, is that however "naturally" talented you are, we start at the beginning. Everyone needs to learn the basics. And while, I do believe some of us are more "natural" at things than others, even Michelangelo had to learn his colors.

However great of a writer you feel are destined to be, or however horrible you think you are at writing, everyone--everyone--starts at the beginning. And everyone can make progress. Sure, some people may pick up on things intuitively or faster than others, but we all start at the beginning.

If you aren't a natural, you can still learn how stories work, just as you learned how to do anything else that didn't come naturally to you. If you are a natural, you should still learn how stories work and function, so that you can write them more intentionally.

The difference between a "natural" and someone who is not, is that the former learns and picks up on things more subconsciously and intuitively while the other learns more consciously and intentionally. In the end, both need to learn and use the mechanics to reach their full potential.

I've done editing for all different kinds of people--some with jaw-dropping professions. Trust me when I say we all must learn the basics to become better.

4. The Importance of Positive Feedback

Contrary to some popular beliefs, positive feedback isn't really a matter of self-esteem or ego-stroking. Can it do those things? Absolutely. But every writer needs positive feedback.

It is just as important for a writer to know what is working as it is to know what's not working.

Some of the things that are working well in the story may be things the writer did subconsciously. They could be things the author isn't even fully aware of. These things need to be pointed out so that the author can become aware of them and learn to gain conscious control over them, so they can intentionally use them in future stories, use them to better effect, and take them to the next level.

And even if the author did do them very intentionally, it's important that they know it had the effect they intended.

5. Rules are Really More Like Guidelines

Every once in a while (haha, who am I kidding? Every ten times in a while . . . ) you may come across someone who adheres to writing rules more than they adhere to the commandments of God.

There are a lot of great reasons to learn and adhere to the rules (remember how I said everyone starts with the basics?), but as an editor, I've seen times where adhering to rules actually hurt the story and writing rather than benefited it. Often the rules that get the ultimate devotion are rules that relate to style. Sorry, not sorry, but style is not the end-all and be-all, of storytelling. It has a place in storytelling, absolutely, but it is not the sum of a good story. It's only one element. You do not need to sacrifice all the other elements every time to it as if it were a god. You do not need to sacrifice tone in order to please the no-passive-voice rule. There are places where passive voice is exactly what you need.

Same thing can be true of content rules. Some stories really do need that character sitting and doing nothing but thinking for the opening pages (gasp!). Some stories actually do need that flashback desperately. Some stories do need that much telling. Some stories do need that vague passage.

95% of stories don't.

But some do.

This is why rules are really more like guidelines.

6. Not all Stories are Edited Equally

You would think that the more editing time a story requires the "worse" the submitted story is. And while the quality of the story is absolutely a main, if not leading, factor, this is not always the case.

Some stories are simply more complex than others. They may have a complex, intricate story structure. They may be full of meaningful subtext and undercurrents that need to be perfected. The author may have a grand vision for the story that requires stark precision and specificity to accomplish. Some stories inherently take longer to edit than others.

Likewise, I've done editing work for really amazing writers that take far longer than beginning writers--because what the former writers need to hear from me is much more advanced and therefore requires more specificity to explain and teach; it's not the sort of thing you are going to have pop up in a Google search with 1k results that lead you to everything you want to hear. Because it is advanced and intricate and sometimes personalized to that particular writer or story, I need to be more precise and exact in diagnosing and explaining it.

How long or short of an edit a story needs is not necessarily how "good" or "bad" a story or writer is. A complex story is not automatically better than a simple story. They are just different. They belong in different places. They have different needs and goals.

Not all stories are edited equally.

Fawkes Editing

For years I've occasionally been doing some editing for additional projects on the side of my regular work, but now I'm happy to say I have my own website specifically for my freelance editing services. 😍 And I'd love to get some help, if you are willing.



(It's so shiny!)

You can visit or link to my website at https://www.fawkesediting.com/.

But even if you are not interested in my editing, what I do need help with is spreading the word. I've put together this Thunderclap campaign, which, if you aren't familiar with Thunderclap, is a service where people vow to share a link on social media on a specific day.


In order for the campaign to work, I need at least 100 people to vow to share. Thunderclap releases the shares all on the same day (ours is Oct. 13th), like a big social media bomb. But if I don't get at least 100 people, Thunderclap will not release the shares.

You can also share the website any other time, but I need at least 100 people to help me through Thunderclap.

If everyone reading this post vowed to share, we'd be at the goal in a matter of hours, so please consider it.

Over the years I haven't asked for much, if really anything, from my followers. I don't even have products to sell on my website here at SeptemberCFawkes.com for you guys to patronize me ;) Everything I've done on this site, I've done for free, for almost five years. Actually, I even put some of my own money into it.

All in all, thank you for being a part of my writing and editing journey with me.