Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self-Editing

Self-editing for plot holes might be the most difficult task an author undertakes. Why? Because in an author’s mind, the story is all laid out. The characters are in place. Their relationships are cemented, and the plot is solid in the author’s mind. In other words, author’s get so firmly entrenched in their plot that the holes don’t show up.

What I thought I would do this week is to share with you examples of some of the plot holes and other mistakes I’ve made in my works in progress.

Identity Errors: I recently found a plot hole large enough to drive a tractor trailer through in a work of mine that I have labored on for thirty-five years—yes, thirty-five years (I thought it was twenty-five, but apparently I’m ten years older than I feel). When I stumbled across it, I marveled at how it had gotten past critique partners and me for so long. The problem was in the identity of one of my major characters. Others were not supposed to suspect who she was, but she had the same unusual last name as another character who was related to her. Oops.

Another type of identity error I faced in the past was using a woman’s married name before she was married. This is easy to do because we know the past, present, and future of our characters.

Does the System Really Work Like That? Recently, my editor caught an error with a prison scene in one of my works in progress. She asked me if the system really worked liked that in the state in which my villain was in prison. My only reply to that was, “Great catch.” I was working on what I knew of a local jail system and not a state run prison system. A little research told me I was wrong, and a change in a couple of sentences resolved the problem.

This was a great reminder to me to never take procedure for granted. Some things can be done differently. Research might reveal choices, or it might indicate that there is only one procedure. Authors should not risk the ire of an informed reader by making up their own process.

Realistic Character Arcs: The same editor mentioned above also called me on the arc of a pretty belligerent character who seemed to become angelic overnight. When I reviewed the manuscript, I found that she had a right to question the character’s arc. Tweaking one scene made that change more realistic. Manuscripts should be reviewed with an eye toward locating and remedying any implausible character changes.

Timeline Issues: Only in daytime soap operas where children are born one week and turn twenty-one the next are timelines not an issue. I’ve run across this problem a few times in my works in progress. A good practice is to keep track of timelines as the story develops. Back track and make sure that a logical timeframe has been followed. Check your character’s birth dates. Do they match up with such things as technology? For example: were cell phones in use when the character was a certain age depicted in the book? This is important in contemporary and historical novels.

Even the smallest of plot holes can derail a plot. The identity error I mentioned above is a major problem for my novel, but I’ve been able to fix it with a minor tweak. The other instances mentioned seem like smaller details, but to a reader, they might make or break the plot.

The best practice for seeking out and plugging that hole in your manuscript is to set the story aside for a while. Letting the story cool for a while, stepping back from what you know, and letting a little of that knowledge seep away, and then coming back to it, helps to pinpoint a lot of the problems.

Better yet, put your work into the hands of a beta reader, an editor, or a critique partner who will look at the story as a whole, and ask them to look for any major areas where the plot doesn’t come quite together.

Happy editing.

Make-A-Story™ - Monday's Writing Prompt

Writing to spec – you’ve heard the term. It means writing what the publisher wants. Can you do it? In our new feature - Make-A-Story™, we ask you to create a story with these elements. The story can be set in any time frame, any length, must adhere to our guidelines and have our standard Christian world view. 

A garden cart
A painting of a the seashore
A piece of bubblegum



One goal—perhaps the central objective—of writing is communication. Whether we’re writing fiction or nonfiction, we’re trying to communicate ideas and story. Our words matter, word choices matter.

One of an editor’s jobs is to interpret what the writer is saying. That’s another level of evaluation beyond grammatical rules or story structure, a level regarding content and communication.

Clichés are phrases that were developed (or accidentally invented) to communicate a thought, feeling, or situation. Most of the time, they’re used in regards to universal ideas/situations, but not always.

Most editors flag clichés. Why? One reason is that clichés do not communicate well. Another, is that clichés can be redundant. Also, if someone has been trained to mentally catch clichés, when they read one in a book, the familiar-but-meaningless phrase will jar them out of the story for a moment.

See if you can find any meaninglessness or redundancy in the following list:

Examples of clichés:

Each and every one of you

Bless his/her/your heart

Caught between a rock and a hard place

Making a mountain out of a molehill

Six of one, half a dozen of another

Couldn’t/can’t help but

Now, you could probably define exactly what each of these means. We’ve certainly heard/ read/used these enough, haven’t we? But if we do see them in books, do they really communicate something, or do we gloss over the phrase and search for deeper meaning elsewhere? Also, sometimes clichés don’t mean what they appear to mean, which can confuse readers who aren’t familiar with the inherent sarcasm or true intended meaning. (I’ve heard “bless your heart” isn’t a meant as a blessing…)

That’s why editors will most likely ask you to “write fresh,” or rework clichés. There are extra steps involved, but the work will pay off.

Here are some tips for reworking clichés:

· Ask yourself—What am I trying to say? It’s okay to start with a cliché, but don’t be afraid to rework it. Analyze it. What is the cliché saying? How can you say it better? Go for deeper meanings, nuances, layers. Focus on communication and strategize how to best get your intended meaning across.

· Pull out a thesaurus—Sometimes changing out a word or two is all you need to do. Don’t make it too complicated and don’t let one phrase or scene get you bogged down. But, don’t get lazy either. The strongest writing is cliché free. Reworking clichés isn’t always easy, but it does get easier.

· Don’t use the first phrase that comes to mind—Oftentimes, our minds tend to think in clichés. It’s easier. So, like I said, start there. Then, reword.

· Stay alert—Watch for clichés. One writing workshop teacher used to say “cliché alert” every time someone used one in her class, including whenever she quoted one. That kind of thinking will keep us aware of when a cliché pops up so we can address it.


Yes, there are exceptions to every rule. Perhaps your character really does use clichés. Maybe your story wouldn’t be the same without him/her. These characters even think in clichés. So, go ahead and include them in his/her dialogue and introspection. But beware. Readers are going to search for meaning elsewhere. Be careful how often s/he uses them. And don’t use your character as an excuse to leave clichés in your final draft.

Bottom line—avoid clichés whenever possible, even in non-manuscript writing. By practicing not using them in e-mails or social media, we’re training ourselves to rethink and reword as we write. Remember, writing is all about communicating ideas.


Comb through your current manuscript. Find any clichés? See if you can rework them so they vanish and fresh writing takes their place. Your editor will thank you for it. Your readers will too.

Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self-Editing

Layering is what I call the process of blending the plot so that they do not seem dropped into the manuscript for convenience. There are a number of different portions of a story that can and should be layered: Props, character arcs, twists and turns, back story (which, when done correctly, brings in surprises for the reader), and a chief element that I wish to discuss today: conflict.

As most authors are aware, conflict is the fuel that drives plots forward. A story absent conflict is boring. Likewise, a story where the conflict is introduced and resolved in time for another conflict to arise is equally as boring and it’s what we call episodic.

Layering is the technique by which authors avoid episodic writing. This practice allows an author to build the conflict. For example: Joe and Ted are part of a small group of teenage friends. They like to hang out and have fun. They went their different ways over the summer, but now, this last weekend before school starts, they’ve all met at the lake to have some fun. The scene opens, and Joe is acting differently. He seems antsy, and he tries to talk the boys into doing things they wouldn’t have ever thought of, say racing their cars down the old twisting and turning road that leads to the lake. The boys deny Joe is fun and while Joe and Ted are out in the middle of the lake, Ted demands to know what’s wrong with him. Joe answers by nearly drowning Ted. Scene ends.

The conflict is set. We haven’t brought Joe and Ted on stage, introduced a problem and resolved it by Joe explaining his actions. The reader wants to turn the page and find out what in the world happened to Joe over the summer to make him change.

In another scene, Ted, who has avoided his best friend for a while is downtown. It’s the Friday after school has started, and Joe has skipped school a number of days. Tonight, though, he’s at the local hangout, and he’s not alone. Joe has brought a group of kids with him. These aren’t good kids. They’re gang members. They’re threatening, and everyone is afraid of them. They challenge Ted, circling around him, ready to beat him up. Ted looks into the eyes of the guy he’s known all his life, and he waits. Joe wouldn’t let him down. He’d get him out of this. Joe narrows his eyes. “Don’t beat him up too bad, boys.” Joe steps out of the circle.

Joe had now taken another step into the abyss that Ted will eventually need to pull him from, if Ted can ever forgive him. The conflict in this coming of age story is building, until it reaches a climax. Can Ted save Joe from self-destruction? What sent Joe over the edge? Did Ted have anything to do with it?

These are questions that layering will answer—not all at once but as the story unfolds.

Conflict is what makes the reader turn the page. Layer it in.

Happy editing.

Make-A-Story™ - Monday's Writing Prompt

Writing to spec – you’ve heard the term. It means writing what the publisher wants. Can you do it? In our new feature - Make-A-Story™, we ask you to create a story with these elements. The story can be set in any time frame, any length, must adhere to our guidelines and have our standard Christian world view. 

An old church
A pair of lost dogs
Sierra Nevada Mountains

Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self-Editing

Dialogue comes naturally to some authors, but others struggle with trying to share realistic, pertinent, and dynamic conversations in their fiction. Today, let’s take a look at some practices to avoid and some that will assist in providing vibrant dialogue.

If the conversation doesn’t add to the story, nix it. You’ve no doubt heard it before. In fiction, the weather is only important in fiction if a tornado or other natural catastrophe is pending. Likewise, the niceties each of us endure when we come upon a friend or acquaintance are not interesting in real life. If the conversation between your characters doesn’t move the plot forward, if it isn’t instilled with conflict, delete it.

Don’t let your characters discuss things they know about each other. If Mary and Sue have been friends since grade school, don’t have them sitting down to tea to discuss the things they know about each other, especially if this conversation is utilized in order to bring in back story or information that is best received another way. Don’t do it, especially if the back story or information isn’t pertinent. If it is pertinent, bring it in via conflict.

“Mary, I told you I didn’t want to see George again. Cancel his invitation to the party.”
“I don’t understand your fixation with this. He’s just an old friend from school. Get over it.”
“Get over what? The fact that he never was a friend or that he attacked me after the Homecoming Dance our senior year?”

Match the character’s speech with his/her background and education. Quite simply, a doctor isn’t going to talk like a mob boss, and a mob boss isn’t going to converse like a mother of three children. Well, of course, you could have some very interesting characters if there was a reason for them to do so, but generally, ah, no.

Accents are a great way to define a character’s speech, but don’t overdo it. Joel Chandler Harris got away with writing heavy dialogue in his Uncle Remus stories, but those stories are very difficult to read. It is best to stick with a handful of words that will define the accent being conveyed. An easy example is our American Southern accent. Everyone knows we don’t say our “r’s” and “g’s.” There’s also that ever-ready y’all (but make sure you use this correctly. This is an abbreviation for “you all,” and “y’all” is plural. Never have your Southern Belle talking to a lone individual when she invites, “Y’all come and sit here a spell.”)

Everyone uses contractions. Your characters should use them, too. The greatest tell an author has with regard to whether he or she takes seriously the writing of dialogue, is in the writing of conversations in which contractions are never used, such as: “I will be there tomorrow. Do not forget. You will have to pick me up at the airport.”

And that leads to the last note regarding dialogue:

If you really want to know how your dialogue flows, read it aloud. Reading aloud will help you to hear the nuance, or lack thereof, you are trying to develop. For example, if you read the above example aloud, you would most likely realize that it would sound better like this: “I’ll be there tomorrow. Don’t forget. You’ll need to pick me up at the airport.”

If, after reading the line aloud, the author decided emphasis was needed, he might write: “I’ll be there tomorrow. Do not forget. You’ll need to pick me up at the airport.”

Happy editing.

Make-A-Story™ - Monday's Writing Prompt

Writing to spec – you’ve heard the term.  It means writing what the publisher wants.  Can you do it?  In our new feature - Make-A-Story™, we ask you to create a story with these elements.  The story can be set in any time frame, any length, must adhere to our guidelines and have our standard Christian world view.   

A missed birthday
An Autumn Festival
A flock of chickens

Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self-Editing

The questions were asked? Does deep point of view (POV) only involve the reader’s sense of sight? How does the writer successfully show sound, taste, smell and touch/feel?

Deep POV is a total immersion of the reader into the character. Therefore, all five senses play an important role in an author’s goal to create a camera lens with a psyche.

The psyche of the camera lens extends the reader the character’s thoughts about what they experience. Be careful now. Remember that this is not real life. We’re writing fiction here. The reader is on a need-to-know basis. If they don’t need to know something, you’re going to lose them if you insert fluff.

Here’s some example of deep POV with the senses:

Touch: Caycee ran her hand along the bark of the oak her father had planted in her yard fifteen years before. Rough and cragged, even in the tree’s youth. She touched the spot where she and David had carved their names last year on her fourteenth birthday. Then, with trembling fingers, she touched the softness under the newly carved letters: RIP. Her best friend was gone, and her young heart felt much like the bark where she’d permanently etched her grief.

Smell: Bea entered the McDonald’s restroom. The usually pleasant aroma of cotton candy air freshener assaulted her. Funny. The first thought she had was the carnival midway at her hometown’s local festival. She’d been away so long, and she wasn’t back to attend the festival. Instead, she planned to bring her hometown to its knees and make sure the yearly event was cancelled forever. She smiled. Flush it down the toilet. Those were her plans. She hated that hometown event. She breathed deeply, not caring what germs the now unpleasant aroma masked. No more festival. No more cotton candy given to her by a stranger. No more pain. Everyone who hurt her was going away: the event organizer, the mayor, who was no longer a stranger, the state attorney who’d failed her, the judge who’d released her attacker. She’d pick them off one by one.

Taste & Touch: David bit into the orange. The juicy sweetness burst into his mouth, and he savored every bit of it. Citrus. His life’s blood. He never wanted to be anything by a farmer. He even enjoyed protecting the harvest against frost during those few times in the winter when a cold front encroached. Still, he had to find somewhat to explain to his father that a degree in agriculture would help him to take the groves in a different direction. David finished the last of the orange and pulled a handkerchief from his pocket. He could wipe off the juice, but his hands would remain sticky, much life his life, until he found a way to pour the truth into his father’s backward thinking.

Sound: The old hound in the yard began to bark. Blue was more faithful than the rooster, whose cock-a-doodle-do now joined into the morning reveille. John stretched before he climbed out of bed. He’d challenge anyone who said that waking to rock-n-roll blaring from a box was more energizing than this morning aria.

And Sight: A dark figure approached, and Marley came to a complete halt.
John stopped and stared at her. Mud covered him from head to foot making him look like a dirty statue. She wished she had her camera to capture the moment. Once he got this fool notion to run a farm out of his head, she would use the photo to discourage him from ever trying this type of venture again.
“The goat kicked me into the pig pen,” he said.
Marley gave a short snort and then a full-on giggle.
John bent and held his knees, his laughter ringing across the farm, making the chickens squawk and the cows moo.
Marley wiped tears from her eyes. Maybe this farm wasn't a bad place after all. John had laughed like that in years.

Deep POV encompasses all five senses and relays the character's thoughts about what he or she sees, tastes, touches, feels, and hears. I encourage you to practice it with short little scenes like this. You'll have fun studying the craft.

Happy editing.

Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self-Editing

Would you like to make an editor’s heart sing? One way to do it is to pay attention to the little things: commas, periods, question marks, em-dashes, ellipses, semicolons, colons, and another punctuation mark called the paragraph.

I know what you’re thinking. I’m going to spend an entire post explaining why proper punctuation is important.

Proper punctuation is important.

You’ve seen the cute little pins on Pinterest that say something like this: “I love eating my children and my home. Yes, punctuation really is important.” If an author sends an editor a sentence like that without the proper punctuation, he might get another sentence or two to prove that he’s serious about the craft, because after all, it’s a big manuscript and mistakes are bound to be made. A few more mistakes like that one, though, and the editor might question the author’s seriousness about the craft of storytelling.

Yes, commas have rules, em-dashes and ellipses have their own purposes. Likewise, semicolons and colons are proud marks of punctuation, and without the paragraph, we’d have just one long block of text. And everyone knows that large blocks of text are skimmed, right?

I’m not much of a musician. I’ve learned to read just enough music to plunk out a basic hymn on the piano, but for me, punctuation marks are like musical chords. They speed up or slow down the rhythm of prose. Punctuation makes the words ring for the reader, and when used to their utmost, an editor can almost see the writer orchestrating the flow of the words.

If the book is a thriller, an author will take off, pushing toward a crescendo with short, uneven sentences that show the urgency of each moment for the reader. The period is an important tool for the thriller author. He uses it often and quickly. However, if the story is literary, the sentences might weave and flow about, creating a world in which the reader can sit and savor. For that reason, a knowledge of comma placement is important to this author.

What about the lesser used punctuation marks? There’s a rumor out there started by someone who obviously hates or misunderstands the semicolon, but this wonderful mark of punctuation is the difference in a soft pause and a blunt stop.

For example: Jimmy decided to go to the store. Susan would be there.

These are two completely different sentences, and Susan’s being at the store may or may not hold importance for Jimmy’s reason for going there so long as the period is the punctuation of choice.

Let’s change it up, though, and replace the period with a semicolon: Jimmy decided to go to the store; Susan would be there.

Now the author has indicated that these sentences are bound to one another. Jimmy decided to go to the store because Susan would be there.

That attention to detail is sweet music to an editor’s ear, and they envision the author as the conductor of the melody.

What about a paragraph? I find that some authors have never mastered the art of this punctuation mark. They haven’t learned that a paragraph consists of a main idea and sentences that support that idea. In fiction, a character’s action and dialogue should be kept together. This makes it easy for the reader to see who is doing what. Yet a craftily placed paragraph can call attention to something the author wants to provide particular emphasis for.

Here’s an example: A heavy footfall on the pier made her skid to a stop. She closed her eyes as fear shivered through her. She was alone. And vulnerable. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Now for the change up:

A heavy footfall on the pier made her skid to a stop. She closed her eyes as fear shivered through her. She was alone. And vulnerable.

Giving each “stupid” its own paragraph slows the action and gives the reader reason to say, “Uh-oh, our heroine has done something…really stupid, and in this paragraph apparently life-threatening stupid.”

One last word of advice: never overuse a punctuation technique. That will make the literary music sound to the reader like a needle scrawling across an old album (kudos to you who are old enough to understand the sound I’m describing). In order to use a punctuation mark incorrectly but to great effect, one must know first how to use it correctly. Then break it sparingly to make beautiful music for your reader—and editor.

Happy editing.