I thought this week I'd offer some editing encouragement. As an English teacher, I found that most students had trouble with editing, first because they didn't want to and second because they couldn't see how to make their work better. Writers older than sixteen often have the same problems. Editing isn't easy, and sitting there staring at the words on paper or screen doesn't help. We need concrete goals to shoot for, so that "making it better" is the effect, not the starting point. A good teacher gives students tools that help them take one step at a time, improving with each step. Sharing what I've learned is the plan for this week.

I edit the whole manuscript several times, each time concentrating on improving one thing. I find it best that way. It's too hard to look for mechanical errors and dialogue problems at once.This week's suggestions aren't in any particular order; you can approach a completed first draft with any one of them. Just don't skip one.

I'll start with sensory description. We know we need to appeal to the senses, but when you're telling the original story, it's hard sometimes to slow down and describe the scenery. A good rule of thumb is to assure that on each page you include at least one appeal to the reader's "other" four senses. We tend to do okay with the visual, since it was drilled into us from Day One. So you've explained that the room is richly appointed with paneled walls and crystal chandeliers. But how does it smell? What does the protagonist hear as she looks around? You get the idea. At least once per page. (Of course we aren't going to drag the story down with overkill, are we. A reader can get tired very quickly of overdone sensory detail and misguided attempts at originality.)

It may seem artificial at first, like a recipe: add one sensory detail per page. But it gets easier the more you write and the more you edit. After while you may automatically put those sensory details in the first time through. And won't that make your work better?

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