The single best editing tip I’ve ever received

The single best editing tip I ever received came from my most inspirational professor in college (thanks, Scott!). I had received a very high score on a history paper I’d written and I was pretty damn proud of myself. I said something to the professor and he said “Yes, it was fine.” Fine? I reminded him I got something like 98% on it and he shrugged and said – “yes, fine.” So I asked what could have been better.

What followed was a 3 hour examination of my paper, word by word, line by line. Now this was the early 90’s, when word processing was in its infancy and when I wasn’t the computer geek I am today. My professor pointed out spelling errors, punctuation and grammar mistakes, formatting issues, citation problems, and a general untidiness. He then got into sentence structure and content organization. At the end my very good paper was covered with red marks and we’d discussed every paragraph.

So what was this gem of knowledge for editing?

daeR tI sdrawkcaB    (you wouldn’t believe how long it took me to type that)

Read it backwards. As I understand it, the human mind/eye doesn’t truly examine each letter of a word when reading. Instead, it reads several of the letters at the start of the word, then guesses the rest of the word and moves on to the next word. Great for reading, less great for editing details like spelling and usage. By reading backwards, your mind is required to consider every letter, which is necessary for detailed editing.

Obviously this isn’t a great practice for novels, but if there is some section, phrase or word that you know you must get right, try this tip. For longer works, take the spirit of the advice. Read the sentences of the paragraph in reverse order, read the paragraphs of the scene in the reverse order. This will help you notice sections that don’t flow logically, as well as consider overall sentence and paragraph structure.

I realize this isn’t a new trick for writers and editors. A quick Google search will pop this technique up very quickly. I believe it is still a worthwhile method to expose, however, and it is one that has helped me immensely since the day I learned it.

!yaD eciN A evaH

** for those in the computer industry, I teach my students this trick when working at the command prompt. They are blown away by how effective it is. Whether working in bash or PowerShell, give it a shot.


Favorite antagonists (may be protagonists, actually)

I recently found a blog prompt that suggested writing about some of my own favorite characters. I thought about my favorite antagonists (though in reality, some of these may be considered main characters or protagonists). In no particular order, here are the “bad” guys:

  • Raistlin Majere – one of my favorite book series is Dragonlance (the first two trilogies). Raistlin is a fascinating character in those books. He goes from a selfish “neutral” wizard to an evil wizard bent on world domination. But wait, in the end, did he just become a self-sacrificing good guy?
  • Darth Vader – no list is complete without Darth Vader from Star Wars. And I’m talking about Daddy’s Star Wars here – the 1977 film that I still don’t think of as “A New Hope.” I’m also not talking about the Anakin from the backstories. I mean the tall, black armored, ass-kicking, red lightsaber wielding, Rebel-choking SOB from the first movie that ignited dreams and caused all my Rebel Alliance action figures to quit squabbling and unite.
  • Smeagol/Gollum– Tolkien is my favorite author and Smeagol/Gollum is a fascinating character. I especially appreciated him in The Lord of the Rings, but he was brilliantly slimy in The Hobbit as well. And while I will never ever (EVER!) forgive Peter Jackson for what he did to The Hobbit with that ridiculous movie trilogy, I must say the LotR movies handled Gollum really well. Hats off to Andy Serkis for that performance.
  • Thrall – hmmm not from standard literature! This is Thrall from The World Of Warcraft franchise (and yes the Warcraft series before that). I loved the character development they with Thrall and how the various authors and game creators involved allowed him to evolve into far more than one would have expected from some sort of brutish Horde leader.
  • Morgan Le Fay (various spellings) – Arthurian stories are some of my all time favorites and I’ve read a great many of them over the years. Maybe someday I’ll even tackle a retelling myself. I often find the depictions of Morgan to be interesting – innocent, seductress, witch, loving sister. Read The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley for an interesting depiction of her character. She’s another one of those grey characters and I love those.

So these are some of my favorites. I like the grey characters – the ones in between. And the ones that perhaps move toward the Light over time, rather than away from it. Baddies that I create for my own writing are often inspired by some aspect of these characters.

Who are your favorite antagonists? How do they inspire your own Bad Guys (or good guys, for that matter)?


above: Raistlin Majere from this video


Beta readers are helpful!

I thought I’d pass on a few observations about my current project. As noted elsewhere, I am working on a series of short stories involving an old wizard and old dragon who are traveling the world in search of the home they’ve forgotten the location of.

Early last week it was suggested that this kind of project may not be all that realistic and I got very discouraged. After a few days, I said “screw it, I’m going to try anyway!” I then put a query on Twitter looking for some beta readers. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect from these folks. I ended up with truly amazing affirmations, advice and ideas to make the initial story much stronger. They were able to confirm what I already knew (good and bad!) as well as point out some other areas that I hadn’t realized needed work.

Here are a few of the general observations:

  • lack of conflict – for whatever reason I’m terrible at creating conflict. And apparently it’s pretty important to the story.
  • anachronisms – in an attempt at humor, I referenced a few things from our modern world that wouldn’t exist in a fantasy world. These pulled the reader out of the story.
  • POV – I received great feedback on fixing some point of view issues.
  • Adverbs – It’s clear I use them way too much!
  • No strong female characters – I was pretty frustrated when this was pointed out as I greatly appreciate strong female characters in fantasy / sci-fi.

I am actively rewriting some sections to improve. I think I came up with a solid conflict situation that will carry through all the stories, plus I addressed the items that pull the reader out of the story. I’m working on the rest.

I found that all the people who offered to read for me responded quickly, positively and with a true spirit for improving the story. I encourage other writers to do the same. I know I’m always willing to read and comment for someone else.

Tell me about your experiences with beta readers in the comments section.