Happy 2018! If you're not too hung-over, now might be a good time to give that story you wrote in December a once-over. Let's face it, first drafts are seldom perfect, but it's amazing what a bit of editing can do. Ready? Okay, here we go:
The Big Picture
It's easiest to do the big fixes first, or you'll risk doing double the work. Why polish a scene that will get cut anyway?
First, check the structure. Are you hitting all the structural checkpoints? If not, why? Is a key scene missing?
Then check the character arc(s). Does it make sense? Does it work on an emotional level? Not feeling it? Maybe go for a deeper point of view or add more interior monologue, or consider making things harder for your poor protagonist. Any extra people who could be cut or merged into more substantial secondary characters?
The third major thing to consider is the plot. Is it original enough? Any plot holes or other inconsistencies? Can they be fixed with a bit of foreshadowing or an additional scene or two? Is there an issue with the try-fail cycles? Do reactions always follow actions?
Setting and World-building
This is especially important in a speculative fiction piece. How's your description? Vibrant and original? Have you taken advantage of setting to contrast/enhance the emotional component of your scenes? Have you taken the easy way out and missed a chance to add something original that helps to build your world? Explore both the micro and macro levels, from word-choice to setting.
Does your prose flow or do bits feel clunky or overly elaborate? Are you using the same sentence structure over and over? Maybe variety would help? Any issues with word-choice, simile, or metaphor? Is the tone appropriate for your story?
The Emotional Level and Theme
How does the story feel? What are you trying to say? Did you make the reader cry? (always a plus.) Does your humour translate? How did you bring your theme across? Are you being subtle enough or overly cryptic?
Fancy Writer Tricks
Have you included a charged object? Perhaps you'd like to try zeugma, syllepsis, or diasyrm? Check out this post on rhetorical devices for ideas. Just don't get too fancy, or you might have to toughen up and kill your darlings.
A Bit of Polish
This is the nitty-gritty stuff, grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Check for typos and misplaced commas. Any run-on sentences? What about homonyms, did you write "accept" when you meant "except"? We all have our stumbling stones, like mixing up "its" and "it's" or the difference between the verbs "lay" and "lie." It's good to be mindful of your issues so you can fix them before you submit the story. And do keep in mind that you can break grammar and punctuation rules in fiction, just do it intentionally.
A Second Opinion
Every story I've sold has been through Critters or my Finnish critique group once or twice, and for me, it's crucial to get a non-biased, outsider's opinion. (No, Mom doesn't count.) I've discovered that I can be pretty much blind to many plot holes, character issues, and even typos in my own work, things that would be glaringly obvious if I was critiquing someone else's piece.
If you're looking for an online critique group for speculative fiction, I can recommend Critters. There are probably local groups you can join in any major city, but they often consist of writers in different genres, which can be a wealth or a drawback. If you land in a very literary group where the feedback consists mainly of snooty digs about the speculative element in your story it could get old fast, or in different group you could benefit immensely from a perspective outside the genre.
If you do join a group, start growing a thick skin. Even if you don't agree with the critique or it bruises your ego, the best response is "thank you for your time." You can ask questions of course, but don't feel you have to defend your story or explain your choices. The critique is just one reader's reaction to your story, and in the end you have to decide which bits are useful and which aren't. Maybe the reader just didn't "get" your story. That's fine if it's just the one reader, but if four others had the same problem, maybe you should think about why they felt that way and try to fix it. That said, critique groups aren't for everyone. If you find that the criticism gets you down to the extent that you can't even write anymore and feel depressed, quit that group and maybe try a different one if you feel up to it. Or sometimes you can find a few trusted beta readers who know how to give you their opinions without crushing you.
And here's another tip: if at all possible, skim the critiques when you get them and just leave them for a couple of weeks before you start tearing your story apart. You'd be surprised how much emotional distance that gives you. You can also cut and paste the comments to the end of your story without the names of your critique partners for another degree of separation. And remember, 99 % of the time the person doing the critique is trying to help, not hurt, you.
Okay, that should get you started. If the calendar inspired you to write a story and you feel like sharing, do tell us how it went in the comments.
Have a great writing year, everyone!