By Meagan Davenport
Over the last several months, I’ve had the opportunity to edit incoming story submissions from authors worldwide. Some plots caused my eyes to widen in fear as I read; others made me laugh out loud, drawing sidelong glances from those around me. I’m not crazy, I promise, this is just really funny.
Stories have the power to make us react, in a variety of ways. This power makes them effective tools in language learning. However, not all emotional stories are effective, either; emotion does not guarantee success. In my time editing for Alsina, three key themes have emerged regarding what works well – and what doesn’t.
1. Edit yourself first
It may sound obvious, but we have to say it: utilize Microsoft Word’s built-in spelling and grammar checks as a first pass., They don’t catch everything though. For things like comma placement, try using other tools like Grammarly that give much more in-depth grammar checks.
Once the initial draft is finished, let it sit for a few days. Come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes. This is true for revisions too.
Read the draft out loud to yourself: this helps the story’s overall flow and catches minor errors that your brain skips over. Stories published by Alsina will be listened to, so you can get a preview of how the finished product might sound within the app. Reading aloud also helps with dialogue: “He said”/”she said” doesn’t need to be reiterated with every statement, and speaking the story helps confirm sufficient transition time between characters.
Consider asking a friend to read over the draft; they haven’t been up close and personal with it like you have. Not only can they add a fresh perspective, they also will help you avoid logic holes. How did character A know that about character B? If X happened before Y, then how could Z have happened? And so on.
In that vein: Read the story in reverse. Whether you choose to read backward in paragraph-length chunks or sentences, reading in reverse helps to ensure coherence and clarity. LifeHack’s Dustin Wax writes more on this – and provides his own editing tips – here.
2. Keep it simple
From sentence structure to word choice, simple is key. Channel your inner Mark Twain: “The more you explain it, the more I don’t understand it.”
Similarly, word choice plays a significant role. Don’t call something a new term if a common one does the trick unless it’s mission critical. The wrong word can alienate and distract readers. As Twain goes on to say, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” (For additional Mark Twain-isms on writing, check out this blog post.)
3. Don’t rush the ending
This happens all the time, to the utter frustration of editors and readers alike. Readers invest in the story too – both time and emotional investment – and don’t want to be left high and dry. Give us resolution, give us closure. If you’re struggling to figure out how to end it, you’ll likely find the root of the problem much earlier on.
We get a lot of stories where the ending is inferred. Try to avoid this. Minor inference is fine, but don’t force the audience to infer a bulk of the ending. Allow yourself the extra 500 words to flesh it out into a two-part story (Alsina accepts those too).
In short: allow yourself and your story the time it needs. Quality over quantity. Give it the time it needs to evolve. Avail yourself of all resources, whether internal (your own creativity) or external (friends’ honest feedback, Facebook forums, Wattpad, and many more).
Don’t take editorial feedback as criticism. If you get to that stage, it’s because your story is worth the time to edit.
And most of all: just keep writing!