Editing Tips & Tricks

This week’s topic is “Editing Tips and Tricks,” so see if there's anything here that can help you in your next edit.


Start your edit at the big picture. If it’s not clear what the main character wants, what the problem is and who opposes her or him, then no amount of line editing is going to help. Work on the spine of the story first. Is the structure solid? One book I like is Elizabeth Lyon’s Manuscript Makeover. She raises great questions that can help to get to the next draft. Also very helpful before or after you write your draft is Donald Maass' The Breakout Novelist.



Let some time pass between your first rough draft and the first edit. This allows your brain to look at the draft with fresher eyes. The amount of time you wait is a personal choice. The longer you let it sit, the more you’ll gain the perspective to read it like your readers would. But wait too long, and you’ll be a different person. Some people wait two weeks; some wait a year.


Find a writer’s group, preferably an in-person group of supportive writers who are close to your level. They will become your beta readers and they can often shortcut the rewrite process by their honest feedback.


If you live in a remote area, then maybe it's impossible to have an in-person writing group. You might have to make your connections via the computer. Or maybe you’ll first find these writers by meeting them at a conference or convention. Afterward, you can carry on by using email and maybe plan your own once-a-year retreats.


If you live near a University, see if they have extension program classes. Not only will you learn while taking the class, but you’ll meet other writers in your area.


After you’ve let your manuscript sit, when you’re ready to read it, try to go through it the first time without marking the pages. Allow yourself to be a reader and feel the story. If you must, make notes on a separate pad but no line notes. One of the most common weaknesses in a first draft by a beginning writer is simply this: not saying what you mean.


Once you’ve finished reading it through, this is the time to make notes to yourself about how far it is from what you first intended. Don’t worry, you won’t be alone – every artist goes through this process.


Some writers don’t want to show anyone their first rough draft and that’s fine. If you’re the type who is confident you can see what’s wrong and correct it on the next draft, do that. But most beginning writers benefit from the feedback. When you get it, listen to it. Take notes without questioning or defending, go home and type them up so they’re legible. Let the notes sit a few days or a week before you reread them. This process will take the emotional sting out of the criticism. The comments won’t seem so personal and you’ll be able to accept them more easily. Decide which notes resonate with you (especially ones that were repeated by more than one person). Learn to separate the suggested fixes from the problems with the draft. Often the fix isn’t right but the beta reader found a problem that should be addressed.


The office supply store is your friend. Arm yourself with Post-it ™ notes and 3x5 cards because you want to be able to get down and dirty. You have to be willing to tear apart your structure to come up with something better and stronger. You might chop off the first chapter; move chapter five to become chapter one; write a whole new ending. Be brave.


Never forget that your manuscript is fluid.


Once you have the structure the way you want it and the story seems to be working for you, get a fresh read from a couple of new readers. Repeat the process of revision until you are satisfied and your writing buddies are begging you to take it out on submission.

Don’t worry, you will be going through this process again… once you sell your project to an editor.


Revision Time: What Works for Me

All this week we're going to be giving you editing tips and tricks on the League.

I'm the kind of writer who prefers revision to drafting, and I enjoy the work of adding depth and layers to character, story and theme.

Recently I attended a revision workshop held by Author Sara Grant. Obviously I am not going to give away all her tips (you should totally attend her workshop if you have the chance), but I did want to share one tip that really worked for me on my latest revision of Chasing Before (my sequel to The Memory of After a.k.a. Level 2).

Go through and give each major and major supporting character's dialogue a different color.  Felicia is my main character and it is her POV, so she can stay in black, but I made Neil light blue, Libby is green, Nate is orange, etc.

Then read the entire MS through for each character and only that character.

This helps in two main ways:

1) you can isolate a single character's arc. Do they seem to have their own goals and motivations or do they exist solely to further the plot?

2) you can check that each character's voice is consistent and that their patterns of speech differentiate  them from other characters.

Hope this works for you too!

4 Things To Consider When Ending The World

Inspired by yesterday's post from Mindy on drinking your own pee (we are a classy bunch here at the League), today I've decided to turn my mind to those unexpected problems we writers can hit when bringing about the apocalypse. Whether you're worrying about keeping a character alive, or you're an evil genius and planning on actually ending the world, be prepared! It pays to think these things through, people....

1. What do you do with all those dead bodies? We're talking disease here, people. So your protagonist is immune to the bug that kills 99.9% of the population? Better come up with a way to make sure all those nasties you can catch from decomposing bodies don't get her.

2. No infrastructure. No toilets, no lights -- everything's a struggle now! This can be fabulous, stakes-raising goodness, but you can also end up with a whole lot of water in plastic bottles in the sun. (And if you have no idea what I'm talking about, check out Mindy's post.) Be prepared, or die of horrible illness!

3. It takes a really long time to walk everywhere. For reals, people. I watched my co-author Meagan Spooner as she worked on her debut SKYLARK, and that girl was google mapping all kinds of hikes to make sure she moved Lark around at the right pace. Which wasn't fast! Also, you're walking the whole time.

4. Caffeine. The internet tells me instant coffee can last up to 20 years (which raises some worrying questions), but with coffee beans, we're talking a couple of years at best. You know that saying 'I'd kill for a cup of coffee'? Well? Everybody else will, too.

So, next time you're thinking of ending the world, think ahead!

Pros & Cons of Drinking Your Own Pee

One of the difficulties facing me when I started writing NOT A DROP TO DRINK was how to make the world believable. I think that's a huge leaping off point for any writer of Sci-Fi or Spec-Fic. How do we sell the world we pop our characters into? In my case, it wasn't one of those things where I could lackadaisically describe some trees (although trees are awesome) because the entire plot is based on the environment.

So, in a world where water is scarce and most of the water that does exist is cholera-ridden, how the hell is my character surviving? Well, I'm the biggest nerd you've ever met. So I researched my butt off in regards to H2O. I read about the history of water, I read about water ethics, and I read about water purification methods.

Yes, we can get salt out of water - good tip...
        ... but my character doesn't live near the sea.

Yes, you can drink your own pee...
        ... but not on a long term basis. Also, I wasn't sure I wanted DRINK to be identified as "that book where the chick drinks her own pee all the time."

Which left me with this - how is my character going to conceivably drink pond water in a world where I slashed the population down with cholera? Luckily, I'm a very invested nerd and I read National Geographic, where I discovered the SODIS method.

Yes! Science to the rescue! In short, the SODIS method involves putting water in clear plastic bottles and exposing them to at least six hours of sunlight. The UV-A rays in sunlight do the work, killing off viruses, bacteria, and parasites.

Gee, thanks sun. You rock.

Hamming It Up

It seems like there's a month for everything, and among other things, hundreds of thousands of people are celebrating International Amateur Radio Month in April.

Yes, this is really a thing, and in fact, on April 18, amateur radio operators, or "hams," will observe World Amateur Radio Day. Now I'm sure you're thinking, "Ham radios are old. Does anyone still use them, aside from old people? Also, that doesn't sound very science fictional."

It's true that amateur radio is old. It goes back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, and the word "ham" was originally meant as negatively as it sounds. (I know! I was also disappointed when I found out it has nothing to do with hamsters or sandwiches.) But like the term "geek," amateur radio operators took "ham" and owned it. Today, there are still plenty of hobbyists licensed to use ham radios — more than 700,000 in the U.S. alone. And as with any prop, ham radios aren't necessarily considered science fiction until you use them  in a SF story. I mean, consider all the futuristic, post-apocalyptic/dystopian stories that revere the remnants of today's technology. Not to mention the mere existence of steampunk!

See, one of the things I liked doing in my books was juxtaposing new technology and old: for instance, a highly advanced dimensional transporter that resembles an old-fashioned flip cell phone and an ordinary quarter. One character has piles of video cassette tapes and is genetically predisposed towards classic television made long before she was born. And of course, mountains of dead tree books still hold their own against the flashiest eBook reader from 25 years in our future — especially when some of those books don't even exist in our own world, like Jane Austen's unfinished novel, Sanditon.

A long time ago, I had an idea for a short story about a man who accidentally contacts other versions of himself in parallel universes through an old ham radio, allowing him to hear all the different ways his life could have turned out. I never wrote that story, but when I was writing Quantum Coin, it seemed like a perfect way for characters to communicate with each other in different universes, even in other timelines. (And yes, I've seen the film Frequency...) But there's a hitch: They can only communicate with different versions of the same radio, because of quantum entanglement, which in a sense makes them interchangeable. It was even more perfect when in the course of my research, a friend told me about the so-called "magic band," a particular frequency that allows communication over unusually long distances and all sorts of weird things... like maybe snippets of conversations from other universes? Given that I also like mashing up fantasy and science fiction, I couldn't resist using that.

I don't have an amateur radio of my own, but I became so interested in the hobby that I'd like to pick it up one day. I figure ham radio is a little like a low-tech version of Twitter, only with voices... And how much longer before they'll add that feature to social media anyway? Everything old becomes new again.

So how about you? Are there any bits of old technology that still fascinate you?

New Fantasy / Sci Fi books that kept me up well past my bedtime

There are so many fabulous books coming out this year! I've gotten a chance to read some before they were released. Here's a few of the fantasy and sci-fi that I loved.

(Already available)
THE CADET OF TILDOR by Alex Lidell: I love a good kick-butt heroine. I love a fantasy with rich world building. I love a story that has a lot of political wrangling for power going on. This book had it all. It was INCREDIBLE! And not only that, but there was amazing depth of characters, including narration from both the male and female leads that were both authentic, and the prose itself was beautiful.

(Available June 11)

LINKED by Imogen Howson: I loved the characters in this book, and the complicated dynamic between the main character and her twin, and between the main character and the ship's captain. The characters felt very real, and so did the setting! The thing I loved best about the world building (and the spaceship building) was that it had a lot of sci-fi elements and great description without slowing pacing. I think it's a very rare gift to have both.

(Available June 11)

This book had a unique and fun (albeit deadly) premise-- where teenagers get sucked into a "game" to fight alien invaders that the general population doesn't even know exists, and things that matter in computer games (like the character's statistics) matter in this game too. The characters were very three dimensional, and I was rooting for them every step of the way. I am a HUGE fan of a well-paced book, and this is one of the most well-paced books I've read. 

What sci-fi or fantasy books are you most looking forward to being released?


Favorite Sci-Fi/Fantasy Reads by Lydia Kang

Oh boy. There are too many books I love! These are just a sampling of un-put-downable books I've read. I remember the characters and their worlds vividly, even now.

First, I'll start with FIRE by Kristen Cashore. I loved GRACELING and the world that Cashore had built, but I was so curious about this one. Ever since I read it, I still think of the main character, Fire, and how she's a monster with all sorts of complicated relationships to her family and loves. Also, I have fun imagining her hair. A lot. Read it, and you'll see what I'm talking about.

SHIP BREAKER by Paulo Bacigalupi (I had to practice saying his name so that when people asked me about my favorite reads, I could say it without sounding like a dork) is also a favorite. One of the things I adore about this book is how the world building is great, but it plays a flawless yet not-in-your-face second place to Nailer himself.

SERAPHINA, by Rachel Hartmann. This was a recent read. Though some of the spoilers aren't really spoilers at all, the crafting of this fantasy world is so well done. I felt Seraphina's uniqueness, and her mind garden (read it, you'll see!) was one of the most exquisite and beautifully done aspects of this book.

How about you? What are your favorite sci-fi and fantasy books?

Let Me Go All Librarian on You: Fantasy Readalikes

I was getting ready to write up this list of all my recent fantasy favorites---but then I looked at all my friend's posts and realized that we all love the same books!  Which is awesome because the world needs to hear more about these books (hello, Plain Kate) and also because I don't have to secretly wonder if my friends have terrible taste.

So, instead, I thought I would do what I do to a patron I see carrying a stack of books out of the stacks: immediately attack them and coerce them into taking more books.

Liked The Girl of Fire and Thorns?
Try Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst:
Like Rae Carson's excellent book, Vessel, has a stunning world that feels familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.  Like deserts?  Like complicated relationships between gods and humans?  Let Vessel help you while away the hours until you can get your hands on the last installment of Fire and Thorns.

Liked Grave Mercy?
Try Changeling by Philippa Gregory:
I know you like twists on history---who doesn't?  And I know Robin LaFever's tale about nuns of death who assassinate plotting French lords made you wish that every book could have secret societies and secrets and torches in castles.  And look, I know that we all might blame poor Philippa a little...I mean, if she'd never written The Other Boleyn Girl, then Benedict Cumberbatch would never had grown that weird goatee thing.  *shudder*  But putting that aside, Changeling is a wonderful readalike for Grave Mercy: we've got our hero working for the Pope in a secret society, we've got an aristocratic heroine accused of witchcraft, and we've got an fifteenth century Italian setting.

Liked Graceling?
Try Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta:

Like Graceling, the first book of the Lumatere Chronicles feels so richly and deeply imagined that I forgot halfway through that this world didn't actually exist.  Lumatere is under a curse, and exiled Finnikin (along with his guardian) has been wandering the land ever since, searching for a way home.  Then comes along a half-crazy but determined novice with an unbelievable notion: the heir to Lumatere is alive and it's time to go home.  Also, Marchetta wrote Jellicoe Road, which is pretty much the only endorsement this book needs.

Also, lightning round recommendations:
The False Prince by Jennifer Nielson
Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes and Michelle Rowen
Throne of Glass by Sarah Maas


Beautiful Procrastination

P.  R. O. C. R. A. S. T. I. N. A. T. E. As in 11 across,  13 letters. To dilly-dally, to put off reading something until the movie comes out, Ethan Wate.

Ok, I'm way behind on this one--oh, about 4 books as as many years to be exact. And I have to admit I didn't pick up BEAUTIFUL CREATURES until I saw a movie trailer about the film. And then I couldn't put the book down. Any of them. I'm savoring the last one, BEAUTIFUL REDEMPTION, right now.

If you've been living under a rock (right next to me), here's an Amazon blurb to give you a taste for Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's delicious creation:

There were no surprises in Gatlin County. At least, that's what I thought. Turns out, I couldn't have been more wrong.

Ethan Wate used to think of Gatlin, the small Southern town he had always called home, as a place where nothing ever changed. Then he met mysterious newcomer Lena Duchannes, who revealed a secret world where a curse has marked Lena's family of powerful Supernaturals for generations.

Being from a small Southern town--albeit from the mountain south rather than the Lowcountry--I love the small-town-Southerness of this Southern Gothic tale of witches and incubi and coming of age. It's little like Dark Shadows meets To Kill a Mockingbird. (And the dog is Boo Radley.) I love how Ethan's narration comments on the insular nature of a small town more obsessed with the past than the future. Poor Ethan can't wait to get out of Gatlin, until, of course, he meets Lena.

The story, as you might of guessed, is told primarily through Ethan's eyes. A boy narrator is a refreshing change of perspective. And Garcia and Stohl have created some fascinating and memorable characters, Macon and Amma (and Link) being my favorites. (Though I have fess up; sometimes I want to slap Lena and tell her to snap out of her mope.) And the Sisters are a hoot--and not so out of it as they seem.

But you know what made at the first book really stand out for me? Listening to it. Really. The narrator, Kevin Collins, is fantastic. He captures the feel, the accent, and essence of every character. He gives each one a distinct voice that absolutely fits the character. Without attribution, you can tell it's Amma or Macon or Link or Ethan speaking. Be sure to take a listen at the Beautiful Creatures audio page.

The audiobooks are  P.I.T.C.H. P.E.R.F.E.C.T.  4 down, 12 letters. Having the exactly right tone or style, Ethan Wate. 

(btw, in case you're wondering about the crossword clues, Amma is obsessed with them.)

If you're a fan of this series, what's your favorite detail or character? And how does the movie compare? (I know, the book is always better.)

Favorite Fantasy Reads!

I'm not a big fantasy reader but often when I finally pick up a fantasy novel I end up loving it.
Today I'd like to tell you about three of my favorites.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

I know this book was mentioned by some of my fellow Leaguers in their posts, but I can't NOT mention it because it's one of my absolute favorite reads of 2012. It was absolutely unexpected and the twist made me gasp. A book that surprised me!
If you haven't done so yet, you should definitely read it!

Plain Kate by Erin Bow
It was a bit of an accident that I bought this book and though I found the summary interesting enough, I didn't immediately start reading. Maybe because I wasn't a big middle grade reader back then and I thought this was middle grade. I'm still not quite sure if this is YA or upper middle grade - not that it matters. Anyway. It took several months before I finally picked up Plain Kate and I'm so glad I did. This book tore at my heart, made me feel Kate's pain as if it were my own. As soon as I was done reading, I looked for other books from the author and there weren't any yet. But of course I kept stalking her website and goodreads, and this year finally her second book "Sorrow's Knot" comes out! I have no doubt that it'll be as fabulous as Bow's debut.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Last but not least a book from a fellow 2012 debut author. I love bad boys, and this book delivers a swoon-worthy bad boy with The Darkling. I don't think I've ever been so conflicted about someone before. This book was so not predictable and almost gave me a heart attack. I'm dying to read the sequel.

Btw, Penguin is currently giving away five copies of Impostor on goodreads!

The Best Fantasy Trilogy I Almost Didn't Read

I just cannot rave enough about a recent fantasy trilogy I completed. But to be honest, I almost didn't read it.

I started reading Rae Carson's debut, THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS not long after it came out--and I made a point to nab a signed hardback. Unfortunately, I put it quickly back down. It wasn't what I expected, first of all (which is absolutely not the fault of the book), but I also found it a little confusing in the start. I think it was the names. I have a weird thing when I read: if I cannot pronounce the name of a character, I cannot keep reading until I figure it out. This has often put a damper on my fantasy reads, and I flat-out refuse to read a book where the names have more apostrophes and dashes than letters.

THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS is not that kind of book. It does, however, have a very distinct non-Western feel to it. There are deserts, and the dishes served seem to be Latin American inspired, a lovely and refreshing blend of influences that I really liked. But one of the important characters in the book--and one mentioned in chapter one--is Ximena. And I just could not figure out how to pronounce the name. Every time I saw it, I stopped reading. And, sadly, this made me put the book down for a bit.

I did (obviously) pick it back up. I wanted to read this story, and so many of my friends recommended it to me, but I just couldn't fall into the world. But I happened to have an extra Audible credit, and I got THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS as an audio book.

And very soon after I started listening, I could not listen fast enough. I heard about half of it, and fell 100% into the world. The names no longer mattered (although I was glad to know that Ximena is pronounced she-men-ah, and Humberto has a silent "h"). I was utterly enraptured in the story. And after the big twist at the end of the first book happened, I got so frustrated that I wasn't getting the story fast enough that I bought an e-book so I could speed-read to the end.

That's right. I bought three different versions of the same book.

After that, I quickly nabbed the sequel, THE CROWN OF EMBERS and devoured it. I again bought two versions--hardback and audio book--but the audio book, while it was narrated beautifully, wasn't fast enough, so I sped through the print book as quickly as I could read. I started it on a plane to a book retreat, and was so caught up in the story that I actually snuck away from the retreat to finish reading!

Of course, I immediately started begging for the last book of the trilogy, THE BITTER KINGDOM. But I have to admit, I had some fears. I was so caught up in the story of Elisa and the kingdoms of her world--and whether or not Elisa would survive her trials (and if she did, would her love interest?)--all in all, I was a nervous wreck. I had so so much hope for this final volume...I was legitimately concerned that I had so many expectations, there's no way anyone could write the book I wanted.

I was wrong.

THE BITTER KINGDOM is the perfect end of the series. It's brilliant. I read it all in a 24 hour period--I started at night, stayed up until nearly 4am, and then finished as soon as I woke up the next morning.

It answered every question I had. It fulfilled every promise the first two books made. It was creative and inventive and utterly addictive. I love this trilogy so much that I didn't want it to end--but when it did, I was left feeling as if everything was just...right...for the characters. They're not 100% happy--nothing is perfect. But the end these characters faced was the right end for them.

In the end, I was very happy to give THE BITTER KINGDOM my official recommendation: “The perfect conclusion to one of the most brilliant modern YA fantasies on the market today. Readers will love this whole series, and while I didn’t want to leave Elisa’s world, The Bitter Kingdom hits all the right notes. This is YA fantasy as it should be.”

Note: THE BITTER KINGDOM won't be released until August. Sorry!

I really encourage everyone to read this wonderful series. And if there is a book out there that you're struggling with, try it in a different format. You just might find yourself hopelessly addicted to a whole new world!

A Discovery of Witches (the All Souls trilogy)

 Perhaps due to the amount of time I've spent recently with quantum mechanics while writing book two, I've found myself really enjoying a good fantasy.  As such I've become obsessed with Deborah Harkness's All Souls Trilogy.

In fact, I was telling someone how much I loved it the other day and they gave me a funny look and said "but nothing happens for 100 pages." I beg to differ.  In the first 100 pages, Diana goes to the library and meets a smoking-hot academic vampire.  That is to say Matthew is a vampire and an academic.  Now perhaps it's the recovering grad student in me, but the descriptions of the Bodleian Library replete with old manuscripts and their special handling requirements really work for me.  Throw in the vampire-academic and a historically-rich plot with vivid settings and you have me hook, line, and sinker.  

Bottom line: The first two books in the All Souls trilogy (A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night) are intelligent, well-crafted novels with just the right mixture of magic, history, and smoking-hot, academic vampires.

Awesome Reads!

Okay, so I've had a lot of time to read recently. Naturally, I'm drawn to a mixture of YA contemporary, science fiction, and fantasy.

Some of my favorites include:

GRAVE MERCY by Robin LaFevers (fantasy): I loved this book so much I posted about it on my own blog during one of my Bookanista Thursdays. Go check out my review.

MAGISTERIUM by former Leaguer Jeff Hirsch (science fiction/fantasy): I seriously don't know why it took me so long to open this book. It was SUCH a fantastic world! I also blogged about this book for Bookanista Thursday.

THE SELECTION by Kiera Cass (dystopian): Again, another one that took me a while to crack, even though I'd purchased it during release week. This book has the feel of WITHER by Lauren DeStefano and MATCHED by Ally Condie. If you haven't read it yet, you should.

THE PLEDGE by Kimberly Derting (dystopian): I know, I know. I'm late to the party again! I really liked the mix of magic and dystopian tropes in this tale. The best part of reading books a little bit late is that the second one is already out!

THE CROWN OF EMBERS by Rae Carson (fantasy): I adored THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS, and THE CROWN OF EMBERS delivered again -- something rare and hard to do with a second book. This series has become the pinnacle of fantasy for me. Read it. Love it.

What fantasy and science fiction reads have you devoured recently?