Santa Paula: The Road So Far # 5

The Road So Far: Part 1 – Part 2 — Part 3 — Part 4

Draft: 2 (kind of)

Months in Progress: 10

Word Count: 87K

Estimated Final Word Count: 120K 130K (ish) 110-115K (ish)

Named Characters: 9

State-of-Mind: It’s a little hard to focus with WW3 on the horizon and all that…

Number of references photos on my Pinterest: 84 194 228 255 288

Currently, yelling at myself: Come on. 20K and you’re there. Come on.

It’s been two and half months since my last update, and I still haven’t completed the first draft. But, I do have a complete second draft of the first three acts—the finished story will have four acts. With the way Santa Paula is structured, I wanted to get a good grasp of the character’s journeys and the major plot developments before I start writing the final act.

I estimate that I have between 15-30K left to write, with the finished story landing somewhere between 100-120K. It’s hard to be more exact than that right now. It depends on how the final act develops, how many plotholes my beta discoveries when she dives in, and the rewrites it’ll take to fix it.

It’s hard to talk more in detail about Santa Paula without spoiling it, so I won’t.

Instead, I though I could talk about some tips & tricks, resources, and tools I use to edit.

Before anyone says it: Yes, I put in a lot of work on my stories. No, you don’t have to. We all write for different reasons.

I write for the writing itself; as a fanfic author, I’ve long since passed the point where I write because of a certain pairing or love of a show. If I wasn’t writing J2, I’d write something else.

I enjoy the craft of writing. I like challenging myself to improve as a storyteller and writing smooth pieces of text. I like working on a paragraph and realizing that the more words I omit, the better it is.

That’s my motivation as a storyteller, but it doesn’t have to be yours. You do you.

For me, editing a story takes just as long as writing it. Every writer has their own way of doing things—this is what works for me.

I do three types of edits: developmental, copy, and line edits.

Developmental Edits

This happens right after the first draft is finished or when I reach a point in the first draft where I need to go back and iron things out before I continue. I do it mainly in drafts 1.5, 2, and sometimes 3. This type of editing focuses on things like;

  • Setting
  • Timeline
  • Characterization
  • Plot
  • Story structure
  • Pacing

I discuss how I approach developmental editing more in update # 3, so I won’t go into detail here. But, in short, it’s the big stuff; I’ll make small changes, add new text, or do shorter rewrites in the story until it’s posted, but this is where the big changes happen.

Copy Edits

Copy editing is basically a word-by-word edit that looks at grammar, spelling, and consistency issues. This is something I do during the entire process. Every time I finish writing, rewriting, or editing a chapter, I’ll go over it in Grammarly.

Grammarly is one of two editing programs I use.

I’m terrible at grammar, I’ve been writing for sixteen years, and I still don’t understand commas—in English or Swedish.

I prefer using it for quicker edits that focus on basic spelling and grammar. Running a chapter through Grammarly saves me time later, and it saves time for my beta, who doesn’t have to do 200 edits of basic errors or forgotten commas and can focus on the story. The program isn’t perfect, and you can’t trust it to get it right every time (it is a program, not a professional editor), but it saves a lot of time.

Personally, I pay for the pro version, but the free one works fine, especially for shorter stories; if your average word count is less than 10K, don’t bother with the pro version.

Top Tip # 1: Use Style Guides

This is a fairly recent development for me and something I started using when I wrote Newport. If you don’t know, a style guide is basically a document that sets the standard for the writing and design of your work.

Now, I don’t obsess over The Chicago Manual of Style, but I make a few choices to keep the text consistent. Choices like:

  • Do I spell numbers or use numerals?
  • Do I go wild with dialogue tags or (mostly) stick to said/asked?
  • What words do I capitalize even if they’re not at the beginning of a sentence?
  • How many exclamation points are too many?
  • When do I use italics and/or bold, and should I use it in dialogue to emphasize what’s said?

I don’t make these choices randomly or on my own; as I said, I suck at grammar. Instead, I’ve found helpful articles and blog posts that I use as my “style guide.”

When formatting numbers in my text, I use this guide.

For punctuation and dialogue tags, I find this helpful.

When I wrote Newport, I challenged myself not to overuse exclamation marks.

With Santa Paula, I’m challenging myself not to overuse or rely on italics to emphasize my dialogue. If you can’t hear my characters speak, I’m not writing clearly enough.

Line Edits

Line editing is basically tearing your sentences apart and putting them back together again. It’s a structural edit that looks at the writing, flow, tone, and style. It’s about making the text crisper and tighter by removing unnecessary words, repeats and improving awkward sentences and paragraphs without a full rewrite.

Usually, this type of editing happens organically during rewrites and bigger edits.

However, once the plot is tight, and the characters are who I want them to be—when the story is finished, but the text still needs work—that’s where the real line edits happen.

To do that, I use another editing program called ProWritingAid.

Like with Grammarly, there’s a free and a pro version; I’ve been using the pro one since 2017. Again, if you write short stories, the pro version is not worth it; use the free one.

This program is much more comprehensive than Grammarly. It does fix your spelling and grammar, but its strength lies in how it analyzes your writing.

Basically, it breaks it down into around twenty areas that might or might not need improvement. It could be sentence length, clarity, overused words, adverbs, dialog tags, emotional tells, etc.

It’s hard to explain how it works, so I’ll show you instead. These screenshots are from a summary report on act 3 of Santa Paula after completing the second draft.

Apart from these summaries, you can also edit the text in the program. You can ask it to track and highlight overused or repeated words, difficult sentences, pacing—it can do a lot.

That being said, having your writing broken down into parts isn’t for everyone, and I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re just starting out—it might kill what little confidence you have.

This is a program for people who want to get down and dirty with the nitty, gritty structure of their writing. Some of you don’t, and that’s fine.

That’s the great thing about fanfiction; you can write purely for the joy of it. We’re not getting published, and no one is paying us, so we don’t have to give a shit about sentence structure if we don’t want to.

I do, but I enjoy picking my writing apart and putting it back together again.

Top Tip # 2: Read the text to yourself.

I do this all the time; I’m doing it now as I edit this post in Grammarly.

There’s something about reading a text out loud that helps you catch things your eyes wouldn’t. When you read a text you’ve read twenty times already, your brain glosses over things. When you speak the words, you’re forced to read every single one; that’s where you catch the mistakes.

It’s where you notice if the dialogue sounds unnatural, clunky sentences, or words that weigh down the flow. If you can’t speak your sentence comfortably, there are too many words in there.

As a side note: I’m Swedish, English is my second language—I write it better than I speak it. I’m not bad at it, but I have an accent, and pronunciation can be a bitch. I know it might feel awkward sitting alone in a room reading your story aloud, especially when the words feel like cotton balls in your mouth.

But it doesn’t matter; even if your pronunciation is off, it helps. I promise you’ll hear the difference between your tongue tripping on words and the text being too chunky. It’s not about pronunciation; it’s about rhythm and sound, how the text flows; you can’t get a true feeling for it if you can’t hear it.

Top Tip # 3 Edit until you can’t stand it anymore, and then do it again.

I’ve learned that, for me, the key element in writing a story this long is not inspiration, passion, or imagination—it’s endurance. There’s a lot of boring, grunt work involved, and the longer you can endure it, the better the story.

Writing that first draft is always exciting because it’s a journey of discovery; I don’t know what will happen any more than you do the first time you read it. When writing the second draft, I get to see the story come together into something cohesive.

Once I reach that third draft, that’s where the excitement stops, and the endurance part beings.

It’s about living with the text for months on end, reworking it over and over and over; so many times you hate it—until you can’t stand it anymore and then pushing yourself to do it again.

Every time I write a new story, my endurance lasts a little longer. I have the patience and the perseverance to continue working on it, to do that final edit when you’re nitpicking between a comma and a semi-colon.

It’s exhausting and boring, but it’s usually the difference between a good chapter and a great one.

Hopefully, by the end of this journey, once Santa Paula is finished and posted, I can make a final update and show you excerpts from all the drafts; so you can see what all that editing is for and the difference it makes.

Because it does, your story can have the most amazing characters and plot, but if your writing is unclear, chunky, hard to read, or poorly formatted, it won’t matter. Your character’s voices will be drowned out by all those clunky, unnecessary words, and your plot will get lost in the gaps between those long, long sentences and uneven pacing.

I’m guilty of all of the above. I’ve made those mistakes. That’s apparent even in a story as recent as Phoenix. I posted it five years ago, and I cringe every time I look at it. It’s filled with mistakes. Not because I didn’t edit or because my beta didn’t do their best. But because I didn’t have the endurance to work on it until it was finished. In hindsight, I know it needed at least two more rounds of editing, probably more.

I didn’t back then. Instead, I decided it was finished. I reached a point where I said: Fuck it, I can’t stand working on this story anymore; I’m going to post it. My beta tried to talk me out of it, but I was so sick of it.

I like Phoenix, I think it’s a good story, but if I had sucked it up and worked on it for another month, or two, it would have been a better story and a smoother read.

When I wrote Newport, I was prepared for that feeling. It came, I endured it, and I kept working on the story because it wasn’t finished. It’ll come with Santa Paula as well; I know that, and I can handle it.

That’s my top tip: endure the tedium and thankless work of editing because it’ll make your story clearer, more compelling, and a smoother experience for your readers.

That’s what it’s all about, at least for me. I write the first draft for me to tell myself a story. The second draft is for me as well. After that, all this work, this tedious editing, it’s for the readers. Writing is my hobby, I do it for me, but I want people to enjoy my stories; I want the experience I give my readers to be the best I’m capable of delivering and for the next one, to be even better.

I’m asking people to read a 120-130K story; I don’t want to waste their time; I want them to feel like I care about their experience as readers. A smooth text that doesn’t weigh down the story is the best way I know how to do that.

One thought on “Santa Paula: The Road So Far # 5

  1. Pingback: Santa Paula: The Road so Far # 6 | Xenodike

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