Joy in Revision

I’m somewhat of a revision monkey. I love sculpting words! Which likely explains why I prefer editing to writing.

chimp_at_typewriterSo, I’m revising—again—and that means I’m reading through James Scott Bell’s excellent Revision & Self-editing—again. This is not a commercial, this is a strongly held opinion: If you don’t own this book you may not be a real writer.

Anyway. Each time I read through the book I glean new insights and shore up the things I already know.

Read the rest in my post today at Novel Rocket.

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

In The Edit! Peter Leavell

In 2011, Peter Leavell was one of five finalists for the Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest with his manuscript, Songs of Captivity.

Peter Leavell, author of Gideon’s Call

Over the next nine months or so, as I watched him navigate the waters of publication (his novel won the contest and was renamed Gideon’s Call by Worthy Publishing), Peter has become a good friend. He told his story to the world with an article in ACFW Journal, the member magazine of the American Christian Fiction Writers, and subsequently gave his testimony at the organization’s conference last weekend in Dallas TX.

He has let me use his Journal article for In The Edit, and I’m happy to introduce you to Peter today.

Read his original, unedited article.

Peter’s edit

When Peter sent me this article, I knew few of the details he shared. When I read it, my jaw dropped—but that’s not unusual when I read personal stories of how God shows up in our lives.

After picking my jaw up off the desk, I read the article again. That’s when I first started seeing things I could do with it that would increase its impact. For this article, the three main areas I’ll focus on are:

  1. Clarity and consistency
  2. Extra words
  3. Emotion

See my edit in Track Changes mode.

Be clear, be consistent

You don’t have to get too far into this article to find some clarity and consistency issues. Look at the first sentence.

  • I stood between two towering infernos.

First of all, get past the idea of Jerry B. Jenkins and Byron Williamson standing there on fire. I’ll admit, I giggled. Since I read all of the way through the piece before beginning to edit, I knew that later Peter refers to the two men as giants. So, for clarity and consistency, I extinguished the infernos.

Clarity is not just about word choice, however. It also pertains to focus. Reading Peter’s article it was clear to me he was communicating his writing journey as it connected to his spiritual journey. While the information in the sixth graf about how driven he is was interesting, I thought the bit about running 15 miles for fun and writing 10,000 words a day (seriously? C’mon, seriously?) detracted from the overall point he was trying to make—which was how he learned to rely on God.

Trim the fat

Back to the top of the article. In the second graf, Peter plays up nicely the image he’s already given us of being placed between two literary giants.

  • “Standing tiptoe to see over the top of the check, I smiled.”

But then he describes for us what we can see in the photo. When he does that either the photo or the description becomes redundant.

I chose to cut the description. As a result, I was able to move the reader more quickly to the “money line” of this introduction.

  • “Three months earlier, I thought I was going to die.”

Other examples:

  • “Even writing an email was difficult.” He already said he couldn’t write.
  • “…even to my wife and children.” We already know he had little to say.
  • “…leaving me alone in the house. If they’ve gone off without him, then he must be alone.

Each of these cuts clipped unnecessary information and improved the pace of the story.

Make me cry

In personal stories like these, the purpose of the piece is to make God known. To give God glory. But a secondary purpose is to break down walls in others’ lives so they can more fully experience God.

One great tool for that is emotion. Sometimes this means adding something, sometimes it means cutting. Let’s look at some examples.

  • Before:“Diabetes was a possibility, as was cancer. I started my will, a sad thought at age 35.”
  • After:“Diabetes was a possibility, as was cancer. I started my will—at age 35.”

We all know death at an early age is sad—heck, death is always sad from a human perspective. But by telling us it was sad, Peter short-circuited the emotion by not allowing our brains to jump to the connection.

  • Before:“My memory is blurry, but I remember my son and daughter going off to soccer and ballet without me, leaving me alone in the house. Their lives had to go on, even if mine couldn’t.
  • After: “My memory is blurry, but I remember my son and daughter going off to soccer and ballet without me. Their lives had to go on, even if mine couldn’t.”

Not only was the cut material unnecessary, but it also killed the emotion of the graf’s closing line.

See the article as it appeared in ACFW Journal.

Peter, thanks for your friendship and for letting me use your article on my blog.

Would you like to see your writing In The Edit? Send me a short sample. If I use it, you’ll be eligible for a discount on my freelance editing services.

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

New services and rates announced

In the writing world, it’s easy to become discouraged and hard to know whether what you’re doing is good enough to catch an agent’s or editor’s eye.

  1. Maybe your one-sheet isn’t Wow-ing folks like you’d hoped?
  2. Perhaps your book proposal feels leaden and you’re not sure how to fix it?
  3. A new writing contest deadline is looming. Is your story ready to enter?

Now, for a reasonable fee, you can give your proposal, one-sheet, or contest entry, the boost it deserves.

In addition, I provide proofreading and copyediting services to help ensure your manuscript has its best chance at success–whether you’re submitting through a traditional publisher or a self-publishing entity.

Check out my Editorial services page and download a new rate sheet. You can get the assistance you need–and your manuscript deserves–for less than you might think.

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

In The Edit: Janice Hanna Thompson

Enter the Way Back Machine with me.

In 2005, a newbie fiction writer (though well into a communications career as a corporate editor) wrote to the e-mail loop of American Christian Fiction Writers seeking a freelance editor to look at his manuscript, pat him on the back, and provide an immediate connection to the perfect editor for his perfect manuscript—the first step toward fame and fortune.

That writer was me and Janice Hanna Thompson was among the freelance editors to respond. After corresponding and agreeing on a price, I sent her my manuscript.

Janice Hanna Thompson, author of Fools Rush In and Stars Collide

She read it, liked it, said it was good, and proceeded to Track Changes me upside the head over and over and over again. I distinctly remember thinking, “I thought you said it was good.” Fortunately, I already had rhinoceros skin from my years as a newspaper reporter.

In the intervening years, I’ve grown to appreciate not only Janice’s writing and editing skills, but also her people skills that enabled her to both encourage and challenge me.

Now, as the editor of ACFW Journal, I had the pleasure of editing an article Janice queried and submitted on how to merge comedy and drama in a Christian novel. She has graciously allowed me to share the process of editing that article here.

See Janice’s original article here.

Janice’s edit

I focused on three issues with this article:

  1. Extra words
  2. Word choices
  3. Judicious shortening, particularly in the sidebar

See my edited version in track changes.

Don’t over make your point

Writers like to write in a series of points. We want to make sure the reader gets it. We need to be clear in communicating our knowledge. (See how I did that there? We love this!) But it can be overdone.

There’s a little of this here. See the first graf.

Janice, rightly, began her article by making a case for using humor to communicate about our angst-ridden lives. But I thought the lead was too heavy on that and preferred the specific instances, rather than the generic. The elimination of the one-word sentence Suffering. smoothed it out for me.

There were other instances in the second and sixth steps of the article, where I eliminated just one point in each (different lifestyles in the second and Pick up the pace in the sixth) to give the reader credit for understanding and move the article on.

Say what you mean

Using exact words turns your sentences from OK to great in a matter of moments. While one word may be technically correct, another choice can imbue your prose with clarity. Let’s look at a couple of examples:

  • Wondering if they should leave their marriages.
  • Wondering if they should leave their spouses

Marriage is an institution, and an important one, but a spouse is a person. Using spouse gave it more emotional impact.

  • There’s a certain cadence to repeating something three times for effect…
  • There’s a natural cadence to repeating something three times for effect…

Using natural gives the sentence a different dimension. Certain was not wrong, but natural tells the reader more.

Make it fit

This can be the hardest thing for an editor. How can I shorten this piece without losing anything critical? Janice hit the word count I asked her for, but in laying out the magazine we determined we needed to put an ad on the same page.

Something had to go. But whatever left had to leave no discernible hole behind. In other words, Janice’s article still needed to make sense. What I did was pick the phrases (particularly in the sidebar) that offered unnecessary explanation or which, if eliminated, weren’t missed. Some examples:

  • The cliché (a smile is a frown…).
  • The explanatory note in point 3.
  • Phrases in the sidebar.

See the article in the July issue of ACFW Journal.

Janice, thanks—for the advice and encouragement long ago and for letting me use your article on my blog.

By the way, I also offer freelance editing services. See my information.

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

In The Edit: Mike Dellosso

Mike Dellosso, author of Frantic and Rearview

Today’s In The Edit is, once again, a little different. For the July issue of ACFW Journal, suspense author Mike Dellosso (also d.b.a. as Michael King) interviewed Michael Hyatt, chairman of Thomas Nelson, author of the new book Platform: Get Noticed In A Noisy World, and the keynote speaker for American Christian Fiction Writer’s upcoming September conference.

After Dellosso interviewed Hyatt, it seemed wise to him to do the article in the Q-and-A format. In other words, to let Hyatt speak for himself rather than through the interpretation of the article’s author.

I liked the idea and greenlighted it. The end result was, like Hyatt, “the real deal.”

See Dellosso’s original article.

Editing process?

So, editing for a Q-and-A is pretty much a no-brainer, right? In many ways, yes. But there are a couple good guidelines to bear in mind if you ever get the opportunity to write (or edit) a Q-and-A article.

  1. Extra words: These can still be a problem, but must now be balanced against accurately presenting what the subject said.
  2. Grammar questions: There’s a difference between the way we speak and the way we want to be perceived in print.
  3. Reader-focused: How to be true to the subject of the interview as well as the reader.

Read my edit with track changes.

Trimming a Q-and-A

Here at Writing On The Fine Line, one of the key things I always point out are the extra words that find their way into our sentences. Tight writing is preferred over loosey-goosey prose every day.

But what about when those words are part of an actual quote—as they are in a Q-and-A article? Let’s look at Hyatt’s answer to the question about how he balanced work and family.

Hyatt: I didn’t always do that well. There were certainly times when I was tragically out of balance—where work was consuming all of my time and life. and I did what a lot of people do and convinced myself that I was in a temporary situation, that if I could just get through this season or just get this project done that I could then give focus to what I knew was important, which was my family.

People often speak in what, if printed, would be run-on sentences. In a newspaper this problem can be solved by indirect quotations and saving the actual quotes—what’s between the quotation marks—for the particularly pithy or meaningful words. However, in a Q-and-A that’s not practical.

So I elected to do strategic tightening, leaving many words in that I would edit out if this were fiction dialogue, but staying true to both the literal meaning of Hyatt’s words and his intent. None of the words deleted altered Hyatt’s remark or cast a false light on what he was saying.

Woulda, coulda, should not

There were a few places where Dellosso transcribed Hyatt as saying “gonna” and “gotta”. Unless trying to establish that an interview subject is a Southern gentleman, I opt for correcting these little speaking shortcuts we all use.

Why? Mostly because it’s right that way, but also because people are judgmental. I wouldn’t want someone thinking poorly about a interview subject I’m talking to. The AP Stylebook supports this: Do not use substandard spellings such as gonna or wanna in attempts to convey regional dialects or informal pronunciations, except to help a desired touch or to convey an emphasis by the speaker.


Always bear audience in mind. When you do that, you look at the information being shared in a Q-and-A and determine how to structure it so that the audience both benefits from the information and gets a true representation of the person providing the knowledge.

In some cases, though not in this case, that may mean cutting out whole chunks of quoted material that are not relevant. What it meant in this piece was taking some of those spoken run-ons and creating sentences out of them to make it easier for the reader to grab the sense of what Hyatt was sharing. Here’s one example:

So cContent is king but platform is queen. You’re not going to succeed in today’s publishing environment without both. so aAuthors have to stop telling themselves, this story that “I’m not good at selling.” “I’m not a marketer.” “I’m an introvert.”, whatever it is. That’s not going to be helpful to them. , tThey’ll end up playing the role of a victim where they blame everybody else about why their book didn’t sell. You’ve got to take responsibility and own it.

An important point was being made in this graf, and I wanted to emphasize it. First, I got rid of the so’s, which we commonly use when transitioning in conversation. Then I put what author’s need to stop saying to themselves within quotation marks because I don’t want the audience to miss that and the marks will make it more like dialogue—and make that part more noticed.

View the story as it appeared in the July issue of ACFW Journal.

Mike Dellosso, thanks for coming In The Edit with me today! I appreciate it.

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

I Live To Serve!

I started this blog to, as the sidebar says, “help writers cross the fine line between where they are and where they want to be.” One way to do that, I reasoned, was to draw back the veil a bit between the editor and the writer.

As an editor, it thrills me to help writers see ways they can improve their writing in order to better communicate. Because, as George Bernard Shaw (right) says, “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

I’ve now been playing with words on this blog for nearly three months. With that in mind, I hope you’ll indulge me and answer my poll. Do you like what you’re reading here? What do you like best? Are there other topics you’re interested in? Thanks in advance!

Michael Ehret, for Writing On The Fine Line

In The Edit: Jennifer Slattery

In these posts, with the author’s permission, I look at their work pre-editing and post-editing—and at what I did to improve the piece. The idea is to catch a glimpse into not only the editing process, but the relationship between editor and author.

Jennifer Slattery

Jennifer Slattery is one of my favorite writers for the ACFW Journal. She comes up with great ideas, pitches them well, and then executes them pretty much to my expectation. She is an editor’s dream, because I know I won’t have to reconstruct or rewrite, but more than that, that she’ll make it interesting.

The piece we’re looking at today—a feature on author Athol Dickson—is one of my favorites. It ran in the July 2012 issue of ACFW Journal. I’ve attached the designed spread (below) so you can see how well it works.

Dickson is, for me, one of those writers almost of mythical proportions. His body of work is consistently engaging and thought-provoking. Yet, Jen has revealed him as entirely human.

Jennifer’s edit

See Jennifer’s original.

These are the three main things I addressed in this article:

  1. Article’s purpose: This is a little hard to define, but for magazine writing—and specifically for a writer’s magazine—the features have to show the reader who the subject is without coming across as a tour guide or promotional piece. I did this by:
    • Punching up the lead.
    • Enhancing Jen’s natural accessible flow
    • Paying close attention to word choice.
  2. Writing tighter: Paring down where possible and expunging unnecessary information.
  3. Style issues: AP style and manuscript style.

See my edit in track changes.

What are we doing here?

Any magazine you write for has a style, an audience they are trying to reach. The ACFW Journal’s audience is Christian writers, published and unpublished. Our mission is to instruct, inspire, motivate, and entertain them.

Since that’s our audience, we need to write with eloquence, while adhering to established writing mores the organization teaches.

We want to grip the reader from the get go and then make it disarmingly easy to continue reading. One example is the change in the lead. You can see that what Jen did in one paragraph, I turned into two. The content is largely the same, but trimmed and divided into the punch (graf 1) and the support (graf 2).

Advice: As you write, think about the map of the magazine you’re targeting. We use a 3-column grid, big art, and lots of pull quotes, white space, and color. Jen’s original lead, while containing the right information, would have been a mass of grey in our grid.

Did I mention tight?

Review my previous In The Edit posts for lots of tips on how to write tighter. Though I use many of them in Jen’s piece, today I want to focus on just one: Getting rid of information the reader doesn’t need or that doesn’t add substantially to the piece.

In the section, ‘I’m done with You’, where we learn that Dickson was angry at God, Jen originally included this quote: “There was a televangelist talking on the TV set at that moment, and I watched that man jabbering on and on and strutting on the stage.” But, Dickson had just said he was mad at God, so why diffuse that anger by including the televangelist?

Don’t get me wrong—it may have been an important part of Dickson’s thinking. But without a lot more explanation, the reader is not going to feel the same indignation. Better to get right to what he was feeling when he was angry with God.

You can see similar cuts made elsewhere in the track changes version of the article.

Stylin’ baby, stylin’

Each magazine, newspaper, or publishing house has a style guide they adhere to. Our go-to guide is the AP Stylebook, the preference for many newspapers and magazines. AP stands for Associated Press.

You’ll note in Jen’s original, she referred to Athol Dickson on second and subsequent references as Athol. But AP style is to default to last names on second references. (Exception in this article: When quoting Athol’s brother, also a Dickson, for clarity we used first and last names for both brothers.)

Another style issue is the use of says instead of said for attribution. The thinking is this gives the article a stronger immediacy. Personally, I do not agree, but this is one area where I grit my teeth and go along with what is becoming standard practice.

Finally, in the style section, if you are sending an article or manuscript to an editor, it is still expected that you send it in double-spaced paragraphs, with half-inch indents, and a 12pt serif font such as Times New Roman. Unless you know with certainty, as Jen does, that your editor prefers another approach. (I prefer single-spaced, no indents, because I never edit on paper, only electronic.)

See my edited version, clean.

See the designed version from the ACFW Journal.

Jennifer, thanks for submitting this piece to In The Edit. As always, I enjoy working with your writing. Because you submitted, you are now eligible for a 25-percent discount on any of my editorial services.

If you would like to see your writing in a future In The Edit post, send a maximum of 350 words to opusmle (at) gmail (dot) com. Please send in Word format (.doc). You too can be eligible for a 25-percent discount.

Michael Ehret, for Writing On The Fine Line