Self Diagnosis for a Sick Manuscript – Allie Berg – RomCon 2014

RomCon 2014We’re here in beautiful Denver for Rom Con 2014 and I’ll be liveblogging sessions for the next two days. First up, we’re sitting in with Allie Berg as she teaches us how to self-edit our manuscripts.

Allie, as readers of this blog know, is an author, editor, and publisher at Loose Id. Allie kindly pimps our books before we begin.

First thing in editing your novel: if there are tentacles, get rid of them. Unless it’s steampunk and it’s a kraken, in which case, that’s hot right now so good on you.

Very brief how to:

Everyone has their own system of how to edit. This is not a system, these are questions to ask about.

General How To:

Step one: Print out your novel or in a PDF form. Some form that you can’t edit it in. Edit it as a reader. Have a notebook handy to take notes about things that didn’t work. Everything from big thing to details like eye color.

Fix the Easy stuff first: You’ll feel accomplished and you deserve a nap. Maybe a week of naps.

You will hate your novel. Everyone hates their novel at some point of editing.

Add a page after every chapter in your novel so you can easily see how long the chapters are easily and wehre the breaks are.

After you have done that, mark anything that you want to delete and any place you need a major revision. DO NOT THROW AWAY the things that you deleted. You may need it later.

Once you have cut out what shouldn’t be there, then go back and do your rewrites. Allie’s a chronological writer so she always works beginning to end. Do what works for you.

Next scene level edits, then sentence level edits.

Proofreading is the least value part of self-editing because it’s the easiest thing to fix. Yes, editors don’t like it but unless

Don’t make any mistakes in the first sentence, paragraph, scene and chapter.

Manuscript level questions

Editing is writing. It’s just rewriting.

What’s the theme? Is it about redemption? Renewal? Homecoming?

What are the elements of the novel that support your theme? What makes it strong? where did your theme disappear?

Characters and characters arcs: Who are the main characters? Are you writing about them? Sometimes you find you’re writing about someone else and you must realize you’ve written the wrong novel.

What is the character’s growth arc? If they don’t change it’s boring. Do you have scenes that support the movement? Scenes where they resist and fail because they resisted.

Debra Dixon: Goals, Motivation and Conflict – great for people writing character driven novels (That’s romance.)

When characters start a story, they have to have something they want. They need a goal. It could be a simple goal. Motivation for goals come from the back story. Why do they want this thing? What’s the conflict?  Having these things will make your characters rich. It need to be so strongly driven that someone had to write a book about them and if there’s no conflict, there’s no story.

Secondary characters and sub-plots: Do they support the theme or are they dead weight? Do they support a useful function? Every time you introduce a character, you’re asking the reader to take precious imaginative real estate. That takes away from the mains. If your story has a million characters, unless you’re GRRM, you’ll have a hard time keeping focus. Use one character to fill multiple roles if you can.

Don’t feel wedded to what you’ve already written unless your deadline is tomorrow. (She doesn’t advocate that. Write well in advance of your deadline.)

Story logic: as a reader, you see the plot holes. As a writer, you want to believe that people won’t notice.  don’t skirt agency, don’t take the convenient route. Motivate things in advance. You can get away with what you establish early.

Super timid heroine pulls out a gun and shoots the bad guy right in the forehead. Not believable. But if you establish that in her backstory that she has the skills, then when she pulls out the gun, the reader roots for it.

Don’t rush your payoffs. The reader is there for the payoff. You own it to them to give them time to appreciate that. It’s like a short orgasm after hours of sex.

10 minute Exercise: Identify theme, MC and arcs, goal, hook. Write a pitch or blurb. If you can’t do it, you don’t know what your story is about.

[I’m going to omit my exercise but I’ll tell you the premise of the series: Extreme Flings: the ultimate date on the edge]

You can send your exercise to Allie Berg if you’d like her to review it. Visit her on her website or on Twitter @sosayethallie

Scene level editing

When you are looking at your scenes, now you have a different focus. This is mechanics, not story-level. How do you start a scene? Start your novel as close to the end as humanly possible. This is also true for scenes. (Please don’t have your heroines look in the mirror.)

Five ways to start a scene:

  1. In Media Res
  2. Reaction via inner monologue
  3. With a LITTLE bit of backstory
  4. A little bit of dialogue
  5. Focus on a single object or action and then broadening out.

This is particularly important to your first scene and first sentence. Try all these techniques when you’re starting your novel but this will give a chance to see why your long backstory opening doesn’t work.

Allie reads us examples from her next upcoming novel to demonstrate each of these ways.

How to exit a scene: Stop your scene on a high note. don’t resolve all your tension. Cut your scene without resolving everything. Every time you resolve all the tension, you give them the chance to put the novel down and go to bed. You want them to keep turning the page.

Scene structure: Goal, Conflict, Disaster – Jack Bickham “Scene and Structure”

Someone walks into a scene with a goal, conflict ensues, then because tension is good, something goes wrong somehow (Yes, they got what they wanted, but it isn’t what they wanted to hear. No, they didn’t get the goal. No but they have a new lead…) This is rarely the story goal, it’s a scene level goal. If you give them what they want, then the tension is gone.

Another exercise: 15 minutes to do the five scene starters

[Again, I omit my results but for a tease. Here’s the scene: A woman walks into the office of a man she’s never met and tells him that she needs a husband. Temporarily.]

Kate Wells @readdrinkbloggy is our first brave volunteer. Rafaela Martinez is our second volunteer.

Fine-tuning and sentence level editing 

  • Timeline (some people would also re-outline) – not the one you started with, if you started with one, but what’s actually happened in the novel and how long things took (did they drive to a location two days away in an hour?)
  • Story elements – entrances of characters, place names, character descriptions, etc.
  • TIP: use your headers and footers to keep story relevant information at hand then delete before you send to the publisher.
  • Tell v show – telling/summary in transitions but not in action. Exception: If the conversation is not relevant to the plot, you can summarize it. “Sam talked to the bartender and got directions, ordered a beer and talked about the weather.”
  • Dialogue – natural, relevant, or is it filler? Can you punch it up?  Like a scene, start the conversation where it’s important. Use clear (who is speaking) and simple (no one really “expostulates” and “said” is invisible) speech tags. Consider action/thought instead of speech tags, “as you know, Sue”. Keep the character voice consistent. Watch for the character using your verbal tics, not their own.
  • Repeated information, gestures, words. — Avoid filler actions. Find something more effective or something that’s unique to characterization.
  • Chapter lengths – consider breaking chapters where there’s an incentive to keep turning pages and not to put the book down and go to bed. The “right” length varies based on genre. Short chapters move the book faster, longer chapters slow it down.
  • Practice active writing
  • Use precise nouns – don’t say “car” say “red Maserati”. Pick the right adjective. One.
  • Avoid filtering words – “felt”, “thought”, “heard” – just give us the sound, feeling or thought without the filter of “he X”. This deepens POV.
  • Wishy-washy words – so, really, just, qualifiers — all this “really” does is lessen the impact of what you’re saying. It’s okay sparingly in dialogue if the character is the kind of person who would do that.
  • Watch for big words – readers don’t read with a dictionary at their side.
  • TIP: TED talks are great for learning about how people act.

Allie wraps us up with a quick plug for Loose Id. If you write erotic romance and have something to pitch, visit


Cindi Meyers – Revising and Editing Your Own Manuscript – RMFW class

Anne Lyle – Revising Your Novel in 10 Easy Steps:

Holly Lisle – How to Think Sideways: How to get the BOOK YOU WANT from the WRECK you wrote:

Debra Dixon – GMC: Goal, Motivation, Conflict.

Jack Bickham – Scene and Structure.

Dwight Swayne – Techniques of the selling writer


3 thoughts on “Self Diagnosis for a Sick Manuscript – Allie Berg – RomCon 2014

  1. […] Workshop #7 – Self Diagnosis for a Sick Manuscript – Editing Tips with Loose Id’s Allie […]

  2. rinib says:

    Thank you so much for the notes!

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