Start Writing Fiction – Editing

3More tips from the OU Start Writing Fiction – this week we’re looking at …. editing! (You can come out from behind the sofa now because ‘Editing is your friend’  – apparently!)

A writer is simply a word for a person who writes. That’s all it takes to ‘qualify’ as a ‘writer’. But  published stories and novels very seldom emerge fully formed, or perfect, as if by magic. They undergo many transformations before they reach the shelves. They are rarely, if ever, the raw expression of a writer’s output.

A great part of writing fiction is knowing how, why and when you should edit your own work. This is just one of the points at which honesty enters the equation of writing. The more ruthless you can be about your own work, the better it will be.

So, what counts as editing and when should you do it?

It’s important to balance ‘editing’ against ‘self-censorship’. To write in perfect freedom – to express yourself without self-censorship – is one of the most important aspects of writing fiction. Your aim is to tell a story as you think it should be told, to the best of your ability. Editing, once that piece of work is done, is simply a way of clarifying that intention, of saying more clearly what you mean to say.

For example, you write what you think, at first, is a wonderful opening paragraph. You are very proud of it, understandably so: it is a fine piece of writing. But by the time you’ve finished the piece, something doesn’t ‘ring true’ about those opening lines. ‘But they’re so good!’ You can’t bear to part with them.


  • Do they belong in that story, for sure?
  • Are they really what you meant to say, or do you just like the way they sound?

Be ruthlessly self-critical and scrupulously honest at moments such as this. You will develop the ability to say what you mean (and not just like what you say: ‘showy’ writing is much easier to achieve than good writing).

Remember to ask:

  • What really matters about this scene?
  • What ‘adds’ something to the scene?
  • What merely adds confusion, detracting from the main point?

After you have written a first draft, interrogate your writing using this editing checklist. Remember that the aim in editing is in many ways the aim in writing: clarity of expression.

  • Is it what you meant to say, really?
  • Have you found the best way to convey it?
  • Would a particular event really have happened that way?
  • Would a particular character definitely use that expression or turn of phrase?
  • Does an idea or scene really belong where you’ve put it, or would the piece be better if that element was cut?
  • Could it be used elsewhere, or on another occasion?
  • What’s missing from your story? Details or background information?
  • Is there enough to engage your reader?
  • Do events occur in the best order and are significant events given enough weight, or are they lost beneath less important things? If so, is that what you intended?
  • Does it read too slow, or too fast?
  • Overall, does the writing convey the right tone – does it create the mood you hoped for?

Look at your writing through the eyes of a reader:

  • Opening sentence. Does it hook the reader?
  • Are there any unnecessary/redundant words or phrases?
  • Is there an over-reliance on adverbs and adjectives?
  • Does the excerpt rely on tired, stock phrases. Does it make use of cliché?
  • Does the writing provide easily pictured images/characters?
  • If there is dialogue is it convincing and natural?
  • Does the writing transport the reader into the writer’s world?
  • Does the writing seem crafted and well-considered?
  • Is the writing free of poor syntax and typographical error?
  • Would you as reader genuinely like to read beyond the submitted extract?

Remember, editing is your friend! An average piece of writing can become a good piece, with good editing.


Start Writing Fiction – Week Two


2Finding a  voice:

Writing is no more complicated than someone telling a story. Here are two methods to start a story that are pretty effective.

  • Immediately, without thinking where it might lead, write approximately three lines that follow on from the phrase ‘Emma/Peter said that …’
    When you’ve finished, cut ‘Emma/Peter said that’. Notice how little has been lost.

Emma said that:
Horse meat tasted just like beef.
The rider was on a student visa.
He wouldn’t be missed either.

Peter said that:
He baked bread especially that day
Now the sale would be completed in three days.
The surveyor hadn’t suspected anything.

  • Another starting ploy is to begin with ‘I remember’, write three lines to follow on from that phrase. For example: ‘I remember that last week there were thunderstorms. It rained and was grey right up until Friday evening.’ When you delete the initial phrase, you have the start of a story: ‘Last week there were thunderstorms, right up until Friday evening.’

Ideas for a story:

Writers often worry that they won’t be able to think of ideas for a story, but ideas can come from anywhere.  We were challenged to turn on the radio and write a story based on what we heard.

So, I tuned into Sunshine FM to hear the song ‘up all night to be lucky,’ followed by ads for a car salesroom and Euro exchange. The DJ was called Chris.

My story: Working the dawn shift on the radio fitted in with his life perfectly. That morning, his regular commute, unencumbered by the bumper-to-bumper traffic of the manic tourist season, took in the winding, Mediterranean coastline as the sun rose, coating the horizon in a husky amber hue.
Each day after his morning show, DJ Chris would leave the station and head for the beach-bar, serving juiced veggies and fat-free dishes to the bronzed ‘wannabe famous’ brigade. He envied their toned abs and bulging biceps, grateful for the baggy t-shirt the bar company made all staff wear. and which covered a multitude of sins.
Two of his three jobs were over by mid-afternoon, and left him free to indulge his passion.
But not today.
Chris Cofton was preparing to flee.
He threw his tattered cap, steeped in sweat from the midday sun, onto the shiny, burgundy leather back seat of his grandpa’s pride and joy – his 1955 Austin A30 in duck-egg blue – now regarded as a classic motor and Chris’ greatest treasure. Getting rid would break his heart, but it was only temporary. He’d be back to reclaim it when the dust settled.
Kicking the sand from his bare feet he retrieved his greying trainers from a transparent plastic bag in the boot. The musty stench hit him full on, ‘Yes, Mum, I know – should’ve sprayed ’em with Febreze first’ he thought and chuckled as his Mum’s face came to mind. She’d died many years before, but as his sole parent, she’d been a dominant force in his life – along with his Grandpa.
‘They’d understand’ he said, ‘I only did what had to be done.’
Chris’ passion took him to the local casino, one of many that had popped up along the coast in recent years, a consequence of the arrival of reckless tourists with money to burn. He didn’t gamble – that was a fool’s game. It was the opulent decor and grandeur that enticed him through those doors each afternoon. He knew others felt the same way too.
Consequently, his afternoon bingo sessions had been a great success, thanks to those less well-off visitors who longed to set foot inside the infamous den of iniquity, but who came short of the financial requirements to get them into the serious gaming rooms.
It had been Chris’ idea and the company had given him a trial period to prove its worth. Now, his ‘experiment’ was about to be franchised throughout the chain and Chris was on the verge of joining those wealthy clients himself.
But that was before he witnessed the ‘incident’.
Last night his finances had received a major boost of fifty thousand euros. Nowhere near the amount he would have earned had the franchise been finalised, but it was enough for his current needs. ‘Reward for a job well done’ was how detective described it. His evidence had been instrumental in bringing one of the Costa’s most notorious gang leaders to justice.
Now, he had to disappear and Grandpa’s car was too conspicuous for his escape.

Week Three – Editing is your friend! Well,we shall see – I wait to be converted.


Start Writing Fiction – an OU freebie!

oneWeek One:

It begins gently, easing all would-be writers into two months of advice, learning, discussion and exercises to improve our writing.

Firstly we have to write two very short scenes. Scene one contains three fictitious elements and one fact. Scene two includes three facts and one fictitious element.

Here are my offerings. (Can you spot the fact from the fiction?)

Scene One
As a boy, Grandpa accompanied his father on his fishing boat, dragging in nets of freshly caught sardines, ready for the lunchtime rush. Whenever the chance arose, he’d climb aboard to hear the fantastical adventures of the trawlermen. One day, after carrying the catch back to the family’s restaurant-shack, he decided to spin a yarn of his own to the unsuspecting diners. Word spread and the queues for sardines grew longer. He wooed my grandma at that shack, telling her there were more stars in space than grains of sand in all the beaches of the world. The old romantic fool!

Scene Two
Grandma got her own back though, by requesting a diamond ring, any would do but she had her eye on one from the rains of Jupiter or Saturn. Grandpa laughed and said it would take him a Venusian month to earn enough for any diamond, let alone one from space. He added it was more than happy to take her to Sagittarius B, just to sample the alcoholic cloud dust though. Sometimes, I feel my grandparents are from another universe.


Next up – what seems like a gentle easing into the subject soon calls for more effort and application. With a focus on building great characters, we are tasked to create a character sketch using someone we have recently observed – be it a stranger or a familiar face.

So, please meet Mr Ordinary:

Mr. Ordinary (James) goes to buy his daily newspaper.
Tall, male, aged about 70 – Greying hair with hints of a sandy blond of earlier years
Bespectacled. Frameless glasses – quite trendy – and steely blue eyes . Bushy white/grey eyebrows – untamed and very mobile when he talks. He mumbles though, not pronouncing his words clearly, when he greets the shop assistant.
Gaunt, thin face – protruding cheekbones and thin, pale lips – the colour of washed-out rose petals.
Despite his gaunt appearance, he smiles a lot. It’s a gappy smile, with several missing teeth – but it reaches his eyes and the creases add depth and warmth to his bronzed face. He has a tendency to throw his head back when he laughs and then jerk it quickly back in place.
Slim body, his red polo shirt hangs over his ribcage – one might reckon to identify each and every rib should they be on display – bony, tanned arms with prominent elbows jutting out. Smart khaki shorts to the knee – angular knees – you can see the patella through the wafer-like skin. Thin hairy legs and a scar on the right calf running from the knee to the ankle (or as far as one can see due to clothing) – possibly as a result of surgery. Black ankle-high socks and Jesus sandals – either a dinosaur in the fashion stakes or someone with a sense of humour.
His grip on that rolled-up newspaper is misleading. Is he worried about dropping it? Does he have arthritic fingers that he cannot unfurl or is he on the defensive?
Wary maybe of the man, dressed in black and wearing sunglasses, who leaves the shop with his phone glued to his ear and a gun at his waist.


That’s quite enough detail to start with. Week Two expands on James’ story and he becomes one of many new characters to add to my repertoire.