How to Critique & Edit Your Own Work

First off, understand that the first draft of what you are going to write is most definitely going to cause you to cringe and want to burn it on sight. I would not recommend this since editing it is fairly easy, and there’s no reason to give your neighbors a heart attack with squealing smoke alarms. You will have times when your writing flows as easily as a beautiful river. You will face times when you have to force the writing out. There will be filler words such as “that,” grammar issues, lack of descriptive imagery, characters so shallow you want to cry.

The first step is to just breathe. Once your first draft is completely finished, set it aside. Lock it away if you have to. Don’t look at it for at least a couple of weeks. Give yourself time to catch up on reading, watching movies, and schedule that spa day. You can work on another project, even if it’s the sequel to the first draft you just finished. Whatever you do, do not look at the first draft until two weeks has passed. That’s fourteen days for those that are stubborn. You know who you are.

The second step is to read your draft as though you were someone else. It should be fairly easy now that you’ve set it aside for the past two weeks. Be brutal. Reading from another perspective gives you the opportunity to find the plot holes more easily, the shallow characters who were never mentioned again, and more. Take your time reading it over.

The third step is the grammar. Make sure there are no run-on sentences (average long sentence length should not exceed 25 words), your homonyms(to/too/two) are correctly used, etc. Grammar is essential to making your story readable and enjoyable to readers.

The fourth step is checking the tense throughout the story. This means the past tense, present tense, future tense. If your wording is off, it will be difficult to read and will give readers different ideas than what you’re portraying.

The fifth step is to read the entire story out loud. This can be tiresome, but if you can’t get through the entire draft in a breeze, neither can your readers. If the sentences feel awkward to say, this means they are awkward to read. Definitely go through this step repeatedly until all of those errors are fixed. Normally it’s something that can be resolved by switching a couple of words around or deleting a word.

The sixth step is to read the entire draft with all of the steps above in mind. Fix any lingering issues you see. Make sure to use the spell checker in whatever program you are using to write in.

Hopefully by this time, you have found and edited everything. A word of warning: just when you think everything is perfect and you hit publish, you’ll find errors you overlooked. Don’t panic, don’t pull the book off the shelves in horror. Calmly document all of the errors, update the document, and upload the updated version. There may be a limitless amount of times you have to do this, so just accept your fate.

In conclusion, that is at least five times you need to read your first draft in order to edit it. If you just exclaimed negatively over that fact, this line of work is not for you. If you don’t want to take the time to read over your own work several times, why would anyone else want to take the time to read it?

Cardinal Sins in Writing

Amateur writers make a lot of mistakes. After all, writing is a learning process. You should always practice, practice, practice, and get your work edited, but what about during the process itself? What is it you should avoid as much as possible before you send your work out to the beta-readers? There are a lot of cardinal sins in writing. I will go over several here. Chances are if you have one or more of these in your story, your lit agent, or publisher will give your work a pass. In no particular order of importance, they are:

1. Tell, do not show. You tell me someone is angry, happy, or sad. You do not describe the body language to allow myself to make that judgment for myself. You use adverbs out the wazoo. A good rule of thumb, avoid using emotive words altogether. Also, avoid using descriptive dialogue tags when said and ask should suffice.

2. You use Passive Voice. The plane was exploded by a bomb instead of: A bomb exploded the plane. Was, were, had, to be, being, has been, have been, etc. All are passive verbs. Now you don’t have to try to eliminate all your passive verbs, but your action verbs should considerably outnumber your passive verbs.

3. Your Main Character is a Mary Sue / Gary Stu. Your character can do everything. They are smart, beautiful, strong, fast, sexually attractive (I’m talking h-a-w-t), can fight with just any kind of weapon, cast spells, the child of a god, (sigh!) the list goes on. Or maybe, they are not all those things, but you’ve constructed the story so that every challenge your main character faced, they just breezed right through.

4. Your story has no tension. Are the victories and arguments your character faced too easy? No setbacks? No twists? Everyone just goes along with the MC just because they are awesome? Yeah, don’t do this.

5. You pacing is disjointed. You put the climax in the middle of the book and the denouement is the wrap up from there on out. When gearing up for that epic battle, it completely fizzles or worse yet, it’s extraordinarily brief or doesn’t happen at all. Remember, your readers are conditioned to enjoy a completed story of beginning, middle, climax, denouement.

6. You switch POVs. Either choose First or Third Person. There are others, but uncommon and not really used effectively. If you choose First Person, then your story is told through your Main Character(s)’ eyes and by what they know. We don’t have the luxury to get into someone else’s head unless your MC can read minds. Third Person is quite common (and there are different subtypes), but if you switch POV’s from one character to the next, give us a scene break or chapter break so we know we’re hopping around. Second Person or other styles are very rare – use with caution.

7. You info-dump. If you write about the elves’ special coming-of-age ritual, we don’t need to know every single little detail about it unless necessary and especially if you tell it as if I’m sitting in History class. If we don’t need to know it for the story, odds are you didn’t need to tell us. Cut it out.

8. You did not research your story at all (or enough). You have a battle in the early 1800’s and your MC mans a Gatling gun, mowing down enemies. Except that the gun wasn’t invented and put into use until the American Civil War. Make sure you have done all the necessary research related to your story. If you set your story in an era where there is a lot of contention or debate among prominent historians/scientists, your safer bet is to go with the more popular accepted theory.

9. You did not write for the market. You love Twilight. You decide to write a love triangle with a sparkle vampire, a buffed werewolf, and a human girl who needs a boyfriend. Except no publisher wants a Twilight clone. They are done with it. They are also done with Harry Potter, Hunger Games, 50 Shades of Grey,and Game of Thrones. They are sick of the Chosen One trope. All of this is clearly written in their submission guidelines, but you wrote your Twilight story anyways. Was your story good? We won’t know unless you self-publish because that’s your only course of action from here.

In short, finish your story, and get it done. But after that, go through and look for all these areas of perceived weakness. Clean it up. Then gather your beta-readers to let them look for any weaknesses you missed.

Invisible Words: Dialogue Tags and Why You Don’t Need Them (Much)

You’ve probably heard this piece of advice before, “Don’t use descriptive dialogue tags. Use only said and ask.” And that’s good advice. It makes a lot of sense because it is really jarring to read something like this:

John quipped, “I know, let’s go to the movies!”

Sarah gasped, “But we’re not allowed. It’s against God’s law!”

“We never get to have any fun,” John grumbled.

“We could just go over to those bushes and have sex,” whispered Sarah.

John paused. He exclaimed, “Sure!”

Yeah, that’s terrible. So, how are we supposed to do it? Like this:

John said, “I know, let’s go to the movies!”

Sarah said, “But we’re not allowed. It’s against God’s law!”

“We never get to have any fun,” John said.

“We could just go over to those bushes and have sex,” said Sarah.

John paused. He said, “Sure!”

The reason why the second sample was better than the first is that the words said (and ask if used) are invisible to the reader, and it shifted the emotion in the dialogue for the reader to figure. However, sometimes this can be jarring. Why? Because examine all those times I used the names John and Sarah. If I keep writing, John, John, John, Sarah, Sarah, Sarah, guess what your brain is likely to tune out or keep stumbling over?

And that’s what this post is all about–provide you another tip on style by omitting said and ask as much as possible. Let’s redo the example.

John snapped his fingers. “I know, let’s go to the movies!”

Sarah lifted a hand to her mouth. “But we’re not allowed. It’s against God’s law!”

“We never get to have any fun.”

“We could just go over to those bushes and have sex.”

“Sure!”

In the last example, I’ve picked up the pacing on this and used a little body language to instead of a dialogue tag. Second, I eliminated the dialogue tags in the last three lines.

So how does this help you? Here’s how this stylistic approach can improve your writing.

It strengthens your showing, not telling. What did you think of when John snapped his fingers and then said, “I know, let’s go to the movies!”? He hit upon an idea is what most of you will say, but some of you will have a different opinion, and that’s fine.

Since our brains are trained to ignore the words said and ask, just get rid of them anyways. Use them sparingly, but for the most part, you don’t need them. Warning: you don’t want to get yourself into “talking-bubble-head-syndrome”. You do need to show who is talking. Here is an example:

Samdel patted his rider’s coat, lifted out the lapel, retrieving a cigar. “What were you saying, girl?”

“I hate it when you smoke those thrice-damn things around me!”

“Huh. A demon said that to me once.”

You know right off that Samdel is the first person who started this part of the conversation with the narrator telling he’s fishing out a cigar. Then, we know whomever he’s talking to responds, and then he says something back.

Now, when does this not work really well? When you have three or more people involved in conversation. Still, you can eliminate a great deal of said and ask by utilizing your prose to indicate actions from all your characters, but if you need to move rather quickly, you’re better served by using said and ask to ensure your reader doesn’t get confused or lost in the conversation. Another problem some writers have created when using this method is “floating heads” or “talking-bubble-head-syndrome”, and I covered that topic in an earlier post.

In short, here’s a tip on honing in a stylistic choice to remove mundane words and help your prose with more showing than telling.

Happy writing!

Author Interview with Melinda Kucsera

Dragon Soul Press had the privilege of sitting down to interview Author Melinda Kucsera.


How long have you been writing?

Melinda has been writing fantastic short stories, novels, and books when not being kidnapped by dragons or chased by armies of fictional creatures. (Her characters do, on occasion, rescue her.) She leaves the running of her newsletter to the cast of lovable characters who hog her inbox AND handle all her interviews for her. ❤

Enough about Melinda, it’s us you’re really interested in, her cast of characters! 🙂 Join us every week for a new story by visiting: www.mkucsera.com/welcomecharacters

When Melinda is left alone, she writes mostly about a young man (Sarn) and his adorable son (Ran) who might be one of the characters responding to this interview. They adventure together through a fantastic world full of enchanted people and things and take on all kinds of monsters and mayhem. It’s all in a day’s work when you live steps away from an enchanted forest.

Oh, and, we have a special portal in our cave that connects to your world and gives us exclusive access to our scribe whenever we feel an adventure coming on. You can grab the first four books of the Curse Breaker series here: https://www.books2read.com/b/bP516z

Join us on an adventure now. 

What inspires you?

Well, since I and my fellow cast members are real people living in a real, though, fantastic world, we are Melinda’s inspiration. This is Ran, son of Sarn, the Curse Breaker in the Curse Breaker books.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, I was explaining our reality to you. 😊

Since we only exist when you read us, getting more page time is essential. It’s literally a matter of life and death for us. So, we must make sure our Scribe, Melinda, is continuously inspired.

That’s why there’s a line outside her door full of prospective characters, and each has a story to tell. We must bar the doors, or she’d never get any books done. There are that many stories breaking down her door.

Good thing there’s this handy portal in her apartment. When the queue gets too rambunctious and threatens to break down her door, we spirit her away to our world. Then all Melinda needs to do is write down our adventures as we live them.

Through some alchemical process, books are created from our running amok in fantasy land. You’ll have to ask our Melinda about that process because we have nothing to do with it. Our job is to get that all-important page time, and we’re really good at that.

Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work?

Woah there, hold up a minute. Other people aren’t allowed to influence our Scribe. Melinda’s apartment is a no-influence zone. Seriously. We don’t allow anyone to mess with her process. Somehow, she can see what goes on in our world even when we don’t kidnap her. Chronicling that mayhem doesn’t require any influence except occasionally from us when she does silly things like try to outline our adventures.

No one’s life has ever followed a script exactly, and neither do ours. We do what we’re going to do and trust her to capture it in words. Isn’t that the coolest thing ever?

The cast of her books certainly thinks so, but we might be a tad biased. There’s a book coming out soon that illustrates just how Melinda can see our world, and how characters like me can cross over to your world. It’ll be called Curse Breaker’s Companion: Catch the Scribe (because that’s what we’ll be doing in that book). 

One last thing before I move off this topic. I might have borrowed Melinda’s computer to type up this interview. Don’t tell her about that, okay? She gets upset if we drop in when she’s not home.  

What do you like to read in your free time?

Our Scribe buys the deal of the day on audible most days, so her taste in books ranges wildly from fantasy to science fiction to physics books to lectures on all manner of topics to mysteries, thrillers, true crime and so on. She’ll basically listen to anything that’s not a bodice-ripping romance or a horror story.

I might be a child in a fictional story, but I often borrow her cellphone to keep in touch with readers through Melinda’s social media accounts. So, she doesn’t listen to anything that’s overtly sexual, very scary, or too violent in case I accidentally overhear it. She particularly likes mysteries, hard sci-fi especially when the hard sci-fi is blended with military fiction, and police procedurals. She cannot read enough of those last two.

What projects are you working on at the present?

Melinda’s working on a new series that’s really close to her heart. It’s a mother-daughter fantasy series called Robin of Larkspur. It begins with Hunter’s Night, part of the Rogue Skies: A Limited Edition Science Fiction and Fantasy Boxed Set. Grab it now while it’s on preorder for a buck: https://www.books2read.com/rogueskies then get ready for Rogue Night, the explosive sequel.

Details about Rogue Night can be found here: https://melindakucsera.com/rogue-night/ It will publish around the same time as Hunter’s Night/Rogue Skies, so you won’t have to wait like our editor and our beta readers to find out what happens next. 

Both books feature me as an adorable baby. In Hunter’s Night, I get kidnapped and need a rescue, but Papa needs help to take me back from my supernatural kidnappers. Too bad they also nabbed Robin’s baby because she’s one formidable lady. She and Papa team up in Rogue Night to get me and her daughter back. So do check those books out. 

As of right now, Melinda’s still editing it and dithering about sending it in. It’s darker than what she usually writes, so she’s doing the insecure author thing. Don’t worry. I’ll submit it for her if she procrastinates too long.

I think it’s a great story and she already has the next two episodes planned out, one for each of the next two Dragon Soul Press Anthologies, Lost Love and Reign of Queens

What impact have they had on your writing?

That’s a great question. Hunter’s Night/Rogue Skies and Sealed in Blood had a profound impact actually. Since they had iron-clad word limits, our intrepid Scribe had to learn how to pause our shenanigans.

We did not enjoy being paused. I just have to get that off my chest. It made me all itchy, but it was for a good cause.

Adventures tend to lead to other adventures, which is great for real life but not so great in a book that has an iron-clad word limit. But adventures in real life don’t have limits on length.

So it took our scribe, Melinda, some time and trials to learn how to stop us from haring off on another adventure long enough to end one the book and start another. Of course, we’ve been learning from her too. Just because a book has an end doesn’t mean it’s THE END.

We can always sneak in new scenes and get more page time during the editing rounds because Melinda always leaves a few thousand words in reserve. The cast might be sharpening this skill as we speak. Just don’t tell Melinda. She hasn’t caught on yet.  

Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? (If you write more than one, how do you balance them?)

Melinda didn’t really choose to write fantasy. We chose her to be our Scribe. 😊 We really do kidnap her, and armies of fantastic creatures really do show up at her home and office to demand a story. Usually, a chase ensues because there are a lot of them and only one Melinda, and sometimes, her job requires her to do work that has nothing to do with writing fantasy books.

But our Scribe also needs her exercise to stay fit, right? We ensure she puts plenty of mileage on her much-abused sneakers every day. 😊

So given all of that, what’s a scribe to do but jot down the stories that fall into her lap and publish them? Then everyone wins especially us, her characters. Remember, we only exist when you read us, so getting that all-important page time is a matter of life and death.

What is the hardest part of writing?

Controlling our Newsletter-Dragon. No, I’m serious. Our newsletter subscribers are her horde, and she’s unbelievably demanding when it comes to newsletter stuff. She eats up so much of our Scribe’s time that could be devoted to chronicling our adventures.

The worst part is that we’re stuck in limbo every time the Newsletter-Dragon misbehaves, and she’s been cozying up to the eBook-Dragons that deliver our eBooks to stores!

I know. I see it too. A confrontation is coming between us, Melinda’s characters, and that damned dragon. It draws nearer with every episode of our newsletter. Watch our newsletter for it because that’s where it will play out, and this time, it’ll be a war between us.

You can sign up here to get our weekly adventures in your inbox: http://www.mkucsera.com/welcomecharacters Our dragon will horde your email address. No one will ever lay their hands on it. Not even us, its stars.

Where can readers learn more about you?

 Our website, of course: https://melindakucsera.com/

Check out all our books here: https://melindakucsera.com/the-curse-breaker-saga/

We also have past episodes of our newsletter adventures arranged chronologically here: https://melindakucsera.com/blog/ but our newsletter goes back to 2016. So, fans of it (and its stars) convinced our Scribe to novelize the earliest episodes, so readers don’t have to try to find them.

Since our website is digital and so is our dragon, she regularly messes with it. Those older episodes are there, but they’re not easy to find. Our Scribe has written about 4-5 novel-length adventures for us that took place exclusively in our newsletter over the years.

So, they’re coming to eBook in 2020. No more searching for them. They’ll publish as part of a companion series under the aptly titled, Curse Breaker’s Companion.  Take that you, dragon! Problem solved. 😊

We’re also on social media, but the best way to follow us is to subscribe to our weekly adventures: http://www.mkucsera.com/welcomecharacters

And that’s a wrap. This is Ran, son of Sarn, writing on behalf of the cast and our Scribe, Melinda, signing off. Have a great day!

Some Advice: Reputation is Everything

Normally, writing blogs are just about that; most are tips and tricks on how to write better such as eliminating filler, catching redundancies, use Active Voice, etc. Others are more about the business side of writing such as marketing, self-promotion, mailing lists, etc.

In this post, I want to discuss something very near and dear to my heart, but something I see time and time again new authors throw away and that is their professionalism which affects their reputation. For people who know me as Christianmichael Dutton who writes under the pen name Hui Lang (Chinese for Gray Wolf), they know I am one and the same. I take my brand, my persona, and my interactions with everyone seriously. Everything I write here, either a blog post for Dragon Soul Press, a short story for my Red Hoods Page, or a fanfic doodle on my personal FB page, I give 110%. I am a known plotter and I typically plot out a story five or more times before deciding on how I will write the story. Then I get feedback on my work if time permits after I’ve gone through several cycles of self-editing.

Let’s start with a foundational rule:

If you’re an author who wants compensation for their work, you need to treat this as a serious business.

Let’s talk about some things that shows a lack of professionalism and how you can mitigate irreparable harm to your reputation. These things are doubly important when you’re an indie author because you have full control over your writings and publishing.  

You publish a work that isn’t edited or poorly edited. You know why it’s so hard to find a lit agent or a publisher willing to accept your story? This. This is the reason why the big trad houses have an intern whose job it is to simply read the first three pages of every work just to weed out people who cannot follow directions or send in poorly edited works. I frequently download samples of many indie authors’ books. I can’t get past the first chapter on so many of them because it comes across as if English was their second language with the help of Google Translate.

You chose a terrible cover. “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” applies to people, but not to books. If you work with a trad pub house and they slap a cover that looks like stock art drawn by an eight-year-old or you grab a cute image from Pixabay because it’s royalty free, nothing screams out, “AMATUER!” than an amateurish cover. When I see that, I think your writing matches and I don’t even bother to download the sample. If you cannot afford a great graphics artist, then go with a trad publisher who puts out great covers on their books. Check out Dragon Soul Press’ covers and see for yourself the high quality they use. Some are amazingly gorgeous (Shadows of the Fallen, I’m looking at you).

Your writing is lazy. You use Passive Voice. You used tropes and clichés that the big trad pubishers don’t want, so now your book isn’t marketable unless you self-publish. You use a ton of adverbs. You switch POVs more times than spinning on the Mad Tea Party ride at Disneyland. The rule of “Your first million words is crap,” isn’t just some made-up mantra by self-righteous authors of a bygone era. I wrote my first book when I was fourteen. It was crap. My second book was also crap. By the time I had written my third book, I already had written well-over a million words from all the campaign and adventure writing for the table-top role-playing games Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder. My third book still sucked. When I finished my fifth book, Fallen From the Stars, it finally looked like something I might be able to market, but it took me over a 1.5 million words to get there. If you want to fast track your learning experience, then get feedback. Serious feedback that doesn’t hold back on where you’re weak.

You don’t leverage social media effectively. As an author, you post cute cat memes, send … ahh … naughty pics to other people, launch a vitriolic diatribe against Flat-Earthers, but support anti-vaxxers, and so on. You swear like a sailor on your media pages, but you write cute furry YA stories. It’s perfectly fine to post whatever you want to post. No one should judge you for that unless you’re harassing people or being an all-around jerk, but keep it separate. Your author page should have your million loyal fans who see you as the awesome writer, and only your close friends and family get to see your cursing sailor, hedonistic anti-vaxxer jaded personality on your personal page.

This advice may come across a bit harsh, but again, review the foundational rule. Treat being an author as a serious business, forge great relationships with other authors and fans, and people will reciprocate.

Happy writing!