Pick the Nits Before You SubmitbyWhiteWave48©
In case you're wondering, this essay isn't a guided tour of monkey sex or personal grooming. It's about how to pick the nits and blast the zits in your story before you submit it to Literotica.
Of course there are many ways of doing this, and writers are a varied bunch with their own set of preferences based on a great deal of knowledge or a little. On Literotica alone, a wealth of information is already available in the submission information, the FAQ pages, the 'How To' essays and the Forum.
The following suggestions aren't a complete recipe, nor are they intended to replace an editing manual or a standard grammar text; I'm always learning about more publishing on a website, and they just happen to be some of my favorite general hints. My purpose is to target areas that might produce the best results quickly.
Instead of using a standard essay format, I've spaced the ideas using headings so you can skip the topics that don't interest you, so please bear with the slight overflow to a second page.
Picking the nits in a piece of prose is rather like playing one of those computer games where you exterminate the little critters flashing across the screen. We can do much the same with the bugs in our writing. With good editing weapons it's possible to zap most of the errors. If you're one of those writers who don't know where to start when checking a written work, perhaps you will find a few useful ideas in this discussion. These are the areas I plan to cover:
• Zapping the zits - how to improve your draft
• Picking the nits - how to edit
1. Zapping the Zits - how to give your draft a whole new complexion
Drafts - how many is too many?
Without insisting on it, I can thoroughly recommend the practice of developing more than one draft. I learned the hard way. Starting out as an enthusiastic, spontaneous writer some years back, I saw no need for more than one draft. How could I bear to lose any of those hard-won phrases - those verbal gems that were part of me? The concept of deleting was intolerable; working on a new version was almost impossible to imagine.
But all that has changed. The laser-like thinking that typified my youth has given way to a more sedate ability to stand back and judge my own output whatever it may be. It's great to be free to make mistakes and such a relief to feel I needn't be right all the time.
These days I love hacking text. I adore deleting, carving, sculpting my story into a new and better product. There are two 'delete' keys on a computer - 'backspace' and 'delete' and I'm still learning how to use them with greater skill. From experience, I can say this - learn to love these tools. They are your friends.
Allowing yourself the luxury of creating a new version of your story will enable you to blitz slabs of material you would otherwise be unwilling to lose. You can still keep your earlier versions and love them in idle moments. It's true freedom to be able to say goodbye to your treasured irrelevancies then write something more to the point in a crafted work. Those rejected jewels could sparkle in an entirely new creation later on.
Now that you've decided you're happy to prune your prose, what can you delete? What can you, the writer, do with a draft apart from blindly reading it through - yet again? What are you looking for? How can you find it in order to fix it?
When pushed to achieve real results, my favorite method is to read the draft aloud. When I do this, the problems in the text become obvious because I'm forced to read all the words without silently skipping any of them.
It sounds like kid stuff, but in my line of educational work I have found reading aloud to be an invaluable exercise for people of all ages. It's so easy, and many problems can be ironed out by reading your work with a certain amount of expression in the voice - even if it's under your breath in the bathroom where no one else can hear.
Here's an example: if you pause to take a breath when you're reading, you may need to add a comma or a period. If you realize that you took a deeper breath to 'start up' a new idea, you'll need a new paragraph - a very important improvement. Already you're on the way to polishing your prose.
If you're putting yourself to sleep on the loo, you may need to vary your sentence rhythms or add some dialogue to liven up your style. Perhaps you have repeated an idea or word too many times. More deleting required? Merely adding an emotive expression or a naughty detail is not good enough. Oops! Did I say that? Of course you can add such things! Only you will know what lights your fire, so make sure it's in there to keep you and your readers interested.
As you read aloud, do your ideas flow in a logical sequence or do you notice that something is missing? Are your lovers hard at it in bed while you forgot to remove their clothing? Does any part of your story give an unwanted impression? Often a few minor adjustments - just a word or two - will fill in a missing detail or complete a failed connection.
If you read the ending then re-read the opening, you may discover a gap in logic that you'd like to avoid. If you're like most people, you've arrived at the end with many more ideas than you had at the start. One of them might have taken over your entire story, making the introduction redundant.
• Is your story divided into paragraphs that are not too long?
• Did you take a new paragraph for each new subject and each new speaker?
These are perhaps the most important questions you could ask yourself when reviewing your work. Good paragraphing skills are essential so I'll return to this topic later.
Did you hesitate over some of your sentences as you read? Were some of them illogical or did they fail to convey the meaning you expected? Reading aloud can expose misrelated participles, disconnected subjects and faulty verb agreements. It can also highlight over-long sentences, wordiness, overuse of adjectives and adverbs, and unintended humor or ambiguity. The word 'and' is worth watching; it should join like things. Linking unlike concepts can sound amusing when you're trying to be serious or sensual.
Your storytelling style
Does your story have a lot of description or is it largely action? Have you allowed your characters to speak for themselves or does your narrator tell most of the story? Whose voice do you hear?
A little bit of everything is a good idea in a literary work but some types of writing are more active than others. Description is like stopping to take in the view. Action moves the plot along. Dialogue is a great way to add life to your writing. It's dramatic. It's active. It's real, like the people in your story. Dialogue makes your story speak with more than one voice. There's no time like the present to experiment with a few spoken words to make your characters come alive.
Do the words flow smoothly off the tongue when you read them aloud? Does your language sound natural? Is it what you had in mind from the start? Does it reflect the style required for your story category? Does it differentiate the characters in the way they speak? Is it formal? Conversational? Slang? Techno jargon? The type of language you select should suit your story and characters, and also you, the narrator. A thesaurus is a verbal goldmine, so if you haven't used one very often, consider it when developing your language skills.
Think 'tone of voice' here. The tone of your literary work is the equivalent of your personal voice as a writer. On the surface 'tone' seems like an abstract notion, but in practical terms it's easier to detect as 'tone of voice'. Eventually you'll be able to identify all the written features that create your signature sound as a writer. They are all very real. They are part of your writing style.
When reading aloud, do you hear a voice with a distinct attitude? Do your words and sentences create the mood you're really looking for? English is such a diverse language that word choice can enhance a mood or destroy it. There are emotive words and others that merely denote an idea. Different types of sentences can do the same, from the simplest to the more complex. Sometimes the actual sound of a word is important, as distinct from its meaning. These things contribute to the tone in a work, and they all have an effect on the reader.
Taking your writing up a level
For want of a better word, I call this 'layering'. Marketing experts might call it 'value added'. If you've finished your story and it looks perfect, you may still locate 'doze material' in certain sections. Your creation may become a really hot read if you touch it up a little - a nasty idea here and there - some sensitive detail - or a little more pizzazz in the dialogue for one of your promising characters. Be brave. You can always take out the excess on the 242nd read. It's rather like touching up a painting and cutting it back again so the layers glow through.
A number of style gadgets are on hand to help you take your story up a level if used judiciously. These include imagery (similes, metaphors, descriptive language, words with emotive sounds) rhetorical devices (questions, exclamations, repetition, exaggeration, lists) and varied sentence structures to name a few.
Do all your sentences begin with the subject of the sentence like 'he' and 'she'? Have you varied your punctuation? Your paragraph openings? You can experiment. Try playing solitaire with some of the phrases and clauses - move them around in the sentence, or move the sentences within the paragraph. All these techniques can vary the dynamics of your product and improve the reader's enjoyment.
Paragraphs are so important that I'm going to discuss them again. When I edit for other writers, paragraphing and punctuation of dialogue are the areas where I spend most of my time. This essay reflects that need.
So far, I've already asked if you've divided your ideas into logical paragraphs that are not too long, and if you've taken a new paragraph for each new subject and each new speaker. Now I'd like to take another look at paragraphs from a different angle - how to lay out your story for online reading.
• Literotica paragraphs must be justified to the left and separated by a line space.
• Paragraph breaks should be frequent and the paragraphs not too long.
I'm coming to format late in the piece, but in fact I can't rate it highly enough. Paragraphs are the 'biggie' in helping your readers gain access to your ideas and follow your story smoothly.
Without paragraphs, your pearls will be lost in a jungle of words and readers will not be able to follow the logic of your thoughts. They won't even try. Readers have a 'back' button on their computer the same as you, and they will use it if you make them work too hard for their reward.
Although many famous writers have published books featuring paragraphs that are several pages long, that kind of format is not acceptable to the online reader. A slab of backlit print is too hard on the eye, and the reader loses track. To avoid confusion, online paragraphs are often cut more ruthlessly than those in printed books. On a Literotica page, several sentences would constitute a paragraph which can be anything from one to ten lines in length, on average.
So when should you take a new paragraph? Where are the natural divisions? If you open any novel you will notice the distinction between dialogue and narrative text as they are placed in separate paragraphs. In fact, any slight change in subject should merit a new paragraph. For online publishing, if you can possibly make these distinctions even clearer, your readers will appreciate your thoughtfulness.
The golden rule is the one you already know:
• Take a new paragraph for each new subject and each new speaker.
"I'll be seeing you," he called cheerily as he climbed into the aircraft. (New speaker - his words)
Emmy dabbed her eyes with a wet handkerchief. (New subject - her actions)
"Bye," she sniffed. (New speaker - her words)
Turning away from the roar of the engines, she knew she had turned her back on Randolph forever. She would never see him again. (New subject - her actions and thoughts)
Font style and size as an editing tool
As we all know, our ability to see is truly amazing but our eyes can play tricks on us at times. It's the same when we check our stories thoroughly while missing some of the errors.
One way to overcome this is to view the text in various fonts and sizes so the print shifts around the page, relocating the line endings. Your story looks different now, so you may pick up something you missed earlier.
Reading your submission in preview on Literotica is also an excellent method of reshaping the text to reveal errors - for example, over-long paragraphs look very, very long when seen in preview. You will be desperate to shorten them. The white space on the page is restful to the eye and is an important aid in understanding the print. A big black block of print is daunting.
If you'd like to see what your story looks like in preview, you can paste your text in a submission box at any time then delete it until you are finally ready to submit. Your story will be all the better for the care you took.
2. Picking the Nits - how to edit
Now you've worked up your final draft, it's time to tackle a close edit. Of course, I'm hoping that you are a lucky person who has an editor or at least a reader to check over your work. You don't? Well, all is not lost, as there are still things you can do with your story at home, all on your lonesome.
I'm referring to self editing and the spelling/grammar check in your Word program. Even though Word doesn't pick up certain types of error it achieves many good things, so it makes sense to run this program a number of times.
After that, it's essential to re-read your story to catch the amusing homonyms or wrong word choices that the program missed. Even if you've read your story so many times that you could recite it to your mates over lunch, there may still be nits lurking in the text. The spelling/grammar check has already alerted you to the finer details of punctuation, but maybe you're not sure how to correct some of them. Here are a few suggestions.
The sentence punctuation should be enclosed within the quotation marks, which act like brackets in mathematics - they contain the dialogue and the pause/period function in the one package, as in the following examples:
"I do like your perfume," he murmured, his lips caressing her ear. "It's Purple Passion, isn't it?"
"Is that all you're offering?" he asked as her hand brushed his thigh.
You could also imagine a set of quotation marks are like a pair of sensual hands - they long to hold the entire speech as one entity. They don't like stray commas and question marks slipping through their fingers.
These little markings separate the phrases and clauses. There are rules for using commas but too many can disrupt the flow of ideas. Keep the little critters under control. If you read your work aloud you will know which ones you can smudge from your final draft and which ones you must keep to maintain the sense you intend. Grammar check will underline a word requiring a comma after it; it hates a comma before 'then'.
The three-dot ellipsis...
So useful in net chat... so eager to replace a complete sentence... so keen to suggest emotion... the ellipsis is a pesky little thing if it appears too often in a story, and many readers dislike it intensely. Editors do not like it either. Over-used, it's not good writing, and your story may not even be accepted if it is littered with these things.
Of course, if you've already blitzed them from your draft, leaving just a few that are absolutely necessary to suggest time passing or an idea abbreviated for emotional reasons, especially in dialogue then you're doing OK.
To retain the sense of your text online, I've discovered, rightly or wrongly, that it works well to abandon the standard hard print practice of leaving a space before and after the ellipsis. If I leave a single space after the three dots, at least they belong to the most recent word. Leaving a space before the word can leave three dots floating at the beginning of the next line. Leaving no spaces at all means your words will be joined as one when your story finally appears online, as in 'chat...so' and 'emotion...the' - not a good look.
The dash is a racy little item used to give more space than a comma but less than a period. Two of them enclosing a few words - like this - can contain an idea better than brackets or quotation marks - and without interrupting the flow. The trouble with this useful little animal is that on Literotica, a long dash in Word becomes so aroused it breeds and divides between submission and posting, thus becoming two short ones, like this (--) not the single longer one you intended. If you're not keen on the stuttering affect created by a double dash, I recommend that you change all long dashes to short ones in your text - but do keep tabs on them until you finally hit that 'submit' button. They are inclined to revert if you mess with the words surrounding them.
Double Line Spaces
These suddenly appear on your Lit preview page after you have submitted your text by pasting it into the text box, and they spoil the look of your finished product. They are caused by letter spaces (usually two of them) at the end of the previous paragraph. Typists who double space between sentences often leave these invisible spaces when they re-edit their paragraph breaks, unaware of their power to corrupt.
You can avoid this problem before submission by showing the hidden formatting symbols on your draft then deleting all spaces that appear as dots at the end of any paragraph. The spelling/grammar check should highlight any other unwanted spaces too, like at the beginning of a paragraph.
Make sure all parts of the code are there so your text appears as you want it in preview. Only a moment ago, half this essay was in bold. I'd omitted a vital closing symbol.
Story descriptions and tags
Your story title, description, category and tags are all important links to your readers, and this information requires just as much editing as the main body of your story.
I find it's handy to type all these details at the top of my story when I start writing. That way I can work on them gradually when a brilliant idea strikes, hoping that they will be as informative as possible. When submitting, I paste the entire text into the text box. From there I can view the story descriptions, copy them and then delete the information from the top of the story. It's just my way and it works well for me.
For reasons known only to the new beta technology, some story tags are not accepted during the submission process. It's a good idea to experiment by making changes to your preview to see if your choice of tags remains complete. If a few of them vanish from your boxes, you can replace them until you find something that is compatible.
A line for nothing at the end of your story
This is a nice touch, in my opinion. With one more click on the 'enter' key at the end of your text, you can leave a gentle line space between the conclusion to your beautiful story and all the voting bumpf at the bottom of the Literotica page. Once again, it's a personal thing, and especially important for poets who like to maintain a mood.