tagHow ToSelf-Review for Literotica

Self-Review for Literotica

bysr71plt©

You've written this really nifty and/or hot story that you want to see posted on the Literotica story site but you're fairly new to this, and you haven't been able to get anyone on Literotica to read it and give advice on making it the best story on the site. What do you do?

First, it doesn't have to be the best written or polished story on the site. Readers here are forgiving; most of them primarily want a fresh perspective of arousing heat. This isn't the New Yorker you are writing for. Readers here will tolerate a few typos and missing commas; indeed, perfect copy is almost unattainable even after a competent editor has worked with a story—and you can't count of finding a competent editor on this Web site anyway. Just about anyone with (or without) any degree of training and skill can—and does—volunteer to provide editorial help here.

Second, just waiting around forever for someone to say she/he will "edit" the story for you isn't going to get you or your potential readers anywhere either—you should be moving on to your next story idea and developing your storytelling skills by "just doing it."

You can go with just trying to make the story the best it can be; review it very carefully yourself, using techniques this essay discusses; go ahead and post it; and adjust it later as the necessity/mood strikes you—you can replace a story here later after making changes to it (read the FAQs on the submissions page for instructions on doing that).

What you can read here are a few ideas—not exhaustive, by any means—on toning up your stories by yourself. This essay covers what self-review is (and isn't) for Literotica stories, how you can do it, and what to look for while you are doing it. At the end of the essay are pointers to some resources on this topic that you can track down yourself if you want to study the question in greater depth or suspect I don't know what I'm talking about.

What Is Self-Review?

First, what self-review isn't. It isn't self-editing (despite the title of one of the resource books listed below). It's impossible for a writer to "edit" him/herself. Only someone else looking afresh at what was written without the preconceived notions of what the writer thought had been written can see some of the grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes; inconsistencies; and incomplete connections in a work. The writer will read right through a lot of these because her/his mind is absorbed by what she/he thought was written rather than what actually was spun out on the page. And beyond this, all writers have habitual mistakes they make, and if they made them in the first place, chances are very good they will make them again and never see them on a reread.

What the writer is actually doing when going back through a manuscript to polish it up and correct mistakes is review—"self-review."

And this is something every writer should do even if the work is going to be edited by someone else. The better shape the writer can get the story into him/herself, the fewer mistakes there will be to bog an editor or backup reader down and distract them from seeing other, often more deeply rooted problems in the manuscript.

How Do You Do It?

You can catch many of your own mistakes and polish up your work yourself simply by reading it over again a few times, each time looking at it from a different aspect or for a different issue, before dumping it into the submissions queue at Literotica. First, it may not be a good idea to go over it endlessly, because what you may be beating out of it is its freshness and unique and compelling voice.

But you can improve your story a lot by submitting it to three basic read-throughs. Read through it again right after you've written it. You can catch a lot of the surface, glaring structural and presentation mistakes right off the bat. Then read it through out loud; you'd be amazed at how many mistakes pop out when you vocalize them that where hidden when everything was still internalized in your brain, where often you just haven't tapped into the file what your brain was thinking. Now, resist the urge to rush your masterpiece to the readers. Put the work aside for a few days and then come back and read it again, this time as much for context as for structure and presentation. You've now knocked out of the brain what it chose initially to see that may not really be there—or make not be there correctly. If there are significant contextual, structural, and/or presentation problems, chances are good you will catch the worst of them at this point.

And, by all means, consult resources when you are doing these reads. Yes, put the work through the computer program spell check; just don't expect the spell check's idea of what is wrong or right to be correct. It will, however, pick up a lot of errors that both you and the spell check can agree were typos or errors you just didn't see until you were focused directly on them.

More important, at least have a dictionary at your side (or on your computer desktop) while you read and recheck not just the words that look funny to you but also words you don't use all that often. Recheck to at least one level deeper than you think is really necessary. U.S. publishing mostly uses Webster's Collegiate Dictionary for spelling and hyphenation. And it uses the Chicago Manual of Style for published fiction. But any basic grammar and punctuation book would also be useful to use during your self-review. The American Heritage Book of English Usage and Theodore M. Bernstein's The Careful Writer are both excellent, easy-to-understand and use writer's aids for writing short stories.

Other techniques are frequently offered on review techniques, like reading the whole story backwards by phrase or word to help you catch spelling mistakes or scanning through the work looking for certain classifications of habitual problems only (e.g., you/you're and its/it's renderings or overuse of certain words or types of words, like adverbs). On this, though, I counsel the "don't beat all of the life out of it" advice given above. And, again, keep in mind that Literotica isn't the New Yorker. This is supposed to be fun for you, and the reader will tolerate a little lack of polish in a story as long as it delivers on what they came here for—either arousing or other forms of entertainment.

What Do You Look For?

When you review your story, start with the simple and the obvious, the structural and presentation issues, and work toward the complex, the context. Typically, you won't be able to see contextual problems as long as you are distracted by the more obvious, simpler problems.

Structurally, first look to your paragraphing. Unlike print media, reading on the computer screen requires short paragraphs and plenty of white space. Keep your paragraphs to not much more than ten lines of text and put an extra line return between them. Simply scanning through what you've written will show whether you've done this. The dialogue paragraphs should be set apart, with dialogue passages by different characters in separate paragraphs. And the Literotica editing process seems to prefer American style over UK style, so use double quotes at the first level always and see that those periods and commas and most of the question marks are tucked inside the quote marks. Do all of your paragraphs end with some type of end punctuation? If you use italics, have you done so sparingly?

In a closer look at the story, try to make sure that the presentation issues—the grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling—aren't going to distract the reader's attention. Grammar is rough to clean up through self-review, because if you made the mistake to begin with, it's likely a mistake you habitually make and won't see in review. But you can look for subject/verb agreement (singular/plural) and you can try to make sure that sentences have a subject and verb (unless you don't intend them to; in fiction, it's quite all right to have incomplete sentences, as long as you know how to do this to good effect—and not do it all that often). You can also try to make sure that a clause modifying a noun is hung on the noun it actually modifies. (e.g., "I gave my hat, which was red, to you" rather than "I gave my hat to you, which was red").

Try to be consistent in capitalization—and don't try to capitalize every noun in sight; this is a Germanic influence that current English abhors and that can be very distracting to the reader.

And, speaking of "sight," look for those misused homonyms: sight/site/cite, for instance. Mistakes in this category most often seen in Literotica story copy include you're/your, its/it's, here/hear, their/there, and then/than.

Spelling isn't as much a mystery as most writers think it is—or wouldn't be if they used a dictionary and knew how to use it. The first-listed spelling in a dictionary is the one that's preferred in publishing. And, if the spelling you've found refers you to a different spelling in the dictionary, that different spelling is preferred. Don't rely on Microsoft spell check's idea of how a word is spelled. If it doesn't like your spelling, look it up in the dictionary. Often you were right to begin with. (But also take a look at the meaning; sometimes you will have used a word that doesn't mean what you think it does.)

Look for inadvertently repeated words or prepositional phrases or words dropped. (Dropping a "not" can be particularly disconcerting for a reader.)

Simpler words and language and shorter sentences are better for a Literotica story than otherwise, unless you are really, really (really!) good at writing. Once again, this isn't the New Yorker, and readers aren't coming here for New Yorker-type stories.

Microsoft spell check is hopeless at word hyphenation—and so are most writers. Question everything you have decided to hyphenate. The dictionary is quite helpful in this realm. If you don't find the word as a run-on compound word or hyphenated in the dictionary, then it isn't hyphenated. The kicker, though, is that hyphenation of compound modifiers depends on where it is in the sentence—whether it is in an adjective position (ruby-red lips) or behind the verb (Her lips were ruby red). When in doubt, don't (except directly in front of the noun being modified). Elements of compound adjectives that end in "ly" (e.g., "heavily applied makeup") never take a hyphen. (No logic; that's just the way it is in English.)

Publishing uses more commas than is currently being taught in school English courses. When you have a sentence of two independent clauses, they are set off with a comma; but if one of the clauses in dependent, they aren't. Introductory clauses that go more than three words are set off with a comma. Publishing uses the serial comma (e.g., red, white, and beige). All "which" clauses are independent and are set off by a comma; all "that" clauses are dependent and are not set off by a comma.

I could go on and on with this, but if you look for just these basic things when you scan through your stories, a good self-review will most likely render them "just fine" for Literotica reading standards in terms of presentation.

When your self-review has honed down structural and presentation issues to a level that they won't distract the reader—or you in your self-review process—it would be good to read through your work contextually. Are your character names spelled the same throughout? Does the chronology flow properly? Do the causes logically lead to the effects? Are there questions unanswered or story threads left dangling? In a well-constructed story, everything will serve the storyline, the story won't run off on unrelated tangents or dwell on images that don't directly serve the plot. Is what you are trying to say buried in too many words or words that are either imprecise or pretentious? Is this a complete story (beginning/dilemma, middle/action, ending/resolution) if you meant for it to be a story? What's the hook and is it played as well as you think it could be?

Most important, does it do to you what you would like it to do to a reader? If you enjoyed it, chances are good someone else here will enjoy it too. Just clean it up the best you can and post it so that those who are interested in what you write can read it.

Resources

Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition, for spelling and hyphenation.

Chicago Manual of Style (University of Chicago Press, 2003), 15th edition, for U.S. publishing fiction style.

The Oxford Guide to Style (Oxford University Press, 2002), for UK publishing fiction style.

The American Heritage Book of English Usage (Houghton Mifflin, 1996), for grammar/punctuation/word usage.

Theodore M. Bernstein, The Careful Writer (Antheneum, 1965), for grammar/punctuation/word usage.

Renni Browne and Dave King, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (HarperCollins, 1994), for self-review techniques.

Leslie Sharpe and Irene Gunther, Editing Fact and Fiction (Cambridge University Press, 1995), for editing principles.

Theodore A. Rees Cheney, Getting the Words Right—How to Revise, Edit, and Rewrite (Writer's Digest Books, 1990), for self-review techniques.

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