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Self-editing Your Middle-Grade Book
"Musings" for January 2006

by Margot Finke

Margot Finke's Musings is hosted by:

The Purple Crayon

Find more resources for writers in the Articles section.

See the Musings index to find other installments.

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Your mid grade book is finished. You paid attention to the advice of your critique group. You tweaked, reworked, and rewrote umpteen times. Meticulous research dug up several potential publishers. Yet, uncertainty nags you. Is the plot strong enough? Will kids identify with your characters? And what about grammar?

Panic Not, Help Is at Hand:

Tried and True Self-editing Secrets:

Before you do anything drastic, check your chapters for those nasty little boo-boo's that sneak in unnoticed.

  • Do certain words pop up on every page — like, just, nice, some, seemed etc. Use the Find and Replace application to scour them from your chapters.
  • Are you using the same tired and limp verbs and adjectives? Make Find and Replace earn its keep. Track down these lazy words. Replace them with powerful and active verbs, and fresh, hot and evocative adjectives. NOTE: Strong verbs are a writer's best friend. They give your sentences power.
  • Do you have too many paragraphs that tell the story? YAWN! If so, get busy with a make over. You need actions and reactions that show things happening. Pull your reader into the story and make them feel a part of the action.
  • Hitting readers over the head with speeches about right and wrong will turn off even the youngest reader — editors as well. If you want to push a message, use subtlety, not peachiness. Show the characters in conflict about your message. Then, perhaps your POV (point of view) character can convince others by his actions and reactions. Let the truth behind your message slowly but surely work its magic.
  • Is your plot well paced? If not, be wary of sidetracks that have nothing to do with the plot. FOCUS on what is vital. Make sure your POV is on track, and not doing and saying things that puncture the tension or sidetrack the main goal.
  • Do your main characters have distinctive voices? Devise quirks and speech patterns that are unique to each character. Dropping the usual attribution, in favor of actions and reactions, can also help develop character. Weave in background history that is "telling," and use the words of others to reinforce the reader's perceptions.
  • Don't waffle on. Say something once, say it well, and then move on. Writers tend to fall in love with their own sentences and paragraphs — we all do this. Be brutal. Learn to grit your teeth and CUT when necessary. Fewer words often carry more weight.
  • Keep the action, dialogue, and the background information you weave into the chapters FOCUSED on reaching your plot's goal. It can be helpful, if when you begin writing, you have a rough idea of how the middle, and the end of your book will play out?
  • Did several people in your critique group suggest you change or strengthen the same area, but you didn't want to go that far? Now is the time to revisit that area and make sure you were right — or not!
  • The number of pages in a chapter can be important. Terse writing, in a two or three page chapter, will heighten the tension. An average of five or six pages per chapter works well for mid-grades. However, if you want an in-depth confrontation, or a scene that needs lots of dialogue and action, the occasional longer chapter is just fine. Varying the length of your chapters is a good plan. Nothing is set in stone. Great writers think out of the box. They turn their characters and plots inside out and upside down, searching for that special magic that says "gotcha" to readers.
  • Chapters that end with a great HOOK keep readers reading. Discovering the knack of writing end-of-page "hooks" is a talent worth developing. This means mastering end of chapter suspense: mini climaxes that lead your reader deeper into the plot. This is a GOOD thing!

The Final Act:

Okay, you've done everything suggested above. Now, put your manuscript into a bottom drawer: forget about it for a couple of months. Begin something new! Take a vacation! Quit your job and become a Fortune Teller! Whatever it takes to leave that book behind for a while. When you finally reread your masterpiece, and do any necessary tweaks, it will be ready to go out and earn its keep. This means you'll have to learn the art of the query letter. Aha, but that's another column altogether.

More Self-editing Advice for Those Who Need It:

You can also delve into the self-editing help listed below. By following the suggestions above, and with help from the articles below, you can finally toss your grammar, plot, and POV uncertainties into orbit.

Junket Studies - The 11 Rules of Writing: Numbered headings for the 11 rules. Click on whatever number holds your grammar weakness. Find explanations, as well as examples of the right way and the wrong way.

This is a great site! I personally recommend it.

Writer's Resource Center: An article by Lois J. Peterson on self-editing, with suggestions and great examples.

Dangerous Myths and Terrible Truths: A Quick Intro to Children's Writing, by Aaron Shepard: This article appears in The Purple Crayon.

And be sure to see this earlier Musings on using your word processor to make self-editing easier.


Margot Finke's biography and index to Musings.

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