The Process of Writing
Will Update this Page!
8 Dec 2021: My writing skills have improved and evolved a lot since writing this article. What is said here is no longer as relevant. Thus, I will update this page one day.
The Pains and Necessary Editing for Good Writing
From April to June 2021, I had to edit my novels a final time. As such, the date of publication got postponed from May to June. This deserves a proper explanation as editing is an integral part of everything. Here, I shall show the tremendous amount of effort needed to get the details of adequate writing right.
Editing was a tedious process for me since my manuscript is about half a million words long.
Much of it was made far easier by employing the following software and websites:
This was the single best software which I have used. With it, it provided me many parameters to evaluate my novels. Among the most useful were:
Passive voice percentage
Unusual dialogue tags
Here are my current statistics for my writing using this software:
Grammarly was helpful in helping me to identify many grammatical issues before I finalized the novel for formatting and publication.
3) Readabler.com and Analyzemytext.com:
Both were useful in evaluating my novel’s readability through up to a dozen different readability scores. They also analyzed the percentage of each word type, such as verbs, nouns, pronouns, conjunctions, connectors, adjectives, and adverbs.
The Essentials of My Editing Summarized:
Altogether, I learned a lot from using the software to refine my writing and became aware of important things such as the following:
1) Using active voice over passive voice
Using active voice over passive voice is very important as it makes your prose far more direct than the latter.
Before editing, my passive voice count was too high – it was 17% out of the entire novel! This was due to my academic background, which required me to write in a pedantic and scholarly manner during graduate school!
After editing, I have cut it down to only about 5.7%, which is within the recommended 5 to 10% for writing fiction.
Of special note is that passive voices should not be shunned entirely. There are times when using passive voice is essential, such as when you do not know the perpetrators’ names or for reporting specific facts where people carrying out the act are not important.
2) Avoiding emotional tells
When I was a budding author, I loved to use phrases such as “I was euphoric” or “I felt very dejected.” I thought that using more word emotional word variety equates to being a better author. However, this is not the case!
In the world of writing, one should “show and don’t tell.” Therefore, instead of writing this:
“I am very fearful.”
You should instead write:
“My limbs quivered, and I felt a tremor coursing down my spine.”
The point is to let the details illustrate the process rather than have the author announce it to the person.
Currently, my emotional tell percentage is very low – modestly lower than the average fantasy author, which is a good sign that I adhered to this important mantra.
3) Using a low verb and adverb percentage, together with a modest adjective count
This is also very important. Novice authors tend to over-saturate their writings with too many action verbs and adverbs.
The study below in this link is an algorithm that gives an 84% chance of predicting a novel’s success. Almost all successful novels have a very low verb and adverb count. The adjective count should be modest and not too low or high.
This is because using too many of such gives a bad habit of 'telling' rather than 'showing.' Therefore, many bestselling authors have a very low percentage of such, as shown in the chart below:
As a comparison, here are my four books’ stats. All my four books have precisely the same structure as best-selling books because of strict adherence to the mantra to “show and rarely tell.”
‘Telling’ is useful; however, when you need to rush an unimportant scene. For instance, you do not want to show every part of a person waking up to brush his teeth, get dressed, travel on a bus, and then to battle, is it not?
4) Using ‘said’ and ‘ask’ as far as possible
When I first started writing, I always thought that I should mince as many words as possible to replace ‘said’ and ‘ask.’ Therefore, I would use terms like ‘bellow,’ ‘thunder,’ or ‘reprimand.’
However, as I became more refined in my writings, I no longer did such, instead preferring to use ‘said’ as far as possible. This is because dialogue tags should never direct or guide a reader as far as possible. It should be through the nature of the character’s actions and speech that shows how he says that is more important. Again, this is to “show and don’t tell.”
Therefore, in my novels, I kept my ‘said’ and ‘ask’ percentages to above 70%.
5) Keeping readability low, but not too low
As a novice author many years ago, I thought using long sentences, and big words meant a high degree of literary mastery. That is not true. Even though many famous and classic authors like Lovecraft loved to do such, times have changed. Modern demands mandate that sentences are more readable to facilitate understanding.
Therefore, I kept my readability grade level slightly under 6 and my readability score to around 75 (fairly easy English).
However, according to some studies, keeping it too low will ironically make your sentences devoid of substance and depth. Therefore, to me, keeping it around 6 is a good balance.
The goal is to strive for a balance between readability and literary depth, which takes years of experience to master.
An important fact is also to trim one’s sentences of redundancies such as:
“Nevertheless, I choose to go to the pond today because I decided that it was the best thing to do today.”
This can be cut down to:
“I went to the pond today because it was the best thing to do.”
This is partially referred to as the “glue index.” The former sentence uses too many ‘glue words’ that do not add to the meanings of the sentence. Therefore, I have cut down on such stylistic redundancies.
6) Avoid using “there was,” “suddenly,” or “it was” too many times
Using such terms may get the message across fast; however, you lose linguistic variety in using them too many times, which is not a sign of good writing.
Therefore, I have pruned as many of these as possible.
7) Avoid excessive First-person narration in battles or action scenes
In action or battle scenes, one should write them in a way where the author is not present. Sure, some chapters are introspective, or those which involve social commentaries. Those are fine, at times, to have the author imbue some of his ideas or comments into such. However, for fast-paced action scenes, such writing tends to break flow very severely. As such, they must be avoided as far as possible.
Write in a way whereby the actions, setting, and scenes show the battle and do not allow the author’s thoughts to interfere with it.
8) Relevance of all things
Chekhov’s gun is a literary device that suggests that if you were to show a gun in a chapter, the author should expect to make it useful in a future chapter.
Sure, there may be some books like War and Peace, whereby this is not applied. However, I feel that it is crucial to streamline my writings to ensure that every chapter and scene serves a function as far as possible. Even if some scenes do not affect the plot, they must at least convey a moral or philosophical message.
9) Chapters where nothing happens
In the original Hobbit manuscript, there were a few chapters that do not contribute to the plot. These chapters would never pass modern requirements as they have to be pruned as far as possible.
10) Do not over-explain
If you have to explain, keep explanations short and pithy. When I first started drafting, I had an obsessive need to explain everything as I feared that my readers would not understand or get what I am hinting at.
This is a mistake as readers’ intelligence must be respected. An author should write in a way whereby the readers can infer the meanings or mechanisms behind certain phenomena. Doing so builds a sense of mystery which allows the readers to decipher on their own, which is the whole point of reading.
Put it simply: if you have to dedicate an entire long paragraph to explaining something, you should prune at least some parts of it.
For my novels, I have cut down these very substantially during editing.
11) Do not over-announce
Sometimes the author may be tempted to say things like:
“Soon, something bad transpired.”
Now, this is a serious mistake – doing so breaks suspense. Also, it prevents the text from naturally unfolding to show the details of what will happen. Again this is a classic example of “telling, instead of showing,” which is catastrophic.
12) Purple Prose and Too-long Sentences
Avoid prose that is overly purple or complex if possible. There are times when this is allowable due to the need for linguistic variety. Sometimes, you may wish to have very long sentences, like a notable existential passage from Waiting for Godot. However, it should not be consistent to the point where it becomes like The Eye of Argon.
Doing so makes the book too difficult to read, which can be demanding for modern audiences. Of course, that is not always to say that purple is always wrong. It depends on the genre and target audience. However, for me, purple is not my style as I prefer accessibility.
I may, however, have some dashes of purple once in a while for sentence variety.
Pacing is one of the hardest things to get correct. An ideal writing style, which I adhere to now, is to have a balance between slow, introspective paragraphs and fast-paced action. Too much of the latter and your characters will have zero psychological or character development. Too much of the former, and nothing happens!
In some books, the latter is fine, especially in existentialist works. However, I strive for a balance between action and character development. Therefore, the editing process was difficult. It ensured a proper balance and flow between each chapter, such that suspense is mainly maintained. If there are too many reflective scenes, I add new actions to spice things up, and vice versa. The goal is to sustain suspense like in a Mission Impossible film while having the depth of writings like Nausea.
14) Having many conflict points
One of the reasons why Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight series is so successful is because it creates multiple conflict points between many characters. This is unlike, say, Batman v Superman, where everything is linear and monotonous (sorry, DC fans – if it helps, I prefer DC over Marvel!).
This was exactly what I did – by creating many points of contention between many characters, so there is always something interesting to say. The key lies in contrast.
15) Avoid repetition
If you have three sentences in a paragraph, which each means roughly the same things, cut it down to 1!
That is my mantra when it came to editing my books myself.
16) Avoid excessive introspection in certain scenes
So you have a battle of Kong vs Godzilla. Let’s say somewhere in between the fight, this novelized battle talks of how Kong questions the mystery of the cosmos for several pages on end. Well, that’s not proper introspection as it breaks the flow.
Sure, there are exceptions. My novels contain battles that are totally psychical. In such rare occurrences, introspection is more permissible. So what do I mean? Just watch the scene from Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows where Holmes fought Moriarty. Nothing happened other than a battle in their minds!
There are always exceptions.
However, when it comes to too fast-paced scenes without some fantasy or magical mechanism of time dilation, there is literally no time for people to stop and ponder for ten pages about their actions!
If there must be introspection, keep it short, unless it is a flashback of a character explaining his precise thought processes in the battle back then.
17) Avoid excessive information, worldbuilding, and setting developments.
There are cases that editors refer to as ‘throat-clearing.’ This means spending a page of two explaining from the start the require background or setting leads to a more climatic event.
Cut them out as far as possible.
Or even better still – instead of spending 3 pages describing what monsters one would face in the battle of Minas Tirith, have the character witness them battle in each relevant scene when the time comes. Integrate your setting and worldbuilding with the action.
Just get to the action already.
In my editing, I have fixed nearly all of these issues (nothing’s perfect!).
18) Proper foreshadowing
In my earlier drafts, some of my scenes ran into the classic problem of “deus ex machina.” Very disastrous. It is the worst possible form of bad writing, which can be resolved easily by adding proper foreshadowing.
Remember, not to over-foreshadow – doing so can break and destroy suspense and mystery.
19) Excessive details
How much detail is too much?
As long as they are relevant later on, some of it is fine. However, if you have to give three paragraphs of description during an action scene, that breaks flow! You would, therefore, wish to trim it down and reserve only the details later when it is more relevant.
20) Proper synthesis
In my novels, I have many philosophical teachings. However, I would not need to write a novel if I desired to write only those bits. A simple philosophical treatise would do. However, since I am writing a novel, I have to avoid a novice author’s fallacy: writing the philosophy in a disconnected way from the plot and character development.
This was not easy. When Ni’vim learns something new and expands her philosophical perspective, I must always have her introspect and connect to her past actions and deeds. However, this is not enough – good story-telling must be such that the main characters put such teachings into their action. They should also occasionally challenge the teachings and not see them as absolute. Altogether, philosophies inside my novels were written such that they influence most of the characters’ worldviews, developments, and actions. All four must be interwoven and blended seamlessly such that they flow together.
21) Flashbacks which break flow
I formerly had many flashbacks, which broke the flow because they were too long. Some authors may accidentally include too many. For my case, I pruned down most and showed only those which are relevant. Remember, a flashback should be written such that it does not break the current narrative, ease of reading, or the smooth transition and flow of ideas.
22) Punctuation matters (and other proofreading essentials)
Punctuation matters. As someone who has OCD, I try my best to ensure consistency. Some writers may leave the work to editors to differentiate between a hyphen and an em dash. Many authors also ignore the difference between curly and non-curly quotation marks. For me, it matters, and I ensured that every one of them is consistent.
23) Defining the Time Frame
Most novels are past-tense stories. For mine, it is more negotiable since some chapters are in the present or past tense. Most of my chapters are in the latter. However, it was important to define when the narrator starts to tell the story. Earlier in editing, I realized that setting it to after all 6 volumes have transpired would spoil the story, since using past tense may indicate that a character will die. Therefore, it was imperative that every scene has a well-defined and chosen time frame that avoids such situations.