Sarah Higbee is the Deputy Chair of West Sussex Writers and teaches Creative Writing at Northbrook College (Wothing). Her enthusiasm for guiding writers to improve their writing engulfed the audience of West Sussex Writers on 8 November at our monthly gathering. Sarah was keen to share her top tips for avoiding the dreaded slush pile. Even the brightest and shiniest ideas need polishing to catch an editor’s eye. On finishing a piece of work Sarah advised to first leave it alone:
- Short story / poem for a week
- Novel for 1-2 months
Get some distance before you start editing. And then slice up your editing into manageable chunks, so you can focus on different topics at each review. Sarah recommended using a checklist and then she shared her particular list:
1. Structure: check there is a story arc; does the character have a journey?
2. Strong beginning.
3. Sufficient conflict.
4. Subplots and minor characters: are they all needed?
5. Strong climax: the moment in the story when everything changes i.e. the ‘tipping point’.
6. Viewpoint: is this consistent throughout story?
7. Dialogue: read aloud to check authenticity. Consistency of representation for external / internal dialogue.
8. Scene setting and description.
9. Check for time anomalies.
10. Writing style: know what your ‘wicked’ words are and get rid! (These are adverbs for the Indoor Writer or just and so). Look out for overuse of adverbs / adjectives and use effective verbs instead.
11. Punctuation: accuracy and consistency.
12. Consistent tense.
The Indoor Writer often reads aloud her work (scary!) but I'm going to share this top tip with her:
first turn a word file into a PDF file using Adobe, then go to View, click Read Out Loud option and click Activate. This allows you to listen to your story, while still following the manuscript. Sarah recommends this for picking up all the small errors and typos that can be easily missed.
Sarah emphasised the importance of always reading the publisher/agent’s submission guidelines before submitting any work. Some magazines/publishers have house styles for presentation and punctuation (particularly for dialogue) so always check these first.
You can learn more about Sarah Higbee and her own writing at her website here.
And if you are interested in coming to a meeting of West Sussex Writers then check out the future programme (and how to join) here.