Editing your website: a few simple hints

Editing is key to a good webpage. As are cutting . . . rewriting . . . pruning.

Your homepage is the first impression most readers get of your writing . . . big dilemma: it may be your only chance to convey your fiction writing style . . . but it also has to attract the search engines.

My novels don't use elipses . . . not every paragraph is a short sentence or two . . . it's not shot full of bold face and italic and sentence fragments . . . it's not studded with carefully chosen keywords. I write fiction to tell a story . . . not to pull in the skimmers or the search engines.

So what to do with a webpage about fiction?

Write with care . . . edit . . . rewrite . . . condense . . . the same process you go through with your fiction. Webpage writing isn't honed fiction, but like good fiction, it takes editing . . . revising . . . rethinking . . . reworking. Try these suggestions to sharpen your webpage prose.


Start with analysis and reflection

Wait a day before you start to rewrite

  • Set your draft aside . . .then approach it with a clear mind and a fresh perspective.

Read your draft for wording and grammar . . . in 4 different ways:

  • Read silently . . . then aloud.
  • Read word-for-word to catch spelling and punctuation errors.
  • Print it and read it from a hard copy.
  • Have someone else read it . . . a friend . . . your spouse . . . a different set of eyes.

Read for content
Remember that each webpage has its own tightly focused theme. Ask yourself:

  • Does each paragraph support my main theme?
  • Does it engage my readers?
  • Does it answer the key questions I think my readers have?
  • Does it convey who? what? where? when? why?
  • Does it convey my fiction writing style?

Read for flow

  • Does the overall page hang together?
  • Are the transitions smooth . . . does it flow from sentence to sentence . . . and paragraph to paragraph?


Now, pull out the red pen . . .
and get on with editing and revising

Cut, cut, cut . . . no, stop . . . don't add more . . . cut

  • Cut the verbiage . . . the wanderings . . . the irrelevancies.
  • But also cut those lovely sentences, paragraphs and scenes that sound wonderful . . . but don't advance the theme of your page. (Yes . . . even if your prose does sing! Sorry.)

Delete jargon and 50-cent words
We're writing to inform, not impress. So . . .

  • Delete the English-prof talk: no grandiloquence and logodaedaly here.
  • As for metaphors and similes . . . don't talk about 'em . . . use 'em sparingly) to make your page sparkle like a bubbling brook . . . or, save 'em for your fiction.

Find active (and vivid) verbs . . . strike out the passive voice

  • No more The angry denial was written by Ginny Sue.
  • Rather, Ginny Sue wrote an angry denial.
  • Or better yet, show us how she wrote . . . and how she felt about it: Ginny Sue pounded out a scorching denial.

Remove excess words

  • Strike any word or phrase that doesn't add information: in the event of . . . for the most part . . type of . . . it seems that . . . there are . . .
  • Erase phrases you can replace with a single word: it's the last guy . . . not The guy at the end of the line.
  • But make sure you don't delete your keywords

Root out vague modifiers

  • famished . . . not very hungry
  • exhausted . . . not really tired


Editing in Action:
some examples from my homepage

OK, so much for tips and guidelines. Let's see how editing works in real life. The following examples show some of the editing I did on early drafts of my homepage.

An invitation to fiction writing: writers and readers:
Tips from the fight for civil rights Come with me into Soda Springs

    Why the changes? First line: fiction writing is one of the page's keywords; writers and readers aren't keywords . . . use your keywords up front.

    Second line: The headline should introduce a page from the readers' point of view . . . not the author's . . . Tips from the fight for civil rights does two things: 1) it suggests something you as a reader might be able to use (writing tips) . . . 2) Until you read my novel, Soda Springs won't spark any images for you. But civil rights? That's a topic that rings a bell . . . and introduces one of the novel's major themes.

Even if you're writing fiction, you probably don't know Soda Springs. Fiction writing your cup of tea? Even if you're widely read, you probably don't know Soda Springs.

    Why the change? It's a snappier first line . . . plus, it puts the page keyword (fiction writing) right up-front . . . lets feed those picky search engines.

Soda Springs is the story of a young man's quest to bring Martin Luther King's civil rights message of justice and hope to his hometown. His idealism smacks head-on into prejudice . . . discrimination . . . . .runs smack dab up against . . .

    Why the changes? The deleted words are unnecessary . . . also, the verb smacks is more vivid than the verb run, even when modified by the adverb smack dab.

Writing fiction is hard work. It takes time. You write . . . rewrite . . . root out the underbrush . . . cut, cut, cut . . . rewrite again . . . banish unneeded characters . . . oust cliches . . . delete screwy tangents. . . spiff up the language . . . present realistic love and sex in ways that don't cross the line from erotic fiction into pornography . . . then rewrite yet again . . . on and on over and over.

    Why the changes? Wordiness . . . plus, "present realistic love and sex in ways that don't cross the line from erotic fiction into pornography" . . . comes out of the blue . . . it teases: ah, what's this? Graphic sex? But it doesn't fit the rest of the paragraph . . . and it doesn't explain my plan to use passages in the novel and cuttings from it in a section on writing erotic fiction. So, I'll cut the reference to erotic fiction here, and introduce it later on its own webpage.

This website goes beyond Soda Springs as a novel into a behind-the-scenes world of fiction writing as it morphs . . . of writing fiction as a process of revision. So, what IF . . . we use Soda Springs as an on-line writers writers' workshop? I'll show you the warts that only an author knows a novel's author knows . . .

  • the warts . . . excesses . . . the false starts . . .
  • the revisions . . .
  • even some of the excesses we cut out . . . even some wonderful scenes we left on the cutting room floor . . . not because they were poorly done, but because they slowed down our story. Oh, my, it hurts to throw away riveting scenes and clever phrases!)
    Why the changes? Wordy . . . let's get right to the point.


Finally, let's look at some of the editing I did on two of the entries at the bottom of the homepage. These summarize the main topics I'll address in showing how you can use Soda Springs to help your own writing.

Creating characters: Good fiction characters come to life through what they say and do, as well as what they look like. A whole company of players await you in Soda Springs. Meet them, see how the author describes them, then, link to In our own words, where the main characters describe introduce themselves to you. (Note: you won't find these descriptions in the novel; they're from the author's private reserve. And please don't let the characters see these descriptions. Some . . . like Ginny Sue Bennett . . . are pretty touchy about my exposing their secret lives and thoughts.)

    Why the changes? Too wordy . . . I deleted the note because this paragraph should be a brief summary, not a full explanation. The three deleted sentences belong to the Creating Characters web page, not here. . .
    The word introduce implies you will meet the characters . . . it draws you as a reader into the action . . . "describe" positions you outside the action, reading about the characters, rather than meeting them.

Writing erotic fiction: Soda Springsis about love and sex, as well as civil rights. (Be forewarned: there's more than a kiss or two here.) We've tried to show our You'll read some hormonal- drenched protagonist and his encounters charged adventures in this novel. We've tried to show them in a way that's true to our cast's emotions and actions. Watch me wrestle Join me in wrestling with the dilemma of writing about sex without being pornographic: "Exactly how explicit should this scene be?" (Yep, we've got some outtakes here that didn't make it past the in-house censor . . . let alone the out-of-town reviewers. Use them as fodder to think about how best to present the sensual side of life.)

    Why the changes? Both You'll read some . . . and Join me in wrestling better engage the reader rather than convey authorial voice lecturing to the reader. Other deleted sentences were excess. Titillating perhaps, but not essential.

And finally, here is an example of a whole concept I cut from the homepage:

    The cast strikes back: I like the folks in Soda Springs . . . especially Flor and Rick and Concha and Tia Lupita . . . even Odell Andrews (who, quite frankly, is a first class asshole) . . . and I hate to stuff them on a shelf. So I won't. (Truth to tell . . . they wouldn't let me. They picketed and carried on, and demanded I let them out.)

    Some of the cast think I distorted what really happened that summer . . . others say I should have kept the more salacious details to myself . . . or, in Odell's case, that I didn't get his every conquest. (You can't please anyone these days.)

    Step into our rogues' gallery. Ask the Soda Springs gang about the summer of 1963 . . . whether they think what I wrote about their loves and hates and crazy deeds is true . . . or what they'd doing now . . . or even what they think of today's anti-immigration movement or Tea Parties or how Barrack Obama is doing as president. They're eager to put their two-cents in on a variety of topics, not just their own halcyon days. Then let me know what you think.

      Why delete it? Too long for the homepage . . . and a concept too difficult to squeeze into a single paragraph. I'll cut it here . . . and introduce it later as its own blog.



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