SYTYCW Judge Tina Burns on Editing & Winning

9 Nov

Writing Out Loud aka How I picked a winner….

First off, let’s give Bria a HUGE round of applause for her diligence, hard work and creative genius in the SYTYCW [we had it first HQ!] contest.  I had a blast reading all the entries each week. A second round of applause goes to all who entered!  It’s not easy to put your writing out there for others to critique so bravo, bravo.

True confession, as each week went by and the playing field got smaller and smaller, I had small moments of panic. How am I going to be able to pick just one? Will the others hate me? Will there be a public stoning if I don’t pick the fan favorite?!?!

Okay, okay, so the stoning panic might have been a bit on the drama side, but I think you get my drift. [yet at the same time, I’m seriously hoping I didn’t give anyone ideas. Please make them fake stones or gem stones even…]

I know, I know, you want to know who the winner is, and I’ll get to that, but I felt the “How” of who won would make good blog fodder.  Since I’ve got your undivided attention, and Bria gave me free reign of the place…

Let’s see a show of hands as to how many of you have looked at your writing so much that all you see is black blobs of ink on the page and yet still wonder if it’s clearly written?  Did you show or tell your story to the reader?  Is it clean enough for submission? Does it flow?  [looks around blog….yep, lots of hands]

There are many ways to answer all of those questions and more, but one of the easiest is my favorite way to self-edit: Read your story out loud.

Seriously? Yes, seriously. No, they’re probably not suitable bedtime stories for your kids, although they may be bedtime stories for your significant others so snag them for an extra pair of listening ears.  Reading what you’ve written aloud, or even in an “I’m crazy and I talk to myself” whisper can bring to light so many mistakes that you miss because you can no longer “see” your story aka black blobs on paper/screen.  I can almost 99.9% guarantee you that if you start reading your writing out loud, you’ll have less rejections or requests for revisions due to your writing skills. Not content, that’s another blog post for another day, but the actual writing.

How does it work? Well, writing can go something like this…

Visual Inspiration = plot idea = furious writing/plotting = quick read through to self edit = more furious writing/plotting = semi-coherent read through for self-editing = even more furious writing/plotting = crap I need to change something 10 pages ago = furious editing and rewriting = whew, fixed that enough to continue furiously writing = ack, my story looks like black blobs on paper so it must be the end = the end.

You hand your “masterpiece” off to your beta or your critique partner and wait, biting your nails down to nubs. When you get back “eh, the pacing was off” or “I don’t really get this part” or “I’m just not getting it” or if you’ve got a brutally honest Beta/CP “Are you sure you sent me the edited version?” You freak. What? GASP Pacing? Not edited? 

This is a classic mistake that’s easily rectified and with a little practice, you can eliminate this from your writing process for good. Here’s the mistake: you’ve not clearly put on paper the “world” or “story vision” in your head. It’s a simple communication problem, something got lost in translation from your brain to your hands typing or writing the story.  But there are other ways to communicate right?  So rather than trying to turn your story into an Interpretive Dance [though that would be one for YouTube], just turn on your speaker box and use your voice!

Reading your writing out loud will help you find misspelled words, wrong words [ie, I just typed woods vs words. Spell check wouldn’t have seen that because it’s spelled correctly], and pacing.

Pacing, I think, is the biggest of the three. Remember, we’re showing the story, not telling so think of it as a movie scene. By reading aloud, you’ve shouted “action” to your characters and their world.  Is your character in the right part of the room for their actions, did you get them to that place in an easy manner, or did they jump there, or even worse, did they walk in slow motion, looking at every nook and cranny all the while contemplating the very essence of those nooks and crannies. 

Do you have too many short sentences?  Does it sound like Robot from Lost in Space wrote your story? Too many long sentences?  Are you going on and on and on and never ending your thought because you just keep adding to the previous thoughts, those thoughts that you said previously?  You can catch those by reading out loud.

Voicing your story will also help you with the voice of the story. J Does your dialogue fit with your character? The setting? Does it date your character outside of your story setting? [modern slang in historical setting]  Get creative with it, make it fun. Is your heroine a Southern Belle?  Add some twang to her dialogue. Do you have an Irish hero? Do your best to add some brogue.

It may seem silly but trust me, reading what you’ve written out loud will help improve your story and your writing skills.  If you don’t want to do the reading yourself, ask a friend, or like Bria, use this website

So why the lecture? That’s how I picked the winner! I read and re-read the top three entries until I couldn’t see each one individually any more.  That’s when I decided to read them out loud. I snagged Mr. B’s semi-undivided attention [he turned the football game down, but not off] and read the entries to him.  As I read them out loud, I knew without a doubt that I’d found my winner. The pacing worked, the dialogue worked, and I could see the movie version.

And so, without further ado… Congrats to Author #3 and the story of Lauren Franklin!

PS: Yes, I read this out loud before I sent it to Bria.  🙂


Thanks Tina!

Want more of Tina? Follow her on twitter at @TinaBurns

This has been an amazing few months watching these entries ebb and flow. And congrats to our winner! I know how much everyone worked on cleaning up their openings to compete.

So, if you have a question for Tina, please post it — but I’m just asking that everyone be patient since she has a crazy schedule and can’t stalk the blog.

I want to take just another second to thank all the people who played along, the voters, the pimpers, the candlestick makers. It’s truly been a TON of fun for me.

AND – I’d like to throw a special challenge out there. If you don’t know, I’m also the co-founder of Excerpt Monday. coincidentally, EM is this Monday – yay – I would LOVE to see the rest of these openings – post what you got through in the contest, or a few more lines, or what the heck! Post the entire opening chapter! Just join in and show us what your entry would have looked like if YOU had made it to the final round. The deadline is Friday and you can see the Guidelines HERE.

It’s been a joy, everyone ~ Bria


“On behalf of Historic Philadelphia Alive, I’d like to welcome you to the City of Brotherly Love.”

I smile at the small group waiting for me inside the Independence Visitor Center as I take their tickets, relieved that my last tour of the long Fourth of July day consists of only four elderly couples, three generic tourists, two Jersey Shore cast wannabes, and a mom pushing a little boy in a stroller.

This will be the easiest 75 minutes of my life.

“I’m Lauren Franklin, no relation to Ben,” I lie.

I usually always deny that Benjamin Franklin is my great-to-the-eighth-power uncle, but there’s been two exceptions. The first time I name dropped, I was a stupid freshman at the University of Massachusetts, desperate to get the cute grad student teaching the World of Thomas Jefferson to notice me. His name was Grant McConnell.

“Today we’ll be following in our founding fathers’ footsteps, learning about the places where the events of the American Revolution occurred,” I say to the group.

The second time I name dropped, I was desperate to get this job as a tour guide. Not only was Grant incredibly cute, but he was also incredibly smart and passionate about Colonial America, so when he became Dr. Grant McConnell, assistant professor of history at the College of William and Mary, I went there for grad school, believing we could write a beautiful thesis together, but I screwed up his life instead.

12 Responses to “SYTYCW Judge Tina Burns on Editing & Winning”

  1. briaq November 9, 2010 at 9:54 am #

    Like Tina said, I do use the read aloud program (if anyone knows a better free one, bring it on) – I found that even tho the voice is stilted it’s something you pretty quickly get used to.

    It’s helped me find a LOT of mistakes in my manuscripts. As someone who is dyslexic, it helps me find:
    1. When I used a word that wasn’t the word I thought it was
    2. Missing words
    3. Words in the wrong order
    4. Bad pacing
    5. Sentences that are too long
    6. Just plain bad writing *blush*

    So, of course I was excited to see Tina pimping this very simple way to make your writing better – Yes, it can feel time consuming… but I’ve had several people tell me they don’t think I’m “really *that* dyslexic” because of this program.

  2. Rachel Firasek November 9, 2010 at 10:01 am #

    I love that someone else validates what I already know of as a huge tool. I read all of my work aloud, much to the groans of my family. I force my husband to sit through hours of listening to me pour my story out of my mouth–I’ve even gone as far as shutting football off. It’s a great tool, I learn something about my story everytime I do this. Bria, thanks for making all of this happen, I enjoyed voting each week and cheering on friends participating. You rock!

  3. briaq November 9, 2010 at 10:09 am #

    Rachel – maybe try forcing him to read it to you instead of listening 😉

  4. rene November 9, 2010 at 10:43 am #


  5. dyromance November 9, 2010 at 11:05 am #

    Congrats!!! Yay!! *throws confetti*

  6. Tina Burns November 9, 2010 at 11:10 am #

    Thanks Bria!

    Rachel: It’s one of the first things I do and suggest for self-editing. Saves so much time fixing simple mistakes in the long run.

  7. briaq November 9, 2010 at 11:15 am #

    You know – I’m still learning my way around it, but someone told me you can get your Kindle to read to you – anyone one know if this is true for an easy carry around?

  8. Ella Drake November 9, 2010 at 12:42 pm #


    Tina, great post. I have trouble reading to myself, but I think I need to try harder!
    Bria, you did a wonderful job. Great contest!

  9. Allison Kelsey November 9, 2010 at 2:11 pm #

    Bria: You are the hostess with the mostess! 🙂 Truly. To be able to run this contest for 10 weeks? I bow to you. I’m already looking forward to participating in the next one!

    Kaige and Rene: I want to offer up HUGE AWESOME CONGRATS again! You were awesome being in the finalist threesome with me! 🙂 I wanna see more of both your stories over on Excerpt Monday.

    My moment of disbelief: Wow. 🙂 That’s like, *me*, up there.

    Okay, now that my nervous-turned-happy vomit urges have subsided, I’ve re-read Tina’s awesome blog post. 🙂

    I’m a big fan of reading aloud. Or reading out loud. (I never like the way “aloud” looks.) Not only does it help you with editing and revising, I’ve found it also helps you get to know your characters better. Yeah, I do character sketches; I know Grant & Lauren’s backstories; I know their personalities so well that I know without a doubt if I’m trying to make them do something they probably wouldn’t do.

    But reading out loud? You’re able to get more insight into the character(s). I’m finding that more so with Grant. Sometimes I’ll write his dialogue, then when I read it out loud later, I sometimes think, “He wouldn’t say it like *that*. That doesn’t go with *who* he is.” (Sometimes, I realize he wouldn’t say *that* at all. That whatever he said is better suited to come out of Julie’s or Max’s or Andrew’s mouth.)

    And reading out loud is also a great motivational tool. When I read out loud, I use… me. I get so motivated hearing the words and seeing the little movie play in my head… that it gets me pumped to write.

    As for “reading out loud” programs: Speech is a built-in feature in Mac. (If you’re a Mac Head, you already know this. If you’re not or you recently switched, you’re probably having a “who knew” moment. 🙂 )

    You can access Speech in the following OS X programs:

    TextEdit and Scrivener: Click on “edit” –> “speech” –> “start speaking”

    Word 2004: To have Word read the text aloud, make sure the Speech toolbar is displayed. On the View menu, point to Toolbars and then click Speech. (1.) Select the text that you want Word to speak. (2.) On the Speech toolbar, click Speak Selection.

    * You can change the voice and read-back speed in System Preferences.

  10. briaq November 9, 2010 at 5:25 pm #

    Congrats Alison! I hope you learn a lot and make a big leap forward from your win 🙂

  11. Kaige November 9, 2010 at 7:20 pm #

    Congrats, Alison! (Again!) Isn’t it cool how Lauren and Grant are taking on a life of their own? Enjoy the excitement, because I sense the real work is just starting for you and them!

    Thanks again to Tina and Bria! This contest was a great experience and I know I learned a lot along the way!

  12. Allison Kelsey November 9, 2010 at 8:11 pm #

    Thanks Kaige and Bria! 🙂 And, umm, I’m sorry I verbally spewed in my comment. *blushes* Wow. Yeah. I do know when to shut up. 🙂 There’s just two things that get me really jazzed about writing: dialogue and reading out loud.

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