Friday, April 29, 2011

5 Things to Consider Before You Spend Time Editing

Congratulations to William & Kate on a beautiful wedding! Best wishes & God bless your marriage.

Sharon, thanks for that great link you posted on Wednesday for the ten mistakes writers don’t see. I’ve read a few of the books that were quoted and the author put names to the things that were vague or just didn’t settle well when I read them. Smart guy.

I would say that there are a few basic questions that need answering before a writer invests a lot of time line editing a manuscript. To begin, put the manuscript away. Let it cool off. A really long time. Resist the urge to peek. When so much time has passed that you hardly recognize it, take the manuscript to a neutral setting and read it through all at once. As you read, consider these questions:

  • Does the story begin in the right place? Back story has no place at the front. If the action begins too quickly, we may not know enough about the protagonist to care what is happening. Is there a good hook in the opening?
  • Are there too many characters? Does the reader have trouble keeping them straight? Are some characters too similar? Are any clich├ęd?
  • Did you use the best POV? Just to make sure, write a chapter from another character’s viewpoint. Is it an improvement? Does it add an interesting dimension to the story?
  • Is the setting real? Readers need to be grounded in the setting, both in the story overall and in each scene. Will readers ask if it’s a real place?
  • Is the story feasible or contrived? Is the story based on coincidence? Unless it’s a story about coincidence, it won’t have credibility. Does the hero/heroine solve the issue on his/her own or are they rescued?

When you’re certain these five questions have been answered, start work on the micro corrections like grammar, punctuation, spelling and word choice. When it is so polished that you can see your reflection in it (gosh, I look older – how long ago did this whole process begin?) put it away AGAIN. Let it cool.

Now it’s time for the last read-through. This time, you’re looking for any passage, sentence or word that causes you to stumble, even in your head voice. It could be an awkward sentence or an unfamiliar word or one that paints a dissonant word picture. Be dispassionate. Be ruthless. If something causes your reader to stop and consider, they may decide to put the book down and make tea. And making tea, they may realize they are hungry and get out a box of macaroni and cheese. And when they look for milk, they realize the carton has passed its expiration date and decide to make a grocery list. So they pull out the cookbook their daughter gave them and start perusing recipes so they can list ingredients on the grocery list, and – well, you get the picture. If you give a mouse a cookie… Don’t give the reader that cookie, or, er, whatever.

Eventually you have to stop editing and submit the manuscript. How do you know when it's time? Well, how about you?


Wendy Paine Miller said...

Time for an honest confession. My fifth novel failed on all counts. Therefore, I put it away and moved on to novel six (I'm more than halfway through) and editing some as I go. Not failing on all counts.

Mawwage! :D

Happy weekend, ladies.
~ Wendy

Anonymous said...

Excellent advice, Debbie, that needs to be heeded for the sake of making our work the best it can be.

Now, I'm off to watch The Wedding.

Anonymous said...

When I keep get conflicting comments over a particular portion, I know it's time for me to make a decision and let go.

When I find myself saying, isn't that the way I had it from the start? it's time to make a decision and let go.

I've gotten to this point on short stories, but never yet on a novel.


Zan Marie said...

Great post! I'm going to file this one away in my helpful writing aids file. ; )

Megan Sayer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Megan Sayer said...

This was really interesting, particularly the stuff about the story beginning in the right place and the credibility/coincidence issue. This is all stuff I've been wrestling with BEFORE I write the book. I guess that goes back to the plotter vs pantser debate...I've realised I'm definitely a plotter.
Seriously though, I've spent the better part of a year on draft 3 of my MS and so far I've written three...count them...THREE paragraphs! And the back end of a synopsis. I have learned so much though, it's been well worth the time and energy put into research. Hopefully when I sit down to write with a completed structure document the process will be so much quicker and easier and the results will need much less editing.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Wendy: It hurts to put one down, doesn't it? But you gotta do what you gotta do.
Royal mawwage :D
Vonilda: I do that with words all the time, replacing and eventually circling back to the same word. And sometimes you get a gut feeling that something's not quite right with a passage but when people confirm it, you're stuck and have to address it.
Sharon: Good seeing you today and that ADORABLE pup, Boo.
Zan Marie - welcome & glad we could help!
Megan: I agree it's best to find out about these things before you start writing, but it doesn't always work out that way. I'm a plotter, too.

Zan Marie said...

My Celebration Blogfest is off and rolling. Come by and check it out.