Tuesday, April 28, 2009

When Are You Really Done With A Manuscript?

By Christine Thackeray

Recently I went to the LDS Storymakers writing conference and Julie Bellon taught a class on editing. It was fabulous. Here are the highlights.


Julie told us that the key to good editing is simply using the CLAW.
That stands for:

C - Check off basic editing checklist
L - Let someone else read it (actually, three someones)
A - Always print out a hard copy and read it
W - Walk away and leave it for a while before your final review

That's it! Then you're done. She told us to be careful not to edit our projects to death. Stop there, send it out and move on with your life.

So let me go over CLAW in a little more detail.


Checking off the basic editing checklist is made up of two parts- the copy edit and the content edit.

THE COPY EDIT includes these 10 items.
1. Don't trust spell check. Read for common spelling errors like your and you're (one of my favorites), there and their, or the and then (another I like to make.) A friend of mine never wants to conjoin "in to."
2. Check page numbers and blank pages. Sometimes hard returns don't cooperate at the end of a chapter. Flip through the file and see how the layout works on the pages.
3. Check for too many adjectives and adverbs. Adding narrative action instead of simply using an adverb or adjectve is usually a second draft activity. (Even Heather Moore does it.) You can really deepen your characters and improve your story this way.
4. Tense consistencies and verb/subject agreement. This normally shows up green in Word but really, check your green.
5. Avoid cliches. Not only in phrases and descriptions but in storylines. She calls that combo meal stories. You want to be delicious and unique.
6. Repetitive words are a huge issue for people who tend to repeat a lot of things in a repetitive way over and over.
7. We all have favorite words that really don't say anything. They are the "Um's" of writing. Some of these offenders are some, just, really, thing, that, there, one. (I read through my first book and am horrified by the really's and just's. Hey, it was really just my first book, give me a break.)
8. Too many dialogue tags or not enough. (I hate it when you get lost.)
9. Point of view changes.
10. Balance your narrative, exposition and action.

After finishing your Copy Review, you are ready to face the dreaded CONTENT review. For some reason Julie likes the number ten because there are ten of those too.

1. Show don't tell. Do a search for the words feel, feelings or felt and replace it with emotive action.
2. Keep the voice active. Passive voice adds a form of to be. See how many was's you can get rid of.
3. Point of view shifts AGAIN. It's really important NOT to head hop. (Again, a rule I broke constantly in my first book but who's counting.)
4. Chapter Hooks!!! Go to the beginning and end of each chapter and make sure you start with something great and end with a cliffhanger. If you've ever read R.L. Stein's Goosebumps, he was great at this even though he totally cheated. Okay, so don't go THAT far, but it's still worth doing.
5. Does each character have REAL motivations? Sometimes readers won't notice motivations but many writers and ALL editors do. Don't cheat and manipulate characters into behaviors they wouldn't do. In another workshop someone gave a perfect example. If you have a babysitter who needs to go in the attic, and you just have a sound up there so they go to investigate, you have an idiot as a main character and we want to throw the book across the room. If, on the other hand, she is playing hide-and-seek with the kids and she hears a sound in the attic, thinking it's a child she is watching, we are there with you and want to read on. Motivations are REALLY important.
6. Does the setting contribute to the piece? Why have you chosen the setting? Looking at the whole, would a change make it better? You aren't stapled to what you've written yet. Also, do you really describe the setting or just assume we know where you are.
7. Is the timeline consistent? I know writers who use planners or calendars to track ther timelines. Use something because this can be an HUGE mistake.
8. Does the conflict continue to increase throughout the story? Sometimes we try to end the conflict too soon and then keep on writing. Things should get worse and worse for our main character until they are almost defeated. In the end they should have to reach in their heart and find a strength they didn't know they had to finally succeed.
9. Does it have a natural flow or is it too contrived? Could this really have happened? Are there scenes you have to give up or adjust to make it believable?
10. Look through each page at your white space. Are there any pages that are too heavy? If so, add dialogue. Don't make the reader want to skip pages. We are all natural eavesdroppers so use it to your advantage.
***11. BONUS POINTER- Lean up! Cut any scenes that doesn't further the plot, reveal important character points or add intrigue. Okay, so I added this one but I know it's true because I like to go on and on, touching on tangents that impact the story in a serious way and have very little to do with it, sort of like what I'm doing right now.


Now, if this seems like a lot to you, don't fear because the next step is easy. You get THREE other people to read it. Three is a great number, if they are the right three. You should get:
-one avid reader who loves your genre,
-one reader who is a strong technical editor and
-one who understands plot and characterization.

Almost everyone knows someone who loves to read. If you are on Good Reads, you might find a fan or you might have a friend who is a total read-a-holic. The gift of this review will probably be more general and the discussion with this person after they read your work may be more useful than what they write down in the margins. Oh, and remember to give this person a hard copy.
Your other two readers can be other writers. If you swap manuscripts, you can develop a nice pool of potential readers that will stay fresh for a long time. If you aren't willing to read other manuscripts, you may find that after a few projects, you've burnt out potential friends- so be careful. Give as much as you take.

When you get back their edits, go through each separately. This will provide three more reviews of your work. Remember, you are almost done.


With copy and content edits and the three reader's edits complete, it is time to print out the entire manuscript. No, you can't just read it off your computer. Actually spend the time and money printing the thing off, even if you have to buy a new ink cartridge. Then read it OUTLOUD. It doesn't matter that your neighbor thinks you've finally gone crazy because you're talking to yourself. You'll see things that may have worked on the page, that don't work in your mouth. Also, it's a great thing to do, if ever you get that book on tape (dream of dreams.)


Not forever. Just for a few weeks. Do something that totally takes your mind off what you've done. Start outlining a new project, clean out your garage or edit someone else's manuscript. When your brain has unraveled its tight grasp on your current project, you are ready to go over it one last time. Enjoy it. See if there is any part that bores you or doesn't sound smooth and clean. Catch the little typos you overlooked. Once you've made it through this final read, YOU ARE FINISHED!!!!

There are very few things in this world that feel better than writing those two little words - THE END. But it doesn't take long to figure out that they are really only the beginning of the editing process. Now, thanks to Julie, I finally know when THE END is really THE END.



Marcia Mickelson said...

Thanks Christine!!

I didn't make it to the conference this year, but this info is so great. I'm printing it out and will keep it as a reference when editing.

Rebecca Talley said...

I didn't attend this class--there were so many great classes it was hard to choose and I was sad to miss the other classes. This is really good info, thanks for posting it.

Fiauna said...

So many good pointers here. Thanks for letting me in on these great writer tips!

Raven said...

This is always the tough part for me. I revise and revise and revise. Sometimes, I revise so deeply, I forget the tiny things, like a missing "a" or a four space indentation instead of a five.

And the confusing thing is that I read about some authors who work for two to six months on a story. I'm like that. If I send it out sooner, I end up finding glaring errors that I missed first time around.

I'm printing this out. It's great advice.


Nishant said...

I'm printing it out and will keep it as a reference when editing.
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