Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Technical Topic -- The First Big Edit

So, you've finished the manuscript.

You've finished the big, fat first draft
What next?

Next comes editing.

-- Trust yourself.

-- Expect to go through the whole ms many times.

-- Look at the plot and make sure everything makes sense and all the characters are acting logically and you've wrapped up all the loose ends. Try to see the plot as a whole structure ... maybe even visualize it in shapes and lines and boxes and graphs if that's the way your mind works.

-- Pick out the ten most exciting, heated, high-tension moments in the story. Draw a line that represents your total words ... 150,000 words, 90,000 words. Whatever. Write an X where each of these ten high-profile moments occurs with a really big X for the three largest. Do you like the way this looks?

-- Write your synopsis. It'll help you see plot structure and you'll have to do it sometime.

-- Do a readthrough for one character. Follow him. See what he's up to and how he feels in each scene and whether that's the way he should be feeling when he walks on stage. Then go on and do the same for every character.

-- Toy with the idea of eliminating the first three chapters or picking out and removing a subplot. This may be a perfectly horrible and stupid idea ... but let it pass through your mind at least once as a possibility. This is a good way to shorten the manuscript if it needs it. It's a good way to tighten the plot of any manuscript.

-- Read through the ms slowly, tightening language. Strike out every word and phrase you can. Be especially stern with modifiers. It helps to do this in a new font.

-- Print the manuscript out. Edit by hand. Read it aloud as you go.
-- If you can, set the ms aside for six or eight weeks and return to look at it with new eyes.

-- Hand the ms as a whole to a beta reader. Or more than one beta reader if you are very lucky. (You've done all the stuff above before it goes to the beta reader.)

-- Start working on your query letter.

-- Once all this is done, the minor housekeeping remains.... check the historical dates and the name of the thingie that holds the wick in a period lantern and whether chartreuse had been used as a color before it became a liquor.

... Make sure all your ellipses have only three dots instead of four and your periods are one dot, not two. Look for commas after 'and' and before 'and' -- are you using the Oxford comma? Check that your periods are followed consistently by one space or two, whichever you choose.

... Do a search for your favorite weird words -- excruciating, abrogate, inherent, sleeve, muffin -- whatever it is that your subconscious is in love with, and get them under control. Search also for the common flabbies -- very, somewhat, actually, really.*

... 'It', 'there', 'was' and 'that' are not signs of a weak sentence, but they appear in the weakest sentences. A quick runthrough of these four words may signal some sentences that could be recast a bit.

... Do the spell check.

... and bob's yer uncle. Send out those queries.

* For what it's worth, my own list of words to check includes but is not limited to:
and, but, abrupt, actually, almost, annoy, appear, awful, bastard, because, become, began, begin, bit, bleak, breath, business, careful, chuckle, close, confront, course, dance, deuce, devil, drew, drily, exasperate, eye, face, fact, faint, feel, felt, finger, flat , frown, froze, gaze, gentle, glance, glower, good, grimace, grin, grip, hand, heel, hoarse, hold, instant, irritate, just, know, laugh, lean, lips, listen, little, look, loom, matter, minute, moved, murmur, nervous, nice, nodded, no, now, oh, palm, point, pretty, push, quite, rather, reach, really, scowl, seem, shake, shock, shook , shoulder, silence, slow, smile, snap, snort, soft, somewhat, sort of, sound, start, stood, stop, stroke, studied, subtle, sudden, swallowed, that, then, thoughtful, tight, touch, truly, turned, twitch, very, voice, warm, walk, want, wave, well, whispered, yes.

One compiles this list by noticing as one writes what words are overused and adding those to the list.

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