The Manuscript Manicure – Part I: Macro-Editing

Hiya! I’m back to redeem that I.O.U. I gave you last week. See, my word’s good as gold ;)…

As I mentioned, I attended a writing workshop with Room to Write over the weekend that was geared toward prepping a novel manuscript for submission. The full-day conference was divided into two primary parts—Editing and Publication—the first of which I’ll address in part now and break the rest down into separate posts. But, first, I’ll start with some general notes I jotted along the way to get us in the proper mindset:

One thing they stressed is that, above all:

“Editing is a creative process.”

Yes, it involves the nitty-gritty technical stuff, but we’re not merely playing the role of English teacher grading for grammar with red pen in hand—revising our work requires every bit of imagination and innovative thought as writing our initial draft does. For as they said, when the first draft is finished:

“You’re only just beginning.”

Ah yes, it does feel that way doesn’t it…my question is, when the hell does it end???

Anyway, in order to become our own editor, we have to become a “self-conscious” one. No, not as in insecurity-ridden—I think I’ve already mastered that one just fine :). What they mean is to be conscious of the kind of writer we are and the audience we’re writing for. The better aware we are of this, the better  we’ll be able to edit our work with this focus in mind.

Macro-editing is concerned with the overall  novel as a cohesive work. It’s our opportunity to step back from our first draft and contemplate whether it has achieved what we wanted it to and is structured effectively. They encouraged us to print a hardcopy of the manuscript to initiate this stage, as reading your words on the page is truly a different experience from reading them on screen. (I wouldn’t have expected this, but wow. There’s so much more that I catch with that ms in hand.) You will also want to list your themes, summarize your entire book in three sentences, and keep these with you as you journey back through your text to ensure you aren’t straying from any critical elements.

Key aspects your self-conscious-editing self should look for (not only in the novel as a whole, but in every chapter and scene as well) are:

– A compelling beginning, a hook that makes the reader want to continue. The first chapter in particular should be compelling in an action sense, but also in a literary way—it needs to be beautifully written. Subsequent chapters likewise need their own hooks and should be varied in how they start (i.e., beginning with dialogue, beginning in the middle of action, etc.)

– Action, drama, or “trouble,” as they called it.

– Appropriate pacing.

Three-dimensional characters that are brought to life and desire something;

— Characters are “thinly veiled versions of the writer” (sound familiar?), but we must immediately establish distinction between them and from ourselves if they are to appear as separate people; if they’re all clones of us, then they’re clones of each other.
— If you can “see” the character in your mind (consider gathering clippings from magazines and such for reference), then they will come across on the page.
– Provide physical descriptions of your three main characters, enough to help visualize their traits, but not full-bodied detail. Leave something to your readers’ imagination.
— Characters should be consistent from start to finish (i.e., if you reveal or yourself learn something new about them later in the novel, are these traits present at the beginning as well? If not, try to introduce them at least subtly).
— We should see growth in the main character.

– Clear sense of when and where each scene partakes.

– Long sections of description/exposition that could be cut.

Changing up the writing between exposition, narrative, and dialogue.

– A sense of atmosphere and appeal to the senses that lends texture.

– Something in each chapter that surprises the reader.

Continuity between scenes and chapters; ensure nothing is missing.

– Evaluate the “shape” of your novel/chapter in terms of story arc. Shapes can vary, but there should in general be a rising sense of action/conflict until the climax, then a dip toward resolution (so check for any sagging in the middle).

– Evaluate the ending and ensure a sense of resolution. They advised us to look at six novels we personally enjoy and look at their endings as a guide for managing this successfully. They also admitted that, in the interest of keeping your ending brief (the resolution should just be a “flick” after the climax) as well as ensuring your reader understands what has happened, the resolution may indeed warrant more telling than showing.

Throughout your macro-editing assessment, then, you will want to sit back and assess whether this is the story you wanted to write in the first place. I suppose it doesn’t hurt if ends up morphing into something even cooler than you thought it could be, but if it seems to fall short in some way, pinpoint where it diverges and contemplate how to get it back on track. Another very important point to consider outside of yourself is if it is the story your reader will want to read—how will they experience it?

I’d better cut this off here until my next installment. Many thanks to author Avril Joy for guiding us through this session of the workshop! More to come…

PART II Micro-editing

PART III – Submitting a Manuscript

PART IV – On Publishers & Publicizing

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About thefallenmonkey

Primate that dapples in writing when not picking others' fleas or flinging its own poop. View all posts by thefallenmonkey

24 responses to “The Manuscript Manicure – Part I: Macro-Editing

  • Eva

    Oh hello … thanks so much for sharing all the knowledge you gained. It seems this was a super-helpful workshop. I especially had to chuckle about the part that characters are usually the thinly veiled versions of the writer. God almighty, it seems I really have something of a terrorist (hubby might confirm ;D).

    Anywho, although i am far from revising but only really started into serious writing “number 2”, these tips are great to keep in mind even while you are writing, so thanks a lot for wrapping all that advice up into your cool posts….

    • thefallenmonkey

      Eva, now I am, in turn, chuckling at your inner terrorist :). God speed as you write #2! That’s wonderful, and you’re right that it’s helpful bearing these things in mind as we write—am hoping it will spare me a little more pain next time round. But from your own work experience and consequent advice that you’ve given, it seems you already know what it takes and are leaps and bounds ahead of some of us rookies ;).

      • Eva

        Aaw, thank you, me darlin’. If you ask me we are all out there together, bobbing on the rough seas of unpublished writer-dom. So we have to throw each other lifelines wherever we can. 🙂 Will definitely keep reaching out for yours – there is always something interesting in them.

  • Alannah

    I have saved this to read when I decide to pick up my writer’s hat again so thank you in advance for writing it 🙂

  • Milo James Fowler

    I’m liking this “macro-editing” concept: looking at the big picture and seeing where the first (or second) draft falls short, pinpointing where it needs the most work and going from there in the revision process. I’m also a fan of the hard copy at this stage; I like being able to flip through the pages and scribble notes here and there. (Sorry trees…)

    • thefallenmonkey

      Yeah, it’s great to be able tote around in a bag and peek at without sitting hunched at my computer; marking it up feels like grading papers again, ahh 😉 And the macro-editing approach really has me looking at my chapters as individual stories with their own arcs, and particularly reminds me to make sure sense of when and where is clear in each one.

  • tahliaN

    A great summary. Looking forward to the next installment, which i guess will be micro editing – that’s what I’m doing right now. Better get back to it – checking words that scream ‘telling not showing’

    • thefallenmonkey

      Gah, it’s such a tedious enterprise, isn’t it? I’ve been editing this other person’s manuscript all week and flagging instances of it left and right, all the while going mad at the thought of how much my own manuscript is sitting there and riddled with it. That’ll be my task for this week as well :).

  • Glen

    Oh I do like you — keep this coming, I’m learning loads for free 🙂

  • milkfever

    This post has arrived with perfect timing. I’m agonizing over the second draft of the second novel. Phew. It’s such a big job, isn’t it? Thank you for sharing your wisdom. It’s very much appreciated. 🙂

    • thefallenmonkey

      Woohoo! Congratulations on your progress with the second book, that’s awesome! I’m about to post some more today, for what it’s worth…tough to distill a fully day’s worth of discussion, and it’s probably so much that you already know, but hopefully in that case it can at least be reconfirming.

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