All-righty, finally back with my next installment on editing a manuscript (refer to Part I if you missed it). Once again, this is all thanks to the ladies at Room to Write for sharing insights that might be new to you or least validating of what you already know. Nothing compares to that face-to-face conversation, but I love the interaction that occurs between writers online via blogs. As they said at the workshop, there is so much to be learned beyond our own work, after all—it’s as important to listen to and learn from the projects and experiences of others.
It also teaches us to peel back our skin and not be overly protective of our work. I had to laugh when author Wendy Robertson spoke on all the emotional loading that goes into the critique when we offer it to others for feedback; she said something to the effect that when we give our work to someone else:
“You’re giving your critiquer the power to upset you.”
Ain’t it the truth. Perhaps this is why when I sent the full edit of my first assigned manuscript to its author this afternoon, I cushioned my email with empathy and compliments of everything that was done well, hoping she’ll receive my suggestions for improvement in stride and be willing to work with me constructively.
Anyway, when it comes editing for ourselves, remember that we must become self-conscious of who we are as a writer and what it is we want to achieve. To do that best, we need to identify our style and describe it in a few words. If you read 50 pages of your own novel, what comes across on the page? Is your style spare, lyrical, conversational, whimsical, direct, abstract (to offer a few), or combination of more than one?
We are now shifting from macro-editingto micro-editing and need to explore our style in relation to our content:
– I mentioned the “shape” of the novel last time, which relates to your story arc. This might continually ascend like a surging wave or start thin (yet interesting) and thicken in density to an explosive climax—Wendy likened this to the body of a whale, with the tail being the interesting opening and the blow-hole the climax. Or maybe your chapters are individual stories unto themselves that link together in some way to provide continuity and relevance, like a chain with a large loop toward the end where this progression culminates into the climax (Blackbird House is an example of this shape).
Shapes can vary, but there should always be conflict (tension), climax (crisis), surprise and revelation. And from a micro-editing standpoint, this needs to apply to each of your individual chapters as well.
– Speaking of chapters, as mentioned last time, ensure there’s continuity between them, yes, but also within them on a paragraph-to-paragraph, sentence-to-sentence level.
– With continuity maintaining our story’s consistency and logical progression, we must also make sure the words and sentences flow. This concerns the musicality of the language itself, and the best way to determine this is to read it aloud so you hear it.
– Your musicality and style will be greatly impacted by your sentence construction, so evaluate your writing on a sentence-by-sentence level. Is the syntax effective? Does it flow? Does it make sense? It’s important to ensure you’re applying correct grammatical conventions through punctuation and arrangement of clauses. Use commas, semicolons, and colons for sentence variety and make sure they’re used correctly.
Of course, creative writing allows for creative departure from conventions as well, but make sure that if you do deviate from the rules, there’s a specific purpose for it that strengthens what you’re trying to say. If it’s not producing the intended effect, revisit it and, all else fails, run with the convention rather than muddle your ideas in unclear writing.
– The language you use is the building block for everything, so you need to evaluate your writing on a word-by-word level as well. Make every word count, the strongest choice it could be (English in particular is too word-rich to not take advantage of it!). And obviously don’t allow excessive repetition, incorrect/inappropriate use, or incorrect spelling distract and otherwise undermine your writing.
– The “look” of the page is important as well, so ensure ample inclusion of “white space” now and then to allow your reader’s eyes to “breathe.” This is usually achieved through dialogue that isn’t overly bogged down in paragraphs of description. Section breaks provide white space as well to help accentuate shifts in time/setting.
And if you’re cutting down for word count or tightening, rather than prune on a word/phrase level, they seemed to opt for removing whole chunks, if not lifting an entire chapter to see if the story even misses it. I would suffer some major separation anxiety in that case, but I know some of you have said in your blogs that you’ve done it and lived to tell the tale. And it might not be a matter of ridding of it entirely. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying:
“Don’t throw your babies out with the bathwater.”
Well, they warned us of this as well, and it’s actually why they cautioned not to overly prune on a word/phrase level—making our sentences sparser could deprive the story of some of its joy! And even lifting an entire chapter may just be a structural change by which you drop it into a different place in your manuscript. (Now that I have done, and it works so much better!) At any rate, they said:
“If you kill your darlings, don’t put them in the bin—save them for something else!”
Another novel, a short story, a poem, who knows?!
All right, folks, if I haven’t successfully made your eyeballs roll out with all this reading by now, keep them sucked into those sockets—I’ll be back with a little bit on what they had to say about manuscript formatting, publishers, and self-promotion.
PART III – Submitting a Manuscript