Tag Archives: revision

The Red Pen: Editing Another’s Manuscript – Part II

Hello again! Just accommodating the overspill from yesterday’s post, as I yet wanted to address developmental edits on my first manuscript assignment in this capacity. Again, I can’t share any comments that would give away plot/character specifics, and I’m obviously not including the little microediting minutiae here (like reworking sentence structures), but what I am doing is grabbing the meatier highlights of what I found to be the most prevalent issues in the hope it helps reinforce what to check for in your own manuscript as it did for mine.

So to speak on a macroediting level today, this author’s main focus now as she makes her edits (due back to me later this month) needs to be on her ending. We’ve talked story arc before, and a scene after a critical moment of rising action in a later chapter seemed to drag out too long as the reader nears the story’s climax, for which I noted:

[…] I’m not suggesting cutting these parts out, as they serve a purpose in the story and provide important information. Yet perhaps if they’re condensed a bit the pacing could keep flowing toward that climax. What’s key is to determine what you perceive as this story’s pinnacle and make sure everything is building up and up to that, keeping the reader compelled and not bogged down in too much talk or description that tends to flatten out the story’s trajectory when it should be climbing. Dialogue can be [tightened], limiting it to what keeps moving [the characters] and the reader forward.

And whereas that section seemed to drag on too long, the last chapter forced too much into too short a space in seeking a complete resolution. This is a romance novel, so that resolution naturally involves the two main characters attaining closure on where their relationship stands:

Hm, this sounds like a lot to load onto [him] all of a sudden […] when they’re only just working out whether they’ll stay together. I know in assessing that they may as well get all the big deal-breaker topics out of the way, but it still seems like a lot at once. Could she possibly just reference [her wants] in such a way that’s meant to show [him] she’s in for the long-haul with [him], too, in the spirit of taking it one step at a time?

And with romance novels, there’s always the risk of confusing “romance” with “sex,” so when the latter comes up (“up,” quite literally) right at the end and after a sweet moment of sentiment, I suggested:

Hm, seems to undermine the sincerity of the emotion. Maybe [this] can just be coinciding with his revelations of love for her, helping to unleash these realizations rather than being the way he chooses to show her his love after the fact (it’s a little caveman). Some description of her engagement with it might help as well to show this love as something they share in both the emotional and physical sense.

I expressed this merely as my reader’s POV, and not as a prude or a feminist. There’s a way sex can be written romantically, but this just wasn’t it, and I think the author agrees that the resolution can take a less easy, but higher road out.

Another item on the agenda is character development, and, in this work, I felt the two main characters were developed fully. I genuinely liked them and, from the romance aspect, really wanted them to get together—they made sense as a couple. Most importantly, I believed in them—they felt real, through their dialogue, actions, back-stories, chemistry, etc., and that’s all to the credit of this writer and her keen insights into people and engaging writing style. Where I did encounter some mixed feelings concerned the female protagonist and her ex-lover, a secondary character who is integral to the plot and the protagonist’s growth, yet himself appears very rarely in the story. Even so, his development felt too one-dimensional to me:

He is just so vile, and this makes perfect sense given his animosity toward [her revenge] and that he’s just a bad fit for her. What it leaves me wondering, though, is what it was about him that she used to care for. While I can see her insecurities leading her to choose the wrong men, [she] also has too much substance to go for someone with zero redeeming qualities beyond the materialistic.

Not that this would have to be developed in depth, but consider such opportunities where she’s [already] reflecting on him to somewhere incorporate (even just a sentence or two) the appeal he did once have for her, even if it only ended up being fake or that he changed.

In this case, the secondary character’s lack of believability could impact the protagonist’s, so this was a strongly suggested change to preserve consistency in her character—and, even better, it’s a quick, easy fix. Likewise with the following case where the protagonist still seemed to pine over her ex during the final scene with her new love:

From the way you’ve depicted him, I’m highly doubting [her ex-lover] would ever want [what she claims here], so I don’t see this as being the issue with him that would come to light at this point. I’m actually surprised that she’d be talking about him at all right now and getting choked up in residual emotion over it – [there was] sufficient enough closure [earlier]. Plus, she just [made several  grand gestures to win her new lover]—she’s all about [that guy] right now, and it doesn’t seem appropriate for her to bring up old flames in this intimate setting. […] Her not reflecting on him as anything that ever mattered would be a most convincing way of [showing her growth].

But that’s my take on it, which is why I label this as a “suggested” change, albeit a very strongly suggested one because I felt disappointed in [her] when she started saying all this.

And this last comment shows how I do try to approach my edits of another’s work delicately, keeping ultimate stylistic/plot control with the author while also trying to earn trust in my feedback. It’s very easy for all of us to get protective of our writing, but if we really want it to become its best, we need to consider reader response seriously. (Tahlia Newland addresses this fact and several other awesome tips on ms revision in her recent Lethal Inheritance post on how to know when your manuscript is ready.) And as I learned in teaching, the key with feedback is balancing the positive with the constructive so a writer isn’t feeling like there’s nothing of merit in his/her work; be honest, but preserve some pluck for carrying out those revisions effectively!

How about you? Have you ever had to edit someone else’s writing? How did it help you with your own?


The Red Pen: Editing Another’s Manuscript – Part I

As a new year is about making resolutions, I realized there are still a couple promises from my November I.O.U. that I haven’t yet fulfilled. So let’s tie up those loose ends!

To start, I owe Milo from In Media Res 10 random things about myself, which can be found at this link (’cause you know he’d send a guy to break my legs if I didn’t make good on that).

I’d also meant to share some of my editing notes on a manuscript that shall remain anonymous, so to the extent that I can do so without giving any specifics of the story away…

On a word level, I provided a list of frequently-recurring verbs/adjectives and noted:

Would be worthwhile to scan and determine how you might replace them with synonyms here and there for variety, or possibly eliminate altogether in the event the characters’ actions and/or dialogue already convey the same idea (thereby making description redundant). They’re great words that make description vivid, but because they stand out, their repetition is less invisible.

Try to reduce use of dialogue tags to when it’s necessary for identifying the speaker. Especially avoid overly descriptive ones – show tone instead through the dialogue itself or the character’s actions. In most cases, “said” is best, as it’s invisible to the reader.

I likewise advised on minimizing adverbs and “to be” verbs—the former “tell” more than “show,” and the latter slow down pace and sound a bit more passive. Where description was concerned, the issues that stood out most were telling-versus-showing, redundancy, and certain physical descriptions that ran too specific and frequent:

While you have an effective way of threading description through dialogue, sometimes that description can be condensed together rather interrupting the flow of the dialogue multiple times. Seeking opportunities for this will enhance the pacing and snappiness of your characters’ great dialogue rather than bog it down.

Just to interject another comment on adverbs and other description accompanying dialogue – think of how certain messages/attitudes/etc. might be conveyed through the characters’ dialogue or actions for the reader to figure out rather than be told outright. [Sometimes] it can make the reader feel like a detached third-party rather than in on the action. I definitely feel pulled into this story, but teeny moments like this can sometimes remind me that I’m reading something rather than “living” it—almost like little road bumps that interrupt an otherwise smooth experience.

And it’s not always about replacing description with description—it can be taking some description away altogether.  Your characters share such witty, snappy banter, that it may at times feel appropriate to just let them talk with minimal interruption. For example, if this first sentence of the paragraph was taken away, I would still catch on to [Secondary Character]’s displeasure and coolness by virtue of his brief first sentence and shift [in dialect].

Reduce level of description for secondary characters that do not recur. This draws attention to [Secondary Character] and makes me think I should know her well, yet she never reappears later.

Sometimes these color and make/model details seem superfluous. We see [Main Character]’s truck play an important role later, but [Secondary Character] and anyone else’s vehicles don’t really matter to the story.

Then there were structural considerations on sentence, page, and chapter levels:

Consider breaking down some paragraphs with embedded dialogue […]. It creates more white space to quicken the conversation’s pace and allows the reader’s eyes to “breathe.”

[T]he description of one character embedded with another’s dialogue sometimes makes it confusing who the speaker is. Sometimes, perhaps, a description like this could skip to the next line, provided the continuing speaker is tagged.

To enhance flow, perhaps join these two [simple] sentences using a semicolon or conjunction.

Section break to accentuate passage of time and shift of focus to [another character].

Basically, I proposed many paragraph breaks to not only help break up clunkier sections, but also separate dialogue from descriptions that didn’t correspond with it. My suggested section breaks not only helped to denote shifts, but also provide a breathable white space and prevent a chapter from becoming the structural equivalent of a run-on sentence. And in a couple cases, I recommended converting a section break to a chapter break—in the case of the very first chapter, doing such preserved the opening momentum as the second section was rather lengthy.

Such are just a few examples, but what all the edits peppering that manuscript boil down to is clarity and consistency.

This has gotten long, so I’ll save my two pence on the more developmental edits I made for tomorrow. Ta!


Serving My Fur-Balls up on a Platter

Or at least my brain and heart

You see, the Monkey is having difficulty throwing its own poop today.

Why?

Because it’s a difficult if not impossible action to undertake when one has scared oneself shitless.

Why?

Because I’m setting myself up for the first in a series of rejections on my manuscript this week, at long last. Isn’t that exciting?! It’s the moment I’ve been waiting for!

In all honesty, it does feel really good to finally be at this stage (or deluding myself that I’m ready for this stage). I’m certainly no diva who is staring down my novel and basking in its perfection…but I know I’m past my “Fraying at the End” point and have reached instead where I’ve read it over and revised so many times, walked away from it a while, walked back to it and read it over and revised so many times more that I personally am quite satisfied and happy with it. Yet I humbly also think it’s as far as I can take it myself until it falls in someone‘s nurturing hands, whether it’s actually picked up by an agent or publisher (dare I even think it?!) or me shelling out the cash for an editing service should I go the route of self-publication. My lovely beta-reader was tremendously helpful as I shaped up the early drafts, so if it meets with rampant rejection in its current form, she’ll surely be called back in for more consultation :). I once feared someone else’s suggestions would make the story less than my own. But through the beta-reading process and now developmentally editing another’s work for publication, I’ve come to see how nice-n-polished-n-perdy a tale can become from this outside input (my recently published sister likened it to a “spa treatment” for her novel). Not that I’m expecting to get any sort of feedback through the submission process. I know I won’t…

This is a rather vulnerable stage, isn’t it…in some way empowering, yet also feeling like sending one’s child off to school for the first time…*sniff* *sniff*…or to the gallows ;)…

I’m going to give my mind a little break on this for a bit, as I’ve written and revised to blindness, and rather than dwell on the negativity my Inner Critical Beeyotch may eventually spew, what I know right now is that my manuscript in its present incarnation passes the test I’ve had for it all along:

Is it the story I wanted to write? Check.

Is it a story I would want to read? Check.

Did I enjoy the process? Check.

Does it reflect who I am as a person and a writer? Check & Check.

Is it something I’m committed to strengthening further down the road for the sake of its own existence as its best self? Check.

Started during my first months living in London and spanning the two years I’ve lived here so far, there’s a lot in this work that encapsulates my own experiences and observations (hence, my “From Sentiments to Sentences” posts), so at the very least it will be a special little time machine for me take a spin in when nostalgic in the future.

Beyond this, I reckon it’ll be time to bring my blog back to its origins for a little while—i.e., belching out the randomness of my mind in response to short writing prompts. I’d originally started the blog to do just that as, at the time, I was caught in a writer’s block. Well, at this point, I think the creative rescuscitation will do me good in not only eventually revisiting this first manuscript and getting rolling with that second novel idea that’s been flitting about in the cobwebby corners of my cranium, but also, quite simply, writing for writing’s sake.

Those prompts could be just the laxative the Monkey needs to keep my throwin’ arm warmed up, after all…


I.O.U. – Going, Going, Gone Until Next Week

Writing a blog post here to tell you what I’m going to write in blog posts next week. Why do something so asinine? Because I’m shorter on time than I’d like to be today, and after my previous lapse in blogging, I really wanted to get a post in this week to represent, yo.

What I was going to write about this week (and will now have to next week) was the beginning of my editing process on someone else’s manuscript now that I’ve received my first assignment as freelance developmental editor. I respectfully will refrain from discussing this author’s specific plot and leave it purely to the general suggestions I’ve noted that are likewise duly filed away in me noggin for my own manuscript (and may be useful for yours).

Which brings me to another topic I was going to write about…my manuscript status. Not super interesting at this stage, other than I’ve had it printed and bound as-is to whisk away to the English countryside for another workshop with the Room to Write organization I met in March. This is the first time I’ve seen those words in print, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t catch a typo and sentences begging to be cut on first cracking it open. It’ll never end will it…Ah well, the focus of the workshop is manuscript revision and submission, so it’s just as well that mine is still a work-in-progress.

Which brings me to what I was going to write about next week anyway: the workshop. I promise to share what insights I take away from it (and I can cram an extra scone in my pocket for ya if you’d like).

Ah, and in catching up on some of your blogs, I see that I’m going to fulfill the reqs of receiving the “Honest Scrap” award from Milo James Fowler over at the always-enjoyable In Media Res blog. Thank you, Milo! So now next week in addition to the usual fur balls, I’ll be coughing up 10 random things about myself.

Until then, I owe ya…Happy Weekend, everyone!


Monkeys in My Tree

Just a quickie, folks, to notify that the wacky monkeys I descended from (a.k.a., Mom & Dad) have swung from a loooong vine across the Atlantic ocean to visit me.  We’ve just returned from a delightful weekend in the Cotswolds and Stratford-upon-Avon and are recovering from a not-so-delightful extended train ride back to London last night—our train hit someone on the tracks, the poor soul :(…Then tomorrow we’re off to rrrrOMA! for a few days.

Hopefully I’m not wearing the poor Ps out already; we’d had to flee town for this past weekend already because my genius husband and I managed to dumb-ass double-book ourselves, so a couple of our friends flew in from Italy last Wednesday before my parents arrived from Chicago the following morning.  Our wee abode officially bursting beyond capacity, I chose to head for the hills (or the “wolds,” I should say) to give everyone a bit of breathing room.  Since our first guests arrived in March of 2009, this is the 17th round of guests that we’ve hosted in London.  Not counting parental repeats, 30 different people have rested their heads at what we’ve long been calling the B&B.  I should’ve bought a guestbook from the getgo had I any freaking idea how many people would suddenly come out of the woodwork and want to stay with us once we moved somewhere cool.  I think our next home had better be in Nebraska.

Anyways, all whingeing aside, I’m having the best time with my parents, and I’m giddy because my Dear Reader has been emailing back her second round of feedback on my manuscript ending.  I’ve got some work cut out for me on that, but I’m so excited to revisit it and make it the strongest version of itself.  I have a November workshop on manuscript submission as my deadline for getting things as polished and perdy as can be :).

In the meantime, as long as my tree here continues to be occupied and me swinging hither and yon as Hostess with the Mostess, I’ll be out of commission in the blogosphere for several more days.  I shall miss you and your wonderful insights until then—*mwah*!!


Revisal of the Shittest

“I believe imagination is like a Darwinian system.”

sock monkey image from cthulhufhtagn.deviantart.com

In the above quotation from the novel Sophie’s World (which I finally got through a week ago), Alberto Knox—the story’s philosopher—discusses with Sophie the nature of creativity and how it follows the natural selection of Darwinism:

“Thought-mutants occur in the consciousness one after the other, at least if we refrain from censoring ourselves too much.  But only some of these thoughts can be used.  Here, reason comes into its own.  It, too, has a vital function.  When the day’s catch is laid on the table we must not forget to be selective.”

Oh, that Alberto and his way with analogies…sorry, can’t help being sarcastic toward this book. Disregarding the tremendous education on philosophy it provides (which in itself is good reason to read the novel, and I’m glad that I did), it’s the fictional aspect of the plot that pricked into my skin like so many fleas in my fur. An interesting attempt to provide an entertaining means of digesting large concepts and history, the fictitious story line that distinguishes this as a “novel” versus “textbook” fell a little flat for me. The dialogue was unbelievably forced (most of Sophie’s comments/questions simply served as breaks or segues in the long lectures), and though it takes an interesting twist mid-way through, the characters and thin plot just didn’t endear themselves. Quite frankly, I found Sophie to be a precocious little twit. But I digress…

In any case, what he’s getting at here is that imagination generates the ideas, but reason weeds out the “mutants” and selects the best ones to carry on.  The plot twist in the book also ushered in some self-reflexive commentary on writing and the manipulative power the writer has over those ideas, settings, and characters in his/her charge. As far as the creative process in general, Alberto continues to say (with another analogy in practically the same breath as the first…):

“Maybe the imagination creates what is new, but the imagination does not make the actual selection.  The imagination does not ‘compose.’ A composition—and every work of art is one—is created in a wondrous interplay between imagination and reason, or between mind and reflection.  For there will always be an element of chance in the creative process.  You have to turn the sheep loose before you can start to herd them.”

This “wondrous interplay” is what laboriously polishes our inspired first drafts into final manuscripts. It’s what also keeps us in check so we don’t overly pillage our paragraphs of the words and thoughts that breathe soul into them; all too often, reason defeats imagination when there should instead be a balance of power.

Unlike the negligent Dr. Frankenstein, however, we do need to be mindful of what we bring into being. Our stories inspire us, they speak to us, they surprise us, yes, but they also rely on us to nurture and shape them, to help find a suitable place in the world for them. It’s still essential to follow the writing rules so we don’t feed our stories after midnight or get them wet, thereby leaving the sweet Mogwais of our imagination to metamorphose into Gremlins of loose redundancy and holes. That said, I don’t mean to be harsh on our uncensored minds, and perhaps my title isn’t fair in calling our first drafts “shit”…but far be it from me to pass up a good rhyme, and, anyways, sometimes they just really are ;).  (I think Sophie’s World, for example, might’ve benefited from another read-through…)

Serendipitously, at the same time as I’d read the chapter quoted here and mulled over this intellectual tightrope, Tahlia (author of Lethal Inheritance who blogs on the site of same name) posted “Do we write a story or uncover it?“—here, she asks how much we write using our rational intellect versus not thinking and just going with the flow.  It seems we universally tread this fine line, leaving us with this:  To think or not to think…that is the question when it comes to the evolution of our story.


The Telltale Taboos

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” – Mark Twain

The revision continues, so this is just a quickie.  That’s right, I’m gonna just love ya then leave ya, blog-slut that I am…

I’ve done a once-over combing through my manuscript and trimmed out a few thousand words so far.  As I still contemplate how I’m going to tweak that damn ending—sorry, I mean “very” ending—no, I mean “damn” ending—no, I mean just “ending,” period ;)—I’m approaching another wave.  But before I do another complete read-through, I’m strategically using my Word application’s “Find” tool to seek out and evaluate the use of a few common culprits that threaten to weaken our writing.

While there are many ways to slice-and-dice revision (including eliminating those adverbs and “to be” verbs), here’s a sample of overused, taboo words to check for in your manuscript as a quick-fix:

very

always

really

when

then

that

suddenly

just

began / started (With these, don’t use it if whatever is “beginning/starting” doesn’t stop before the action is carried out. Oh my gaawwd, I can’t believe how many ‘began’s I’ve found…naughty Monkey!)

For what that’s worth.  It’s not to say we shouldn’t use these words at all, just not overly so—it’s worth a scan to become cognizant of our usage and determine whether there isn’t a more direct, active means of engaging our reader through other word choices/sentence structure.

Also [I’m adding this retroactively in response to Sharmon’s good point in the comment below], I personally reduced those words in my 3rd-person narration, but left most of them in my dialogue, as those words are likely overused in our writing because they’re what we use often when we speak!  So, it’s arguable from that standpoint that they contribute toward authentic dialogue, no?

What words would you add to the list?

[As an aside, can’t help but share that the Mark Twain quotation reminds me of a time from my consulting days when the guy in the cubicle across from mine started swearing, walked away, then promptly returned with a colleague.  “Fix it,” he said to the guy, pointing at his computer.  Our friend/coworker giggled as he did so.  Afterwards, I learned that the guy had tampered with my cubicle-mate’s Word settings such that every time he typed the word “the” in his client report, it auto-corrected to, well, a term for male genitalia.  Ah, Finance wasn’t always so boring…]


The Levity of Brevity

[Time to kick it old school…yeeeah boyee!] Just found out my first attempt at writing a Nanoism is scheduled to publish in July.  A Nanoism is microfiction based on Twitter-length stories—that’s right, up to 140 characters.  Microfiction is a trend relatively new to me, but one that writer Milo James Fowler (In Media Res blog), utilizes as a means of keeping his creativity flowing during and between writing stories—one of his submissions (75-words only) was recently published at Paragraph Planet.  And now I’m appreciating it as a tool for practicing how to pare down.

I can dash off a 10-20 page essay with relative ease, but it was back in grad school when I was asked to write only 2-3 pages comparing/contrasting 3 works of fiction that I suffered my first true writer’s block.  The notes I’d taken in preparation weren’t even that succinct, so just when I felt my extensive planning would make the writing a cinch, trying to pull it all together within that parameter had me seriously contemplating just dropping out of a $1,500 class (non-refundable by that time, of course. Ouch.).

“Brevity is a great charm of eloquence.”  – Cicero

Conciseness is an art.  Truly.  Go figure that it was probably my first career in business that ultimately saw me through that essay—though it sucked the creative soul out of writing, it taught me a thing or two about keeping it brief and direct, and…well…any of you who read my stuff here will see that that particular skill has by now gone to the wayside…gah, I recently sent off a guest post weighing in at just under 2,000 words (scheduled for Real Bloggers United on July 17th), which has me contemplating the value of getting to the point faster.

“Let thy speech be short, comprehending much in few words.”
–  Bible, Ecclesiasticus

“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”
– Thomas Jefferson

Admittedly, one of the factors that initially delayed me in writing my manuscript’s ending was word count.  At 90,000, I’d estimated I was about three-quarters through when a concerned author told me that’s the length my entire work should be as a newbie.  So thinking about both the tremendous hacking I was going to have to do in addition to still writing said ending sent me into panic, which I’ve only just recently released.  Basically, I’ve adopted the mindset that I need to just let myself carry the story out freely and deal with the editing afterwards, which has helped, though the inevitable still hovers over my head like the guillotine blade I’ll need to use on my text, the executioner of my own words 😦

This all being said, what I have trimmed out so far has clearly strengthened the story, just as my sage advisers always said it would, so I do trust in that.  And as I look at bits I’ve scribbled along the way and always assumed would have a place in my book, I understand now that if they didn’t meld in naturally by this point, to attempt to include them now would be about as thrilling to me as gouging a funnel down a duck’s neck to make myself foie gras.  I think instead I’ll measure out those grains for a less fatty entree or side dish in future meals…

So.  I’ve lapsed on updating this blog until today because I have indeed been cranking on my ending as well as going back to the beginning to ensure there’s balance—and, in doing so, I can see how my writing has evolved over the course of this long project…how my sentences were much longer and more complex, my descriptions more frequent…it seems I’ve since learned a wee bit more about the art of condensing, so may need to retroactively apply that to those opening chapters so the overall work can shed that fat and really flex its muscles.

“It is with words as with sunbeams. The more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.”  – Robert Southey

Huh.  I thought I’d be brief with this post.  Oh, the irony.


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