So you've finally done it. You've finished your prized manuscript
- the one you've spent months creating - and the temptation to pop it into a postal package and ship it off to a welcoming
editor is tugging at you mercilessly.
I urge you to resist that temptation. For now, anyway.
so much of your time and effort in producing what you have so far, it would seem a shame to rush things at this crucial stage
in your manuscript's life. Once the first draft is done, almost every writer realizes that an edit or partial rewrite is going
to be a necessary task.
There are almost as many different ways to edit and rewrite as there are writers. Some prefer
to edit as they go. There are those who prefer to chop and change storylines midway through the creation process. Others seem
to race through the first draft and spend time polishing it up once they're done. I'm one of the latter.
It makes no
difference which technique you prefer, as long as it works for you. The point is to end up with a professional manuscript
which an editor will hopefully buy.
So let's take a look at 12 polishing techniques that could mean the difference
between a sale and a rejection.
1 - Print it Out
Seeing your words paraded before you on a screen is one thing. Reading
your words in a different form means you will see it in a different perspective. If you write in long-hand, type it out. If
you use a computer, print out a paper copy.
I realize this method gets a little heavy on the pocket, but seeing your
work in a new light will highlight a lot of little mistakes and inconsistencies that would not be so obvious otherwise. Your
work will benefit from the exposure in a different format.
- Read it Aloud
Okay, so this might look a little silly to anyone
peeking through your window, but the chances are, no one is looking anyway. The point of this exercise is to bring out the
natural flow (or lack thereof) in your writing.
For this step, a notepad and a plentiful supply of pens are handy.
As you read, don't be tempted to stop and correct any redundancies, or awkward phrasings. Jot down anything you notice in
your notepad, but keep reading. You will get to the fix-it stage later.
Nothing will benefit your writing more than
hearing it read aloud. You'll discover nuances of rhythm and interpretation that the printed word will not show. You may also
discover odd-sounding cadences that interrupt the flow. Whatever you discover, hearing what you've written will give you a
sense of distance.
3 - Spelling and grammar
When you read something you created yourself, the tendency to anticipate words is
common. Often you mind will see the word you intended to write, rather than the actual error. Your computer spell-checker
will not pick up these discrepancies.
Words like "then" and "than" are easy to miss, and even easier to overlook. They
are such little words, after all.
Ask yourself how you would feel if you had picked up another author's work and found
trivial typing errors sprinkled throughout the story. I'm sure you wouldn't be too pleased, nor would the story seem so enjoyable
for this distraction. This is how a potential reader is going to view your work. Take the time to read it through carefully.
4 - Plot inconsistencies
During this initial read through, you should discover that there are points in your story that did not unravel
the way you thought they would. You may also learn that you began several threads that vanished into thin air.
happens. You know all the material in your story backwards. From your perspective, all the information is already there. But
the reader's perspective is what counts here. Just because the conclusions seem logical to you does not mean your writing
clarified your intentions.
You might have been caught up in the push of the story or the lure of the characters and
the plot braid you began got lost in the moment. This is the time to pick up all the loose threads and tie them into a neat,
5 - Characters
Is your point of view consistent? Do you have characters who wander into play,
and then fizzle out, contributing nothing to the story? Are your character traits consistent?
If you've introduced
a character in Chapter One who is five feet five and brunette, describing her as five feet eight with blonde hair in Chapter
Six is not going to sit well with readers, much less an editor.
Similarly, bringing a character into play simply to
deliver a line, or specific piece of information, is awkward. Find a way to utilize an existing character for this, or better
still, flesh out your 'extra' so that he contributes more to the storyline than just a messenger service.
though, minor characters are important. The nameless man serving behind the counter, the woman at the ticket booth, the girlfriend
of the next door neighbor's son. Showing the extras is fine, but ask yourself how much relevance they have to your story before
you jump into their life history, or worse, their point of view.
- Propel the Story
Know what your story's conflicts are. Conflict
helps to build tension, which will drive your story forward. Without the right descriptions, or by cluttering up the stage,
some of that impetus can be lost.
Sometimes, though, the thrill of writing action sequences or steamy scenes can make
you lose sight of where your story was heading. Adding an extra scene or two for the sake of excitement will not work if it
does not advance your story-line in a positive way.
It is hard to slash a great section of writing, or a favorite piece
of dialogue, but be brutal. If it does not advance your story or strengthen your plot focus, then close your eyes and press
Consider how a reader will feel looking at your work for the first time. Is the action propelling enough
to make him turn page after page? Is the protagonist's struggle believable enough to earn a sense of empathy from your readers?
do not give in to the temptation to stop reading and fix the problem. Keep a note in your notepad of any changes.
7 - Trim the Excess
anything in your fictional world, be specific. Telling a reader "the grass was a shade of green" or "she felt kind of ill"
is wishy-washy and weak. If the grass is green, then tell us it's green. If your characters is ill, then tell us she is, and
be sure to add the specifics of what ails her.
Similarly, go through and remove any weak nouns, verbs and modifiers.
Eliminate any abstractions and replace them with concrete images that will help your readers to visualize what is happening.
your manuscript for adjective-nouns combinations that can be replaced with a stronger, more specific noun. Remove any expletives
that do not add to the story or characterization. Cut any clichés. If you must use a metaphor or simile, strike a unique comparison
of your own.
8 - Active versus passive
Passive voice weakens any piece of writing, while active voice will add power and immediacy
to your story. Instead of writing "the boat was tossed about by the rough seas", replace this with "rough seas tossed the
Keep a look out for any sections of passive voice and remove them, or replace them with a stronger alternative.
9 - Simplify
Is your plot complicated
by twisting time-lines, too many flashbacks, or confusing plot braids that are improperly woven together? Consider eliminating
some of these sections to give a straight chronology.
Keep descriptions simple with powerful nouns. Strip your dialogue
to its bare essence. The extra details won't be lost, and the conversations will have a tighter feel.
of description are clearer and more direct than negative. As you go through your writing, make a note of the words no
and not. Then figure out a way to tell us what is instead of what isn't.
Simplicity brings clarity.
10 - Repetition
Variety is a
key factor in holding a reader's interest. Go through and find synonyms for any frequently repeated words or phrases.
through this article, the amount of times I've used the word 'replace' is scary. I should find a way to rearrange my structuring
so the word 'replace' doesn't show up so often, or I will risk sounding repetitive.
11 - Get another opinion
When you have finally
completed all the changes and edits from your notepad, it is time to seek another opinion. An unbiased viewpoint might pick
up a few discrepancies that even you missed on the last edit. Besides which, it is always a good thing to have someone else
check through your work before an editor sees it.
It makes no difference who reads your work. You aren't looking for
an A Grade editor, just an honest reader's opinion. All you need from them is an idea of how your work affected them. After
all, more than 95% of your readers will eventually fall into this category.
And if that reader does happen to pick
up on a few little things, the objectivity will have been worth the time and trouble.
An alternative here is to submit
your manuscript to a workshop. Sometimes the critiques can seem harsh, and sometimes you will receive some encouragement or
praise for your work, but mostly you will gain an understanding of how different people are interpreting your words.
12 - Re-edit
Once you have completed
your read-through, it is time to make the changes real. Take the time to chop the redundancies and pull out pieces that don't
contribute. This can take some time, but your story will be stronger for it.
Just when you think you've finished, and
it's time to send your masterpiece out into the big, bad world, read it again
This is an important step.
When adding extra words, or editing out the parts that didn't work, it is inevitable you will make a few mistakes. Simple
typing errors, forgetting to delete the rest of an incomplete sentence, doubling up on added lines. These things happen.
skim this part. Read through your manuscript again carefully. When you are sure it's all in place and as polished as it's
ever going to get...
Send it out the door