Sunday, March 3, 2013

Editing Makes Me Growl

Okay, so I was on Twitter, talking to strangers, offering advice that's not always obvious.  Well, I'll say it again for everyone who is curious about my suggestion: Editing is meticulous, and it has to be done multiple times after you have written your manuscript.  I do my editing in stages.

Honestly, editing puts me to sleep sometimes.  I love to edit, but after the twentieth revision of the same story, I begin to doze. It's not the boredom, it's the meticulous nature of finding all of those out-of-place commas and bad sentence structures.  And did I mention the missssspelings.  Haha, I misspelled that on purpose.

With one misplaced comma or wrong letter, you can change the entire meaning of a sentence.  Writers should think of the resulting effects of their sentence order when they are editing.  After writing a statement, the writer should make sure the second sentence enhances the previous.  The effect can be comical and mean something else entirely, if one is not careful.  Here is an example of such an ill-thought pair of sentences: "Not a hair was out of place on the king's head.  He was always in perfect control."  I absolutely love this excerpt, which I found in a novice writer's submission.  This excerpt was set in a book that was supposed to have a serious tone.  When I read that second line, all pretense of seriousness went out the window, and I burst into laughter.  (For more lines like this, look under the Funny Writing label on this blog.  I will continue updating that section of the blog because it is my favorite part about blogging, and because I have a huge collection of such lines.)

In my opinion, a complete manuscript is the best place to start. I sit down at my computer, and I force myself to print the manuscript even though it costs money for the ink. (Tip: Print it in light to medium gray instead of black so it doesn't use as much ink.)  Then I hand it to a trusted reader.  My husband is not this person, haha.  He hates reading; he prefers watching stories play out on TV.  It is more than annoying.  My trusted reader is my mother-in-law.  Why?  She is excellent at finding errors, and she is picky about spelling.  She also loves to read.  (Over three hundred books on floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in the library are proof of that.)

Now, I usually cannot help myself: As my mother-in-law reads each page, I, plopped down on the couch next to her, read each page she finishes.  I keep glancing at her face for any minute twitches, hoping that whatever left me rolling in laughter or bawling my eyes out will affect her just as strongly.  ~**Sigh**~  Nope.  Not even a twitch.  She has the best poker face I know, this is killing me!  I wish I was in her head reading her brain.  While reading, she gets the good ,old pencil out because she can't help herself, and she begins correcting misspellings and pointing out what doesn't make sense. What? I might think.  I already looked everywhere for misspellings!   But, no. She finds them. (I swear my computer puts them back in there after I correct them.)

Every few pages, especially on the good scenes, I ask her what she thinks about this, or what she thinks about that. I don't know how she tolerates me, she is trying to enjoy the story, but between the misspellings and myself, she is annoyed with the distractions. She laughs because I am an idiot. I do, too, because, yes, I am.

After finishing reading over the manuscript, she hands it back, and then I begin to go over it again.  First, I review the structure of the story, looking for holes in the plot, or for tedious scenes which should be cut.  I always look for inconsistencies in time, character voice and appearance, and other things that might have changed unintentionally as I wrote.  Next, I look through my manuscript to ensure that every chapter and every scene inspires questions in readers.  The entire book must be focused, and there must be some kind of theme that shows up repeatedly.  During the more meticulous stages of editing, I review the dialogue, looking for ways to make the pauses of breath appear natural.  I turn full sentences into fragments because only weirdoes actually talk in perfect, complete sentences, and I experiment with character voice via word choice.  After looking over dialogue, I move on to tone, diction, and style, and then, finally, on to grammar, sentence structure, and all of the nitty, gritty stuff that makes normal people want to bash their head on a book.  Redundant statements are some of the most annoyingly invisible things writers create.  "She flew with her wings."  Really?  What else would she fly with?  Her feet?  I look for anything that can be simplified, and try to kill off adverbs.

You should hear me by the time I reach that point.  I snarl like a chihuahua, and it ain't pretty.

Then I feel guilty that I printed so many papers and wasted so much ink.  So, to make myself feel better, I talk to my trusted reader about the book.

My favorite part about having a trusted reader is getting to talk to her about the story.  I discuss the story with her, asking her what she thinks certain foreshadowing vices meant, or what she thinks should have happened instead of what I wrote.  I look for things that creeped her the hell out, or ask what she thought was funny. We discuss the book until I am positive she is tired of the story, (though she has told me repeatedly that she doesn't mind, haha.)  And then I try to look for a new critic who can review the book for mistakes--preferably a published writer who is willing to volunteer his or her time to help me tighten up the synopsis and look for holes neither I nor my wonderful trusted reader have found.

There are positive things about being a perfectionist: when you finally finish a project, the results are astounding, and you develop skills at a quick rate.  Editing sucks, but it must be done or the manuscript you submit will be rejected a hundred times.  If you have never gotten a rejection, consider me jealous, but do not fear my envy, it's the friendly kind!

For novice lines that will make you laugh, look for the Funny Writing posts on my blog.

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