I just finished reading book two of a three-part sub-series, set within a larger 21-book series. I enjoyed it but would have liked it more had the protagonist not repeated his back story aloud every time he was asked. That was a flaw that ran deep into book three. All that repetition just padded the word count.
All through this 21-book series, numerous proofing errors and random cut-and-paste-mistakes make it clear to me that few people other than the author see these manuscripts, and they aren’t professional editors. Yet, his work sells because he has marvelous characters and compelling storylines. He is now putting out four or more books a year and is published by TOR.
The Big 5 publishing giants are just as tempted to rush a manuscript to publication as we indies are, and editing sometimes falls by the way. However, if an indie publishes work as badly edited as that, the entire indie community suffers abuse.
Since the large publishing houses aren’t doing editing the way we always thought they did, it’s up to us to find the flaws before we submit our work to them or publish it ourselves.
When we lay down the first draft, the story emerges from our imagination and falls onto the paper (or keyboard). Even with an outline, the story is forming in our heads as we are writing it. While we think it is perfect as is, it probably isn’t.
The revision process is about far more than merely grammar and word placement. It is about making sure the story arc doesn’t flat-line.
Those who regularly read my blog know that I frequently repeat an idea, phrased just a bit differently further down the post. My elderly brain seems determined to make that point, no matter what. We all do this in our first drafts, and very few things are more “first draft” than a blog post.
Inadvertent repetition causes the story arc to dip. It takes us backwards rather than forward. What I have discovered in my own work is that the second version of that idea is usually better than the first.
Last week, in my post called Revisions: Self-Editing, I talked about the way I do my revisions, how I try to get an unbiased view of my work. Basically, I print out each chapter. Beginning with the last paragraph on the last page, I work my way forward with a yellow highlighter.
Then I put the corrected copy on a recipe stand beside my computer and make the revisions in a new file. (I never delete the old files, because we never know when we might need something we have already written.)
Here are a few things that stand out when I do this:
- Repetition of entire ideas, each instance worded slightly differently.
- Inadvertent shifts in the spelling of names for people and places, such as Dyljan becomes Dyjan. (Keeping a style sheet of how names and created words are spelled and doing a global search for each before publishing resolves that.)
- Places where I have contradicted myself, such as a town being north of the main character’s location, but they travel south to get there. Making a simple hand drawn map resolves the location problem if you remember to look at it.
- Punctuation errors and missing quotation marks also stand out when printed.
The style sheet can take several forms, but it is only a visual guide to print out or keep minimized on my desktop until it’s needed. I copy and paste every invented word, hyphenated word, or name the first time they appear in my manuscript, and if I am conscientious, I’ll be less likely to inadvertently contradict myself later on in the tale.
My editor is grateful that I make this list so that she doesn’t have to.
All the lists of words and things to look for, all my knowledge comes from having worked with editors who are passionate about writing. Many years ago, Maria gave me the list of weak words to watch for.
Carlie trained me out of using “that” as a crutch word.
Irene trained me to notice my inadvertent shifts in spelling and to love how grammar works. She kindled my desire to learn more about the craft.
Alison trained me not to be so thin-skinned and self-important.
If you have the resource of a good writing group, you are a bit ahead of the game. I suggest that you run each revised chapter by your group and hear what they have to say. Some of what you hear won’t be useful, but much will be.
And yes, you will have to make more revisions. I have discovered that the real work of writing comes after you have written the story.
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