So you are done. You’re over the moon, you’re doing back flips off the wall, cartwheels through the living room, and you’re bouncing about like you’ve had ten cups of coffee and one giant wake up pill. The manuscript is done, the characters have had their last dance, ninja kicked their last bad guy, breathed their last breath and you can relax. Right? I think you know the answer to that one.
The number of people who have told me that revision is key are too numerous to count, but one thing’s for certain. They are right… the bastards. Because good writing is re-writing. However there is a slow, chaotic way of doing it, kind of resembling a 3D Picasso jigsaw, and a methodical way of doing it aka, keeping your sanity firmly rooted to planet Earth. The first step is to see revision as the fun part. It’s easier than creating something from scratch, no accusing cursor demanding why you haven’t burnt the suspicious pair of underwear in the cookie jar yet. Now that you know the whole story yourself you can go back and make sure that all the hints you thought you included, are actually not just figments of your imagination.
Self-editing is daunting, where do you start? What are you looking for? What if you can’t figure out what you’re doing wrong? Don’t panic! As I said there is a simple way and that involves cutting editing into small manageable chunks, searching for a different thing in each read through. To help calm yourself you should set aside your writing for a period of time. The longer you leave it the better. For those of you who are so addicted you can barely bring yourself to switch off the computer, try to hold off for a week minimum. Then let the fun begin.
Do a non-stop read through of the entire thing on a day when there are no distractions. No kids with colds insisting you try the muffins they’ve made, no topless partners walking through your work space, nothing. Read aloud if you can. Have a pen or highlighter in your hand and every time there is a stumble, discomfort or something just bothers you, make a mark on the page. But keep reading!!!! Then come back later and decide what troubled you. Did you put a comma in the wrong place? Slip from the point of view of the granny to the wolf? Or have a nun say something that would come out of the mouth of a stripper? As a first stab in the dark, do what you can to sort out the marks on these pages.
Here you need to check structure, particularly whether the order of the story, tension and pacing makes sense. Should you really be building up the tension of your character buying the sandwich and only spend one line on them getting robbed in the alleyway by a midget? Here there are several things you should look for:
How is your beginning? You only have one first line, one first paragraph. It is at this point, where someone is going to decide whether you are worth investing time in. Does it set the demeanour for the rest of the novel? If you are not happy with your beginning try to start from the first interesting moment in your story, start in the action.
Identify the themes in your story. Good winning over bad, stand up against bullying, trees are people too. Try to make sure these themes come out strongly in the novel and that every character and event is contributing to them in some way. If you want to add a chapter of silliness, you can do so as long as it is moving the book forward.
In the middle section do you have the events you need to introduce the climax at the end? Have you connected your characters enough so their significance to the story is known (or is an intentional surprise)? List all possible endings. Which one is the more satisfying conclusion to your novel? The same goes for non-fiction, build up the knowledge and bring all the sections together at the end for the final close.
Time to get picky. Go through your manuscript with a highlighter and mark every adverb, every adjective, every needless word (actually, in fact, very, really, up (as in stand up)). Look at each sentence, particularly the end. Is the strongest word at the end? Or have you ended every sentence with the word ‘it’? Try to minimise the adverbs and look for more interesting words to replace them. Get rid of the repetitions (words or phrases). Have you used the words like, likely, likelihood all in the same paragraph? Change at least two of them. If you can identify the words you use all the time (I myself like the words ‘tangle’ and ‘appeared’ a little too much), search them out and destroy them!
Look for more precise words then the ones you initially used, is there another way to phrase what you are saying? Take out a thesaurus and make a list of every single word that relates to your themes. Are you writing about loneliness, happiness, innocence, evil, the colour red? Look for places to insert them into the text so that your language contributes to the themes as much as the characters.
Check for punctuation and only punctuation. Because, of course, by now you have the very best sentences in the very best order and can ignore those pesky words. Find the best place to put those colons and semi colons we like to use to make smiley faces in emails :) ;) And for goodness sake, run spell checker!!!!!
Final Pieces of Advice
Show don’t tell: If you have a paragraph describing what people are doing, ask yourself if it can’t be done better through dialogue. Rather than that saying a character said something angrily, show it by having them stomp their foot, or throw an object at the cat rather than telling the reader.
The hook: Make sure that there is a hook, a moment of interest or suspense at the start and end of every chapter. This will make your book the page turner it is meant to be.
You may also want to check you have the right 'there' (there, their, they're), 'where' (where, were, we're) and your (your, you're)!
TOMORROW: Creating a book proposal (for submission to agents, publishers or for online marketing) – What is your market? How are you better?
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