Okay, so you’ve finished your WIP.
And you thought that was hard. Now comes the really hard work. Not to put you off, but all MSs need revision on their first draft – unless you happen to be a genius (and I’m not).
Some of the following information has been garnered from the endless sources on the internet (here I am adding to it!), whilst others are from personal experience. A number of them are taken from Evan Marshall’s excellent book: Novel Writing – 16 Steps to Success
First, you need to ‘get away’ from the story for a bit. This could be a week or three but take some time away from it before you pick it up again.
Now you need to be strict, remove yourself from the fact that it’s your work. Imagine it’s someone else’s – that way you’ll be amazed at some of the writing, but also clear-headed enough to recognise its weak spots. It is better to do any editing on real paper, and not the PC, as text on screen appears different somehow, and errors can – and will – be missed. However, if the PC works for you, then that’s fine; this isn’t a ‘you must do it my way’ exercise.
- First do a double check to see if your crisis is appropriate for the genre you’re writing for. Don’t have the book begin with Chief Brody’s fear of swimming. Instead, show us he has a fear of swimming, and then throw a great white shark into the mix, who is feeding on the local bathers. Obviously this works in Jaws, but it wouldn’t work in a romance novel.
- The crisis must turn you lead’s life upside-down. In Jaws, Brody is faced with a mounting death toll and closes the beaches, but the local authorities want the beaches open as it’s the most important and popular time of the year for the sleepy-town to make its annual revenue. That, and you can’t just throw a rod and line over the side to catch a huge man-eating shark. Does he have to get in the water – the thing he hates most – to achieve this?
- Does the crisis capture your imagination? Staying with Jaws, Peter Benchley achieved this to the extent that, for years, people-a whole generation-wouldn’t go in the water.
- Is there a story goal? Your lead should be trying to gain possession of something (a person, precious information, an object) or, relief from something. The lead must set the goal to solve the crisis, and restore everything back to normal.
- They must face terrible and increasing consequences.
- And have a worthy motivation such as love, duty, justice, honour, dignity, patriotism, redemption.
If you find your story misses out on any or all of the above, instead of editing, you may want to have a re-think and look at some re-writing at this stage. Of course, the above is for conventional novels and not all adhere to this, however, those that don’t have other components that make it work and keeps us reading. After all, there is no right or wrong way to tell a story; just make sure you capture the reader’s attention.
- Now you can begin reading, crossing out words, making notes beside it/them or add new paragraphs – insert new pages if necessary to make it flow better (remember not to add needless information).
- Correct spelling mistakes and all punctuation.
- Do you get the characters? Remember, we live with the charcters in our minds for months, maybe years, and feel like we know them inside-out. But unless you have transferred those thoughts and traits onto the page, the reader may not get the same image we do.
- Do the characters have individual voices? Or do they all read the same?
- Check sentences are complete and that they make sense.
- Are your characters the same throughout? Have you told us in Chapter 2 Barnabus has long black hair, only to say later in Chapter 17 he’s got short brown hair?
- Does the story make sense? Are there huge gaps in it? If so, you can (easily?) introduce another chapter. It may give you the extra word-count you’ve been striving for. My first draft of Partnership from Hell came in at 44,000 words. It ended up with extra characters, an extra sub-plot, and finished at 76,000 words, which made the story so much better.
- Is the story timeline correct? I.e. Does Charger the dog go to the vets on the Monday, only to have him bandaged and sore after his visit on the Sunday before? Or has Flavius just killed several warriors who threatened his home at dawn, only to have him 300 miles away by morning tea-time? It could be credible, but unlikely as your story is set in 53 AD. Give characters enough time.
- Are goals clear? Do they make sense?
- Are reactions (character emotions) rational? Logical? Believable? Is it the reaction your character would give?
- Watch out for inadvertent rhyme, and remove unless absolutely necessary to the story.
- Be careful of using the same ‘important’ words twice on the same page.
- Don’t use hopefully. Instead write, “I hope I get that job.”
- Cut the word very. It is one of the weakest adjectives and, in almost all cases, you will strengthen a sentence by removing it.
- Something a huge number of published professional authors still suffer from is the overuse of the word that. It can be cut in over 90% of cases. For example: ‘John knew that the garage would be closed at this time of night.’ Re-write as: ‘John knew the garage would be closed at this time of night.’
- Some argue you shouldn’t use and at the beginning of a sentence, however, modern convention appears to allow this now. I know I use it.
- Watch for too many dots and dashes in your characters’ dialogue (something I’m probably guilty of). Complete as many sentences as you can. Let people finish. Remember, often a comma will do the job of a dash.
- Keep an eye on repetition. When you are using a PC it’s all too easy to copy and paste a section from one part to another. This is often necessary to make the story flow better, but did you remember to delete the section you copied?
- Restrict the use of the exclamation point to dialogue and only use sparingly – or not at all. Understatement is best.
- Avoid long block-like paragraphs. Breaking them up into smaller sections gives it a better flow.
- Don’t overload sentences with information, describing what it looks like and what it does, all in one line. Dont say, ‘The car was bright red and sounded like an old tractor when it pulled up’, say something like, ‘The car was red. The rickety engine sounded more like a tractor than that of a family saloon.’
- Be careful of over-padding just because you need the extra word-count. Perhaps there is somewhere you can insert a new chapter?
- Did your main character change in some way? If nothing else happens throughout the story, remember this must.
- Upon reading, did you get a sense of ‘This is really good, I can’t believe I wrote that?’ If you did, you’re some way to getting there.
- Give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back.
The above list is only a portion of things to watch out for (Yes, I hear you groan, there’s more). I will be posting some more in Part Two. Until then, Good luck and keep at it.
Once re-written and re-typed, do another spell check just to be sure. Then you might want to read it again, but take some time off first, before attempting yet another ‘polishing’ session. None of us claim (some do I’m sure) to be a literary genius; we only want to produce the perfect novel, but more often that not we just want to tell a good story. You must remember we’ve all been through the revising and editing stage, some more than others, but you will get better. You will also have made mistakes – I’m sure I have – and, after all, there are no perfect novels out there.