Right on trend, I’m following Mara and posting a day late because I was apparently so engrossed in critiquing my CP’s manuscript that I couldn’t read my calendar. #headdesk
This post, and the next few posts of mine, will be allllll about revising and editing, so…grab some coffee. I know this will make you sleepy.
I am the world’s worst outliner. There, I said it. Phew. No matter how hard I try to outline, I always abandon it somewhere in the middle and just wing it. Of course, this makes for a crazy amount of revision. My CPs [and my editor] have waded through an awful lot of my crap and given me straight-up amazing advice, and I love them to pieces for it. Anyhoo, I don’t figure I’m the one to give you advice on how to outline, or how to write a draft. As much as I love drafting, I’m crazy spontaneous about it and don’t really have a rule besides “let your hair down and have a good time…oh, and freak out while you’re at it!”
When you first look at that beast you created and it’s time to revise, you’re probably going to be all “bleh…bleh…blarrrrrggg…” and want to drown yourself in still more caffeine. But you power through and whip that thing into shape, no problem. Send it to CPs. Revise according to their notes. Get it in the hands of some betas. They say it’s looking pretty good. You decide you can do better. You do a rewrite or another overhaul. Send to more betas. Let it sit for awhile. Implement more little tweaks. Read through it and, scared as you are, it just might be ready.
I’m fairly certain those who have an agent can just idly peruse this post with a bemused expression, because I’m pretty sure you’d have already sent in that third draft or what-not to your agent. This is that last, crazy madhouse revision that you absolutely MUST do if you are self-publishing. And of course, this can fall anywhere in your process, however it works for you. It just needs to happen after you’ve gotten a considerable amount of notes and implemented them. After your story is rock solid. After your character arcs are all in place and any unnecessary scenes have been trimmed. This is your last swoosh before line edits. (And yes! I’m doing a post on line edits next week.)
First, make sure your mood is right for this. You need to be confident in your story and know where it’s going. You’re almost done! This is exciting. If you’re depressed or having an off day, DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT hack up your manuscript. Stay the heck away. You need to be in your best zone to do this. Maybe even knock it out in one lovely day with no other responsibilities so that you can feel empowered with it. I like to print off my whole manuscript and do this last revision with a pen, because after I’ve done it all on paper, then I have a moment to check myself as I do it in the document. And always, always save an old version before you get ruthless.
All right. Time for the nitty gritty. What you’re looking for:
—Scenes that end too soon. Do they end strong? Do they give enough information? Is there mystery? Do they keep us reading forward? Check every single scene. Double check. If there’s even the slightest feeling that it’s weak, fix it. This might mean you need to move endings to the beginning of next scenes or move beginnings of scenes backward into the one before it. That’s okay. If it needs to happen, do it.
—Scenes that are too long. This is something I do too much. I keep my characters rambling forward just a paragraph too long, because I think the reader needs to know something–but they would probably be much more interested if I just let them discover it. Cut, cut, cut those endings. Save them all in a file in case your line editor sees something missing and you need to recover some nuggets, but for the most part, those things need to be gone. Don’t cry. It’s okay.
—Unnecessary dialogue. I’m a huge fan of using dialogue to tell the reader things instead of putting it in the narrative. Of course, you’ll already have eliminated places where the dialogue feels unnatural or wrong, but keep an eye out where it’s still lurking. (This stuff lurks and lurks.) Dialogue needs to feel real, and that could mean they talk about soap monsters once in awhile, but make sure it’s all necessary to character development and every bit of it is driving us forward.
—Unnecessary description. Likewise, I find myself with whole paragraphs that don’t have much to do with the story, I just…I just…couldn’t part with them. You have to be cruel to these lovelies. No one is going to do it for you. If it hasn’t made one of your CPs dance with happiness, if it bugs you on bad days, if you catch yourself skimming over it because it’s boring…it needs to go. Get it out of there.
—Anything that interrupts the flow. Anything, anything, anything at all. Characters introduced in a weird way. Info-dumps that may have been missed because they’re actually only a sentence long but gosh-darn-it, they’re still an info-dump. Imagine your book in it’s final, formatted state. Do you have a segway for everything? Do the chapter titles make sense? If the book is in parts, do the parts work together? Scratch things out. Move paragraphs. You’re invincible. Go go go!
As the publisher, you don’t have loads of professionals sifting through this. If you have a line editor and a copyeditor (and you better have a copyeditor), assume they don’t exist, because there will still be plenty for them to catch. At this juncture, it’s just you, baby. You and your utter, cold-hearted ruthless pen. Slice, dice, toss, reword, rethink, rearrange until that thing looks like a freaking bestseller. And you know what that means?
Wheeee! You’re ready for the scary land of line edits! YOU DID THIS THING!!!