Tag Archives: editing

Easy Steps to Polish That Draft!

by Jeffe Kennedy

November 1st signaled the start of a month of intense novel writing for many people: the onset of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month.

For me, it was Deadline Day for the second book in my Twelve Kingdoms trilogy. I pulled it tighter than I’d like. I finished the draft by mid-September and let it “cool” for two weeks, while I worked on developmental edits for the first book in the series. That worked out great, because I finished revising book 1 and went straight into revising book 2. Terrific opportunity to check my continuity and tighten the overall series arc.

From there it took 18 days to finish that revision – longer than I’d wanted, for reasons that aren’t clear to me. It just went slowly. That meant I got the manuscript to my critique partners (CPs) on October 16. Amazingly, they have lives and deadlines of their own, so I didn’t get comments from them until October 30. (Although they did send notes in the interim, telling me that it was awesome and they’d have no major issues – always a relief to hear.)

All of this means I spent a LOT of time on the 31st and 1st, incorporating their comments and doing my final polish. I have a list, actually, (which should surprise no one who knows me) of stuff to check for before I send the manuscript to my editor. It looks like this:

  1. Search for []
  2. Search for “now”
  3. Search for “just”
  4. Search for double space
  5. Search for “like”
  6. Search for “back”
  7. Wordle
  8. Replace towards with toward
  9. Search for actions as dialogue tags.
  10. Search for overused dialogue tags.

These are tailored specifically for Jeffe’s Writing Tics – the bad habits that creep into my writing. Everyone needs to learn their own tics. Mine are most frequently “now” and “just.” As in, “just kill me now.” The [ ] are because, when I’m drafting, I sometimes place [words] in brackets to check later. It’s usually when I can’t think of the word I want, or if I need to go online to research something – which I’m not allowed to do while drafting or revising. The final search is to make sure I got them all.

With “now,” you’ll see from my note above that I used it 280 times in 382 pages. That’s not nearly as badly as I’ve done on other books. I note the page numbers, then try to break up the clusters. I’m funny that way – I’ll go six pages without using it, then sprinkle four on one page. Searching for “just,” I found 215 instances – not too bad! But I deleted or altered 134 of them.

Double spaces tend to creep in, so I do a quick s/r (search and replace) for those. “Back” is another of my tics – 244 occurrences were trimmed by 115. This time around “like” turned out to be the monster in the closet. 403 instances! I killed 129 of those.

Wordle: UntitledThen I check Wordle. If you don’t know it, it’s a fun – and effective! – way to check for overused words. Here’s mine for this book (post-polishing), if you want to see. In my first iteration, “know” popped up pretty ENORMOUS. I did a search for it and ended up eliminating 107 of 270 occurrences. It’s still pretty big, but at least no longer dominates.

The rest are pretty self-explanatory. I add to the list as time goes on – especially if one of my editors gets cranky about something. One of my editors has fits over me using actions as dialogue tags. Not that I can’t, but I tend to punctuate them wrong and, while she corrects them, she worries we’ll miss some. Fair enough.

I tweeted some of these as I was working, especially the phrase found in my “like” search that made me want to pound my forehead on the keyboard. The editor waiting for this book chimed in.

I loved his hashtag.  And, I thought, he’s right. So I decided to share with all of you, too.

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Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author with a writing career that spans decades. Her works include non-fiction, poetry, short fiction, and novels. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award. Her essays have appeared in many publications, including Redbook.

Her most recent works include three fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns, the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion, and the post-apocalyptic vampire erotica of the Blood Currency.  A contemporary e-Serial, Master of the Opera, will be released in January. A fourth series, the fantasy trilogy The Twelve Kingdoms, will hit the shelves in 2014. A spin-off story from this series, Negotiation, appears in the recently-released Thunder on the Battlefield anthology. Her newest book, Five Golden Rings, comes out as part of the erotic holiday anthology, Season of Seduction, in late November.

She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, a border collie, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine.

Jeffe can be found online at her website: JeffeKennedy.com, every Sunday at the popular Word Whores blog, on Facebook and pretty much constantly on Twitter @jeffekennedy. She is represented by Pam van Hylckama Vlieg of Foreword Literary.

 

Scrubbing the Grand Canyon Dam with a Toothbrush

By Mark Stevens

Practice makes perfect.

Yeah, right.

I’ve been practicing this fiction thing for 30 years. Perfection? I can’t see it from here. A bit of joke, don’t you think?

What is perfect when it comes to storytelling? You can put together a bunch of perfect sentences, but you don’t necessarily have a perfect scene—or story.

I’ve been thinking about perfection because right now I’m editing. Again.

I’ve been asked to clip 5,000 words from my next mystery, which I thought was lean and mean at 102,000 words. (“Hey, man, it’s perfect.” “Hey, man, I’m done.” “Can’t get any better.”)

Think again, sucker.

Going through the manuscript at this stage, for me, is eye-opening.

And eye-bleeding.

I’ve been through it 50 times, maybe 100. Another 10 or 15 friends and critical readers have read it, pointed out mistakes. A professional editor (on my dime) has been through it. In addition, I made a ton of fixes based on a reading by a professional editor who works for my new publisher. That’s two professional editors, if you’re counting.

And then the search for those 5,000 “extra” words began—5,000 words that will soon meet the grim reaper: the delete button. “Get out of here, it was nice having you during our fat phase but you are no longer needed in diet mode.”

And I’m still finding mistakes.

Not borderline, debatable issues. No. Real mistakes. Things that your third-grade teacher would circle and that would cost you points on your grade.

I wonder about perfection because, at this stage, I’m scrubbing the Grand Canyon Dam with a toothbrush. That is, I’m up close and personal with every syllable. I quibble about each word, each sentence. I’ve discovered my true inner talent: I’m a master at redundancy.

But the slow-crawl approach is not the way it will be read. Most readers will motor right along (I hope). I’m currently reading “Alex” by Pierre Lemaitre and it’s so good that my reading pace is probably Mach 2 compared to my prop-plane pace for editing. But I’m not reading “Alex” for mistakes; I’m dying to know what’s going to happen next. I don’t care about his word choices—just give me the damn story.

So there’s different levels of perfection and this goes straight back to how you write.

Did you come here thinking I’d have the answer to this little conundrum? Whether to concentrate on the big macro story in the sky or sweat the details down on Planet Dictionary, Thesaurus and Rules of Grammar?

Of course it’s both. But, it’s worth thinking about—and recognizing that there’s all sorts of levels on which your story works.

Or doesn’t.

Practice makes perfect?

Maybe it’s that practice makes pretty good: there might still be work to do.

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Mark StevensMark Stevens is the President of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.

You can learn more about Mark and his novels at his website. He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.