Tag Archives: editing

Tips on Working with a Manuscript Reader

By Alissa Johnson

Alissa JohnsonWhen I finish a book I love, I turn past the last page. I look for anything I can read so I don’t have to set it down. I want to stay immersed in the feeling of the book. Inevitably, my search takes me to the author’s Acknowledgements Page.

I’ve come to believe this page would be better called the Gratitude Page because it’s so often more than a list of names. It’s a tribute to the people who helped bring the book to life, and it’s a reminder to writers: writing may be an individual act but the process of creating a good book is never solitary.

Chief among those listed on the Acknowledgements Page are trusted and insightful readers—people who identified where the story flowed and where it needed some work. Theirs is one of the most important steps in writing, and one of the most vulnerable for the writer (I imagine it’s like parent teacher conferences, waiting to hear if your kid is a pro or a total slacker).

I’ve seen it go incredibly right, inspiring a writer to move forward with her story, and I’ve seen it go incredibly wrong—literally stopping a writer in her tracks because she didn’t pick the right reader.

Here are a few ways to make sure that you and your reader get it right:

1. Select readers with the skill sets you need. My two most trusted readers brought opposite (and equally important) skills to the table. One responded to the big picture—did the plot make sense? Were the characters clear? Where was it confusing? The other favored a black pen and editing a sentence like his life depended on it.

2. Ask for sample feedback. Send five to ten pages or a chapter and ask what he or she would suggest so you can get a sense for the input you’d receive.

3. Choose readers you like. If the communication flows easily it’s going to be a lot easier to take the good and the bad when they send you feedback on your manuscript.

4. Let your reader know if there are specific questions you want addressed, but trust that he’ll be seeing it with fresh eyes. Leave room for him to tell you what he sees.

5. After you send the manuscript, do something fun. Go for a hike, a ski, a run, or out with friends. Celebrate the fact that you care enough about your story to get someone’s input on how to make it better.

6. Resist the urge to edit before you get feedback. It’s difficult to work with feedback based on an earlier draft, and the time away from your work will let you see it with fresh eyes.

7. Set your own expectations before you get feedback. You’ve been living and breathing this story, which means that you are too close to see it clearly. You’ll hear some good stuff, but you’ll also learn where it’s not working. That’s not a failure—it’s the point of getting feedback.

8. When you get the feedback, read it and digest it. But before you start making each and every change, look at your manuscript for yourself. What do you see that needs work?

9. Once you’ve made all your revisions, read the feedback one more time. You don’t need to make every suggested change but make sure you’ve carefully considered each one.

10. Remember that revision is where the magic happens in writing—where prose comes alive and the storyline comes into its own.

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Alissa Johnson is an award winning writer and writing coach in Crested Butte, CO. She helps clients find peace with their writing process so they can get the most out of life and feel productive as writers. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Dirt Rag Magazine and Green Woman Magazine among other publications, and she holds an MFA from Western Connecticut State University. You’ll find her at her personal website and blog, and at the Writing Strides website.

The Good, the Bad, and the Very, Very Ugly: All Manuscripts Are Not Created Equal

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

Listen closely, for I am about to tell you a publishing secret no one else wants you to know.

Are you ready?

Here goes.

Not everything a writer writes is good.

Shocking, right?  J.K. Rowlings didn’t sit down one day and pound out a thousand pages of Harry Potter the first time her fingers hit the keyboard. Learning craft takes a lifetime. Some writers get lucky and the first manuscript they write is snatched up by an agent and sold to a big house for a huge advance. But they still have to sit back down at the keyboard and write book 2.

Trust me; the second book won’t be nearly as easy to write. Or as pretty.

Manuscripts are a lot like children.  Some are born cute, while others have to grow on you.

*No emails, please. Your offspring are just adorable, I swear.

But there is a beauty in the crap writing too. A freedom. Maybe it’s a freedom from inside the box thinking or story ideas. Sometimes it’s freedom from your own voice, a means to explore beyond what you know. Often, for me, my crap words are the same ones that push me for better ones. After all, how many times can my heroine roll her eyes?

The answer is 27 time, in two chapters.

Had I submitted that bit of crap to my editor, he might’ve suffered from an eye-rolling sprain.

Not pretty, I know.

Now what can you do if you find yourself with an ugly baby?

A few things:

1)      Dress it up. Add a new, exciting character with a better story line. Then cut the old characters and story line. Basically, write a new book.

2)      Rip it up. Sometimes it’s best to just let a story idea and sometimes a whole manuscript go. Too often we get stuck on a manuscript, on an idea, trying to turn an ugly baby cute when even ten million hours of scalpel-sharp revision wouldn’t make it better.

3)      Let it rip. The ugly baby might all be in our heads. This is when honest feedback from a critique group can save your precious baby. But you have to be able to trust what the critiques say. People don’t like to tell you your baby is ugly, so they nod and smile when asked. That won’t be helpful if your baby really is ugly.

4)      Embrace it. Show the world your ugly baby, and let the world decide what happens next. This is a mindset I see a lot in indie publishing. Sometimes the world loves an ugly baby, a baby that then turns out to be a swan in diapers.

5)      Toss it in a dumpster. Or better yet, that drawer in your desk where all bad manuscripts go to die. Then, in a few years, after 20 more craft classes on revision, 10 on editing, 3 on the hero’s journey, take that baby out and play with it. If it’s still ugly, put it back in the drawer before anyone sees it.

Because I love my RMFW blog readers, I’m going to share a piece of an ugly baby of mine with you:

She struggled, but not too much. Her water soaked hair turned stringy like seaweed, making it almost impossible to see the terror in her eyes, as he held her head under the icy water. He was careful not to mare her snow-white skin. A bubble burst from the water’s surface, filled with the last remnants of oxygen in her lungs. The sound it made as it broke the surface was anticlimactic, a muted death rattle and then silence.

Guess that baby needs a few more years in a drawer before unleashed onto unsuspecting, polite society. Did I actually use the words, snow-white skin? I feel sick…

Since we’re all friends here, give me a bit of your best ugly baby, a sentence, a paragraph, a page, as much as you’d like to share.  Best ugly baby will win a prize.

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J.A. (Julie) Kazimer lives in Denver, CO. Novels include CURSES! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, Dope Sick: A Love Story and FROGGY STYLE as well as the forthcoming book, The Assassin’s Heart. J.A. spent years spilling drinks as a bartender and then stalked people while working as a private investigator. For more about Julie, visit her website and blog.

Connect with Julie on Twitter and Facebook.

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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.