Congratulations! You’ve the parent of a manuscript. Now the real work begins.
Obviously this is a post-NaNoWriMo post. I always picture editors bracing themselves on December 1st for the onslaught of manuscripts submitted at 12:01am. Okay, I don’t really think that happens…any more than the normal percentage of people who think their first draft falls from their fingers like the song from the lips of angels.
But for the rest of us, the real work is in the revision. When I was researching what other people did to revise their work (because I was talking about this last night at the Euless Library *wave to fellow Eulessians*) I found some really great articles that I was nice enough to put in a handout, which you can download here. (PDF Handout)
But here’s a general list of the things that I’ve learned, and learned to look for:
- Let it rest. Especially after a really intense spell of writing, you’re still living the book in a lot of ways. It’s an emotional investment. You are either totally in love with it or totally hate it, and “totally” anything is not objective. Putting the manuscript down for a few weeks allows you to get some perspective, and also to approach the book with fresh eyes, like a reader would, so you can better evaluate what’s on the page versus what’s in your head because you know it so well.
- Work from a printed copy, or something like it (say, an iPad app that lets you mark up a pdf like you would with a pen). Personally, I like a stack of paper, because it gives me a visual for structure and pacing—how far am I in the book, how many pages is that, blah blah blah.
- The first read through is triage. (That’s from Holly Lisle.) You’re looking to stop the bleeding from plot holes, not worried about bumps and bruises. Think big picture and don’t tinker. (I need to embroider this on a sampler and hang it on the wall over my desk.)
- You’re looking for:
- Plot holes. (But wait? How did the giant monkey get off the island in the first place?)
- Inconsistencies and breaks in continuity.
- Incredibly convenient coincidences and implausible leaps of logic.
- Plot threads that never go anywhere, and characters that disappear for no reason.
- Things that you can make do double duty—a romantic development scene that can also be where they discover a vital clue. Instead of two cardboard characters who each appear to do one thing, one character who can do two things.
- Rambles, infodumps, and navel gazing. Long stretches of dialogue, exposition, or internal monologue that don’t advance the plot (or don’t advance it enough to warrant two pages about the evolution of the unicorn).
- Boring Sh*t.
- Scenes with out a purpose. Every scene has to have a goal that is either accomplished or not–and if not, it still provides something vital to the plot. (Mary fails to steal the secret government plans but overhears a plot to replace the president with a robot.)
- Scenes without tension. Every scene needs conflict, two characters who want opposite things. They don’t have to be the protagonist and antagonist–they can be allies who disagree about the goal, or how to accomplish it.
- Transitions and transcriptions. Make sure an ending leads logically to the next beginning, and orient the reader in the new scene ASAP. Conversely, art imitates life, it doesn’t transcribe it. Fast forward past the nicey-nice and the laundry lists. It’s okay to say, “John was in the library all night, and in the morning had discovered X.”
For lots more detail about these things and more, check out the articles on the Revision Resources (PDF Handout). As a bonus, it includes some Internet and book resources that are helpful if you’re like I was 11 years ago*, loving to write, but clueless as to what comes after.
*It’s my tenth anniversary! My wonderful agent and I sold Prom Dates From Hell at Thanksgiving time 10 years ago. OMG I’m old.