Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Editing After #NaNoWriMo – Make Your Writing Shine

By Chris Eboch

Part of the How They Do It Series

JH: Getting to the end of NaNoWriMo is just the beginning for many writers. After that, it's time to revise those words we raced to get down. Chris Eboch visits the lecture hall today to share some tips on how to make your writing shine post-NaNo.

Chris Eboch is the author of over 60 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. Her writing craft books include Advanced Plotting and You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and TeenagersLearn more at her website (see her For Writers page for critique rates), or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog

Chris also writes novels of suspense and romance for adults under the name Kris Bock. Read excerpts at www.krisbock.com or visit her Amazon page

Take it away Chris...

If you did NaNoWriMo, you may have a “messy first draft,” roughly 50,000 words that you need to turn into a fabulous novel. But starting that process can be intimidating. You need to distance yourself enough from the work that you can see it for what it is – not what you dreamed it would be, but what is actually on the page. Then you rework and shape it, perhaps with help from others. You edit, edit some more, polish, and proofread. You only release it into the world when you’re confident the story is truly the best you can make it.

But how do you start?

The Big Picture

Wading through hundreds of novel pages trying to identify every problem at once is overwhelming and hardly effective. The best self-editors break the editorial process into steps. They also develop practices that allow them to step back from the manuscript and see it as a whole.

Editor Jodie Renner recommends putting your story away for a few weeks after your first complete draft. During that time, share it with a critique group or beta readers. (See my blog series on critiques.) Ask your advisors to look only at the big picture: “where they felt excited, confused, curious, delighted, scared, worried, bored, etc.,” Renner says. During your writing break, you can also read books, articles, or blog posts to brush up on your craft techniques.

Then collect the feedback and make notes, asking for clarification as needed. Consider moving everyone’s comments onto a single manuscript for simplicity. This also allows you to see where several people have made similar comments, and to choose which suggestions you will follow. At this point, you are only making notes, not trying to implement changes. (If you are using Microsoft Word and Track Changes, you can merge multiple versions of the same document. Search for “how to combine track changes” for instructions.)

Outline Your Story Now

In my book Advanced Plotting, I suggest making a chapter by chapter outline of your manuscript so you can see what you have without the distraction of details. For each scene or chapter, note the primary action, important subplots, and the mood or emotions. By getting this overview of your novel down to a few pages, you can go through it quickly looking for trouble spots. (Download my Plot Outline Exercise from my Kris Bock website for free. Scroll to the bottom of the page.)

As you review your scenes, pay attention to anything that slows the story. Where do you introduce the main conflict? Can you eliminate your opening chapter(s) and start later? Do you have long passages of back story or explanation that aren’t necessary? Does each scene have conflict? Are there scenes out of order or repetitive scenes that could be cut? Make notes on where you need to add new scenes, delete or condense boring scenes, or move scenes.

Colored highlighter pens (or the highlight function on a computer) can help you track everything from point of view changes to clues in a mystery to thematic elements. Highlight subplots and important secondary characters to make sure they are used throughout the manuscript in an appropriate way. Cut or combine minor characters who aren’t necessary.

Using Your Notes

Once you have an overview of the changes you want, revise the manuscript for these big picture items: issues such as plot, structure, characterization, point of view, and pacing. Then reread the entire manuscript, still focusing on the big picture. Depending on the extent of your changes, you may want to repeat this process several times.

During this stage of editing, consider market requirements. Is your word count within an appropriate range for the genre? Are you targeting a publisher that has specific requirements? If you’re writing a romance, will the characters’ arcs and happy ending satisfy those fans?

Once you’ve done all you can, you may want to hire an editor. You could also send the manuscript to new beta readers or critique partners. People who have not read the manuscript before might be better at identifying how things are working now.

Fine Tuning

Once you are confident that your characters, plot, structure, and pacing are working, you can dig into the smaller details. At this stage, make sure that your timeline works and your setting hangs together. Create calendars and maps to keep track of when things happen and where people go. Then polish, polish, polish.

This stage of editing can be time-consuming, especially if you are prone to spelling or grammatical errors. Don’t try to do everything at once. Instead, make several proofreading passes, focusing on a different issue each time. One pass might focus only on dialogue, reading dialogue out loud and making sure each character sounds different and natural. Wordiness is a big problem for many writers, so make at least one pass focused solely on tightening.

Make additional passes looking for grammar errors, missing words, and your personal weak areas. For example, if you know you tend to overuse “just,” use the “Find” option in a program like Microsoft Word to locate that word and eliminate it when possible.

How Much Is Enough?

How much editing you need to do depends on your goals for the story. Some editors and agents say they will stop reading if they find errors in the first few pages, or more than one typo every few pages. If you plan to self-publish, most experts advise hiring a professional editor to help you shape the story and a professional proofreader to make sure the book doesn’t go out with typos. Weak writing and other errors could cause readers to get annoyed and leave bad reviews.

Looking at all the steps to successful self-editing may be daunting, but break them down into pieces, take a step at a time, and don’t rush your revisions. Each time you go through this process you’ll be developing your skills, making the next time easier, and making yourself a better writer. Maybe you'll even make your NaNoWriMo messy first draft into a stellar novel ready to send to a publisher or to self publish! Editing is a big part of writing, so take the time to do it right.

For more editing tips, ways to trick your brain into noticing errors, and additional resources, check out my book Advanced Plotting. This writing guide is available from Amazon (paperback or Kindle, free in KU) or Barnes & Noble (paperback). I also discuss editing in You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. It’s available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback.

Advanced Plotting is designed for the intermediate and advanced writer: you’ve finished a few manuscripts, read books and articles on writing, taken some classes, attended conferences. But you still struggle with plot, or suspect that your plotting needs work. This book can help. The Plot Outline Exercise is designed to help a writer work with a completed manuscript to identify and fix plot weaknesses. It can also be used to help flesh out an outline. Additional articles address specific plot challenges, such as getting off to a fast start, propping up a sagging middle, building to a climax, and improving your pacing. Guest authors share advice from their own years of experience. Read the book straight through, study the index to find help with your current problem, or dip in and out randomly — however you use this book, you’ll find fascinating insights and detailed tips to help you build a stronger plot and become a better writer.

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1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful time appropriate post. Thank you Chris, whilst I've got 50,000+ words down and the story still isn't finished, you've given me a good step by step process to get it ready to finish it. Much appreciated. And thank you Janice for arranging for us to benefit from Chris' experience.
    Jan :)