Monday, November 11, 2019

Cleaning House

Q: Describe your editing/revision process. How do you make that mess of a first draft into a real book?
-from Susan
 Sadly, my revision process is as messy as my creation process and is not a template for fellow writers. But, working under the umbrella of “Do what I say, not what I do,” I will share a few craft processes I strive to use.
Be ready to “kill your darlings.” Seriously, I know it’s hard and may hurt deeply, but there are – I guarantee – brilliant sentences and strikingly original descriptions that do not belong in your manuscript. Sniff them out on your own or ask a trusted colleague to read, but when the time comes, cut them brutally. Here’s the corollary: Do not throw them away. Put them in a separate file for future use in a different book or just to admire them now and then.
Connect the dots. Make sure the plot makes sense in the order you’ve laid it out, unless you want a lot of one-star reviews that include phrases like “I threw the book across the room.” (Most but not all publishing houses have smart developmental editors who will make sure you follow this maxim, but too many self-published books that haven’t undergone rigorous editing will leave even the most patient readers saying, “Huh?” on page 150.) One way of making sure your story is unfolding well is by using real or virtual index cards just for plot points. Does the bloody glove found under a bush appear before the snow that you claim obscured it has fallen on the moor?
Who are these people? Did the characters we’re supposed to love lie down and die of boredom in chapter three? Is the villain drooling at people in chapter two so that any sane reader already knows he is the killer and the reader doesn’t have to read the rest of your brilliant book? And who is the total stranger who wandered into the last chapter to solve the mystery by baring clues you didn’t bother to slip in sooner?
Details, details.Do you have enough or too many? Are your descriptions supporting the story or distracting from it? (See Criminal Minds two weeks ago for more on this subject.) If you’re Abir Mukherjee, you have to bring early 20thcentury India to life (he does). If you’re Terry Shames, it’s present day Texas (she does it proud)…Read the books of all of my Criminal Minds colleagues to see how they use specific details brilliantly in the right places and don’t waste space pushing them into the wrong spots in their narratives. 
Getting from the first draft to the one that’s polished enough to send to an agent or editor is hard work. One final bit of advice: Never give up!


Paul D. Marks said...

All good points, Susan. I especially like the "Who are these people" one. People don't think about that sometimes.

Susan C Shea said...

Thanks, Paul. I know there are more and better tips that my CM colleagues will post this week and I am eager to learn something new.

kubrahameed said...

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