Wednesday, November 17, 2021

The growth of a manuscript... by Cathy Ace

CRAFT: Have you ever tossed out 20,000 words from a work in progress? Why, and was it, in hindsight, the right move?

Not 20,000, but I just did this with about 3,000 words in my most recent book, and, yes, it was worth it (I hope…I think…eek…did I do the right thing? Were they the right 3,000 words to cut/change…now you’ve got me going again – thank you!).


First draft
My first draft (which really is my first draft, not my fifteenth, or anything like that) ran to (searches to check…) 84,640 words. This is the draft I send to my editor for structural feedback, and to my precious and so helpful early readers for their comments. I know I’ll always end up adding to this version, because…well, that’s just the way I roll, folks. It’s the story – told in what I know isn’t my best possible writing; though I have tried my best to tell the story well, I know there’s a great deal of room for improvement.

Edits and comments come back, then I settle down to write the best possible version of the story I’d told in the first draft. This is what I always do when I’ve received feedback from my editor and early readers, who are seasoned, and know they can tell me anything that’s bad/not working. Indeed, with this book, it was because of early reader input that I made some structural changes; if they could work out who had done “something” too early in the book – even if not how or why they’d done it – I needed to be sneakier in the way I allowed readers to have insights into the characters.

The next time I sent this book back to my editor for the full edit it ran to 96,495 words. Edits came back, which were minor…but (because I can, and felt I needed to) I continued to work on the book, rereading and refining. Eventually I reached the stage of reading the book aloud, which I do when I believe I’m happy with it.

Well…on this occasion, I wasn’t happy with it. There was a section I didn’t like…it sagged. There were two consecutive chapters where there was too much being talked about, and not enough being done. I decided I needed to completely rework those two chapters, which I did. I took the end off one, broke up conversations with eating (always a good idea, in life, as well as in books!) and made a walk to a location in the next chapter more of a sketch than an oil painting. Eventually, I felt the balance was right; they worked better. WOOT!

Final version on top, formatted for print

The final version ended up at 93,295 words, which was the version I sent to my proof reader…then, at last, the final manuscript was ready for formatting and publication!

As you can see, it takes more than one person to weed out the dross, and I am truly grateful to all those who helped me on this journey. However, ultimately, it was my decision to make those last-minute changes. It might not sound as though taking out 3,000 words or so can make a big difference, but I feel it did in this case, allowing me to remove the sag, and establish a better pace. I hope my readers don’t notice at all – which means that we as a team did a good job!

It's a BOOK!!!!

NOTE: Yes, I have to print out my manuscripts to be able to edit. I know that using all this paper might alarm some folks, but, in the past 20 years, we've planted over 100 trees on our property, so I hope that makes up for it...a bit! 

If you’d like to read my latest book (and maybe spot the chapters I’ve mentioned!) you can find out more about it here:

1 comment:

Josh Stallings said...

When in doubt have good food, sage advice.