Saturday, August 21, 2010

Editing and Revision, Part 2

Back to the fun process of editing!  Did you know that if you use Microsoft Word, you can utilize the "find" function to find all the everyday words you've used, and probably shouldn't have?  I'm going to list a few of those words, so you'll see what I mean:

And, but, that, just, that ( when you mean who ), few, many, nearly, anyway, only, then, felt or feel, really, almost, because, begin or began, very.  To name a few.

Now these are perfectly good words, words we use in both speaking and writing all the time.  But ( one of those we shouldn't use much) sometimes we overuse them in writing when we don't have to.  Take the word "that."  How many times do you use "that" in a sentence like this:  I thought that he was coming, too. Or here is one I took right out of our local paper:  The design that he is going to create was inspired by the Salinas River.

Now try reading it this way:  I thought he was coming, too.  And:  The design he is going to create was inspired by the Salinas River.   Has the meaning of either sentence changed because I took out  "that"?  No, it hasn't.  However, each sentence reads more smoothly,'re eliminating two words in your word count.  So here is one word in particular that you can usually get rid of without changing the meaning of your sentences or paragraphs, and all it does is to lower your word count.  On the other hand...if you are using that word excessively, as well as some of the others listed, to boost your word count, then you have a problem!

All of the words listed above are valid words, and there are times when it is necessary for the flow of your paragraph or dialogue for you to use them.  But a good rule is to go through your manuscript sentence by sentence and see if you can eliminate them...especially "that!"

Another type of word to avoid whenever possible are the adverbs...all "ly" tell something instead of showing it.  For example:  She walked angrily into her bedroom and shut the door.  This sentence is telling the reader that the character is angry.  What about this sentence:  She stomped into her bedroom and slammed the door so hard all her pictures rattled and swayed on their hangers.  A longer sentence, true, but doesn't that give the reader a clearer picture of how she was feeling?  Doesn't it show the reader her feelings rather then telling how she is feeling?  Showing rather than telling usually does add words, but it is a much more active way of drawing the reader into the story, rather than just telling the reader everything.

Other than specific words, a couple of other important points to conside when reviding and editing are chapter openings and endings, and the story ending.
Chapter Openings and Endings:

Be sure that all of your chapters open and close differently.  Don't have them all open at the same time of day or evening, or with dialogue, or with exposition or backstory.  Vary each one, so the reader doesn't know what to expect each time she begins a new chapter.

The same with your chapter endings.  Do they end with a cliff-hanger?  With some kind of unresolved tension or conflict?  Do they end in such a was as to keep your reader turning the pages?  Every chapter can't always end in conflict or tension, we all know that.  But you should read through each chapter carefully, and make sure that you have at least left the reader wondering what might happen on the next page.  Sometimes that means splitting a chapter in a way that you hadn't intended, but if it adds to the overall suspense in terms of emotional tension, a dramatic scene, or perhaps a physical conflict or confrontation left unsolved until the next chapter, then it is the right thing to do.

Story Ending:

The final ending is very important.  Make sure that you haven't left any loose ends hanging.  For example:  Taylor (MC) and Allyson ( secondary MC) had a big fight in Chapter 12 over a boy that both of them liked.  Some harsh words were exchanged that Taylor finds hard to forgive.  In Chapter 13, the two girls make up.  Chapter 15 is the end of the novel...have those harsh words that Taylor couldn't forgive in Chapter 12 been taken care of?  Did the girls make up, but no mention of those words was made?  Would that leave Taylor still unforgiving towards Allyson as far as what she said?  Don't leave loose ends unresolved,  however seemingly minor.  Kids will be sure to pick up on that one point, and ask, well, what happened about this  Make sure as you go back through all your chapters during your edit, that everything said and done has some kind of conclusion.

That's not to say that every novel has to have a happy ending.  They don't, but the ending at least has to satisfy kids that everything that should have happened, did, in one way or another.  Sometimes, if a series is going to occur, you may want to leave one minor little detail...umm, not hanging, exactly, but not resolved completely,  with the idea that maybe someday something else is going to happen in another book.

Editing and revision is a long, drawn out process, but a very necessary one.  The bright side of that process is that often, we find ways to make each page, each chapter more interesting and more exciting to the reader.  The end result is almost always a better novel.  Just remember, perfection is beyond us mere mortals, so don't strive for that.  Strive to produce a story that agents and editors are going to be happy with, and kids are going to fall in love with!

Until next time, that's a wrap.

1 comment:

  1. "And" is a big one for me. I have to look for it first when I revise to make sure it's necessary. I will add the others to my list. Thanks, Mikki.