Tuesday, 12 October 2010

How to tackle editing...Part 2

Part 2 - The Remaining Drafts


You’ve done the first draft and filtered out the grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes. Now you have to look out for the less obvious things, the more detailed and technical factors. This is the primary work.

Again, it’s wise to put aside your story or MS for a while, then return to it with fresh eyes for the second or third, fourth or even tenth draft. This time, not only should you be on the lookout for the grammar and spelling/punctuation errors you may have missed first time around, but also you should be looking deeper into your story for less obvious errors.

Does your story start at the right moment? It should start at the heart of the action, or a defining moment in your protagonist’s life. Does it have a hook to keep the reader interested? Does it have a great opening line or paragraph? If it doesn’t, then you need to address that. A story should grab the reader's attention from the very first paragraph. Once hooked, you need to keep that momentum going through the entire story. The story should have some forward momentum, moving the reader through the tale to find out what happens next. Better still, can you keep them guessing?

You have to have a clear, believable main plot that sustains the entire story, and you won’t find that out until you’ve read it several times. This is where plot flaws emerge and where you might find gaping holes in the narrative. Everything should knit together seamlessly. If it doesn’t then you have to redress the balance.

Do you think the plot twists and turns are acceptable? Do they work well or have you spotted fault with them? Do they appear contrived or forced? How can you change that? You should be looking for a natural flow to your story - it should progress naturally, while not forced, and the plot should unfold gradually, allowing the reader to become immersed in the story. If it doesn’t, then you need to correct it.

Another thing to look out for is conflict. Does your story have the right amount of conflict? I’ve touched upon this in previous posts, but without conflict, there is no story. And to understand the kind of conflict your story needs you need to understand what conflict is required and by whom. The protagonist will have conflict with one or more antagonists. Remember conflict can be man against man, man against himself or man against his environment. Too little conflict and the story will fail, too much and you could confuse your reader. You have to find the right balance.

Is there more telling rather than showing in your story? If so, then again you need redress the balance. Important scenes need showing rather than telling, so make sure your story does this.

Another thing some writers tend to neglect is characterisation. Are the characters real enough? Are the characters consistent and strong enough to hold the story? They need to be multidimensional or believable for the reader, not one-dimensional clich├ęs. Your story won’t be as effective if you don’t have the characterisation right because your reader won’t be able to empathise with the characters and their situations.

Do any of your subplots advance the story? They should tie in with the main plot, but should never wander off at a tangent. They’re a useful, effective tool for enhancing your story. If they don’t support the main thrust of the story, then you need to get rid of them or construct new ones. Used effectively they should reach their own individual conclusions (as well as the main plot reaching a conclusion) and should never leave the reader to wondering what happened.

Another thing to look take note of is the main character’s journey through the life cycle of the novel. Does your protagonist undergo some sort of change as a result of their experience? If not, then what is the purpose of the story? The actual change doesn’t have to be a major thing, but you do have to show how the character came out of the conflict a better/changed/happier or even sadder person. Life experiences always changes us. The same should be true of your characters.

Have you peppered the story with background information? Just as important as foreground information, the background of your characters, the story and the places you describe and where action takes place need a sense of cohesion. Lack of background information might leave the whole story deficient, and your reader will notice this.

Don't be afraid to cut whole sections out of your work when editing. If there are any redundant scenes, dialogue or descriptions, take them out, or perhaps rephrase them with stronger writing. Anything you cut can always be recycled and put to good use in another story at a later date. A good writer never wastes anything!

Do you have all the facts? Getting your information wrong can be embarrassing so always be mindful when describing real places, organisations, institutions and history/historical figures. Thorough research makes the entire story all the more interesting.

When will I know the editing is complete?

Some writers go through the process several times, drafting and re-drafting until all these elements make sense and provide a smooth, believable, enjoyable story. Never rush through the editing process – it’s vitally important you get it right. If that means doing it seven, eight or fifteen times, it will enable you as a writer to learn and understand the process better.

As for knowing when it’s ready – that is down to the writer. There is no defining moment. Think like a reader. If everything falls into place and it leaves you satisfied and entertained, then you’ve constructed a well-written story.

A writer will always keep going back to tweak their work. Always. It’s a natural in-built urge to achieve perfection, but since perfection is not actually achievable, aim for making it the best you can possibly make it.


Summary

• Re-read it
• Check spelling, punctuation, grammar and repetition.
• Check sentences – do they make sense, have rhythm and vary in length?
• Does it start in the right place?
• Does it have a clear, believable plot?
• Dialogue – does it feel real, make sense and move the story forward?
• Description – too much? Too little? Too dull? Too flowery?
• Does the story flow smoothly, does it have clear transitions and does it make sense?
• Characterisation – aim for real, believable characters. How has your character changed throughout the story?
• Is there enough conflict in the story?
• Balance of action and non-action.
• POV – make sure you don’t switch POV’s halfway through scenes. Make sure you are telling the story through your protagonist’s eyes.
• Subplots – do they tie in with the main plot? Do they have a satisfying conclusion?
• Balance of showing v. telling.
• Background information – make sure it’s correct
• Present all the facts
• Don’t be afraid to take out scenes or even chapters that evidently don’t work or just simply slow the story.


Next time: The dreaded rejection.

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