Saturday, August 01, 2020

NaNoWriMo is Only the Beginning

I can’t even imagine how many thousands of submissions editors get every year, many of them immediately after NanoWriMo has ended and enthusiastic beginners have a manuscript. Big mistake.

A lot of editorial submissions are from regulars—the publisher’s in-house stable. Some are from writers who’ve been trying for years to break into the market. And many are from hopeful first-timers. If it was you deciding which books to buy based on marketability and the amount of work required to prepare them for publication, how do you think you would select which ones to buy? Uh huh. The sure things.

Once you’ve given your story a foundation, developed your characters and written all those brilliant words, that’s when the real work begins.

Grammar and spelling are important, and most can be done with spell and grammar check, but not all. I’ve seen a lot of careless things slip by. If you want an editor to take you seriously and select your book from the mountain of others, you’d better make it shine.

Cut extra words. Take a break from your book and then come back with a fresh eye. Ask yourself if each scene moves the story forward and ties in to your theme. Remember that nothing is sacred if cutting it makes the book tighter and more well-written. The publisher’s word count in their guidelines is firm.

Some words simply need to go because they’re overused and unnecessary. Check for these: just - about - all - almost - always - anxiously - eagerly - every - finally - frequently - got - merely - nearly - need - never - not - often - only - so - that - then - very. You don’t need them.

Make sure your dialogue adds to character development, moves the plot along and creates pleasing white spaces on each page. Don’t leave big paragraphs of text anywhere. Each character needs to sound unique. Use dialogue to replace narrative and explain events, but don’t have people telling something they would never say—or saying something both people already know--just to get the information into the story.

How many times have you heard that you must show and not tell? Do you really understand it? Watch those adverbs and replace with action: She watched nervously is better shown as Clara stared wide-eyed, her lower lip caught between her teeth.

He didn’t want to go in. Better: Sam studied the wood-paneled door, the knot in his belly growing.

Change passive writing to active. Look for would, was and beginning—rewrite to make your sentence structure active. Active writing is the person doing the action, not their hands or objects. You want the focus on your character. The knife was thrown by John is passive. John threw the knife is active. His hands slid along her cheek is passive construction. He caressed her cheek is active. Simply rearranging words changes the focus.

The door blew open from the wind focuses on the door, making the door the subject of the sentence. The wind howled beneath the eaves and battered the door until it slammed open and clattered against the wall places the focus on the wind’s action.

Be specific. Use active, descriptive nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. One well-chosen word is better than three wimpy ones. Draw a vivid picture with the words you use.

Adjectives like big, little, cold and hot are weaker than elephant-sized, miniscule, frigid and scorching.

Adverbs such as quickly, slowly, loudly, and softly can be replaced with action and pictures: She ran quicklyShe ran so fast her blue tennis shoes were a blur.

Walk, went and ate aren’t as vivid (okay, they’re boring) as compared to strolled, sauntered, gulped or picked at. If Joe gulps his food, you’ve shown that he’s in a hurry.

These techniques become a habit if you practice them. If you’ve replaced the word went fifty times, odds are you’ll think twice before writing it again – even if you’re writing fast. Don’t cripple yourself by thinking it all has to be perfect the way it spills from your brain onto the keyboard and screen. We’re talking about editing for the sake of polishing your Nano manuscript. The important thing is getting it written. You can fix it later.

We have a not-so-glamorous saying in my critique group. “Puke it out, clean it up later.” You can fix crap, but you can’t fix nothing. And it’s okay to write crap. Everybody writes crap sometimes. But the other important thing is to edit, polish and rewrite until it’s not crap anymore. This is why none of us will be sending out our July Nano manuscripts in August. Right?

Once your manuscript as good as you can make it by your own ability, have someone you trust read it for you. Be open to their ideas and suggestions. And when you think you’re ready for publication, hire a credible line-editor.

We aren’t writers; we’re re-writers.

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