…which helped me transform my writing.
Two manuscripts, one nanowrimo and one Faber Academy writing course later, and this is my tried and tested editing checklist. Some people say it’s all in the edit. I’d say, not quite, but I like to think of a creative writing project as a statue which starts off rough and needs to be hewn into intricate detail.
My top 10 manuscript edits:
- Play adverb bingo – get them all out. Once they are gone, I see how to strengthen the lone verbs which are left
- Get rid of all repetition (ALL!)
- Ensure all scenes are consistent with their point of view (ie written in the voice of the character – go forwards and backwards in the manuscript to ensure the character sounds the same throughout
- Repeat #3 for speech
- Get someone else to read it (no matter how cringeworthy). It’s amazing how the threat of this focuses the brain
- Look at the physical shape of the language in the page – is there too much speech or long passages if prose? What does the average sentence length look like? Is it varied. Is there a good balance between action, dialogue and description?
- Basics – spellcheck, grammar check
- Print off and edit. Send to Kindle (or other electronic device) and edit
- Check synopsis still matches up with what you’ve written – if not, why not. Is the story changing or have you written in scenes which don’t really belong there?
- Read it out loud
I’ve pinched the title for this entry from an exceptional book of the same title by Lisa Cron. The full title for her book is ‘Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence.’
It’s a compelling idea which I’ve signed up to. During the last six months I’ve had something of an epiphany on this in my own writing journey. Having started out writing stories based on specific themes, my thinking has changed completely. Now I consider theme to be peripheral – the icing on the cake, if you like.
What I’ve come to accept is that characterisation in everything, particularly that of the protagonist. And the protagonist’s internal journey is key. Not what happens outside him or her (no matter how exciting), not what happens to others in the story – although those elements may move the plot on – but what happens on the personal journey of the main character. Problem – conflict – resolution.
Lisa Cron’s theory is an age old one which she expounds in modern terms. She says ‘we’re wired to turn to story to teach us the way of the world.’ Later, when she explains what story actually is – as it is often wrongly confused with plot – she says ‘A story is how what happens affects someone who is trying to achieve what turns out to be a difficult goal…’
One of the things that has turned my own writing around is an understanding of this. These are the basics of novel writing. I’ve heard it said that you cannot have beautifully crafted prose without a great story line, but you can have a great story without beautiful prose. If you are in any doubt of this, look no further than the Harry Potter series. Wonderful stories.