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Why does editing take so long? Aren't you just editing for grammar and spelling? If I had a penny for every time I have been asked this I could afford to buy a large house with cash. In all honesty, long ago when I started writing I thought the same thing. The truth is the "Strunk & White" (editing for grammar and spelling) editing is something I have learned to save for last. What I do before that is a hybrid of two editing processes. One of these I just learned a few weeks ago and it has greatly improved my editing. The two processes I follow is the Grayson's Loop of Novel Structure and the rewriting process of Mystery Author Nancy Pickard.
Before I describe my process, I want to say I kill trees. I edit on paper. Some people can edit online. I tend to miss things when I do that. So, I use a lot of ink and paper. Yes, it is expensive. My goal is quality, so I eat the cost.
When I edit, it goes through 12 stages:
Years ago I attended a workshop by agent Ashley Grayson, where he handed out his "Grayson's Loop of Novel Structure." This opened my eyes to what I should be doing when I edit. His method of novel structure is to follow the list I am going to spell out below. You can start anywhere in the loop and you can jump steps, but you need to follow it in order and it keeps repeating itself. Here is his process:
1. Observation, which invokes
2. Recognition, which recalls
3. Memory, which forms
4. Attitudes and Feelings, which colors
5. Emotions, which precipitates
6. Actions and Dialogue, resulting in Observation.
As I go through this stage, I underline each of these throughout the manuscript with different colors for each step so that I can see if I have included each of them. Additionally I break up action and dialogue as two different steps. Then I break up dialogue into two elements: spoken and internal dialogue and underline them in different colors. Under Attitudes and Feelings into seven (7) steps, each underlined in a different color: Sight, Smell, Taste, Hearing, Touch, Intuition, Attitudes (feelings). This makes for thirteen (13) colors throughout the manuscript.
After I have this colorful mess (since I am a visual person, the color helps) I will start the next process. Before I get there, let me say two more things. I read the manuscript thirteen (13) times, focusing each time on one of these elements. When I am doing this, I see some of the "Strunk & White" errors, but I also make notes about what is missing and what needs to be changed (which I do in colored ink).
After the long process of Stage 1, I begin the new process that I picked up from Nancy Pickard. I liked this process so much that I put it into my process as the second step. Like the above process I use colored pencils and underline each element:
Conflict: Genuine conflict not phony conflict. Conflict can be inward, subtle, or out there.
Avoiding Conflict: Don't avoid conflict. Let the characters have conflict. But, don't have all of it be conflict. However, just because many people in live want to avoid conflict in life, don't let your characters avoid it--though with their attempts to avoid the conflict that will come will help create more suspense.
Action [Sequences]: This does not need to be like an action movie. Action is movement. You should be able to diagram the movement. The diagram is: what made the movement? Emotion lead to thought to movement to emotion to thought to movement. The real depth of movement is if it is genuine (from genuine emotion). Don't make it a false movement (forcing them to move).
Surprise: You don't have the best writing. You need to have a surprise in every scene.
Turn: Stolen from "Story" by Robert McKee. The character comes in to something with a certain expectation or a certain emotion. When the character leaves, something has changed. If not: 1. Nothing happened in that scene or 2. you didn't allow your character to really feel what was happening. The change can be minor or major.
Peak: Every scene needs to have a peak. It can be little or big, and not every scene should have the same level of peak. Every scene should have a rise and a fall. You need to let the book breathe and thus the reader to breathe.
How to make your character likeable (Dick Francis): Have the character be willing to sacrifice themselves for someone else (even if it isn't someone they like).
(Special note: She also includes the 5 senses, but I covered those with stage 1)
Again, I am reading the manuscript each time for each of these. So, by this stage I have read through the entire manuscript nineteen (19) times. But, I am far from finished.
Before I edit any further, I go back and make all the changes I noted as I went through stages 1 and 2. When I have completed this, I reprint.
I attack this nice clean copy with colored highlighters. I read the manuscript again, but this time I am focused only on dialogue. I identify each of my characters throughout the book and highlight in a different color each other their dialogue. Then I read their dialogue and make sure the characters don't change the way they speak. Yes, I have learned this can happen in the creative writing process. The only dialogue I do not highlight is the narrator, even if it is one of the characters who is the narrator. That is stage 5.
Now it is time to take care of the narration. My process here is different from stage 4. I am not looking at dialogue at all. I am only reading the remaining white space and going through with a colored pencil. I underline anywhere where my narrator changes the way they speak. If you are your own narrator, then you are a character and the reader will unconsciously note that you changed your voice and put down the work.
I also read for voice here. What is the voice of the narrator and does it change? It can. When I write fiction I try to be informal. But, when I am writing for my bill paying job, which often my audience is both the US Federal government and attorneys, I am very formal.
I wish I could just sit and write a novel unendingly, but I do have to pay the bills. Depending on how long of a day I have had, my formal voice can bleed into my fiction--ouch. It doesn't belong there. Here is where I get rid of it.
One final note here: When it comes to suspense I am a huge Alfred Hitchcock fan. When I am reading the scenes and looking at the building of tension and suspense, I try to imagine that he is directing a movie of my work. Then I try to re-write that scene as if he was directing it.
(If you have never read much on Hitchcock, there are many books. I recommend Hitchcock on Hitchcock.)
If you haven't noticed, I have stopped mentioning the number of times I have read through the manuscript. It varies on the number of characters you have and quite frankly I have stopped counting by this time.
In Stage 6, I will make my changes from stages 4 and 5. Then I will send it out to my "readers". These are fellow writers who will critique my work and readers who I trust to give me honest (brutally honest) feedback.
Before I explain this, let me inform you here that while I am waiting for my readers comments back, I am working on a new book and going back through stages 1-6.
Once I do get my readers comments back, I make changes based upon their opinions. This can be tricky. Everyone has an opinion and they may not always agree. Here is where I have to use my judgment as a writer.
I go back through stages 1-5. Yes, I repeat those stages. Please pick your mouth up off the ground...if you thought writing was an easy job and all you did was edit once, I am sorry for the splash of cold water in your face. Now this is my process, everyone goes about this differently. This is my process and it can be hard.
Depending on what my feelings are after doing stages 1-5 again, I will send it out to readers again or move to stage 9.
Note: If you are a writer who has been out there for a while, you can skip this note. For the newbie author, it is a good point to remind you: Agents, editors, reviewers, and the general public are BRUTAL! If you have a thin skin regarding people's opinions, you may consider a different vocation. I highly recommend it.
I send the manuscript to a content editor. This can be expensive and there are a lot of shysters out there, so do your research. But after I have done my rewriting, I send it to a content editor.
I said it is expensive and it is. It is also worth the money.
After I get back my comments from the content editor, I send it to a copy editor. They will really clean up your "Strunk and White" problems if you missed it.
This is also expensive. Is your novel worth the expense? Agents and editors will look at it looking for professionalism. So, you tell me.
When and only when does it appear ready, I send the manuscript out to targeted agents or publisher. Before this stage, I have done my research as much as I can so I can identify who might be interested in the story and what is out there.
More often than not, my book will be rejected. (Yes, that is normal for any author who is trying to break in) If I get that precious rejection letter that has comments, I take those comments and repeat stages 1-5 with them. But guess what, I will do that anyway and see if I missed something.
Thank you for your time reading and please visit my website at www.davidalanlucas.com
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