Donna Everhart

Cleaning Out Closets

This is a post I ought to do after I type THE END to the current work in progress.  But, sometimes…more than I want to admit, I get an idea and if I don’t bother to make a note of it, voila!  By the time I get around to it, the idea has scurried off to some dark corner of my brain, never to be found again.  Since I’ve been running across a lot of helpful editing tidbits, I decided to go ahead and write this one up for three reasons:

  1. Thrashing around for blog topics isn’t easy
  2. It’s especially hard when it’s lurking somewhere in that dead gray zone known as the brain
  3. It might help someone right now

So, here we go:

First, ever wonder if you are being redundant, using the same words over and over?  One way to clean them up is to use this neat little online Word Counter.  I can’t recall how I found this tool, but it works great – as long as you don’t try to upload your entire ms into it.  When I’m ready, I’ll copy some of the text (I was able to do about ten pages when I tried and the tool responded quickly, so, it could possibly do more) paste the text in, and hit Go.  Within seconds it comes back with the word counts for the most overused words.  You can tweak the tool to show you 25 to 200 overused words.  I chose 25, just to keep it manageable.  Note:  The tool didn’t like when I tried to do my whole ms.  I got a server timeout error.  All in all though, if you’re curious and feel like you’re being repetitious, this is a neat little gadget.  I wish I’d started using it at the beginning because now, I’ll have to take it XX pages at a time and slowly feed them in.

Next batch of helpful hints comes from Writers Digest.  A few issues ago, (Oct 2013) they had an article called, IT HAS MERIT, BUT…10 Reasons Agents Pass After Requesting Your Full Manuscript, by Marie Lamba.  I loved, loved this article!  I’m fortunate enough to have a very talented, seasoned agent, so the last thing I want to do is hand him a manuscript that isn’t the best I can make it.   I want to turn over work that is free of common mistakes or pitfalls agents (and editors) might find after they’ve started reading.  Even though this advice is provided by an agent, I believe editors have similar views once an agent give them a client’s work.

All ten points made great sense, and I tried to get to the specific link for this article online so you could read it for yourselves, but my search on WD didn’t land on it.  So, I’ve grabbed three from the list of ten that stuck out for me:

  • #4 – “The manuscript falls to pieces.”  Uh oh.  This is my exact worry, my biggest fear, and what I’m trying so hard to avoid!  If you recall, the first 100 or so pages of the current WIP are solid.  I had a stellar, out of this world, very good review from my agent.  As soon as I came off that high, I had one big gut clenching sensation after the other, a very clear and present awareness that I now had to make the rest of the book live up to that.  And this is exactly (exactly!!!!) what she’s talking about.  She said writers really focus on those opening pages, to “hook the reader,” and the rest of the book doesn’t get that attention.  She mentioned typos, dropped plot threads, rambling story lines, grammatical errors, and on and on.

THE FIX:  We all know the fix for that right?  Revise, edit, revise, edit, revise some more.  She also recommends tracking story elements for “consistency and continuity.”  Be sure to be diligent about any piece of the story that you’ve taken out, or changed.  For example, in my ms, I decided that my protagonist had black hair instead of blonde.  I did a “find” on the word blonde and changed everything right then.  Another area had to do with an investigation.  My protagonist finds money.  Originally I had her calling the sheriff, turning it over to him – except – I found out later this isn’t what the police would do.  So, I had to comb through and make sure I’d taken out all earlier scenes where the money was in the sheriff’s hands.  Phew!  What a chore that was, but it actually turned out better (I hope) because it raises the stakes for her to keep the  money in her possession.

  • #6 – “The writing lacks confidence.”  I thought this was going to be something entirely different than what it turned out to be.  She says, the problem is when the “writer doesn’t trust the reader.”  We’ve heard about this – too much description, too much explaining how a character is feeling, (he felt/she felt), and too many elements (too much happening).  For example, aside from the main plotline, “suddenly there’s a murder, a heist, a romance, an elf, a ship from outerspace…).   I am so guilty of all this! 

THE FIX:  Too much description?  She recommends trimming down areas where there are “large blocks of prose.” He felt/she felt scattered throughout?  Get rid of those pesky stated emotions by doing a “Find” in your Word document, and remove all he felt, she felt, they felt, etc.  Change those areas so actions replace the words.  This is a real cliched sentence, but for example, instead of,  he felt so angry he wanted to punch a hole in the wall, change it to he punched a hole in the wall.  For too many elements, she suggested looking at plotlines and deciding if they are more complicated than necessary.  (Sidebar – I can see the point she’s making here.  Still, I read that to keep your readers engaged, and turning the pages – for suspense anyway – you should be throwing a lot of things at your protagonist, escalating situations, making it more and more difficult for them.  I realize this doesn’t mean (as mentioned in the previous post) it can go outside of the scope of what’s realistic, or organic to the story, but it did make me sit up and think/question if I had too much going on.)

  • #10 – “It’s just not strong enough.”  She said this was the hardest book to reject…, and it’s from the writer who has done everything right, provided a plot that kept her reading and engaged until the end, yet, she wasn’t “jumping out of the chair to rush to the phone to offer representation.”  This goes back to that saying we’ve heard time and time again, “I just didn’t love it.”  Which is a real hair puller.  She said they want “amazing, brilliant,” stories and last, “if we don’t feel dazzled by your novel, then we won’t feel confident that a top editor will be motivated enough to offer a deal.”  Bummer.  This would be THE hardest rejection IMHO, and I got the sense she had a hard time making those decisions about not offering representation when it was that close as well.

THE FIX:  She suggests if you’re getting feedback that your book is good, but not great, “it’s time to do some soul-searching.”  She said to look at the novel’s strengths, and try to elevate them even more.  For instance, if the story is plot driven, what could you do to change it to be more attention grabbing, more original?  If it’s character driven, what could you do to make your characters stand out, make them more unique, and individual?  If it’s emotional, how are you managing all that comes with the ups and downs of this kind of story, and last, if it’s literary, are you doing all you can to make your words, your material standout by making it as exemplary as possible?

I’ve decided the revision process is akin to cleaning out closets.  You open the door and look at the mess.  Somehow, you muster the strength to begin.  Item by item, you look things over, deciding what to keep, what to get rid of, how to organize and rearrange all that you have.  You run across things you haven’t seen in a while.  You decide if it’s worth keeping or if it should be designated to the junk pile.  It’s hard work, rarely any fun, until you start seeing things shape up.  Suddenly you realize you’re almost done, and when you shut the door, you feel satisfied – right?

Any editing hints you use that you’d like to share?  If so, drop them in the comments box below!







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