By big edits, I mean those things that are not as easy to fix as typos, grammar, punctuation, and sparse or overwritten descriptions. We’ve already talked about some common big edits that may need to be done to the beginning of your book. Let’s talk about the rest of the book now.
Don’t rush your scenes. As the writer, you know where the book is going and you want to get to the “good” parts. If you race to get there, though, you’ll give your readers whiplash. Scenes can be snappy and they can also be informative and luxurious. Just don’t write fast scenes one right after the other until your reader is lost in time and space without an anchor. (Or lots of long, slow scenes that drag down the pace of the book.)
Speaking of pace, analyze the pacing in your work. Are there ups and downs? Not just the big ups and downs like on a huge roller coaster, but the smaller hills and valleys. Think symphony rather than roller coaster. It can seem to start slowly, but quickly a trumpet blast hooks you, makes you sit up straight. Then a lull followed by the rising of violins. Your heart rate picks up. Just when you catch your breath, the tempo quickens and you close your eyes, listening to the clarinets…until cymbals clash. The pace grows faster, faster, the tubas pound ominously, then sudden silence for three seconds, and an oboe cries until it blends in with a flute and piano duet. Whatever symphony you’re playing with your plot, listen to the sound. If you can’t hear the pace, then plot it out on paper and see what you’ve done.
Avoid wallowing in your words. Let us hear your characters. To do that, give us more fascinating dialogue and less narrative. Dialogue tells us a great deal about the characters. It shows their inner thoughts, their personalities, their backgrounds, their interaction with others, their ethics, their beliefs…it shows them. There has to be narrative, but too much begins to tell more about the writer than about the plot or characters. Do you need 150 words to describe Sally’s favorite childhood tree? Challenge yourself to do it in twenty. Do you need a full page to set up the awkward meeting between John and Lucia? Can you get that across in their conversation, their words, their physical reactions to each other? Can you convert narrative to dialogue or action to increase its immediacy and to involve the reader directly in the story?
In Part 3, we talk more about the plot.
Helen Ginger is a freelance editor and book consultant, with an informational and interactive blog for writers and a free weekly e-newsletter that goes out to subscribers around the globe. She coaches writers on the publishing industry, finding an agent, and polishing their work for publication. You can also follow her on Twitter.