Monday, November 18, 2013

When a House Is Like a Book

The DH and I have been in the process of getting our house in order, a project long overdue. He's the kind of guy who's deathly averse to change. I'm usually immersed in writing and promoting, and don't expend much energy on keeping the house in shape.

Something set off a signal in my brain. Suddenly, I became disgusted with the state of our house. I had to make changes or go crazy, despite my husband's protests to leave well enough alone.

Before the necessary task of moving the furniture, what was inside everything had to be removed and put somewhere else. Some of the items we plucked out may find their way back to where they were before, while others will be donated or thrown away.

The walls are now painted, but nothing can go back to its proper place until the carpeting is installed.

What does this have to do with writing? Some of you may have already guessed.

Improving a house is very like editing a book. Sometimes an author can become complacent, unaware of the problems preventing a manuscript from being all it can be. After typing the words, "The End," we need to take a hard look and check for flaws before sending it out into the world.

Some are easy fixes. Others may be complex, requiring small or large parts to be moved around or gutted. It doesn't hurt to save the old version under a different name, and then make the changes. Also, if you're in doubt about discarded content, you can stick that in a separate file as well.

Once you've done all you can do on your own, consulting a professional editor is a wise course of action. Minds have a bad habit of supplying what should be there, when it really isn't. If you don't have an editor, you'll find many available at The Blood-Red Pencil.

Before sending your manuscript to an editor, here's a checklist for editing:

1. Spell check, but be careful, since sometimes that feature supplies what it wants to, instead of what's right.
2. Search for overused words, especially favorites - those you're in the habit of using.
3. Vary sentence construction.
4. Similar to #2 and #3 is making sure not to use the same word(s) in a row or close by to begin a sentence.
5. Use present tense when appropriate.
6. Discard as many of the just, only, as, and ing words as possible.
7. Check sequence to make sure reaction follows an action, and not vice versa.
8. Decide if each character's behavior makes sense.

Well, there you have it. I believe I've offered enough proof that getting a manuscript into shape can be similar to and about as daunting as improving a house!

You're welcome to comment by adding to my checklist, or expanding on an item already there.


Experience the diversity & versatility of Morgan Mandel. For romantic comedy: Her Handyman & Girl of My DreamsThriller: Forever Young: Blessing or CurseShort Stories Sequel: the Blessing or Curse CollectionRomantic suspense: Killer Career. Mystery: Two WrongsTwitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com Chick Lit Faves 

20 comments :

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Great list, thank you! I'd also add "read your MS out loud." It forces you to read more slowly than you might otherwise. Since you're so familiar with the book, your eyes might skim, and you will definitely see what you intend to be there. Your ears will hear what you REALLY wrote. :)

    (There's no edit button...)

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    1. Good point, Susan. I was going to add that until I read your comment, so I'll just second it. :-)

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  3. Great suggestion. Thanks for adding to the list, Susan!

    Morgan Mandel
    http://www.morganmandel.com

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  4. I save the file as a new name after every draft and revision layer. You never know when you might need something from an earlier version. Plus, if you somehow lose the file you are working on, the last updated file is a better place to start than from ground zero. I use all of the high and low revision techniques in Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers. It is time consuming, but I believe it makes the work stronger and cleaner. It is important to send your best work out to agents and editors. It is even more important before you hit that "publish" button on your own. I would never submit or publish a first draft, a second, or a third.

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    1. Good points, Diana! We do more than one revision. Actually, I save the file under the first revised name, unless it's major, but I send an email to myself every day I do revisions, and include the latest revised copy. That way, I retain the progression.

      Morgan Mandel
      http://www.morganmandel.com

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  5. I empathize with your husband, Morgan ... why mess with things for no urgent reason ... and by urgent, I mean fire or natural disaster.

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    1. It took me a while to get going, but now I'm on a roll now. It feels good to throw out lots of my useless stuff from down through the years. Much is about writing, such as magazines. I'm keeping some pages of the critiques I received for my books, but the rest is being pitched. I'm careful not to disturb his stuff, which he believes all belongs to the keepsake category!, I believe the DH is slowly getting used to the house becoming semi-organized.

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  6. I'm confused about number 5, Morgan. If writing in past tense, which is what most authors do, we don't use present tense at all. Or are you referring to internal dialogue? I've noticed that that is being used less and less in current fiction.

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    1. I should have clarified #5. Sometimes we don't take advantage of good scenes and mention them after the fact, instead of making them happen in the present.

      Morgan Mandel
      http://www.morganmandel.com

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  7. Great analogy, Morgan. We writers can certainly "clutter" up our WIP with all our gems. But sometimes...you just have to clean house!

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  8. So much clutter, so little time!

    Morgan Mandel

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  9. You've just reminded me to highlight Just, Only, and a couple of other words I'm prone to overuse. Thanks! I needed the entire reminder.

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    1. Sometimes I get hung up on editing as I go along. I keep trying to just get it out first, then get rid of the clutter!

      Morgan Mandel

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  10. Hmm…I'm an editor who hates rearranging the furniture. Wonder what that means?

    Excellent post, Morgan, and great comparison!

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    1. Thanks, Linda. Yes, I don't rearrange furniture too often, and don't like it when I have to rearrange huge chunks in a book!

      Morgan Mandel

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  11. This reminds me of when we put our house in Florida on the market -- that was a MAJOR editing job. Killing those darlings! And then, when we bought our new house, it needed some remodels and renovations. I agree, it's a lot like editing.

    Terry
    Terry's Place

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    1. I don't believe we'll ever move. It would be way too much work! Painting and carpeting is bad enough!

      Morgan Mandel

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    2. We lived in our last house for 22+ years but when we retired, we wanted to get far, far away. Our next move will be toes-up, I'm sure.

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  12. Hi Morgan, I recently came up against a case of editorial complacency when employed by a writer in a new, emerging market: authors who've had their book traditionally published yet it didn't sell well, so they are getting their rights back and improving the work before self-publishing.

    Today's editors can be among the chronically over-worked and I think some times they simply have to make due. As an independent editor, it wasn't hard for me to identify numerous ways in which this project would fail to bond with a reader. I think you just helped me come up with a future post! Thanks.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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