Monday, February 9, 2009

The Big Edits, Part 3

We’re talking big things you need to look at in your manuscript. So far, we’ve covered point of view, beginnings, and back story in Part 1 of this Edit series. We looked at pacing in individual scenes and in the book as a whole, and balancing dialogue and narrative in Part 2.

Now let’s talk about plot. Is it clich├ęd? Has it been told before? Is an agent going to read the book or your synopsis and say, “I’ve read this before; it’s nothing new.” Of course, realizing this and working on the plot would be better to do before you write the manuscript, but even after you’re finished, it’s not necessarily too late to salvage the book. Try sitting down with a trusted reader or your editor and brainstorming ways to rev up the plot, to add spice or a twist to it, bring in a relevant, different, character, even do a major change to the entire plot. Yeah, agents and editors like what’s familiar, but you always hear them say, “Give me what so-and-so wrote, only different.” That “different” is what will set you apart instead of send you to the reject pile.

Is there conflict in the book? Not just conflict between the protagonist and antagonist (or main and counter character), but also between ideals and perceptions of the characters. Does the setting and atmosphere always match the mood of a character? Can there be juxtaposition? What about the plot itself? Is there only one disagreement in the plot? Why not a couple of other conflicts to go along with the big one? Doesn’t your main character, your hero, need more than one obstacle to overcome?

Take a look at the entire book. You don’t have to do it in one pass-through. Break it down. Examine it from all angles.

You can work on these edits yourself. If you feel, however, that doing this kind of an in-depth look at your work will kill your creativity or change your voice, then turn to others to help you. No one, certainly me, wants you to think of this process as drudgery or a soul-killing process.

If you analyze your manuscript and feel it needs work, but can’t tackle the edits yourself, work with a critique partner or group, or work with your freelance editor.

Everyone wants to type “the end” and write the query letter…

But to get to the “happy” letter from an agent or editor, you have to do the edits in-between “the end” and “Dear Fabulous Agent/Editor.”
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.

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  1. I'm working on the 'this has been written before, trying to make it different' thing. Right now I'm still on my first read through of it.

    So far I'm okay doing it myself, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to start sending out chapters to the people who so wonderfully volunteered to be helpful while I was still writing it.

    I know they'll see problems that I don't. :)

  2. I'm really glad to hear you have readers you believe in and can turn to. That's hugely important.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice.