Knowing what you’ll do when you start editing a manuscript reduces the resistance you might experience when you transition from drafting to editing.
In our previous post, Mary Carroll Moore, author of Your Book Starts Here and a dozen other books, writing teacher, editor and book doctor (more about Mary), shared her insights in Steps One and Two. Ready for Steps Three, Four and Five?
Simple Tricks for Editing Part 2 By Mary Carroll Moore
Step Three: Pacing Checklist
Pacing is how fast your manuscript moves along. Surprisingly, speed depends a lot on verb choice.
1. Scour out the verb “to be,” a blah choice that creeps in to writing as placeholder. I search for “was” and all uses of the verb “to be” and use my thesaurus to get creative.
2. Remove “had” as much as possible. “Had” is past perfect and is really only needed in the first instance of a flashback. Then most pros slide into simple past tense. For instance: “She had been a chef years ago. She landed a good job at Circus Maximus.” Notice that the “had” places us in the backstory, but after we are there, we can move to simple past, with “landed.”
3. Eliminate “ing” verbs. Gerunds are useful but slow down the pace. Compare: “He wired the alarm” with “He was wiring the alarm” – fast, punchy versus languid. Occasionally, languid verb forms draw out tension, but if you search, you’ll be astonished how often you’ve unconsciously used them.
4. Replace “walk” and “move” with more vivid actions. “They moved across the field” versus “They sped across the field.” Quite a difference.
5. Ruthlessly wipe out adverbs. Cheating, I call it. We opt for “ly” descriptors instead of punching up our dialogue and actions. Adverbs slow down the pace. Can you get rid of most of them?
Editors make sure the details are consistent in a manuscript. Here are the three biggest offenders:
1. Verify the movement of weather and time of day, chapter to chapter. Make sure these are consistent and evolve logically. We can’t go from midnight to midday without notice. I make a chart and double-check it against my chapters.
2. List all major items in your story – vehicles, physical details, room locations, possessions – anything that appears frequently. Use the checklist to search for each. Verify that you’ve used the same descriptions. A man with flaming red hair in chapter 1 who is suddenly bald in chapter 10 needs explanation.
3. List all names – place and people. Check for consistency. One of my mom’s pet peeves (she’s a voracious reader) is the author who changes a main character’s name from Elise to Elaine mid-book.
Step Five: If It Still Doesn’t Sing . . . Checklists for Content
If you still find yourself swimming in unease after these changes, you may need to go back to your content and upgrade it. Here are five small questions I ask myself to bring content to another level:
1. Does each person in the story show inconsistencies? Humans do. We’re generous and stingy. We’re sweet and snarly. If your players aren’t two sides of their own coin, stop protecting them. Show everything.
2. Are the places and peoples unique enough? I make lists of how each person differs from the others, then do the same with each location. Push this as much as you can.
3. Are there enough fights? Do they range in intensity? If not, add some. Conflict makes prose move.
4. Are there enough secrets? Do you reveal them too soon? Can you delay more, to build tension?
5. Does each chapter have a clear and definite purpose? If not, can you change it? Or eliminate it?
For even more tips, check out my Revision Checklist post from last year. It got re-blogged more than any other in 2012, which says it hit home with many readers.