Last week I wrote about the first draft of a novel, and the work you then need to do before submitting it.
One good piece of advice I’ve read is to do nothing for a week or so. Catch up on all the housework you’ve been ignoring, go pull up some weeds from the garden, treat yourself to a lunch or dinner with friends – whatever will keep you away from your novel for a while. You’re never going to be completely objective about it, but after a break from the intensity of creating it, you can come back to it with fresh eyes.
What Next? You may already know where there are weaknesses in structure or characterisation, so the first thing is to get these right. Sometimes you need to incorporate an extra scene, or change one you’ve already written. I’ve also had to layer in (naturally and unobtrusively!) more details about a secondary character who ended up playing a larger part in the story than I’d first anticipated.
Watch out for inconsistencies and continuity errors. Have the hero’s eyes changed from blue to brown? Did the heroine arrive at work in the morning and half an hour later go off for dinner with the hero? In my current WIP, I know I’m going to have to double-check whether I’ve put the heroine’s ‘office’ at college on the first or second floor as I think I’ve changed its location half way through.
It’s so easy to miss very obvious errors. Here’s a paragraph from a best-selling author, (who shan’t be named but you may be able to guess!):A voice spoke, chillingly close. "Do not move." On his hands and knees, the curator froze, turning his head slowly. Only fifteen feet away, outside the sealed gate, the mountainous silhouette of his attacker stared through the iron bars.
Spot the errors? Fifteen feet away is chillingly close? Can you freeze and turn your head slowly at the same time? How can a mountainous silhouette stare? These are the kinds of thing that ought to jump out at you as you re-read your work.
The next step is to look at your style. Check for clichés and find a different way to express them. Look at your spelling and sentence structure. Do you have a series of sentences starting with ‘She’ or ‘He’? Re-write them and vary the start of each sentence.
Delete unnecessary dialogue tags and/or too many synonyms for ‘said’. The word ‘said’ is hardly noticed by a reader, whereas a plethora of synonyms like retorted, exclaimed, gasped, muttered, ordered etc etc can distract reader from what the characters are actually saying. Find action verbs instead of using adverbs. ‘She said nervously’ can be replaced with an action like lacing and unlacing her fingers. Look for the times when you can show, not tell.
Get rid of redundant actions too. You know the kind of thing (Ana wrote about this on Monday). I just took my own advice and changed: Her phone rang again and she picked it up, then pursed her lips when she saw the name on the screen. Of course she had to pick it up to see the name. So and she picked it up has been deleted.
Be aware of over-used words and phrases. You probably already know the ones you use too much. In Word you can use ‘edit’ and then ‘find’ to hunt for them and change them.
The editing process can be time-consuming, but it’s worth the effort. There is plenty of other advice in books and on websites about editing, so I’ll end with one last point. Don’t over-edit! Know when to stop ‘tweaking’ otherwise you’ll never have that final manuscript ready for submission.