Thursday, November 12, 2009

Landscape that Manuscript

Our contract with our current Realtor expires in about 10 days, and it's time to move on. Thus, we've been interviewing Realtors. A tedious chore. Given the state of the market, they're all eager to have our listing, which means we have to weed the hype out of their presentations and figure out which one will work best for us.

A while back, I compared selling a house to selling a manuscript. With our house, hubby has been adamant about not touching the existing vegetation in our front yard. It gives us privacy and is very low-maintenance, since it's primarily the natural flora. However, it also blocks any view of our house from the street. In short, negative curb appeal. Making it presentable will be a major effort.

When you send your manuscript out for the first time, be it one chapter for a critique group, three chapters for a contest, or you get that request for a full submission, you're relinquishing some of your control. The general 'rule' is that when more than two comments say the same thing, it's time to consider making serious changes. You have to put away the "my baby" attitude and think of the manuscript as the kid going off to school for the first time. All of a sudden, it's "But teacher says …" and you're no longer number one on the list.

Keep Reading...

So, the hubster has had to realize that selling our house means doing things that aren't really for "us" anymore. If it means giving up some of that seclusion, it's not like we're going to live with it forever. Yes, there's probably someone out there who would like a house you can't see from the street. But there are far too many more (according to the Realtors, anyway), who don't even want to come inside, or who come inside already thinking of what it will cost them to re-landscape. Too bad they don't think about how much water it will take to irrigate a lawn, or how they'll be stuck cutting that much more grass every week. But we have to look at the house as someone else's, even though we're still living in it. I'm not sure hubby is quite ready to let go, as he's hemming and hawing about calling the guy that normally does our tree trimming. He has to internalize the change first.

And I have to look at my manuscript as something marketable as well. Cutting words is like cutting back some of those palmettos out front. And like landscaping, some things need to be uprooted, some cut way back, and some gently trimmed. Logically, to cut back 10% of a manuscript means cutting one word in ten. Too bad you can't just delete every tenth word. Nope. You have to pick the right words. So I can't say I have to cut 312.5 words per chapter. I have to cut about 9600 words from my manuscript. I've deleted about 2000 so far, over 12 chapters.


My process: Major surgery first. Are there scenes that aren't moving the plot forward? Excise them. No matter that you love them. That they're well-written. Maybe you can transplant them.

Then, the minor surgery. I've checked my Idea board for the leftovers I talked about Monday. Some of them were hinted at in the manuscript as foreshadowing. Since they're not needed, I can do some cutting there. Also, I've added bright yellow post-its to my almost-empty Idea board with threads I can cut. For example, I had a car with Florida plates. To add a possible connection, I gave Rose and Sam some distant cousins there. But nothing really came from that other than, "We never see them and aren't in touch." So why have it in the book at all? Snip.

Check dialogue. I'm chatty; so are my characters. Do they ramble? Dialogue in books isn't a transcription of real life chit-chat. Cut qualifiers.

And so on, down to the itty-bitty butterfly bandages and plastic surgery. This is where a thesaurus earns its spot on the bookshelf. Weak words? Find stronger ones. Repeated words? Cut or vary. I have my list. No matter how hard I try to be aware of words like "just", they keep appearing. I have 187 of them in this manuscript. Less than in the last manuscript, but far too many. Most of them are just hanging around taking up space – oops – another one slipped in, didn't it?

Here's a before and after look at some general tightening of my prologue. A prologue needs to be concise, especially if it's merely setting the stage for what's to come. Keep in mind, these are MY preliminary edits, and should the manuscript sell, this could end up being changed yet again. First, the original:

His visitor found the old man's pen, the fat one with the cushioned grip. "This?"

The old man nodded. His visitor handed him the pen, then wandered around the room, hands in his pockets. The old man observed him, seeing the room through a stranger's eyes. Not a real bedroom, but more homey than a hospital room, the old man had thought when he'd been transferred to the medical wing. No longer. Now it was his prison cell. He sighed, a wheezy sound that echoed in his ears.

With his favorite pen in hand, the old man began writing. He'd written the missive countless times in his head, but would never commit it to paper. Not until now, when he knew the recipient would get it. Too many snooping eyes around this place.

Next, I thought I'd give you my thought processes as I read it with "tighten" in mind.

His visitor found (weak verb, shaky POV) the old man's pen, the fat one with the cushioned grip. "This?"

The old man nodded. ("nodded" is one of my crutch words [47 uses i draft #1], so I'll snip if at all possible) His visitor handed him the pen, then wandered around the room, hands in his pockets. The old man observed him, seeing the room through a stranger's eyes. Not a real bedroom, but more homey than a hospital room, the old man had thought when he'd been transferred to the medical wing. No longer. Now it was his prison cell. (All the room description isn't needed since we never come back here. We know from an earlier section he's in a medical setting) He sighed, a wheezy sound that echoed in his ears. (Not needed to advance the plot; unnecessary description slows the pace, and he's going to be hearing the television in the next paragraph)

With his favorite pen in hand, (we know it's a special pen, because he'd already rejected one the visitor had given him earlier, and if he's writing, we know the pen is in his hand) the old man began writing. He'd written the missive countless times in his head, but would never commit it to paper. Not until now, when he knew the recipient would get it. (since the visitor has arrived to give the old man the address he needs, this is also unnecessary.) Too many snooping eyes around this place.

Now for the edited version:

His visitor waved the old man's pen, the fat one with the cushioned grip. "This?"

"Please."

After handing him the pen, his visitor picked up the remote and settled in front of the television. The old man began writing. He'd written the missive countless times in his head, but would never commit it to paper. Not until now. Too many snooping eyes around this place.

So, shall we discuss?

20 comments:

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Wow, good job, Terry! It reads much better after your surgery. And I'm sure your house will sell quicker after some vegetation slashing, too.

Okay, I'm tweeting this...see if it brings you some new folks. I'm not giving up on you as a Tweeter yet! :)

Elizabeth
Mystery Writing is Murder

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Elizabeth. I spent time (too much, but that's because I'm a techno-ditz) dealing with getting that little 'share' button added to the bottom of my posts. We'll see what happens!

I'm all for getting the word out. Just don't require an advanced degree to figure out how to do it.

Kathleen A. Ryan said...

Excellent, excellent advice, Terry. Thank you for sharing your process.

Thank you, Elizabeth, for tweeting this...I clicked right on it. I'm in the middle of landscaping my manuscript, so for me, Terry's timing is perfect!

Terry Odell said...

Kathleen: Glad you found me. Feel free to let us know what editing techniques work for you.

Elena said...

Terry, my 2 cents - Curb Appeal is the name of a reality tv show and realtors who have no initiative or selling talent follow HGTV shows like slaves. I would strongly suggest you do not cut the water and labor saving landscaping so that it looks just like what they are seeing on tv. Instead use it to winnow out realtors looking for one who appreciates the "GREEN" aspects of your landscaping. IMHO it will see/sell better if pushed as green.

Terry Odell said...

Elena - I confess I've started watching a few of those HGTV shows to see how they stage houses for viewing.

Buying a house is a very psychological thing -- you have to make it look 'homey' but not 'personal' because buyers don't want to see pictures of your kids, etc. We have the inside presentable.

And our house has been pushed as "low maintenance landscaping, mature trees" etc.

But listening to Realtors is a lot like listening to editors or agents. When they all start pointing out the same perceived flaws, it's time to rethink. It doesn't mean the house is 'better' one way or the other, only that it's more likely to appeal to a wider audience. And right now, I don't feel like waiting around for that ONE buyer who wants green. I want to get a dozen buyers in here, and let them decide if they want to let the natural stuff grow back. Because we're not going to uproot it, only trim it. (At least that was the last "word" from the hubster.)

Watery Tart said...

Great edit example! I can both see why it was tempting to write it the first way, and why the second is perfectly good for the final product (along with being cleaner).

I also love your storyboard writing idea--I wish I had more space!

I happen to LOVE a house that is a little secluded and can be pushed as green, but I think those of us who are that way relocate less often and in many parts of the country are a significant minority ANYWAY.--any compromise possibility? Make a clear visual path THROUGH but leave the green 'impression'? Seems a paving stone path through trees that allow a VIEW (or some such thing) seems friendly, but wouldn't have to give up as much privacy or add as much maintenance.

Maryann Miller said...

Excellent tips, Terry. The comparison with the home selling effort really makes the points stick.

Kathy said...

Interesting Terry I like the edits and I see how you did it. I made the comment last night that the two things I'm working on will need a lot of editing but I had no clue how to "fix" it when I finish them. Now I see what and how you did it it helps. I tried storyboarding but it didn't work for me I sort of plan things in my mind and then write to see what happens. I figure I can delete and fix after I finish writing. If you get bogged down fixing before you finish for me it never gets finished. I'm struggling to get to the end lol.

Terry Odell said...

WT - We definitely won't rip everything out. We'll see what the landscape/tree guy says. There's a LOT of "stuff" in that oasis.

Maryann, thanks -

Kathy - all the stickies on my story board go up AFTER I've written the chapter, because I can't plot either.

Sam said...

Thanks for taking the time to explain your thoughts on how to edit that passage. It's so valuable to see the "why" as well as the "what."

Terry Odell said...

Sam, since cutting anything is always painful, I have to go through those thought processes to convince myself to hit the 'delete' key. I don't mind sharing.

Glad it was helpful for you.

Mary Ricksen said...

That's me I always have to chop and chop.
Great post Terry!

Sheila Deeth said...

Wow. Fascinating insight into edits, but still sort of sad. I liked the look into his prison in the first version...

...and I love the secluded house, but I can imagine failing to find it on a quick drive around. I'd hate to lose all that vegetation; it looks just perfect...

...maybe that's why we never found a perfect house. We just have the wrong tastes.

Terry Odell said...

Sheila, it's doubly hard to cut because description is painful for me, and I struggle to get it in there. But realistically, this is a prologue and bottom line: It Adds Nothing to the Plot. I'd rather save the words for places they can do more duty.

Carol Kilgore said...

I'm still pushing to finish mine, so landscaping won't begin until early next year. I always look for tips, and I found good ones here. Thanks.

Terry Odell said...

Carol, if something works for you, I'm glad to help. Everyone has to find the process that works.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

It's amazing how much we find to fix when rereading our work. In that regard, self-editing can go on forever. Usually I need three run-throughs before I'm satisfied, but give me that same manuscript a couple of months later, and I could still find stuff to revise. And yes, Terry, hack off those shrubs. It'll give your house a much cleaner look from the curb.

GunDiva said...

It seems so funny to be cutting words. I'm in the midst of the NaNoWriMo challenge, which is all about PADDING word count. The thought of cutting words gives me the shivers.

In truth, it does read better, but I like little details like his bedroom description.

Terry Odell said...

Nancy - the work crew shows up Tuesday.

Gun Diva - the manuscript word count has to fit the submission guidelines (or at least come close). Since I was too long on draft 1, it means cutting. As I mentioned, the prologue doesn't need so much in-depth detail. I agree, the description can add richness, but it's not adding anything beyond that.

Have you read Lee Child? Everything he says comes back again at least once in the book. But very little in this scene will be needed later, so ... SNIP.