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.
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?"
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?