Thursday, March 03, 2011

Editing: The Next Step

Yesterday I mentioned printing out your document in two columns, using a font different from the one you use to write your manuscript. The advantages: Your eye sees things differently. First, the line breaks will come at different places. This means the words line up differently, and things you haven't noticed will jump out at you. Also, the narrower columns mean your eye can take in a whole "line" much more easily.

I also said I prefer to print it out single-spaced, and I use an 11 point font which is still easy to read, but saves paper. The idea on this read is to read the manuscript like a book. I'm reading for story. Here, I'll try to read in larger chunks. I keep my red pen handy, and a stack of Post-Its.

(Confession – I started this manuscript while we were in the process of moving, and didn't use my tracking board. So I was actually going back and doing a lot of what I SHOULD have done as I was writing – but either way, it gets the job done.)

And, because I hadn't used my tracking board, I read each scene and then summarized it on a Post-It. One thing I do leave in when I print the manuscript is the page break between chapters. This gives me room for my Post-Its and also any other notes I think will be helpful. I also decided that I'd never write another manuscript without my tracking system. Saves a lot of effort in the read-through.(And if you click to enlarge the images, you'll know why I don't write longhand!)

On this read, I marked things I knew I needed to fix: typos, more crutch words, formatting errors—anything that jumped out at me. For example, I noticed that my characters seemed to "beam" a bit too often. When I'm ready for the next phase, I'll go back and use the "Find" function to see if I've unearthed yet another crutch word.

I also kept another sheet of paper handy, and when I found phrases that seemed to repeat, or a plot point that went nowhere, or something that needed to be inserted, I jotted it down. If I found the perfect place to insert something, I'd note it on the page, and/or on the Post-It.

Example: The heroine (Elizabeth) is running from an abusive husband. Even though she's had help creating a new identity, she's lacking the skill set she needs to assume her new life. The hero (Grinch) is helping her. Since he's a covert ops agent, this IS part of his skill set.

After his tutelage, she's trying to be observant without being conspicuous. He's helped her zero in on distinguishing characteristics. One of the things he told her to look at was someone's ears. I know they're distinctive and can be helpful in identification. However, by the time I got to the end of the book, nobody had picked out either a villain or a red herring based on ears. Since I'd waved the flag in front of the reader, yet never followed all the way through, I made a note to go back and get rid of those bits.

In another scene, I had Elizabeth paying very strict attention to a woman in the grocery store. She showed up again in another scene. BUT that was it. She turned out not to have anything to do with the mystery plot. I did want to show Elizabeth practicing her observational skills, so instead of following one person, which waves that red flag to the reader, I cut the second sighting, and instead, had her notice a few more distinctive shoppers. She can then relay these descriptions to Grinch to show off her skills.

One of Grinch's skills is singing. I like my characters to have some "real life" expertise beyond the primary plot. I discovered that I'd written a scene where his son refers to their special "good night song" yet hadn't given him one. When I wrote one in there, I realized it had potential to open up a conversation with Elizabeth that would reveal a bit more about his character. So, I have a note to find the best place to work that in. (Or cut it entirely if it bogs things down)

Once this is done, I'll take my printout back to the computer and start making the fixes I've marked.

Did you find this post useful? I'm still trying to figure out the workings of the 'retweet' button, so if you don't mind clicking it, maybe I can see what it really does. Thanks!


Sherry Gloag said...

Terry, I found this blog extremely helpful. the one thing I haven't mastered yet is the racking system you mention.
The rest of your suggestions are going to come in handy as I'm about to stat editing a wip I haven't looked at for several years. So thank you.
As for retweeting, sorry I don't know how that works either, and rather than mess up your stuff I'll pass on this request. :-)

Unknown said...

I've never used a tracking board before. My blog Sister recommended Scrivener to me, which sounds similar. I'll have to look into it. Great ideas!

Terry Odell said...

Sherry - no worries about the tweeting. I'm just trying to figure out what it really does. :-)

Kristi and Sherry - there's a handout on my website called "Plotting for Non-Plotters" where I give some of the things I learned about tracking. I liked that it wasn't a computer program, so it gave me 'fresh eyes' and physically moving post-its seemed to help put things in perspective. I did a whole series here on the blog a while back.

DanielleThorne said...

What a brilliant idea. Thank you for sharing this!

Alison Henderson said...

Terry - this was an extremely useful post! I've never been this methodical about edits, but I'm motivated to try. I've also been surprised by "echo" words or phrases I never saw until I received the formatted manuscript back from my editor. It's surprising what pops out when you read something single spaced or in a different font.

Kim Bowman Author said...

I never even thought of printing it in 2 columns and different font! I will now. These editing posts have been killer! Thank you, Terry

Joan Reeves said...

Yes, I'm a believer in printing out a hard copy too. You just see things you never spot on the monitor.

Paul Hansen said...

Thanks for the ideas. Also, reading aloud helps me find problems. What is your 'tracking board?'
Paul Hansen

Terry Odell said...

Danielle - my pleasure.

Alison, Joan - yes, we do have to find ways to fool our brains

Kim - Glad you've found them useful -- feel free to share

Paul - I really hate to hear myself read, but it does help find some more clunkers. If you go to my website, there's a handout on "Plotting for Non-Plotters" which explains my tracking system. Or type "storyboard" into the search box and it should bring up some of my blog posts about my method.

Katrina said...

Terry, this is fantastic. I did something similar with different colored post-its showing different strands of the story. That way I could see where scenes weren't pulling their weight.

I love the idea of printing it so it looks like a book. I can't tell you how many pages of old manuscripts I have under my bed.


Terry Odell said...

Katrina - when I was with a different crit group, we'd dedicate a meeting to a full ms review, and I would print mine out using the "bookfold" option which printed the document from the front and the back at the same time, so when you were done, you could cut the results down the center gutter and I'd take it to Office Depot to punch and put in a comb binding thingie. Then it was REALLY like a book!

Shannon said...

Ooh, that is a really cool technique. I'll need to pin the link to my blog so I can come and find it later. Very cool.

Terry Odell said...

Shannon - feel free to visit often!

Ivan Borodin said...

I was glad to see that I'm not the only one who likes to print things out hardcopy--and in two columns to boot! I thought I was crazy all these years.

But I was blown away by the idea of changing the font, whether it be size or style, because that would lead to an entirely different appearance. To me it seemed like rearranging the furniture of a room to feel like you've moved. I'm definitely be trying that.

Terry Odell said...

Ivan - glad I could add one more trick to your obvious well-equipped arsenal.