Monday, June 27, 2011
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Editing your Manuscript -- Part Two
For this discussion we will focus on writing fiction or narrative nonfiction.
Your previous edits have addressed the major points of format, plot, character, and voice.
Your manuscript is successfully formatted in the correct style.
Your plot unrolls seamlessly. Tension builds from the opening scene to the climax via plot points and complications.
Your characters are fully realized, varied and believable.
You've found the appropriate voice for your characters and/or narrator.
Now it's time to address two more aspects of your writing -- errors of fact and consistency.
Errors of fact deal with references about actual or fictional people, places or things.
As author you are utilizing a real time and place or creating a fictional world for your story. It is essential that the facts are true to that world. Real or imagined, your world must feel authentic. Geography, architecture, technology, clothing, foods, social conventions, attitudes and language are just a few of the areas that you will need to be aware of as you are editing.
Stepping outside the boundaries of your facts will jolt readers out of the story and if the occurrences are frequent they can even cause readers to question the entire work.
A reader critiquing a manuscript expressed concern about a particular horseshoe used in the story and wondered if it had been invented at the time in which the story was placed.
It would have been tempting to say the point was insignificant. After all, it was only a horseshoe, the work was fiction, and how many readers would actually know the difference. But clearly it was a matter of note for this person. Fortunately, the writer knew that the shoe had been used for some six hundred years prior to the time in which the work was set.
Not only must the facts of your story be accurate, they must also be consistent from beginning to end unless you demonstrate how, when, and why they change. Checking your manuscript for consistency means looking at attitudes, behaviors, speech patterns, and vocabulary to name a few.
Imagine a protagonist who sustained a crippling wound, but oddly enough the injury seemed to come and go at the writer's whim. When seeking sympathy for the character, the writer had the hero unable to care for himself. Moments later, when a hero was needed, the injury scarcely troubled him, only to leave him once again disabled a page later. The writer made no attempt to explain or qualify these random transformations and it made the entire story suspect.
Beginning with the first chapter, everything is based on what went before so consistency is essential.
Avoiding errors of fact and maintaining consistency can be particularly difficult if you are writing over a long period of time and/or taking frequent breaks from your work.
It can be equally difficult to identify errors. If you edit or workshop your writing a few pages at a time, it's almost impossible for you or your readers to remember all the details of your story and catch inconsistencies.
When you reach this stage of editing, it is a good idea to set aside a day, weekend, or even a week to focus on your story and read multiple chapters at a sitting.
Chances are you'll suddenly find these mistakes leaping off the page. If the needed changes are quick, easy fixes you can attend to them as you go. If the problems require some serious thought -- highlight the problems, make notes for correction later, and keep on reading until you've finished the manuscript.
Don't get in a hurry to make big changes early in the manuscript. Wait until you have a clear understanding of how those changes will affect later chapters.
Enjoy your story, the process and remember you're getting another step closer to submitting your work.
Next time --
Editing part three: Word Choice and vocabulary
Monday, June 20, 2011
Friday, June 17, 2011
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
I've been reading and offering suggestions for a number of writers this week. Their work varies from essays and short stories to memoirs and novels.
Regardless of their writing styles or goals they all have one problem in common: how to approach editing. Everyone expresses the same frustration with the overwhelming scope of an edit and the difficulty of knowing where to begin. I don't know why, but new writers always seem to feel they are supposed to solve all their manuscript problems in one massive rewrite.
That's just not how the process works. Editing happens in stages -- which explains why we go through so many rewrites on our way to creating a manuscript worthy of publishing.
Begin with the big items first:
- Know your audience. Are you writing for a magazine or newspaper? Are you creating a book for a specific age or interest group? Every type of publishing has guidelines about format, word length, etc. Do your homework and have the criteria in mind before you begin to edit. You'll avoid wasted effort.
- Structure your work appropriately whether it's nonfiction or fiction -- Is it logical? Can the reader follow your reasoning in an essay or the action of your plot without becoming confused or lost?
- Are the characters distinct and multi-dimensional with clearly defined goals? Do their actions and motives arise out of who they are or are they dancing like puppets on a string at the whim of the author? Are their choices believable?
- Find your voice. Identify your distinct style of expression as essayist, narrator or fictional character.
It is very likely that you will need to do a separate rewrite for each of these points to allow you to focus on each element. When you are satisfied with the results, it's time to look at some of the other essentials of good writing.
I'll explore those next time.
Meanwhile, remember that the object of critiquing your work is to create the best piece of writing possible. Your goal is to make your writing accessible to your readers.
Monday, June 13, 2011
My selection is "2030: a day in the life of tomorrow's kids" by Amy Zuckerman and James Daly with illustrations by John Manders.
What will the future bring for today's students? The authors speculate on a variety of futuristic possibilities: a watch that sends the wearer's temperature, blood pressure and feelings directly to the doctor, holograms in the classroom, robots, and virtual reality sports are some of the highlights, but advances in technology aren't the only topics. Social, environmental, and cultural changes are also explored and there are discussions of overpopulation, starvation and health concerns. The cartoon-style illustrations depict a world that children will identify with as they follow one boy's activities through the day.
Friday, June 10, 2011
Poetry Friday is hosted today by Picture Book of the Day.
Yolen has created a "day in the life" that combines her poetry with clearly organized information and beautifully conceived photographs. Yolen makes use of a variety of poetic forms and a paragraph of scientific discussion to explore egret behavior, biology and habitat.
Monday, June 6, 2011
Nonfiction Monday is hosted today by Chapter Book of the Day.
My selection is "Claude Monet: the painter who stopped trains" written by P.I. Maltbie with illustrations by Joseph A. Smith.
The name Monet may forever be linked with water-lilies, but Maltbie has found an entirely new aspect of the renowned artist's work to celebrate in this narrative non-fiction book. Inspired by his son's love of trains and the need to silence his critics, Monet created a series of paintings of steam engines set in the first Paris train station, the Gare Saint-Lazare. His work brought him success with both the critics and popular audiences and encouraged other impressionist artists of the time. Information about Monet and the Impressionist movement is readily accessible to readers and the book provides another viewpoint of the man and the community of artists in his time. Smith's illustrations combine the techniques associated with Impressionism and his own sensibilities as an artist to create a visually satisfying complement to the text.
Artist and illustrator notes, a glossary, index to Monet's work and a list of museums and collections that house Monet's artwork is included.
Friday, June 3, 2011
Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted today by The Writer's Armchair with Toby Speed.
My selection is "City kids: street & skyscraper rhymes" by X.J. Kennedy with illustrations by Philippe Beha.
Award-winning poet X.J. Kennedy examines urban life in this mostly exuberant collection of child-friendly verses. His poetry is short and engaging and explores city life through places, experiences and characters. Subways, laundromats, museums, zoos, pollution, crime, street performers, a firefighter lost on 9/11, and the Leaflet Man all receive attention. Beha's colorful cubist style artwork complements the text's alternating intensity and light-heartedness.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
It's a working writer's day for me.
However, let me recommend this terrific post from Author/Agent Mandy Hubbard titled: The Epic Post on Trends (YA & MG). This post has created a lot of buzz on the SCBWI list serve and is worth a read.