Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Writer's Wednesday

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.

For example:

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

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