Checking It Twice

The prospect of editing your manuscript is unwelcome, and the process is arduous. Nonetheless, you do it because either you or someone you respect has identified aspects of the book that are less compelling. You may have too much interior monologue, for example, on the part of your point-of-view character(s). You may have nonfiction-based content, such as a current social debate, that seems repetitious. Whatever you settle on, you have guidelines that tell you what to look for as you are editing the work.

The process that most authors follow is one of trimming. You keep shaving, shaving, shaving—sentence by sentence, sometimes throwing out whole paragraphs or a few pages, depending on how deep the rabbit hole is. You find a ton of stuff that is pretty good, and you don’t really want to cut it. You may remember how great you felt about it when it first burst forth from the pen. So that stays.

This process of accretion—little bit here, little bit there—is undoubtedly helpful in terms of how well the book reads when you finish. If you cut 10 percent of any story, the good stuff will stand out more when the dross is removed. The larger objectives, however, tend to be obscured by this approach. What did the person in the writing group really say? What was the literary agent’s real objection?

You can forget that the real objective is to produce a book on a higher plane. While you’re cutting a lot of interior monologue, you also have to consider what might be better interior monologue. You have a grasp of your characters by now. If you look at each plot turn, could you catalogue, step by step, more deeply how they’re feeling? That is, maybe the objection to too much thinking may be because it was too slight or too event-oriented to allow us to know the character better. Skating on the surface can become tiring for a reader—who wants to be the character, inside.

The same is true of that current debate you lectured about. Maybe the problem isn’t cutting down all the dialogue about, say, the January 6th attack on the Capitol. Maybe it’s the talk itself. Talk is cheap. What would happen if you cut it all? Instead you introduce a new character, a friend who infiltrated security and hoisted a brewski inside the hallowed halls? They brag about it to your protagonist. You follow a series of subplot scenes in which the FBI comes knocking. In each scene, you keep telling us: how does the protagonist feel about the friend?

Exercise: When you draw any conclusions yourself, or receive any comments, ask yourself: what is the objection? Is it too much junk, or is the way I’m going about it? You may be discursing when you should make your characters act. Consider completely different alternatives. Sketch them out. Write a few scenes in that new direction. Now what do you think?

“There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” —Ansel Adams

Copyright @ 2024 John Paine. All rights reserved.



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Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.