Monday, October 27, 2014

How to Prune a Manuscript


Katie Clark writes young adult speculative fiction, including her dystopian Enslaved Seriesmade up of Vanquished, Deliverance, and Redeemer. You can connect with her at her website, on Facebook, or on Twitter.


Mary, Mary, quite contrary how does your garden grow?

Writing—or writing well—usually takes time, just like growing a garden. I started writing novels in high school. If I remember correctly, I wrote three full novels during this time. However, I didn’t have an awesome site like Go Teen Writers where I could get advice on the writing craft. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a “writing craft”. The result? My manuscripts sorta kinda stunk. That was perfectly fine with me, though. I had no idea I’d one day go on to be a published author—I was just having fun writing the stories in my head and heart. After high school, my writing fell away for a while…but not for long.

I got back into writing in my mid-20’s. I participated in NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. I pounded out a complete novel in 30 days! I thought it was perfect, but a few honest critique partners quickly let me know that is wasn’t. Frustration set in and I just didn’t understand why my story wasn’t any good.

After three years of learning, rewriting, and learning some more, I finally realized my issue was editing. There had been no plot revisions, no cutting or adding, no polishing my sentences or rearranging scenes to make everything flow more smoothly. I had cut out the editing stage completely!

Okay, so how does all of this relate to Mary and her garden? Let me tell you!

One of the first things you do when planting a garden is taking a seed and putting it into the ground. You find the right spot, prepare the dirt, lovingly place your seed inside, then cover it with soil. Writing your first draft is like planting a seed. You pick the right setting, do a little pre-plotting to figure out what your story is about, then put words to paper.

Now, this is when most newbies make their big mistake—the same mistake I made. They feel that once the seed gets into the ground, they’re finished! But we all know putting a seed into the ground isn’t the end of growing a garden. There is watering, weeding, and pruning to be done. This is when the real work begins! In the writing world, we call it editing.

It took several manuscripts before I got into my editing groove, but now I’ve streamlined my process to a place of comfort. Editing is my favorite part—the part where I can prune my plants into masterpieces!

My process actually begins while I’m drafting. I do not edit as I draft, but I do often realize I’m on the wrong track with something, and so I make myself notes in the manuscript as I go. Once I’ve finished the entire draft, my next step is to go through these notes and make all the necessary changes. This might include plot holes I’ve noticed, or places where I can tie certain subplots together. When this is complete, I read through the entire manuscript again to check for other big changes that need to be made, and I make them.

After I get the plot worked out, I do another complete read-through. This is usually the stage where I do a lot of pruning—cutting, shaping, and filling out. I check to make sure scenes or paragraphs are in the best possible order. Sometimes I realize that what makes sense to me won’t necessarily make sense to others, so I need to rearrange my descriptions and actions.

My last step is to read through the manuscript for voice. I want to make sure I’ve used the words my characters would use. In one manuscript, my main character was a baker. I went through the manuscript and changed a few expressions to reflect this. For instance, instead of saying Kayla was going to have a nervous breakdown, I wrote that Kayla was about to invade the baker’s chocolate. I love raking through my manuscript, looking for little changes like this that can bring the story to life!

Once I’ve given it one last read through, I send the story off to a critique partner. That’s right! I rarely send off a story for critique until it’s gone through several rounds of editing. I want to make sure my seed has not only been planted, but lovingly tended before I show it off to others. I almost always still end up with a lot to change—but this is OK! I keep working my garden until it’s a prize winner.

Unlike a garden, unfortunately, there is no Miracle Gro for your manuscript. Editing takes time and hard work, but in the end you will have yummy fruits and veggies to share. And the best part? People will be glad you shared—unlike if you tried to saddle them with a first draft, because really, who wants to eat a seed?

17 comments:

  1. That's such a good way for describing the editing process - like a plant growing. Exactly, who wants to eat the seed? I loved the way you told us- but I've re-realised how long the process of actually 'finishing' a book is. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm realizing in my first draft that there's a lot I'm going to need to fix in my second draft. This post sums up the editing process very well. Thank you, Ms. Clark!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I really loved your thoughts! I know for me editing is the hardest part to get right. Thank you so much for guest posting here!
    ~Sarah Faulkner

    Inklined

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for reading, Naomi! Mostly, nobody likes seeds. Unless they are sunflower seeds, but that's a whole different ballgame! :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. You're very welcome, Linea! Yes, I just finished a first draft for an upcoming novel, and I have SO MUCH to fix. I've set the manuscript aside for a month, so that when I go back to it I will have very fresh eyes.

    ReplyDelete
  6. You're welcome, Sarah! I'm so glad you found it helpful. Editing is hard, but so very worth it!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I loved this, it was a great example of how a book works :) I'll be editing my first finished story in a few weeks, and there seems to be a lot of editing blog posts here recently. ;) (lucky me!)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good luck, Jessica! I somehow never seem to make it past the first few chapters. Hopefully that'll change soon. :)
      Congratulations!

      Delete
  8. Editing has always been the hard part for me, but reading it through from beginning to end for voice is a great idea.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Very fortuitous, Jessica ;) .

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thanks for stopping by, Sherry! I actually like editing the best. I'm a bit weird that way.

    ReplyDelete
  11. What keeps me going through the inevitable many drafts is the notion that each draft could be the final one. Of course I know better, but telling myself this makes me work better.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Great post! I'm the kind who writes many stories at once, and I'm never able to get all the ideas swirling around in my head on paper at once. This will really help me when I finally finish my first draft, though there's a long way to that.
    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Wow, this was put really good. I'm currently working on a novel for the 100 for 100. I'm writing out the rough first draft. After I'm done I'll add in more details, chapters, and such, ( also rewriting the whole story ). Then I'll read and reread my whole book, until I've got the characters straight and all plot holes filled ;D I also have a hard time wanting to write several things at once, but I've done pretty good so far forcing myself to complete most of what I've started.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Thanks for reading, Mirka, Jonathan, and Keturah! Yeah, that "hope" is a great push to keep going, Mirka! Jonathan, are you talking about different subplots within the same story? Yes! That is hard for me to get down on paper, too. Sometimes I go back during those early revision stages and have to add an entire subplot in then! Keturah, that is great that you're getting more and more done! That is the way to do it, until you've trained yourself to get it all out there :). I definitely go through times when I have to force myself to sit and write, or edit, or research. It's not always easy!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Actually...I was talking about different story ideas, not subplots. Every day I get a new idea, and I want to start a new story/book, and many time I have to let many great ideas go. I have a notebook in which I record new thoughts and ideas, but still. :(
      Thanks again for the post!

      Delete
    2. Oh yes, I can understand that. Keep writing the ideas down. You never know when ideas can be combined to form a whole story!

      Delete

Home