This week, as well as completing another read through of my manuscript whilst annotating madly with ideas for revisions inspired by the feedback I received, I’ve also been reading some other very useful books.
The first of these is Self Editing for Fiction Writers – or, how to edit yourself into print. Now I do kind of know what I’m doing with the whole editing thing. I’ve been an avid reader (almost) all my life, and add to that ten years as an English teacher and it’s safe to say I know a thing or two about what makes a good novel. It is amazing though what almost two years of late pregnancy and motherhood will do to one’s brain – both in terms of actually erasing some of the skills and knowledge that were vital when I breezed through the editing process of my first novel, but also (and perhaps more importantly) eradicating the confidence that’s needed to trust whatever instincts still remain.
As I was reading through this self-editing handbook, I was heartened to find that none of the top tips or pitfalls it described came as a surprise to me: it seems I haven’t forgotten everything just yet. Nonetheless there were a few things that rang alarm bells, technical and stylistic points that might explain why some parts of my manuscript don’t read quite as well as I’d like them to.
These have made it onto yellow post-it notes around my monitor: six prompts for me to look at when I reach those points in the story that don’t quite ring true so I can check and double check there’s not a simple solution that I’ve overlooked.
These six prompts are:
- Showing and telling: does any of the narrative summary need converting into scenes? (Or vice versa?)
- DIALOGUE: Sound? Attribution? Beats?
- Beware ineffective REPETITION (words/ideas/chapters etc)
- R.U.E. Resist the Urge to Explain
- White space
- Watch the adverbs – find STRONG VERBS
I’m not sure if they will make any sense to anyone else outside of the context of my head or the advice in the book, but I just thought I’d share. If you’re grappling with an edit yourself I would highly recommend checking out the book in its entirety. It’s not rocket science, but it seems to have helped to sharpen my brain which is never a bad thing.
The other two books I’ve found useful this week are similarly simple in their content and approach, but again have helped focus my thinking – this time in the area of characterisation. They are The Positive Trait Thesaurus and its counterpoint for negative traits – basically lists of the characteristics that make up different personalities with ideas about what might have influenced these traits developing and how they might play out in behaviour.
Having spent months getting to know my key characters inside my head and on the page, it’s been really interesting to see what other people have made of them. And I’ve had to face the stark and slightly frustrating reality that they’re not quite the people I thought they were.
What these books have provided me with is a mirror I can hold my characters up against, identifying the positive and negative traits I believe them to have – and also the ones that have come out accidentally. What I’m left with now (on my pink post-it notes) are the traits that I need to ensure are clearly embedded in my writing of these characters – and also, particularly in the case of my protagonist, some negative ones which I realise have come out in the way she’s ended up on the page but which I really need to play down if she’s going to be the person I want her to be.
There is a part of me that feels like I’m cheating having turned to these books to prop me up at this stage in my writing process. But it can get quite lonely sitting alone with my manuscript, and ultimately I reckon my brain just needed a bit of a boost.
It’s raring to go now, and though there are some more books I want to dip into to help me tackle the tricky business of my characters’ mental health I’m planning to fire up Scrivener tomorrow and start putting this thinking into practice. Wish me luck!