Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Fast Revision 4: Language and mechanics

With the aim of more productive rewriting, we've looked at taking stock of the completed draft, reviewing plot, missed opportunities, story holes, and story logic, and using theme to unify and taking a fresh look at characters, pacing, and scene construction. Most of the rest is easy. In fact, much of the remaining work can be handled by engaging good freelance editors to point out needed fixes.

The major exception is language. At this stage, the manuscript is in good enough shape to consider all the wonderful possibilities for metaphor, similes, imagery, alliteration, and a host of other literary and rhetorical devices. Like too much spice, these can be overused. A good rule of thumb is to work them into the most critical moments of the story and to make them appear natural. A device that stops the reader and stands out works against your storytelling.

Although the whole manuscript deserves another reading (aloud) where you polish the language, it is probably okay to move onto the mechanical areas now.
  • Run a spelling and grammar check, but don't count on these to identify all the problems.
  • Ruthlessly delete adverbs and improve the verbs as needed.
  • Get rid of junk words like just, a bit, some, and very.
  • Root out repetitions of words, especially unusual words that call attention to themselves. 
  • Look at variation of sentence length. Too much of the same can be a problem.
As I work through this step in revision, I use Autocrit as a quick way to highlight potential problems. I do not let its suggestions rule my choices. I consider them judiciously. In practice, I probably accept about a third of the suggestions.

When I've done all this, I have the computer read the full manuscript (text-to-speech) to me. This always reveals more problems I've missed, most of which are easily fixed. Then I read the document aloud one more time and do a final polish of the language.

That's it. My process may not look much like your process. And I'm continuously updating my process, adding in new steps that might help, and reworking those that might be improved. I also don't let my process stand in the way of what feels right for the manuscript. As with raising children, developing a story depends on the individual and requires a lot of creativity and improvisation.

I hope, however, that this series on Fast Revision has provided a useful example of what a process looks like and a few details that you might consider as you work to go from first draft to a manuscript you're proud to submit.

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