Pruning your Manuscript

Yesterday morning and today, I went through my Mylar garden and found a lot of deadwood. Some balloons couldn’t hold helium, but looked great with air. So I filled the air balloons and decorated my walls with them. Others couldn’t handle air or helium, so I had to discard them. Some balloons held their gas nicely, but one had gotten detached from the vine. I transplanted the stand-alone into a trunk of weights with other balloons. Pruning my balloon trees takes several days if I want to do it right.

Then I got to thinking about When Blood Reigns, the manuscript now in the hands of an editor. Before I sent it out, I did a lot of pruning, and I anticipate more before I submit it to a publisher. With the Pro Writing Aid, I winnowed out adverbs, “to be” verbs and vague descriptions like “some,” “many,” “several,” etc. Cutting adverbs alone took away 1,000 words. Replacing “to be” verbs cut another thousand. Ditto thousand for overused words and dialogue tags instead of “he said, she said.” I also found “darling” phrases that were cliché, and others that didn’t belong. Maybe they’ll work better with a different storyline.

Was I under pressure to meet a word count? No, but wordy manuscripts can lose a writer unless the writer happens to be Stephen King or Dean Koontz. Like many writers, I’m married to my manuscript and it’s hard to see the flaws without an editing tool or live editor. In particular, I struggle with repetition; my beta readers often point out the same adjective used twice in one sentence. I don’t think my forthcoming eye surgery will change that, though I might catch more errors on manuscript submissions afterwards.

I’ve started working on another novel, with elements of a plot coming together. So I’ve had to turn off my internal editor and think plot. When the revisions start, I know I’ll find plenty of adverbs. The trick is to find them before I send it to a publisher.

How is the pruning process going for you? Do you struggle with repetition, adverbs, and other issues? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Steel Rose features compelling horror fiction by Barbara Custer.

Revisions and then More Revisions

Over the months, I’ve alluded to a sequel: Steel Rose. Steel Rose wound up with its own cast of characters, so I can’t call it a sequel any more. Maybe this is good. At workshops, speakers have advised everyone to put their manuscripts aside for a few weeks, and then rework them. I put Steel Rose on the back burner while I worked on Starship Invasions. Now I’m back with fresh eyes, and I brought along my Autocrit program.

Putting the manuscript aside was the best advice anyone gave me. When I went back to it, I found a lot of inconsistencies and need for line editing. The big thing was repetition. One chapter was cluttered with “that.” There is nothing wrong with using “that” or “was,” but those words shouldn’t clutter the pages. In this, Word has been a staunch alley with its find and thesaurus features. Since I’ve gotten into publishing books and marathon revisions, I’ve made peace with Word, and I’m starting to appreciate its assets.

But let me not digress. The more revisions I make, the more I see that need to be done. Writing comes naturally, but introducing characters that people love can be difficult. The body language needs work, and I’ve seen that with others’ manuscripts. I found research helpful, and even more, the critiques I get from my writer’s group. Reading out loud enabled me to catch problems if I stumbled over sentences.

Some days, the revisions come easy, especially after a good night’s sleep. Other days, it might take three or four of my best curse words to do the job, especially when life gets in the way. On the bad days, I try to remind myself I’m making progress. And if later, an editor should suggest revisions, I will consider that person a good friend. It is better to fix the problems before the manuscript goes to print, than to have a reviewer or reader comment on them later.

That said, I have to wonder how Jonathan Maberry and other great writers get through the revision process. With deadlines, you have to move fast. I can edit fast. I have to sometimes for the NTD tales but revising comes slow. Perhaps if necessity was involved, I’d speed up my revisions.

I’d like to hear about your revising process. What was most difficult? What has helped you?

Steel Rose features cross-genre horror / science fiction by Barbara Custer

This tale received a lot of pruning before it went to press. Props to my editors!

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