Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Almost there ...

Plot map for my next book.
Among the many ways I torture myself (besides stringing real cranberries and popcorn for the Christmas tree each year): rereading passages from my finished books while I’m in the early stages of writing a new book.

It’s like that scene in the movie Crimes of the Heart, where the sisters regularly sneak peeks at their father’s medical text, Diseases of the Skin. They know it will horrify them but they Just. Can’t. Stop.

Now, I realize how that sounds, and no, I’m not saying my finished work is akin to leprosy. But my “unfinished” work sure is.

First drafts and early exploratory journal entries into new worlds and new characters are terrible to behold. Well, mine are, anyway. I flounder. I grasp. I struggle to understand: who are these people and what the hell are they trying to do? I write barely comprehensible fragments, or run-on-paragraphs that lead nowhere good. I use adverbs. Lots of adverbs. Stephen King would have a field day with my use of –ly.

Somehow, miraculously (well, it’s not really a miracle, it’s called REVISION) all that bad writing eventually rights itself into a story arc; visual scenes; dialogue which isn’t cringe-worthy. You shift the tectonic plates of your imaginary world and kill off characters left and right until you can focus on the small stuff. Tweaks. Like, Is that really the verb I want here? Should I use a pronoun or proper noun here? Should I change her ring tone … ?

Yesterday I wrapped up the almost-final draft of my next book (I say “almost final” because it still has to go to a copyeditor, who checks for typos, inconsistencies, the sort of nit-picky stuff that drives me crazy but can absolutely sink your book if you miss it so yay for copyeditors!) which means I’ve been living with The Small Stuff for a few weeks now.

Coincidently, my writer friend, Paula Bourque, asked via Facebook for other writers to share their late-stage revision tips, and a treasure trove of terrific suggestions poured in. A few I knew/already used, but several were brand new to me, and turned out to be super helpful. Here are a few of my favorites:

From Lynda Mullaly Hunt: Set a day aside and read the entire thing out loud. You hear things you don’t hear when reading silently. (Thanks, Lynda! I read myself hoarse.)

From Cynthia Lord: Change the font and print a copy. It will look different enough that your eye will read every word again … if it looks familiar your eyes sometimes read what you think it says, not exactly what it does. (This was a great idea, Cindy. I swapped Times New Roman for Arial and found all sorts of errors.)

From Sarah Albee: Do a ‘find/replace’ for words you suspect you use too much. (Wow. My characters frowned and shrugged way too often! Glad I checked.)

From Lynn Plourde: You can delete “that” most of the time. (THAT is so true, Lynn!)

From Megan Frazer Blakemore: Give yourself breaks and walk around, even if it’s just around your house. (I don’t think I did this enough, as my aching back will attest ….)

From Kate Messner: When I review copyedits, I take a blank piece of paper to cover up everything beneath the line I’m reading – helps me to slow down. (I will definitely do that when the dreaded copyedits come back!)

My own late-stage tip is to hunt down adverbs and the verb “to be,” replacing them as much as possible with vigorous, transitive verbs. Examples of writers who “do verbs” brilliantly: Anthony Doerr in All the Light We Cannot See and E. Annie Proulx in The Shipping News. I’m a big believer in verbs.

Okay, now: to follow Megan’s advice and get out of this chair.  No, better yet: vault from this chair!  (See? Didn’t that create a picture in your mind?)

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