You and Your Manuscript

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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
For the last month, I've been weeding out filler words from the manuscript of my first novel The Perfect Murderer. This editing was prompted by the 43 Words You Should Cut From Your Writing Immediately link that Carol Rose posted. When I started this exercise, I thought it would take a couple of days, but after noticing about 25 other words and phrases to remove I am still plugging away. My manuscript is now 9,000 words shorter.

The latest hunt has been for hyphens - words that need them, and those that don't. This is time consuming to do, and is very boring too with none of the joy of creative writing. It set me to thinking about how differently I've felt about my novel at different stages of writing it, then doing multiple edits, while trying to interest literary agents and publishers in it.

I'm a pantser as a writer, plotting loosely while still having a firm idea of what the overall themes will be. In making outline notes for the novel, I did more sketching of the natures of my characters than making a detailed plot. My protagonists direct the story as much as me. This stage felt a bit like drawing a rough diagram of a building on a scrap of paper, something that I would inhabit with fictional people who would construct the walls for me.

Actually writing the novel, I felt both involved and removed from the process. My characters sometimes did things that I hadn't anticipated, but which were true to their natures. Writing a psychological thriller means strewing red herrings all over the place, as people try to work out what's going on, so I didn't worry too much about any mazes and dead-end corridors that appeared. All the same, I felt a bit like I was directing the building of my house/novel from a distance. I'd read back through it at the end of the day, to see if it made sense, like trying to learn the layout of a new building.

Once I was finished, the editing began. This felt like being a building inspector, correcting features of my story-house - moving an illuminating window from one chapter to another, to reveal details that made my murderer act the way that he did. Overall, I thought that my story worked, but as with a newly-built house I knew there'd be plenty of bedding-in to come, with further adjustments needed.

Trying to flog the novel to literary agents, through queries and submissions of a writing sample from my novel, required so much polishing and hard work for so little response, that I felt like the world's worst double-glazing salesman. While trying to ingratiate myself with these gatekeepers, my story house sat neglected and empty with no visitors. I didn't read it anymore, and though I was proud of my creation, it also felt a bit like a museum to old thoughts. I wanted to make something new.

The recent round of intense scrutiny of my manuscript feels more like examining each and every brick for integrity in a forensic way. I've become numb to whether the story works as a story, as I pick sentences and individual words apart with tweezers and scalpel.

So, my novel has gone from a rough sketch, to a building project followed by a second-fixing, correction, mop-up exercise, onto being a product that I hawked from door to door, and now I'm micro-managing the elements that I used to construct my monster like some neurotic Doctor Frankenstein.

Have any of the Colonists gone through similar shifts of attitude to their work?

With my first novel, the one I'm currently agenting, I went from overjoyed because I'd finished a book to "good grief, I never want to read through this again." I think that's a natural progression for writers though. If you edit enough, you will get sick of it or numb to it as you say. You've seen it ten or twelve times all the way through. Best thing if you feel you're in a rut is to put it away for six months and come back to it with fresh eyes.
I write fairly clean now from the first draft, but it took decades to get to that place. Literally. :) And I STILL edit that puppy what feels like a million times before sending it off.

I do it in layers, and that helps with what you're talking about, @Paul Whybrow . I do a line edit - those pesky grammar and punctuation issues, I do a content edit to make sure I'm not losing the story/romance arc, and I do what I call an emotional edit. This is where I go back and fill in the blanks with what my characters see, taste, touch, smell, hear, and feel. Because romance is character driven as opposed to plot driven, readers will forgive me if I don't have a lot of description. They will fill in the blanks themselves. But if my characters aren't fully fleshed out, with 3D personalities, I'm dead in the water. :)
@Paul Whybrow I'm identifying with this post so hard...

On my trilogy, I was just happy to keep it going at first. I had a general idea of the story and had many of the same experiences you did (characters doing things I never expected that held with their character, the story going places I never knew it could go, etc.). When I went back to edit the first book, I got to the point where I just thought it was bad. I wound up editing out 6k worth of repeated/overused/half baked words and phrases. I also took a lot of stuff out while putting other, more streamlined things, back in. Even now, I'm not sure how I feel about the work. I like the overall story, but have a hard time seeing anyone else being as interested in it as I am. Maybe that's just me being self conscious.

Now, I'm working on a NaNoWriMo novel. Since I have such a short amount of time to write an entire novel, I worked on an outline first, going through the general beats of the story, then narrowing it down to a chapter by chapter synopsis. I'm still editing the outline, but it's helping things flow along as quickly as I need them to in order to get the book done on time. It's a mystery, which is out of my comfort zone as a writer, but I'm really enjoying crafting the story. Here's the catch, though. I'm trying not to think too hard about it because I'm worried I'll start to question the story and begin the editing process before I'm done. I've resisted so far, but I know that eventually, when I do reach the editing stage, the crystal palace of writing will come crashing down and look like that crappy house from "The Moneypit". I guess I'll see how things wind up turning out by the end of the month on that one (for the MS, anyway...editing is a whole other ballgame...:eek:)

Even so, I love the act of writing and putting things to paper. Each manuscript takes on a life of its own and I enjoy losing myself in the worlds I've started to create. I can't tell you how many times I've gone to the gym only to work on crafting the world in my mind - adding details, fleshing out characters, etc. - only to add that stuff later. It feels triumphant.
A major one for me back in the day would be being told to get rid of "wuzzing" words. Learning to replace simple declarative statements with more descriptive ones proved to be a thought-provoking part of producing more vivid prose. Replacing "He was standing there and was a big guy" with "He loomed in the doorway, towering over Jerry" always provided a more illustrative scene, or so I thought.

I agree. It's more active and gives a great visual. :)
Yes, I've been there. I asked someone to look at my first draft novel, Nemetona's Stone. She responded with a very generous 1 and a half hour telephone call, telling me what was wrong on a page by page basis.

But what I had asked, what I had needed to know was, did this story WORK? Did it have legs?

Without that, editing is a frilly collar on a dead hippo.
I'm taking a break from my ms over Christmas and shall be having another read through in the new year. There's only so much you can do in one sitting or phase of editing, before your head starts editing things that don't need changing.
Hippos scare me. I would not attempt to fit the collar, and hope not to meet one round here.

Hippos are effing monsters. They top the damn list. The deciding factor? Picture the animal in question eating a knight in armor. Is the result sad, or terrifying?

Creatures that pass this test:
Komodo Dragon
Giant squid

These are monsters.
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Auctions...Laura Eve's insight


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