Monday, April 29, 2013
Macro-editing a Manuscript with Guest Erica Vetsch
Thank you, Seekerville ladies, for having me back. It is ALWAYS my pleasure to hang out here.
Today we’re talking about revising your manuscript, also known as macro-editing. What is a macro-edit, you ask? Macro-editing is big-picture editing. It’s taking a hard look at People, Plot, and Pace in your completed manuscript.
Let’s take a look at these three P’s of macro-editing one at a time.
PEOPLE: These are the characters that populate your story. Those individuals that have occupied your brain for weeks or months or even years, so familiar to you they are sometimes more real to you than the folks you see every day. When macro-editing your characters there are three major things to consider.
1. Dialogue. Do their speech patterns fit the time and place you’re writing? A NYC fashion model in 2013 is going to speak differently than a steamboat captain in 1860’s Louisiana. Do the characters in your story all sound alike? Give them recognizable differences, catch-phrases, etc. Consider the education, gender, and economic condition of the characters and how that might affect their speech. One enormously helpful tip: Read the dialogue aloud. Dialogue issues jump out at you when you hear them rather than just see them on the screen/page.
2. Appearance. Have you ever read a book where the heroine started out with green eyes, but by page 72, they had changed to blue? Macro-edit for character consistency in appearance. This will also include any character quirks like habitual gestures. If your character is left-handed, make sure this is consistent throughout the novel. But be aware of over-doing it. I tend to have a ‘pet’ gesture in each book that I need to cull. Biting lips, twirling curls around fingers, clenching fists, etc. In addition to being cliché gestures that every author uses, I need to beware of having my characters do these so often as to be predictable and even comical.
3. Arc or Journey. This is a big big-picture item. This is where you make sure your character is not the same man or woman at the end of the story that they were at the beginning. This is where you lay out your Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, both internal and external, and see if you’ve made the characters confront those things for good or ill. This is where you take a hard look at your characters and see if they have depth, are likeable, and if the reader has places to connect emotionally with them.
PLOT: This is what happens to the characters and what drives the story forward. When editing for plot, there are three major things to consider.
1. Plot Structure. Does your plot follow a natural structure? I tend to use a loose Three-Act Structure. (For more on this, I urge you to read James Scott Bell’s excellent book Plot and Structure from Writer’s Digest.) Whether you follow a particular plotting structure or not, when you are done with your book, there has to be a framework and flow to the plot. Can you identify the inciting incident in your story? The Black Moment? Does your story come to a satisfying conclusion that rewards the reader for sticking with your story? Is there anywhere that the plot sags or lags?
2. Plot Logic. This is a big one that often trips up fiction authors. Does your plot make sense all the way through? Are there holes in the plot? This is where you have to ask yourself why to every occurrence in the plot? This is where you pull on plot threads to see what unravels. Ideally, you’ve done this before you even started writing, but if you’re more of an intuitive writer rather than a plotter, this is a crucial step in creating a cohesive and logical storyline. This is also where you need to look for contrivances that make the plot hokey, places where you’ve ducked conflict because you want to be nice to your characters, and places where you’ve made a jump in the plot that skipped some necessary steps.
3. Plot Twists. This is a two-edged sword. Does your plot have any twists, anything to surprise the reader and make the sit up and take notice? Anything that makes them say, “I didn’t see that coming.” And on the flip-side, are those twists believable? Do they advance the plot or are they thrown in there willy-nilly? In the grand scheme of your story, do the plot twists you’ve thrown in make sense?
PACE: This is the most nebulous and difficult-to-pin-down part of macro-edits for me, but with practice, I’ve gotten better at it. And you will, too. Again, there are three things to take into consideration when macro-editing for story pace.
1. Mood. Does the mood of the story fit the genre? Readers have certain expectations when it comes to their preferred genre. They don’t want a heavy, suspenseful romantic comedy, and they don’t want a fluffy, light thriller. I write historical romance, and HR readers want to feel as if they’ve traveled through time. They want emotion, but not darkness. (For emotion and darkness try a Gothic romance.) HR readers want romance above all. Ask questions about mood. Have I created characters (particularly the hero) that my reader can fall in love with? Have I grounded the story in the location so that it couldn’t have taken place at any other time or locale? Is the emotional impact of the ending happy and satisfying enough to delight a reader’s heart?
2. Scenes. Do the scenes flow naturally from one to another? Are they choppy? Is the POV character and the location of the scene evident early in the scene? And here’s the kicker: Is each scene necessary to move the plot forward? Does the scene deepen the understanding the reader has of the character and what they want? Does the scene pose a challenge to the character in any way? And the hardest question…Do I need to delete this entire scene? If a scene isn’t working, check first to be sure it is written from the correct Point Of View. Which character has the most at stake in the scene? When I find a scene that just isn’t working, often it is because I’ve written it from the wrong character’s POV.
3. Overall Impression. How do you feel when you finish reading the story? Jot down some of your emotions as your read. Are you frustrated with your heroine? Does your hero come across as weak or whiny? Is your villain nasty or an idiot or a caricature? Is this a story that you would buy? Is there anywhere that the story bogs down or is overloaded with narrative? See if you can put your finger on any area where you are dissatisfied.
As you can see, there are a lot of things to take into consideration when macro-editing. And it’s important to prepare yourself beforehand for this task. You might want to print out a list of things to look for and check your list frequently as you edit. In addition, here are some things to remind yourself of as you begin and work through a macro-edit:
1. Macro-edits will take time. Don’t expect to breeze through macros in a day.
2. You will have to cut words and rewrite scenes. Resign yourself to this fact. Most writers overwrite. You can really make your prose leaner and meaner if you go into macros with the assumption that words will have to go.
3. Macro-edits will go better if you read the work in as few sessions as possible, making notes on what you need to go back and change.
4. Macro-edits will make your work better.
And lastly, here are some questions you might have about the macro-editing process:
1. How long do I let the manuscript rest between finishing the first draft and tackling macro-edits?
The answer is: As long as you can. I recommend at least two weeks, but three or four is better. Of course, if you’re on a deadline, you might not have that luxury, but the longer you can let it rest, the ‘fresher’ your eye will be when you come back to it. Plot holes and character inconsistencies and repetitive phrases are so much easier to spot after a cooling off period.
2. To print the manuscript on hard copy or not?
The answer is: Whatever works best for you. I have tried printing out the manuscript, gathering my post-its, highlighters, and red pens, and with all the best intentions, I dive in. And fall flat. I find my mind wandering, my eyes skimming, and my interest waning. I work much better on my laptop. Do what works for you.
3. At what point do I invite critique partners into the process?
The answer is: When you’ve done all you can do by yourself. It isn’t fair to send your raw, first-draft work to your crit partners and expect them to macro-edit for you. Value their time more than that. You need to take a look at the big picture issues before someone else does. This will put you in a better position to evaluate those comments your crit partners make on the manuscript when they do see it.
And there you have it, my macro-editing process. I hope you find it helpful when you tackle this oh-so-important part of writing fiction.
And because I’m wicked curious, I’d love to hear about your macro-editing processes. What part do you find the easiest? The most difficult? Do you like the editing process best or writing the first draft? Do you have questions about macro-edits that I didn’t cover?
Leave a comment. I’m giving away a copy of my latest release SAGEBRUSH KNIGHTS to one commenter. The usual Seekerville rules apply.
Author Bio: Erica Vetsch is a transplanted Kansan now residing in Minnesota. She loves history and reading, and is blessed to be able to combine the two by writing historical fiction set in the American West. Whenever she’s not following flights of fancy in her fictional world, she’s the company bookkeeper for the family lumber business, mother of two, wife to a man who is her total opposite and soul-mate, and avid museum patron.
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