Sunday, June 23, 2013

Making it better

by: Joelle Charbonneau

So, you've finished writing a book.  Congratulations!  Celebrate.  Get out the marching band and pop the cork on the champagne.  You've earned throwing yourself a party.  Because I truly believe that getting to THE END is one of the hardest things a writer can do.  Especially writers who are first starting out.  So--please--when you hit THE END acknowledge the accomplishment.  You did it.

Now what?

Should you start trying to decide who to query or whether to self-publish.  Um...nope.  Now you need to make the manuscript better.

It is time to revise and edit your manuscript and turn it into a book.

What?  Hitting THE END doesn't make your manuscript a book?  Well, I suppose depending on who you talk to some people would say yes.  Me...not so much.  Because to me a manuscript is something that isn't quite ready for public viewing just yet.  There are lots of steps still ahead so that the story is turned into something others will hopefully want to read.  Manuscripts are filled with potential.  Doing revisions and editing are about turning that potential into something better and more readable.

It is not a coincidence that I am writing this post today.  Why?  Because I just finished revising GRADUATION DAY and am now working on editing A CHORUS LINE-UP.  Now, you might ask, aren't revisions and edits the same thing.  Well...some people might say yes.  Me...not really.  I use those two terms to define two very different processes.

For me revisions refer to the process of changing major plot points and character moments in the book and then pulling those changes through the story.  In GRADUATION DAY, my editor asked me to consider moving a plot point from page 89 up in the story.  I did.  It is now on page 38.  Altering the story in that way shifted the pacing, the character development, the sequence of events in the book and just about...well...everything.  Revisions to me are about moving pieces around and trying new things.  Writing the manuscript is about telling the story.  Revisions are about tearing the story apart and seeing if you can tell it in an even better way.  For me, revisions are exciting and incredibly challenging.  It can mean taking a leap of faith, cutting a hundred or more pages of a book and trusting that the story will be better for it in the end.  Sometimes it is.  Sometimes it isn't and you have to go back and try again.  But I have always become a better story teller by going through this process.  I truly believe there is no wrong way to tell a story, but there are better ways than others.  Revisions give you the opportunity to find the best approach to tell your story.

Edits (when it is me doing them, not my editor) is something very different.  When you see me on twitter talking about editing a book, it means that I am going line by line through the manuscript and tweaking every word to make sure the cadence is exactly what I am looking for.  Too many words in a line can ruin the cadence and spoil the humorous moment or the tension I am trying to built.  When I edit, I look at sentence structure to see if the lengths of the sentences on the page are varied enough to keep the reader zipping along.  I also make sure that the continuity of the story and all the plot threads that I have woven together are tied up in the end.  This work is very detail oriented and can get irksome to some authors because while it is important, it doesn't feel as creative as the drafting and revising part of the process.

Call me crazy, but I LOVE editing.  Adding that final polish and making the book sparkle is fun.  It requires time and focus, but there is something wonderful about shining up a page and moving onto the next one.  Revisions are scarier to me.  I really enjoy them.  I enjoy the challenge of trying new things and seeing where it will take the story.  Because I don't outline (I wish I did, but I just can't!) I never know how the story is going to turn out until I get to those final pages.  Revisions are my chance to finally see the big picture and find better ways of getting to that final moment.

Regardless of what you call your process after getting to THE END, making a manuscript better should  receive just as much attention as getting to the last page.  Trust don't want to have people read the manuscript.  You want them to read book that manuscript becomes.

And for those who have offered to read Graduation Day...nope!  It has only been revised--once.  I'm betting there's at least one more revision to go.  Then it will need to be edited.  But I really appreciate the offer:)  But I promise that when you do read it - it will be the best version of that book that it can possible be.  (At least...I hope so!)

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