Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Joy of Tinkering

By Claire Booth

I am at my favorite point in writing – the tinkering. My manuscript is done, and now I get to go back and fiddle with it. That sounds pretty lackadaisical, but it's not. There are very specific things I look at when I’m at this stage in writing a novel.

Chapter breaks. I make sure that the word counts of all of my chapters are consistent. I have a tendency to stick them wherever, and sometimes I don’t realize that although my scene breaks are pretty rhythmic and well paced, my actual chapter numbering is horrendous. For me, consistent means relatively similar lengths, but that’s not the only way to do it. Some books work best with chapters that become shorter as you near the end. Or short-long-short-long. It doesn’t matter what you choose, as long as you know the pacing that you’re going for and stick to it.
Particular words. You know which ones I’m talking about. The ones that catch on the surface of your brain and tug incessantly. This is the time in my writing where I give in to the little bastards. My reptilian writer brain is telling me they aren’t right. I have to find new ones. Get out a thesaurus, go for a walk, do anything but pass over them. Your sentences will thank you.
Pesky little details. Yes, these are your responsibility. Check to make sure your main character’s eye color doesn’t change halfway through the book. Google to make sure that it’s Hollywood Boulevard and not Avenue. I love checking the facts and I do a lot of that as I write, but continuity mistakes like eye color are things you’ll catch only at this tinkering stage of the game.
And if you’re lucky enough to have a copy editor, don’t take it for granted. Their job is to save you from making horrible mistakes you don’t even realize you’re making (“hanger” and “hangar” mean two very different things – I was saved from myself on that one once). Their job is not to spend all of their time correcting stuff you could have gotten right with ten seconds of effort. And if you don’t have a copy editor, I know you’ll be doing this step several times over.
Read aloud. I know. This is the one tinker I don’t like. It’s tedious and horrible (unless you were a theater major, in which case, could you come read mine, too?). If you can’t bring yourself to read the entire novel out loud, at least do important passages or plot points. Get your pet to listen if that helps you get through it. Then reward yourself with some TV. After all, you’re almost an actor now after all those soliloquies.  
Do you have other tinkering skills that you use on a completed manuscript? I’d love to hear them – they’ll help me put off reading my manuscript to the dog.

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