Thursday, January 10, 2013

Polished Perfection

by Allison Pang

It's been fun reading how people work their creative process this week. Like everything else about writing, editing can be a pretty personal thing - we've all got different ways of making sure we put out the best story we can. So what do I do before sending my manuscript out?

Well, for one thing - I finish it. I've come to realize that I *have* to have a finished draft. I've tried doing the "edit as I go with a crit partner" thing a few times and it's a complete disaster. I know that works for some people, but if I get too caught up in editing what I've got before the story is done, there's a real good chance it won't get done at all. It's too easy for me to get sucked into all the little details - for a panster like me, that's the kiss of death. (Plus, I know I've fallen into the "edit as procrastination" lull before. It's too easy to make the excuse that "I'm editing, so I don't need to write." Okay for a day or two, but more than that?


Okay - so assuming I've got my rough draft in hand, what do I do?

1) Plot holes and rewrites.  This is possibly a bit more complicated than it sounds. Since I don't really edit as I write, if I change my mind partway through about a particular plot device, I note it in red and then continue writing the story as though I'd been doing it all along. (Seriously? In A Sliver of Shadow, there's a particular knife that kept appearing and reappearing in the draft because I couldn't quite figure out if Abby needed it at certain points or not, so it took me a while to get that straightened out. Also? I tend to rewrite about 50% of my books during this stage, though I'm trying to be better about it and maybe actually attempt to plot with these next few stories. I suspect I'll save myself a lot of effort in the long run. (Though this may just be how I work. I've often added stuff in at the very last moment during copyedits, so I don't know.)

2) Assuming I've got the story straightened out - now it's time for sentence polishing - getting rid of passive voice and odd turns of phrase. Also - each publishing house has it's own stylesheet - usually lists of words they want spelled a certain way, eg. toward vs towards. I usually hit these up at this point too.

3) Then we have grammar and whatever line editing I can do.  (There's no point in me doing it any sooner than this - why edit something I may take out later? Waste of time.) I'm notorious with word echoes - using the same word or phrase too close together. Like my fellow word-whores, I've got a list of the worst offenders. (Just, back, gaze, etc.) And while I do search them down, I also like to have fun with this part - so I will use a word mosaic to help me out. Specifically I use Wordle, but there are several out there that do similar things.

For example - here's the wordle created for my original draft of A Sliver of Shadow:

The words I use the most show up the largest. I'm not so concerned about Talivar, though perhaps it's worth going through to see if there's a better way of referencing him. But ugh - back, head, eyes, just, like? Yeah those are problems. 

After a I go over the manuscript several times and remove the echoes and tighten up the sentences, I'm left with this:

Is there still work to do? Absolutely, but look how much smaller "back" is! And I go back through it again. And again. I'm a pretty visual person though, so it's nice for me to actually see what sort of impact my edits are having. Ideally, I try to get the majority of the words to an even size, though it's not always possible.

4) At some point along the way, I've hopefully sent this off to beta readers and I go back and attempt to implement any changes that seem necessary. However - I've had to learn to be very careful with this. When I first started out, I was in a crit group and I had too many people looking at it - and I kept trying to make everyone happy. What I ended up with was several over-polished chapters that completely lost all sense of my "voice." (Ask Jeffe what A Brush of Darkness looked like during that time - she's the one that pointed it out to me and she was completely right.) Sometimes it's better for me to take a few steps away from the piece and let it sit for a week or so - being ruthless during editing is fine, but you don't want to edit out everything that makes the story yours, if that makes any sense?

5) I run through everything a final time, suck it up and send it off - to my agent or my editor, whichever needs it first. And then I sit and wait and wait and wait. Get my edits and weep for a bit and then start the process over again. ;-)

Rinse and repeat, as needed. (Or until the deadline hits, whichever comes first.)


  1. I remember that - how BoD had "crit group pleasing" written all over it. Once you saw it, you fixed the problem brilliantly!

  2. I like the Wordle idea. Very visual and lets you see immediately where the problems are.