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:: Archived Articles ::

Act Two: Scene Three
The Last Mile

     James Frey said it best in his book How to Write a Damn Good Novel: "You know your novel is done when you want to throw up every time you look at it."
     However, there is a long way between the first page to the last page to the finished project. Sometimes these drafts can take a few months - sometimes they can take years. And even then, simply typing the words "the end" may not be the ... well, end.
     We write the book, we give our characters their own personalities and a world of their own. Somewhere along the way, they find themselves in a situation that must be set right, and on that path, the characters fall in love and find happily ever after.
     There comes a time when this first draft is finally done. We celebrate in the way we see fit – a dinner out, a bouquet of flowers, a bottle of champagne – then set aside the first draft to give the manuscript time to think. We let it come to its own choices on story progression, character development. We listen to our book as it works itself out in the back of our heads. After a suitable time – a few weeks for one writer, maybe months for another – we open up the file and we set out to make our baby glimmer.
        “To successively complete a novel,” says Frey, “you must learn to look at your work objectively. You must learn to see what your critics see. Then you must be able to change what you’ve written and make it powerful.”
     Now, even more than in past years, the industry is looking to find the most pristine, most well presented manuscript. It won’t matter if you have a kickass story with characters who jump off the page. If it’s not submitted in industry standards with so much shine we blink twice every time we open it up, it won’t make a difference. Dean Koontz knows what he is talking about: “The business has always been tough ... now it’s tougher.”
     There is a lot a competition in the industry and we, as writers, need to send in a finished draft which will outshine the other manuscripts sitting on the agent or editor’s desk. We want it to be noticed. Not because it has a coffee stain on the cover sheet or the smell of cigarettes when the recipient opened the box, but because it is the best book in the pile and they can’t put it down.
      Some writers put the words to the page faster than others. However the speed at which a book is produced does not reflect on the finish product. What determines the magnitude of the impression we might make to an agent or editor is what type of finished product we have presented.

  • Are the motivations of the characters (the heroine, the hero and especially, the villain) clear from the get go and do they come to a logical conclusion?

  • Are all the questions asked in the beginning, answered by the end?

  • Is it presented in standard industry format?

  • Is it free of typos?

  • Have we caught all the “forms” where there should have been

     Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King is a good read for someone prior to starting on an editing project. The easy flow of this book will steer a writer through the process of first draft to polished, finished product.
     Reading is the first step to editing.
     You print it out or open the file and you start at page one, moving through the book as you would a novel you pick up at our local booksellers. A hard copy is best, but reading it on the screen will work, too.
     The standard industry font for a submission is Courier New or Times New Roman, both point 12. The manuscript should have a header on each page, including the manuscript title, with the author's name in the upper left-hand corner and a page number in the upper right-hand corner. A Guide to Manuscript Format is a good reference.
     Some people write their book with one large file. Others write with one chapter/one file. Whichever way you write, be sure the page numbers line up in consecutive order when printed and submitted.
     Other areas to be watchful of: grammar, research, flow.
Again, reading the book at least once as a novel instead of as a project, particularly after a brief hiatus from it, will allow you to see the areas where a piece of information might be missing or the pace slows in an inappropriate place.
      Where research is key in novel writing, fact checking is essential. Do all of the facts in your book hold up to a Google search? Do they all line up and assist each other rather than contradict? Research includes everything from your characters jobs to the type of car they drive. Is the gas tank on the right of left side of the truck the hero just climbed out of? Does the city have a Main Street or a First Street?
      Before submission, facts need to be checked, even if you are writing a fantasy or sci-fi where the norm of today might not follow the norm of the universe you created. Consistency is the key.  Make notes while reading on where a detail jumps out, but doesn’t end up running the course of the whole book. Mark the places where you see problems with your favorite colored pen to remind you to follow this thread throughout the story.
       More writers complain about editing than they do about first drafts. First drafts are the place where we create, where the story and characters come to life. It’s fun and exciting to see what unfolds on the page each day. Editing is where the real work comes.
     In How to Write a Damn Good Novel, James Frey draws on an author before: “Revision,” says William C. Knott in The Craft of Fiction, “is like ‘wrestling with a demon,’ where there ‘is no escape, for almost anyone can write; writers know how to rewrite. It is this ability alone that turns the amateur into a professional.’”

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