Editing Basement of the Universe and synopsis and back-cover blurbs

As I mentioned in a previous post, Fahim and I are tandem-editing my novel, Basement of the Universe.

I’m not fond of editing, so Fahim helping me out with this is a huge benefit to me. I’ll be following in his footsteps, editing today the scenes he’s just finished editing yesterday. Because of the way we’re doing this and because he’s doing some of the editing himself, editing Basement is a lot less daunting to me. Which is a good thing, of course.

And while I’m at it, I’ll also write a synopsis, one scene at a time. Also a lot less daunting, especially as I haven’t done a synopsis before.

Yes, I do have an outline, and a fairly detailed one at that, but the way I write my outlines, I can’t just translate it directly into a synopsis, although I will consider changing my outlining methods for the future to make this easier.

In my outlines, I add details, like cultural details, that never make their way directly into the novel. They’re there to remind me of the essence of the scene, things to mention and allude to, foreshadowing needed. Then add in any scenes where either I deviated, even slightly, from the outline, or the scene was changed from the outline during editing, and it becomes even more apparent that the synopsis needs to be written from scratch.

And since I’m doing all this, I thought I’d do back-cover blurbs at the same time. I haven’t done those before, either, so this should be fun and interesting. And if I do it right, the back-cover blurb becomes the perfect insert into the query letter.

Wish me luck. 🙂

Do you have any tips and tricks?

Basement of the Universe in editing

Yesterday, Fahim took over the task of editing Basement of the Universe. I hadn’t even finished rewriting the opening scenes that were needed since I’d deleted the old ones – we’d changed our minds over where the opening scenes took place, and that location change changed everything else in those opening scenes along with it.

At any rate, Fahim will deal with that now, since it’s his city – Kabul City – that we’re setting it in. 🙂

The word count when I gave it over to him was 50,929. Yes, very short for a novel that should ideally be between 80 to 100k words. My first drafts tend to be spare on details and description – I tend to gloss over it in an effort to get the basic story down quickly. So, Fahim will have a bit of a job to do there, but he’s up for the task. 😀

At the end of his editing shift yesterday, Fahim tossed the file into the Groove space and asked me to read it. He’d edited the first two pages or so.

I read it over, and said, “What changes? This is exactly how I gave it you. Where are the changes?” He laughed his maniacal laugh and pointed them out. He’d kept my voice so intact that, short of comparing this document to my original, I didn’t have a clue. And his version read better, too.

Ah, yes. I think this will work very well. Very well, indeed. 🙂

On Editing

Editing is necessary to polish a work into excellence. First drafts, for the majority of writers, are not ready for publication – there are usually logic problems, inconsistencies, spelling errors, and so on, and all of this needs to be fixed as much as possible before a manuscript is ready to be sent to an agent or publisher. And that’s where this list comes in handy – it provides a logical order to editing, something you can check off as you finish each item if that helps you.

Before you start editing, a few quick tips.

  1. Before you begin, make a backup. If you wrote your first draft by hand, make a photocopy or scan it into your computer. Whatever you do, make a backup. For that matter, make a backup at least once between every drafting cycle. Yes, Virginia, paranoia is a good thing. 🙂
  2. Give yourself some time away from your manuscript after finishing your first draft. You need some space away so that you don’t read it the way you think you wrote it, but instead you read it the way it really is written. The mind is powerful and can fool us into thinking something is written a certain way when it isn’t. We can miss spelling errors, punctuation errors, or logic problems because it’s still too recent. How much time? That depends on you. Some writers say two weeks. Others say a couple of months. I just switch to another project and finish that one (ie, a completely different first draft or editing a completely different WIP) before returning to this one. Since I have anywhere between three and eight WIPs at any given point in time, that’s easy for me.
  3. As you edit, if you think you’re going blind or otherwise missing things, or even if you don’t, change your draft to an entirely different font with different spacings, etc. If it visually looks significantly different, you’ll notice different things. You can also experiment with editing on-screen and printing it out on paper – you’ll notice different things on-screen vs. printed. Change things around so the brain isn’t getting tired of the same old thing.

Onward and upward, ho!

Things to check for:

Bringing order out of chaos

Yeah, I really can’t help my Borg references. 😀

  1. If you don’t already have one, create an outline of your story as you have written it. It doesn’t have to be too detailed, but it does need to give you an overview of where the story is going.
  2. Re-work that outline, marking which scenes need to be deleted (don’t move the story along), moved (fix logic problems), or need to be added to fill in gaps. This is the time to fix plot holes and/or logic problems and any foreshadowing you want to add to the story. Make notes of all the changes you want to make.
  3. Make those changes to your draft now, adding, deleting, or moving those necessary scenes, and adding the foreshadowing.

Make the story come alive

Does this qualify as a Frankenstein reference?

  1. Add detail and description where needed – build in more character traits or description. (In the natural flow of writing, I frequently fail to add enough description in my first draft.)
  2. Check the first paragraph of each chapter for hooks.
  3. Check the end of each chapter for cliffhangers.
  4. Ensure that each page is balanced between description, dialogue, introspection, and action. Too much description can be boring, too much dialogue and introspection doesn’t move a story ahead, too much action can be tiring to read.

Delete anything that doesn’t move your story forward.

  1. Get to the point. Don’t waste time with meaningless sentences, generalizations, or other deadwood. Delete all the unnecessary bits that don’t move your story forward.
  2. Avoid overdoing eye movements (stare, gaze, glance, glare look), facial expressions (smile, grin, laugh, chuckle, giggle), and physical features (a character’s eye color or hair color). I know, I know – I said before to add detail and description. You just don’t want to overdo it.

Fix the confusing stuff.

  1. Look for inconsistencies. Blond hair in one chapter, but brown in another? Change of names or names spelled differently? Fix them.
  2. POV shifts. Each scene should have one POV only. If you find that you’re bouncing around in more than one character’s head in a scene, then you have a POV problem.
  3. Fix punctuation, spelling, and grammar.
  4. Passive sentences aren’t as precise as active voice. Get rid of passive voice. (was, were, had, as, was verb+ing, were verb+ing…)*
  5. Simplify your overwriting (“sits down” vs. “sits”).
  6. Replace multiword verbs. You can replace most verb-particle combinations like “leave out” with more precise verbs like “omit” “drop”, “avoid” or “erase”. Try removing all the multi-word verbs and replace them with single words that pack more punch
  7. Shorten complex sentences – most sentences should be around 20 words or fewer. Variable sentence length adds interest to the piece of writing – shorter sentences=faster pace, and longer sentences=slower pace. If your sentences are too long, consider dividing them. Your work will be come more readable.
  8. Get rid of adverbs (-ly words) and replace with better words. *
  9. Ditch waffle words and phrases – they add nothing. For example, somewhat, rather, always, very, so, well, even, just, so, more, already, that, quite, some, okay.
  10. Look for repetition – words and phrases repeated too often, too close to each other. *
  11. Avoid using conjunctions to start your sentences (And, But, Or…)
  12. Avoid empty, weak subjects like “it is” or “there are”. Focus on the real subject of the sentence.
  13. Find typos and grammatical errors. As you go through your novel for the first items on the list, you’ll make changes, and if you did the typos and grammatical errors first, you’d still have to do it again, so I leave it for last.

Summary

All of the above are generalities only, and like all generalities, can be ignored if there’s a specific purpose to serve, like emphasis, or are otherwise done very well. You know, that whole “You can’t break the rules until you know the rules” thing.

I suggest going through the manuscript, each time focusing on just one item on the list. It’s hard to catch everything when you’re distracted by, well, everything. If you look for just one thing on each pass, you’re that much more likely to catch the mistakes.

Finally, I’ll go through the manuscript paragraph by paragraph in reverse order. Yup, start at the end and work my way to the beginning. Rate each paragraph on a scale of 1 to 10. Everything that’s an 8 or above, leave alone. Paragraphs rated between a 4 and a 7, look at how you can improve it. How does the paragraph rate now? 8 or above? You’re done. Below an eight? Rework. Paragraphs 3 or below – delete them. If the paragraph was essential to the story, rewrite it until it’s above an 8.

That’s it. You’re done. Theoretically…

Do you print up your WIP?

I print mine up chapter by chapter. I also, after finishing the first draft, take it with me when I go out. I frequently have to wait five or fifteen minutes, or whatever, and I do some editing while I’m out. Did that this morning while I wait for the shuttle guy from the mechanics to drive me home while they’re working on my car. Got through about fifteen pages. Plus, as an added benefit, I don’t get so grouchy having to wait for people while I waste my time. And yes, I love working with colour pens. Stands out on the page easier. Better to see changes with.

I encountered a site that had a list of things to do on each draft – ie the different types of revisions that should be made. I further revised it to suit my writing style, and it results in 10 editing drafts. Lots of drafts, but at least by the end, I’ll know I’m done. But then, I’m also a list person.

If you plan on doing a lot of printing, consider a black and white laser printer instead. It’s much cheaper to buy toner than ink cartridges. The overall cost per printed page is far far far cheaper with a laser.

I may never completely let go of my anal-retentive cost-efficiency accounting side. 😀