Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Back to Writing...
So. You’ve written a manuscript. What do you do next? Frankly, let it sit for a while, because chances are good, it’s not entirely the best you can do.

Don’t scream at me. Everything and anything can be improved.

Step 1: Put your manuscript in a drawer, just for now
Step 2: Write something for your next manuscript

After two months, you’re allowed to go back to the first manuscript for purposes of editing, unless you’re now so involved in the new manuscript that you want to continue writing that. In fact, I usually don’t break in the middle of a manuscript. I finish it, then I go back to the first manuscript.

Two or more months later: I’ll bet you’ve made notes to yourself about things you realized needed to be added or changed in your first, completed manuscript. Some things you wished you had done. Aren't you happy you didn't already send it out?

Here are some ideas which may assist you in your quest to create the perfect manuscript ('perfect' meaning it is publishable and some impressionable young editor half your age will see the beauty in it and pay you outrageous sums of money for the privilege of turning it into a real book).

1. Print it out (I print on both the front and back of the paper--manually flipping the paper so I use less)
2. Read it through - but don’t mark anything yet
3. Make a Scroll - this may sound weird but often there are continuity problems. This is going to help you identify the problems. So...get a large sheet of paper, or maybe a roll of FAX paper. FAX paper is cheap and one roll will last through many manuscripts.

The notes you make on it can be as brief or as lengthy as you wish. This exercise always pinpoints issues like: putting too many events in one day in the story; changes in character basics such as eye color or clothing; and other continuity problems.

So now that you're ready, flip to Chapter 1 and on this long roll of paper, write down:
a. Chapter 1
b. Character names and descriptions
c. What characters were wearing
d. Locations - i.e. are they in a townhouse in London? The library of a townhouse in London?
e. Movement to/from locations
f. Time of day, Day of the Week, Month and Year
g. Sequence of events
h. Important things, these can be clues if this is a mystery, or anything of significance that will crop up or be referred to later, e.g. the name of the ship they are on, or anything along those lines.
i. Continue the timeline with small notes for each large scene (when did it occur, where did it occur). Write down if they just ate supper, because you may have them eating lunch in the next scene, which would be out of sequence.

Then, do this for each chapter, with a big line demarking the end of one chapter and start of the next. Soon, you will have a long scroll showing how your story unfolds. It will help you see not only continuity problems, but also events that happened in one chapter which would work better in another chapter.

Some people use index cards for this, but I find index cards are prone to getting lost and you end up, at some point, affixing them to something anyway, so rather than wasting my time fiddling with a bunch of loose cards that I'm going to lose and can't sequence properly from one day to the next, I just write the stuff out on a scroll.

Once you’ve done this and know what changes you want, if any, you can tackle the major overhauling and minor, ticklish word edits.

Then, send it out. Don’t sit on it anymore, don’t wonder if it’s good enough. If you’ve gone through this, it’s most likely the best you can do at this point, and you should go ahead and test the waters. Send it to a few writing contests, if you wish to see a some reader reactions from people who don't know you. Then, send out partials to agents and/or editors. Whichever route you decide to take. Just be sure you do something with it.

That’s it for today!

PS: For those who want a faster track, I actually cheat a lot of the time and start my scroll as I'm writing. I use it as my "active" continuity sheet, so when a character mentions an Uncle Bob, I write down 'Uncle Bob' on the scroll so later, if I have to mention that rich uncle again, I actually know what I called him. It also helps to keep track of time, place, and all those other little annoying details.

Because I have a paying job during the day, and I don't have the mental capacity to remember all the stuff on *that* job, as well, as what was going on in my manuscript last night.

No comments: