Even if you’re going great guns, I doubt you’ve finished the second edit, which involves printing an entire copy and reading it all the way through, marking and making notes as you go.
So this week’s blog is about what to do when you have finished. What comes next — the third edit — is the last chance to get rid of book killers. Some book killers don’t show up until we have a chance to read the entire story, in sequence, in a concentrated time period; in other words, while we’re doing the second edit.
To do the next part, it helps to draw a bar graph. I’ve posted one on my web site. Feel free to print a copy and use it. Or make your own. The blank chart looks like this.
We each have to decide where our condition of enoughess falls. For me it’s always over 80%, up to 90% if I can get there. Books rarely meet 100% of our expectations, so we shouldn’t drive ourselves crazy trying to get there. It’s likely that at least one category will have a higher condition of enoughness, one a lower, and three fall somewhere in the middle. The chart above has a mechanical limitation because I could color in blanks in 10% increments. If you feel your goal is 83% or 92%, feel free to draw a line at those estimated values.
Go through questions a section at a time; for example, all the questions under Flow. Looking at the book as a whole, what percentage of the book met all of the criteria under Flow? Color that percentage with your first color; in my case, green. What remaining percentage absolutely, positively must be fixed? Color that with your second color; I use red. What remaining percentage, up to 100% would be nice if I could fix, but frankly, I think I’ve done that section as well as I’m going to on this book. Color that with your third color; my third color is yellow.
The one exception to the 100% rule is if there is a small bit of material that is highly important and must be fixed. That’s the case with my character Lorenzo in the chart below.
Repeat for each line in the chart. At the bottom of the chart, describe what absolutely has to be fixed. A completed chart might look like this.
- Does each situation result in the point of view character(s) making a decision, which leads to consequences and a new situation?
- Are there plot highs and lows throughout the book?
- Do they come closer together and become higher/lower as the book’s end approaches?
- If there is violence and/or sex, does it always advance the plot?
- Did we feel impatient or antsy at any point? (All right, all ready, we know she missed her senior prom. Get over it.)
- Are details absolutely consistent throughout the book?
- Is each major character a rich, fully-developed human being, with likeable and unlikeable qualities?
- Does each major character have clear goals, and motivations?
- Is each character’s dialog unique enough that the reader can probably tell who’s speaking even without dialog tags?
- Were there parts of the book where the villain’s world view made sense?
- Were any physical actions or sensory inputs used too often? (I had one book where chills ran up or down everyone’s spine far too often.)
- Was what we put our characters’ through worth it? Did they get enough bang for the cost they had to pay?
- What plot element satisfied the story, but left the character unsatisfied? (She caught the killer, but by doing so she lost custody of her niece.)
- Is the language lyrical? (Lyrical doesn’t necessarily mean nice or pretty. If we’re writing about a prostitute in downtown Boston, does the language convey what it’s like to live on the street, in winter, in Boston?)
- How often did we mirror the characters’ emotions? (If the character was supposed to be afraid, were we afraid? If they were sad, were we sad? If they were furious, were we furious? If we maintained an emotional equilibrium all the way through, we haven’t written nearly close enough to the character’s bone.)
- How often did we manage a characters’ emotional reaction that was unique, neither cliché, nor inappropriate?
- By the time we finished the book, were we at least tired, and preferably emotionally exhausted?
A copy of changes we make should be attached to our Second Edit printed copy, just to keep everything up to date. Small changes can be noted directly on the page. Long changes, for example sorting out the problem of Lorenzo breaking parole, can be printed on separate pages and added. I like to tip in mine because it allows the new page to function like all the other pages and turn easily. Here’s how to tip in a page.
- Fold the left edge of the new page under about 1/2 inch.
- Snuggle the fold near the binding.
- Either tape or glue the folded edge to the next page.
I’m posting the Fourth Edit — All Those Pesky Words Tuesday, December 16, and the fifth, and final edit — The Fine Tooth Comb — the week after on Tuesday, December 23. We’re all busy with the holidays, but that’s the nice thing about blogs. If you don’t get back until after New Years, those two blogs will be waiting for your return.
Have a wonderful holiday season.