Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Revision Game, Part three--4th drafts: Micro edits

In the second draft we made sure our story was all on the page. In the third draft, we made sure each individual scene carried that story along. So what is left for the fourth draft?

Micro edits.

The micro edit is where I really focus on the writing. I know, I know, all the stages are about writing, but in all the previous drafts I was focused on getting plot and characters and such on the page. Now I'm really focused on the actual words.

This is the stage where I pay special attention to which verbs I'm using, and I try to replace weak verbs for strong ones. This is the time to nix over used words and phrases, to tighten and polish until the sentences sing.

Tips from the trenches (because I am revising right now)
-Try reading it out loud. You can hear clunky phrasing.
-"Be" verbs do have their place (trust me, just try to write a story without any) BUT, do evaluate their use in your sentences. Can you use a stronger verb or rearrange the sentence to make it stronger without the 'be' verb? Try it. Again, read it out loud to hear the difference.
-Prepositions are fickle friends. Okay, I admit, that is a strange sentence, but overusing prepositions clogs sentences. Directional prepositions are the worst culprits. "She stood up." Well, unless she's standing up to her superiors, or submitting and standing down, the direction is implied. "She stood." If you find you have two prepositions back to back, that is probably a good sign one is unnecessary. (rule of thumb, but not always true.)
-Problem words. We all have them. If you know what yours are, pay special attention to them (maybe to the point of using find all --> highlight so they really jump out at you.) One of my words is "just" I can fit it in just about any sentence without noticing. (Hey, just look at that. There it is again ^_~ [yes, those were intentional]) Common problem words include "That, just, even, sudden, frown, smile, feel/felt, start, and begin". That is not a definitive list, and everyone is going to have their own overused words which sneak into their manuscript and multiply like bunnies, so be on a look out for your own.
-Cliches. Yes, I chose to list cliches next because I used one in the last sentence of the previous example. Use them cleverly or sparingly (or not at all) just know and recognize when you use them, and make sure you do it intentionally and there isn't a better, more original, way to phrase the sentence.
-Adverbs. Okay, again I'm playing off the previous point (this time to drive one of my critique partners nuts.) Some people adamantly hate adverbs, particularly 'ly' adverbs. I'm not one of those people (as you can tell by my liberal use in these last two sections). That said, don't litter your sentences with adverbs, and for goodness sake, don't use them after said. "She said animatedly" No. Just no. One, it is bad writing, and two it is lazy writing. In a case like that, either the dialogue itself should show her emotion, or you should use an action tag. One of my critique partners twitches during critique every time I use an adverb. I laugh. My best advice is to read the sentence and see if it says the same thing without the adverb. If the adverb doesn't add anything, nix it.
-Write with authority. Certain words and phrases are weak, no way around it. Words like 'Almost, Seem, and Nearly' make the world and the writing very wishy-washy. "He seemed to be angry" "She was almost a head shorter than him." "I nearly always hated broccoli." Bleh. You're the writer. Does it seem to be, or is it? Is something almost true, or true? A little ambiguity is fine, but don't let wishy-washy statements muddle your writing.

Okay, that was a lot more than I intended to list. I might have gotten a little carried away. The point being, this draft is when you let your inner editor run free with his/her red pen. The fourth is the most meticulous draft and is saved for last because it is too easy to get stuck polishing the same scene forever if I try to focus on story and the writing all at once.

Well, that wraps up the revision game. At the end of this draft, the manuscript should be polished and shiny--at least until critique partners, agents, and/or editors rip into it. Then the stages for drafts three and four are repeated (because hopefully they didn't find anything so large you have to repeat draft two--but big logic issues could cause that.) I can't tell you how many drafts it will take before a book sells or ends up on a bookstore shelf--there are just too many variables. But, keep writing, keep polishing, and don't get discouraged. While one project is out on submission, start a new one.

Best of luck everyone! I hope you found this blog mini-series on revisions helpful.


Cher Green said...

You did a great job. These post were very helpful.

Demon Hunter said...

Excellent execution, Kalayna. Glad you shared them and I will use them for my Nano novel which will be done by the new year. :-D

Did I tell you I met Neil Gaiman on Monday? ;-)

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Janet Glaser said...

Thanks for sharing these points. Very helpful.

Susan said...

I'm late here - but I just wanted to let you know that this year (2009) was my first Nano, and I won! And now I'm still adding to my novel and then plan on editing - so all your edit posts are great! Thanks!