My sister is writing a novel, a debut effort. She hopes to be done with the first draft sometime this summer. She told me she loves watching her story unfold on the page and loves having the characters do surprising things. She belongs to a writer’s group that sounds like a perfect blend of writers who are serious and who take each other’s work seriously. I have fantasies of the two of us being published authors. But she and I both know she’s got a long haul before her book is ready to send out.
(My multi-talented sister is an artist--this is one of her paintings, set in the area I used as a model for Jarrett Creek)
In anticipation of being done with her first draft, she asked me if during the editing process I find that I have to take out and add whole chapters. I told her that although I may not have to take out whole chapters, I often have to take out or rearrange big chunks. In fact, I’ve never known an author who didn’t. By the time you finish a first draft, you have redundancies, story lines that petered out, loose ends, characters who need to be reined in or pumped up, and a whole lot of terrible grammar.
I often have problems with the end, having to add scenes or even chapters. I think, like a horse going home to the barn, I start galloping toward the end and begin to summarize. Later, when I read what I’ve written, I realize that what was in my head hasn’t necessarily made it onto the page.
I’m now almost done with the third edit, and I think I’m coming down to the wire. The major glitches have been addressed, the arc of the story and the chapters completed, the loose ends tidied, the character arcs resolved, the story lines finalized. Or have they? I always find that when I go back over a manuscript “one more time”, I still have tidying to do. There will be a character I left hanging, or a story line that didn’t quite resolve. One more pass turns into two, three, five more passes. And then I’m done.
But wait! There’s one more pass. I call it the “golden words” pass. I have to find out many times I have used the golden words that I love: “About, just, almost, somehow, seems….” That one last pass is vital. Golden words are often placeholders for the thing you are really trying to say, or are used as lazy adjectives. “She was just fine” not only reads as well if you say, “She was fine,” but is actually stronger. Placeholder words slow down the action and make prose sound hesitant.
I promised my agent I’d have the manuscript to her this week so I can get it to my editor by June 1. So now…one more edit.