The End is Really the Beginning
By Helen Ginger
There is no greater joy than typing The End on the last page of a manuscript. Well, okay, maybe the birth of a child, but in a way, writing a manuscript is like giving birth. It takes about as long and can be just as painful. Another way the two are similar is that giving birth to a child or a manuscript is never The End. It is, in some ways, The Beginning.
Of course, you have to raise that manuscript up to be the best book it can be before you send it out into the world. That takes time, work, discipline and dedication. It takes editing. I’ve been a freelance editor for years and I’ve yet to come across a book that didn’t need editing -- some more than others, but even the best-selling authors can miss the need to put braces on the buck teeth of their children.
There are many things to look at between the time you type The End and when you send your query and manuscript to an agent or publisher. Entire books have been written on editing. If you’re like me, you probably have several of them on your bookshelf. For the next few minutes, let’s forget about those tutorials. Instead, let’s look at 3 things that I’m seeing frequently in manuscripts.
Cut it. Seriously. I know you feel it’s important to tell the readers about the protagonist’s upbringing or character or the relationship between him and Sue. That’s the problem. You’re telling. Most of the time, this type of telling is done by an omniscient narrator. It may be important stuff, but it’s being given by a discombobulated head talking down to us. Joe loves his wife. Ever since they met at the rodeo where he worked summers as a clown and she sold hot dogs. Joe’s mama always said he’d find the perfect wife…. It’s boring. Put us immediately into the characters. If Joe loves his wife, let us see that through his actions and his words.
2. While reading may be a passive endeavor, your writing should not be.
Do a search on your manuscript for the word “was” and variations, like “had.” Almost all writers, yes, even me, will be amazed by the number of times we use the passive voice. Janice was on her way to work in the pouring rain when she had a flat tire. Come on, this needs some action. Janice squeezed the steering wheel so tightly she could feel the leather wrap imprinting on her palms. She leaned forward, trying to peer through the curtain of water rushing down the windshield with each clicking swipe of the wipers….
3. Serena walked into the coffee shop, her eyes immediately falling on the dark-haired man sitting with his back to the counter, the Wall Street Journal open on the table.
Really? Do her eyes fall out often? Are they easy to put back in? Watch out for flying body parts. This seems to happen most often with the eyes. Eyes often fall or caress or fly or do any number of impossible things.
There’s a lot more to raising up your manuscript so it can stand on its own with an agent or editor. These three things are ones you can look for and make changes and improvements. If you don’t and you send it to an editor, you end up paying, either in money if she charges by the hour (to do things you could have done yourself) or in time if it takes her weeks to read and re-read, marking repeated mistakes, a lot of which you will want to bop yourself on the forehead for missing.
Don’t worry, though, with each baby manuscript, you learn. Each subsequent baby gets easier to birth, raise, and send out to the world.
Helen, thank you so much for this enlightening article. If you haven't already done so, please check out Helen's blog. You will find a wealth of information for writers and readers.
Helen is a freelance novel editor, with an informational and interactive blog for writers and a weekly e-newsletter that has been going out to subscribers around the globe for nine years. She coaches writers on the publishing industry, finding an agent, and polishing their work for publication. An adept speaker, she has presented at Story Circle Network’s National Conference, Writers’ League of Texas’ Agents & Editors Conference, Baylor University and Mary Hardin-Baylor University. She is an owner-partner and Women’s Marketing Director for Legends In Our Own Minds®, which specializes in creative networking opportunities for companies and groups. With her experience in the business world, her knowledge of the publishing industry and her desire to help writers achieve their dreams, she has redefined the concept of freelance editor to include teacher, coach, and advisor.
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