Writers’ sit alone at their work space (wherever and whatever that is for them) and do what needs to be done. They get an idea, play with it until it becomes an exciting concept, add a main character to Do things. The exciting bit comes when that MC is put into the spiraling world of a story. The writing of that story is hard and flexible and hard and changeable and hard and exhilarating. But let’s say it gets finished.
What then? All the polishing and proofreading the writer’s (individual) done doesn’t mean the work is the best it can be, even if they followed all the ‘rules’ (of their own making, using the history of other writers’ works and advice). What it means is that it’s now time to find a ‘reader’ – preferably someone who can do a critique.
Now, this is a grey area. Very grey. What is the difference between proofread and critique? What do all the different editors do? We can only say how we do it, what works for us (‘we’ being one person of five who occasionally get together over the e-links to do this stuff).
It would be good if the end of the product (story) followed something like this:
Critique, using all the elements of creating the story (you know, the planning stuff) to untangle bits and pieces, to strengthen bits, to make the story the best it can be in terms of how it relates to and is understood by a reader. Things to look at include the five most important things:
- Exposition (we don’t want a lot of this <10% first pages because this is the set up stage, then <5%). Exposition is the ‘tell’ that doesn’t show.
- Action – remember, character in action is what moves the story forward.
- Description – through the senses of the POV character. If there’s no POV character in whatever it is that’s being described, why is it necessary?
- Dialogue – internal and external (yes, those italicized thought words are dialogue); does it move the story forward without ‘tell’? Is it clear who is speaking even without a name tagged to the dialogue? Subtext coming through? Too many, or not enough, body language elements?
- Internalisation – is not internal chit-chat. It is being clear about who the POV character is and living the story through that character only. See, feel (use all the senses) what’s happening through the internal of the POV character.
Each sentence should be one of the above (remember the Simple things?).
Move onto the ‘flow’ of the story. Are the ‘bits’ in the right places for the best progression of action and pace? Does each of the sentences, para’s, and chapters contribute to the story? To each arc? To the overall intrigue of the unfolding story? When you read it out loud, does it ‘catch’ anywhere, slow you down, not feel right? Take note of these and look carefully at those places.
All the Elements: little picture elements (words, sentences, paragraphs; remove repetition, passivity, etc.), middle picture elements, (scene, chapter, movement/segue, etc.), big picture elements (arcs: story, plot, sub-plot, character, etc.). Look at your beat sheet, story board, Chain of Events outline to see if the story always moves forward, if it is truly a ‘character in action’ we see when we read the words.
Truly, there’s a lot more to critique than the above few pieces, but it’s a start. And it takes time. And a tough skin. Try to find people who critique the work, not the person who wrote it. Speak about your characters as real people, and maybe they will too. And the most important thing? Do for them what you want to get back for your own work.
Next, because the work is as good as you can make it, in terms of structure and flow, comes the proofread. What this means is a line-by-line effort to see mistakes in spealling, grammar (see!), word choice, length of sentences, etc. Line-by-line – don’t read it like a story. What makes this easier is to start at the back and read ‘up’ to the beginning. And using something (A bookmark?) that is long enough to cover all the words under the line you’re reading – it helps avoid the distraction of the words above and below the one you’re reading now.
From a nutshell perspective, that’s all it is. It takes time, coffee (and bikkies) and is not the final step. And some people call this the copy editing stage, where they look at similar things – but check out how different these things are to different editors!
And you will do this every time a change is made anywhere within the mss. Yes, you will. A professional writer will do this after any changes at all.
Editing. There’s lots of different sub-titles for editors. Structural, developmental, stylistic, substantive – look here for a more detailed rub on the low-down – but that’s enough. For the purposes of what a writer can do on their own is what I’ll call editing for the purpose of this post.
The best and safest and easiest way to do that is to put the ‘finished’ article/story/book away for a while and let it slip out of your mind. Do another project that’s big enough to move it out.
Some people have a work process that’s a bit like a wheel of fortune. Each zone within the wheel is a different project; some are small, some are not. This is where you pull the next one out and leave the number one, completed, and ready to roll piece in its zone to have a nap. A long enough nap for the writer to forget it (sort of).
When it comes back to the work table, it’s much easier to see the things that need work. The Development of arcs – story, character, plot, etc. – should be much more clear this time. Structure will show the weaknesses in pace and segue – and if you have a beat sheet or chain of events outline, this is when you go back to them for a look-see.
Write up the blurb and tagline, then work on the synopsis.
If any part of this stage is hard, something is wrong. It should be easy because it’s a piece that’s almost complete, so if there’s anything that holds you back, it’s time to do another critique using all the elements used to create a story.
And that’s what we do. Again and again and again, because a writer is only a writer when they write, and they keep saying to themselves: ‘You’re only as good as your next book.’