Wednesday, November 08, 2023

Tidying up a manuscript

 This week I am in the final throes of rewrites of my latest Inspector Green novel – that final tweaking of details and wording before I send it off to my beta readers. These are experienced writers and readers – fellow members of The Ladies Killing Circle, who published seven anthologies of short stories some years ago. I have specific "big picture" questions for them. Does the overall story work? Did you like the book? Any plot holes, boring bits, unbelievable or inconsistent characters? They each tend to catch different flaws and address different issues, which is helpful and gives me food for thought.

Once I get their feedback, I adjust and tweaking my manuscript some more before sending it off to the publisher by the deadline. Up to this point, the publisher has very little idea what the story is about beyond a one-paragraph concept. I don't submit a synopsis or outline ahead of time, which is a good thing since I hate writing them and don't know what happens in the story until it's done.

I try not to send the book to my beta readers until I have made it the best I can, but once you've read a manuscript over and over, it's impossible to see all the flaws or plot holes. The brain fills in the gaps. I also know that I could tweak endlessly, even once the book is in print. With this book, there are also a few location details that I can't verify until the snow is on the ground, so those may need to be adjusted at the last minute.

This week's final rewrite involves trying to catch errors in grammar, typos, inconsistencies, clumsy wording, dropped words, etc., as well as tightening up the language. Every writer has a few favourite phrases and tics that pop up unconsciously when pouring out the first draft. First draft is for creativity not editing or critiquing. But the final rewrite is the time to catch them. I used to have a program that counted the number of times a word appeared in the book and generated a list. I could see how many times the word "eyes" or "frowned" or whatever, turned up. Some common words naturally occur many times, but the appearance of "eyes" 500 times suggests it's overused. A simple "find and replace" search solves that.

Through successive versions of MSWord, that little program got lost. If anyone knows of a similar editing tool for Word, I'd love to hear it. For now, I rely on running "find and replace" on the words I know I overuse. I also run one on filler words like really, very, and pretty, as well as on "ly" to catch any excessive adverbs. It does help, but it's tedious, time-consuming, and imperfect. I just found a program called "Word Counter" on the internet and if anyone uses that, let me know. 

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