In last week’s blog I talked about how excited I was to have finished the first draft of Virgilante. And that’s true. But there’s a reason it’s called the FIRST draft. It’s only the beginning. Even though this draft has been through the Lockhart Writers critique group, it still needs proofreading, editing, polishing, cutting, expanding, and a complete once-over… more than once. First, by me, then by my professional editor, who will receive a copy in September. (I’m not dumb enough to think my own editing is all a manuscript needs.)
All manuscripts need repeated editing by multiple people. Editing is ultimately an onion-skin process. We must peel and correct the first round of mistakes, then repeat the process, as new things will surface with the second reading, and the third, and so on. Sometimes it’s amazing the stupid errors we didn’t catch the first, or fifth, or ninth time. And writers must have much thicker skin than an onion to survive this process. Quite often that perfect paragraph we’re so proud of is nothing but our narcism and cleverness showing through. It drags down, rather than enhances the story.
I sat down today with the complete manuscript to go through it from page one to the end. When a writer is creating a manuscript, both the writer and any members of a critique group usually go over it one chapter at a time. It’s amazing how many names, ages, dates, and locations can change between the early chapters and the final ones. In chapter 3, Virgil remembers a local town drunk who’d run over a little boy. Halfway through the book the little boy miraculously became a little girl. A young woman who worked in the City Manager’s office of the small town inexplicably had a Masters in Geology just a few chapters later. It takes a read-through to catch those things. Few people can remember all the small details when editing one chapter at a time, especially if the editing is separated by a week or more.
On top of proofreading for the obvious errors, there are the missing elements. Their absence must be searched for. A missing element might not ruin a story, but its addition will definitely enhance it. Oh dear, I forgot to mention the time of year the story takes place. Oops, forgot to say how old Virgil is until somewhere around chapter 30. I didn’t describe his house, although I lavishly described his rose garden. I never provided details about the small town where Virgil lives. Will a reader notice I never described Lichen’s streets? Probably not. But maybe my adding this paragraph will enhance the reader’s experience:
“Many homes, especially the older ones, featured multi-hundred year old oaks and pecans in their yards. The large trees created a shady canopy over many of Lichen’s streets, including Myrtle. The south Texas summer heat was tolerable thanks to their shade.”
One of the best ways to edit a manuscript is to read it out loud. The first time I heard that suggestion, I thought it sounded silly. But I decided a while back to give it a try. Bless my husband’s heart, he patiently listened while I read the entire manuscript. Not only did I catch things I couldn’t believe I’d previously missed, he caught many errors and confusing points as well. I’ve read all my manuscripts aloud ever since. Every one of them ended up much better as a result.
Today we made it through 181 pages of Virgilante. We’ll finish in the next couple of days, but even half the manuscript took me around seven hours to read. We were both exhausted when he suggested we ‘d reached a good stopping point for the day.
There’s another reason I like to read aloud to Eric. When he reads, even for pleasure, he tends to scan and skip. That’s not much help when I’ve asked him to review my manuscript and provide feedback. But if I read aloud, he treats it like a podcast. He follows the whole plot and notices when characters behave, well… out of character. He asks amazingly insightful questions that almost always lead me to improve that section of the manuscript.
I intend to take the time I need to get Virgilante the best I possibly can. I rushed a novel once in order to have it available for a show. That was a mistake, and I’ve since pulled it off the market. The editing cycle is done when it’s done, not when a particular calendar date arrives. My goal for Virgilante is to publish in October, and so far it looks on track. The manuscript isn’t awash with glaring errors that make me cringe, but it sure isn’t error free. Yet. I’ll get there. Or at least as close as humanly possible. Thanks for your patience. I’ll make it worth the wait.