Revising for Patterns vs Revising for Story

I just finished some revisions on a section of Book Six, based on some feedback I’d received from one of my professors at Rowan University. But the changes I made were sporadic and spread out through the entire text, picking out individual errors and common patterns the feedback had pointed out. This led to a very different, and in some ways “incomplete” type of revision.

Most of the time, when I’m revising, I go line by line, chapter by chapter, reading the text through from beginning to end. This allows me to be immersed in the story as I’m going along, and in this way I can catch errors in the continuity. For example, I once caught a mistake where I had a character start a scene wearing a skirt, then suddenly I mentioned her putting something in her pants pocket, then later she was in a skirt again. Or other times I might mention the night sky, then later on mention the setting sun (this often happens when I rearrange chapter order, and one chapter is now later than the other). These kinds of errors wouldn’t be noticed by reading an individual page by itself. It takes a careful read through the entire manuscript to catch them.

But a careful read through the entire manuscript might not catch some patterns and bad habits because they’re easy to overlook. For example, the feedback that I got pointed out that, among other things, I overuse the word “then.” Here’s a case of overuse that I just recently had to deal with:

Adrianna frowned and lowered her head. She pressed her palms down flat on the papers that covered the desk before her. “I’m not an invalid,” she said. “I’m perfectly capable of being out on my own.” She glanced over her shoulder at Dr. Pavari. “I don’t need to be babysat.”

Dr. Pavari pushed his glasses up his nose and said, “We’re giving it a trial run. I think it’s good for her to get out and try to get into some kind of normal routine.”

Adrianna pressed her hands down harder on the desk. “Don’t talk about me like I’m not here.”

“I’m sure he didn’t mean it like that,” Gabby said. “It’s okay.” She paused, chewing on her lip. Then she nodded to the papers. “So, what are you working on?”

Adrianna cast a glare up at Dr. Pavari, the turned back to Gabby. “Food inventory. I used to do this at the restaurant.” She patted the papers before her, then smoothed them out, then patted them again. “I know how to do this. I used to do it all the time.”

Three times in two paragraphs, something happens, then something else, then something else again. And page after page, this is a pattern, a bad habit I have. My professor suggested trimming out as many “then”s as possible, so I started to do just that:

I’m sure he didn’t mean it like that,” Gabby said. “It’s okay.” She paused, chewing on her lip. She nodded to the papers. “So, what are you working on?”

Adrianna cast a glare up at Dr. Pavari, the turned back to Gabby. “Food inventory. I used to do this at the restaurant.” She patted the papers before her, smoothed them out, then patted them again. “I know how to do this. I used to do it all the time.”

It’s a small change, but it seems to help the sentences flow better. Once I’d picked out a few instances of it, I did a Ctrl-F search for the word “then” and edited it out over and over and over again. I did the same for semicolons (another bad habit of mine). And when I was editing Manifestation, I had to do the same thing with the word “just.” Everything just happened. Gabby just nodded. Callia just sighed and shook her head. It seems to take some of the weight away from the actions. I took out 90% of my “just”s before Manifestation got published. I’ll probably need to search for those in the other books too.

Issues like these–the difference between careful line-by-line edits versus global patterns–are a big part of the reason why I go over a manuscript multiple times before I’m finished with it. The first set of edits I finished yesterday are just one pass through the document. There’ll be another, then another, then another (see what I did there?). I don’t know how long it’ll take, but I know these are things that can’t be rushed.

Thankfully, word processor tools make it a lot easier. I mean, can you imagine going through a 160,000 word document manually looking for repeated examples of your bad habits? It’s a wonder people ever had the patience to finish a book back before we had all this wonderful technology.


mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

CreateSpace and Amazon

and in ebook format through:

Kindle and Nook

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