Writer's Craft Article
Fiction Fundamentals: Writing Elbow Grease, Part 6
by Karen S. Wiesner
Based on Cohesive Story Building, Volume 2: 3D Fiction Fundamentals Collection
In this three month, in-depth series, we went over what could be considered the grunge work in building a cohesive story. Revising, editing, and polishing require a little or a lot of writing elbow grease to finish the job and bring forth a strong and beautiful book.
In Part 5 of this series, we went over editing and polishing tricks and tips. Let's conclude this series with one last thing to consider.
The revision layer of a story involves the finishing touches to make your story shine. With these elements, you'll create an extremely strong layer--something that will allow you to send your novel out with confidence to the people who can publish it. However, I do like to add one additional step to the revision process, and this is one I consider mandatory.
The final read-through
Following all the grueling revision we've been doing, many authors may feel ready to send the story out, either to a publisher who’s waiting to release it, or in a submission to find a publisher or agent for the book. A couple situations prompted me to add one last read-through of the story before I considered it done. I think even savvy, confident authors might want to complete this before submitting. We'll go over the whys and wherefores of doing this soon, but first, a couple of side-tracks here.
1. I strongly believe a final read-through needs to take place on a hard copy of the book--in whatever form, a printed version. Yes, I know we live in a digital world. Everything is done on the computer. But the very real and inescapable fact is that human eyes are fallible. They aren't capable of seeing everything on a computer (or something similar to this) screen and, frequently, what you see on the screen isn't necessarily what's in the hard copy--spacing, formatting, and other issues may crop up from one medium to the other. We need the hard copy to truly catch everything that demands our attention (like typos and "Track Changes" errors) in the final draft of a manuscript. Our eyes can only see some of these things on the printed version of the book. This is essential, and I guarantee if you're not getting this hard copy (from your own printer of the final proof after edits, directly from you publisher or from another means like the one I'll describe in a second), you're missing a tremendous amount of issues that readers are going to catch. Do yourself a favor. Get a hard copy to do your final read-through from.
2. Second, the current state of the industry--exploding with indie publishers and self-published authors--requires another stage in which to find the errors that seem to creep into our stories like lice. The fact is, there are very few legitimately professional editors and/or copyeditors working at publishing houses these days, especially at smaller publishers, and authors who are self-publishing their own works may even skip the professional-editor-input altogether. For that reason, it’s even more crucial to have a stage where the writer sees his book in this final form (and this is true even if the book is only released as an ebook without a paper component), where he can catch (probably not all but most) typos. While you can always print a copy from your own printer, I highly recommend utilizing a publishing service like Amazon, Lulu, or any other you like to set up an inexpensive hard copy of your book to serve as an advanced reading copy. In this form, you'll see your book in a state that's close to what readers will see it in after it's published (if a print edition will be made available). That's valuable. This is really just for your own use so try to find a cheap way to do this. You don't need cover art for this copy, but you're there so there's no reason not to, since you might want to access how that comes out as well. I'll also add that I don't recommend buying actually "proofreading" copies from most printers, like Amazon. Those copies can ruin the actual book so you can't see parts of it that you need to evaluate because the printer adds huge banners over portions of the wraparound around cover, covering up the text, etc. below. How ridiculous! I recommend purchasing a regular paperback copy of the book, just like readers will get if they buy it, that's not specifically for what these services deem proofreading copies.
3. If for no other reason, providing yourself with this final read-through is your very last chance before your editor sees it to make changes. You want her to find the finished product almost perfect, right?
Back to the whys and wherefores of doing a final read-through of a book before it's considered done. During this final read through of the book, you shouldn't need to do much beyond exterminating typos and formatting errors, and doing that is a great case for adding this step to the process. But the final read-through serves another valuable benefit: It's a neat way of putting yourself in the position of being the first reader for the book. Naturally, this means you want to put as much time as you can afford into staying away from the book and not reading a word of it until you're ready to complete the final read-through (i.e., if you're sick to death of the story, you can't see it objectively). As much as possible, ignore the fact that you have a very personal affiliation with the book and simply read it--both in a critical and savoring mind-frame. Take your time reading to evaluate how the story goes over for you in this state. Do you love the story and your characters? Are you wrapped up totally in their worlds? How are you emotionally while you're reading it--removed and unsympathetic or invested wholly? Have you captured everything authentically? Or do you think you might need to do more work anywhere? Keep a tablet handy during this time so you write any notes you might need for fixing issues.
When I get to this stage in the process, I usually find very little is required and I may not add more than a thousand words during this time, which is still a nice, "gilding" layer. The story is brimming with life and there’s almost nothing left to stumble over or smooth out. Most importantly, though, in nearly every case I come out loving the story more than I ever have before. It exceeds the expectations I had for it when it was little more than the spark that incited me to write the story. Truthfully, I don't consider that conceit. I'd worry if I didn't have that reaction. If you don't love your own work, don't become immersed in the worlds and characters and conflicts contained in your stories, how can you expect readers to?
In the past few months, we've talked in-depth about the "grunge work" involved in completing a book. Each of the stages add a layer of your story--very strong layers that, for career authors, should be the necessary steps in ensuring multidimensional writing. Each time you add something new during these stages, you're creating another vital layer that makes the whole story stronger, richer, and more three-dimensional. Doing so also allows us to see another perspective of our story and can fuse in more and more details to forge three-dimensionality. Don't neglect the crucial elbow work involved in "decorating" your book since it's what makes your story not only a thing of beauty but a source of personal pride.
Karen S. Wiesner is the author of Cohesive Story Building, Volume 2 of the 3D Fiction Fundamentals Collection
Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.