Writing Technique – Black Belt Manuscript Editing

samurai-swordWhen you meet twelve reputable agents in one afternoon and they all give you the exact same piece of advice, you kind of have to take notice.

It’s called Agentfest, an incredible afternoon in the middle of the incredible event called Thrillerfest. Three minutes of undivided attention to give an agent your pitch and hear the magic words – “Sounds interesting, send it to me.” Then line up for the next agent and do it again. I spent all morning getting help polishing my pitch with other writers, managed to talk to twelve agents in the afternoon, then slept for twelve hours. I kid you not, it’s an intense time.

I got eight positive responses, requests for partials or the full manuscript of The Night Nurse. An outstandingly successful day, I’d say. But all the agents – every single one of them – told me to take my story from 136,000 words to 100,000 or less.

I said, no problem. Be in touch in a couple of weeks.

Do the math. I needed to cut my story by almost a third. That’s a lot. In story-speak, that’s two and a half characters, ten scenes, or an entire subplot. Holy crap.

One agent, a delightful man named Bob Mecoy, gave me some sage advice. “Take a Sharpie to every line of description,” he said. “Polish what’s left to really bring out the story’s plot, character development, and themes. Then add back in the description that absolutely has to be there.”

Okay, that was good advice. I also found out that vigorous application of standard editing techniques helps, too. Here’s some of them.

How To Cut A Manuscript

Give your story the Mecoy treatment as described above.

Look at all those brilliant, illuminating, scintillating adjectives and pick one of them for the whole sentence or description. Better yet, kill them all in favour of the right verb.

Don’t belabour the point. If a character trait, plot point, or theme has been made once, don’t make it again. If your second mention of the point doesn’t make it grow or take it in a new direction, then out comes the sword.

Is that chunk of character history really necessary? You might love it, but if the reader doesn’t totally need to know about your character’s disturbed past, burn it.

Keep the end in mind. Your story has one overall thrust, one overall direction. Subplots can add colour and pattern to the weave, but if a scene or character takes the story off in a different direction entirely, that’s too much. That’s a distraction. Hit delete.

Each paragraph, each sentence, should move a character or plotline forward. If it doesn’t, it goes.

Give your baby over to someone else. I am lucky enough to be married to a detail-oriented prolific reader and writer with an analytical mind. When she edits my stories she sees everything I cannot. If you know someone who can really see your novel with the eyes of an editor, they will give you a second perspective on what needs to go and what needs to stay.

Getting It In The Bones

Some good stuff is coming out of this process. I can see how most of my cuts are making the story stronger and better. I can also feel that many of these editing tools are becoming ingrained in my thinking. They are becoming a part of the way I naturally write. Which means – hopefully – that novel 2 will be that much better out of the starting blocks.

My interested agents will have a damn good story on their desks soon. I’ll be diving into novel 2 soon, with a sharpened suite of editing tools at my fingertips. I’m pretty sure I’ll also stop writing at 100,000 words or so.


Massage Therapy Case Study – Lyme Disease

tick_biteJoan spotted me in the grocery store a couple of years after I’d last seen her. “I almost died,” she said to me, “before the doctors found out it was Lyme Disease.”

I’d worked with Joan almost monthly for two years. At first it was fairly standard maintenance: sore muscles after house renovations, tight lumbar spine from lax abdominals and an overworked iliopsoas, tight neck from life stress. She had a history of colitis, and the soreness and pain from her tissues always seemed a little out of proportion to the problem, but sometimes people are sensitive that way.

After the first year things got unusual. Joan started complaining of reduced benefit from her sessions. She was experiencing ‘blank moments’ in her attention, a revival of her bowel problems, and an unexplained catch in her throat. Her skin showed the texture and pallor of long-term stress. Her morale was going downhill. Neither the doctor, the chiropractor, or I had any answers for her. When I retired from active practice Joan was one of the last patients I saw, and her condition was worsening.

None of us ever thought of Lyme Disease. It exists in our area, but isn’t too common. Lyme disease can present months or years after a tick bite delivers it, showing up as diffuse muscle aches, low grade joint inflammation, and unexplained neurological problems that can span the range from numb spots to malfunctioning organs. The long incubation time and wide variation in symptoms, along with uncertain lab tests, can make Lyme Disease a difficult one to catch.

Joan got worse. The catch in her throat developed into bouts of sudden, catastrophic swelling that would reduce her breathing to the point of cyanosis and then be gone. She had an attack in the doctor’s presence, and they chased the condition down until someone finally mentioned Lyme Disease. Then Joan remembered a tick bite, many years before, that came with a red-ring rash for a few days. That bull’s eye rash is the first sign of a Lyme infection.

She’s getting better. Long-term antibiotics will help root out the infection, and she still gets massage and chiropractic treatment to help with the symptoms. Lyme Disease is a frustrating condition to diagnose and not all that common, but good to keep in mind. Massage therapy is an excellent adjunct treatment once the infection itself is under control.

Published in: on August 9, 2013 at 1:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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