Saturday, June 25, 2016

WIFYR Class Summary: Notes on editing

By Lacey Gunter

I attended the Writing and Illustrating For Young Readers (WIFYR) 2016 conference last week. Probably the biggest appeal for writing conferences is networking, with agents, editors and other writers. This is the main reason I choose to go to conferences. But that take away is not something you can share with readers of a blog. What I can share with you, it the other main reason to got to writing conferences, motivation and instruction on improving your craft.

One of the classes I chose to attend at the conference last week was about revising and editing your manuscript, taught by Trent Reedy, author of Words in the Dust. I first have to say that Trent was a very entertaining teacher. He clearly knew how to engage an audience. Here are some of the nuggets I gleaned from his class.

The first thing that Trent emphasized was that the biggest process in creating a book is the editing.  But you can't edit something that has not been written, so the first crucial step is always to write. Get something down, even if it stinks. Don't let you internal editor slow you down and interrupt the process, just go with the flow and get the story down on paper.

Once you have completed you manuscript, the next step is to take a little time away from the manuscript. Take a vacation, pick up something new to work on or catch up on all the chores you put off while writing, whatever. That time away will help you gain a fresh perspective on the process.

Once you are ready to dive in, always work on the highest priority task first. He related this to his time serving in Afghanistan with the National Guard.  When opening up a new area in Afghanistan for operations, you don't go building the mess hall first. First you set up a security perimeter so that all you soldiers don't die trying to get started on every other task that has to happen. It is the same with editing a book, take care of the big picture issues first or you'll probably just end up wasting your time doing a bunch of small task that get deleted or written over later.

The highest priority in revision and editing is taking care of the action plot.  Does the story line follow a reasonable story arc? Try to map out the action that happens in your book. Does it have a clear beginning that sets up the conflict? Does the middle section build intensity based on the problems or obstacles the main character has to overcome? Is there a clear climax and a satisfying resolution? All of these should be clearly established and worked out before moving on.

The next priority should be emotional plot. How is the main character reacting and growing based on the action taking place in the plot? What is happening on the inside of the character? Is the character being stretched to grow? Will the result be satisfying to the reader?

At this point you can work on development of the minor characters and making sure you tie up loose ends. Book mapping may help with this. Trent suggested every author should work out a system that works best for him or her. The writing blog Fable and Fancy does a good job discussing how to book map here.

Finally, after you've worked out all the big plot issues and all the little subplot and character issues, it's time to look at sentence structure, flow of the writing and grammar.  How does the structure of your writing accentuate what is going on in the book. For example, if you are doing an action scene, don't write long sentence after long draw out sentence. Make them short and choppy and quickly moving to the next one. Reading your manuscript out loud can help with this. Trent also suggested Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer's Craft by Brooks Landon for help. For help with grammar he suggested Warriner's English and Grammar Composition by John E. Warriner.

In all of these steps of the process, it helps to get feedback from an outside reviewer, preferably many reviewers who are experienced in writing and editing books.

Well hopefully that gives a little guidance in revising and editing your next manuscript. Good luck my friends and write on!

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