The Dreaded Line Edit

I have been over my first (yet unpublished) novel Unmasked many, many, many times. This is after completing the screenplay, first and second drafting of the novelized version, proofreading on screen and on paper, then shoving it in a drawer for a few weeks while I Nanowrimo’d. After all that, I was ready to revisit it and be magically, happily surprised at how wonderfully seasoned my 72,000 words had become during their sojourn inside their oak cask, improved like fine wine.

Nope. The same old mistakes are waiting for me with raspberries–na-na-na-na-na-na–the clunky transitions, the inconsistencies, the silly comparisons. At least my previous revisions obliterated (hopefully) those embarrassing spelling errors, the character name that kept changing, the general wtf was I thinkings. Now it’s time to look at each sentence, and believe me, it’s painful. My eyes are flying through a few passages with some satisfaction, but the self-doubt, although not paralyzing, is at times demoralizing.

But it’s all part of the journey folks, Stephen King’s great book On Writing makes it clear that by the time you’re finished revising, you’ll have portions of text committed to memory. He’s not wrong. Oh, how I long to move on….

But. I’m halfway through and taking a little break. And here’s what I’ve learned so far.

  • Chunk it. This is a tedious process. And if your mind wanders during it (something you don’t want to happen to your reader) you’ll miss something really big, like the ice liquified on her erect nipple, used twice in the same paragraph, or used at all.
  • Read it aloud. You’ve heard this before. It works. The dross will fly off the page, announcing itself with loud alarums.
  • Watch the adverbs. King is right, again. I try to use them only sporadically. See? When any modifier enhances meaning, go ahead and use it. If not, cut it. Your prose will flow better, and your reader will be happy (that’s what matters in the end).
  • Analyze. Read through each paragraph and when you hit a bump, ask yourself why. Try to fix it. Rinse and repeat.
  • Vary your sentences. Your English teacher was right. Bury that subject behind an introductory clause every so often.
  • When it doubt, look it up. The Dictionary and his thorny cousin Thesaurus are the writer’s best friends–along with Messrs. Strunk and White and don’t forget grumpy old Mr. Warriner. During this final editing process, I’ve been circling every iffy word, or one that I’ve repeated too often (search is a lovely tool), and I either look them up on the spot or I will during that final rewrite.
  • Watch the passive voice. This a well-known crime and I’m guilty as charged. To mitigate my offense, I sometimes use the handy dandy tool Although it’s far from foolproof, it’s an extra set of computer eyes that’s good at spotting punctuation errors, and that dreaded passive voice.
  • Do your best. As much as I might bemoan the fact that my prose isn’t on par with Shirley Jackson’s, I am still in love with my story, and I know I have a page turner on my hands. Will a publisher agree? Who knows. But I know I will finish it and get it out there in some capacity, and that’s a good feeling. One that will keep me going until the end.

This was a nice break. Time to get back to it.

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