Midwest Musings: Digging Deeper
“Editing is like an archeological dig. You start moving big things, but, in the end, you focus on the smallest details.” Stephen Roxburgh, “Gobsmacked! Memories of Editing ‘The Witches,’ Publishers Weekly, July 12, 2013.
Thanks to Crimson Romance staffer, Jess Verdi, for posting the link to the above article on Facebook. Stephen Roxburgh’s article validated a recent “a-ha” moment I experienced while going through my current manuscript. As I’ve been recounting for you, I’ve been updating a manuscript I finished some time ago with two major changes: a plot change and elimination of two points of view down to two. Last week, I finished going all the way through incorporating these modifications. I celebrated in my “Good News, Bad News” blog post, the good news being that I’d finished that phase, the bad news, realizing that now I had to go back through for a “deep clean.”
My plan was to do several “spot checks” rather than attempt another straight-through read at this point. First, I developed a list of several “logic” questions: why does A do x? How does B know A wants y? I’d reached the point in revising that I couldn’t bear to look at the actual manuscript right then, so these all came from my head. I was amazed how easily they found their way to the computer screen, considering the brain fatigue I was suffering. Apparently I’d tucked several plot, motivation and conflict questions away as I was writing which were just below the surface waiting to be called upon. I added the comments I’d left behind in my last revision. When I finished, I wound up with 24 questions and 21 comments, quite a high hill to climb, but if I didn’t tackle these, I worried how flat the story might otherwise read.
Back to Roxburgh’s comparison of editing to an archeological dig. Although I’ve never actually participated in one these endeavors, while I was studying anthropology in college, I learned a little bit about the process. Digs are painstakingly slow, so as not to disturb or corrupt the potential artifacts beneath. They are conducted by zones, one zone at a time, the zone carefully marked and recorded. Due to both of those considerations, they require extreme patience and persistence. That, in a nutshell, is how I’m proceeding.
Unlike the archeologist, however, I’ve added a couple other steps to my process. Although many of my questions refer to a specific scene (zone), others are more general. For those, I’ve done “finds” for key words that address a particular question and listed those page numbers with the question. So, in some instances, my “dig” goes all over the landscape of the entire manuscript. Also, in moving from spot to spot, as there have been words, phrases, even paragraphs in a few instances that needed revising, I’ve taken care of those as I went.
The scene analysis document I described in the “Good News, Bad News” post has proved quite handy for locating scenes that address particular questions.
Like the dig process, this approach to revision is also painstakingly slow. Some of my questions address the arc for both the hero and heroine; this requires me hit several places in the story. But as I create these citations, I’m discovering where I’ve done a good job laying out the evolution of my characters and where I may have missed an opportunity. In a few cases (fortunately only a few), some items don’t make sense or are even incorrect (probably due to missed plot point changes).
I anticipate receiving some additional benefits from this list of questions. They will serve as my starting point when I send the revised manuscript to beta readers to determine if I addressed those points well enough. At a later time, they could also serve as the nucleus for discussion questions for book clubs.
So here’s a final tip from this process: if you’re going to invest this much time and effort improving your story with tools like these revision questions, see how many other ways you can reuse them for other purposes. And be purposeful, persistent and patient!
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