Source: Ideas into Words
Refining Your Draft
Before you start refining, do whatever will freshen your view of the manuscript. At a minimum, take a break and print out the manuscript. After your break, proceed as if you had never seen the manuscript before. The idea is to approximate an outsider’s clear view of the piece as it stands. Next do the following things:
Read at cruising speed and jot down your reactions
Read at cruising speed, like any other reader, but jot down your reactions in the border. Note that word—your reactions, not fixes. Keep moving, reserving your attention for the text and your own reactions. You want to notice every slightest flicker of boredom, impatience, confusion, put-off-ness, or pleasure. Do you have an impulse to skim? To jump ahead? To laugh? Are you working hard? Is your mind wandering? Make a quick note and keep moving. Write barely enough that you’ll know what you meant, along these lines:
- Waiting for story to start. What’s this about? . . .
- Bored . . .
- Woke up here, comp. lab busy at midnight a good touch
- LOL [laughed out loud] . . .
- Skimming, impatient . . .
Read the text out loud, or at least murmur it to yourself, lips moving, in order to spotlight any awkward patches.
Noting positive reactions is a must, and not only to preserve morale. Most of us tend to think of editing as “fixing” what is off. We forget the other half of the job, and maybe the more important half—retaining and strengthening what is good. The better to retain it, mark it.
Check the structure
In editing, your initial concern should be structural. Aim to strengthen and balance the whole. Sweep through from beginning to end, again and again, solving the problems that your reactions pinpoint—first the big ones, then small ones.
About the opener
- Do you actually have an opener? Or were you merely clearing your throat? Initial reactions like “Bored” and “What’s this about?” are ominous.
- Does the opener still match the story as it turned out to be? Does the piece deliver on its promise?
About the closer
- Do you actually have a closer? Between fatigue and a desire to be done, you may have simply stopped without telling the reader good-bye.
Check your marks and examples
- Take a look at the passages you marked as any variant of “boring.” Do you want or need the material?
- Is the passage boring only because it is unclear? Most things seem boring when we don’t understand them.
- Do your examples demonstrate what you say they do? Bad examples sometimes survive from before you had total command of the subject, or because you found them charming.
Check the shape
- How’s the shape? As a whole, does the piece flow? Is it beginning to seem inevitable, as if the segments could never have been in any other order?
- Only with all big pieces in place should you go ahead to polish your writing, a process not unlike that of a plastic surgeon treating an aging movie star: you work all over.
- Take into account that :
- Leading edge of a paragraph must be used to direct or redirect the reader’s attention.
- Last part of a paragraph must be used to emphasize something, the place that gives the reader her final impression (and perhaps a millisecond longer of brain time). Last place gives you a way to spotlight particular words and ideas that are critical to later understanding or that have important resonance.
- Middle of the sentence must be used to de-emphasize something.
Follow the basic rules
- Replace passive verbs with active ones,
- Take out the garbage words—at least, most of them. By “garbage words,” I mean puny all-purpose modifiers such as very, really, rather, sort of, kind of, somewhat, quite, absolutely, extremely, and on and on.
- Take out redundant qualifiers
- When in doubt, throw it out.
- Your subconscious is your friend. If your subconscious made you do something, ask yourself why