October 10, 2010


So how does one polish a manuscript? That's going to be different for every writer but this is how I do it.

I'm a pantser so my drafts go something like this. Draft 1. Way too short and messy but gets the bones of the story down. Draft 2. Takes those bones, shuffles them around if necessary to fix them and expands the whole thing out to a reasonable length. And yes, I fix typos and any language I notice sucking as I go along but I can't do a full polish at this point because I'm too busy chopping and changing things plus it usually not until the end of draft two that I figure out what the book is really about.

Which brings us to Draft 3 (which is the one that gets sent to my editor and agent). This draft is the detail draft. So what do I do?

1. Put the manuscript together in one chunk. Draft one and 2 I tend to work in chapter documents. No idea why but it works for me.

2. Print it out in arc form so I can read it in hardcopy (I find it easier to spot typos etc on paper).

3. Copy the whole thing and dump it into Wordle. Wordle is something one of my crit buddies found last year when I was at this point with Shadow Kin. It's great. You dump in your text and it gives you back a picture of the most common words in your book. The bigger the word, the more times it appears. This is brilliant for two reasons. Firstly, it makes any the habitual weasel words you tend to use (that, back, like, just, slightly etc) that have been overused, stick out like a sore thumb so you can then go back and specifically search for them and kill them. And secondly, it tells you the other things that stick out in your book. This is helpful (if you're kind of visual) for getting a feel for character screentime (though in first person this is trickier), how your subplots are balancing and maybe spotting any other words that might be coming up a lot (clues to theme!).

4. Do a couple of passes to kill the weasel words discovered via Wordle. I sit down and do a find on each of the words and work through the manuscript for each. It doesn't take too long to do. I find this usually highlights a few other things that might be repeated as you work through (repeated character actions and phrases etc). After I've done this, I'll dump it back into Wordle and check again.

5. Read the whole thing and note clunky bits, typos, anything else that bugs me. I'm not looking for wholesale structural things (though of course, if I found something I'd fix it (and probably cry at this point!). I'll also look for worldbuilding things. Have I broken any rules I've set up? What new rules or mythology have I created? Have I got languages etc right? (If I'm clever at this point, I'll add this into my world bible). The last thing I'll look for in this read will be continuity. Names, clothes, hair color, eye color, places, timelines. Does it all make sense?

6. Reading will also trigger some story things to fix (hopefully only small things...plots to flag earlier, threads to weave in a bit more firmly etc).

7. Sit down and fix all the stuff from the read. While I'm doing this, I'll be paying close attention to my character's voices. Do they sound distinct enough? Do recurring characters sound like they did in the first book? Do the new character's sound different enough?

8. Possibly dump it all back into Wordle yet again, just to see if it looks right.

9. The last thing I'll do will be a spell check, a US language check and another typo hunt.

10. Send the darn thing to my editor and agent and crack open some bubbly.

11. Open up a new document and start Book 3.


Kylie Griffin said...

Never thought of using Wordle for repetitive words etc. Going to try it and (cringe) see what pops out.

Thanks for the tip.

Mel said...

It does make them pop out at you!

Eleni Konstantine said...

Phew that's quite a polish Mel. And good idea re Wordle. Eeek I wonder which word will pop out for me.