Self-Editing Your First Draft (Manuscript Flow, Character Development, etc.)
And just to think how happy and fulfilled you were just a few moments ago thinking you’ve done it!
At this stage, you have probably told a few people you’re writing your first novel and they’re all eager to know: how many pages are we talking about?
Spoiler alert for all you people out there: authors don’t speak in pages, we speak in number of words per manuscript.
A manuscript of 95.000 words is referred to as 95k. Once fully edited and formatted, it can reach 300+ pages depending on formatting, and font size.
By no means should you give your manuscript to beta readers of your genre that are not close family or friends at this stage. Unpolished work takes away the joy of reading, so don’t be that author!
TIP: Before any eyes fall upon the glory of your work, make sure you copyright it. I cannot stress this enough, even in it’s rough stages, a manuscript needs to be copyrighted. Protect your work if you value the time you’ve invested in your novel.
Now, back to the horror show that is editing. It’s going to take tears, sweat, sleepless nights, but the result will be worth it.
Imagine the first draft as the skeleton of your manuscript. Without a good backbone, you can’t possibly achieve excellence.
Editing is the part where you must flesh out those details and give your novel a body that’s going to turn a few heads and cause a few hearts to skip a beat.
At this stage, you must comb your manuscript for inconsistencies and smooth out the edges.
Polishing The Edges
To begin with, a new author must edit their own manuscript between four to six times before seeking beta readers or a professional editor/proofreader.
No, it’s not a joke, four to six times is the average. Trust me, you’ll find many things to brush up on – to begin with, your grammar.
I used Grammarly for proofreading, but they have several tools at your disposal (depending on your individual needs):
- The Spell Checker – Because let’s face it, our fingers can get the better of us when we get excited!
- The Plagiarism Checker – This is a must have tool for bloggers, if it’s on the internet, The Plagiarism Checker will find it! It’s a fact that great minds think alike, but I wouldn’t risk having the same content as another blogger (it’s a cocktail of ego and traffic).
Moving on, imagine your characters go on a three day quest – well, you must make sure somewhere along the way they eat or sleep, otherwise, your readership might react negatively.
As a reader, when you pay for a novel, you expect the courtesy of a polished work. I dare say most published manuscripts haven’t escaped the occasional typo curse, but inconsistency is not that easily forgiven nor forgotten as it can turn a reader into an online punisher for your sins and their reviews will be ruthless.
Combing your manuscript, you’ll discover that you’ve been repetitive in certain areas and not informative enough in others. It happens to all of us.
Giving Your Manuscript Flow
This is also the stage where you start rewriting entire paragraphs, even chapters, replacing certain words and brushing up on that syntax.
You’ll find some sentences sound too corny, others too immensely complicated for the reader. You’ll also find that perhaps you’re lacking description in the several areas.
Giving your manuscript flow is something that’s going to make your readers connect, visualize, live your story in graphic detail.
Faulty syntax or complicated concepts tangled in long pretentious sentences may not have the desired effect.
You sit, you research, you rewrite, you improve. Over and over again. You’ll probably go over the same text a gazillion times and change something every time. You’ll get mad at yourself and think you’re worthless. You’ll cry and you’ll start over.
Improving Your Weak Points
Because we weren’t born perfect, our writing is not perfect either. All authors have strong and weak points.
When I started editing my Paranormal Romance novel, Lost in Amber, I had mixed realizations:
- Man, I can write a mean love scene! Nailed it!
- OMG, why are my fighting scenes so horribly lame?!
Identifying your weak points is the first step in overcoming them. All you have to do (again) is research, take notes and eventually rewrite.
You don’t need to be aggressive to write fight scenes to perfection, you just need to make a list of:
- Proper adjectives for your difficult scenes
- A list of useful words (in my case, body postures, muscles, and specific names of kicks and tricks)
- Watch related videos (watching videos of fight scenes has helped me immensely)
Now you know my nemesis. If you take it as a challenge you’re on the right track to successful writing.
Your main characters must have (to a certain degree) a past, present and future.
When we call a novel a page-turner, that’s the kind of material that keeps us on our toes, eager to read more and find out what happens next.
Keep it unpredictable, stir that emotion in your readers, make them live alongside your characters, grow with them, get angry at them, but first and foremost identify with them.
If it’s easy to know what happens next, the desired level of enthusiasm will fade quicker than milk in a household of cats.
It’s okay for your readers to get to know your characters well enough to anticipate their reactions, it’s not okay to effortlessly win all their battles and get love served on a silver platter without any degree of difficulty.
Pay close attention to your supporting characters. If you just wrote them in as a sidekick to your main character, big mistake.
Secondary characters are just as important and essential to the storyline as your main characters. Write them well, give them the voice they deserve.
A Breathtaking Ending To A Fabulous Story
I’ve been beta reading for a while now, and this is a mistake that most authors make: rushing the ending.
Don’t ruin the beauty of your storyline by rushing to the finish line when you’re the only one in the race.
An abrupt ending may defeat the expectations the reader created around your story. It’s very easy to get deflated when the grand finale you’ve been waiting for is half a page of “That’s a wrap!”.
What? You thought I was done?
No such luck, I was giving you a real feel of how the reader may react to an abrupt ending. I don’t really know how many male readers will identify with the following statement, but here it goes: don’t settle for any ending that doesn’t feel like “the one”, much like a wedding dress, it needs to feel just perfect.
If your novel will have a sequel, build up expectation. Write and rewrite until you get to that perfect cocktail of reward, anticipation, emotion with a squeeze of gratification.
If you’re writing a stand alone novel, the perfect cocktail applies in your case too. Don’t forget the ending has to revolve around your main character and their evolution throughout this journey. Whether you decide to end it with dialogue or prose, make it memorable.
And by no means should you make your ending abstract, you don’t want your readers looking like Picasso paintings after you’re done with them, you want to make them take your novel and give it a special place on the closest shelf to their hearts.