Carrie asked: I’m working on a first draft of a manuscript that’s geared for middle age/young adults. What are the more efficient ways of going about editing and revising a manuscript?
This a very good question, and has as many different answers as there are authors! Indeed, it can get even more complex than that, as very often the same author might adopt different approaches to editing and revising, depending on the manuscript itself.
But here are a few tips, based on my own experience:
- First of all, you say you have geared your ms to middle readers/young adults. That is a crossover kind of readership which can work very well, but it can become quite complex too. Think carefully about whether the book is more pitched towards the lower, or upper range of your suggested market. Your editing will need to take account of this. For instance, how old are your characters? Generally speaking, young people, whether children or teens, prefer to read about characters either around the same age as them, or older, but not younger. So middle-age young readers will happily read about older characters, but teens generally will not read about pre-teens, at least if they’re the main characters of the book. They will accept adult characters (if they are not the main characters) and will be happy to have younger characters as part of the whole thing—eg if the main character has a younger sibling who can provide some light relief or ‘hey I know how irritating that can be’ kind of moments. Alternatively a young child can also provide a good focus for heroism on the part of the older character, so that’s acceptable to a teen reader too. Similarly, middle-age young readers don’t mind older characters, but won’t be very interested in ones much younger than themselves.
- As far as language/style is concerned for the two different groups, there is really little difference. Concepts need to be age-oriented, but even then there are no hard and fast rules. One thing we learned from the Harry Potter phenomenon is that a fresh and engaging approach works across all age ranges; restrictive ideas about length of books, the use of long description, of introducing all sorts of adult concepts(for example who ever thought committee meetings could be made interesting for kids? Well, we reckoned without the Ministry of Magic!)all went out of the window. But fantasy is a special case of course; its readers, of whatever age, generally tend to be more patient and willing to engage with complexity, whether of plot, concept or language than others. Read bits to yourself; does it flow? Does the dialogue sound right? Are the ‘narrative bridges’ credible or do they feel clumsy?
- Try and give your first draft plenty of flesh. The more the better. In my opinion it is better to include too much at this stage than not enough. In editing, it is much much easier to cut than to add; to sculpt out of a mass than to try and conjure out of thin air; to discover the bones than to try and add on the poundage. It also has the advantage that when you just let yourself go in your first draft, all that pesky stuff that’s desperate to get out but is actually irrelevant will be unburdened by the act of getting it down, and it can then be flicked off that much more easily than if you resist it too much at the beginning. It’s also very liberating when you do get rid of it!
- Leave time between first and second draft. Give yourself space to become emotionally detached from what you’ve written. Otherwise you won’t see the faults and what needs to be done to turn your rough-hewn rock into a flawless gem!
- In second draft, examine sub-plots and minor characters carefully. Do they really need to be there? Do they add to the texture and atmosphere of the story, or are they just extras that invited themselves in, for no particular reason? Don’t be so ruthless though that you sacrifice interest. Too much complexity can over-egg the story pudding, making it indigestible; too little makes it runny and it doesn’t set.
- If you have a willing writing friend or someone whose literary opinion you trust, email them chapters one by one, like a kind of serial, in second draft. It is invaluable to have another eye on the book at this stage, but best not to overwhelm the reader with an entire ms which can be hard to digest and make sensible comments on. In my experience, emailing chapter by chapter as you go along works really well and enables that all-important first reader to really get a clear sense of how well you have done in your revision. You can do this even earlier than second draft if you like, if your first draft is coherent enough, of course.
- Don’t go over and over things too much: don’t over-edit or over-revise. I never do more than three drafts, and sometimes less. Those are however fairly full-on kinds of drafts. Of course, I’ve had years of practice and have developed an eye for what works and what doesn’t; but even so, in my opinion, trying to over-refine a ms leads to a loss of freshness, and can also hold you up for too long!