Becoming a horror writer: now I know the difference between editing and revising a manuscript.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the entire Lizzy Novel manuscript printed. I thought I was going to fix the ending (which has been giving me fits) then do a hand-edit, make a few changes, check on the flow and pace, then start the second full draft of the book – you know, the one where you check for dangling subplot threads and go cross-eyed looking for adverbs  and clichés.

LN editing session on deck

See how clean and crisp those freshly printed pages look?

Then I read the damn thing – from page one to the end – and discovered that whole great swaths of the behemoth are pretty much useless.

The good news is that I had far exceeded my intended word count anyway – so much of the cutting was only painful, as opposed to excruciating.

The bad news is that somewhere in all those pages, I had become lost. My plot-line had become diluted and weak. Too many tangents had crept into the work as I tried to write my way from one flimsy section to the next, and too many crucial bits of story development had been glossed over or written around.

There was much worth salvaging – the characters are likeable, distinctive and engaging; I seem to have a decent handle on creating atmosphere and mood; there isn’t much info-dumping – but the foundation of the story was more like a haphazard cairn you’d stumble onto in the woods than the mortared stone wall I wanted it to be.

I set to with a will, but working with the pages didn’t get me anywhere. I kept getting caught up in details, rather than getting a clear overview of the story. No matter how much I manhandled the manuscript, and slashed at it with pencils, I couldn’t find my way back to the heart of the plot. Worse, I started to fear that the whole thing needed to be burned in a cleansing bonfire fueled with frustration and shattered dreams scrapped.

20130630 LN manuscript touched

I stomped around the house and complained I needed a way to see the whole thing at a glance … I wanted a massive whiteboard or something. I didn’t make any real progress until Ogre reminded me that I already had the tool I needed, in the form of the section map I’d made before I started generating text. (A section map is basically a detailed, scene-by-scene, outline – the method is from The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing.)

I only needed about a day with my original section map  to see how it was flawed. In the months since crafting it, I had done my job by writing to its specifications, but I had also learned a lot about how a plot should actually unfold. The map was solid at the beginning and ending, but the middle sections were too vague, and they had led me down the tangential paths. (When I made the map, I had not written anything as sprawling as a novel, so I didn’t spread out the plot development well.)

At first, I tried to make corrections on the original map. For a while, it worked. But then even the map became unwieldy as it stretched to several pages. Once again, I couldn’t see the big picture. I started a fresh one, and kept my section descriptions to a maximum of three lines. With patience, I was able to create what I needed – a map that showed me exactly where the major problem was … turns out, it was smack dab  in the MIDDLE of the thing.

2013-07-01 section map holes

The start was good, the end was good (surprise!) but I needed to make sure the reader would find tasty crumbs all the way through the book. When I had pulled all the pointless tangents, I had revealed the holes. Into those holes, I needed to redistribute events and revelations more subtly and evenly; I also flat-out needed more of them. And I needed to figure out if any of the discarded sections were worth keeping, after being flogged into submission with a thorough reworking, of course.

I wanted to talk it all through with someone, but  no person on the planet has enough patience to listen to me think-out-loud as I go over every detail of a plotline.

revision via voice recorder bra showing square

No person except me, that is.

revision via voice recorder blue glow

So, I took the ultimate Artist Date. I settled in on my balcony with iced coffee, my smokes, the revised (hole-riddled) section map, and my cell phone. I fired up the same Easy Voice Recorder I use for EVP hunting. Then I talked my way through the entire story. It took an hour and a half. Then I listened and took notes for another two hours.

And now I know what to do with my writing time this week.

God, I wish I’d done this a long time ago.

I’ve taken the first seven minutes or so of that session, slapped it on top of a slide show of images that suit the book, and posted it to my youtube channel:

Those seven minutes cover the first five sections (of eighty-one.) Each section is  3-5 manuscript pages. (Sections are not chapters, nor even necessarily scenes – a scene can have multiple sections. These are guidelines, people, it’s not as restrictive as it sounds.)

You’re welcome to have a listen.
In case you’re curious, I can tell you the swearing on the full recording doesn’t start until right about section 23. After that there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth until 34, then I’m calm for another dozen sections, then there’s one more terribly-irked rant, before the ending sequence really kicks in at 56. That’s not too bad, is it?

By the way, In this process, I may have stumbled onto my title. It might be appropriate to name the story after the town in which it takes place, especially if the name of the town also describes the story arc. (Here’s the plot synopsis.) Of course, that may be too punny. If it works though, which do you like better, Heritage Falls or Legacy Falls?


It’s the first of the month, so WriMoProg is open for a new cycle. 

I’m really proud of my June results – As usual, I spent too much time on social networking and could have done better on the novels, but I exceeded my total goal.
June, 2013 –  GOAL: 68 (novels) + 30 (blog and other social media) = 98 (hours) 
ACHEIVED: 60 +58 = 118

I feel like I can do better this month, so I’ve set my bar higher – kind of a lot higher, now that I think about it, but we’ll see.
July 2013 WriMoProg: 2 + 8 = 10/145
[X + Y = Z / total-hours goal, where X = writing/editing time, Y= other writerly tasks.]


10 Comments on “Becoming a horror writer: now I know the difference between editing and revising a manuscript.”

  1. Patrick says:

    I absolutely loved this post! Thank you for allowing us to step into your beautiful creative process! Fascinating! I loved the video. You have a lovely voice. I also liked the fall and Halloween shots. I’m sitting here right now on the back porch with tiki torches and almost need a blanket! I’m getting excited about fall and that’s scary. 🙂

    • Thank you for all your kind words, Patrick – I’m really glad this post resonated with you. (I’m always a little hesitant to write about writing.)

      You’ve inspired another post, btw. I agree that fall is wonderfully, classically spooky. It’s my go-to season when I want to court a sense of creepiness. Still, there is much innate eeriness in the hot months too – there’s the heat, humidity, dark nights, storms … I find myself thinking about cryptids and UFOs and such.

      Now that you’ve made me think about it, I’ve decided to take a little road trip later this month with the intention of capturing some of that. (In fact, I think there may be several road trips in store for me.)

  2. theipc says:

    Beer? CHECK

    Smokes? CHECK.

    You’ve got everything you need!

    : )

  3. In the Final Draft Script-writing program, there’s a feature where the whole script can be read back to you in either male of female voice. I wish they would have that feature in a WP or Word program. It would be a valuable tool. The story sounds cool, I like the ghost/entity coming from the fire and walking to the house scene, it can be really creepy and would definitely freak me out if it happened to me.

  4. Hunter Shea says:

    Fantastic post! It’s so refreshing to see someone really lay the whole process out there for aspiring writers to see and hopefully learn from. I like your method (even though I know I could never be that organized…LOL!). With the proliferation of self pub outlets, it seems too many people think the ability to type and hit Save are all the skills one needs to be a writer. You’re going about it the right way. Success will be yours.

    • It’s awesome to hear from a published author that I have a process, and that it sounds valid 😀

      I would love to hear / read about yours, btw.

      I hate the trend to rush to publication too soon. Sometimes it’s hard to resist the pressure / temptation of the current climate, but I think I’ve developed the patience to wait until it’s actually the right time.

      Back when I was first working on that section map, sources (friends, texts) told me I was just procrastinating, and that I needed to get to the writing itself. Now I wish I’d stayed with the map for another month … I’m betting I’d be done with the novel by now if I had.

      Lesson learned.

  5. […] Becoming a horror writer: now I know the difference between editing and revising a manuscript. ( […]

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