One meets the most interesting people while coordinating contests. Pepperdine Professor Jody Brightman is a prime example. Check out her Storytracker method. I think she may be on to something. Note: Jody's the one with the rose.
RACE to Revise: Four Quick Steps from SPEW to Manuscript
by Jody Brightman
Do you have a finished manuscript? Are you like me, dreading the R-word: revision? Well, I worked out a way to RACE through the process. Yes, it’s an acronym: Read; Add; Cut; Edit. But it’s also good advice – speed through your rewrite. The book will be tighter, fresher – and out the door.
Once you’ve finished a complete draft, give yourself a pat on the back and take off a week or two. You’ve earned it. But while you’re dallying, block out a long weekend on your calendar. Stockpile editing tools: packs of sticky tabs in multiple colors, a notebook, pens and highlighters. Print out a blank Storytracker sheet. (I use an Excel spreadsheet I call the Storytracker to track scenes and character profiles. If you’d like to try it, email me at email@example.com.) Of course, you can use index cards, yellow stickies, a whiteboard or anything else that works for you.
Now, print out your manuscript – and SHOW IT TO NO ONE. This is your closet draft. The one you’ll bury in a boot box behind your jeans and bridesmaids’ gowns. It’s not fit for critical readership by anyone but you, because only a mother loves a SPEW draft.
When the reading day finally arrives, turn off the TV, phone and Internet. Grab your book and tools and crawl into a comfy chair. It has just become a deconstruction zone.
R – READ Your MS
READ your entire manuscript, start to finish, with as few interruptions as possible. Be an active reader. Really enjoy your book while juggling a writing pen and a highlighter and sticking colored tabs on the pages.
· Every time the scene changes, note that in your Storytracker.
· Every time you introduce a character, note that in the Storytracker.
· Every time you see something, large or small, you want to change, put it in your notebook, including the page number.
· Every time your prose is riveting, put a “+” in the margin; when it’s slow, put a “—“.
· Every time you change POV, put a colored tab on the top of the page. I use red for the heroine; blue for the hero. Your choice.
· Every time you hit a plot point, put a colored tab on the side of the page. I use green for external plot and pink for romance, with red for “hot” scenes. I add a white, write-on tab for turning points.
When you’re done, your manuscript will be a rainbowed porcupine, but you will have accomplished two critical tasks. You’ll have a roadmap for your editorial next steps and you’ll know your book’s theme.
What is theme and why does anybody care? It’s what your book is about – in a nutshell. It’s the emotional core that unifies the book. Theme can usually be distilled into one or two words: vengeance, greed, betrayal, family, truth, self-esteem. Post your word on a sticky by the computer – it will be your North Star. During Step Three, when you start to cut, you’ll eliminate every bit of backstory or scenic business that is off-theme. Staying on theme is what keeps the reader enthralled.
A - ADD to Your MS
In a first draft, almost everybody leaves out some crucial bit of information that sets up a plot point. Look through your notebook and ADD passages for everything you omitted. Also, look at your colored tabs. Do you have (at least) three red, “hot scene” tabs on the side? If not, ADD a sizzler or two.
C – CUT and CHANGE Your MS
1. Now, comes the tougher part: CUT. You have a big, fat, beautiful book in desperate need of a colonic. Purge the waste.
· Make your first pass an easy one: search-and-destroy every “ly”. Those pesky, lazy adverbs are history. As they pop up, play a game with yourself to find a better verb for every adverb.
· Once you feel good about yourself for getting rid of lazy writing, browse the Storytracker and CUT every scene that didn’t move the action or wasn’t on theme.
· Kill every secondary character who didn’t either move the plot or add a critical dimension to a protagonist. Zap! It will feel wonderful!
· Pick up the book and scan for “minus” in the margins. CUT out or pare down all the dull passages. Snip! Snip!
· Finally, put your book on an adjective diet. Personally, I have a bad habit of kitchen-sinking my modifiers, so I try to CUT almost all the dangling modifier phrases and half the adjectives. A skinnier book is tighter, faster-to-read, and more satisfying for the reader. Let ‘er rip!
2. The C-Step has a second meaning: CHANGE. Scan the tabs at the top of the page. You may find you’ve stayed too long in one person’s head. Unless you’re writing in first-person, make sure you’ve got a reasonable mix of colored tabs. Would a scene work better from another perspective?
· Now, look at your side tabs. Are there too many white pages between plot points? Maybe you need to move a scene to build tension.
(A suggestion: set a deadline for Step Three. It’s easy to let your left brain take control of the book. Beware! It will suck out your book’s life like a vampire. Drive a stake through its rational soul by allowing it limited access to the heart of your story.)
E – EDIT Your MS
Still with me? We’re at the final step: EDIT. This is a copy-edit, what you were itching to do when we first started the process. Save it for last, because it’s both easy and a tempting time-waster. In this pass, you’ll fix whatever your autopilot habit is. (Mine is “but”. For others, it’s “then” and “now”.) Use Word, to search and amend. Spell check. Grammar check. And, read the book once more, preferably aloud. You’ll catch some glitches, I’m sure. Fix them quickly and deem the book “done”.Congratulations! You have a finished manuscript.
Jody Brightman is a university professor and long-time columnist who turned to fiction last year. She has completed