So, you’ve finished your first draft and now that enormous Word Document with the teeny tiny scroll bar is sitting in front of you. Congratulations! Whether you’re writing a full length novel, a short story or even a vignette, seeing a project all the way through to the end can be very daunting and now you’ve jumped that first hurdle.
But as you probably know, your work isn’t done yet. It isn’t humanly possible to write a manuscript that comes out perfect the first time, so now you are going to need to spend some time polishing – possibly as much time as you spent writing the thing in the first place. It can seem scary, but there are countless tried and tested techniques to help you with this stage of the process. Here are a couple of my favourites.
Chances are, you will be painfully familiar with every word of your manuscript. In fact, I’m quite sure I could recite the first page or so of mine on cue. The problem is that you are now too familiar with the work to see the bigger picture. You may still be able to spot the odd typo but it’s going to be painfully hard to identify broader problems like pace or characterisation.
Beta-readers are the poor souls who have agreed to read and comment on the unpolished manuscript and their feedback can be incredibly helpful as they are unfamiliar with the work and so have a more objective eye. But the quality of advice will depend in a large part on who you choose for this job.
I’m sure you have been told before that you shouldn’t rely on your mum to be the only beta-reader for your project. And I would extend that to include anyone who is close enough to you to be worried about your ongoing relationship. It’s not forbidden to seek to advice from your friends and family, but keep in mind that they may hesitate to give you bad news, even if you need to hear it.
In my mind, the perfect beta-reader is someone who you aren’t too close to, who fits in with your demographic and who is already enthusiastic about books in your genre. You might also consider manuscript assessment for this if you can afford it or are eligible for a grant. Personally, one of my most candid beta-readers was an intern from the company I work at – to quote a wise man, you can make interns do anything! (I’m joking, of course, she ‘volunteered’).
I’ve always enjoyed reading aloud. It really brings out the character of a book when you force yourself to slow down and listen to every word rather than skimming through the lines in your head. By the time I read out my own manuscript, I had already checked the entire text countless times and was positive that I had found every possible error. Of course, I was wrong. Although there were no major concerns by that point, I found myself making small changes on nearly every page. A different word here and an extra comma there really improved the flow, and by the time I gave it back to my beta-readers, they all said that it had noticeably improved, although none of them could quite put their finger on why.
However, this method does come with its downsides. Reading an entire novel out loud, even a short one, takes a very, very long time if you’re doing it properly. My manuscript is 67,000 words long and I split it over the course of five days. In total, it took me a little over 12 hours. So my advice to you is to keep a glass of water handy. You are going to have a sore throat.
There are many more methods for polishing which I may go over in a future article, but for now I will leave you with these two. Drop a comment and let me know what your favourite method is – I’d love to hear some new ones.
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