I’m writing my fourth manuscript, and I have completed my first act on page 70. But I’m making the same mistakes as I have in previous manuscripts. It’s easy to do. I’ll tell you how and why so you avoid doing the same thing.
Backstory: After not selling my second manuscript, I decided to write the third manuscript with a critique group, thinking that I’d get feedback early on to make the revision process less painful. Did it help? No, in fact, it made the revision process worse. The reason? Critique groups usually operate by evaluating no more than two chapters at a time rotating among members. The process went on for far too long, and because the writers were reading in finite clumps of script, they couldn’t see the overall picture to catch developmental problems until the last chapters—if then since some forgot the details of the script by the time we got to the end—almost two years later.
What I received from the critique group was mainly line editing. The experience was one that I will never put myself through again. In fact, I’m the only member of the critique group left as the other four dropped out of the SinC Guppies writing group.
I fault myself. Due to not selling my second manuscript, my confidence faltered. Relying on the critique group didn’t work. This time, I’ve decided to write the first draft, refine it, and then put it out for review in its entirety. But I’ve been making the same processing mistakes on my own.
The Mistake: When I read through my completed first act, I realized that I had abbreviated the words “private investigator” by first typing it PI and then later as P.I. I’ve seen it written in novels both ways, and I think it is more correct to have the periods after the letters, but all of those periods make readers cranky. So from a publishing perspective, I’m not sure how editors handle that problem. The point being, that I went into my script with the find and replace edit and messed up my 70 pages. Instead of doing what I asked, it took every word that had a “p” and an “i” together and made them “P.I.” so now “pick’ is P.I.ck and “pineapple” is P.I.neapple. Yes, after my careful wordsmithing and editing, it went through and made a mess. Find and replace evidently ignores capital letters. But, during the correction process, I realized that I had overused the word “picks” or “picks up” in the script so I started word editing.
When I was a child, my father and grandfather would ask, “Have you asked any good questions today?” I used the find and replace example above to show how inappropriate that type of editing is at this stage of my manuscript, and how it led to further problems. That’s the mistake I made.
I’m losing my perspective—getting lost in the forest of words without seeing their content. When I saw that I’d abbreviated “private investigator” in two ways, I immediately hit the editing button. What should I have done? Ignore it because those types of edits aren’t important at this stage of my WIP. The question of word editing distracted me from asking the right questions.
The Solution: What I should have been evaluating my script for is concept and content by asking questions such as—Have I
· Hooked the reader
· Given the reader enough information to intrigue them or have I confused them by not giving them enough information
· Is my unique situation too narrow or will it appeal because of its quirkiness
· Because of backstory, which I will reveal eventually, will my main character be likeable even if she puts up with too much malarkey from her significant other and his daughter or will readers find her frustrating
· Are the cases from the past and the present too similar at least at the onset that readers will become disenchanted by the coincidence?
At this point I must stop until I have answered those questions. Because if I answer “no” to any of the above questions, it will change how I write the second act. If I must provide the reader with more information in the first act, my second-act investigation won’t have to “discover” those facts. Proceeding further without answering those questions will only result in major revisions, which stopped me from finishing my last manuscript, a result that I don’t want for this WIP.
I’ve decided to hire an editor to help me answer those questions before I continue. Getting another’s perspective, a professional’s, will help me answer those questions. This type of editing is called content or developmental review, which some editors specialize in providing while others do line editing, which concentrates on grammar—only appropriate after the WIP is complete and polished.
I need another set of eyes to monitor the big picture so that I can work on the details. This seems like a plotting problem, but it isn’t really. I know the backstory and how my character becomes involved. I know how and what she will find resulting from her investigation. I know how the book ends, who is guilty and how that leaves my main character. What I need to know is if I am presenting the story to the reader in the best possible way.
I’d rather get a professional evaluation now then have to revise later. Perhaps I’ve become revision phobic because of my last WIP, but to me this script is worth the effort.
Have you ever hired a developmental editor? Did you get good advice?