Scrubbing a Manuscript

Just realized my few story-telling tips I took down after deleting Storytella’s blog. But rather than repost that post, I’ll blog the post in another way.

In short (my now favored phrase), my big tip on rolling out stories is always to begin with a small premise. The premise can be something as simple as deciding to join a gym. Grid the premise out, which ‘gridding’ is basically your outline…first this, then that, then this…and so forth and so on, to give that beginning, middle, and trusty old ending. And I know, it sounds simple, and truly it is, although perhaps in another post I’ll put it in paragraph form. But just think how many of these thousands of simple premises we come across daily. That’s essentially thousands of stories a day! Imagine that…except, then there’s the scrub. And, oh boy.

Tweezing, or scrubbing a manuscript is generally the toughest part of the entire writing process. I say generally because each story often takes a writer through a different process. At least it does for me. Which is how I plan to introduce this post…shuffling through various books I’ve written to typify elements of creating novels.

Credulity is what I recognize when I think back on my first novel, Leiatra’s Rhapsody. The long story. After coming across a publisher’s wish-list of what was expected for first time novelists, the first, and likely only line I read, was that novels needed to be at least 80,000 words, and never should exceed 100,000 words for first-timers.

Now there are two things about this bit of info. 1) It never was my intention, and neither did I ever try to query anyone, publisher or otherwise, about publishing Leiatra’s Rhapsody. And 2) which is even funnier, I totally disregarded this advice, writing like a tornado on speed to dole out 100,000 plus words.

Like, ‘what the ---’ And just what does this have to do with a scrub?

Well, unlike any of my other novels, I built Leiatra’s Rhapsody around a thoroughly gridded-out outline and credulously scrubbed it raw based on feedback received on the original draft. No, the story and central characters never changed. I solely went back and answered questions, turning what actually was 75,000 words into 100,000+ words.

Otherwise, most of my work falls in this category. A fairly nice writing experience.

Hell is what happened in writing Pretty Inside Out and Black Table, and oh dear Lord, my upcoming mystery piece! Yes, all hell broke loose trying to scrub these works. The first two, Pretty Inside Out and Black Table, is where I stopped with the outlining. And don’t get me wrong. Outlining a story does work. I, in fact, strongly suggest beginning with an outline… something like how I started my children out by putting training wheels on their first bike. But the point here is it didn’t work with these stories. The original drafts were one faint hell of a mess.

Magic is where you literally just write. A week and you might have 60,000 (USEABLE) words. You go back in to make sure you’ve answered as many questions as you can possibly think of that may later arise… resulting in another 20,000, or so words. Maybe you’ll even go in for another round. The point here is how everything meshes, or comes together…essentially like magic. It happened to me in writing Something Xtra Wild and Pleasure.

Now those are some things that can happen during a scrub. And just for clarity’s sake, credulity is a pleasant experience. Magic obviously is the optimum experience. And the other is self-explanatory. Here are several important elements I look for during a scrub. And be reminded, the scrub comes AFTER a body has been built around the premise. Again, a subject for another post…or lecture.

Credulity: Based on feedback I’ve received, I now actually look for spots I may need to ‘draw out’ more. Flushing out the story it’s called.

Tailoring: Taking in the story. Removing as many words as I can get away with, without getting those little green squiggly lines. And unless it’s lit, I also prefer shorter sentences. Occasionally I’ll say to heck with it, and will take one sentence down to the bottom of the page and carry it over to the next page, but I try to avoid it. Not only is the pacing better for readers. The pacing is better for continuing the writing momentum too…you know, avoiding writer’s block.

The Cringe Factor: If it pricks my skin, makes me roll my eyes to the top of my head, or if I worry about what…let’s say…mama might think, or if it gives me any adverse reaction when I come across it…I REMOVE IT! Can’t over emphasize how important this part of the scrub is.

Sit the Preaching in a Pew: Speaking of cringing…one thing that makes me cringe harder than anything, and that’s when I come across a preachy line. Storytelling is so crucial that I pull anything that comes across preachy. Point of views from my point of view does not belong in fiction. Non-fiction or memoirs, fine. But not fiction.

External Fact Checking: I rarely consult other references. I really don’t even like consulting a thesaurus (though I will if pushed)…not unless I’m getting into some lit. For lit I’ll sit a 20-pound dictionary in my lap. The facts I typically check are correct spellings for places or locations. This is because, and taking from another bit of advice, I (thus far) stick with subjects I’m familiar with. And just to clip on this…and read it quick because it’s a big tip I don’t plan to repeat…authenticity is a primary feature of novel work.

Internal Fact Checking: This truly is a hard one, and perhaps where hell is more apt to butt heads and break loose. On the light side of hope, I may be looking for typos on internal facts such as, making sure he wore shoes at the party and not typing sneaks. On the other side of hope, it’s possible that it might look like I want to pick up my PC and hurl it out a window the story is so twisted. Let me stop. I’ve never gotten like this. But I have reached this fact checking point and have become terribly, terribly miserable. Going on repeat here, scrubbing stories can be tough.