Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sifting the Junk From the Manuscript

© Marta Stephens 2010 all rights reserved

The past several days have been interesting writing days. My genre is crime fiction, my plots tend to be a bit complicated, but so is life. Can't remember at the moment, but isn't the ratio that one in ten people know each other? That's the base of my novels, that there are connections between characters--often times those relationships are unexpected and inconvenient for my protagonist. In the end, everything and every character mentioned in the manuscript has to have a purpose so by the time I get to the last third of the book, things had better come together or meet with the ax. To do this I keep a list of my chapters, give a brief description of what happens in each and the key points, clues, questions that come up. At times, I think of possible clues and slip them into the early chapters, but if something mentioned in chapter 12 isn't resolved or mentioned again 200 pages later, it's time to rethink my strategy.

Writing and editing for me is something like sifting the debris out of sand. Take a bucket to the beach and scoop up everything that fits into it; sand, rocks, sea shells, cigarette butts, candy wrappers. There are obviously things there that you don’t want in your bucket of sand, so you methodically pick the large pieces of junk and toss them out.

Now, empty the remaining seemingly clean buck of sand into a colander. Several more pieces of rubbish will be left behind while the smaller particles filter down through the holes. Toss that collection of junk and pour the remaining sand through a fine mesh sieve. This will leave you with exactly what you want, a product that is significantly cleaner than that first bucket of junk.


Joylene Nowell Butler said...

This ties in nicely with my rewrites and revisions, Marta. Donald Maass says that if you have 10 characters, combine at least 2. But, as you say, what if they do connect to the protagonist in an important way? I'm going to cut some of my characters by combining them, but I think you are right: if I look closely enough, there's bound to be cigarette butts in my sandbox.

Kim Smith said...

Love this analogy!

s.w. vaughn said...

What Kim said - great analogy! And now I want to go to the beach... LOL

While I sift a bit during edits, I also add things in. So, you might say I take the clean sand, add colors and make those sand art bottles we all used to do in arts & crafts at school. *G*

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Marta, what a great analogy, and right on the money, too. This is precisely why your books are so on target, focused, and well structured. You're the master of this!

Marta Stephens said...

Thanks everyone. Gladd you liked my comparison. After working on my edits for numerous weeks, I'm still taking the stones out. Sometime I feel as if I'm living the movie, "Groundhog Day."

Same thing, different day!!

David Ebright said...

From a cantankerous "beach freak", terrific analogy.