Your fingers fly across the keyboard, pounding away at the keys. The moment has arrived. You type that final sentence, those final, words, "and they lived happily ever after," and you sit back in your chair, fold your hands behind your head, and smile. You've finished your novel, and all is right with the world.
Not quite. Your novel may be finished, but it's not "finished." Now begins the long process of revision and rewriting. First, take some time away from your manuscript. I know, it's your baby, and you can't wait to get it into the hands of an agent. But before you begin rewriting, you need some distance, some time to take a step back and relook what you've written with a fresh and critical eye. Take a week off, two weeks, a month, however long you need.
During that time, I recommend you read four books.
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King is an instruction manual that offers the wisdom of two experienced editors. They guide you through the mechanics of dialogue, characterization, point of view, and other essential elements of a good novel. Each chapter ends with a checklist of items to use in polishing your work.
Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore by Elizabeth Lyon, takes a similar approach. A profession editor holds your hand and walks you through the revision and rewriting process step-by-step. If you aren't exactly sure how to define rewriting or what all it encompasses, this book is for you. The book is extremely well organized, and, like Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, each chapter ends with a succinct checklist.
On Writing by Stephen King is really two books. The first is a memoir of Stephen King's journey from childhood to adulthood, an autobiography of how he came to be one of the greatest fiction novelists of our time. A great read. However, the second part of the book is where you need to focus. Stephen King provides you with a toolkit--a reading list, writing assignments, a corrected story, simple advice on word structure and grammar, plot and character, the basic building blocks of a paragraph, and literary models. It's invaluable.
However, if you only read one book, make it The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition by William Shrunk and E.B. White. Simply put, it is the most compact and lucid handbook available on the basic principles of composition, grammar, word usage and misusage, and writing style.
Once you’ve finished these four books, don’t put them away. Use them to polish your manuscript and create a finished product that will make your chest swell with pride and your agent--and your readers--beg for more.
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