And so it begins...
Let me help you right now--let me save you the grindstone headache, and start you off with a simple keystroke command: Ctrl-Enter! It's simple really; so simple. But if you're anything like me, you'll only begin your Google search for the "proper novel manuscript format" after you've completed your 1st draft and begun to flick and prod at your text like an orangutan picking ticks from his/her fellow hairy beasties.
Because, that's exactly how I felt: like the last one to know. Ha-ha, the jokes on you. You're not one of the cool kids. You're the loser in the corner and everyone thinks you're a freak because you read and use your imagination and missed the latest episode of Two and a Half Men--you know, the one without the hilariously drugged-up Mr. Sheen anymore...
But, I digress. Hit Ctrl-Enter at the end of each and every one of your chapters to insert a page break so that as you're combing the depths of all those carefully arranged words, making changes (minute of otherwise), you don't hit the 'frappe' button and blend your novel into some sort of verbose soupy substance--good luck getting it all back together again after that. Using the page breaks at the beginning will save you during the manuscript formatting process, which I will get to in another post.
Begin your editing process with a gameplan, with methodical momentum--DO NOT dive in without taking the time to get all your thoughts, and notes, and caffeine-infused pizza snacks together!
Here's what you need to do:
- Print your manuscript onto some good-ol-fashioned paper, double-spaced, with wide margins. And don't fight this one--your words look different on paper than on computer! (That, and you can't scribble your schizophrenic notes all over a computer screen!)
- Sit down with a blank notebook, your notes, and decent pen (I prefer a fine point with green ink), and read the damn thing from beginning to end. Pretend, the best you can, that you've never read this stuff before and don't get all caught up in the language particulars just yet.
Here's what you're looking for:
- Character Consistencies: Does this character appear all the way through the book and with purpose? Does he/she act the same way? Does he/she change and is there sufficient character development to warrant this change? Does he/she act according to his/her motivations? What are those motivations? Is his/her dialogue consistent throughout?
- Story Consistencies: Are all ideas and actions introduced at the beginning followed through with to the end? Does each and every scene function properly and are they all necessary?
- Literacy: Is your grammar grammatical? Do such things as tense, and tone, and point of view remain consistent? Mark up the sections that need some major work and come back to them later.
As you read go ahead and mark all the little spelling and and awkward sentences and typing errors. At the same time, mark off the big errors. Use an asterisk or a big squiggly line, like I do, and jot down a few notes in your notebook so you can come back later and systematically re-write and fix.
Don't be afraid to cross things out! When a scene doesn't work, that's that! When you got carried away and wrote one of those page-long, single-paragraph, semicolon-obsessed descriptions of the god-forsaken landscape, you were probably too impressed with your superior grasp of the English language to stop and think how bored your readers we be with such an abomination. Cross the whole fucking page in a big inky X and move on.
Have you met the objectives of your story? Does the beginning work? How about the end? Did you resolve your theme and character conflicts? All must be resolved!
Does your primary plotline have an acceptable story arc? How about your subplots? All must be resolved!
- Okay, now you've taken your time to carefully read through and mark up your manuscript.
Now, go back and start writing some more. DO NOT do this before you have read all the way through your novel, because as you get to the end you'll find places where you've jumped to conclusions that you'll need to support earlier in the book. Re-write scenes that don't work or cut them entirely. Write new scenes that are necessary. Fix your dialogue. Fix awkward sentences and paragraphs and sections.
And after you've completed all these things? Congrats. You have a 2nd draft. Drink some alcohol. Eat something sweet and fatty. Celebrate a little. Then get ready for more...
Start from the beginning and read the whole damn thing again! Fix your grammar and typos. And there may be more edits required. But, if you were careful and meticulous with your 2nd draft, there shouldn't be as many issues on the 3rd.
Then, it's time to format your manuscript, and that's where all those Ctrl-Enter page breaks you put in at the end of your chapters is really going to help you out.
Here's how to format your manuscript...