Thank you to Maddy M. for today's question:
After editing and revising, I often find I've removed the heart / voice of the manuscript. How do you get the balance right?
Ah yes, the elusive balance. Isn’t that what we search for in all aspects of our lives? And, as in our lives, balance is unique to each author.
As a writer, you are often told to revise and rewrite and revise and rewrite until the manuscript is perfect, the best it can be—and you find yourself cross-eyed and finger cramped. What you need to remember is that it is not so much how many times you go over the manuscript as HOW you go over the manuscript.
You as the author are in charge of that first draft; you have given the characters you created a journey, mission, mystery to follow, added conflict, maybe romance or dire consequences they have to face. A first draft is often a mishmash of all the thoughts and plans and ideas that came up during the initial writing—some of those idea threads might have been followed for pace and plot, but others may still be hanging there, forgotten and never used further in the story. This is where the first major revision comes in of cleaning things up, picking and choosing the threads to keep, filling them in and deleting the threads that don’t affect the story or keep it moving forward in the way you envisioned. Most important, in this step, you’ve made sure the characters have all the key elements to get them through so they come out on the other side to find their Happily Ever After.
But once that draft is finished and you’ve made your decisions, it is no longer your story. The story now belongs to your characters. Now it is time to really let them tell the story in their own way—through their points of view/perceptions. And this is what you need to keep in mind for the balance of heart and voice in your story.
Consider revisions/edits not as deleting, but as tightening a story, taking large clumps of description or dialogue and tightening them by picking and choosing very specific words and/or actions that fit the specific characters themselves. When you revise with your character in mind (how would she say this or what would he be doing specifically in that moment) then the story now becomes their story and it will be easier to keep the unique voice flowing.
As an easy example, let’s take the description of a house the character just drove up to. Maybe this house is important to the story overall or just for this moment in the scene. Either way, you don’t want the description to come from a fly on the wall, you want the description to come from the character. The writer may describe a white house on a slope with a long driveway shaded by an oak tree. Nothing wrong with that; the reader can see exactly what you tell them. (And yes, I use the word “tell” specifically LOL).
However, revised slightly to choose stronger descriptives from the specific viewpoint of your character keeps the voice of your story intact. Simply ask yourself HOW the POV character sees this house, and describe it through his/her eyes. For instance, the white house might now become a monolith with chipped white paint and crooked, dark-eyed windows staring back at her. Perhaps dried brown leaves crunch under the tires as the drooping branches of the skeletal tree hang above the car. A very different interpretation for the reader, AND seeing the house through the character’s eyes, shows the reader the house, shows the reader the character’s mood and thus keeps the character’s voice in the scene.
Take a moment to compare these two examples again side by side and see which one holds a voice, and which doesn’t.
The white house sat on a slope with a long driveway shaded by an old oak tree.
Chipped white paint peeled from the monolith hovering atop the slope. Crooked, dark-eyed windows stared down as dried leaves from a skeletal tree crunched under her tires.
Yes, this is a fairly obvious example, but do you see the difference? If you apply this theory to even the simplest of descriptions--how a character brushes his or her teeth, how a character stares down a suspect, how they talk to their parents vs their boss or a store clerk etc--it will make a big difference.
This goes for the technical aspects, too. As you proof, keep your character at the forefront of your interpretation. Decide how to make the sentence work for them within the technical boundaries of grammar and sentence structure. For instance, if the scene is an action scene, perhaps building to a tense moment, longer sentences with multiple commas and conjunctions can slow the pace. Use shorter sentences. Choose specific verbs. Keep the momentum quick. Tense. Ready to explode.
Tightening to keep the action, dialogue and descriptions in the specific POV of the character will definately help the voice hold and heart of the story hold true throughout.
Thank you again to Maddy for her question today. Maddy--I tried to contact you by email but it kept coming back--please contact me for your thank you envelope with a pen, bookmark and other fun stuff from myself and authors I have worked with.
If you would like a chance to receive a fun stuffed envelope, simply send me a question about writing, editing or the publishing process. No question is too little, too silly or should be too embarrassing to ask--knowledge is the key that opens many doors. So, go ahead and ask me: QandA@stacydholmes.com
And if I use your question on my blog, I will send you a small thank you envelope, too.