Now that you’ve taken some time off from your manuscript, you can approach it as a reader would.
Read through your novel as quickly as possible to get a feel for the story. Do this in whatever way is comfortable for you. At your local office supply and copy center, you can have your manuscript printed double-sided and spiral bound, to recreate the feeling of reading a book. Some writers print their manuscripts on three-hole-punched paper and put them in three-ring binders. Others load the document on an e-reader or tablet to get away from the computer.
The goal is to put yourself in the reader’s place. How will this story look to someone who hasn’t been living with it for years?
On this first read-through, you’re not looking for typos or other small errors. You’re looking to see that the major story elements are in place.
Every editor and writer has their own definition of “story.” Mine is this:
Character + Plot = Story
You need both sympathetic characters and a profluent plot to create an engaging story.
Profluent is an excellent word that not enough writers know. I learned it from John Gardner, who uses it in The Art of Fiction to describe a plot that comprises “a sequence of causally related events.” The word literally means to flow forth like a river.
So in your first read, you are mainly looking for these two major elements, Character and Plot, and how they work together to create the Story. Focus on the big picture and save the small stuff for later.
Try not to edit at this point. Just make notes about things you notice. For example, if one of your characters wears reading glasses, and you notice there’s a scene where she’s reading without them, don’t stop to fix the scene right then. Just make a marginal note (or use Word’s “comment” feature) to add the glasses. Later.
If you stop to edit at this point, the read-through will take too long. The goal is to get through it in as short a time as possible so you have the whole story in your head as you examine these major elements. Although a casual reader might take a week or two to read a novel, ideally as the editing writer, you want to read through it much faster. If you can take a weekend, or a couple of days off work, and read through your whole book in one or two days, that’s ideal.
One thing you could do at this stage would be to note the date and time of each scene. This will help you ensure everything is in chronological order. But you can also do that in the next pass.
As you read, highlight things that need to be recorded for continuity: character descriptions, place names, etc. Just highlight them and keep going. After you finish the read through, add your highlighted items to the style sheet.
Next time, we’ll look at how to develop an editing plan.
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