Wait! 1250 words! How did that happen? Last time I'd checked it was 350.
The first edit knocked out 150, the second another 50. There was still three hundred words to be eliminated. Sentences, assessed as essential in previous edits, disappeared. Even whole paragraphs. What was the criteria for deletion? 'Does the plot survive without this information?' When I submitted the story, it won a place in a book titled 'Mixed Blessings.' Forty percent of the words had been deemed unnecessary. In truth, the exercise had sharpened the entry.
The next day, I scanned the finalist list of the Caleb unpublished manuscript awards. My book, El Shaddai, was not listed. Firmly I reminded myself, 'You entered to get the feedback. You knew it wasn't in good enough shape to win.' A report,ten pages long, had arrived some weeks earlier. Excited, I had looked for critical feedback, any comment that would help to raise the standard of my manuscript.
What I found stunned me. The work, in the reviewer's opinion, needed a major structural edit as the climax was not near the end of the book. I grappled with the comment. Due to previous edits I knew there were very few pages after the climax. Flicking through the report I discovered the problem. The reader had missed the entire plot.
It took a week to interpret the learning I'd paid an entry fee to acquire. The plot, albeit unusual, was not written clearly enough. One of the subplots had jumped up and usurped the position. This work doesn't need a structural edit, but a strengthening of the story line. Yes, I received my money's worth and my pride will recover!
A week later I discussed this problem with my co-author, otherwise known as the Holy Spirit. I was driving at the time. It is one of those occasions when the particular roundabout will forever be burned into my memory.
'Just as you did with the short piece, take every scene, every sentence, every phrase captive and make it obey.'
Obey what? Scripture calls me to make my thoughts obey Christ, but what must this manuscript obey?
Then the penny dropped. I hadn't really defined the aim of this book. It had begun with a vague idea and developed into a great story.
Belatedly, I wrote a synopsis. It summarised the plot, but there was still something missing.
Why does this book exist? That was the question. What right does it have to find a place in the mountain of writings and novels flooding our bookstores, ipads and airwaves? Why should anyone choose to read this story?
I'm reminded I write to bring a message. At a 'Purpose Driven Life' seminar many years ago, my life was reduced to five words. 'I exist to inspire greatness.' It may sound arrogant, but I love to encourage people to higher levels of faith, love, achievement and joy. This phrase has become a yardstick in my life. My writing must be consistent with my purpose.
Likewise, my book needed a purpose statement. How does it inspire my readers to grow? Every scene, every sentence, every phrase must be taken captive and made obey that criteria.
Now I have the aim and the plot clear, it's time to start work. I'm excited. The 'Delete' box may need to be emptied a few times, but the manuscript will be sharper.
How do you sharpen your work? Any tips for this 'L' plate author?
Jo Wanmer loves the beach, but writes from a messy desk, looking over her backyard in the outskirts of Brisbane. Often her fingers are much slower than the ideas, rendering the manuscript a mess of red squiggles. Other times the fingers hang over the keys begging the right words to drop onto the page. To her delight her first book, Though the Bud be Bruised, is still bring healing and inspiration into lives. 'El Shaddai', and 'In the Shadow of El Shaddai' are still being forced to conform to publishable standards.