The challenge of reading my own work

I am currently editing my manuscript for the first book in the MORE series, and it has been quite an interesting journey. I love the editing process. I love to take the ideas I’ve come up with and rework and rework until the words fit exactly what my characters are doing and thinking and feeling. I’ve made a lot of the basic changes already (removing passive voice, punching up the verbs and descriptions, fixing typos, etc.), but I worry about the plot and character development.  How do I know if the work creates the dramatic build-up that I am looking for? How do I know if the passion, tension, and emotions translate as I planned?

With rereading comes redundancy. The difficult part of writing (for me) is the work is never fresh after the first draft. I will never read it from a new “reader’s” perspective. Even if I put the manuscript down for a few weeks or months. It will never be a story and characters that I uncover for the first time. After I am happy with the plot, I consider the first draft complete. Once that is set, I will always know where the story is going and what will happen (unless my muse decides to slash the first draft into bits and pieces and come up with something new).

So how does a writer figure out if the wording, the character development, or the flow of the plot is working from a new reader’s perspective?

Have someone else read it, of course.

I can edit and edit until my heart’s content, making grammatical changes, editing out passive writing, removing redundancies, but I will never know if the story works and creates enough drama for first time readers without letting someone else read it.

And that’s the hard part for some people: giving their work to peers/reviewers. You are putting yourself out there to be critiqued and that can be hard to take. It is important, though, to have fresh eyes look over your work before you ever think of sending it to a publisher/editor. You need to know the reactions and opinions of others to know if the work will be interpreted as you intended it to be. You can love your own story all you want, but if no one else “gets it” then no one will probably want to buy it.

When I give my writing to someone else, I ask them to mark the manuscript with a red pen so that I know reactions/questions/comments and when he/she took note of those. Here are some instructions I pass along to my reviewers:

  • Don’t consciously look for errors, but do mark any you notice. (I want them to be reading for the story at this point, not editing for errors. But if they do find them, this will tell me those errors were glaring enough that they pulled the reader out of the story.)
  • Write down what questions you have as you read it, including questions about where the plot is going, anything you don’t understand, a character that you can’t remember from earlier in the story, etc. (This will help me see if they are asking the questions I want them to be asking or if I need to clarify something I thought the reader should understand.)
  • Write down any predictions about plot lines, conclusions, character development. (These “guesses” will help me see what the reader is expecting…sometimes they’ll be right on and sometimes they won’t. I believe fiction should include a mix of both. The story can’t be so off that it doesn’t make sense, but it also should leave the readers with important surprises.)
  • Mark the points at which you put down the story and mark why you did, even if this is because you had to do the laundry or go to sleep. (This helps me understand at which point the story became dull or slow enough for the reader to take a break. Maybe it was a point I thought was full of suspense–which would clue me into the fact that I need to rewrite it.)
  • Mark at which point you realized you found a particular character likeable and add a short reason why. (This helps me see what character development pieces help to create likeable characters.)

This process has helped me to fix some miscommunications that I didn’t even know existed. Sometimes, word choices that make sense in my head, don’t always translate to the page as well as I thought.

Edited to change series name, 2014