You’ve all been there. Late at night, at your desk, final check of your latest Work In Progress. You’re pretty happy. Close to hitting that big green metaphorical button that says GO FOR IT!
Then something makes you frown.
There’s a mistake… <head meets desk>
Happened to me last week. My kick-ass group of teens were driving across South America, hell-bent on getting evacuated the heck out of there because, you know, stuff was going down. But then I re-did my calculations and realised their car was going to run out of fuel 300 km before the town they actually refuel at. Ouch.
I was facing a plot crisis.
Solution? Brainstorm what to do, and reject all your initial ‘ordinary’ options
That’s right. The first thing you think of? Too predictable. The second? Too boring. And the third? Don’t even go there. Keep brainstorming until you create a plot-saver’s-worth of awesome.
My thought process went like this:
Option 1) Leave it, no one else is ever going to be so pernickety that they’ll figure it out
This is the desperate writer’s plea (hey, it was late at night…!)
If you’re writing about a real place, you can rest assured someone is going to spot your inconsistency. Sure, there is always space for artistic licence. Go to that location, investigate the heck out of it, but then feel free to change a few things if they’re going to make your plot work better.
But my mistake wasn’t making my plot any better. It was simply a mistake. I’d calculated fuel efficiency, tank sizes, distances between towns. Taken into account altitude, declines, speed, inexperience of the drivers. But somewhere, I’d stuffed up.
Last week I went to a talk by the Australian Society of Authors about how the publishing scene is changing. The take-home message for me was to write really, really, really, great books. No gimmicks, just write well. (See the highly-talented Cris Burne’s write-up from that event. I was sitting next to her but I can’t beat her summary.)
Is it really, really, really good writing to leave a pointless stuff-up? No.
Reject this option.
Option 2) I know! How about they carry an extra fuel container!
Booooring! Too easy. They’re already carrying two spare fuel containers, who ever heard of a car with three? In fact, <sound of calculator keys> they’d need four. Not even happening.
I’m better than this.
Option 3) How about they refuel at another town?
The lazy writer’s solution… a quick check of the map and my memory confirmed no other towns big enough to plausibly have fuel in the scenario my novel is set within. Plus, how boring would it be to just easily fuel up right when they need to?
Hang on… isn’t that how my plot currently pans out? Ouch! <head hits desk again> Double plot problem! I don’t want boring! I don’t want easy!
Option 4) How about they save fuel coasting down the Andes?
Interesting… these guys are teens, but one of my characters is awesome with cars, she’d definitely know how to do this. But do I?
All I know is some cars lock the steering when you turn off the engine to coast. Hmmm, then they would crash… exciting option, but I do want them to make it to Lima.
Option 5) How about they siphon fuel from an abandoned car?
Now we’re talking. The whole world is in crisis, there would definitely be abandoned cars hanging around the windswept desert. They’d lose time doing it, and I’d have to figure out HOW to do it (yeah, no misspent youth here…).
Option 6) Ohmigoodnessme! They siphon the fuel and that allows the Bad Guy to catch them up!!!
18-carat plot gold here. An awesome opportunity for pain, struggle, tension, crisis!
Yes! Opportunities galore! This is going to make my plot so much better, no one will have fingernails left by the end of reading it…
Take-home message? Relax…
We all make mistakes, but we’re writers so we don’t need to be ruled by them.
That’s why we invented editing.
Don’t ignore errors (that would be an actual mistake!). Don’t get upset either. Give yourself a high-5 for finding it, and turn it into something way more awesome. Mistakes are just opportunities for improvement.
Now, I’m off to work out how to siphon a fuel tank…
Fixed any annoying errors in your manuscripts lately?
4 thoughts on “Editing: How to turn your manuscript mistakes into opportunities for awesome”
If deadline permits, delay sending your final edit for 24 hours. Even eight helps. Get away from the keyboard and stop looking at the MS. During this period your mind will be endlessly editing and you’ll be thinking of all the little bits you couldn’t work out before. (And I hope any major bits) At the end of the waiting period you may be ready to make that final final. The desire to get the writing out the door often overcomes us. It’s best to hold back. And, yes, even when the file goes flying off, you’ll be still thinking about it. But you gave yourself one last chance to correct it.
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Too true! Stepping away refreshes your head. I purposefully hadn’t looked at this MS for months, and I think that’s how I finally saw my error…
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Heather, great article! You’ve nailed one of the double-edged swords of writing- the annoying implausibility that really challenges us as writers. Thank you for sharing.
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Thanks Steven, great to hear you liked it!
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