The Miniscript

(This is a repost of a LiveJournal entry from 2007.)

This is one of those working habits that probably isn’t a good idea. But it’s how I work; Midnight Never Come is the eighth iteration of this approach. I’m used to it. And it has its benefits.

When I finished writing my first novel, I took a little time off, and then I started editing. Step one, of course, was to read through the novel, at which stage I marked it up with the major changes that needed to be made: continuity errors, bits that needed tightening, awkward sections, things I had to mention earlier or not drop later. This is, in my head, the “chainsaw edit” — the stage at which I take a chainsaw to the story. I mark it up with a red pen, and the goal is to make it look like I bled on the printout. If a page gets by clean, I feel like I’m not trying hard enough.

But what you have to bear in mind is that a page, in this situation, is not a standard manuscript formatted page of novel. It’s a miniscript page.

The miniscript is the part that’s probably a bad idea, but it has historical justification. The Harvard Band was going to some away game — Princeton or Cornell or some place we took a bus to the night before. Since I was always on the Study Bus (as opposed to the Raunch Bus), I decided I would use the trip as a chance to read through the novel. But even in my usual formatting (Times New Roman 12 pt., single-spaced), that was 198 pages of book, which is an awful lot to haul around. I decided to make it smaller.

The result was something my brain immediately dubbed the “miniscript,” the mini-manuscript. Times New Roman, 8 pt., full justification, half-inch margins, delete all page breaks between chapters, print on both sides of the page. Hole-punch the edge and secure it with those little metal rings, and you’ve got yourself a novel on forty pieces of paper — less if it’s a short novel, more if I ever write something that goes substantially past the 120K mark. I have eight of these things now. Maybe more; I can’t remember if I printed a miniscript for the atrocious first draft of Sunlight and Storm, or the revised draft of TNFKASotS*. I go through and mark them up with the red-pen chainsaw edit; then I go through again with a green pen, doing the line-edit. (That’s useless in places where I’ve radically changed scenes, but I just skip over those.)

What you need, to try this at home: forty pieces of paper (give or take), three metal rings, a red pen, a green pen, and microscopic handwriting.

Is it the best way to edit a novel? Probably not. But it’s how I edit a novel. Which is why the miniscript of Midnight Never Come came with me on a plane to Dallas, and acquired a sizeable bloodstain that has nothing to do with the quality of the story; my pen exploded during the flight. For portability, the miniscript can’t be beat.

*The Novel Formerly Known As SotS. That’s an acronym at the end, for the original title, which I’m not using so I’ll stop thinking about the book by that name. I’m failing, but I keep trying. My problems would be much reduced if I could just come up with a title I like.