That Final Edit

Every day when I sit at my com­put­er, I see a clip­ping I cut out years ago. It’s a pic­ture of a dog and a cat. In these days of viral videos show­ing ani­mals of all kinds play­ing with each oth­er, this one typ­i­fies the usu­al belief of dogs and cats as wary ene­mies. The dog’s head seen from the rear tips ever so slight­ly toward the cat. The cat gin­ger­ly pass­es the dog while watch­ing for any way­ward move­ments. It’s an illus­tra­tion from a book for writ­ers, The Pock­et Muse. It illus­trates the sen­tence, “Most good sto­ries are about trou­ble,” and includes a list of trou­bles.

When I look at that page, even more than trou­ble, I think, sus­pense, sus­pi­cion, what if…

Today I’m pay­ing spe­cial atten­tion to that illus­tra­tion, since I’m deep into a final edit of a mys­tery, I know my read­er must have that same sense—that some­thing will sure­ly hap­pen, but not in a good way. Will the read­er be slight­ly dis­ori­ent­ed, pos­si­bly leery of ques­tion­able actions, even fear­ful of what might hap­pen to a char­ac­ter on the next page? Will the read­er turn the next page?

Ah, that is the eter­nal ques­tion.

So, even after my man­u­script has under­gone peer review with a cri­tique group, a full pro­fes­sion­al edit, and a perusal by a beta read­er, I’m going over it again. I’ve not­ed arti­cles in the recent Writ­ers’ Digest issue on revi­sion, I’m check­ing my pages for vio­la­tions of the 24 prob­lems explained in Chris Roer­den’s Don’t Mur­der Your Mys­tery. (Okay, that one is my Bible.) And, espe­cial­ly, I want to make sure each chap­ter, each scene, each page entices the read­er to eager­ly turn the page.

And, if I’m suc­cess­ful, my read­er will have a mys­tery that pro­vides exact­ly what the read­er wants—a good book—a sto­ry that sat­is­fies and pos­si­bly edu­cates in some small way.


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