Editing: Let Me Count the Ways

Dear Readers,

As the first draft of my manuscript is now complete, I thought I would give you a window into the editing process. Editing is both wonderful and terrible. It’s the stage at which you get to tackle everything you didn’t like in the writing phase and find a crazy number of new things you don’t like. You lose scenes you loved. You struggle with scenes you need but don’t like. But at the end, miraculously, there’s another draft that’s so, so much better.

Then, of course, your beta readers and/or editors get their hands on it and tear it to shreds. So it goes.

When I started writing novels, I had no idea what I was doing. Some people read up on story structure and writing techniques before writing, but not me . I waited until later for that. The first time, I dove in headfirst and flailed around for a while. It worked out pretty well, being pretty much the best way for me to do anything, but I really didn’t know enough about what I was doing to know what needed edits, either.

Now I do. This is a double-edged sword. It leads to better manuscripts, but now I despise my first drafts. Ah, well. To give you an example, these are the things I’m doing on the first few rounds of edits before this goes to beta readers:

  • there are three chapters I want to cut almost all of (nothing really happens)
  • there’s an entire subplot I want to cut out, along with all the scattered references to it in the rest of the manuscript (ugh)
  • subtle but consistent references need to be made to the properties of magic in this world
  • there are some basic reader expectations of when things should be happening. You know those times when you’re reading a book or watching a movie and you think, “it really feels like something should be happening right about now”? Yeah. We want to avoid those moments of wondering. I’ll try to move plot points in line with those expectations, though perhaps without the rigid precision laid out in Larry Brooks’s Story Engineering
  • I’ll be doing a causality edit a la Jack Bickham in Scene & Structure. What this means is that I go through every scene and make sure there are ZERO leaps in logic or understanding. If something happens, there needs to be a response to that before the scene goes on. Every. Scene.
  • I’ll do a tension edit. Each page is pulled out one at a time and edited to make sure tension is building all the way through. Keeping it to one page (printed out) means that I can’t get lost in the scene and forget what I need to be doing.
  • I’ll be doing a scene purpose edit. This means I go through the scene and make sure that everything builds towards, well, the central purpose. Why is this scene in the book? (If I can’t answer that, serious changes need to be made.)
  • I’ll be doing a chapter linking edit. Is the information from the last chapter integrated? Are the transitions jarring? (Sometimes they’re meant to be, sometimes not.) Can we tell immediately how much time has passed from the last chapter and why we are where and when we are?
  • I’ll be doing a consistency and fact-checking edit. This is for details large and small: when did Character X find out about Plot Point Y? What color are Character Z’s eyes? Is that one made up word capitalized or not?
  • I’ll be doing a spelling & grammar edit. Typos, typos, typos. So many typos. I abhor them, but I make them. Don’t think you’re better than making typos. You aren’t.

Here’s the thing: over the course of this process, more things are going to come up. I’ll need to fix those as well. I may need to write new scenes as I determine I need them. I may, in fact, need to change major plot points. I won’t know until I start fixing it.

Authors, what do you do in edits? Readers, what questions do you have? Ask away!

-M

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