Good morning, readers. For all the hours it took to actually finish my novel’s first draft, it rarely felt like ‘work’ in the traditional sense. Staring at the angry, snorting bull of editing and the horns of the second draft right in the face, I feel a cold sweat pooling on my forehead as I contemplate grabbing those horns and wrestling a good manuscript into submission. Make no mistake, this definitely feels like work. As I mentioned last week, the draft is currently curing in a drawer while I gain distance and objectivity. In the interim, I am preparing, and would like to share my Editing Plan with you, readers. Hopefully other novel novelists (I’m sorry) out there find something worth imitating or tweaking or throwing out completely somewhere in all this.
Task 1: Review Plot
The pros call this developmental editing. I know that somewhere in the tapestry of my mystery, I have certainly left a thread or two dangling. I also have an itch in the back of my mind whispering that I have redundant revelations. The characters should not learn the same thing for the first time on both pages 120 and 70. That would annoy me as a reader. The last time I checked, the goal is to avoid annoyance. If I can accomplish that, I’ll call this whole writing endeavor a success.
This is also the phase to kill and cut. I need to take a hard look at each chapter, each scene, and ask what it contributes to the overall narrative. I have two in mind right now that are probably just spinning wheels, going nowhere. Check out the files size for my acts below. One of these things is not like the others. Act 3 is crying out for a red pen.
Task 2: Round out Characters
I found in the course of writing that some characters surprised me. I learned things about them as logical reactions presented themselves. I want to go back through and make sure that those character developments are clearly rooted in the earlier text. The questions for this phase include: are the characters on the page the same as the characters in my head? Are their motivations, desires, priorities, quirks, strengths, and weaknesses clear? Are their relationships to one another clear? Are their actions consistent?
This is the phase where I need to fix one of the major sins in my first draft. Have you ever been in this boat, reader, when you followed a particular plot thread so long that you neglected another? I realized somewhere in the middle of the novel that I focused on the mystery and the protagonists so long that ~30,000 words passed without hearing from the antagonists. It may not be a rule that we need to bounce perspectives between the two, but in this case I feel that marginalizing the villains so thoroughly minimizes the threat, lowering the stakes. The reader would be excused for forgetting about them.
Task 3: Strengthen Scenes
I found nailing the perfect balance for establishing a sense of place difficult. I either did too much, leaning towards purple prose, or too little, where I have characters acting on a blank white canvas.
This phase is a second opportunity to make cuts, not from the perspective of the overall plot, but with an eye towards pacing. I don’t know about you, reader, but a book that drags in the middle will make me put it down every time. I can think of at least three such partially-read volumes on my bookshelf right now. Interesting stories have peaks and valleys of tension throughout, in an ever-rising trajectory of increasing stakes.
Task 4: The Nitty Gritty of Grammar
I know that it will be difficult to avoid tackling this step in the course of everything else, but I want to resist that temptation to make the first passes go more quickly. This final phase is the wax coat of the literary car wash – the time to check for cardinal sins. I know that I have a few.
Is the writing characterized by a voice that is passive (see what I did there?), or is it tight? Do I use too many cute dialogue tags? Is there a more powerful, clear, or succinct way to convey the same idea? Is that adverb really necessary?
When I was a child, I loved reading, and I loved creating stories. I used to tell my friends and family that I wanted to be an author. Somewhere along the line, I grew fearful, and practical. Perhaps that was a good thing. We’ll never know. In the end, as a young adult I lacked the courage to follow through on my dream. Therefore, I am basically self-taught. Praise be for the internet, which has a wealth of resources for learning the craft.
I found these articles to be useful:
5 Steps (Make sure to download the checklist. It’s worth it.)
Don’t Be Boring
Keep it Tight
Don’t Screw Up
Bring the Action to Life
Bring Characters to Life
What are your methods, rules, or experiences editing? Let us know in the comments, and thank you for reading!