Friday, January 9, 2015

How I Edit

I recently dusted off the first draft of the sequel to HOUR OF MISCHIEF. I always give myself about two months in between writing the draft and editing it because it helps to give me some space from the work before I really dive in. Today's post concerns the diving in.


I have a pretty efficient system now when it comes to editing my work. But I didn't always and I used to be VERY bad at editing. It was watching Ava Jae's video about editing, here, that I realized why.

I used to be a chapter by chapter editor. I would look at one chapter and try to fix all of the problems. But that was a one track way for me to miss a lot of errors. Simply put, I need focus in order to become a good editor. So I switched, eventually, to another method. I would go through the whole manuscript looking for one problem. That worked much better for me and improved my manuscripts greatly. In the end I ended up with 10 rounds of editing. Yup. Ten.

We all have our different ways of editing, so here's mine. I present: My 10 Rounds of Edits after the first read through.

Edit 1- Plot and Story Structure

This is the most involved edit as it often involves me rewriting or reordering whole sections of the manuscript. The first draft places the bare bones, but sometimes the bare bones are in the wrong place, or even unnecessary. This is the edit where scenes will be added, cut or moved around. In the case of my most recent MS, I will be completely restructuring the opening fifty pages to make them faster and more interesting. It definitely takes the longest but I don't worry about any specifics while I'm doing it. Just the plot and story structure.

Edit 2- World building

This is an essential edit to any fantasy manuscript. Worlds are made up of details and it can be tough to keep the details straight. In a world building edit I check for consistency in the world building, add more details to make the world more alive, and even flesh out existing concepts that need more focus. This is also the edit where I check for info dumping, to make sure I'm delivering the world building details in a natural way. This isn't as involved as the first edit, but its probably more difficult for me, especially for this MS.

Edit 3- Main Character

The third edit focuses entirely on the main character. What is their arc? Where do they start and where do they go? What do they want? What are their fears and quirks? And how do they react to the plot as it happens? This is the edit where I check for out of character moments and also flesh out the main character as much as possible. This is a much more involved edit when working with a new main character. In the case of my newest MS, its a sequel. I know my MC quite well so she's already fleshed out. But that doesn't mean she won't act out of character at some points, so this is still an essential edit.

Edit 4- Side Characters

After focusing on the main character, I turn my focus to the other characters. Each side character, no matter how small, should have a point or mini arc of their own, even if the reader doesn't get to see it. I read through focusing on each character and how they fit into the story. This is also the edit in which I might add or remove characters depending on the needs of the story. Its an involved edit, but definitely more fun than me. I love working with characters so I enjoy both edit 3 and 4.

Edit 5- Description

Edit 5 on the other hand, is the death of me. I have plenty of weaknesses when it comes to writing and one of them is my handling of description and setting. I'm a dialogue and character person. That stuff comes naturally. I have to really sit down and force myself to describe a place. In a lot of ways, this compares to the world building edit. Setting is an important window into the world. But it deals a lot more with the aesthetics of the world rather than the mechanics that make it tick. Its one of the hardest edits, but also one of the most vital.

Edit 6- Emotion

The emotions edit is sort of like the descriptions edit, except for all dealing with the emotions of the characters. There are many different ways to describe emotion and sometimes its hard to do without being telling, cliche, or overusing certain descriptions. My personal fatal flaw is that my characters over analyze their emotions so I do this edit to make them more natural in the story.

Edit 7- Over used words

These last edits are a lot more about the writing itself. In this edit I use the lovely 'find' button in word to locate all my most overused words. For me this includes stuff from 'was' and 'that' to 'smirk' and 'glance'. This helps me to eliminate some other problems in the process. For instance, 'was' is often involved with passive voice. This takes some time but its not nearly as complicated as previous edits.

Edit 8- Extra words and filtering

This is a line edit in which I read through carefully and make sure my sentences are concise and not bogged down by extra words. This includes crutch words like 'just' and 'that' which I use a lot, and filtering. I wrote a post on filtering not to long ago. If you don't know what it is, click here. While I will often do a 'find' button search for certain extra words, I also go all the way through the manuscript to make my writing as clean as possible. Another time consuming edit.

Edit 9- Punctuation

Hello darkness my old friend. By that I of course mean commas. Commas and I have never gotten along, probably because we were never properly introduced in school. By that I of course mean, my English teachers never taught me grammar of punctuation rules and I had to learn them for myself. But commas have always been my weak point so I set aside a separate edit JUST for the punctuation. Its time consuming like the other line edits but definitely important.

Edit 10- Final once over

It is only after the previous nine edits that I edit chapter by chapter, doing a final once over to make sure everything is in place. I look for every error in this final read through, but since there are now less errors, its a little less overwhelming.

Because I work best by taking things one step at a time and focusing in on one problem rather than several. What about you? What are your editing strategies and what do you find gets your manuscript into the best shape? Let me know in the comments! And happy editing :)

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