Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Beginning the Editing Process (Part 2)

Last Friday I wrote about how daunting it can be to start the editing process. Today, as promised, I will go into more detail about how to begin editing.

Editing becomes less daunting when we face it one step at a time.

Step 1: To kick start the process after a break you need to reimmerse yourself into your story. The best (and only) way to do this is to read through your entire manuscript (ms). Try to read it as if you are reading it for the first time. Resist the urge to edit. You can make brief notes, but that’s all.

There’s no point line editing at this stage. Let me repeat that: there is no point line editing at this stage. If you do, then you could spend hours looking for just the right word or phrase only to realise down the track the whole section needs to go.

Step 2: Read through your ms again, but this time write up a synopsis or a flow chart (if you haven’t already). The purpose of this is to break the story up into important events and changes in the Main Character’s (MC) external and internal development so that you can see the Big Picture. Some people require visual aids such as index cards or post it notes to shuffle around story elements.

Step 3: eat some chocolate. By this stage you’ll have earned it. You’ll likely need that gentle pick-me-up anyway.

Step 4: Take another look at what you have. Find the weaker elements in your story. Make sure you have the catchy beginning, a tight middle and a satisfying end. You’ll need to watch for character development, likeability and believability. You’ll need to keep an eye on tangents, unresolved elements and hidden discrepancies.

Step 5: eat some more chocolate because next you’ll need to take a look at the details: the superfluous words, the weak phrasing, the inconsistencies. You may have to return to step 3 a few times.

In short, editing is like building your very own croquembouche (profiterole tower). You have to start at the base and build up from a solid platform. Your solid platform is your plot. Once you are happy with the plot, how the story flows, the pace and the conflicts, then and only then is it worth spending time on more detailed editing. The spun sugar for your profiteroles is in the final detail: the right words and phrases; the appropriate sentence length; the correct grammar and formatting.

How often do you read through your ms while you edit? Do you use a different method of editing?

Note: every writer must find a way that works for them. Everyone is different. There is no absolute rule a writer must adhere to – except, “Keep writing!”

30 comments:

  1. I'm still working on developing an editing style which suits for me. The most important thing for editing in my case is to distance myself from the work by working on something else for a while, and then return to what it was I'd been working on before.

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  2. Jeffrey, for sure. That's so important to get a clearer perspective on your work.

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  3. I'm a big fan of steps 3 and 5! I don't have anything of my own to edit, but my daughter has a ms that I'm working on eiditing. I might do better with chocolate!

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  4. I did not follow any of these steps (except number 3) while edited my MSS. This is good advice and I think if I were to do something like this, my novels could be better. I'm going to try it! Do you mind if I post your advice to my blog? Thanks!

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  5. holy moly what a good point about line editing first! because, i've totally wasted a lot of time line editing through my wip ( a few times) and now i'm realizing that the driving plot element of the whole last 2/3's of the book needs reworked, and i wasted all that time on stuff that's getting offed. blech! oh well, gotta try to learn! wish i had found this blog a year ago though! :)

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  6. That is a great point about reading the ms as a whole before doing serious editing. In my last edit, I ended up pruning almost 10k words -- words that I had read over so many times they were almost memorized. It's easy to get lost in the details. It's like not seeing the forest for the trees.
    Now I want some chocolate.

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  7. Darlene, I'm a big fan of eating chocolate as well -- I just ate that chocolate you see in the pic. Nom nom.

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  8. Las Vegas, I hope it helps for your future editing. I'd be honoured if you posted my advice on your blog. I'd just appreciate it if you included a link back to this blog :)

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  9. Aspiring, I'm a firm believer that no writing is wasted writing. Oh, and no chocolate goes to waste when it is consumed for a good cause (namely, our ms). :)

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  10. Erin, It's the same with art. If we don't get the composition right, then no matter how great the details are, the piece as a whole won't work.

    Hmmm...chocolate...

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  11. Lynda..thanks for this informative post. I am still trying to find my editing technique or shall I say method. My editing is a slow process stretched over several days.
    But like you I start by giving it a thorough read.

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  12. Rachna, yep, it's always good to give the ms a thorough read through to see the story as a whole. :)

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  13. Sometimes I need to take a few weeks off to gain perspective and then, yes, I do read through the whole thing. I catch a lot more logic issues that way.

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  14. With so much chocolate, sounds like I'll get fat while editing!
    I tend to read in sections.

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  15. Good advice. I follow a similar pattern, and also add chocolate into the mix. :)
    Blessings,
    Karen

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  16. is that a chocolate left for me? ^_^

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  17. I usually go back a few pages to read (and inevitably edit) before I start writing new stuff. But once done, I always do a paper copy with 1 red and 1 blue pen. To chop and rewrite.

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  18. I invented chapter forms that I fill out during the initial reading. I code them with color tabs for main plot and subplots. I then write on the sheets what of the plot / subplot is covered. I can then see whether I started something out of the blue or didn't wrap something up. Especially useful for complicated plots.

    The other useful tool I found is writing out the character gmc. Keeps things tight and together.

    1 a main character
    2 a flaw [defense mechanism character needs to survive]
    3 a goal [something concrete the hero is working toward]
    4 an ally [someone who helps hero overcome flaw]
    6 a life changing event [instigated by opponent - opportunity, challenge or threat;
    related to flaw]
    7 an implied journey [where the main character risks losing something important either physically or emotionally]



    A _______________ [flaw] ______________ [hero], _________________________

    [goal] ___________________ [life changing event] ______________________

    [opponent] __________________________ [ally] _______________________________

    [implied journey]


    This little exercise gone over with my critique group was invaluable. :)

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  19. Laura, yep a break is necessary no matter how eager we are to keep going.

    Alex, ah but the chocolate is offset by all the exercise we are all supposed to be doing as well ;)

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  20. Karen, chocolate is crucial ;)

    Dez, nope sorry... I ate it already :P

    Windy, for some reason it's easier to pick up things when it's printed out. I miss so much when I'm reading off a screen :)

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  21. M Pax, awesome tips!! I'm always interested to see how other people edit... how they keep on top of things. Keeping a chapter form is a great idea. I start things out of the blue all the time while writing the first draft and tell myself I'll go back and fix it.. but writing it out like that helps to keep track.

    The character gmc is also brilliant. Everyone should do this because it does help to keep things focussed.

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  22. I think I'm doing way too much of step #3.

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  23. I've tried this method and now I'm so fat and addicted to chocolate. *wink* Nah, I thought this was a great post.

    CD

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  24. Carolyn, the trick is to go for stupid expensive chocolate so you are forced to appreciate it rather than simply wolf it down ;)

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  25. Clarissa, but...but..chocolate is so GOOD! ;) Thanks :)

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  26. I must have wnet though mine 25 tims. Seriously. But it was my first book. My next two I should down a little better and only have to go over it half or less.


    Stephen Tremp

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  27. I do tend to focus on those trees--how many needles they have, what color of green, etc. (Forest, what forest? LOL)

    I do try to shape my forest initially, as I'm writing, because I hate wasted time on tangent-y bunny trails that don't further the plot or develop a character. I snag a lot of tangents AS I'm writing, too, like I'll get 5 pages down the road and think, um...wait a minute, that doesn't feel or seem right, so I save the scene in a Deleted Scene folder, and back up a scene or 2 and rewrite.

    I'm always amazed by inconsistencies and things that pop out at me after I've let my ms sit for a month or two. Distance definitely helps objectivity!

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  28. Stephen, only 25 times? ;)

    Carol, but aren't they just lovely trees? ;) Yep, I do that on a regular basis too. Once I couldn't decide which tangent to go down so I ended up writing a Pros and Cons list for each..lol.

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  29. This is a great post Lyn. I whole-heartedly recommend printing out your ms and reading it through. It's invaluable. I don't know what the deal is, but it's a totally different experience to read it on paper, rather than on the computer screen.

    I read through my MS a LOT during the editing process. Typically through the first post-completion read, I'll make a list of questions, notes, or whatever that I need to look at.

    Then I literally read through the MS for each one of those notes that I listed. It's long and tedious but WOW it's powerful too.

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  30. Ali, reading through your ms for each question is a good practice. When I look for more than a couple things I all too easily get distracted and miss what I'm looking for. And yes, printing it all out makes a crazy difference.

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I'd love to hear your opinion. Thanks for leaving a comment.