The Editing Board #4: Paint and Finishes

Congrats! You’ve done most of the heavy lifting now as far as edits go! Your story’s not finished, though. While you can put away the chainsaw and sledge-hammer, you’re not done with the work. We still have one more step on this draft; we’re just breaking out a different toolset. Let’s roll up those sleeves and dig into the fine-tuning!

  1. Use the right word, not its second cousin. Starting again at the very beginning of your manuscript, comb through each sentence, each paragraph, and each page. Look at the words individually. Do you say “walked slowly” when you mean to say your character “trudged”? This isn’t an attack on adverbs–sometimes they’re exactly what you need. But make that choice intentionally. Say precisely what you mean.
  2. Reinforce your character’s voice. Are they saying exactly what you want? If not, take a moment to really find the right word to hammer in the image that you want your reader to take away from your work. If your detective is investigating the site of a mass-murder, are they going to call it “a slew of bodies”? How about “a heap of corpses”? Are they really more concerned about their brand-new Louis Vuittons getting blood on them? Be honest and let your character be honest (unless you have an unreliable narrator. But that’s another story).
  3. Enhance the meter of your words–have fun! You don’t have to write in iambic pentameter to play around with rhythm (though it is, on occasion, a blast). Fiddle with the placement of your words, sentence structure, cadence. Move sentences around to create a dynamic rise and fall. Vary length. Imagine how it would sound when read aloud–or, better, actually do it.

 

And it may take still more drafts to get your story to where it needs to be. You might find yourself doing lots of rinse and repeats until you’re finally satisfied. But that’s okay. Most of the best do! Just take your time and try to enjoy the process!

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The Editing Board #3: Drywall and Subfloor

Hey, everyone! Sorry that I missed Agent Hunt this week! I’ve been wrestling with a cold, and it just caught up with me. It will be back this coming Monday, though!

For this week’s Twin Thursday with Rachel of Chicken-Scratch Plot, we’re looking at the next round of edits. To go back to my home reno analogy, this is where you get the house actually looking like a house. You get the drywall up, run the electrical and plumbing, lay down the subfloor and the carpeting. You put some meat on the bones of the house.

This round of editing works much the same way. Remember those rough transitions and jagged edges we left behind in the last draft? This is where you fix them. As before, I find it easiest to work from beginning to end. Sometimes I actually have to do this step in two passes; one to read it straight through and mark up what I still need to fix, and another to actually do the changes. So, since we did the big bones last time, what are we looking for?

  1. Continuity. Look for places where you’re inconsistent. Maybe an injury disappears miraculously, or a character who wasn’t there in this scene suddenly shows up. Any sudden, inexplicable changes that would snap a reader out of the story, flag and fix them.
  2. TensionThis is a great guest post by C.S Pacat, the author of the Captive Prince trilogy, about creating and maintaining the tension in your story from scene to scene. As you’re reading, look for places where the conflict lessens and you don’t want it to. Then decide what you can do to keep your characters on edge.
  3. Mood. Does your emotional ambiance match the scene? You’ll use different words, for example, if you’re giving your heroes and honest-to-gods lighthearted break from the high-stakes chase versus if they’re surrounded and someone’s cracking blackly humorous jokes. You’ll fine-tune this in the next step, but for now just focus on deciding what kind of feel you’re going for and laying the groundwork for it.
  4. Comprehension. Does the sequence of events make sense? Does each scene build on what came before it? Are important plot events and revelations properly seeded beforehand? You did most of this in the last pass, but this is where you check your work and make sure it’s doing what you intended. Make tweaks as you go to be sure you’re getting the mileage you need out of it.
  5. Chapter and Scene Breaks. Are they hitting in the most poignant spot? If not, what do you need to add or cut to get the resolution that you’re looking for? It sounds simple, but this is one of the things that establishes the skeleton of your story. Be sure you’re getting your money’s worth!

The Editing Board #2: Get the Bathtub Out of the Kitchen

Hello, and welcome to another Twin Thursday with Rachel of Chicken-Scratch Plot! Well, kind of. I sorta ran off on a tangent and started doing my own thing for a minute. But we’ll probably be back on track at the end of this series. As always, be sure to check out her blog for her view!

For today, I wanted to talk specifically about the first of the three editing pass I do when I’m sitting down to revise. This is where I tackle the big problems in the manuscript, the ones that are going to take the most mental muscle to resolve. Or, to put it in terms of home renovation, I get the bathtub out of the kitchen.

I don’t know when I started using that phrase for it, but it fits. You don’t want to start choosing paint colors and tile swatches when you haven’t even gotten the fixtures in place yet. Just like that, you don’t typically want to start fussing about word choice and cosmetic changes to the manuscript when there are huge overarching revisions to be made.

In my opinion, there are three major kinds of overhauls that you might have to make to a story, the problem being that they all influence each other. To continue the house analogy, this is like moving the bathtub to its new place, but then also having to move the sink and the toilet and then also having to rerun the water lines. And, unfortunately, there’s no easy way to do it. Once you’ve identified that, yep, this entire subplot needs to be axed and replaced, all you can do is hold your breath and dive in.

The first is a setting overhaul. This is, in my opinion, the easiest of the three to fix. In an ideal world, you just need to heighten your sensory detail and make the setting more immersive. But in the event that you have to change your setting, things can then get tricky.

Let’s say you had conceived of the whole story taking place in a world where it never rained, and you built everything around that. And then you found out that it doesn’t work. This means you have to now restructure not just the physical worldbuilding details but also the culture that would have arisen. Easy enough in theory, but…

It can affect your characters, too. Say you’d originally conceived of your protagonist as a badass bitch, but the worldbuilding no longer supports the attitude you thought she had. You’ll have to go back through all of her interactions, actions, internal monologue and revise them to bring her more in line with your new concept (Or, conversely, you could amp up her BAMF quotient and change the backstory and the worldbuilding until she’s exactly what you envisioned. I usually do the former. I find that my understanding of my characters tends to mature and deepen as I write the first draft, so I tend to run with it). Hopefully, these will mostly be small tweaks, but they add up in the sheer volume of them that may need to be done. The problem is…

Character problems and setting issues can both roll into plotting complications. These are the ones that will probably make you want to scream. This is where wide chunks of text get moved to your scrap document and brand-new material has to be generated to take its place. This is where, yeah, your original character would have done X, but the new one does Y, which changes everything after.

The way I work these changes is, for each scene and chapter, I make a list of the things I need to alter that fall into one of these three huge categories. Then I start from page 1. For each paragraph, I see if there’s anything that needs to be tweaked either based on my notes or based on what I just changed earlier in the draft. When I get to places where I have to write new material, I just plop it all in. I don’t worry about segues or transitions just yet; that comes later.

When it’s all done, the draft is usually rather ugly, if I’m telling the truth. I’ve dragged the bathtub out of the kitchen, but now there’s a huge scuff on the floor and a hole in the plaster. Don’t worry. That’s what we’ll fix in the next pass!

The Editing Board #1: The Basics

For today’s post with Rachel of Chicken-Scratch Plot, we’re looking at what to do once you’re ready to start draft number two. How do you decide which advice to listen to and which to discard? How do you keep moving forward with your edits when there’s just so much to fix? Your process may differ, but here’s how I do it!

Note: a few of these steps deal extensively with beta readers. If you don’t have any, I’d recommend first doing what I’ve heard called a self-crit. After you’ve let the manuscript cool for a while (at least a month, I’d say) go through it and mark it up as though you were providing critique for someone else’s story. Where does it lag? Where are sentences or images awkward? Then put it away to cool again before you start the edits in earnest.

  1. Go into the draft cold. Take as long as you need to between drafts to make sure that it’s good and cooled. Do not reread your draft yet. I usually have to take at least a month, sometimes up to a year or more, between drafts. Granted, I have the luxury of doing that since I’m not yet under contract to produce, but you can bet I’m damn sure going to take advantage of that while I can!
  2. Combine all your feedback and notes into one document. Especially if you have beta readers or if you took part in a critique circle. I find this helps me not feel quite so overwhelmed with the sheer volume of input I have to digest. That was always the hardest part of doing hard-copy workshops for me; the amount of paper that I had to flip through. Digital is definitely my preferred medium as far as editing work. It also helps me keep everything in one place so that I’m not flipping back and forth between multiple documents.
  3. Read all of your notes and comments in one fell swoop. Not your manuscript. Still not time for that yet, but it’s coming. Just be patient. You should still be abstaining from your WIP so you can look objectively at its faults. This is actually the reason I go through and read all of the beta notes at once–so that I don’t have time to dwell on it yet or to reacquaint myself too much with the draft as it stands. It forces my brain to look at the manuscript as a thing to be fixed and gets the ideas churning for how I want to tackle it. (Caveat: This may not work for you; if you have a lot of betas, for example, you may want to do it in smaller chunks.)
  4. Go back through the comments again and look for patterns. On your second pass through your comments, go slower. Watch for places where your readers agree. Where do they have the strongest reactions? Are there lines or images that you really love that they don’t? Where a wide portion of readers all come to the same conclusion, pay extra-close attention. It can give you a good idea of overarching changes you might want to make.
  5. Look for places where the feedback differs. Just as important as where your readers agree is where they don’t. Keep in mind that betas are people. They have different life experiences, levels of expertise, tastes, opinions. When you get conflicting views, take a step back and ask which, objectively, makes the story better. Not would be more fun. Not which would be less work. Which gets your manuscript closer to your vision of how it should be.
  6. Make a plan of attack. This is entirely dependent on your level of comfort. I make myself a list of things that I want to address as I go through the next draft, both big changes and small, and then start from the beginning of the story. I address each comment, positive or negative, no matter how major or minor, whether I’m following the advice or discarding it. Often as I’m going, ideas shake loose for things that the betas miss, or I can build upon what they started to create something new.
  7. Break the plan into manageable bits. It’s entirely up to you how you do this. Some people take just the top ten or fifteen things from their list that they want to fix and address just those things in the next draft. Some break it down by chapter. Some by subplot.
    Depending on the story and how much work it needs, I tackle this step one of two ways. If the bones of the manuscript are already pretty strong, I go scene by scene from the very beginning, not moving on to the next until the one I’m on is as close to ideal as I’m currently capable. I won’t lie; I very rarely am comfortable enough with a draft to tackle it this way. The second way that I do it is I break my list of things to fix into three categories: the huge; the moderate; and the minor, and I do one pass through the story for each.
    Huge changes are things that are story-spanning and will take the most time. Say you have to change a major character’s core personality or remove an entire subplot (Both of these, from experience, really suck). Moderate changes are a little smaller and can usually be tackled on a scene-by-scene basis. Things like smoothing out plot-holes or places the tension lapses go here. Minor changes are everything else. Making sure your protagonist doesn’t have green eyes in chapter one and brown in chapter nine fall into this category, as well as fixing issues of phrasing. 

That’s about the basics of how I approach editing! Next time, I’ll look at the huge fixes and how I tackle them!