This is Part 2: Beginning the Editing. Currently, I am on this step for one of my books, so I will use a few examples from that experience to explain the process.
Read Part 1: Preparing for Editing first to see how I compile my chapter list, plotline, to-do list, and note cards for editing.
Note: the order is not so important. Many times I will move back and forth between steps, depending on what I feel like working on at the time.
1. Backup Your First Draft and Save File Under New Name
- Always backup your first draft and save your file under new names when you are making big changes. Sometimes you will change something and realize that what you originally had was better, so it’s important to track your progress.
- It should be noted that for the first stage of actual editing, I use my computer document. I do not print out the draft until later. Personally, I do this for two reasons, 1) to save paper/ink and 2) to get the big problems fixed before I tackle the story page-by-page.
- Second thing to note: There is no line editing at this stage. This stage is all about writing new scenes, revising old scenes, deleting unnecessary scenes, and fixing inconsistencies/details.
2. Write, Revise, and Delete Scenes
- I use the note cards I compiled as a guideline to write new scenes and revise old ones.
- I use my to-do list to find scenes that need to be taken out and I delete those.
- During this stage, I hide the word count bar because I have a tendency to wince every time I delete a scene. Usually it will balance out with adding and deleting scenes, but your word count does not matter this early in editing. So relax, hide that bar, and edit on!
- Note: Deleted scenes may be placed into a separate document, if you think you may want to reuse the scene or some of its ideas in another part of your story or in another story entirely. I have a document called “Word Bin.docx” where I collect these scenes.
3. Fix Inconsistencies/Make the Story Make Sense
- If I was thorough enough in my skim through/plotlining, I will have spotted a number of problems, such as characters’ eyes changing colors or a desk appearing that was not mentioned in the initial description of the room.
- These little things can quickly be fixed, so I like to go through and do these all at once.
- For bigger edits in this stage, I might combine two characters into one. In that case, I have to go through change the names and make sure the physical descriptions match.
4. Add More Details, particularly concerning Character Appearances and Setting Descriptions
- I have a bad habit of not describing places or characters enough in the first draft. The characters are somewhere. You can assume they are within the castle grounds, but where exactly are they? Well, I can see the place, but I have not written it down so the reader can see it too.
- I feel like most people either describe too much or too little. If you describe too little like me, then this stage is rather important.
- What I do in this stage: I tend to do this in two rounds: the first to add character descriptions and the second to add setting descriptions.
- Round 1) I scroll through the document to the first place where each character appears and read to see how long it takes me to describe them, or if I actually described them. I try to put in descriptions earlier or synthesize it into what I’ve already written. (For instance, I changed a line from “A boy walked into the room and came over to me.” to “A black-haired boy, who could not have been much older than twelve, walked into the dining room, his blue eyes landing on me almost instantly.”)
- Round 2) I scroll through the document to the beginning of each new scene to see if I described it. Sometimes, I add a description at the beginning, other times I add little details throughout the scene. It really depends on how unique/important the room is. If it’s just a room where two people are talking, then it does not matter much, but if it’s a room with significance to the character or that stands out a lot, then it needs to be described. Even saying that the room “smelled of sweat from the many boys that had sat here in lessons with Professor Kirk” can add a lot to a scene. I like when a setting descriptions give you a feel for the environment and the emotions the character is feeling.
- Bonus: “Telling” Details and “Tag” Traits can contribute to the realness of a scene without adding a lot of words. “Telling” details are small details that tell a story, such as a pub with a table cracked in half. “Tag” traits are small details that add realness to a character but do not have anything to do with the plot. An example from Harry Potter is how Dumbledore likes to knit. Knitting has nothing to do with the plot, but it helps give the reader a better feel for Dumbledore.
5. Check Your Chapter Endings and Beginnings
- The big questions: Will the reader want to read on after this chapter? Is this chapter beginning interesting enough to pull the reader in? Are there enough “hooks” and suspense to keep the pages turning?
- Now obviously the genre of the book affects how this plays out, but most genres can still follow the hook and suspense rules. Generally, your chapters should end with suspense and begin with hooks. (I recommend looking up articles and blog posts online if you are not familiar with this.)
- For my editing, I check through all of my chapter beginnings and endings to see if I hook and suspend readers. If I find one that does not or ends/begins on a bland note, I either add a few more paragraphs, revise for added drama, or move the chapter break to a different point.
And that is it for Part 2: Beginning the Editing. Once I’ve done all of those steps, the book will be in a much more cohesive form, ready for the first read through. But more of that in Part 3!