The Editing Process
Three weeks ago I talked about the reasons why we need editors. This is a continuation of that post. I want to give you some real-life insight into the editing process. Not only the editing process but also the writing process, in general. There are reasons why we should never ever ever publish the first draft, and so this blog post is going to highlight some of those reasons and also explain to you more about my own editing process.
Step 1 – Write
You cannot edit something that isn’t written, so the first step is to write. This sounds obvious, and it should be, but I know many authors who are “perfectionists.” What does this mean? Isn’t that a good thing? Sure, we all want our writing to be perfect, all authors want to create a piece of literature that resonates with many people, but if we are always worrying about making the perfect sentence, then we never get any actual writing done. As a funny example of this, watch the video below with Val Kimer and the life of the struggling writer.
Step 2 – Change the Content
Now that everything is written and has gushed out of you (whether by careful articulation or by a stream of consciousness and retching of internal thoughts), it’s time to go back and clean up that mess you made. This is rather fun because the writer should only be looking at the big ideas. Edit for content, not grammar.
Do you mention one thing in the story but then fail to mention it again?
This is a violation of set-up and pay-off. If you’re a fan of literature, you know that this can be also referred to as “Chekov’s Gun Theory” simply meaning that every part of the story should be important. In Chekov plays, if a gun is seen hanging on a wall in Act 1, it should be used by Act 3. Otherwise, what’s the point of describing it? Anything that you mention should be significant, and thus, mentioned again (in some way) by the story’s conclusion.
Does the storyline have an arch? Furthermore, how is the pacing of that arch? Most stories will follow the diagram below.
Does the storyline make sense?
Make sure there are no plot holes in the story. Make sure everything is believable as can be. Motivations are there for the characters to act the way that they do. The environment is there to either help or hinder their growth. Secondary characters should be fueling the main protagonist and antagonist in his or her quest. These are the things you should be looking for.
Did something happen in the story later on that you now have to go back and change?
This last question is something that I always make sure I take into account, especially when writing a series. It is a rule of thumb of mine that I never publish any novel until the next one in the series is written. I didn’t publish The Trials of the Core until I had at least the first draft of the sequel novel, The Curse of Pirini Lilapa typed. This has allowed me to really keep a good eye on how The Guardian of the Core series develops over time.
The reason for this meticulous process is because, as the series expands over multiple novels, I need to keep track of character arcs and changes. Sometimes an event will happen in the second book that I should mention in passing the first book. A prime example of this is the climax of the second book is when the suns’ eclipse. An event such as this can be tracked, so I briefly mention it in the first book so that readers won’t believe it just comes out of nowhere, and thus, contrived.
Step 3 – Give it to a Beta-Reader
As I mentioned in the last blog post, we cannot do everything ourselves. At this point, I would recommend giving it to a friend you trust, a writing associate, or a dedicated reader that will give you honest feedback. Honest is the keyword there. Writers should not want people to sugarcoat their feelings.
Find someone who can be objective with you. Someone who will be brutally honest with you and your story and is willing to give constructive criticism. Constructive Criticism is key. If there is no suggestions in how you can make it better or reasoning and logic as to why something doesn’t work or jive well with the individual, this is not constructive criticism this is called being a jerk. Moreover, this is why it is important to find someone who understands and likes the genre the story is written in. If you give a romance-lover a sci-fi and fantasy novel, they may not come up with the best suggestions for you.
Regardless, what this is going to do is open your eyes to plot issues you didn’t see. It will definitely open up your eyes to grammar mistakes. And, if they’re good, you’re going to start to see silly patterns in your writing that you can hope to correct in the next steps of the editing process.
Step 4 – Repeat Step 2
Now that you’ve had someone else take a look at it (hopefully more than one), you can take their feedback and go back and fix up whatever changes you want. Remember, you are the author, this novel or novella or short story is your baby, so you ultimately decide how it turns out. You can decide to use that feedback if you want. Don’t feel like you have to use it though. This will require an in-depth introspection of your novel. If a few of your beta-readers are annoyed by a character’s comments or actions, it’s probably best to really evaluate those. On the contrary, if only one of your readers suggests a change and other readers ignore it or even comment that they like it, make sure you take that into account. Don’t be in a rush to change everything negative; remember, we cannot please all people.
Step 5 – Read it Out Loud to Yourself
I’m serious. Do this step! I have caught so many errors this way with words that my eyes just skim over because I already know what I want to say. However, when my mouth has to articulate the sentence, I can see whether or not that sentence is rather difficult to comprehend, if there are misspelled words, or even omitted words.
This will take some time depending on how long your book is, but it is an invaluable part of the editing process.
Step 6 – The Nitty Gritty
This is where a line-editor would come into play. I recommend you do this yourself and try to clean up as much of your grammar as you can before sending it off to the editor (in the next step). Here are some easy tips and tricks that you can utilize in order for you to clean up your manuscript at the sentence-level. To utilize this tip effectively, I recommend you use the “find” function or (ctrl+f) on your keyboard. Here are some of the terms you should look for:
- Variations of heard (hear, heard, listened, sound, etc.)
- Variations of see (see, saw, seen, looked, etc.)
- Variations of to be (am, is, are, were, was, etc.)
- Emotions (happy, angry, sad, anxious, etc.)
- Words ending in –ly (quickly, furiously, slowly, etc.)
- Dialogue tags (said, whispered, shouted, exclaimed, etc.)
- Words like have or do
- Words like thing, stuff, always, never, obvious,
As this blog post is already quite long, I am going to actually go into all of these nitty-gritty details in a different blog post two weeks from now. I will explain the reasoning why and give some examples of how searching for these things, changing them, and even eliminating them, will make your prose so much tighter.
Step 7 – Line-Editor
In the next upcoming blog post on August 12th, I will be discussing the different types of editing with my own editor Harrison Demchick. He is going to take us through the world of editing from a professional view and give more in-depth knowledge than I can provide. If you can’t wait for that post, I suggest you check out the company where he works, The Writer’s Ally by visiting their website, here. However, what is important to note now in the editing process is that you should give your work to a line-editor.
Line editors will clean up your manuscript for the really really fine details (like commas, proper punctuation, clauses, misspelled words, etc.). To make their job as easy as can be, and so that you get the best possible product at the end, I recommend this be the second last step that you take. The version they get should be as clean as possible, and as short as possible too, because most likely you’ll be paying them per word. So, to save yourself some money, I suggest doing steps 1-6 before going to this step.
Step 8 – Read it Out Loud Again
I know, it’s a pain, but really I can’t tell you how crucial this step is. Sure, you just had a line editor that is supposed to catch all of your tiny errors. But, you know what? They’re human. They can’t catch everything. Things slip by them as well. In my novel, The Trials of the Core, I had three line-edits (that means the editor looked over my book three times) and while they took out most of the errors, I still have noticed around 8 errors in my novel thus far. Now, let’s be realistic here, this is okay for me. 8 errors out of a novel that is 124,000 words is fine. It’s less than 1%, but people still notice them and like to tell me about them. (Oh if only they knew).
Anyway, to try and reduce this inevitability of error, say it out loud to yourself one more time and try to catch any small errors that may have stuck around to the end.
There is no “one way” for the editing process to occur. Like I mentioned before, some people prefer to edit while they write. Others, like me, finish the first draft and go back and revise it again and again and perhaps finally between drafts six through eight it is finally ready for publication.
No one said writing is easy, but it is extremely rewarding when you finally, and I mean finally, finish a product and have people read it and know that they enjoy it.
Again, next week, on the 12th of August, I will have a special blog post. It will be an interview-style post with my very the editor I’ve used for my own novels, Harrison Demchick.
Until next time friends, happy writing, reading, and editing!