The Joys(?) Of Editing

Congratulations! You have finally finished the first draft of that book you have always wanted to write. Great Job! Now, comes the painful bit. Editing.

Editing helps put your best foot forward. As a writer your work needs to be polished. With this article, I provide a checklist to help you go through this process:

1. Sketch out a synopsis. What do you think the novel you have just written is about?

  • Think about the major structural devices. MSD refers to the major plot points and structures of your story. For example, have you written your story from 3 different points of view? If so, you might want to think about assigning a chapter each to the 3 voices to avoid confusing your reader.
  • Think about the important settings for your story. Where is it located? What time is it set in?
  • Who are your main characters? What are their backstories?
  • Whose point of view are you telling the story from?
  • What are the main themes of your story? What did you think you  wanted to write about originally?

2. Have a break.  You’ve just finished writing the first draft of a book. You deserve a break. Take a few days off from your WIP.

3. Read it again after the break. Be objective. Have the synopsis written during point 1, at hand.

  • Look for things like character and plot inconsistency. Did you talk about the main character having a pet dog in the first chapter and then never mention it again?
  • Check for behavioural inconsistency. If someone in your book behaves out of character, there needs be a reason.
  • Using the afore-mentioned synopsis, read through the book and check to see where a character might have been neglected. Re-write portions to make sure that characters don’t dissapear for a few chapters only to reappear mysteriously.
  • Does the plot stall and become boring?
  • Check for timing. Introduction of information should be at the correct time. Too much information, too soon will confuse your reader.
  • Does everything work chronologically? This is specially important if you are making use of flashbacks in your story.

4. Be Brave. The thought of setting upon your lovely piece of writing with a pair of hedge-clippers is enough to give anyone a chill up the spine. But editing is a very important part of being a writer.

You might need to make big changes like cutting a character or completely changing their point of view. If that’s what it will take to make your story work, do it.

Line edit. Are you using 3 sentences to say something? Use the best bits of each sentence and combine them to make one sentence. Your work will look  more polished and professional.

5. Does a particular piece take focus away from the main story?

I once had someone send in a chapter for me to proofread. They had written  a small paragraph in their story, describing a particular kind of moss on a church wall. While the description they wrote was beautiful, it took focus away from the story. By the time I had finished reading the description of the moss, I was in awe of this writer and his ability to string words together  but I had absolutely no idea what had been going on in the story before this wall came along.

It might hurt, but these kind of overly-dramatic bits need to be edited out. Save it in another file on your computer for use in another story. But for now, get rid of it for the greater good.

6. Read your work aloud and see how sentences sound. Make a note of where you run out of breath, specially in the middle of a dialogue. If you see this happening, shorten the dialogue or break it up into smaller sentences.

7. Get other people to read it. They can be much more objective and help pick up things you might not have noticed. It is best if a fellow writer friend can help out. If not, make sure the friends/family you ask for help, give you constructive feedback.

Editing will help you understand what bits your are good at and where you need work. If you have gone through the above you will surely have improved your writing. The last thing to do is give yourself a pat on the back. Good Job!

Food for Thought and Discussion: What tools do you use to help edit your work? Do you do it as you go along or as one job at the end of the first draft?


Categories: Editing, My Writing Journey

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