Lessons in Editing

I know it’s been awhile since I posted anything about my manuscript, The Darkest Hour. That’s because I’ve been editing LIKE CRAZY.To give you an idea of what I mean, it is now about half as long as the version you may have read excerpts from. In the process of editing I have mercilessly destroyed beloved characters and subplots alike. I had to mourn each one. The result is a manuscript quite different than it used to be, but I think a lot better too.

Some of the editing has resulted from my own realizations after putting it away and then taking a fresh look. Some are from my beloved beta readers, whose insights have helped me realize where there were holes in the story. Some are even from reading other books, realizing what I do and don’t like in writing styles and changing my writing accordingly.

I have listed some of the lessons I learned along the journey, some serious, some less so…

bridge

According to some sources your story will fail if you do not include a bridge at the beginning. I am doomed.

  1. My story is doomed to fail because there is no bridge in the opening scene. This from a reader who designs bridges for a living and claims all good entertainment (movies, TV shows, books) have a bridge featured somewhere near the beginning. My rebuttal is, that my story does have drainage features in the first scene. (My husband designs drainage features for a living.) Who needs bridges anyway?
  2. When you think you have slashed as many words as is humanly possible from your manuscript, put it down. Step away. When you pick it up again, you’ll find a whole bunch of useless junk just waiting for the ax.
  3. “You can’t get rid of _____!” Insert beloved side character here. I have an extreme weakness for adding WAY too many characters into my writing. This means during the editing process I must wipe a significant number of them out of existence. It’s a gruesome process. Characters that I love (or that my guinea pig readers love) are not immune. RIP Ben, Bhavana, Hardgrove, Zajac, Ruben, and more. I will never forget you.
  4. Sometimes my readers understood elements of my story better than I did. I tried to change things accordingly.
  5. Many things I thought were absolutely essential to the story were not. Getting rid of them was a process. Most died slowly. Some things I thought were not essential to the story were. As much as I tried to destroy them, they just wouldn’t go away.
  6. Sometimes you have to interpret comments from readers who don’t want to say anything negative, to figure out what exactly didn’t work. People don’t like to be critical.

    log-graph

    In case you don’t remember what a log equation looks like from high school algebra.

  7. You can always edit more. It’s like a logarithmic equation where your manuscript gets better in smaller and smaller amounts, slowly approaching perfect, but never actually reaching it.
  8. Although editing is hard, there is something soothing and satisfying about slashing your own writing to pieces, picking the pieces up and putting them back together.
  9. In addition to asking for criticism, you need to listen to it. If something isn’t working for your reader, then it probably needs fixing. You may not have to fix it like they suggested, but you should not ignore it.
  10. I love my own writing. It is why I decided to write in the first place. But my writing after editing is so much cleaner. In some ways, it startles me to know that I created it.
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4 Responses to Lessons in Editing

  1. TMH says:

    Ha ha ha! Still voting for the bridge!!

  2. Editing is always a hard sell. I keep trying to convince my students of its usefulness, but they think it means proofreading. I have to convince them that “re-vision” means “re-seeing” their work.

    I’m sure #1 above comes from your esteemed brother-in-law.

    Judy

  3. I’m learning, too, how important editing is, and how much better it makes my stories!

    I do tentatively disagree with the prevailing idea that fewer characters are better. Often times the problem with a large cast of characters is poor character development, not the actual number of characters. When done well, having a larger cast helps build the world of the story and make it more believable and rich. I’m thinking of stories like “Harry Potter,” “The Hunger Games,” and “Percy Jackson.” These books did have a lot of characters that might seem unnecessary or superfluous to the overall plot, but they added depth to the story telling.

    I did like that you had so many characters in “The Darkest Hour.” 🙂 They made it feel like people actually lived in your world.

    (That said, of course you have ultimate authority on what will make your story the best version of itself.)

    • I love lots of characters too but I write way too much. There was no possible way to develop all of them when I started cutting a lot out. Hopefully it’s still good. 🙂

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