Thanks to distracting friends and sun, I’ve only finished my editing for last week on Sunday evening, so I thought I’d take a look at the process of hammering your manuscript up to standard.
A lot of writers suggest doing separate read throughts for different kinds of editing – an method I find effective. As it’s so close to deadline (4th September!) and this is only the first part of a novel, I’m not going to be doing much of the over-arcing edit – cutting out scenes, altering the overall pace of the novel, and large changes, such as re-thinking characters, etc. There are still plenty of read-throughs to be done, however, and I’m still looking at the pace within this first ~40,000 words.
- Line edit. This is a close reading of the work, checking for typos and spelling/grammar mistakes, but also getting rid of reptition which happens a lot if you’re writing a first draft and forging on without re-reading (which is what works best for me). At this point, I’m looking for errors and mistakes, really. This would normally be done after that big edit as it would be a pain and potentially a waste of time to closely edit a scene or chapter which you then decide needs cutting because it doesn’t serve the plot or slows the story down, etc.
- My next read goes a little deeper, picking out the problems that are slightly harder to spot, such as clumsy phrasing and cliches. This involves re-writing sentences or passages here and there, re-wording cliches and finding more interesting imagery for those tired, trite descriptions.
- Hack ‘n’ slash. Not like an RPG, but more like weeding. At this point I’m no longer distracted by the problems solved in the first two passes, so I’m trying to be brutal and cut out the flabby bits – the superfluous description (which I am prone to in a first draft) and over-writing. For example, when walking into a new scene, pick out the interesting, important details that either give vital information or a flavour of the setting. Don’t describe every detail and cut out those that don’t add to the sense of space. This is hard to instruct upon, as it involves your own judgement of what’s important to your story. This doesn’t mean leave everything in, because you wrote it in the first draft, this does mean take some time away from the first draft to get some distance and as you read, ask yourself honestly if this sentence contributes to the story, if that adjective is really important. Adjectives and adverbs really need to justify their existence in your writing (the latter even more so). Of course, this depends on what you’re trying to achieve and the style you’re working in – my short story, The Usher-Woman, was written in the style of Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber, therefore it’s heavy on the description and rich texture… at least, that’s what I was going for!
- Finally, when I’ve made all the changes I think need making, I look over other people’s comments and suggestions and look back over my own notes – sometimes I note changes for earlier chapters as I’m writing or think of something while I’m out and about. As a consequence, I have lots of notes in random places – notebooks, my phone, scraps of paper (put safely in a folder when I get home!). At this point, I bring all these notes together and make more changes. Sometimes you’ll find you’ve already made a change noted elsewhere, and sometimes someone else’s comment or suggestion doesn’t fit with what you’re trying to achieve. You don’t need to make every change someone else suggests, however, note criticisms and ask yourself if there’s a grain of truth in what they’ve said. Other people’s questions can show you that something isn’t clear and therefore needs changing or clarification. Evaluating critiques is a complex issue and could be a whole post in itself!
- OK, second finally – have another read. I guarantee you’ll notice something else that needs changing. At the same time, you need to know when to stop.
Now for some sewing time… maybe…