The Dreaded Edit

I’m nearing the finish line for the first draft of my WIP – just two chapters left to write. Eight scenes, eight or nine thousand words. Should be done sometime next week. And then . . .

The dreaded edit. Now, seeing as how this is my first novel, I’ve not been through the editing process before. A lot of writers I’ve read on the subject seem to treat it as a necessary evil – but evil nonetheless.

But I’m not sure why – I’m actually looking forward to it. There’s a whole host of scenes in my novel – probably the majority, actually – which I haven’t read once since I wrote them. I can’t wait to go back and see what I put down, pull it apart and make it better.

That’s the claim now, anyway. I could get down to it and discover I loathe the process as much as the next guy. To give myself the best chance of getting the job done properly without ending up hating myself or (worse) the book, I’ve laid out a series of edits I’m going to do. In order, from macro to micro, major to minor.

Here’s my list – maybe it’ll prove useful to others:

  • Background World Building. Is there enough ‘scenery’? Enough references to exciting races, conflicts, empires that have risen and fallen, to hint at the kind of breadth and depth of history that a fully conquered galaxy in the far future would have?
  • Plot Arc. Are all plotlines consistent, and either tied off or explicitly left open? Is the internal logic solid? Do the protagonists react to developments in a realistic way, that isn’t just moving the story along?
  • Enough Conflict. Is there conflict – external and internal – regularly spaced throughout the novel, building up to an exciting climax? What about at the end of scenes – is there a mix of middle-of-the-action ‘cliffhanger’ endings (rising tension) and completed-action, rounded-off endings (falling tension)?
  • Character Arcs. Do all of the characters develop according to the arcs I laid out for them before writing? Or maybe they’ve developed differently to how I predicted – which is fine, but is the development consistent and realistic?
  • Check Flow and Tighten. Check dialogue flows naturally. The beat-to-beat makes sense. Replace narrative with dialogue where possible and sensible. Cut out any obvious padding or unnecessary exposition. Tighten everything that’s left.
  • Word or Phrase Repetition. Avoid it!
  • Improve Prose. Is there enough scene setting, while avoiding florid over-description? Cut clichés.
  • Consistent Character Voice. Check that every character in the novel maintains a consistent tone of voice throughout.
  • Retighten. Self-explanatory.
  • Spelling, Grammar and Typos. Go through with a fine-toothed comb, and give it that final polish.

Any more suggestions to add to my edit list?

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8 thoughts on “The Dreaded Edit

  1. Good luck with the edit. I hate the edit so much that I haven’t even started. I think it has to do with the general fear of how much I’ll have to do/how much I might hate the whole manuscript mess.

    • Hi Hannah, thanks so much for taking the time to comment – and the best wishes!

      I took a peek at your marvellous blog – is it your Byberry State Hospital book that you’re dreading editing? I wouldn’t even know where to start in writing a local history book, or any non-fiction I think. Best of luck!

      • Hi Dan! No, Byberry State Hospital isn’t the book currently intimidating me. I’m still doing the research and stuff, but for me historical non-fiction writing is easy. There’s a “right way” for it to be (usually this has something to do with themes or chronology); I just have to edit and reorganize it until it’s at that finished, polished point.

        Novels, in my opinion, are so much more fluid. Anything goes! Any chunk of the book could be anywhere! The free-for-all disorganization of it is terrifying. I could keep editing or rewriting forever and never know if it’s “done” or not.

        Thankfully, I have a deadline for the Byberry book…so I HAVE to keep putting off the novel, for just a few more months.

      • Haha – I’m pretty confident I will never say ‘for me historical non-fiction writing is easy’. Glad it works for you, though – I’ll keep an eye on the blog to track the book’s inevitable success.

        I have no idea how I’ll react when I get to the point where I’ve finished all the editing I have planned. I think I might be quite willing to just throw it out into the world (or to a professional editor as the case may be). If only because then I wouldn’t feel guilty about starting on the next one I’ve got planned.

        Best of luck with reorganizing the one, and overcoming the terror for the other!

  2. Some suggestions I would make are drop the “I am a man of golden words” mindset that drags works down in the muck of slushpile! If it sucks, delete it. It’s tough to be objective about something you’ve bled and cried over lo these many months, but if you can achieve objectivity your work will be all the better for it. (This is why most people tell you to step away from your novel for a time.) Drop explanations. Anton Chekov instructed writers to drop the first three pages of every chapter, because that’s you explaining to you what’s going to happen here. My interpretation is: get to the meat already! When we explain and over emphasize setting we lose our readers. When it’s possible for you to drop the explanations, and the reader still knows what’s going on, drop them. It probably happens more often in your novel than you think.

    • Oh, absolutely. My second chapter has about two thousand words of exposition that I’m sure I felt I needed at the time, but I’m positively itching to cut down to . . . I don’t know, twenty words? Thirty, maybe? It’s going to be brutal, but who cares – they’re not my words any more. Past Dan wrote them. Future Dan (Published Novelist and Hugo Award Winner) knows better.

      Thanks for the comment – you’re a good blog buddy.

      • I like that mindset: Past Dan and Future Dan. I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to use that. Past Sean and Future Sean. Past Sean didn’t know what the hell he was doing when he wrote this….I’ll teach that stupid SOBW (Son of a beautiful woman), and I’ll just edit the stuffing out of the kid.

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