On Editing: A 2013 Journey -- Reference Sheets

Based on  the following paragraph from this article, and on things I’ve read in other places, I think the first step (after I do the light edits to fix spelling and grammar and replace all the words I know are wrong or extranous) will be for me to create sort of character reference sheets.

Consistency is crucial when editing
Writing a book or manuscript can take months — even years. Such long time periods make it easy for you to lose track of certain key elements. In fiction this could be plot elements and character traits; in academic writing it could be minor argument details. If you contradict yourself within your content or let gaps slip through the net, your readers will notice.

So prepare for editing as you go by compiling reference sheets. Simple bullet points on key aspects of character, plot, argument or other integral factors in your manuscript. Update these as your book develops. You will find reference sheets an invaluable resource at editing stage, helping you achieve consistency throughout.

Now. Because of my super plotting, I already have about a half a bajillion pages of backstory on each character, and I’ve filled out no fewer than 5 character sheets on each of them. I know some of these people better than I know my best friends. So this shouldn’t be too, terribly hard (I say now…I’m sure I’ll sit down to do this and will be sobbing over it after 20 minutes or less). But it seems like a logical step to do the following:

  1. Make a timeline of events. I already pretty much have this thanks to my plotting process, but it won’t kill me to do it again and make sure it matches up with what actually needs to happen in the book. Several of the events actually *need* to happen at key times of the year, so I need to make sure I’m hitting those goals and keeping the timelines consistent.
  2. Rewrite the base plot outline. Not that I need to go over the detailed scene notes piece by piece, but I think just writing down the plot in a simple bulleted list would be a good idea.
  3. Characterizations. I guess basically here, what I’d do is take a page (or half page) for each character and sort of outline his or her arc (possibly tying it in to the timelines) so I can make sure the character arcs are solid AND that I’m actually hitting those goals. This might be a “what’s supposed to happen” vs a “what actually happens” situation. I don’t know that I need to re-create notes on my characters since, as I mentioned before, I know them better than my friends. It might help for my minor characters though. Sometimes I feel like they’re just *there* without actually being anything.
  4. Who knows what when. There’s not a whole lot of this in my story, but it does happen in a lot of stories. It’s part of the timeline of my plotting process, but I believe it’s worth reiterating here and making sure you hit the marks and *actually* kept it consistent while you were writing

So there you have it. This is basically a list of “stuff I need to do sometime soon”, but hopefully it will help some of you as you think about how to edit a longer work and make sure you’re keeping things consistent the whole way through. Nothing kills a story faster than an inconsistency or a plot hole…gaping or otherwise.

10+ ways to improve your writing by self-editing

If you want your writing to be polished, professional, and effective, you’ll need to develop a system for reviewing your work with a critical eye. Here are some concrete steps you can take to vastly improve the results.

Here is an article on the self-editing process that I found. This is more-or-less the same process I’ve been following on my first round of editing everything I write. It focuses on taking a high-level look at this thing, ignoring most of the problems, and fixing the obvious errors, then getting into the grammar, then digging in and making reductions and wholesale replacements, then digging in deeper and getting the words right (I’m invoking Hemingway in this process, you do what you need to do). This is the first thing I do when I’m editing. From there I focus more on content and deepening and how I can make these pretty words actually invoke FEELING in people. But first, I make the words right.


Steps 1 – 4 basically say, give the piece some time, then read it like you’re reading it for the first time. This is very much the process I’m using with my book (and with the fanfic I’ve been editing for what feels like a bajillion years now). Honestly, I started the beginning of this book in November of 2011 long before I even knew a damn thing about writing or editing. I expect the beginning to be a train wreck of narrative summary and redundancies. But before I can even think about getting into that, I need to READ it and I need to see if I’m actually making coherent points with this thing. Then I need to fix things like … using the obviously wrong word or attaching the wrong speaker attribution or that one time where I randomly switched POV within a scene (I know that happened at least once). Then I can go back in and think about the words themselves a bit and all the places I hit my point over the head with a hammer because I was trying to figure out what it was and basically talked myself through it while writing the scene.

Steps 5 -6: This is where I start hating myself and everything I write. Literally go in line by line and make sure your sentences are right. If they are not right, make them right. Make sure they are active when they need to be. Make sure your words agree. Make sure your adjectives have clear antecedents. Make sure the sentence logic is correct. Make sure you’re not using the same structure over and over again. Make sure you’re making the point you meant to make. After you’re done … do that all again with every paragraph. Make sure your paragraphs are flowing logically. Break up or join together parts of paragraphs as needed. Rearrange sentences within a paragraph. Make sure each stands on its own. Then look at each paragraph within a scene and make sure they flow together correctly to make your intended point. Make sure they aren’t just repeating one another. Get rid of redundancies. (I read somewhere once that the best way to do this is to read your manuscript, keeping in mind what you are trying to do with each paragraph (what point you’re making, what mood you’re trying to create, what background you’re trying to suggest, etc.) and identify how many different ways you are accomplishing this, then try reading the passage with what you feel is the weakest approach and see if it isn’t the most effective (we all have the urge to over-explain)). Then do the same thing with each scene in your story. Cut the ones that are redundant and keep the ones that are best accomplishing your goals.

7. Return to the outline. If you all keep up with my writing process, you’ll know that aside from editing, the thing that I take the most gleeful pleasure in is the story creation process. By which I don’t mean writing, but outlining. I’m a detailed outliner. I have at least a half a page of notes for how I want each scene to progress. Does that mean they progress that way once I get them going? NO. So it’s important for me to go back to the outline, and compare the differences and similarities and see if I’m okay with the track we actually took or if I want to rewrite some of the story to get it back on course.

8. Read it aloud!!!! It might be the audio fic recorder in me, but I believe that this is the single most important step in editing. It doesn’t necessarily do anything to fix all those places where the plot is dragging or the tension needs to be amped up, but it is, in fact, the only way that I can get the words in my story to be the words I want them to be. I usually read aloud after doing my elimination and rewording edits. Then again after fixing content. Then again before I hit the publish button. The bottom line is, no matter what else my story is lacking, I always make sure that the rhythm of the language and the words I’m using and the order of those words is what my mouth (and therefore my brain) wants them to be. If I’m reading and I find myself subconsciously changing the order of words … I change them. What my mouth wants to say is almost always a better way to phrase a sentence. Reading aloud is the best way to hear awkward phrasing and odd wording and find places where you made a spelling error or repeated a word or left out a word or all that business that your eyes tend to skim over when you’re reading on a page.

9. The emphasis bit. Yeah. I don’t think you need to use italics to emphasize words. I once read exclamation points described as “period-tipped crutches” and fully support this. If you’re using strong words and you’re putting them in the right order and you’re getting the context clear, then the sentence emphasizes itself. And, really, if your intended emphasis isn’t clear from your wording and your context and your characterization and all that business, then I think you need to ask yourself if you need to word better OR if the emphasis is really that important in the first place.

11. I keep a list of words I over-use (I like to make word clouds of finished scenes/pieces and then write down the biggest words that aren’t character names and then run a search-and-destroy on at least 30% of them in every scene). I also keep a list of other problems I know I have, like words I spell wrong every time (judgement—wrong) and other words that I just don’t want to use. I have a list of things to check for (like using two prepositions in a row or saying things like “off of” when I could really say “off” or words like “there” or “seems”, etc.) I advocate this. It makes my first pass of editing easy because all I have to do is hit ctrl+F and destroy/rewrite the offending bits. Then a big chunk of my word fixing is done for me.

12. This is important, and it’s the thing I struggle with the most. I think a new thing I want to try with this edit is to go back to my detailed outline, then make a spreadsheet of every scene and write down the single point that scene is supposed to make. Then I want to read my scenes separate from that spreadsheet and write down the single point I think the scene is making. Then I want to reconcile that and see if the actual points match and if where they deviate might not actually be better. Then I need to tighten up the writing and make sure that every single sentence advances my theme.

13. Edit other people’s work. I cannot say enough about how much I’ve learned about editing, but especially about writing, from being a beta editor for someone else’s work. It’s one thing to intimately tear into something you wrote yourself (which is already written in your style and is basically something you remember creating) and something written by someone else with a completely different style than you and completely different word choices from you. In the latter, you need to fix sentences you didn’t write while making sure you’re not turning someone else’s work into your own style, and there’s difficulty and power and also beauty and extreme education in that, and I cannot advocate for it enough.

On Editing: A 2013 Journey

While I know most of you are busy gearing up for WRITING a bunch of words in the month of November, this year I’m using the month (ha, let’s be honest … the next 6 months) editing that book I finished LAST November that I didn’t even want to look at again until very recently. Since this blog was started as a way for me to post my thoughts on writing a novel (and other stuff) as I went through the journey, I thought I’d try to use this space to post about my experience with the novel editing process. I’m an editing advocate and cheerleader … if you know me, you know I spend more time (both gleeful and agonizing) editing my writing than I do writing it. Because editing is important and, imo, it’s where the real magic of story comes from. So, hopefully this will be helpful to anyone wanting to edit their work who might want to know the likely very involved and drawn out process of a super planner who takes great pleasure in taking a mess of words on a page and mixing them up and deleting them with reckless abandon and reading them aloud and screaming at them and crying over them until they become a story.

At the very least, hopefully it will keep me accountable and help me stay on track.

So. Here we go.

First … some thoughts on editing and its importance:

Editing MUST be done whenever you write anything intended for publication (Even fanfiction. Even self-published work.). There is no getting around editing and whether the editing is done by you or by someone else, it is of vital importance. These days, books are not published without being edited first (although self-published books sometimes skip the editing process, and let me tell you, it shows!).

No publisher will publish without editing and not even a bestselling author can write a perfect book on the first draft.

All writers edit. Established writers know that editing is the most important process, while new writers may feel that editing is something that their editors should do, not them. They are wrong. Self-edit your book before submitting it to any editor. Take the time to make it the best book you can make it on your own, and THEN show it to the people you’re trying to sell it to.

Only through editing can you make a good story into a GREAT story. Period. Full stop.