How to approach that first edit4 min read

by | Sep 9, 2016 | Writing | 0 comments

It’s not easy revising your manuscript for the first time (or the second, or the eighty-fifth…) but unless you are a God-like Chuck Norris kind of a person, chances are your first draft won’t be perfect and will need an edit.  

The story is already mostly there.  The characters are somewhat developed.  (The fight sequences, on the other hand, are already as epic as Brian Blessed’s voice/laugh/beard.)  So, how do you do this first edit malarkey?

Initially you’ll need some space from the story.  If you don’t take time away you’ll be too emotionally engaged with it.  That will make it harder when you have to cut out that beautifully crafted (but completely unnecessary) scene where your heroine and super villain debate the pros and cons of feeding henchmen a nutritious breakfast.  Stephen King says tuck your story away and don’t look at it for six weeks.  

In the meantime start working on something new.   Get your brain thinking about a different, less cereal oriented, super villain.

When you come back to your work the best advice I can give is to read your work aloud as you edit.  I read it first on Tamora Pierce’s blog as a teenager and it was a revelation.  If a sentence isn’t flowing right, it’s much easy to spot the clunkiness when you hear it.  

If you feel silly sitting in a room reading aloud to yourself then just remember that it’s good practice for when you’ll be reading your work aloud to your thousands of adoring fans at book events.  #lifegoals?

guns-467710_1280You also need to be ruthless.

The writer Anton Chekhov had a rule, “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”

If it’s not relevant to the story, no matter how well-crafted the prose or how long you spent on the scene, I’m sorry, but it’s got to go.

Yes, there is a place for world-building, there is a place for showing the characters relaxing between alien shoot-outs, but only if it helps the story along.  You might need to put in some political background to show why Xgfp (hi Xgfp!) is shooting all those aliens.  That makes sense to the story, so it can stay.  

You don’t need a scene about Xgfp playing table tennis.  Not unless the final alien show down has Xgfp exploiting her mad table tennis skillz in order to win.  So edit it out.

Utilise those friends and family you trust.  Pull your biggest Puss-in-Boots eyes and ask them to constructively critique.  If you don’t want to approach them, find a beta online.

The most difficult thing about editing?  Knowing when to stop.

There will always be another sentence you can tweak.  A word that you could adjust to get a more nuanced meaning.  If you find yourself at that stage, making constant small modifications, then it’s probably time to call it a day and decide what you’re going to do with your finished manuscript next!

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