In the wake of NaNoWriMo, there are legions of us sitting around trying to figure out how to edit our books.
This isn’t a straightforward process. If you’re anything like me, you’ve got a ton of mental notes: I need to change this part of the plot and make sure these characters don’t vanish, edit through this scene because it makes no sense, edit the jokes that fell flat, etc. When you’ve got a huge manuscript with a lot of work that needs doing, it can seem daunting. You don’t always know where to start.
My process for editing has usually been to just read through and “edit as I go”, which has resulted in a lot of half-edited manuscripts. If you’re doing it the way I was, you’re probably doing it wrong.
This is my plan of attack.
Components of Editing
When it comes down to it, there are three major components of editing. There’s the content: the plot, the characters, the worldbuilding. There’s the details: grammar, consistency, continuity. And finally there’s the beauty of the prose, making it something polished and enjoyable to read. Say it with me: content, details, beauty.
I’ll be rereading and re-writing my novel three times, once with each component in mind, and I’ll be doing it in that order. Over the next few months, I’ll likely be posting on each of these components individually: what to look for, who to involve, how to work with them effectively. But I’ll introduce those concepts here.
You know the content of your book: it’s your plot and your subplots, your worlds, your people. This is the stage where you smooth it out.
Now, if you’re more dedicated than I, you planned a lot of this out beforehand. You knew your plot, you knew your characters, you knew the lore and rituals of your world. Here’s the problem: characters surprise you. Spoilers: one of my characters in my current novel (The Thrilling Adventures of Clara Delaney) revealed himself to be a horrible poet about halfway through the book. The villain of the story showed up completely out of the blue and started doing stuff to the plot without my consent. My planned romance completely failed, and someone turned out gay.
When you write good stories, your characters can’t be planned out. A good character is a person, and they do the unexpected.
So this is the stage where you smooth out the rubble of the plot your characters left as they plowed through it. If you don’t have any rubble (and where you don’t have any rubble), this is where you go back and flesh out your characters. You add in the subplots and histories that revealed themselves as you wrote the book. You put in the weird cultural quirks that popped up later in the plot.
This is by far the most fun part of writing.
This is by far the least fun part of writing. And this is where you call in your beta readers: your mom, your best friend, that guy you hired over the internet, whoever. You get down to the nitty-gritty and you smooth your work over.
All that rubble and all those subplots leave inconsistencies. Once you have your actual book written, you have to make sure it makes sense. Make sure you don’t have an orphan whose subplot centers on getting revenge on his parents’ murderer coming home from Christmas with Mom and Dad (or at least, not the same ones you killed off).
And then read through it again. After you (and your beta reader, if you have one, and you should have at least one) check for consistency, check for grammar. Get rid of typos and incorrectly-used words. Smooth out your tenses. Make sure it all makes sense. If you have a lot of different cultures, make sure you refer to them properly.
For example, if you’re from the planet Vork: the people and culture are Vorkite, the culture is Vorkon, and the empire is just plain Vork. Don’t call a Vorkite a Vorkon who speaks Vorkese, because there’s no such thing as Vorkese.
You may think that’s silly, but as you can see, it gets confusing fast.
Your book is now actually something publishable. But you don’t want it published like that. It doesn’t matter how talented you are: you want it to be well-written, right?
Sit down with your beta reader, your editor, or even just read your words aloud. And go through it, line by line, one more time.
Make your writing into literature.
And then send it out to the publishers, because they’ll go through and do this whole process all over again.