Editing adds a final polish to your writing to make what you produce colorful and attractive, giving that flamingo effect!
By Shelley Widhalm
Editing a novel or a manuscript can’t happen in one round—at least most of the time.
Like with writing, editing is done in layers and it takes time.
Editing can be done in different passes (think of rounds of beer) to identify the missing, the overdone and the boring.
The missing can be missing plot points, missing character identities or a lack of necessary scene description to anchor the character and action.
The overdone can occur through repetition and overwriting, such as creating similar scenes or putting in too much description or detail. For example, two beautiful sentences describing the same thing requires picking or combining but not keeping both.
The boring comes in with too much or too little—there’s too much description, too many main characters (it’s best to keep to one to five to allow for reader tracking and empathy) or too little happening in the action. The story falls flat without rising action, tension and a driving force that compels the character to chase her want (she ends up getting what she needs, not what she wants).
Editing in Rounds
I like to do my editing in four rounds. They are:
Round 1: Edit for Boring: Once I’ve completed my novel and set it aside for at least a month, I read the entire manuscript to see if there are parts that are boring or repeated. I call this my getting-rid-of-the-crap phase.
I dump the cuts in a cuts file and turn the overwritten pretty descriptions into poetry to fill my poem-a-day project that I started in 2015 (that’s another story).
Round 2: Edit for Arc: Once I’ve removed the rough bits, I get down to story. I like to use Nigel Watts’ eight-point narrative arc as a guideline to make sure I’ve included all the crucial elements in storytelling.
Watts outlines the eight points in any story as Stasis, Trigger, The Quest, Surprise, Critical Choice, Climax, Reversal, and Resolution. The main characters experience something that upsets the status quo, sending them on a search to return to normal, but they encounter obstacles along the way. They have to make a critical choice that leads them to the story climax and eventually their return to a fresh stasis, or the new normal.
Round 3: Edit for Pacing: I get down to the business of action and reaction, looking at where there is excitement—sentences are short and to the point to move the story along—and where there needs to be a pause in the narrative with description and character reflection.
I think about each action in the scene and determine if I’m slowing the pace with too much inner thought or character observation or leaving out information, such as stage direction and logistics. I also make sure characters doing one things don’t suddenly do another action without some transition, such as sitting and suddenly running without first getting up from the chair.
Round 4: Edit for Grammar: I polish the manuscript by looking at grammar, mechanics, punctuation, spelling and syntax (how words are put together). I get rid of annoying word habits—for me, my characters do a lot of looking, gazing, nodding and smiling (I’m glad they don’t frown though).
And lastly, I edit every time I get a rejection from a literary agent or feedback from my writers group. I keep editing until I get a “yes,” though it takes hours and hours of work.
Once I do my own editing, I hire an editor to give my work that final polish and to catch anything I missed. This step is particularly important for self-publishing to make sure the copy is clean and free of error, because too many errors in any of the rounds cause readers to doubt the quality of the work. I prefer the flamingo effect, beautiful, striking and eye-catching work!