Tag Archives: edit

First Edit is like Surgical Post Op

I had surgery yesterday.

Great word, surgery. It conjures images of operating rooms, nurses and doctors, scalpels, and knocked out patients. Not in this case, I only had a grape-size mass removed from my back. A local, some slice-slice, a few stitches and done. Quick, easy, no problem.

Then the local wore off 4 hours later.

It doesn’t hurt exactly, it just feels… wrong.

The back (and spine) is the junction of your body. If it’s a little out of whack, you know it and everything pulls. (“Don’t lift anything heavy.” “OK,” I said, forgetting I have a 20-pound puppy.)

The first-round edit is just like that. The “back” of the story is what it’s about. That’s a very powerful concept, “what it’s about.” It sums up your story, and better, it help you edit.

You’ve just finished your first draft. Congratulations! If you’re like me, the third act comes in a rush, so once you’ve typed “The End” (metaphorically or literally), your job is to get it out of your head. Go mow the lawn, pull some weeds, paint the house, bathe the dog. And celebrate!

Maybe start researching your next book. Maybe read some other people’s books. Try to forget the book you just finished. Then a month or so later, read it through.

Use a highlighter, add a few notes, but mostly just read it quickly. What you’re looking for is what feels wrong.

Consider: A great run of scenes where Atticus Finch finds true love. They date, they dream, they fall head over heals. Knowing the back of To Kill a Mockingbird, these scenes should feel wrong. They aren’t about what Mockingbird is about. Every scene should relate to what the story is about. Identifying such scenes is actually easy. Ask yourself, “If I remove this scene, does it matter?” If the answer is “no” remove it.

Amazon.com: To Kill a Mockingbird: Gregory Peck, Mary Badham ...
I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.
That’s what To Kill a Mockingbird is about.

This can feel difficult. A wrong scene can be written beautifully. It still has to go. A wrong scene is like a gratuitous scene in a movie where you’re hoping they get back to the story soon…

Also look for what’s missing. Are the steps to the conclusion clear? Are any stones absent? Does anything need to be clarified?

Remember, at this stage you’re reading, not rewriting. Take notes, mark any obvious typos (don’t slow down to look for typos), if you print it out, use colored pencils (not pens! You may need to change something later), online, highlight or comment (PDF is nice for this).

Remember, you’re looking for things that feel wrong. The ideal back condition is to be totally unaware of it, and so it is with your story. Wrong pulls us out of the story. Scenes that fail to tie into the back of the story need to marked and revisited. Is it extraneous? Cut it. Is it out of place? Move it. Is it missing? Add it in (or write a note about what should be in the scene). Could it work? Is there a genuine way to add purpose to the scene?

Do you have a long string of scenes that don’t fit? Can you turn them into a sub-plot that does tie into the back? If not, save them for another book.

That first read-through is get a handle on what goes, what needs to be added, and finding the right order.

Next is the rewrite following your notes. Then you can dig into language and pacing in your next edit.

Editing Questions

You’ve hit the rewrite stage of your story; the first draft is done and now you must assess what you’ve got and figure out how to make it stronger.

Ask yourself these questions to prompt your rewrite.

See the source image
Red pens are for monsters…

Is it compelling?

 Evaluate your concept. Does it inspire the reader to not just wonder what happens, but does it compel the reader so they MUST FIND OUT what happens? Does your first act sing? Does the intersection of character, happenstance, and conflict force me to turn the page?

Is your entry point and POV spot on?

Who tells the story? Is it 1st person? Why? Is it 3rd person? Why? 

Have you begun the story early enough, so the reader has just enough information, and late enough that it doesn’t bog down? Why did you choose this spot to begin? Is detail parsed out as the reader needs it or is it in a big clump?

Have you crippled your characters? In storytelling, you should!

Everyone has weaknesses; everyone needs to grow and change. Have you chosen your weaknesses to compliment with other characters or conflict with them? Both are necessary; some characters will have strengths to compensate other’s weaknesses. Others should clash. Examine your main characters for compatibility and conflict.

Everyone should grow, decline or e change from beginning to end (everyone should have their own arc, some large, some small depending on the size of the role).

Is it inevitable and unavoidable?

Does the main character have to do what he/she does? If not, why doesn’t he/she quit? If characters aren’t compelled, they would quit when the going gets tough. The only reason they won’t quit is because they can’t. Are your characters isolated in some manner so they can’t ask for help? If not, why don’t they? Boundaries can be physical, mental, emotional, or relational.

Is your antagonist strong enough?

Antagonists push the protagonist to action. They up the stakes, adding suspense and tension. A weak antagonist can’t make the protagonist active.

Do your villains have a reason?

While villains don’t have to be evil, they do have to be motivated or we won’t believe them. Make it something the reader can understand so complexity increases (in Black Panther, the villain wasn’t wrong; his motives were good; his tactics were wrong).

Have you burned the Status Quo?

People must change; roles must change; THINGS must change or what’s the point of the story?

Is everyone wearing boxing gloves?

Conflict is essential to story; every scene comes alive when there is conflict. Make your people clash! We are also worlds within ourselves, so internal conflict can be compelling.

Is your prose crunchy?

Avoid vanilla language. Without overwriting, make your voice and word choices unique. It shouldn’t pull your reader out of the story, but it shouldn’t lull them to sleep, either.

Does the ending make sense?

While your ending should be inevitable and logical, it should also be surprising or satisfying. Does the ending fulfill the “question” at the beginning?

These are important rewrite questions. Use them to guide your review. You might even go so far as to use symbols, highlights, or font color to identify the heavy hitters of conflict, change, and language use. We should see those in every scene at some layer or another. If there is no conflict or change, what is the scene doing there?