Friday, March 26, 2010

Editing; or Why Didn't I Write This In The First Place?

I was asked about my editing process earlier this week, and since I've been doing some pretty heavy-duty editing this week, I thought I'd share that here (with a few extra embellishments):

1) Initial Read-Through: When I finish a book, the first thing I do -- because I've tried, and I absolutely cannot resist -- is to read it all the way through to make sure I got the ending in the right spot.

2) Dusting and Vacuuming: Once I've done that, I go back and do my initial "dusting and vacuuming" pass, where I correct any blatant spelling and grammar errors. This is where I also do my first round of "pull out the excess commas." (I'll do at least three more rounds of this before I'm done.) This is the edit that gets sent out to Eager Alpha Readers (my small but loyal fanbase).

3) Rest: I'm firmly of the opinion that, like a roast turkey, writing needs to sit and "rest" a bit before you carve into it. I'm trying very hard not to even look at The Daughters of August Winterbourne for two months before I start the real editing process. That helps me put a little distance between me and it, which makes it easier to see things that just plain don't work.

4) The Process of Elimination: I tend to write long, so for me, the editing process consists in large part of seeing what I can cut out while still keeping the story intact. So once I start editing, I'll begin by going through and giving it a read to see which scenes can be combined or eliminated altogether. Note that I don't plan to edit for spelling, grammar, etc. at this point -- because there's no point in polishing up things I'm just going to hack out anyway.

This phase also includes making sure each scene starts and stops in the right place. I usually find that most scenes could end a few sentences or even paragraphs sooner.

Something I want to try on one of my stories is writing a synopsis of each scene on an index card, along with why it's important to the plot, then laying them all out on a table. I'm hoping that will help me see where things could be cut out. For instance, if I've got a ten-page scene where the only contribution to the plot is to show how two characters interact, perhaps I can work that interaction into another scene and eliminate the first one.

5) Nuts and Bolts: After that,I start working on grammar and style:

- I go through and edit for my list of problem words. These are ones that are either weak words ("seems" is one I tend to use way too much), or unnecessary words ("then", "suddenly," "very").
- At this point, I also look for things like passive voice, and fix those.
- Another thing I get rid of at this point are excess dialog tags, and fix the ones that got away from me ("He screeched" "She intoned" "He glared")
- While I'm at it, I'll yank out another round of excess commas (Have I mentioned my comma problem?).
- I'll also incorporate any feedback from alpha readers, both here and in the previous step.

One thing I had suggested to me was to try editing from the end backwards -- take your last chapter and do a style edit on it, then the one before that, then the one before that. I'm currently trying that on my Regency romance, and it's working pretty well.

6) And then I'll give it a read and see how it flows. If I'm satisfied (unlikely), then I'm done. And if not, repeat process from step one (though perhaps with a shorter resting time). I might also run it past a critique group before digging in to edit again.

That's my plan, anyway.

How do other people approach the editing process?