The short version: It’s been a few weeks since I completed the first draft of my latest book, the third in my Rise and Shine series. Now I’m ripping it to shreds, and stitching it back together again. I’ve been through to check it all hangs together and decided it needs quicker perspective switches as we approach the story’s climax – oh the suspense! And now, with the developmental edit complete, it’s time to move on to the next round: the copy edit.
The long version: Where the first draft is about just getting those words down on the page and fleshing out my skeleton of a story, the second draft is about making sense of it all. If I was Frankenstein I might notice my first attempt looked a bit wonky. Perhaps that arm shouldn’t be coming out the side of the head. The legs are back to front, and that one doesn’t have a kneecap. That organ there is much too large, and possibly four livers is rather too many after all? Though I did forget one of the lungs – how could I miss that?
After leaving my finished first draft to marinate for a few weeks I recently came back to my manuscript with fresh eyes. My hope was to have gained distance from my precious work so I could view it with some objectivity, identify its faults and be ruthless in yanking it into shape.
The key thing for me at this stage – the developmental edit – was to make sure the whole thing didn’t collapse with a gentle nudge from a friendly future reader. I needed to make sure I was telling a cohesive story before I got finicky with the details. I struggle with this, breezing past a haphazard sentence, but there’s no point being precious about it when that entire scene might not make the cut.
I’ve just completed this stage for the third book in my Rise and Shine series, Over and Out. I finished the first draft in early December, then over the Christmas and New Year holiday period I forgot all about it – with some assistance from the many beers, wines, and cocktails, I’m sure.
In mid-January I rescued my first draft from the drawer and read through it quickly. I was hunting for big problems – what worked well and what didn’t?
On this fast pass I wasn’t trying to solve the issues as that would slow me down and I’d lose sight of the overall structure of the story. Instead I jotted them down, then powered on. Issues I kept an eye out for included:
- Are there plot holes?
- Do the scenes work?
- Does it drag?
- Are the characters believable, full developed, engaging?
- Do I care what happens?
- Are any characters or story threads abandoned part way through?
- Any new ideas, scenes, or characters to explore?
- Who is the audience?
I could also enjoy the story almost as a reader would, though with the knowledge there was a lot of work still to do. With the earlier chapters having been written months ago, I’d forgotten much of the detail.
Side note: My intention for this post is not to provide a how-to. I am far from an authority on writing fiction! I just wanted to lay out how I’ve gone about a small part of my edit for Over and Out. The approach I’ve taken this time is different from previous books I’ve written, and it’ll probably change again!
This is perhaps the most difficult yet rewarding part of the editing process for me… How valid were those notes I scribbled down during my quick read through? What should I tackle first, and what can be set aside for later? Key issues I tried to address at this stage:
- Fix plot holes
- Add/remove/re-arrange scenes
- Add/remove/combine characters
- Make sure the chronology is in order (characters where they should be, correct days and time of days)
- Kill your darlings (things you love but cannot justify).
- Explore ‘what ifs’ e.g. what if this character did this instead?
One major structural change I made to Over and Out at this stage related to the alternating character perspectives. My intention from the outset was to have chapters with alternating points of view (POV) i.e. Chapter 1 written from Arthur’s POV, switch to Gabriel’s POV for Chapter 2, then back to Arthur’s POV for Chapter 3, and so on. Then as we approached the story’s climax, I thought it would help build suspense and excitement to alternate POV faster, perhaps multiple times within the final chapter.
However, I soon realised that if I was going to adopt this format, it needed to be expanded, pushing the build up to the climax further out from the end.
Chapters 1–8 survived the first draft’s structural overhaul. However, I picked apart Chapters 9–12 into their separate beats. I then interspersed the perspectives, breaking down some further, removing others, and adding bridging sections too. I then recompiled these various sections and sorted them into logical chapter groupings, with the result being the second draft’s Chapters 9–17. See the diagram below for screenshots of my chapter arrangements in Scrivener, and how they changed.
Next up on the agenda is the copy edit: really diving deep and looking closely at the writing. I want to make it more readable, make the sentences sound good, listening out for rhythm and pacing and places where the language sounds bumpy.
I’ll also be checking for spelling errors, typos, and consistency, duplicated or repeated words, weird or inconsistent punctuation, awkwardness, fragments, poor or incorrect word use, junk language, tense issues, POV issues, dialogue tags, stylistic goofs, unnecessary adverbs or adjectives, passive language, jarring metaphors, etc.
So, that’s where I’m at now – wish me luck! And please, let me know if you have a similar editing process, or if you approach it completely differently – I’d love to hear how you go about it.