Friday, August 13, 2010

The Seven Deadly Edits

No, I am not talking “syntax” or “grammar”.

Books are long. I don’t mean that just in the number of pages or words. I mean the journey. As every writer knows, writing the dang book is only ½ the work. (More like ¼ in my case—or less.) Granted, there are people who can make magic happen in a single draft, but for the rest of us mere mortals, editing is inevitable. Forgive the title—because most of us will complete more than seven edits, these are simply editing categories.

1. The Detail-enator: I find, and you may too, that in the heat of the moment several little details, like oh, the fact the MC is wearing a sweater and should be dripping sweat (potentially blinding sweat) as he runs from the bad guy, tend to slip my mind. Therefore, the first edit is to go back and insert these relevant details—if I wish my writing to be believable. Every detail. An abundance of details—half of which will likely disappear by the final draft, but are imperative to me understanding exactly how each scene plays out. My drafts tend to grow by about 30% in this stage.

2.       The Continuity Continuum: Do all the loose ends connect? Where are the plot inconsistencies, and how to I proverbially sweep them under the mat? Did the MC have an injury in the second chapter I completely ignored the rest of the manuscript? Did Bob promise to come visit the MC’s best friend right before the conflict exploded, never to be heard of or thought of again? Excellent outlining can limit the number of inconsistencies, but inevitably, there will be a few. (Or a lot.)

      3. The Character Consistency: This is my FAVORITE edit—the one we examine every individual, understand truly and deeply how they tick, and why they react exactly how they do to each situation. What are they thinking? What are their mannerisms? What psychological scarring mars their actions/reactions? Usually I complete an entire edit per character on the manuscript, charting where they are at all times during the plot, and tightening their appearances/dialog to fit their exact perspective. Part of the fun with this edit is finding a character who’s lacking, and pulling from that mental shelf of quirky people I keep swearing I’m going to write into characters.

4.      Thematic Thorough-gate: Some people lay pretty heavy on the importance of “theme” in a book. Yes, I’m speaking of crazy artists whose noses are so high they can’t smell their own food. Theme is pertinent, and in some stories, paramount. The ones that stick with you forever usually revolve around powerful themes conveyed in every scene. Therefore, I include the “theme” edit. (Though most the time I’m scratching head as to exactly what I meant to say. I just wrote a story okay? Everything else is subliminal.) Hoping as I become more seasoned, this will become a deeper part of my “art”.

           5. Speaking of art, the Beauty Check: By the time I get here, I know I’m nearly done. Scanning through my document five to seven times, I identify any location where “show, don’t tell” applies. And what I mean by show, is painting the world with words. Rather than saying, “She saw a dog”, I might change such a statement to read, “A schnauzer’s stench caught her dander-sensitive nose.” Paying attention to all five senses, here is where reality begins to feel like the moon—well rounded. (Or not.) This is where language becomes art.

6.       Language Litigation: How many times can you use “bounded” or “gasped” in a single chapter, or book? This is where we identify trouble words and root them out. See, it’s easy to subliminally think, “Oh I like effervescent”, and then use it five times in the next page—without realizing it. During this edit, the thesaurus does laps while I bang my head and scream about cutting one more “was”, “that”, or “look”. Language also means sentence structure. Action sequences demand jarring sentences—short and exciting. Thoughtful, or calm scenes call for flowing strings of words that gleam in the candle light. The end of this edit includes syntax, misspelled words, grammar (or the absence thereof—depending on the character), and typo’s. All of this builds into the last, and sometimes most consuming edit,

.      7. Flow. When I met my first literary agent, she spoke of writing being “prose”. I scratched my head. Prose? No, this is just story telling—not poetry in every page. Since that time I realized the validity of her description. When someone reads my stories, I want the expressions to move naturally. I want each sentence to spill off the reader’s mental tongue so smoothly they forget they’re reading. Therefore, I spend agonizing hours pouring over every word, every paragraph, every page until I almost have the entire book memorized. By the time I’m done, I have literary gold. (Until my husband tells me otherwise—which he does, every time. *sigh*)

And by the time I finish, either the story is dead, or I am.   Is it a wonder it takes years to turn out a single book?

Well, there’s my editing process—in case you were ever curious. Thoughts? What do you differently? The same?


  1. Guess my work is a bit light on the theme part. I have to watch consistency, too.

  2. I spit up word vomit, writing whatever comes to my head, with out thought of spelling or grammer or punctuation; this is my crap draft. Then I go and make a first draft out of it, focasing on story. From there I make a second draft, focasing on grammer and spelling and punctuation.

  3. Aaron, the more you do this, the less crap draft there is. =)

  4. A great round up! I think the hardest for me in the middle stages of editing a book is the character one - I feel like saying "just because" when wondering about their actions. But that's not good enough! :-)


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