Wooohoo! You just finished writing a short story or novel! Congrats!
After you celebrate that huge victory, what do you do next?
Edit the thing.
Well yes, but HOW?
Back in April, I finished the really rough draft of my almost 100,000-word manuscript. I celebrated. I printed the monster out on paper. I didn’t care that it used almost a whole ink cartridge and most of a whole ream of paper. I was so happy to have finished my first manuscript.
I knew it should rest for a bit before starting to edit. Frankly, I’m happy for that. But now months later, I look at it, knowing I need to edit it, and I shake my head. No. It was too big a task. Truthfully, I am well aware that the story is a HOT MESS. I have whole plot threads that dangle and snarled knots that you wouldn’t believe! (And that is okay! First drafts are supposed to be that way.)
Not only is the manuscript a huge mess, but revisions require you to think about so much. How was I ever going to tackle all that?
I came up with a plan: I’ll do a few short stories and hone my editing skills on something smaller, more manageable.
Which comes first: Revisions or Edits?
This is what I teach my students. I didn’t make it up, so the brilliance is not mine. I would cite my source but it is all over the internet. I don’t know the original inventor. I claim Fair Use due to common knowledge.
Revisions are the ARMS.
- Add- Add information that was missing–Information that is important to the story.
- Remove- Take out unnecessary information
- Move- Move sentences or even scenes around for better effect.
- Substitute- rewrite scenes that need it for whatever reason.
Edits are the CUPS
I don’t see the sense in looking at CUPS before I do revisions. I am highly likely to forget to capitalize stuff, forget commas, and mess up grammar when I am rearranging and rewriting scenes. So it makes sense to me to do revisions first. (I’ve seen other sites recommend edits first, but that doesn’t work for me.)
Step 1: Plan if you do that kind of thing. (I do.)
Step 2: Write Rough Draft (Ha! If only it were so simple as that!)
Step 3: Let it rest a proportional amount of time relative to how long it took to write. If you wrote it in a day. (You are amazing!) Let it rest for a day or 2. If you wrote it in a week. Let it rest for 3-7 days. If it took a month or more– like me– let it rest for a week or two or a month. You get the idea.
(My current rough draft is going to sit for two years as I finish Grad School. I can’t focus on revising a massive novel while in grad school. My head would explode! After two years I will see if I go back to it or move on to other things.)
Step 4: Big Glaring Problems. Reread the story as a reader would. Try to be objective. That is why we let it rest for a bit, to get some distance. I look for plot holes, things I forgot to explain, and basically any big glaring problems I need to fix.
Some people keep track of this AS they write their rough draft so they don’t forget to later fix problems. By writing them down, it frees them to move on with the rough draft. (I, however, am not yet this organized. I’m working on it though.)
Look at each character in your story. Did they turn out the way you hoped? Or did they take on a life of their own and go in a different direction? Is that working for you?
- Have you fleshed out the characters well? Do they all have goals of their own? Sometimes those goals are contradictory to the main plot which makes for some interesting plot twists and character dynamics.
- Are there any Mary Sues? (Mary Sue= characters without flaws)
- Check Dialogue? Is it realistic or stilted and fake?
Are there slow parts? You might need to move some scenes around to control the pacing. (Round 1 Beta readers are really good at helping you see this!) Cuts also come into play here. Four pages of straight description will bring your pacing to a grinding halt. I’ve heard different author give different numbers but most go through and try to cut between 10-20% of their word count to tighten their writing. Apparently, we all fall prey to overindulgence in some area. Most SFF writers indulge in too much world building or flowery description and have to carefully control it.
Does the narrator’s voice remain consistent throughout? Does each character have their own voice or do all your characters sound the same?
Trim the fat.
Look at each scene, each sentence even. Can it be cut? What purpose is it serving? If you are writing a short story, then you have to be ruthless. The writing must be tight. Longer works will allow a little more indulging, but not an endless supply.
Sometimes even characters must be cut. Think about what purpose they serve. Are they there to toss out a joke here and there? Or are they acting as a foil for your protagonist? If it is just for the jokes, you can maybe give the jokes to another character and cut this one, or cut this one and find other ways to cut the tension when needed. Sometimes two characters can be combined as one.
There are plenty more to look at, but I’m realizing this a lot for one post. To be totally honest, I’m still perfecting this whole revision process. (But really, who isn’t still perfecting it?)
This is merely skimming the surface of each topic. Each one could be a post on their own. More to come later…