No Rules: A Rocky Start, like Editing

Wow. January 2021. That’s when I planned to start posting a new series about writing rules.

Since then, I’ve posted… well… nothing. I can give you all the excuses: I had sold my condo, moved (twice), looking for another job in another state, and homeschooling my son. Then I landed another job, moved out of state, and struggled with said job, all while trying to unpack and settle in. As things usually go, just when life should have been getting back to normal, a new/better opportunity presented itself and there I was, again, packing and moving.

Four moves in less than 2 years. That should have given me plenty to write about. But this isn’t really a “therapy” blog. And although I also post my creative writing here, I haven’t been doing much of that. The novel I had been editing and posting snippets, has been gathering dust. I brushed it off for a few minutes the other day and it feels like a wall, towering over me, tilting, threatening to come crashing down. I must conquer it – get it to the point I can share with beta readers. I probably could now, I suppose, before I spend too much more time on it, only to have those readers tell me all the things I need to change. But I know there are weak spots I wouldn’t feel good hearing criticism about.

Plus, it is so hard to edit something I have reread a dozen times. I continuously labor over the same scenes, the same paragraphs, and get bogged down before I’ve reached the midpoint. Editing can be a barrier in completing a project. The pacing may never feel quite right, the word selection could always be a little better, and the line editing, well, that never seems to end. Here are few options I’ve found to help move it along when you are stuck in an editing rut.

  1. Use a “Hollywood-style” outline for revision. Make an outline of the novel with each major scene, emotional, or physical event as a bullet point. This can help you map out the story and look for plot-holes, character development, pacing issues, and tangents leading nowhere. This post by John Robert Marlow, Revise Your Book Hollywood Style, discussing how outlining like this works, with examples from Matrix and Harry Potter as well as provides tips for tracking changes to the outline and saving versions. This could also be a good way to prep for NaNoWriMo.
  • 2. Edit your work back to front. I’ve heard this advice several ways. Edit scenes last to first, and edit chapters last to first. The idea is to focus on the scene or chapter, out of context. Plus, it gives you perspective on where the story is going. If you are like me, you have probably been over the first few chapters a dozen times, but only the last half of the novel once, when you wrote it! You can also get a sense if the plot played out properly as you see if unfold, or is that fold, up through the story in reverse. How did the antagonist get to that village in the first place? When did the protagonist get out of the dungeon?
  • 3. Forget about grammar and spelling, as least until the very last proofreading step (or save that for a trained editor). Editing and proofreading are two different things, and unless you are an English teacher, or had it drilled into you, let the spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes slide in the first few edits. You will get to them eventually, but in order to get through a typical novel of 80k words, you will want to separate editing and proofreading.
  • 4. If you are really getting stuck making it past a scene, try focusing on just one aspect, like show vs. tell, or conversations. What is the most important action in the scene? Is it the interaction between characters? Tighten up the conversion. Is it the mysterious cavern the wanders just found? Make the description focus on the main features of the scene, or how the characters feel looking up into the expansive, cave ceiling, overgrown with hanging vines. Or maybe it’s a fight scene? See if you can pace out the fight on a screen in a movie, does it flow, is it believable? Once that piece is solid, move on to the next scene. If you have to come back, reread it later when it has had time to settle into it’s place.

As I said in my first post of the series (oh so long ago), there are No Rules, just ideas. These are just a few of the ideas I ran across that I may try while attempting to complete the second edit of my novel, Sword of Chaos. However, there are many more editing tips out there. Some I might not agree with or use, but someone could find helpful.

Enjoy:

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