I am knee-deep in edits right now of the sequel to Overlook (title TBD) and feeling a bit unhinged by the process. First of all, editing is hard. I am fueling my work sessions with coffee and little treats for completing each chapter.
Here are few things I’m thinking about regarding the editing process:
- Make sure all your chapter openings are varied. Don’t start every chapter with the weather, or the characters entering a room, or the beginning of the next day, or a review of what happened between chapters – you get the idea.
- Go through the entire manuscript and highlight sections of backstory. Are there whole pages of highlighted text? It might be time to reconsider what the reader needs to know about the character’s background, and what they could live without. I spend a significant amount of time establishing who my characters are and where they came from. As hard as it is, I’m learning that my readers don’t need to know about the characters as I do; they need to know the events of the novel with a bit of information for context.
- Eliminate passive verbs whenever possible. I do a search for the words ‘was’ and ‘were’ and consider if the sentence can be reworked to use a more active verb. Back in the Mesozoic era, I was taught to use the passive voice when writing essays. I’ve broken myself from using the impersonal one, but still struggle with passive verbs.
- Consider the level of detail in each sentence. Remove irrelevant details that don’t add meaning or reflect an ongoing theme. If the color of a woman’s sweater is unimportant, take it out. Then, when you do take the time to describe a character’s outfit, the reader will know to pay attention.
- When looking at your dialogue, make sure it is clear who is talking at all times. In the process of cutting and revising while editing, you can loose track of who is saying what.
- Review your use of non-standard tags in dialogue. They can get in the way and distract the reader. I have a character that was scoffing at everything she heard. I limited her to four well-placed scoffs, and let her say things like a normal person. When I started out as a writer, like many other new writers, I used far too many interesting verbs where a simple ‘said’ would suffice.
- Pay attention to continuity. I found a scene where I had cut the paragraph where a minor character entered the room, and she suddenly started talking like she had teleported into the scene. Since I don’t write sci-fi, that was a big no-no.
- Rework sentences with too many dependent clauses. I picked up a nasty habit from a former critique partner of stating where everything was within a scene. Trust your reader to figure out that if a character is doing dishes, they will put a plate down on the drying rack. It’s only important to tell the reader if they put the plate on their head, or in the trash, or back in the dirty water.
- Add touches of leitmotiv throughout the narrative. A recurrent idea or image can tie a novel together, especially if it has multiple plot lines or points of view. For instance, in the manuscript I am editing right now, the image of a city built around a series of hydroelectric dams is referenced in many scenes. The reader may not pick up on each reference, but I hope they add to the reader’s understanding of the setting. [If you are interested in learning more about leitmotiv, I recommend Susan Bell’s The artful edit.]
- In the final chapters, have you brought all the subplots to a satisfactory conclusion? I prefer books where one or two subplots conclude several chapters before the main conflict is resolved, and other things are left a bit ambiguous. Depending on your genre, you may need to tie everything up in a tidy bow in the last chapter, or you may want to leave a few small things open to interpretation.