Sculpting a story

I love editing.

Don’t get me wrong – I love writing first drafts as well. They’re fun in an entirely different way. But editing – at least editing my own work πŸ™‚ – allows me to make changes that can turn a good story into (hopefully!) a great story.

These can be tiny, subtle changes, like adding in sensory details or description, or explaining the physical sensations a character feels in a particular sensation. Or they can be hefty changes, like adding a new scene, or taking a three-page section from chapter three and condensing it into half a page or so. The latter is on the list for tomorrow, so we’ll see how long that scene ends up being – and I might end up tossing it entirely. In my first novel, I chopped about a chapter and a half from the middle of the manuscript because the tension dropped to a crawl, and the story ended up being much better as a result.

I think of writing as like sculpting with clay. I create something, then add a little here, remove a little there, until things feel right. This approach works very well for me, and it’s surprisingly fun.

My typical process is to start at the beginning of a story and work from there to the end, then repeat until I’m happy. This could mean editing, rewriting, adding new text, etc. I refer to this as ‘editing’ for simplicity. I usually don’t start the next session where I end up. Instead I like to go back a few paragraphs, or even a few pages, depending on what’s going on. That helps ground me in the story again, and I often find that I notice things when starting a round of editing that I didn’t notice at the end of the previous session. Sometimes I’ll linger on a section for a while, but if I’m unsure what to do I’ll usually make notes to myself and catch it on the next round.

I make many, many passes this way. I have no idea how many times I went through the entire manuscript for With Perfect Clarity, but it had to be at least 20 times. That was a special case – I started that manuscript years ago, when I wasn’t as good at writing, so I had to correct things the less-experienced me wrote as well as do my regular editing. That said, I made two full passes through the manuscript the weekend before I published it, and I found tiny things on both passes. At that point I was focusing more on copy editing (em dashes, ellipses, etc.), but I still reviewed the text on each pass just to be safe. And for the record, I missed one thing… There is a tiny factual inconsistency that one person (my dad!) pointed out to me. Ack! No one else has noticed it – or at least no one else has mentioned it. πŸ™‚

And so I am now in the editing phase. I’m almost to the end of chapter one, so tomorrow morning I’ll start at the beginning of the scene I’m in the middle of, and go from there.

2015-11-19 Dakota Ridge

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