Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Editing: Structure

Warning: lots of writing process babble ahead.  Proceed with caution...

Well, I've taken the editing plunge.

The idea of editing is always a little overwhelming at first. I have a vague idea in my mind of all the things that need to be changed, but I start out not entirely sure where to begin. I have several little editor voices in my head all saying things like “This bit over here needs to be cut,” or “These lines don't belong here,” or “That's not the right way to present that plot line,” or “This scene just isn't working—figure out why!” or “Do you seriously think you can get away with that opening hook?”

And of course, being a perfectionist, I want to fix all of these things at once. But that can't be done. So eventually I come to the obvious conclusion that I should start with the structural issues first.

So that's how I spent yesterday. I went through the first section of the book and made a chronological list of all the scenes, chapter by chapter. (The process was complicated by the fact that I had three different versions of chapter 1.) That way I could piece together where all the scenes should be, and after writing out the new order I set to the task of copy and paste.

Scene reordering is a lot more nerve-wracking than it may sound. There's the constant fear that I'll delete something and forget to put it somewhere else and thus lose it entirely. Or that I'll lose my place and get so muddled in where I am that I'll end up creating twice as much work for myself. Maybe it's a control issue—I feel that if I'm not holding both the current order and the correct order in my head at all times I'll get swept away in a river of homeless scenes all looking for their place in the story.

But happily, the copy and paste is mostly done now. (I say mostly because there are a couple small bits that might still need reorganizing.) Now comes the fun part: making the new order of scenes flow together. Well, fun for me, but I like that sort of thing.

And then will come the other big-picture edits: fixing flawed scenes, making sure characters are behaving appropriately, cleaning up major dialog errors that take the story off track... things like that.

And then mid-sized edits: descriptions and character reactions... the typical weak points of my first draft.

And finally the nitpicks and the “how many unnecessary words can I find and cut” game.

Two bright sides to the structural work I've just done:

1) There are three distinct sections of this story, so the structural complexity isn't nearly as insane as it could be.

2) I only have one POV character. So much easier to figure out the order of things when I'm juggling just one time-line instead of two.

Now back to work for me!


  1. Wow, sounds like quite a process! I am looking forward to seeing the result!

    So have you found working with one MC easier than working with two? I've been struggling with it. I'm so used to having a variety of voices to switch things up in Merryweather's story, it's odd to be stuck perpetually in such a close-third-person with Blair.

  2. Sooo much easier! Not having to figure out how to realign the two time-lines when I move things around in one or both. Not having to balance the amount of action that happens to each so they keep a good pace. If I ever write another book with more than one POV I will try very very hard to organize it better before-hand.

    But for the foreseeable future all my upcoming projects have just one MC.

  3. I learned 2 weeks ago that Amy Tan wrote 10,000 pages of editing notes when working on Joy Luck Club. No wonder it's so structurally beautiful! I wish you much joy in this stage so that it is fun and not at all work-like to you. :)

  4. Thanks! Your wishes seemed to be doing me some good today at least ;) I really enjoyed getting started into the nitty-gritty this afternoon.

  5. Editing. The endlessness of it can drive me mad sometimes! Good luck chiquita! Oh, and congrats on finishing the book! That alone is a HUGE accomplishment. Make sure to celebrate! :D

  6. Thanks! And yes, I have been celebrating. I'm really excited about this book.