11 July 2011

Editing – The Big Picture

So you’ve written your opus.  Well the first draft at least.  Now comes the hard work.  Editing means different things to different people – from a quick sweep through with the spell checker to a full-blown restructure of the manuscript, and everything in between.  So I thought I’d write about how I edit as I think it’s useful to know how other people work.  I’ve picked up ideas I would never have thought of without someone sharing them with me. 
If we use a film analogy, I start with a wide-angle lens to get the overall feel and view, ignoring tiny details (for now at least).  The big picture.  In the past I’ve spent hours agonising over finding exactly the right word, or rewriting paragraphs, only to discard the entire scene or section.  What a waste of time and effort.
Firstly I read through the entire manuscript asking myself questions such as:
  • Does the plot hang together?
  • Is there a logical plot progression?
  • Does it flow?
  • Have I mixed up my timeline?  Do I have two Saturdays in a row?  Do things happen in the correct order?
  • Is my timeline realistic?  Can people be where they should be?  As an example the early sections of Lives Interrupted have a very loose timeline running from February through to July with no exact dates.  But that changes about a third of the way through with the second third covering a two-week period .  To ensure I had all my scenes and the timeline correct, I created a detailed spreadsheet to keep everything in line.  Of course not all plots will need this level of detail for timelines.
  • Pace.  Do I need extra scenes?  Have I moved the story too far too fast because I know what is happening, but left the poor reader confused?  Or in contrast have I fallen in love with my poetic descriptions and they’re slowing the story down?  Are there scenes that don’t add anything to the plot, or move the story forward?
In my view all these are big picture items, and if I’m changing these I’m doing more than a little tweaking, which is why I leave the detail items to later, once all of this is working.
Hopefully long before this point I’ve chosen the right character(s) to tell the story, and the right tense and POV, but if a first draft isn’t working it can be down to one of these.
More on editing to come...

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