Monday, January 12, 2015

Editing in Multiple Drafts

I've already talked about creating an editing checklist as your first step in editing your novel; now, what should you do with it?

Just like everybody has a different writing process, everybody has a different editing process, too. I know many people, for example, who create a list of things they need to change or look over, and then they dive in, rip their MS apart, and tinker from there. Some people completely read over their MS before editing, some people edit as they read.

Here's the easiest way I've ever figured out: look at the list of everything you know you need to change, and tackle it one at a time. Here's a hypothetical list, for use as an example: your character changes their accent every five chapters; you've got multiple scenes where it's day and night at the same time; Molly's name changed to Mindy and then Maybelle; you need to add more world-building; you also need some description in there of your setting. To top it all off, some of your writing isn't quite up to par because you wrote it after three days of no sleep.

The list is pretty dang daunting, isn't it?

I suggest taking it one problem at a time, one draft at a time. In your first round of edits, go completely through your novel and pay attention to only your character dialogue: as you go, map out (or make a chart) of the kind of vocabulary your characters use, and as you go make sure their speech patterns remain consistent.

That's Draft Two (Draft One would be your original draft).

In Draft Three, start from the beginning again: make sure your timeline's consistent. Know when it's day and when it's night, and make sure it's easy to follow. Draft Four: make sure your characters all keep the same name until the end. Draft Five: world building! Draft Six: description.

Your final draft, no matter how many you go through, should be the one where you focus on making sure the writing is crisp, your I's are dotted, your T's crossed. That's the polishing.

See how that works? Take one problem, and address it through your entire draft. Only that problem. If you come across more issues to be edited and fixed, add it to the list to be tackled in its own time.

Personally, I work pretty broadly: my second draft of my current WIP consisted of me playing with my characters' personalities; I made some characters meaner, some nicer, and by the end I knew exactly who was wrong and who was right. My Draft Three (which I'm currently on), is about working on the plot: fixing holes and getting the exact events and orders just right.

When creating your list, also try creating a hierarchy: the most problematic problem (in your opinion) goes first.

So there's two versions, one hypothetical and one the way I'm currently using it. The point is: when you're editing, you've got a lot of work to do; instead of tackling everything at once, try, instead, to simply take it one thing at a time. Sure, it's daunting to have the drafts pile up, but each time you'll have a certain area of your novel crisper and cleaner than it was before, and with each pass you'll have crossed something off your editing checklist.

What are ya'll's go-to ways to edit?

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Blogger @Rae_Slater talks editing: use multiple drafts of your novel to focus on one editing goal at a time (Click to Tweet)


  1. This post has it exactly right. Comb through the manuscript with one objective in mind each time. You may end up going through it 20 times or more, but it will be so much easier!

    1. It's definitely something I've practiced myself, and even my fiction professor stressed it during a workshop class last Fall; it's some of the best advice I've ever come by!