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I love drafting a novel. I love the breathless feeling when I finally type “the end”. For a precious moment, I can sit back, satisfied my novel is complete. Characters exist, the plot is framed, the lump of clay has taken the shape of a book.
But then the moment vanishes when I realize this lump needs a whole lot of work to ever see the light of day. My heart speeds up. My throat goes dry, as I face down the beast formed from 80,000 words.
Where do I start? How do I fix broken subplots? What do I do with characters who took on a life of their own and left my carefully crafted outline in the dust?
I’ve attacked this fear by studying how-to books. I’ve read blogs, gathered information and tidbits and sage pieces of advice, but no matter how much I’ve learned, I still don’t like editing.
Some of you buckle down and get the job done. Lucky dogs! I have to trick my mind into believing it’s easy. Here are five things I’ve found helpful:
1) Stop calling it editing. Call it (at this stage) what it is: revision. At this point, you needn’t be concerned with fine details. You’re looking at the BIG PICTURE. Which leads me to the next point:
2) Think of your mind as a lens. Imagine pulling back to see the larger view. Now is the time to look at turning points. Where do they fall? Do the characters have an arc? Examine primary plot points – are they resolved in the end? If you’ve followed my suggestion, you’ve printed off your wonderful first draft. Now is the time to dig in. I use post-it notes to mark turning points (which typically fall at the 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 way mark, depending on how many “acts” your story has).
3) Once you’ve examined the larger points, tighten that lens- but only a little- to look at chapters. Do they have dramatic tension? I follow the Snowflake Method which proposes that each chapter is driven by either a GOAL, CONFLICT, and SET-BACK or a REACTION, DILEMMA AND DECISION (if one chapter is a GCS, the next would be a RDD). Using that theory, I note, right at the top of the chapter GCS or RDD. I even break it down a bit further by noting each element in the chapter.
For example: if it’s a GCS, I’ll mark the chapter this way:
Goal: The protagonist needs to find safety, which means tearing up roots and leaving again (she’s on the run from an abusive father).
Conflict: She’s part of a gymnastic team that is top-notch and heading for States in the Spring. If she leaves, she’ll miss out on her chance to place (and thus, lose out on chances for scholarships).
Set-Back: She has no choice. Father has found her. She has to leave, and abandon her dream.
It’s amazing how much this has helped me – both in editing and in plotting a chapter.
4) Let’s go back and play with the word “revision”, and tweak it to re-envision. Here’s the time to read through the chapter and let it play out in your mind, much like watching a movie. This allows you to dive deeper into the story without worrying about small details like word choice and sentence structure. Which leads me to number five:
5) Take notes. Take lots and lots of notes as you re-envision. Resist the temptation to go back and rework the micro when you still have to fix the macro. Keeping a notebook handy keeps the ideas flowing and your creative juices primed. I’ve filled pages with everything from setting adjustments to mood and emotional content. Then, as I progress to the stage of editing (sorry for that word!), I won’t have to search my memory to pull forward all those picky details.
I hope these ideas help. Got some of your own and care to share? I’d love to hear from you!