My approach to editing

pendrecarc asked about my approach to editing.

It differs as between short stories and longer form fiction. With short stories I like to put a first draft aside to stew in its own juices for at least a couple of weeks. Then I print it off, go through it with a red pen, input my changes into the Word doc (usually changing the formatting to Standard Manuscript Format, if I haven’t already done that), and send it out. Between submissions I sometimes do edits, e.g. to reduce word count so it complies with the requirements of a particular venue, but otherwise I don’t do many passes on a short story.

Which isn’t to say I don’t do relatively major edits — I have cut out whole scenes and put in new ones, but that’s generally done on that single initial pass. I also don’t use any tools except the hard copy manuscript of the story itself, and maybe some paper to make notes on, if the notes can’t fit on the margins.

In my experience editors haven’t tended to ask for major edits to short stories. Which makes sense, I guess, because with a short story there is only so much you can change before it stops looking like the short story you bought in the first place.

With longer stories my approach is broadly the same, but I do more passes — a couple for The House of Aunts, spread over several months (though I wasn’t working on it continuously all those months) and a couple for Jade Yeo, but not really structural edits. The novel I’m currently working on has involved more editing than I’ve ever done before, and it’s been very educational!

First I bashed out the first draft, then I let it sit for a month while I did some research and fine-tuned my ideas. (I didn’t do proper research before because I’d outlined the plot and wanted to get on with writing the first draft before I lost momentum.) Then I had the first draft printed off, read through it, and prepared a chapter-by-chapter, scene-by-scene breakdown of the book in a spreadsheet. I used the breakdown to prepare a new outline, moving old scenes and chapters around, knocking some out, and adding in a fair few. Then I outlined all the new chapters and scenes I had to do. Then I sat down with my first draft, my spreadsheet, and my chapter/scene outlines and wrote a new draft from scratch.

This was the most fun draft to do! I’m not sure why — I think because the fact that I had two sets of outlines and a first draft as a guide meant I never had to sit there wondering what needed to happen next, or what to write. The fact that I’d done the first draft meant I knew all my characters quite well, whereas with a new story I’m usually trying to get to know my characters as I go along. It was very satisfying!

When I had a complete second draft I let it stew for a week or two. Then, because I was impatient to start querying, I did a third pass to remove repetition, tweak language, etc. I cut around 5,000 words at this stage. And then I sent it out!

After I signed with my agent another stage of the editing process began. But I will not talk too much about this because I am still in the middle of it. @_@ What I find surprising about it is it’s still fun! I mean, some of it is tedious and fiddly, but some of it is really just coming up with new things to do for characters I now know really well and enjoy writing, and it is very satisfying when you feel you’ve fixed a problem. (However deceptive that feeling is!)

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  1. Pingback: How writing long fiction differs from short fiction | Zen Cho

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