Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Revision Decisions and Self-Editing


I assume a lot of us revise as we go - depending on how hot our key-board is - and while re-reading yesterday's production to re-establish the mode or mood can't help but casually correct and/or bookmark any glaring mistakes and weaknesses. Which we fix. If we notice them.

Logic suggests that self-editing is similar to a map of a central city square, approached by three broad avenues - that have a number of connecting streets, alleys and laneways.

Micro - paragraphs and sentence mechanics: the spelling, the punctuation, the tenses, the grammar, the word choice, cliche-watch.

Mini - chapters and scenes: show-not-tell, character influences and motivations, dialogue and action sequence, senses, backstories, exposition blocks, plot threads and layers.

Macro - the over-all structure: the placement of plot elements, suspense and climax. No aliens. No blind alleys. No over-long detours. No missing sign-posts.

I tend to edit by the seat of my pants, and by printing out long scene/chapter accumulations for street repair, I do roadway widening, over-passes, pot-hole filling, debris removal, and check for obstructions, road-kill, gas leaks...

It might help to have a check-list of watch-fors and don'ts.

How do you edit?

32 comments:

Marie said...

At the moment I'm rewriting the first part of my novel even though the first draft isn't completely finished. I tend to do edit when I feel like editing. Sometimes I might not feel like writing so I do the editing part. But it's so easy to get stuck on the beginning of the novel and going over it all the time. To me, the first part of my novel never feels right. There comes a time however when you have to just leave be or you'll never finish the rest of it!

Kirsten said...

I tend to leave most of my editing until I have the entire book done. My first drafts I try to get the big stuff in place. Then I go back and knock off chunks that don't work. Finally I get down to the more subtle bits -- i.e. refining awkward sentences, making sure that a character who calls his to-be-ex lover "babe" at the start of the book gradually drops that endearment as they grow apart. OTOH, if I happen to pick up a section and see something that I know needs to be done, I'll do it right then & there. But I'm sensitive, early in the writing process, to the need to keep my momentum going.

Bernita said...

That's a good point, Marie.
If something niggles and doesn't feel right and one has a half-ways solution, one should go and fix right then - but not get stuck there.
Sometimes one's brain switches from creative to critical, so one might as well take advantage of the switch.

There's logic to that, Kirsten, and momentum is important.
I wonder if plotters and pansters have different approaches to editing.

MissWrite said...

I edit much the same way you describe, although I admit, I've never compared it to a map, or construction zones, or eek 'road kill'. LOL... I LOVE when you do that.

For the most part as I write I keep an eye out for spelling, sentence problems (not that those slippery suckers don't weasle their way in anyway, but I watch for it).

As I'm working and re-reading throughout the process I'll spot logic lapses, holes, etc, and think of ways to correct those.

Most of my first drafts come in fairly clean after all that, but man, some of that stuff can still slip right past you and you're re-reading and thinking 'how in the world did I miss that?

Some of those detours are tricky.

Sela Carsen said...

I do a lot of micro and mini editing as I go and leave the big picture stuff to the end.

I start writing by re-reading the previous scene or two, up to where I left off. As I do that, I often make small changes here and there. It's a little bit in the way of "pre-writing," I suppose.

If I've left the ms for any length of time, that's when I check for big picture stuff. I have distance then and can see the whole thing.

jason evans said...

I don't edit until I'm finished with the story, then I go through progressive, complete revisions. If I'm on track, each one will be quicker than the one before with fewer changes. Man, the first one is painful, though.

I know I'm one who benefits from not seeing something for a while. My view is much more objective then.

S. W. Vaughn said...

What's a edit? This is, like, totally where you go threw your awesome book and fined all the missteaks, write?

I don't gotta edit, because my righting is all ready purfect!

(G)

Bernita said...

The horror, Tami, when you discover you've committed a sin you KNOW BETTER NOT TO DO - that's when the sound you hear is my head meeting my office wall.

Another much like Tami and I, Sela.

Think I do that for short pieces, Jason, but for the longer stuff, see above.
It's amazing what will leap out after a time out though.

Bernita said...

Hee, Sonia.
And the next Da Vinci Code, only better...

Bonnie Calhoun said...

How do I edit...let me count the ways...I send it to my crit partner...Mwhahaha!

Seriously though. I use an outline to build the WIP, adding in a line here and there, when I add a previously unrecorded point.

Then I let the whole thing simmer for a while, and revisit it to see if it tastes as sweet as when first created.

Ya' notice the cooking theme...Misswrite sorta messed that us with the "roadkill" analogy...egads...I'm ready to barf...LOL!

Bernita said...

Good organization, Bonnie.
Um...but don't blame Tami for "road-kill."

Jaye Wells said...

I do a quick pass on the micro and macro level each day as I begin. This helps me know I'm headed in the right direction. My critique group goes over two chapters at a time and I place all those in a drawer until the end.
When I start revisions, I pull those out and make all those changes. Then I print the whole thing and attack it with a red pen--a lot of micro and macro work here. The process of entering those changes inevitably leads to more fine-tuning. Since I plot out in advance and discuss the overall story with my group as I go, I'm usually pretty comfortable with the macro stuff by the time the book is complete.

Bernita said...

Sounds excellent and efficient, Jaye.
Thank you.

Candice Gilmer said...

There's not a lot of efficient organization on my side when I edit, but I do go back and do some minor editing usually on what I just wrote the day before, smoothing rough spots, etc.

But when it's done...

I print the entire thing, and have an "editing notebook" that I put it in, along with a package of notebook paper. Then I go line by line, reworking, rewriting, smoothing, cutting, adding, whatver is needed. I use the notebook paper for additonal notes and additions to the story. Some pages get as little as a couple of words added here or there, and I use the back of the previous page, while other scenes require pages of notebook paper to put in or rework the scenes.

Thus far, it's worked for a couple of books, so I can't complain at all about this process.

Bernita said...

Candice, it it ain't broke...
I like the notebook idea.

M.E Ellis said...

Ummm, I edit most things as I write, except for things like 'It was a hot day' tells me next time round I expand it. Sometimes the words are rushing and I don't have time to explain the frikken weather but I leave little signals in for myself for the next round. 'Her hair was brown' - a totally crusty sentence, but gets broadened later.

I'm doing that at the moment, and also making the prose more immediate rather than tell/explain. I find it easier to do that. Whack the book out and fix it up later. LOL

Quite enjoying it with this book I must admit.

:o)

EA Monroe said...

I do what Candice does with the notebook for the edits. I don't do a full blown "outline" -- I'm not a linear writer, but more organic. I know how the story starts, ends, all the high points, characters, etc.. I also write out the important scenes first; the rest is a "magical, mystery, tour" along the way.

When I'm finished, and before I print out anything, I have a spiral gang of index cards from which I go through the master document searching, finding and replacing "stuff." Then I do the printouts, a chapter at a time, and take the red pen and make a big mess with lots of circled As, Bs, Cs, arrows, etc. The extra notebook paper, and backs of the printouts, is handy for rewriting and deciphering the red ink mess. In the old days, before computer (BC), I used scissors and scotch tape.

To keep a frame of reference, I'll then do a detailed outline and a Time Line <--very important. I'd hate to have cherry trees blossoming in August or mix up the character's ages. I also write at the top of each chapter: Goal, Conflict, Disaster; get rid of dialogue that smacks of a character telling another character something they already know, etc. Stuff like that.

One of these days, I'll try to post a copy of all the stuff I have written on my index cards, stuff I should have learned by now!

Dave said...

gee, Bernita, you ask hard questions.
I presume you mean after the research and the time spent picking names of characters.
First, I write the rough, rough draft. I mean rough.
Second, I clean it up and make it pretty.
Then I cut the unnecessary words, usually a third to a half of the total.
then I edit again, just because I missed something, somewhere...
Then I rework the existing stuff.
I do this maybe six times.
Then I seriously start to edit on a hard copy and work out the most complex plot parts.

Shesawriter said...

I don't have a set thing. It depends on my mood and my muse. If I'm harried, I skip to places that inspire me--you know, where the prose is almost singing, but needs a little bit more elbow grease.

If I'm in a bad mood, I avoid the rough patches because they ruin my creativity every time. I only go over the clunky prose when I feel adventurous.

spy scribbler said...

I'm an edit-as-I-write writer. I backtrack to the beginning of the chapter and re-read when I sit down to write--catching any little things--and I do a once-through read when the whole thing is done.

I very rarely do anything above the micro level. Now there's a skill I could use to learn. (Don't I sound like Grandma Mazur!)

I do leave blanks or "FIX!!" in my manuscripts, to go back and fill in or fix later.

Bernita said...

Yes, Michelle, the place-holder lines. I come back to those when I have time to visualize, but first I want to whack it out too.

Whoo, EA! The basic writing process sounds familiar, but the editing sounds really pro.

Gee, Dave, a lot like me,even unto the 6th generation!

A good point, Tanya, one has to have the right mood or one cannot effectively concentrate.

Spy, that works fine if one has started with a tight overview and refuses to be distracted by the scenery. I envy you.

Gabriele C. said...

I edit while I go, it's intimately connected to the writing itself. Those who wonder why my first drafts are so polished - that's why. That's also why I count 200 new words a good day. :)

I have rather detailed outlines, I suppose a necessity with that style of writing. If I discover a little detail (like Alamir's dagger) has to be inserted in a previous scene, I'll go back and do it, but the general plot with its twists and turns I know beforehand.

Bernita said...

Steady but sure can save all sorts of disconnects and Things That Go Nowhere.
Thank you, Gabriele.
I think outlines are particularly valuable in historicals.

Dakota Knight said...

I try not to edit something until it's finished. I like to go with my mental flow. Of course, there are times when I don't feel right about what I'm writing. During those times, I may take a step back and try to figure out how that section of my work isn't flowing well.

Once I have a first draft, then the true test begins. I like to put the work away for a day or two before I dig into it. I also read chapters out loud (you'd be amazed how many mistakes I find doing it that way).

Bernita said...

And reading aloud also alerts one to things that are not wrong exactly in a grammatical sense but are awkward, rhythm-breakers.
Thank you, Dakota.

cyn said...

i'm still trying to figure out my writing routine. i used to write short stories and loved reading aloud and editing after the rough draft, polishing to perfection (at least in my eyes). i've tried doing the same with this longer story, and i think it may be holding me back. perhaps a once over quick edit is okay, but to do six polishes/edits gets me stuck. who knows! i don't. ha!

cyn said...

oh yes. my style has always been to write longhand, then type. (but i started writing before the pc was prevalent.) so my first type into the word doc would be a first edit. now i'm toying with just writing directly onto computer. not sure how that is working out yet. =)

H.S. Kinn said...

Ditto what Jason said. I tend to try and leave off edits till I'm done with a draft, and then I let it sit for a while. You're much more likely to see what you wrote, rather than what you meant to say.

Bernita said...

Was my style too, Cyn, the longhand first, but this past year I've found direct composition has distinct possibilities and advantages.
Of course, I still print things out and edit on paper too.

Bernita said...

Distance always helps objectivity at some point, HS.

Lisa Hunter said...

When I was an editor, I always had to make two passes on manuscripts -- once for content and flow, then a second pass for grammar and usage. I can't do both at once.

Bernita said...

I often read books the same way, Lisa.
Once for the story/plot, once for the intangibles/philosophies; and now, once for an analysis of technique - for study.