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I heard someone say once that if you aren't completely sick of your story then you haven't edited it enough. That still makes me laugh because there is some truth behind it. BUT editing can be rewarding and exciting. Yes, that's right--I used happy words.
Think about it! You have a story that at its core is wonderful and a best-seller. Unfortunately, that amazing story is buried under layers of problems that drag it down. Editing is the way you clean your story up to let its potential shine through. This is where you can see your story evolve for the better.
There are two types of editing--and you must do both. Content editing is taking a look at the plot, the characters, and the way the story moves. Line editing is looking at your syntax, grammar, and punctuation.
You will want to do the content editing before the line editing. If you notice a typo while you are working on content editing, fix it. But don't spend significant time trying to make everything perfect because you still might be making changes to some of the scenes.
#1 OutlineThe first step in content editing is to outline your book. This will give you an overview of what your book is. If you are the type that outline your book before you begin and follow it rigidly then you already have your outline done. Other people don't like to outline because they like to wait and see where the story takes them. That's fine while you are writing, but doing an outline now that you are editing will still be helpful. I fall somewhere in the middle. I start with an outline and a story plan, but I don't stick to it rigidly. So at this point, I re-do my outline.
I recommend using Dan Wells' outlining system because it has made a large difference in my writing, but use whatever outlining method works for you. I previously did a three-part blog that lays out Dan Wells' system, and it can be viewed here.
At least some of you are thinking to yourselves that outlining a story after you are done is backwards, but it really isn't. A good outline isn't just a list of things that happen in the story. It shows how the plots and sub-plots are intertwined. It should also show you if you have holes in your plot. Do you have all the major plot movements, or could adding a scene make it flow better? Are the character's major decisions in the book driven by your need to push the story along? Or do the characters act in a way consistent with who they are?
#2 CharacterizationOnce you have reviewed your new outline and have gained all you can get from it, scan through your book looking at one character at a time. For main characters that means scanning through the whole thing. If you have five main characters that are present for most of the story, plan on scanning through the whole thing five times. For small characters you will only have to look at the spots where they appear. Use this time to pay special attention to how your characters act, the way they process thoughts, their motives, and their habits. Look for any abrupt change.
Does one character fly into a rage when someone steals his parking spot but then react with patience one chapter later when someone rear-ends him? Does another character suffer from a severe injury in one paragraph but then act like nothing happened a few sentences later? Characters can--and usually should--change in some way as the story progresses, but change happens a little at a time.
#3-6 Balanced Writing
The next process is something I learned from my editor, Clint Johnson. It involves more time than the previous two steps but is well-worth your pains. There are 4 parts to it, so I'll be dividing it into steps 3-6. As it will take more time to discuss, I'm closing my blog for now and will continue discussing content editing in Part 2.