Thursday, December 9, 2010

There's a Method to the Madness

I didn’t blog last week because I was engrossed in editing my manuscript -- Night Reigns -- Book 2 in my Immortal Guardians series.  I’m pleased to say, I finished my last read-through of Night Reigns and sent it off to my editor.

Once I expelled a sigh of relief, it occurred to me that editing might be a good topic for a blog.  After all, not one of the creative writing courses I took in college tackled the issue.  (Nor did the books I read.)  Instead, the classes focused on other aspects of writing.  The playwriting class centered around plot.  The fiction writing classes focused on character development.  And the poetry writing class focused on language.

None addressed the process of editing:  how to decide what to leave in, what to take out or what to add.  I’ve always been pretty obsessive compulsive when it comes to editing.  Some would say anal.  I just don’t feel like I have a finished product until I’ve read through the manuscript at least half a dozen times, focusing on a new aspect of editing with each read-through.  This may seem extensive . . . crazy even.  But there’s a method to my editing madness.  I’ll use Night Reigns as an example.

With the first draft, I focused on getting the story down and didn’t worry about word choice or chapter divisions.  So when the time came to edit, I focused on plot during the first read-through.  Was the exterior/action plot fully developed and satisfactorily resolved?  What about the romance plot?  Did the relationship between the hero and heroine develop too slowly?  Did it feel rushed?  Did one scene flow into the next smoothly?  Did I include all of the information I needed to in the story in order to make this a stand-alone novel as well as a sequel?

With the second and third read-throughs, I added tentative chapter breaks and started cutting.  I always shoot for 100,000 words, but my manuscripts more often than not come in quite a bit longer than that.  Night Reigns was no different; so I scrutinized each and every scene and -- even if I liked them -- cut those that didn’t specifically advance the plot (action or romance).  This is always difficult.  So much so that I wouldn’t be surprised if, at some point in the future, I added a page on my website that provided some of these deleted scenes, much like DVDs often do in their special features section.  But I firmly believe cutting these scenes ultimately makes my manuscripts stronger by keeping the pace from lagging.  It’s always important to maintain forward momentum.

With the fourth read-through, I looked for passive writing and rewrote any sentences that contained it to make them active.  Passive writing involves telling instead of showing.  What exactly constitutes passive writing is widely debated (sometimes heatedly) in the writing community, so I’ll save defining it in greater detail for another day.

With the fifth read-through, I concentrated more on language, checked facts and continued to whittle away at length, eliminating a sentence here, a paragraph there.  Such small deletions can add up to a surprisingly large reduction in length.  I also read all dialogue aloud (mangling foreign accents) to see if it flowed naturally and made necessary adjustments if it didn’t.

During the sixth read-through, I made any necessary changes to chapter divisions and focused primarily on language.  Did I use this word too often?  What about that one?  Is there a better word or series of words or sounds I can use to make the scene more vivid and enhance the mood?  Did I employ all five senses?

By the time I reached the seventh read-through of Night Reigns, I had a tighter, stronger, more well-written manuscript and pretty much just looked for typos, though I continued to keep an eye out for words that popped up too often and changed them.

Sounds tedious, doesn’t it?  I know some writers find editing laborious, if not torturous.  But I actually enjoy editing my manuscripts.  I like knowing that when I’m finished the stories will be stronger and, thus, appeal to more readers.  And I probably shouldn’t admit this, but . . . I also like the stories themselves and enjoy rereading them.  The first read-through is usually the best because there are always scenes I forgot about that surprise me.  :-)

Well . . . that’s how I do it.  Very methodical.  And, thus far, very effective.  It worked well for Darkness Dawns, the first book in my Immortal Guardians series.  Hopefully the same will hold true for Night Reigns.

For the readers out there:  Do you like it when authors offer readers glimpses of deleted scenes on their websites, in newsletters, at the ends of books, etc.?   

For writers:  How many times do you read through your manuscripts before you’re satisfied that they’re ready for submission?  And how does your editing process differ from mine?

Thanks so much for stopping by!


  1. Thank you for the inside look at how you edit, and I for one love reading the deleted scenes, sometimes they give you a deep glimpse into the charactor.

  2. I like reading deleted scenes, too. As a reader, I love getting more glimpses into the characters and having a chance to see them interact more. And, as a writer, I'm always interested in seeing what didn't make the cut and why. Sometimes that alone can provide valuable insight into editing.

  3. Thank you for all of your comments about how a writer, especially you, might edit your books. I just never thought about it before. I love watching deleted scenes and would love to see what you took out of Darkness Dawns. It flowed well but the deleted parts might give more insight into the different characters. I just couldn't get enough of the story so getting to read more would be fantastic. Please put in a section about the deletions and why you took it out. Thanks much!

  4. I'll have to add deleted scenes to my website or post them here on my blog. A historical romance author (I think it may have been Madeline Hunter) used to include deleted scenes in her snail mail newsletters. I always found it interesting as a reader and very helpful as a writer to see what she removed and why.

    Thanks for your interest!