My friend was discussing edits with me and I realized that it might be helpful to lay out my process, both in an effort to give myself something to refer to, but also to share it so others can add to it as needed.
So, without further ado, let’s plunge into Hell.
1. I read back over the entire piece, referring back to my outline. This accomplishes a couple of goals: I make sure that my plot hasn’t deviated from the outline in a detrimental way. Since I’m often a pantser, I will sometimes write an outline after I finish the book, noting the major events as inciting event, pinch point, plot twists as necessary. Then I go back and make sure I hit all the major points and delete all the darlings. A darling would be a scene that doesn’t carry its weight by moving the plot forward, revealing world building or developing character.
2. I compose a character sketch for all of my main characters and any important supporting characters. The goal here is to know them inside and out, to be able to have a good idea of how they would react in any given moment. I then read through the entire piece again to make sure that every single line and interaction makes sense with the character at that point in their development in the novel.
At this point I’m pretty sick and tired of reading what I’m convinced is the worst story in the history of stories, so I set it aside and go do something for a while. Like drink an entire bottle of Scotch on my own.
If you’re doing edits, you should feel free to go do that. I’ll wait.
Once the above has been done, I usually send the novel off to beta readers who will read the entire thing from a macro level and tell me where I need to layer in more emotion, where character motivation is unclear, where the character does something unbelievable, where there’s a plot hole the size of Europa…etc. Often beta readers will come back with more scenes I should have cut out but mistakenly thought were absolutely crucial to the plot. Pro-tip — often they’re not. Readers are, oddly enough, often much more intelligent than you give them credit for.
When I get the chapters back, I usually shut myself up in my room with another bottle of Scotch and sob a bit more.
When I feel up to it again, I go through the manuscript, fixing all the instances where my beta readers had problems. Not gonna lie, this might end up being a full re-write. One beta reader said that the romance angle in Conflagration came out of nowhere, so I’m now in the middle of massive renovations so it’s made clear that there’s this romance waiting to happen.
After that’s done, it’s time for detail and polishing. I would suggest looking up editing checklists at this point and picking out things to focus on. My editing checklist includes the following:
1. Anchor your scenes. Where when what how why.
2. Use at least 2, preferably 3 out of 5 senses.
3. Weave in setting descriptions.
4. Trim as needed. 3 details about one thing is overkill.
5. Weed out non-specific words like beautiful, dark, light, etc unless we’ve already covered it.
6. Be more explicit with sarcasm. Be more clear of when she is uncomprehending. Things the author might know needs to be on the page. Author-brain on the page.
7. Character — revealing emotion, motivation, reaction.
8. Don’t over internalize thoughts. Use reactions. Thought reactions. Like instead of her thinking and explaining her thoughts, have her do a gesture or something so the reader can infer her emotions.
9. Using bodily reactions to describe something is fine, but the character needs to react to the reactions. If she’s hyperventilating, then she’s going to do something about it, not just sit there and hyperventilate.
10. Mix the physical with the internal. Don’t either be completely in her thoughts, oblivious to what is going on around her, or just writing what’s happening with her body likes she’s a passenger in her body.
11. Don’t overuse dialog tags. Especially when there is only two people.
12. Make sure every bit of info is accounted for. If she knows something, it needs to have been mentioned at some point or the other.
… there’s more, of course. Like killing run-ons, weeding out adverbs, etc, but this is my editing checklist because it reflects what I need most. If you read through an editing checklist or five, you’ll be able to compile one that works for you. After having a couple of beta readers, you should have a clear idea of where your weaknesses and strengths are.
Of course, if you’re feeling like an over-achiever, you can immediately hurl yourself into the special hell that is “this word or that word?” and “how can I make this more concise?” and “how do I make every line out of this character’s mouth comedic gold?”.
Btw? The answer to that last is you can’t, so I’ll save you the effort right now.