Editing Schmediting

While roaming the internet one morning (procrastinating, in truth), I stumbled across a great quote from Jenna Morris at Literally YA: Remember, not many people have died from editing.

How awesome is that? Say it again: not many people have died from editing.

This quote really rang true for me because as much as I enjoy editing and re-writing, I have no idea what I’m actually supposed to do. Editing, for me, usually consists of reading the manuscript over and over, changing a paragraph here, a word there, maybe adding in a scene or two. Yes, the manuscript improves, but it doesn’t sparkle and that’s what I need to learn: how to polish the beast-that-was-once-a-first-draft until it shines and glimmers and sparkles.

I’m taking some editing classes with the fabulous Kim Wilkins and I’m learning structure. I’ve learnt to start by searching for those words I know I over-use – “that” and “just” – and eliminate them. If I hesitate on whether I really need the word, it goes and I can usually admit the sentence is stronger for it.

Another editing tool I’ve learnt is the scene map. My hyper-methodical brain loves the concept of a scene map. It allows me to indulge my love of spreadsheets and organising information and yet also provides a lens through which to view the manuscript more methodically.

A scene map lists each scene, one after another. It’s not an outline to be completed before the writing starts, but a review of how the storyline actually unfolded. I have a column of scene numbers (which will eventually be grouped into chapters); next to that is a brief description of what happens within each scene and who the viewpoint character is. A third column is for my notes: heighten the tension here, or develop a relationship better in this scene, or there’s crucial information missing here.

The scene map helps me to view the manuscript more objectively and note where there are problems. Then I can work back through, scene by scene, and fix those problems. If I only have ten minutes in which to work, I can pluck a small task from my scene map and get stuck straight into it. I can’t wait to get to the end of this first draft and start applying my new editing tools.

So tell me, what editing tools do you use?

10 responses on “Editing Schmediting

  1. Brandon M Lindsay

    Tools? We’re supposed to use tools? I usually just assault my manuscript like a raging rhinoceros with no regard to method. Which is exactly why I appreciate posts about editing techniques, and these are some good ones. Thanks, Kylie!

  2. KylieQ Post author

    Brandon, I was pretty sure other people must have some method in their editing but I had no idea what it might be until I started taking these classes! I feel like I have a plan now for when I re-write.

  3. Evan Braun

    My tendency is to over-write my first drafts. A lot. So my goal in editing is just to remove as much as possible. Overwriting generally allows me to explore characters, circumstances, or plot turns from every possible angle, and then when editing comes around I’m far better positioned to see what was necessary, what enhanced the story, and what just mucks up the works. It’s not uncommon for me remove 25% of a book in the first round of editing.

  4. KylieQ Post author

    Evan, I tend to be the opposite – my first drafts are always about 30,000 words shorter than the eventual ms because I’m just laying down the main plot and getting to know the characters. All the extra layers of detail – subplots, sensory details, description – come in subsequent drafts. I don’t seem to be able to think of this sort of detail in the first draft.

  5. Clancy Metzger

    I love the scene map idea – I already do something similar, but will certainly add that last column on what needs tweaked. Love that. I usually write in dialogue, so my first edits are to add tags, description, thoughts etc… But, I’m a nut for over organizing and over-thinking. Need to run with it more and feel my way through it better.
    Thanks, Kylie!

  6. KylieQ Post author

    Clancy, I hope you find it useful! I’ve got a partial scene map done and I’ve found that last column useful even though I haven’t finished the first draft. As I’m getting closer towards the end, I’m noticing things I’ve overlooked earlier – such as developing a particular relationship at a certain point in the storyline – so rather than getting hung up on that now, I’m just making some notes and going back to it later.

  7. David C


    Tools? We don’t need no steenkin’ tools!

    (One zen chocolate star if you recognize the allusion.)

    90% of my corrective edits go toward two things that my fingers do by themselves…honest–insert adverbs, and create comma splices of a particular type.

    So my first editing pass consists of a search for ‘ly’ words, and deleting 98% of them.

    Second editing pass consists of a search for a character string of ‘, and’ and either rewording or breaking into two sentences wherever I find them. And I will find them. They are out there.

    Only after that can I begin constructive edits: adding a scene here and there, deleting one over there. I don’t usually have to do a lot of polishing. My first drafts tend to be pretty presentable.

    I carry a scene map in my head, usually. Subject to change without notice, of course, especially if I have a lot of pepperoni pizza before bedtime.

  8. KylieQ Post author

    David, hold that chocolate star – I’m sure I know it… I wish I could put together a decent first draft but mine are pretty awful!

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