The Remodel

On April 22, 2020, Writeforfun wrote, I’ve just finished my current book! Or well, the first in what seems to have turned into a series. There’s lot’s more to go, but I’ve come to the end of this one, at least. So, yeah, happy dance! But I’m wondering – I know there are many posts on here about editing so I’m definitely going to go back over all of those – but I’m just wondering, any opinions on the best way to edit a first draft that has changed a LOT since the beginning and is rather a bit of a jumbled mess? I pantsed this book, just to give it a try (I’m usually a planner), and the story has meandered and changed a ton since the beginning, and didn’t really get on a particular track until about halfway through. Normally when I finish a book, I’ll go through from the beginning of the manuscript and just tweak things as I go (which works, since the plot hasn’t really wavered from the beginning so I’m usually only making minor changes); but this time I’m talking major changes – entire characters and plot points that I dropped halfway through, 50-page events that I need to add or remove, or shuffle or swap with different portions of the story – things like that. It’s daunting! How do you keep it all organized? I’m almost wondering if it would be better to start a brand new document and just re-write the story…although, I don’t really want to do that because I ended up accidentally making it about 500 pages long (though hopefully I’ll manage to cut that down a bit)!

I’m just wondering if there’s any particular great process for editing a book that needs a LOT of changes! Advice? I know some people are great at editing and really enjoy it. I am not, and do not – so if you have a process that works well I’d love to hear about it.

Two of you wrote back:

Christie V Powell: One thing I’ve been doing with my WIP is using Word’s styles/headings feature and labeling each scene, chapter, and act. It makes it easier to see structure at a glance and to figure out how to move things around. Another tip: save a new copy every time you start a major draft. It gives you more freedom to experiment (I copied Gail’s suggestion from “Writing Magic” about putting numbers after each draft, although the number of drafts I need has been getting smaller as I keep writing).

Erica: If you’re normally a planner, then I would suggest writing an outline of your story using whatever method you like, and then rewriting individual pieces to fit the outline better. That way, it’s easier to stay on track and you’re less likely to end up making more big dramatic changes without realizing it.

Congratulations for finishing! I hope I said that at the time too!

As I’ve said often, I love to revise. It’s my favorite part.

I like my advice from Christie V Powell’s lips! Versions are super helpful because nothing is lost. When the change is ultra-big, I rename the document so the revision and the earlier incarnation are easier to find, like one version may be called Wolf friend 3. The hugely changed version might be Wolf no friend 1–because I took out the friendship. Or, often when I’ve started revising for my editor, I might name the next version Wolf RB edit 1 (her initials). When I’m completely done and the manuscript is beyond even copy editing, I can count my versions. Many versions means this was a tough book to write. I find that satisfying to know.

I agree with Erica that an outline is likely to be helpful. It doesn’t matter that the book is written. An outline helps us see what we have. For me, the outline would go chapter by chapter, summarizing what happens in each one in a few sentences. When we think about what to revise, we can use highlighter so that what we need to do stands out.

A timeline may be useful too. Depending on the book, I’ve used them during revision–and while writing.

Also, a character-by-character description may show us how our cast fits together and which ones are essential and which can be cut. Combined with an outline, the descriptions will show consistencies and inconsistencies in their actions.

For me, another reader is important, especially at the stage Writeforfun is describing. When my manuscript is big and unwieldy, I don’t know what I’ve got, what the most important threads are, what’s working, and what isn’t. A good reader, whether or not the person is a writer, can help us see our book fresh. We may get confirmation that what we think are the problems really are, or we may be surprised. Either way, we’re learning.

As I’ve also said here many times, I almost always toss more than a hundred pages during a revision, so I think we should be willing to make big cuts. As long as we’ve saved the old version, we can be intrepid. It’s astonishing what I thought I needed and how much I discover I can do very well without.

Also, some parts may grow. We are likely to find places that are scant on detail, or where we haven’t sufficiently revealed our MC’s thoughts and feelings.

Writeforfun mentions that her plot gets on a particular track halfway through. We can consider whether the earlier off-track parts should be part of this story, which maybe should start where it finds its way. The deleted pages can be fodder for other books later or earlier in the series. Out of one, many. Cool!

The popular wisdom is to put a manuscript aside for some time, a few days or weeks, in order to get perspective. If we go back to it too quickly, we may be so invested in it we can’t see it clearly. But when my manuscript is more than two hundred pages long, I generally jump right back in, because I don’t remember the beginning well enough to endanger my objectivity.

When the macro editing is done, it’s time for line edits, the part I love most. Do my chapters end in the right place, either in a moment of excitement or in a brief rest? Am I varying my sentence beginnings and the sentences themselves, like, do I keep stringing together independent clauses connected by and or but? Are there words I’m overusing? Can I cut adjectives and adverbs, the weakest parts of speech, like very and almost?

I know I’m done when I find myself changing sentences and then un-changing them.

Here are three prompts:

• Your MC, a book doctor hired to rehab a murder mystery, realizes that her client (who wrote the book that needs work) had his fictional detective miss an important clue, which points to a different perpetrator. After she makes the change, a stranger visits her in the middle of the night. Write the story.

• This is a tad sad: Your MC has invented a time machine so that she can return to the night thirty years earlier when a fire killed her father’s first wife. Sadness at the loss haunted her dad even after he married her mom–and soured their marriage. Your MC, at the risk of never being born, is determined to prevent the fire and save the fiancée. Write the story.

• Your MC, a specter–but the good kind–performs for kids’ birthday parties, creating delightful environments for children to have fun in. And when the party ends, there’s nothing to clean up. However, another specter–the bad kind–is bent on destroying her. The bad one shows up at one of her gigs after another and terrifies the tykes. Your MC suspects the baddie of planning something much worse for the mayor’s son’s party. Write the story.

Have fun, and save what you write!

  1. I’ll definitely keep this in mind with a story I’ve been working on occasionally for about four years now. It started out as a dream, and I’ve changed my mind about what I want to happen a lot.

  2. Fantasywriter6 says:

    Hello! I have a question: what is the best way to have a form of nature communicate with people? The sort of magic that my MC has is that she can speak to water. I want the water to have a definite personality, but I don’t know how whether to show that personality by having it “speak” back to my MC or simply by what it does and describing the water from her point of view(what she understands about it). The “water-speaking” is telepathic; she doesn’t just walk up to the ocean and say, “Hey, what’s up, Ocean?” But should I write the water responding in (telepathic) words or a feeling that she gets or just what the water decides to do? Let me know if this doesn’t make sense.

    • Sounds like a group in one of my stories that I call water-dancers. Water carries images from where it’s been, and when the water-dancers touch it, the images appear in their minds. Sometimes with sounds, sometimes not, depending on the circumstances. Which images they get are fairly touch-and-go, but if they focus on a specific thing they want to know about (like how far away someone/something is) they can usually get an answer. So the image transfer goes both ways, to the point where they can control the water by picturing what they want it to do, although how much water they can control depends on the dancer. The most powerful can also receive prophecies, but I haven’t figured out how that would work yet.
      Long story short, my MC can both send and receive mental (it doesn’t appear in her reflection or anything like that) images from water.

      • Fantasywriter6 says:

        That’s really cool! It reminds me of wind speech in Shannon Hale’s Books of Bayern series, when Ani receives images of places the wind has been.

    • i💜writing says:

      I feel like, if you want the water to have a personality, you should have it reply in telepathic words. Your premise sounds really intriguing! Good luck!

    • I have a book where the MC talks to dolphins. The dolphins have different personalities, but they don’t use words. Instead, they send her images and feelings telepathically.

    • There are so many cool possibilities:
      The water could show her images that correspond to moods (a gloomy bog, a shimmering creek)
      The water’s temperature could change (“Getting warmer!”)
      Maybe the water talks in its own language that the MC has to decipher.

      Does this work with any water, anywhere? Can she learn things by drinking water from the cup of someone who was discussing state secrets? If she’s lost in a fog, does the moisture condense to gently pat her in the right direction? Or rivers and seas could communicate through the creatures in them?

      BTW, if you’ve seen Moana, check out how the animators give the ocean a personality, even though it never says anything.

  3. FantasyFan101 says:

    I really like the idea. I would totally go with the telepathic communication, though I do have some ideas. My MCs each have an Element, and my female MC (my friend and I each claimed 1 girl & 1 boy) has the power of Fire. So far she doesn’t know, but a dragon, who is a creature of Fire, has communicated with her and shared a prophecy, though I haven’t written it yet 😉 Perhaps your MC could speak to creatures of the water as well as the water itself. Kind of like how Percy Jackson can speak through his mind to horses and pegasi because his father is Poseidon, who created horses and pegasi.

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