Editing 101 — Or Don’t Be Afraid to Kill Your Darlings

March 23, 2009

Yes, I brought out the dreaded red pen and began editing — or rewriting — the raw draft of Max 2. Hemingway rewrote A Farewell to Arms 39 times because he wanted to get the words right. It’s axiomatic that you don’t really begin to write until you begin to rewrite.

I wrote the bones of Max 2 down and then I took a month off to let the draft settle. I picked it up again last weekend and read the book cover to cover, red pen in hand. I was trying to answer six questions. And these questions can be applied to a sentence, paragraph, chapter, or the whole damned book. They are:

  • Does this sentence/paragraph/chapter advance the plot line?
  • Does this sentence/paragraph/chapter advance character development?
  • Can I shorten the sentence/paragraph/chapter without losing essential elements of plot or character development?
  • Do I need this word or phrase, or was I in love with the written word when I wrote it?
  • What does my character want when she does or says something?
  • Why does my character need to do something?

I read looking for concept errors, plot omissions, and characters that were introduced but not developed. I was not doing a line edit or a copy edit for grammos and typos. That comes later.

What I learned didn’t surprise me. I have a lot of work to do. This time, I wrote a blueprint for Max 2. This saved countless errors in names and motives, because I thought that stuff out in advance.

Now, I have to do a very close rewrite. I bled red all over the draft, and I used about a pack and a half of sticky notes. Sigh.

But, I think of this as the fun part. It’s my private time with my words, working on it to improve it, before sharing it with my two writing groups, Lake Writers and Valley Writers.

And yes, I engaged in a teeny weeny “but first” and wrote a short story that I want to submit to the Wytheville Festival in June. It too needs polishing, so I work on it when I can no longer see what’s working or not working with Max 2.

I continue plowing ahead. Anything else would lead to mental stultification.

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