by PK Hrezo
When I first started out writing novels, I knew very little about story editing. It wasn’t til someone pointed out my sloppy style that I realized I had fewer skills than I thought. You mean there’s more to writing stories than just making stuff up??
Oy. Totally clueless.
I bought my first writing guides ever: Self Editing for Fiction Writers, and The First Five Pages. And boy did my writerly world shift. That was about five years ago. Since then, I’ve devoured multiple writing guides, written seven novel length stories, and exchanged critiques with some very talented authors. This has helped me develop the editing methods I use today.
Most of you probably have your own methods by now, but it’s always interesting to see how others work, and adapt new techniques here and there. I draft fast, without looking back (as tempting as it is) and wait a bit before reading what I’ve got. For my first read-through, I use Word so I can clean up sentences here and there while I focus on plot, characterization, and big story issues.
Afterwards, I leave it alone for a few days, then send it to my Kindle and read it as I would any story I just downloaded. This is the biggest help to me. I catch so many things I didn’t see the first time around. If you can’t send it to a tablet, change the font on your manuscript and re-read it that way.
I have checklists I use after this second round of edits, and I’ll leave you one of them at the bottom of this post. After using these checklists to dig deeper into my story and characters, I go back through the story again and deepen the point of view, weed out extra words and flowery prose, and add as much voice as I can to mundane sentences.
Then, it’s off to my trusty CPs, and later, to various beta readers. I try to find at least one new beta reader for each new story. Fresh eyes are extremely helpful. I should add, I do my own editing, but I did hire a proof-reader for my self-published book, Butterman (Time) Travel, Inc. My CPs are very skilled and amazing at what they do, so I really get the benefit of a content editor when they read my work.
With sci-fi stories, as you know, there’s an extra element for consistencies and technology plausibility, so I also seek out scientific-minded beta readers to pick out any issues there.
In regards to setting, since that’s a big element in sci-fi, here’s some food for thought: How does the setting affect your character’s movements and experiences? Have you revealed the setting through character reaction, instead of simply describing it? Try having your characters manhandle the props to enhance the setting as well as character emotion.
Here’s a story checklist I acquired from somewhere on the Web, so I apologize for not being able to give credit to who it came from. These are valuable points of interest:
1. How can I make the protagonist likeable or at least relatable?
2. Are both the protagonist and the antagonist extraordinary in some way?
3. Do they both care passionately about something?
4. Is what they care about at the heart of their opposition?
5. Is the antagonist just as strong or even stronger than the protagonist and just as compelling or intriguing?
6. Do all the main characters have genuine flaws and eccentricities?
7. Is there opposition between what the protagonist wants, her external goal, and what she needs, her internal goal?
8. Is the protag going to experience a change of fortune: from good fortune to bad, from bad fortune to good, from good to bad to good, from bad to good to bad?
9. How can I use the setting and season to make the situation worse for the protag?
10. How can I make the setting more interesting and challenging?
11. Are the protag and antag struggling within a situation readers haven't seen before?
12. How can I elevate the concept?
13. What extra coolness factor can I add?
14. What twist can I add to make this unusual?
15. Are there logical connections between characters, plot, and theme(s)?
16. Is the theme universal?
17. Does the protag's struggle exploit a universal fear?
18. Are there high stakes--terrible consequences--if the protag fails?
19. Does she have to make an impossible choice or sacrifice that will make her pay personally before she can win against the antag?
20. How can I provide a test at the beginning of the manuscript to show off the trait the protag needs to change before she can win?
21. What makes her the way she is, and how can I show that to make her initial failure understandable and relatable?
22. How can I make the stakes even higher at every turning point while keeping them relatable?
23. Have I got enough of a coolness or fun factor in the mid section to sell the premise and carry the second act?
24. How do I keep the protag in conflict between two emotions so she has to fight to resolve her feelings?
25. How can I exploit the situation and main conflict to force the characters to make active choices?
26. How can I limit each of the character’s choices to force them to choose between something bad and something worse, force them into bad decisions, or push them into doing what they least want to do?
27. How can I make characters behave in the most unexpected way that fits within their motivation, personality type, and background?
28. How do I introduce a new conflict before resolving an existing one?
29. What danger can I keep threaten, what information can I promise, what expected emotional crisis, confrontation, loss, or decision can I foreshadow to keep the reader eager to read?
30. How can I push an expected outcome into an unexpected direction?
31. Before the climax, how do I make it clear why the antagonist is the way he is, and how do I make him sympathetic?
32. How can I apply lessons the protag has learned and show her character growth in the climax in a way that will echo the test she failed at the beginning?
33. How do I make it clear enough why she has changed enough to choose differently than she did in the initial test?
34. Can I make every conflict in a subplot real and hard to overcome?
35. How do I resolve all the subplots and weave them together more tightly?
36. How do I show the arcs for each of the main characters?
37. How do I most smoothly deliver all the missing information before the climax scene?
38. How can I the climax the toughest challenge in the manuscript?
39. How can I make the resolution truly satisfying?
40. How do I make sure I've kept my covenant with the reader?
If you need more checklists or worksheets, let me know and I’d be happy to forward them on. I’ve collected quite a few over the years.
I’ve also found that reading a very well written novel prior to going through final edits on my story, helps me really put on the polish and make it shine.
How about you? Any tried and true techniques you’d like to share on editing?
PK Hrezo is the author of Butterman (Time) Travel, Inc., a new adult sci-fi romance, and Fearless Fiction blogger at http://pk-hrezo.blogspot.com
She can be found on Twitter at @pkhrezo
And Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/authorpkhrezo