Last May, I finished writing the first draft of my first book. Big Step. And then I took a breath, reread the story, and sent it off to an editor. It’s editing time.
A story without editing is like cake without icing. Or really, cake without sugar. It just doesn’t work. At all.
Editing is tedious, nitty gritty, heartbreaking. Or any other awful adjective you can think of.
But it’s also great. Because you REALLY get to know your characters and their story.
I’ve been editing for about 4 months. I’ve edited about 30k words – out of 125k. I have a long ways to go.
Editing has taught me more about my writing style, reading, and my characters. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
You Can’t Write for Every Character
I’m a journalist. I love knowing how everyone reacts to everything. I think of my story that way – how the events are impacting everyone in my entire story universe.
(That could also be because I’m an ENFP, we tend to think of the world as maps, and everybody and everything is connected)
Reading my editors notes – I’m so confused, Why is so-and-s mad at so-and-s0? How are they even related?
And when it came to writing my book, I included POVs from WAY TOO MANY characters. I knew that, but I was hesitant to drop anybody’s POV. They’re all so precious to me.
But not so precious to my editor.
Her first email, You seem to have a lot of characters. Can you list how many are really necessary to the story?
Ummmm, let’s see. I wrote back, I think we need these 9 characters.
Her reply – Sounds better. But maybe you could drop 1, 2 or even 3 more?
Every character matters. But not every character matters to telling the story.
Pick who the story belongs to, and keep it that way. Otherwise, I’m going to end up with a confusing hodge-podge. And no story works for any of the characters.
I’m even worse with details then I thought
I’ve never claimed to be great with details. I love writing dialogue, some action. But describing the room? People’s clothes? Food?
Not really my thing.
But I thought I added it into the story. Added the times people frowned, smiled, or laughed. But that’s not really describing what they looked like.
My editor constantly points this out. I CANT SEE THEM.
Huh? I can see them. But she can’t? Rewrite this scene.
Or another time, I CAN’T SEE WHERE THEY ARE.
Ergh, well, they’re in a palace. Any palace will do. No, not Disney. Or English stone thing. It’s supposed to be like a hot Italian courtyard.
Oh, you couldn’t see that? Gotta work on this.
My characters are rich – I just have to spend time digging
Sometimes my editor ask the lovely question – Why? Why is the character doing this?
I love that question. Because if I don’t know, it makes me dig deeper into the character. Think about their motivation, their feelings, their plans.
It forces me to know them. My characters don’t need to be logical. Readers don’t have to agree with their decisions. In fact, you should probably really disagree with some of the stuff they do.
After all, they live in a completely different world. My book is fantasy – that means you and I aren’t going to have the same experiences as my characters.
But while our experiences are different – our feelings, desires, they’re all the same. We know what it’s like to be angry, bitter, happy, content.
Readers should be able to see what’s driving those feelings. If they can’t, the story is wasting itself. (And wasting stories is just really bad)
I spent hours developing one or two characters. (Maybe I liked them better? Ssshh…don’t tell anyone) The others were just floating along.
My editor forced me to know them better. And because I know them, I can write them better.
Editors and probably readers, don’t want to read my long-winded political/family combos
I practically already knew this was a problem with the first draft. I already knew I was a political nerd.
The whole story begins with politics – what if there was a country, with an unstable king, a tyrant, revolutions & religious infighting?
And finally, add in a messed up family in charge of this country. Not really in charge, just good friends with the king. Who happens to die too soon, and the prince is like, 3 years old.
So they kidnap the heir to the throne, and keep him from the crown. Then they try to marry him to a girl, but he just wants to be king. Without their help.
You get the point, it’s a lot of politics.
I like writing dialogue where my characters talk about politics. That way I’m not narrating the whole thing, you see?
But then my editor scribbles in notes, I’m confused? What does this mean?
Ok, yeah, there’s a lot of history and politics going on.
But I really can’t tell my editor, Well, you have to read Locke and Voltaire to understand. Also, a book on the French Revolution. Add in a biography of the Tudor dynasty. Oh, and finally, an overview of the American Civil War.
Nope, that won’t work. Because am I really writing a book where you have to know that much to understand?
No. That’s not how history or fiction works. Life happens, whether you planned it out logically or not.
That leaves me with an important job.
Write a story, with compelling characters, engaging plot, and meaningful connections to history without sounding like a textbook.
Much Work Ahead
Good news – I have a first draft. Whoop, whoop! I’m even on the 2nd draft! Yeah!
Good news – I really love my story. That always helps, right?
Good news – I know my characters better every day. I discover new deepness and thought to them.
Good news – My editor likes my characters and the story. She even sketched out one! Wow!
And now for some rough news.
I still have a lot of editing to do. And then copy editing. And then query letter writing. And agent searching. And contract reading, and, the list is practically endless.
Getting published is monstrous work. But the story is written. And that’s the first step. Yeah!
Are you writing a story? What do you think about editing? Is your book at editing stage?
What are your biggest struggles with writing? Character or plot development? Are you great at writing scene description?
Do you like politics? Ok, maybe not current politics. But history?
(And aren’t Obama memes the best?)