Dec 7, 2009

Editing - What comes after the 1st Draft?

During November I wrote a 60k first draft of a YA fantasy novel, The Costume Maker, a tale about a group of teens thrust into a magical world of fairies, gypsies, dragons and danger. My plans were to spend December editing, so first I needed to spend some time researching approaches for revising a novel. That's what I've been doing this week.

Here's what I've found so far and some nifty resources:

Universally across my research I came across a common theme for step one. Put your finished first draft aside and don't read it for a period of time

James Scott Bell calls this 'letting it cool' in Plot and Structure (I liked this book so much, I ordered Revision and Self-Editing in the same series and am keenly awaiting its arrival). The idea is to gain an objective approach when you read through your novel for editing.

If you're a visual person like me, you see your story unfold in your mind as you write it. This has its benefits and can create its own obstacles. Seeing your story may mean that you don't get stuck for plot ideas, but it could also mean you miss describing things that you see, leaving gaps in your plot.

By putting your manuscript aside for a few weeks or longer, you can read your words with fresh eyes, allowing you to be more critical of the narrative, structure, language, characters, etc.

Even though I'm not ready to revise The Costume Maker just yet, I printed out my manuscript anyway. There is a certain elation that comes with seeing your writing in print, the thickness of all those pages, your creation. This is your reward for finishing.

In Word by Word, Anne Lamott (I downloaded the audio-book from iTunes) says you should never think of printing your drafts as wasting paper. Value your words, they deserve it, you deserve it.

Before November, I was working on my novel Dog Show Detective, so in a 'here's one I prepared earlier' moment, I'll be working on revising my first draft of that novel this month.

The best advice I found was from Christopher Vogler in Using Myth to Power Your Story (also available from iTunes). Vogler suggests thinking about the story you've written and coming up with one word that it's about. This is harder than it first seems, surely we wrote our stories with a theme in mind? I'm pretty sure I started with a premise for Dog Show Detective, but lost it somewhere in the writing process. I can't decide if it should be 'Loyalty', 'Mystery' or 'Identity', I suspect it may be as lame as 'Dogs' at this stage.

You probably have more than one word that your novel is about, but you could prioritise those theme words. Next you have to decide the premise surrounding that word. If your word is 'Love', is your premise 'Love conquers all', or 'Love is blind'? Then using that premise as a guide you go through your story scene by scene and make sure each one relates to that theme.

Using this technique, I have already realised a major change that I want for Dog Show Detective, if I use the word Mystery as a theme word and 'Things are never what they first seem' as a premise, I've decided my sidekick's name must change. Shakespeare is Kitty's Miniature Schnauzer that she enters in dog shows and together they solve mysteries. Now Shakespeare's name will change. My favourites so far are Spade, Poe or Doyle.

Another way of approaching your edit is to look at your plot structure, do you have an introduction of the characters, climb of action, climax and resolution? Or break your plot lines down to the individual character's plot chart, visit How to Plan, Write, and Develop a Book to hear more about this.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing for Young Adults has a complete section on revising and suggests using a critique group or writer's group. This book suggests sample questions to ask when getting people to review your work as well as providing overall areas to review in your narrative.

If you can't join a local writer's group, you can find critique groups online. I sometimes use Critique Circle, you upload your chapters for review and critique other people's work in return.

When revising your manuscript, keep in mind who you are writing for. Dog Show Detective is aimed at young novel readers, about 8-10, so I write the story specifically for what my 8yr old daughter would enjoy. If you write for kids, then let kids critique your manuscript, then you'll know what works and what doesn't.

And as I said last week, read what you write. I'm reading young girl's detective novels, like Phillip Pullman's Ruby in The Smoke and  Julie Campbell's Trixie Beldon series.


  1. These are great words of advice and some wonderful resources, Charmaine! Thanks so much for sharing your progress with us. Great post! :)

  2. Editing is a huge job, isn't it? By the time I've revised a manuscript a few times, I know it so well, it's difficult to distance myself from it. I plan out my plots on a sheet of A3 - a calendar really - to make sure everthing happens at the right time, and the dramatic moments are sensibly placed, and don't all occur in one rush at the end. Then it's off to my editor and time to cross my fingers! (I'm getting quite skilled at typing with my fingers crossed.)

  3. Thanks for sharing some great advice. Editing is always a daunting task and any advice is helpful.