Writers often ask, “Where do I start with editing?” While professional editing is part of the writing process, self-editing is helpful too. Your manuscript is not complete after your first draft. How many drafts do you need? It depends, but let’s take the first five pages of your manuscript. Remember that you can apply this to your entire book, but we’ll take smaller chunks.
First, I would start with the big picture items. This includes character, plot, setting, etc. I use a self-editing tool that helps me pinpoint point of view and the goal. What is the purpose of this scene? Am I introducing a character, intensifying conflict, building suspense? These questions help me focus.
From there, I move to plot and setting. With plot, I look at how I’m opening and closing a scene. I try to vary if I’m opening with dialogue, action, thought, or description. Is it a pivotal scene or a bridge scene? I use the Save the Cat method and based on that I know that fifteen scenes, hook, inciting incident, first plot point, etc. make up my pivotal scenes in my novel. It’s the foundation.
Next, I move to what I call bridge scenes. In between my pivotal scenes, I have bridge scenes that build tension. The question I ask myself is, “What has to lead to the next scene?” If my inciting incident is my leading lady meeting her leading man, then the hook has to be something that puts her in his space or vice versa.
With settings, I focus on smells, sights, and sounds. What time is the scene occurring? Morning, afternoon, or evening? Where are the characters located? Small town, big city, outer space?
If I have a scene in a car, is it a truck or a SUV? If they’re out to eat, is it a diner or restaurant? Are they out to lunch or dinner? Details like this can create an atmosphere.
If I’m writing a scene between characters in a park, there’s going to be different influences around them versus them in a bowling alley. Which place fits the best? The right one can add or take away from your scene.
I wrote a scene in one of my romances that I had to choose between a restaurant and a park. What did I choose? I chose a candlelit dinner in the park.
What’s in the park? Perhaps a viewing gazebo. What do they hear? A gurgling fountain. What do they smell? Maybe flowering trees and plants. Plus, since it was in the evening, it gave an intimate setting.
What was the purpose of the scene? I used it to build the emotional intimacy as my characters fall in love. I’ve discovered that every scene has to have a purpose. If not, cut it out or save it for another section in your story.
As you can see, I focus more on the big picture first: character, plot, and setting. Once I solve these larger issues, I move to check my copyediting, grammar, and spelling. When I’ve done all I can do, I send it to my critique partner who gives me another perspective. When I received the feedback, I fix the holes in my story, and then I proofread for typos.
Again, however many drafts your book needs, do what it takes to polish your manuscript. No book will ever be perfect. Your work won’t please everybody, but do all you can to put your best work out to the world. Someone will love it!
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