Friday, February 11, 2011

Technical Topics -- The Final Edits

Someone asked:  HOW can you tell if edits you made on work you let sit for a while are good?
I'm having A LOT of trouble with this.

 Couple o' thoughts.

It seems to me the last work on the manuscript falls into three stages:

Final polish edit
Specific fixes.

It is good to know which stage are you actually in.

-- Are you committed to the major plot points? Do you feel the events make sense and they're in the right order and you are not going to fiddle with big story stuff any more?

Until you declare the plot pretty much fixed, you are still in the 'rewriting' stage, not the editing stage.

In 'rewriting' you're still dreaming up story. Your eyes are all unfocused and you get surprised by new stuff you come up with. You're not analyzing. You are still creating.

I'd say to finish this creative stage, if you can, before you start your last edits. It is frustrating to spend Tuesday nitty-grittying away at Chapter Twelve, then toss it out on Wednesday or change the POV or something.

 -- The true 'final edit' process is a trip through the entire manuscript, reading out loud, fixing infelicities of language, character incongruities, plot glitches and pacing.
The final edit is going over the manuscript with a magnifying glass. it is inherently detailed, small-scale process work. The approach is starkly analytic. It works best if it proceeds as one fast, continuous run through.

-- During both rewrite and final edit, you may concentrate on specific problems. That is, you may go into the manuscript with a defined and limited goal.

This might be something your beta readers brought to your attention.  Might be something your editor wants worked on.

You want to "expand the protagonist's internals," or "add more description," or "clarify how the suspense plot works."

In 'fix-it' mode, you skip forward and back, following that one thread of the story wherever it may crop up.

This limited-goal approach is tremendously useful. You look at changes in terms of what they accomplish for the story as a whole. You can ask yourself whether an edit expands the character POV or clarifies a story point instead of a nebulous 'is this better?'.

As a purely housekeeping note,
it's best to keep both old and new version. Come back in a day or two and compare them.

You can keep the old version in another document, or you can keep it in the major working document by putting it in brackets or a different font or color.


  1. I really like the way you broke it all down.

  2. I make it sound like these are discrete processes. I suspect it is more chaotic for most people.

  3. Exactly right, Jo! Thank you!

  4. Hi Lynne --

    I hope this is of some use.

    The reason to make these distinctions is that we approach different parts of the endgame of the manuscript in different ways.

    True 'editing' is -- I can never remember whether it is left or right brained. It's the analytic side.

    But we also got original creation going on in the end stages if we have major rewrites still to do. Different part of the brain for that.

    Thinking of it in these terms, you can go in with the right attitude. It's like one of those coffee grinders. You set the dial for expresso instead of autodrip.

  5. Anonymous9:22 PM

    I love this post. I am always hanging myself up by revising and editing the beginning over and over. I copied and pasted the post, then printed it off for my inspiration board. Here's to finishing a good first draft, then on to next stage! Thanks.

  6. Hi Melinda --

    Oh yes. You must let go of the dock and swim out toward the middle of the lake.

    Time to move on to the next chapter.
    And best of luck.

  7. Very helpful, Jo!

  8. I do hope so . . .

    (jo looks around for other random advice she can give. Anything to avoid working.)

  9. Anonymous1:46 PM

    I love your beta reader kitten and ravenous red riding hood!

  10. Hi Anon --

    These are from LOLCATS.

    Folks who upload there are presumably the folks who took the pictures, so I feel ok about the copyright on these images.

    The beta reader kitteh looks minatory, doesn't she?