My Editing Process

Over the past week I’ve been working on editing The Heart of the Baenor (which I really, really need to come up with a new title for) and figuring out what editing system works for me. This post will be similar to my story binder post, taking you through the system I’ve developed for myself, and hopefully it will help out some of you with your own revisions.

I actually started with Google Docs, with a copy of the original draft that I just went through and made comments on. I didn’t make any actual edits aside from little grammatical errors, just used commenting and the suggesting tool to tell myself where I wanted to make edits. Then I duplicated the doc, told it to keep the comments, and made that my second draft. On that document I actually made the edits I’d commented/suggested to myself and probably some others that I found along the way. (You can read more about this part of the process in this article on Our Mind Palace.)

After that second draft was done, I printed out the whole thing and moved onto what I’m going to show you in this post.

The first thing in my binder is a document that has info on the theme I want to incorporate. When I wrote this book I didn’t have a theme in mind, which resulted in the story falling flat (well, that and the fact that there were no stakes… but we’ll get to that). Fortunately, since I’ve recently learned about theme, the information is fresh in my mind and I was able to fairly easily pull out a theme I could target and write down the info I needed. This is the basic theme (family), the question that more focuses the theme (“Is family important?”), and then the “experiments of living” for each character, which is what they believe in regard to the theme and focusing question.

These characters really lend themselves well to a theme of family because one doesn’t know her birth family and lives with a shoved-together family, one of them is really devoted to his family, and the third feels like his family won’t accept him and feels like he doesn’t really have a family.

Figuring out how to best incorporate the theme in practical terms is going to be kind of tricky, but I think this theme is going to work really well.

Next is my color code. I did some research on this prior to developing my color code to find out what sorts of things other people marked (I’ll post links to the articles I found at the end of this post), and then commandeered my mom’s colored pens and developed my own. These are Pilot G-2s and they’re my absolute favorite variety of pen. They write really smoothly and they come in a variety of colors and I highly recommend them.

You can probably see most of those, but the blues are kind of hard to read in this picture. The brighter blue is Setting/Description, the lighter blue is Nonverbal Communication in the top key and World in the bottom key.

Why do I have two keys, you ask? One is more for the story itself and one is for my scene notes, and you’ll have a chance to see that more in just a minute.

After I printed out the whole book I read through it once all in one sitting (all 155 pages of it) and I made notes of some issues I saw with it to begin with and wrote them on this list, using my basic color code (the one on the bottom). There were some important plot threads that got dropped, as well as some lines I wanted to relocate, a scene I’d cut that I wanted to reintegrate, and a couple of spots where payment should have been and wasn’t, and I also want to look at the dialogue throughout and make sure it sounds natural (I might enlist the help of my sister to act out scenes with me to test that). And I’ve also added to this as I’ve gone through it to do my scene-by-scene notes.

This is my scene notes page. I have ten of these for the first six chapters. What I do is write the chapter, scene, and scene name (Ch. 1 – Sc. 1 – Tavern pt. 1) and then under each one I write down what the MC’s goal is in that scene, what the stakes are, what the conflict stems from, what the MC’s motivation is, what the primary element of the scene is, and what edits I need to make. This is where my second, simpler color code comes in: Plot, characters, world, cosmetic. If the goal is plot-based, I write it in burgundy. If the motivation is character-based, I write it in purple, etc. There are a couple of things on here that I use the more specific color code for; primarily the detailed code is used for Primary Element, since the point of that is to figure out what kind of writing dominates the scene (it’s almost always dialogue. Even when it shouldn’t be). I mix both color codes in Edits to Make mainly depending on whether they’re larger-scale edits or smaller-scale edits.

Filling out this information shows me where a scene is fundamentally lacking (almost all of mine are lacking stakes, which is an issue at the beginning and an even bigger issue when we get into the meat of the story), because I know that if it’s not filled in it needs to be. Or if I did fill it in but it’s just not shown enough in the scene or I’m not happy with the answer then I’ll jot down in the Edits to Make section that I need to play up the stakes or the goal or jot down a replacement for one or more of those things.

And sometimes there are scenes that are really boring as they are, but just a little tweak makes them a lot better. For instance, I have a scene in chapter four where there’s no real goal, no stakes, no conflict, no motivation, just dialogue that’s there for pretty much no reason as they’re talking about breakfast foods. My note was that just making it an argument over what to eat now would make it a lot stronger. Then Catessa’s goal could be to convince her companions to choose her favorite for breakfast, the stakes would be getting something she wants to eat or something she doesn’t want to eat, the conflict would be between the clashing breakfast opinions, and her motivation would basically be her taste buds. Obviously it would still be a petty scene, but it would have all the pieces it needs and show the character as I was intending, not only through what foods they prefer but also through how they respond to an argument like that.

This is my actual book. Why is the font bright blue, you ask? Well… our printer ran out of black ink about two-thirds of the way in printing from the back and this was the darkest we could get with the colored ink too, so the first 46 pages of the book are this color (which is actually really pretty and a lot less difficult to read than I’d expected). Already with this first page you can see the beginning of my dialogue craze…

What I do with the actual story is take my detailed color code and underline everything accordingly. This first page has a lot of description at the beginning and then shifts into a bunch of dialogue. Obviously if something doesn’t fit into anything (I need a color for action and don’t have one) then it just stays non-underlined.

Here’s a page with more non-dialogue and more wording edits:

I have tried not to line-edit/copy-edit while I’m supposed to be doing developmental edits, but grammar is what jumps out to me most and what bugs me most, so in my stories if I see something off grammatically I am going to fix it, lol. So there are a few instances of rewording things here. Most of this page is description and worldbuilding, and I actually really like this page as a whole.

Anyway, I’m doing this through the whole book and it’s been even more insightful than I thought. I already knew that I wrote a LOT of dialogue, but I didn’t really just how much, and I also didn’t realize how little internal monologue and emotion I put into this story. That’s one of the main things I need to fix, is showing more of what Catessa’s feeling and thinking and building more of a connection between her and the reader.

Just a prettier picture of that page.
Story and notes.

I actually hate these tabs for this purpose, but I have tabs on the first page of each chapter. The problem with these particular tabs for this purpose is that they don’t stick far enough up/down the thing, so you can’t use them as a handle to flip to a page and they come off pretty easily even when you don’t use them as handles. But they’re still better than nothing, and they’re also helpful if I want to look from the side and see the rough length of each chapter. Chapter six, for instance (the one I just finished), is twice as long as any of the five before it (at least as far as scenes are concerned). I would definitely recommend using tabs to mark chapters, but I wouldn’t recommend this variety, lol.

When I’m done with all of these notes I’ll go back to Google Docs and make all my edits on a fresh 3rd draft doc, fixing the tons of issues I’ve uncovered in this pass, balancing stuff out (less dialogue, more emotion, etc.), adding stakes to almost every scene, making her actually feel pain, etc. There’s a lot to get done this month, but I’m excited that I’ll be improving so much.

So yeah, that’s my editing process! What does your editing process generally look like? Have you gotten to the editing stage yet? (This is my first real hardcore edit, and it’s actually been a lot of fun.)

Articles on color coded editing

Ask Jami: Editing Tips–How to Use Color-Coding

Fundamental Check: Do Your Scenes Have What They Need?

What’s next for The Heart of the Baenor?

At the beginning of next month I’ll be sending the completed 3rd draft to beta-readers (thank you so much to all my beta-readers, already! I really look forward to working with you!), and I’m super excited to see what they think of it and what issues they can pull out for me to fix. (Is it weird that I actually like criticism? I’ve always liked having something concrete to improve, so constructive criticism is actually something I love, lol.)

After that pass, I’ll send it off to a couple of professional editors (not at the same time), and then it should finally be ready for formatting and all that jazz in January, and the publication date is set for February. And you know what’s really silly? The timeline for professional edits is entirely dependent on whether or not I can come up with a permanent title in the next two weeks or not. How on earth is that? Well, because I want to start a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for my editors and my cover artist and I can’t do that without a permanent title. And because titles are such a pain for me most of the time… I’m not sure I’m going to come up with one in the next two weeks. Here’s hoping.

Assuming all goes well, I’ll have this book published in late February 2019. :)

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