The One Where I Learn to Kill My Darlings: Rewrites & Edits.

There various stages involved in writing a story, whether it be a short story, a novella or a full-length novel (or screenplay or…)

  • Inspiration
  • draft/writing
  • revising
  • editing/polishing
  • publishing

Though it is not really that straight forward. Steps 2-4 can be repeated ad nauseam. A phrase I have heard often of late, says it all: Write. Edit. Repeat.
(and repeat and repeat?)

Like most writers, I prefer the actual writing bit – the initial flush of creating a story. Inspirations can be found everywhere – photos, people, phrases, sounds, even smells.  Then, I get to make things up. Anything. People, places, exciting stories. Freedom! I have control (or that is what my characters would like me to believe).

Creating words can be immense fun (most of the time – except for writer’s block). It is a joy to discover favourite characters. It is entertaining to put them into hot water and see how they react. There is also a lot of looking out of windows and day dreaming (which is actually a sign a writer is at work) in order to find the words appropriate for such adventures.

Then I get to rearrange stuff. Rewriting – moving the furniture about to style the room, with a theme, interesting characters and an engaging story worthy to present to any discerning visitor.

Now I have it – a manuscript. What do I do now?

Edits. Not my favourite step in the writing process. The major processes in editing are:

The Big Picture: structure, plot arcs (primary and secondary), character arcs (development, conflict and resolution). Does it work? I have a wonderful writers’ group and trusted beta readers who help me with this. But wait, there is more.

Middle picture: The next step is to examine each chapter or scene. How does each begin and end? Does the plot work? Does each scene add to the overall development of the characters and to the story? Does the Point of View work? Are there too many Points of View? Is there head hopping*? What is the character’s motivation? How do they react to conflict? It is resolved logically?

Small Picture: Finally we come to the paragraphs, sentences and individual words. Is the each event happen at the power point – the beginning or end – of a paragraph? Look at rhythm, pace and use active verbs. Make sure those words show and not just tell. The best advice I have heard is to read it out loud. Stilted dialogue or clunky words will stand out.

Spelling, grammar, removing weak verbs, repetition and punctuation – all very necessary parts of the editing process. This brings back memories of English class, with subjects, predicates and dangling participles. Oh dear, the teacher said: One day you will need to know this, and you will thank me. He was right.

Life is made easier with word processing programs. First search for the following:

  • spell check
  • overused words – then, but, slowly etc
  • look for -ly words: extraneous adjectives
  • grammar errors

There are many books and workshops dedicated to the art of editing. We have to learn to kill our darlings. To be willing to sacrifice that favourite sentence, word or scene in order to polish the story and do our characters justice. I have to be ruthless. (Easier said than done.)

Right now I am editing two short stories. I will let you know how I go. I have a box of tissues, a red pen and a block of chocolate to fortify my resolve.

Even with all of the above, the best advice I have ever read is:

Write. Edit. Repeat.
If you intend to publish, don’t do your own final edit. Find a professional editor.

( * Head hopping: slipping between points of view, which can be confusing.)
This blog post had 26 revisions… That is a lot of write, edit, repeat.

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The One Where I Learn to Kill My Darlings: Rewrites & Edits. was originally published on karen j carlisle / off the artboard

About karen j carlisle

writer artist gardener chocoholic tea lover
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