Editing For The Big Thing
TODAY’S BREW: Coconut Red Velvet. I made it myself.
I’m an editing machine. You may know this. Generally, I’m always editing two books; one of my own and one for a client.
My specialty is developmental editing, and by that I mean ensuring the book has real substance. That the characters are multidimensional, the plot is multidimensional, that there’s themes and language that is singularly the author’s. Whether it’s my book or someone else’s, it’s a needle in a haystack search often to see what exactly is the Big Thing that needs All the Attention, and identifying this is what I find makes for a successful edit or not. Figuring out this thing may help you, too, in all your editing adventures. Because like anything in writing, have a loose plan is critical.
Here’s how I break down what the editing needs to consist of:
IS THERE A CRAP TON OF WORDS TO CUT, OR ARE WE LOOKING TO ADD WORD COUNT?
Some writers typically underwrite, get their barest thoughts on paper without much embellishment, and that requires beefing up of the text. This does not mean adding a bunch of fluff words, describing things that don’t goddamn matter, or giving us a bunch of conversations that just don’t need to exist. When adding to text, look to add dimension, not filler. Look for the Big Thing you want to expand on and devote the additional text to it.
Other writers have a crap ton of words and need to lose 20,000 of them. That usually means there is already the description of things that don’t goddamn matter, a bunch of conversations that don’t need to exist, and a bunch of fluff words. What I seek to do now is lose unsophisticated wording to cut words while digging for what the Big Thing is we need to surface and expand on. It’s not about cutting words to make it shorter, it’s about using the right words and spending them wisely on things that matter.
DETERMINE WHAT THE HELL THE BIG THING IS.
There’s never just one thing that needs to be focused on while editing, but there is a Big Thing which you then surround with Little Things that make it that much Bigger of a Thing. When you don’t know what the hell it is your book needs, think of this stuff:
- What is the thing I’ve done that is balls-out awesome and needs to be exploited? You may have a character that is so intensely original in its philosophy that the whole book rightfully revolves around him or her. But right now you have too many fucking words to really allow that. It may be that your humor is a real page turner, and you need to make it really mean something to the characters, the story. You might be awesome at action scenes, and need to make the characters as exciting as your action scenes. Figure out the thing that you LOVE about your book and make it bigger.
- What is the book missing? It just doesn’t have that book-hangover-potential, even though you poured your heart into it. It doesn’t quite make the reader feel like they just don’t have the emotional energy to get out of the book’s world, and you want that. You want your reader to not be able to pick up another book for a day or two minimally. You may be missing one of these things: A) Characters that feels intensely real. B) themes that make your reader think and feel like there’s more happening than just what’s happening. C) Intensity. Scenes that reek of tension. Now, refer back to the thing you do well. How can you use THAT to make the thing you didn’t do well rock the fucking socks off the reader? Leverage your strength to improve your weakness.
START FROM THE BEGINNING.
Hopefully you’ve determined the things you want to change, expand on, and cut. Which one is the Big Thing? (Hint: It’s pretty much always revolving around your main character.) The Big Thing is your non-negotiable, this has to come across clearly and hit-you-in-the-fucking-facely item of business. For instantce, in THE ANIMAL, the Big Thing I need to edit for is making certain that the reader knows Trent’s singular predicament is very definitely ripping his already messy life to tinier shreds. All of the edits I do henceforth have to work toward that big goal. And I mean EVERY EDIT. Every line has to evoke the feeling of it. My Smaller Things are that I want the theme of ancient Egypt to be strong, and I want Trent to be complex and contradictory. So, my Egyptian imagery should be calm and serene when Trent is at his most frantic. All birds, one stone. The theme is there, and it’s stark contrast should show that Trent is an emotional mess. It will turn out to be a series of very small changes that will make a huge impact on the overall feeling of the book.
I personally find that when I use this excuse for an editing formula, I don’t ever have to make enormous, drasitc changes to books, whether they be my own or a client’s. A series of well-planned tweaks will make your manuscript feel less like a pieced together bit of pretty roadkill and more like a work of systematic art.
What do you guys do while editing? What works for you? Give me your answers, people!