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Author Topic: How to edit large portions of prose
Member # 2807

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Okay, so one fine day, I decided to just write. I know, that's a novel idea. Well, actually, I wrote for hours without editing at all, and have a lot of stuff, maybe 120 pages, of stuff I need to slog back through and winnow out what's good and what isn't and try to get it into some kind of shape.

I know many of you have done this sort of thing, but the project seems intimidating to me. I don't think I can read it on the computer screen and figure it out, but also, it even seems daunting (not to mention a waste of ink and paper) to print it off and do so.

Anyway, your thoughts and advice would be appreciates as to how you would tackle this job.

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Member # 8140

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Not to be too glib, but just tackle it. You don't have to do it all in one sitting, but pick a time when you can focus on it, and start cutting/editing/rewriting as you see fit. When you get it down to as good as you think it'll be, then get feedback on it.
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Member # 2733

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It depends, I think. Does the 120 pages represent an entire story, or part of a story?

Here's how I approach it.

Assuming the former, it might be best to sit back and assess the overall story, what's the central thread, what are the primary sub-threads, then initially go through and toss out anything that is not essential to those threads. Arguably it's better to be overly aggressive cutting than timid (you can always put something back).

From there I like to get three highlight markers and highlight what advances plot, reveals character (through thought and problem-solving action), or sets scene, each in it's own color. Anything not highlighted gets removed. Then I look to see where I can merge things. If there are long blocks of a single color I try to find ways add some of the other colors. Ideally I have all three happening a couple times per page minimum.

I don't worry about grammer and diction and style at this point, I'm still assembling the story. Usually the above means it's easiest to then do a rewrite using the butchered copy as an outline of sorts.

Then I repeat with the new draft where hopefully the changes are less extensive, then polish it up.

If it's a partial story, I would be inclined to finish drafting the entire story first, but that's just me. There are many approaches that can be employed successfully.

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Member # 8874

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I like Dee's suggestions.

I would break the story down by chapter, then by scene, or maybe point of view. Break it up into workable chunks. And then do what Dee said.

Review where the action or tension is suppose to be, and note it in the text. During a rewrite you can adjust the pacing.

For long stories I do a monomyth compliance check. Make sure there is a departure, an initiation and a return. Then check if the sub-elements for each are there and in original ways. I don't believe the order has to be strict just well told.

I get into arguments with my wife. She edits my work. She waists time proof reading a story that has not been fully told. I've deleted entire chapters after she marked all the grammar errors. Take one step at a time and get it done.

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Crystal Stevens
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And once you have your first draft done, make sure you haven't forgotten any loose ends. My first book turned into a trilogy... and then put on the back burner. One of these days, I might get back to it. But anyway, I finished the entire trilogy's first draft and was patting myself on the back when it dawned on me Shawni's mother was never found! I got so wrapped up in the main story that I forgot to conclude this important subplot I'd interwove with the main story plot.

Like I said, one of these days I'll drag the whole thing out and maybe even finish it. But right now, I'm polishing up a story to submit to the WOTF contest. Skadder and Brad have really inspired me with their recent success .

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Betsy Hammer
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I get the most writing done when I write for myself. I get the best writing done when I write for someone else.

If I were still in the "write for myself" mind set, I'd go through a 120 page draft using all those suggestions and everything would still seem fairly great. But as soon as I have a reader lurking behind my shoulder, waiting for my pages, my draft looks awful. Melodramatic, boring, nonsensical. So that's my suggestion to you: Set up a reader for your first scene right now. Then edit the heck out of that scene. Make it perfect. Edit it and rewrite it as if it's your last chance. Line by line, plot, character, everything. Make sure it's right. Then actually give it to them.

If you focus on the story as a whole, editing here and editing there, then the last-pass edits you make on the first scene will throw the rest all out of whack. In that way, this edit you make to your first scene IS your last chance. It needs to be right, or you're wasting your time (unless you happen to be way smarter and more clear-thinking than me, which is likely).

Let's say your character yells at his father in the first scene. You realize on your last edit, that your character wouldn't actually do that, it's not his nature. So you change it. BUT WAIT! The fifth scene that you already spent so much time perfecting hinges on the fact that he did it. Whoops.

Or, you edit the whole thing then give it to a reader. He says that the first scene makes no sense, he doesn't have enough information. You spent a full week rewriting the flashback scene that comes later and explains it all, but your reader says he needs it up front. You were never confused during your readings because you already knew that information and were incapable of seeing the problem. Again, wasted time and edits. It's all about the reader.

Also, if you work in small chunks, then you can print them out as you need them without guilt.

Good Luck!

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Member # 8892

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Editing can be a drag, especially if you are finicky (like I am).
I tend to re-read a lot of a written chapter once it is done and do some minor adjustments. When I sleep over the whole thing I analyze the previous day writing again and modify it again. A lot can change in that next morning, when you read yesterday's paragraph/chapter. May seem tedious but it saves you a lot of work later. Then again I tend to keep a few notes and a bit of outlining here and there so I don't write myself into a corner.

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I know it's a bit of a cart-before-the-horse exercise, but when I have a story I'm about to start editing, I like to write my query letter. That forces me to look at the big picture, to identify the most exciting/important elements. Then I can go back to my draft and make sure that big picture/excitement that I wrote into the query letter comes through in the actual novel.
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Pyre Dynasty
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Think of it as the path of a river, start at the top and just flow downhill. (Getting into a zen-ish state of mind helps.)
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Robert Nowall
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I've gotten kinda dragged out on editing...with my last finished work, it got to feeling like I'd chewed a piece of gum so long it dissolved in my mouth. (Yes, that's happened to me.)

But some of it's gotta be done. One's immortal prose is never so immortal that it couldn't use some more work on it...one's concept of the story often changes from the start to the finish that need to be changed to make it all match up...neglected details need to be written out...details and backstories must be inserted (or removed)...and it all has to be made "neat" and "presentable" so one doesn't look like an incompetent idiot when one sends it out to market. (Plus a lotta stuff I can't remember offhand, I'm sure.)

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Member # 8809

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One page at a time, at least that is how I do it. For the final line by line sentences, I use Master Edit.


How to write engaging, suspenseful scenes like Dean Koontz (Inhale Scenes) Blogspot

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Member # 2807

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Thanks for all the suggestions. BTW, dee_boncci, it's a partial. I've actually reworked the first 2-3 chapters quite a bit, and it's the stuff after that that I'm talking about--and right now, that stuff is a bunch of run on sentences and free-form caterwauling that I scrawled down quickly in order to advance the plot. I guess I just need to maybe look at it and see how I can break it down.
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