A couple weeks ago I sent my most recently completed novel draft to a friend and fellow writer for review. Mostly what I was looking for was confirmation that I didn’t have gaping plot holes or inconsistencies in my story. What I got back was essentially grammar corrections (which I do appreciate, since my grammar is self-taught and instinctive and doesn’t always match up with the official rules). Obviously I need to work on my communication next time. But, apart from a double handful of fairly minor observations, I’m still at square one when it comes to knowing what needs to be fixed. Clearly this is a sign that I need to stop attempting to outsource my editing and just figure it out on my own.
The main problems with this manuscript are twofold: it’s too short (just over 67,000 words), and only two of the main three characters are properly fleshed out. Secondary problems involve tension in the plot (there really isn’t any) and descriptions of places and people (it fluctuates wildly from nonexistent to practically purple). Also, I need to rework the platonic affection triangle to make it quite clear that romance plays no part in the drama. My issue isn’t so much what the primary issues are so much as how to solve them. Obviously, I can articulate fairly clearly what the problems with my draft are, though I’m sure there are more that I haven’t caught.
In fact, my issue is mostly that I never learned the editing process. I’m well versed in the processes of brainstorming and writing, both because I’ve been doing them on my own for years and because I learned how to do them in school. Admittedly I had to bridge the gap between academic writing and fiction, but it’s not that large a gap in terms of process. The content and tone gaps are large, but the processes themselves are basically the same. Unfortunately, I’m a good writer, so I never had to learn to edit. This is proving to be a problem when it comes to my fiction, because I do need to edit, and I know I need to edit. I just don’t know how to do it.
I’ve looked around online and seen how other authors do it, but, as with everything in writing, each person works differently and what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. A lot of time the best advice someone can give boils down to, “I’m doing what felt right to me and I don’t really know how to explain it.” Admittedly most people are more eloquent than that, because writers tend to be eloquent even when they’re not working on books, but at the end of the day everyone seems to agree that you have to figure out what works best for you and that the best way to do that is trial and error. So that’s what I’m going to do. Trial and error, punctuated by long periods of frustration and annoyance. In fact, that could pretty much sum up my entire process from beginning to end.
I think I’m going to start by thoroughly profiling my characters and going from there. I’m a character-driven writer, and a lot of my problems come from not listening to them properly. Hopefully as I explore Amy further she can tell me what to do and which scenes to rewrite and things will start flowing more smoothly. Once I’ve solved that problem we can move on to issues of tension and tone and length, which are much more daunting. But one thing at a time. Rome, as they say, wasn’t built in a day.