Writing the story is only one step. A work isn’t finished until it has been edited deeply, repeatedly, and with variety. The question of “How?” is the tricky one.
My process for editing Red Jade has been lengthy. When I finished book one, I realized that I was actually into book two. I went back through the story and read it, cleaning up where I could, shrinking scenes that rambled, expanding scenes that were unclear, and so on. I also shifted the ending to a more appropriate stopping point. This took me two read-throughs on my own.
I went back and read it through again, this time paying attention to the consistency of the characters and the world setting. I fleshed out some battle scenes, updated some creatures, and cleaned up some dialogue issues.
All done? No, not quite.
I knew the story continued after book one so I worked on the rest of it. I went through and wrote book two, then book three, then realized I needed a book four to finish the tale without rushing to the end. During this, I sought help from friends.
My friend Jared read each chapter from the beginning as I was writing the story. We were able to talk about individual scenes and character decisions and I clarified some issues on the spot, fixing them as I went ahead with the rest of the tale. This, for me, was a huge help because I was able to tackle problems early before they became entrenched in the story.
As I was writing book four, I handed off book one to another friend, Joseph. He likes what he likes and if he didn’t care for it, he would not have asked for more. Yet he did ask for more and more and more. He asked questions about the characters, followed up with an immediate, “Don’t tell me! I want to find out in the story.” He gave me new ideas to consider and I made alterations as needed before handing him subsequent books to continue the saga.
When all four books were completed, I then went back through and read all of them again. I knew now exactly where everything had fallen. I had to ensure everything was consistent through the whole story. That’s not easy. Did I actually change her backstory? Oops. Oh, I used that tavern name twice in different towns; I must have liked it… Why is this guy suddenly in favor of things when he wasn’t before? Hmm. He’s limping on the wrong foot. Edit. Edit. Edit.
And yes, I then went back and edited it again. Finally, I felt it was as good as I could make it, so I started sending it out to agents. Six, to be exact, but no luck. I looked at it again, and I realized that the prologue was a rather dull telling of events, so I rewrote it into action. I sent it out again. Still no results.
I realize of course that it’s hard to break in from the street. I hadn’t given up. I wanted to keep pushing, but I knew I needed more input, so I then turned to my friend, Hayden, and asked him to read book one. He has a keen eye for detail and he picked apart numerous aspects of the story, most of which I agreed with and adjusted. Yes, more edits, and another read-through.
I had planned to continue my quest for an agent this summer, but then my birthday happened… Kevin orchestrated a major event to celebrate my 40th and friends and family all chipped in so I could pursue self-publishing. I was able to sign up with CreateSpace and go for the full round of edits and other services.
My first round of edits came back and shocked me. I was expecting the story to be torn apart. Yes, there were many structural edits throughout the manuscript which cleaned up the readability. Yet in terms of plot and character development, I received mostly positive comments, even being told it was the best thing she had read in three years. That wowed me, but it also made me worry if the line edits had interfered with tracing the depth of the story. I intend no slight against the editor’s skill with that statement. I had just expected more criticism.
I went through the manuscript again and addressed all the issues that had been pointed out and then resubmitted the story. A month later, round two edits came back. Here, there were fewer structural edits and more critique of certain character inconsistencies. Ah! I was wondering.
I am currently working through those edits now, taking my time to ensure the rest of the story is still fun from my point of view. It is so far, not that I was really doubtful. But as I’m going through it this time, I’m starting to wonder if I should drop the prologue/epilogue that I have in there now. Maybe they aren’t necessary for setting the stage. Maybe, as my second editor said, they are too obvious of a device for recapping the story. I’m debating scratching them altogether and working the necessary information into the main part of the narrative. Maybe it was the prologue holding me back all along?
When I have gone through this round of edits, I will resubmit to CreateSpace for round three. That’s a copyediting round, focusing on punctuation and such. No more plot analysis, but I’m feeling confident there. After that is over, I can put it all together with the cover and release it. My goal is before Halloween.
What’s next for editing after that? Books 2, 3, and 4 need cleaning up, of course. Who’s got some time?
In long (because this wasn’t short), telling the story is only one part of the process. Editing is a vital aspect of any tale, and it is important to take that seriously as a writer. For the reader, hopefully you never really think about the editing. Hopefully the typographical errors have been caught so you’re not tripping along the way. Hopefully the sentence structures flow well so you can just get lost in the story. With any luck, when you reach the end, you will be filled with a sense of “Wow, what happens next?”