I’m on a (seemingly endless) editing trail right now, having (in the last month and a half) received line edits for both Darkness Devours and Beneath a Darkening Moon, and now page proofs for Darkness Devours. All this, and having to edit and hand in Darkness Hunts, the 4th of the Dark Angels books, as well.
Naturally enough, it got me thinking about edits. About how necessary they are, and how much I actually hate them.
That’s right. I HATE them.
But I also know that they’re a very necessary evil and that my books would suck without them. I might be able to write a decent enough story, but grammar and my brain are often incompatible. And there’s always—ALWAYS—plot errors I just don’t see, no matter how many times I go through the damn book.
Of course, I always try to present the best book I can at the time, and that’s something every writer should strive for, no matter whether they’re published or unpublished. I know there’s a temptation—especially these days, with so many other avenues of publishing opening up to writers—to simply finish something and get it out there, but you owe it to yourself, your career, and your readers to present as polished product as you can.
So, how do I go about editing my novels, before I actually send them to my editor? Here’s my list:
1—the very first thing I do is actually nothing. That’s right, nothing. I let that story sit and ‘brew’ for a while and go onto something else. I usually leave it for at least a couple of weeks, so that the characters and the storyline are ‘new’ again when I come to revise it, and so that I see what is there rather than what my writer brain thinks it put there.
2—does the opening line/paragraph grab your attention? Does is jump straight into the action? Is the beginning where it should be?
3—is it clear who the hero is? I write in first person, so that’s not such a problem for me, but it can be if you write in third.
4—is it clear fairly quickly what the hero’s situation/problems are? Are your hero’s motives clear, and does he have something vital at stake?
5—ditto the above for your antagonist.
6—is your hero outgunned? Having your hero up against ever increasing odds is a great way to create tension in a story?
7—side characters. Do they have clear and distinct voices? Do they add something to the story in every scene they’re in?
8—do all your characters still look and act at the end of the story as they did at the beginning? Characters do grow and change, true, but they should not change so much they are an almost completely different character. And unless they’re a shifter, they should not be able to change hair/eye colour etc
9—do any of your characters act out of character, just for the sake of the story? There is no surer way to drive readers insane!
10—is your dialogue sharp? Is it realistic, and in character?
11—setting. Is there enough of it? Is there too much? Does is enhance the story and plot, or slow it down?
12—ditto the above for scenes. Do you need every one, or could the story be sharper if some were cut down or lost all together?
13—are all the introduced plot threads tied up at the end? While this isn’t always possible/necessary when writing a series, you should at least tie some of them up, and refer somehow to those left dangling for later books.
14—does the plot make sense? Does it come to a satisfying conclusion? Does the antagonist meet a satisfying (and in my case, often gruesome) end?
15—is the ending as sharp as the beginning? Will I make your readers want to buy your next one?
16—have you got someone you trust to do a final edit run-through for you? Because believe me, they will find things you miss, even if you think you’ve caught it all.
After you’ve done all the above, and you think it’s as shiny as you’re going to get it, then submit that sucker and get writing something new! And enjoy the process before the above happens all over again