Today I’m hosting a guest post by C.M. Story about the editing process. The guest post is very informative and detailed. Thanks so much for taking the time to visit!
3 Editing Stages to Get a Story “Just Right”
If I break it down, the process I go through to create a novel has three basic editing stages.
Stage One: Figure it Out
When I write the first draft, I just write. I don’t outline. Most days, as long as I can focus well, I manage to sink completely into the other world that’s taking shape on the page, and it feels a little like watching a movie in my head. I’m more of a witness than a participant, simply recording what I see.
I like this part of the process, for the pure discovery and creativity of it, but it can be exhausting. So when it’s time to go back and edit, it’s a relief in a way. Once there are words on the page, I have something to work with, and I can start the next stage of the process, which is the editing.
I rewrite so much of the second draft, though, it’s almost like writing the novel over again. My first draft tends to be very messy, and almost every time, it’s missing something important. Maybe I haven’t quite nailed down the antagonist, for example, or my character motivations aren’t clear. Maybe the plotline drags, or the theme is muddled. Usually I know some characters really well, but others not so much.
My goal in the first stage of editing, then, is to figure out what the story is all about. For me, this is the most difficult part of the process, and I often get stuck. I like tackling big themes (like, “is it worth it to follow your heart even if it hurts others?” in Rise of the Sidenah), but they tend to come from my unconscious mind, so I’m not always fully aware of them by the second draft stage. Or maybe I think the story is about one thing, and it turns out it’s actually about something else.
I get help from a lot of places. The book Blueprint Your Bestseller by Stuart Horwitz guides authors in breaking up a manuscript—he actually has you cut it up!—to zero in on the theme. Once you have your theme, it’s easier to get everything else to fall in place. I also tend to look carefully at all main characters, to determine exactly why they’re doing what they’re doing, what they want, and how they go about getting it.
When I was first starting out, I also hired a couple editors to help me determine what I needed to work on. They were hugely helpful to me, and passed along tips I still use to this day.
Step Two: Make it Roll
Once I have the second draft finished, usually I know what it’s about, have the basic structure down, and the plotline filled in. This takes me to draft number three, which is where I make sure everything is fitting together like it should.
I may have places where what the characters do doesn’t make sense, for example. There may be scenes that don’t ring true, or places where the prose drags on too long. I may have settings that require a little more research so I can add key details, or scenes that need to be added to ratchet up the suspense.
In draft number three, I try to fill up all the holes, streamline the action, and make sure everything makes sense, so the story has some momentum and starts to roll.
Step Three: Clean It Up
This step may encompass two to ten drafts or more. It’s like chipping away at a sculpture—with every draft the prose gets a little cleaner, and usually, a little leaner. This is often the stage where I make significant cuts. I’m also likely to work more on the prose itself. I read it out loud, to make sure the sentences have a ring and rhythm to them.
Somewhere along the way, I get to the point where I don’t think I can do much more on my own. That’s when the book goes out into the world for outside feedback, perhaps to a contest or a publisher. Is the story “just right” at that point?
Maybe. Or maybe it needs another draft or two.
Thank you to Charlene for hosting me and “Rise of the Sidenah” on her lovely blog!
About the Book
Author: C.M. Story
Genre: YA Fantasy
Adrienna Vedica longs to build the creatures living in her imagination. One day, she hopes to sculpt them out of stone, creating great statues like those that guard the Celany village.
She doesn’t understand why everyone seems to disapprove.
It’s only when Tishaan, a powerful man in the high council, agrees to help her sculpt that Adrienna is finally able to pursue her passion. She dives into her work, but creates with such energy she collapses from exhaustion before seeing the final results, giving Tishaan time to hide her masterpieces away.
Her mentor, Sreng—the man she secretly loves—tries to convince her that Tishaan is using her, but she can’t abandon her art. Only when people start showing up dead does she think again. There’s something off about Tishaan…and then Sreng shows her one of her early works.
But something is wrong.
It’s alive. And it’s digging a grave.
C.M. Story has always been a fan of fantasy in all its many forms, including the kind she frequently indulged in during boring lectures in school. She didn’t try her hand at penning her own stories, however, until long after she’d gotten her Bachelor’s degree in music.
Once she sold her first short story, she got a writing job and never looked back. Today she runs a successful freelance writing and editing business out of her home in Idaho, and frequently travels to other inspiring places with her trusty laptop in tow. And yes, despite rumors to the contrary, “Story” is her real last name.
“Rise of the Sidenah” was inspired by gothic architecture, a tune by “The Calling,” and the idea that following the heart may cause pain, but is the only way to truly fulfill one’s purpose in life.
Find more at cmstorybook.com.