I recently began taking the editing scissors to my recently finished novel The Queen’s Assassin. I knew that just sitting down and slashing lines wasn’t going to cut it. Yes, I’m wordy. Yes, I use WAAAAAY too many ellipses. Yes, the plot actually needed some work. And that’s where I needed to start.
I feel like editing is usually complained about, while the battle plan for it is normally neglected. I needed it to be visual, I needed it to have progression charts, and I needed to know that the large parts of the story which delighted me could stay. Because it was good. I wrote it because it was a great idea. I wrote Emmeline because she was a great character. I wrote the anti-love triangle because I wanted to show it could be done.
The main problem with The Queen’s Assassin was that I did not start writing it with a really good outline. I had an outline, and it got me from the beginning to the end, but it not make the journey smooth, simple, let alone straight.
So I went back to the drawing board with a fantabulous outline chart I found on (where else?) Pinterest.
Everyone’s process is different, but I have found this to be the best outline ever. I can improve any of my stories by slotting scenes in and repolishing. I wish I’d had this when I started TQA.
Now, TQA is huge. 154,000 words at the moment. Big. Much of its beauty is in how epic it is. I track four different plotlines of three different facets of my main character and then some background events. So I took this plot chart and quadrupled it on a massive sheet of paper. I followed all four plots in four long chains, throwing in red asterisks whenever something needed to be radically altered or written from scratch. It wasn’t until I reached the halfway point that I realized I had neglected to put a large plot point on the sheet.
“Hold on,” I thought to myself, “if it isn’t on here… do I actually need it?” Que a minor existential crisis in which it occurred to me that this large portion of writing purely existed to set up one joke. So, it got put on the ‘cut’ list.
Here’s the modified word-count Excel sheet I’m using for my editing journey.
So I was able to go through my entire manuscript and color code text and insert minor asides of where plot points need to help build up the structure.
That was my battle plan, and it seems to be working well so far. I went through and color coded everything in two days. It gave me a great bird’s-eye view of the story, showed off which parts worked best and which parts were weakest, and will enable me to edit it in a fairly linear fashion.
Yes, once this is done, I will need to put the manuscript through line editing, but this will get all my blocks stacked in the right order, at least.
Three pieces of solid editing advice:
Save a draft of your manuscript elsewhere and work on a different copy. Nothing is worse than cutting something you realize you need later.
Don’t get lost in the weeds while you’re planting hedges. Line editing won’t help you if the whole scene needs to be cut; think big, then small, then perfect.
Reward yourself. I love nothing more than seeing the little green bars catch up to the little blue bars on my chart. They ain’t even close in that screenshot, but it gives me a concrete goal. If your thing is an entire bar of chocolate every other chapter, then go for it! You’ve earned it!