Editing is terrifying. You know your manuscript needs more work, but the number of details you have to think about is overwhelming. You have to think about plot, character arcs, grammar, and more. It’s mind-boggling. You can’t be expected to do it all at once. That is why you need a plan.
An editing plan is a strategic process that helps ensure you address each story element. There are dozens of things to consider when editing, but for simplicity’s sake, I have lumped everything into three major categories: plot, character, and prose.
Trying to focus on all these elements at once is impossible. There is a reason professional editors do multiple passes on a manuscript. Instead of trying to keep a thousand spinning plates in the air, focus on just one. I prefer to start with the big picture and work my way down to smaller details.
I start with plot. If the overall plot is rubbish, my amazingly witty heroine won’t be enough to keep readers engaged. Starting with plot helps identify areas of weakness with the overall story and adjust pacing. Maybe you’ll find a scene or character that doesn’t need to be there. (Remember Killing Your Darlings?) Ensuring the plot is solid will make each subsequent editing pass easier.
Now that the plot is straightened out, I can evaluate my characters. Each principal character needs a clear arc and growth throughout the story. Their behavior must be consistent with their motivation and backstory. Personally, I suggest doing a pass for each character. This makes it easier to ensure each one is realistic and serves a purpose in the story.
Prose is the last thing I look at. These are the nitty gritty word choices that will keep you up at night. Maybe that’s just me. Either way, this is the final bit of polish to make the manuscript shine. Doing this last is strategic. There is no point in waxing poetic in a scene that is cut from the final product. So, by waiting until the end to work on prose, I am maximizing my time and efficiency.
But Erin, what if I notice something else while I’m editing? Can’t I just stop and fix it? Sure. There are no hard and fast rules here. If that missing comma is going to make your left eye twitch so badly that everyone thinks you’re winking at them, fix it. Another option is to keep an editing notebook. Jot down the things you want to address later. This will keep you from having the thousand and one half finished editing runs and relieve any worry you have about forgetting what you wanted to work on.
Now that you have an idea of how to build an editing strategy, I hope the process will be far less painful for you in the future. Maybe you already have a great strategy that you use. I’d love to hear about it. Until next time, happy writing!