Getting a project down on paper, whether it’s a novel, short story, play or film script, is always daunting. But once we’ve mapped out a rough draft, we face a second challenge: Figuring out how to reshape and revise what we’ve written most efficiently and effectively. While self editing isn’t easy, it can be enormously rewarding; seeing your words rearranged in ways that make them really come alive is exciting and satisfying. It’s getting them to cooperate that’s the tough part!
That’s why I found a simple strategy suggested by Alice Kuipers, an award-winning YA novelist, worth passing on. In a nutshell, Alice recommends dividing the editing process into two phases: macro editing and micro editing. Here’s a quick overview:
Macro editing: In this first phase, you look at the big picture. You focus on analyzing and making decisions about the major components of your story. Does your beginning work? Are certain characters necessary — or do they seem to fade as your story unfolds? Does your ending flow from the rest of the story and is it compelling? Have you tied up all the loose ends or left the reader dangling?
Based on Alice’s experience, “the best way to macro edit is to print out the manuscript and read the entire book to yourself without a pen in hand.” Once you’ve done this, start writing. Write down everything that jumps out at you about your story, taking a fresh, honest look at what works and what doesn’t.
Then go back and rethink your story structurally: Is there a strong, clear emotional arc? Are there scenes missing? Are some scenes flat? Where does the action drag? Are your characters facing enough obstacles and changing — or are they static? When you’ve finished analyzing your draft, start your rewrite. At this stage, you’re moving the big pieces around, filling in gaps, making major plot fixes, and deepening your characters.
Micro editing: Once you’ve revamped your story structurally, tackle your manuscript at the micro level. The best way to spot these problems in your draft, according to Alice, is to “read every single line OUT LOUD with a pen at hand.” When you do, you’ll find it easier to spot typos, tense shifts and shifts in point of view. Look at points in your narrative where you can show instead of tell. See if you’re overusing adverbs. Go cliché hunting. Great advice as we all write on!
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