Fiction editing: prepwork

On January 21st, right before the full moon, I tied the hard copy of my manuscript up with ribbons and set it to rest on the floor of my closet. It’s been resting there ever since, waiting for two full lunar cycles to pass before I cut the ribbons and get to editing.

I spent the first cycle trying (and failing) to disregard the novel. The best I could do was leave some problems to percolate while I turned to inspiring free-reading and character design.

Then, at the beginning of the second cycle, I went into high gear prep mode, designing a syllabus of sorts to get me ready to unbind my book on March 23rd. Each week in March, I decided, I would read and take notes on one book on self-editing and solve two major plot points with fuzzy edges. Then, I selected my books.

The books I chose ended up having wildly different approaches and personalities, ranging from aggressive to humorous. As such, I thought it might be useful to review them here, in case someone is looking for the right editing book for them.

Book 1: Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages

Why you should read this book:

It’s a quick read, and it confirms the hunches you already have if you’re a good writer.

Why you should not read this book:

Noah Lukeman is an asshole. He opens the book with a set of acknowledgements thanking his editor for being the only person in the publishing industry able to understand “the vision” of his book. He then includes a note stating that he won’t be using gender-inclusive language, because fuck you that’s why. And then he spends 197 pages telling his solely male writers/readers what not to do, citing only the great classics (oh god he must be so smart) to make his points, while failing to demonstrate what you should do, instead.

Book 2: Steven King’s On Writing

Why you should read this book:

It’s hilarious. This was actually my second time through it, and it’s a fresh as it ever was, with plenty of anecdotes, solid advice encapsulated in jokes, and examples of editing in action. If you get the newest edition, there is actually an entire section from one of King’s own stories that demonstrates his editing process. The book also comes with a bibliography in case you want to look for further help on your writing.

Why you should not read this book:

If you’re the sort of person who prefers straightforward advice that doesn’t come to you in the context of metaphor and wise-cracking, this might not work well for you. That said, King’s metaphors are always apt if you follow them through to their conclusions.

Book 3: Renni Browne and Dave King’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, 2nd Ed.

Why you should read this book:

Quite frankly? It’s perfect. It tells you what not to do, AND how to fix it. It’s kind and compassionate, without sugar-coating the industry. It has a light dusting of humor as well as some hard-hitting advice. It’s full of examples and practice exercises. And it’s chapters are split into shorter sections that help you to organize your thoughts and process each bit of information they offer before you move on to the next. Also, the writing is clear as day.

Why you should not read this book:

I can’t think of anything. I guess if you don’t like cartoons out of the New Yorker?

*   *   *

In conclusion, I would say that my editing syllabus worked out pretty well! The more I thought about focus, showing vs. telling, and proportion, the easier my plot points were to solve. And even Lukeman’s book had some advice worth taking, particularly in his chapter on “hooks.”

There, he suggests that you should have a flyleaf synopsis of your book at your fingertips as you edit, to help you stay on track and keep your story focused.

Here’s my first attempt!

It’s 1891 and all of Chicago has turned out for the grand opening of Atlantis, an amusement park modeled on the stories and characters within the latest dime novel juggernaut—The Energists. Elise West and Bethel Nichols, recent graduates of the Young Ladies Preparatory School, join the throngs, looking for a day full of roller coasters, theatrical stages, and sugary mystery. But their joyful hopes are dashed when a ride explodes, igniting Bethel’s ire and Elise’s Magic.

In the aftermath of the accident….

Bethel spearheads a safety campaign that maneuvers her into the sites of the Cavalier family, Chicago’s answer to the Carnegies. While the heir to the fortune proves congenial, sympathetic, and devilishly handsome, the patriarch proves dangerous beyond anyone’s estimation. And as the family fractures behind the scenes, their history spills out into her hands. Bethel finds the Cavaliers are more than meets the eye.

Elise travels to the genuine Atlantis, where her powerful talent maneuvers her into the Energist High Council and the truth behind the dime novel unfolds. While the characters and stories are real, the looming specter of the exiled Superiors dulls the glitter and shine. And nothing can be done about the shadow until the ephemeral Pilot of Atlantis rises from abstraction. Elise finds the key to his awakening lies within her.

With an unshakable friendship that unites the women across realms and wonders, and more in common than even they realize, Elise and Bethel set out to make the difficult choices that will link the futures of a city and a civilization and usher in a new century.

So pumped to get started.

Historian, novelist, musician, and imagination professional.

4 thoughts on “Fiction editing: prepwork

  1. Your flyleaf synopsis is stellar. I also enjoyed your reviews of the books you read in preparation of your editing process. I really appreciate the amount of effort that you put into this venture; you’re not messing around, taking prisoners, or half-assing anything. You are decidedly whole-assing it, and I’m really enthused to get to be a voyeur peeping through the window of your writing/editing process.

    All of that came out wrong, didn’t it?

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