An Editing Process for Pantsers
The 18th of July was the one-month anniversary of finishing my first full-length novel. You may have seen my article “Starting Over: Mirroring Kristin Cashore’s Process Of Writing Bitterblue,” published earlier this month about the process I was planning on using to edit the novel.
Well, plans have changed. I admit I’ve never edited a longer piece of writing before. The editing process is a bit of a mystery to me.
I have read lots of articles about how to approach editing, but few seemed to lend themselves to the way my brain works. Being a panster, a term for someone who doesn’t plot or plan before writing, means a lot of methods for editing aren’t aimed towards your process. Plus, a lot of these methods didn’t tell me how to approach each step. They just gave a basic rundown of the process involved without going into detail.
I ended up cobbling several methods together to get what I think I need for this specific project. I have a general idea of what it needs to improve.
What methods did I choose to include in the editing process?
First off, I wanted to read through and separate the scenes. I placed a hashtag between each of the scenes. Then, I filled out an index card with a couple of questions. These questions were:
- Who is in the scene? I wrote down the names of each character that makes an appearance. I made a note if they only appear for a portion or leave in the middle of the scene.
- What happens? I made a short synopsis of the events in the scene.
- When does it happen? This has three parts to it.
- I included the day number during the timeline of the novel (Day 1, Day 2, etc.,).
- The time of day the scene happens (early morning, morning, early afternoon, afternoon, evening, night, late night,).
- And the day of the week (Sunday, Monday, etc.).
- What is the POV Character’s Goal? What are they trying to accomplish? Do they achieve it or not? They don’t always have to get what they want. In fact, many times they won’t, or things won’t go as planned. If you can’t identify a clear goal for your character, then question the importance of the scene and whether it needs to be included.
- Why is this scene important to the novel? In my view, each scene needs to have a purpose in the novel. And that purpose can fall into one of three categories:
- It can advance the plot.
- Reveal something about the POV character.
- Develop the relationships between the characters.
I shorten these questions to “Who?”, “What?”, “When?”, “Goal?”, and “Why?” to save space on the index card.
I also keep a space for notes on the card where I keep track of:
- Different inconsistencies.
- Plot holes.
- Things I don’t like.
- Things I like.
- Opportunities for foreshadowing.
- Ideas for new scenes that would happen instead of or immediately after the scene I have on the card.
You can also use these scene cards as a plotting tool, but that’s not how my brain works.
I am still in this phase. But I have planned the steps I will take after this.
What are the next steps?
First, write the new scene ideas and repeat the index card questions for each of those. Then, see how each sequence of events fits in the novel as a whole, and choose the stronger, better fitting scenes. The scene cards will play a big part in figuring out which arrangement of scenes is stronger to tell the story and get the theme and message across.
Once I choose the scenes that will make the final cut, I will go through each scene in a split-screen and rewrite them with my notes for improvements close by. I will continue writing and re-writing these until I am happy with everyone.
I will read the whole novel from the edited scenes, making several passes. I will look for:
- Character arcs and development.
- Plot problems and ways to fix them.
- Setting and description.
- Spelling, grammar, punctuation, and inconsistencies.
Once I am happy with the whole manuscript, I will look for beta readers.
I hope my editing process will help point you pantsers in the right direction of an editing process that works for you and the way your brain works.