Five Truths Of Editing Fiction No One Tells You
I’ve been chronicling my experience with editing here at Coffee House Writers with some of my past articles. “Starting Over: Mirroring Kristin Cashore’s Writing of Bitterblue” was about how rewriting the whole story was my original plan. “An Editing Process for Pantsers” mentioned a very analytical way of evaluating each scene and figuring out whether it was worth keeping.
I have been indecisive about how to edit, to say the least. This is, in part, because of the editing everyone talks about versus what it will actually look like.
We need an honest conversation about what the editing process entails.
When someone says the word “editing,” what do you see? A red pen fixing punctuation errors, awkward wording and grammar? That’s what I imagined. I didn’t realize one of the biggest secrets of editing: editing is, at its heart, rewriting.
Because of the common misconceptions about writing, I decided to list out the truths of editing. I stumbled across these through editing my novel.
Truth #1: Editing is Rewriting
In truth, everything after the first draft is editing. You must rewrite scenes, add scenes, delete scenes, and everything in between to get to the polished-draft phase. Everything you write after the first completed draft is editing, even if you are writing a completely new sequence of scenes for the first half of your book.
Truth #2: You Will Cut 90 Percent Of Your First Draft
I wrote 61,000 words for my first draft. The first 42,000 words will be completely rewritten. Some of the later scenes will stay in the novel, but I must revise even them to sound less rushed and more authentic.
Truth #3: Everything Changes
I wrote the first draft with no plotting or character planning. As a result, my character changed into a different person with rewrites. She didn’t have a character arc. I had to remedy this. As I’ve been crafting her personality to fit the plot, she became a different person. The scenes I kept from the previous draft must be reworked to match her new personality. Even her age has changed.
Because her age has changed, a lot of other circumstances have changed, too. Therefore, the first two-thirds of the book must be thrown out and rewritten.
Truth #4: Killing Our Darlings
The phrase “killing your darlings” is vague. It can refer to a lot of things, like killing off characters. But I recently realized that this phrase could apply to editing, where you must cut out large chunks of text you spent months working on. You throw out a lot of the writing you slaved over the keyboard for. It’s painful to do so, but if it isn’t helping the story itself, it needs to go.
Truth #5: Why It Takes Years To Write A Novel
I thought when people said their novels took them several years to write; it referred to the rough draft. I was proud of myself for finishing a rough draft in eight months. It was a huge accomplishment for me.
But I realized something. I could have finished a draft of the same length in four months by writing 500 words every day. The first draft isn’t what is taking so long. It’s the rewriting, editing, and reworking the novel. It is the amount of time it took to get from the rough draft to the final draft, and every step in between.
More honesty about what editing involves could save others from aimlessly trying to figure out what to do.
The image I have of editing comes at the end of the editing process. Often, it’s only a minuscule portion of it.
We need an honest conversation about what the editing process entails. The current discussion about editing leaves out the majority of the process. More honesty about what editing involves could save others from aimlessly trying to figure out what to do.