And Now What: My Editing Process

Some of you, my readers, did it. You wrote that novel during this year’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Congratulations. It is an awesome thing you have accomplished. Now some of you are thinking your novel is pretty darn good. It needs work, but it could be published. Maybe even head for bestsellerdom. It’s been done before.

However, and there is always a however, it’s time to stop and smell the coffee. That first draft is not ready for prime time. As Hemingway once said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” Especially if you are self-publishing, you will need to put that first draft through the grinder.

So I am here to share my editing process  I have a first draft of an 80,000-word novel, Adam at the Window. I have developed this process after six previous excursions into noveldom. Many of these tips came from novelists and editors. A few I discovered on my own. Pick and choose what works for you. Paraphrasing John Lennon, I say, “Whatever gets you through the write.”

1. I took a month long break from my novel.

2.Then I read the novel straight through. It took me a weekend.

3.Then I asked, Do I still love the story? If not,I won’t go any further. Why would a reader like a story the writer doesn’t care about? I say yes and continue.

4.A helpful text I use: Self-Editing for Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print By Renni Brown & Dave King.

5.Always remember who you are writing the novel for. I made this my mantra: “Everyday I improve my story so that readers will love it.”

6.While editing my novel, I have been reading well-written novels by others that I can learn from.  I  have read a couple of Elmore Leonard novels to get insight into dialogue. I read Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse for a painter’s thought process. Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast gave me a sense of Paris. Oscar Hijuelos’ Mr. Ives’ Christmas has been wonderful for description.

7.Next I determined what one question drives my novel. And how does it get answered. If it were a mystery, who done did the crime? Or if it’s a Columbo, how will the detective discover the killer? For a romance, how will these two ever get together? For Moby Dick, will Captain Ahab get the whale? Will the old man catch a fish in The Old Man and the Sea? Will NIck Carraway become Gatsby? Will the Joads make it in California? My novel, Adam at the Window, asks, What happens to a family when the father and husband does not return from war? Without this main question, no novel can succeed.

8. How will this question be worked out? Not only by the Main Character but also by the supporting characters?

9. I now make an outline of my scenes. As I go through the outline, I ask:

What purpose does this scene serve? If I can’t answer that, I don’t delete the scene. I mark it in red. I may discover its purpose during your editing.

Are there missing scenes? If so, I will have to write them during the editing process. I had to add a high school dance to Adam. In this scene, Adam met a character who was not in the original. This led to several scenes that had not existed. And made Adam a fuller character.

Are there scenes I can combine?

10.Am I happy with the structure of the novel? If not, what structure will I replace it with?

11.I put together a playlist of at least one song per scene.I listen to the song just before I start working on the scene. It puts me into the mood of the scene.

It may be helpful in flushing out the scene. When Adam was going to an interview with an art gallery owner, I played Elton John’s Roy Rogers. This gave me ideas for what art would be on display in the gallery. When Adam was learning how to paint, I listened to Carly Simon’s Touched By the Sun.

Some of the songs are songs played by characters in a scene. Peggy Lee’s Black Coffee plays on Adam’s grandfather’s radio as he paints. The grandfather comments, “Now that’s real music.”

12.Now I am ready to start the editing. I work on the novel scene by scene:

I create two text boxes side by side on a page of Microsoft’s One Note. (Scrivener can also be used for this purpose.)

I paste the scene in the text box on the left side. In the text box on the right, I type the text of the scene, making changes as I do. In some cases, I eliminate sentences. I may change the verb. I tend to leave stuff out in my first draft, so I add description. As I am working of a scene, I may have to go through this process several times.

Once I am satisfied with the scene, I paste it in Pro Writerly Aid for analysis.

When I have completed the analysis, I paste the text in a new version of my document. I change the font and read the text out loud. This helps me catch mistakes I missed.

13. I fill out an scene analysis sheet, answering the following:
The Date when the Edit is finished.
The Scene number.
The Name I am giving the Scene.
The Time with the Date and the Setting.
Number of Characters.
Number of Words.
What’s the Purpose of the Scene? Does it Reveal Character, Advance the Story, or Explore the Theme? If it does none of these, it’s time to get rid of it.
Is there an anchor at the beginning of the scene (Who, When, Where) to orient the reader?
Does the scene open with: Dialog, Thought, Action, or Description?
Does the scene close with: Dialog, Thought, Actiton, or Description?
Vary these elements. For instance, if you have too many scenes opening (or closing) with Dialog in a row, the novel will get boring.
Which of the five senses are used in this scene? The more used the more likely the reader is going to feel they are there.

14.Creating chapters. As I move through the editing process with the scenes, I begin to see that several scenes in a row have a theme, such as the Protagonist is meeting new people in these scenes. Those scenes become a Chapter. Once you have a chapter, ask, “Does this chapter end in a way that will make the reader want to read on?”

15.The final step. The Beta Reader. I find three, four or five people who read a lot and ask them to read my novel and give feedback. I will reward my beta readers with a token of thanks. Here are the questions I will ask my Beta Readers:
1. What is the story? Tell me in one paragraph.
2. Do you care about the Main Character? Why?
3. Were there other characters you cared about?
4. Any you hated?
5. Were there places in the novel that stopped you?
6. Or were not clear?
7. Were you expecting the ending?
8.Would you buy the book if you had not read it?

16.Once I have evaluated my Beta Readers’ analysis and made any changes I think are necessary, I will begin my submissions.

Please let me know if you have any suggestions that I might add to this process.

How the Greech Stole My Novel

Back in the way way backs before the Pandemic That Could, I wrote a novel. And what better month to start a novel than February. I couldn’t wait til the November-writing month of November. The idea ran off with me and wouldn’t let go. So I had little choice.

Now this novel had a heroine who knew how to heroine. It had a hero who had gotten the hero-ing down lickety-split. There were castles and more castles. Queen Victoria even put in an appearanceThere were bandits and more bandits, and ghosts and more ghost. The ghosts kicked the heroine off the plantation. The boat sank. And the heroine was locked up in a nunnery. And reader took the Grand Tour to Istanbul, Constantinople before she made off for Egypt.

The novel took me months to chip away and let the story out of the marble. When I completed the tome, I sat back, lit muself a cigar and grinned. I had come to the end of my masterpiece. Somehow, I worked through all the jokes, and all the times when I didn’t want to write the damned thing. It was done, and I was a happy man. I  saved my work and closed the file. I went to the kitchen, took a grand puff on my cigar and a drink of pinot. Soon the glass was empty. I poured a second glass and walked back to my computer with a big smile on his face. 51,717 words. I was proud of himself.

Lady Whats-her-name had adventures up the wazoo and who knew? Maybe the next novel might bring more adventures. I had only one more thing to do. Upload my words to my online drive. Before he did, there was just one itsy-bitsy change he wanted to make. Change THE END to FINALE. I sat down at the computer, opened the file that contained my grand saga and looked at the page. I was stunned.

The words, all 51,717 of them, had been erased. Where was my work, my months of staying up late and typing out nonsense into the word processor? Hours of trying to think up crap for a useless extravaganza of an exercise.

I stared at the monitor. Suddenly a big mouth appeared on the screen. It said in the crudest possible way, “I’m hungry and I want more words. More words, if you please.”

A Family Thanksgiving, Etc.

Remember the opening words in Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I took that line and turned it on its head and created my own saying. “All families are dysfunctional, but some families are more dysfunctional than others.”

Jodie Foster has put the fun, and the funk too, in dysfunctional in her homage to the American Thanksgiving family get-together. Without the fun, and the funk, of course, you only have dysfunctional. Who the heck knows what that is? “Home for the Holidays” is a movie about one of those “more dysfunctional than others” families. And, yes, there’s turkey and all the trimmings. ‘Cause, without them, it would be like Christmas without Jesus or Santa or Rudolph. That would be a very un-Christmas Christmas movie, wouldn’t it?

Holly Hunter is having a bad hair day. It could be worse. She could be having a no-hair day. That would mean she is bald. One thing is for sure. Holly Hunter is not bald. So it’s obvious that it’s only a bad hair day. Her boss just fired her, then tried to make out with her, claiming how that he hates Thanksgiving as he does. Dropping her off at the airport, her sixteen-year-old daughter tells her that she is about to have sex with her boyfriend. “We love each other,” she says. On the airplane home, she sits beside a woman who drives her nuts.

So she arrives home and we begin to see that her family is not just another dysfunctional family. It’s a family with Charles Durning and Anne Bancroft, Robert Downey Jr. and Cynthia Stevenson, and brother-in-law Steve Guttenberg. If that’s not enough dysfunction for you, it has Geraldine Chaplin as Aunt Glady. Yes, you heard that right. Aunt Glady.

As they used to say at the Colosseum, “Let the games begin.” Mom Anne Bancroft is a first-class worrier of a mother. Dad Charles Durning is a fun guy, but a little too much fun for Mom. He keeps getting underfoot. Then there’s brother Robert Downey Jr., showing up with his gay partner, Dylan McDermott, who has replaced “Jack I thought he was the one” Jack. At least, everybody believes Dylan is his gay partner. (Turns out he isn’t. Downey is still with Jack. Dylan McDermott is there to meet Holly Hunter.) Brother pulls into the old homestead’s driveway with Isaac Hayes and “Shaft” on the radio. It’s the kind of entrance you’d like to see more characters in comedies make.

Of course, being the wild and crazy guy he is, he makes a wild and crazy entrance with his Polaroid camera. (I know, this was back in the olden days of the nineties when Polaroid was the smartphone camera before there was such a thing as a smartphone.) He doesn’t knock at the front door. He sneaks in the back way, bringing his brand of over-the-fun and chaos to his parent’s house. It’s enough to drive his sister crazy, in a good way. Just when she thinks she’s had enough, he goes and redeems himself with a line like, “People are starting to look at your wardrobe.”

Mom being Mom, she can’t leave well enough alone. She’s got to set the single Holly Hunter up. Who does she set her daughter up with? The guy who comes in and fixes the furnace, that’s who. Played by David Straithairn. He’s a real fun guy. He immediately starts off, “I’m all alone this year. My brother and sister got canned and left town. My parents went and died on me.” On top of all that tragedy, his old girlfriend married his best buddy. Not the kind of guy Holly’d want to be fixed up with. But what can you expect from Mom and her match-making?

Just as things are going so well, Sister Cynthia Stevenson arrives with her husband Steve Guttenberg and their son and daughter and lots of sweet potato. Well, the family sits down for a Thanksgiving feast. First Aunt Glady has to sing. Needless to say she’s not who you’d want to sing at your Thanksgiving dinner. Then comes the prayer to end all Thanksgiving prayers. Kind of made me nostalgic for Festivus (for the rest of us).

Aunt Glady has more. A lot more to say. Then there’s the turkey carving. And the feast and oh, the family discussion. Or should I say the family argument. Brother and sister throwing slings and arrows at each other. Soon the rest of the family is throwing their two cents in. It is time for some truth-telling in the family. It is time for some truth-telling. “You’re a pain in my ass,” Robert Downey Jr. says to Mom. “You have bad hair. But I like you a lot.”

The family Thanksgiving ends with Charles Durning watching his daughter and her husband fleeing in a soaped-up car, and he says, “Deck the halls. I can’t wait for God damned Christmas.” And later “Here’s to us Americans.” Still later Holly Hunter ends up with Dylan McDermott taking Aunt Glady home. And he’s telling her how impressed he was with her picture. Can you believe it? But this is Holly Hunter. She’s got that special Holly Hunter magic we saw in ”Broadcast News”, “Miss Firecracker” and “Raising Arizona”.

You never know what will happen when you go home for the holidays. You just never know.