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Editing the First Draft: Does It Belong?
You’ve finished your first draft. You’ve set it aside for a few days or maybe even a few weeks. Now you are editing that first draft. There are so many things to look at. One of them is asking yourself if it belongs?
Start with a Chapter
Read over your manuscript a chapter at a time. As you finish reading one, ask yourself if it belongs. Does it fit where you have it?
As you write your story, you might find that you need to move a scene to a different section of the chapter or even an entirely different section of the book. Question whether or not you have it where it really belongs.
Now question if it even belongs in your book at all. Okay. Breathe! I’m not trying to shock you to death. This might actually be good news. I’ll give you an example.
A friend of mine had just finished writing the first draft of a novel. She had a friend look over it as she began to do her own edit of it. The person reading her work suggested that the first chapter could be pulled from the story and made into a prequel. He noted how it was out of place in the book she had written but had a lot of potential.
Once I was writing a story and realized that the fifth chapter was completely out of place. It needed to be moved to the end of the book and slightly modified to become the ending. I had written the perfect ending in the beginning of my story.
Look at a Scene
Look within the chapters at a particular scene. Does it truly help the story? Will the story hurt if you remove it?
When editing a story for an author, I came across a scene where the main characters were all grocery shopping. I read it over a few times and couldn’t find where it benefited the story at all. When I asked the author why, she replied that she just wanted to show how close the characters really were. I pointed out how the situations they found themselves fighting the supernatural creature were adequate enough to show all that. Though she fought me, beta readers approved when they read the revised version.
Question the validity of your scenes. Remove them and see how the story is affected. See if they need to be merged or moved. Does it belong there?
Look at characters to see if they really belong in the story or just the scene. There are a few times when we use characters just because we think we have to. Seriously look at each of your characters to see if they belong in the scene.
What About Dialogue?
Even dialogue needs to be looked at. Is it where it belongs in the text? Maybe certain parts need to come sooner or later. Maybe some doesn’t need to be there at all. You might find sections where you need to add some.
Question your dialogue.
Don’t be afraid to remove parts of your story. For some authors, this is akin to cutting one’s own arm off with a smile on their face. It doesn’t have to be that painful or dramatic.
I was editing one of my stories. As I was reading it, I began to see how a very, very large section just didn’t belong. In fact, I deleted over 30,000 words because it didn’t lead the story where it needed to go. My author friends were gasping as I told them. But in the end, my story was the better for it as I rewrote the scenes and created a stronger plot.
When you question a section, whether it is a sentence or a whole scene, cut and paste it into another document so you aren’t totally getting rid of it. Save it and use it later or delete it later if you want. But by doing it this way, it will alleviate some of the pain you’ll experience as you are not totally eliminating the words and can pull them back in if need be.
Look at your work as though it is not yours. Question if words, characters, and scenes actually belong. If they don’t strengthen the story, consider removing it. You’ll find that your story will be the better for it.