Wednesday, April 20, 2016

1 One Edit at a Time by Kit Alloway

One Edit at a Time by Kit Alloway

Fun fact about me: I have written close to a dozen unpublished novels. They were what one of my grad school professors called, “Apprentice novels.” Like the first dozen shoes the shoemaker’s apprentice sews together, they’re ugly to look at and impossible to get into.

Some of those novels had potential, but they never went anywhere because I never edited them. Like many budding writers, I had seen countless movies where an author – bursting with inspiration – dashed off a manuscript and mailed it, untouched, to an editor or agent who pronounced it brilliant. I believed in the Myth of the First Draft.

In fact, I didn’t start seriously editing my work until I went to grad school. There, I was continually required to turn in revisions of my work. My favorite professor once told me that my first draft should be “vomit on the page.” Around the same time, an agent asked to see a novel I’d written. I had one that was based on a solid idea and had good characters, but I’d written it when I was eighteen, and it was a mess. I couldn’t show it to an agent in that form.

So I learned to edit. Let’s be honest: nobody really loves to edit. We love the high of writing, but editing can feel like work. Luckily, the longer I do it, the more I appreciate and enjoy it. Writing a novel sometimes feels like juggling eighteen balls in the air, but editing feels manageable. I can deal with a story one chapter, one paragraph, even one sentence at a time.

That “One at a time” idea is always in my mind when I edit, which I do very methodically. I do one chapter at a time, and one writing element at a time. The first time I read it through, I look at the plot elements, because there’s no point in making a sentence perfect if I have to cut it later. That first read through, I want to make sure that everything that needs to happen happens, in the right order, at the right pace. I also look for anything that doesn’t need to be there—anything I can cut. If major changes are going to happen to a chapter, they happen here.

When I’m confident that I have the major elements in place, then I start looking more closely at the writing. I read the chapter through another six to ten times, and each time I make notes using a different color pen. I go through once to look at my sentence structures. Are my sentences varied in their length and construction? Am I starting too many sentences with “She” and then a verb? Are sentences over-complicated?

I go through again and just look at my descriptions. Are they evocative, original, and detailed? Are they too detailed, or too long? Editing is a chance to slow down and think about every description, to get my thesaurus out and make sure that I’m using exactly the word I want.

See the finished product on pages 71-72 of Dreamfever
I read through again. I read through once to replace dull verbs like is, was, had, went with more interesting ones. Those verbs are so easy to use and so easy to overlook, but they’re also a great opportunity to spice up your writing.

Then I read through again. I usually use one pass to just consider dialogue. I’ll assign a highlighter color to each major character and highlight all their lines of dialogue in that color. Then I’ll read just one character’s lines aloud. I’m listening to hear if they sound like the same person could have spoken all of them. Is the use of slang consistent? Is the level of formality consistent? Does a character always speak in relatively short or long, simple or complicated sentences? I keep a list of expressions each character is prone to using—their favorite curses, compliments, and interjections. This is the time to consult that list.

I read through to make sure that my point of view is consistent. I read through to listen to my prose and find spots where the writing could be more fluid or lovely. I even read through and check that every use of the word “it” is one where I couldn’t use a more specific noun.

By the time I’m done, my pages look like they’ve been attacked by a rainbow. It’s satisfying to see the paper all marked up. I spend a day (or two, or three) entering the changes into the computer, and then I read the novel through one more time. And, if I like what I read, I send it to my editor, who reads it, and sends back another list of things she thinks need to be changed, improved, or – more often than not – cut.

When I finished editing the novel the agent wanted to read, she returned it with pages and pages of notes. We spent almost a year editing it again before she showed it to editors. When we sold it, I spent another year editing it with my editor. Then she moved to China, so I edited it again with a new editor. The end result, Dreamfire, came out in February of 2015, and it bears little resemblance to the novel I wrote when I was eighteen—in a good way. It’s a dramatically better novel than it was.

Editing is intense. It takes time and energy, and it lacks the romantic release of writing a first draft. But it’s necessary, and it can be deeply satisfying. It’s also freed up my first draft writing in a way I never expected. I’m much less anxious about making everything perfect when I write because I know I can fit it when I edit. Editing allows me to create something I could never create when writing a first draft. I never would have gotten published if I hadn’t mastered this part of the process.

ABOUT THE BOOK


Finding out that she is the True Dream Walker hasn't gone at all the Joshlyn Weaver would have expected it to. The only special gift she seems to have is an ability to create archways, which really isn't that special. In addition to her inability to connect with the Dream, she has also started having nightmares that are so terrible she can't tell anyone about them. Not even Will.

Just when Josh thought her life couldn't get any more complicated, the lost dream walker princess returns to claim her parents' right to the throne, right as the Lodestone party threatens to take control of the government during the upcoming Accordance Conclave.

With the clock running down, Josh must rely on not only her friends, but also her enemies, to stop the radicals from taking power and controlling the Dream. But how can she expect to save everyone else when she's struggling to pick up the pieces of her own shattered life?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kit Alloway lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her family and four Chihuahua mixes. When she's not writing, she's quilting, reading, and endlessly trying to improve her house. (Flooring? Sure, she can lay flooring! How hard can it be?) She's the daughter of a professor and a film historian, and she grew up seeing a lot of movies. Currently, she's taking her first ever college English literary criticism course, which is opening her mind in all sorts of exciting ways.

1 comment:

  1. Kit, this was an excellent post. I have a very hard time just gushing it all out without re-reading and fixing--even though I know I'll be back at it again in the future. Will save this post for future/ongoing inspiration/reference! Thanks.

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