Now for the Real Editing
The first read-through of a first draft can be a jolt. I don’t know about other writers, but I sometimes come across intriguing threads that I never developed. I may have a vague recollection of what triggered the idea, but just as often my reaction is, “What was I thinking?” It’s fine if I realize the thread doesn’t fit what the book became. I simply extract the thread with great care (think of the game of Pick-up Sticks), and make sure I haven’t left loose ends.
But sometimes I think the idea should have been developed. In that case, I stop and think about the ramifications on the completed book:
1) Will incorporating the thread resonate throughout the book? Does it require a complete rewrite? If so, do I have time to make it work?
2) Does it change the intention? Is that a change that I’m happy with? Will I be disappointed with the book if I don’t do it?
3) Will the new thread strengthen the book? If I can’t answer that question, is it something that might be more suited to another book in the series? Is there a less disruptive change I can make that will get the same point across?
If the answer is that I think the book will be better for incorporating the stray idea, I make notes on how to weave it in, and continue reading. I’ve had the spooky experience of thinking I didn’t work a thread into the story, only to find that I did, and that all it requires is some judicious adding or subtracting of sentences to make it stronger.
In this edit, unless I think the book is a complete failure, I don’t make more than cosmetic changes. For example, if I find a paragraph that is weakly developed, I might rewrite it. But mostly I make notes to remind myself where I need to take a hard look at some section I’ve written. The notes can be anything:
11) Miss X doesn’t pop off the page. Why?
2) Do I really need the scene with the pig?
33) Have I sufficiently researched how this kind of autopsy would proceed?
4) Does this character come across the same way she did in Previous books?
I 5) Is the action in this section realistic? Is the language going to offend anyone unnecessarily?
I also take note of scenes that I got caught up in. Sometimes that means the scene really works. But sometimes it means that I think I’ve made the scene work, but actually my vision of it is what drives my reading of it. I note that I need to go back and read those scenes dispassionately, making sure my words match what is in my head.
And after this read, I hope I have a few more days to let the manuscript rest, to give my subconscious time to tell me what I still need to do. Next week: the writer’s group.
Book recommendation: The Steel Kiss, Jeffrey Deaver. I like Deaver’s writing. He writes a good, solid thriller, without reverting to the kind of outrageous, over-the-top action that puts me off in some thrillers.