Right now, I am working on editing Twisted and man, if you think it’s easier now that the story is finished, you’ve got another thing coming. When writing, it’s important to remember that, really, the story isn’t completely finished until it’s being shipped out to stores. There will always be edits, edits and edits again. And even then, if you happen to become as rich and famous as Spielberg you can fiddle with the source material. However, I’m banking on the assumption that most of us won’t be and, in any case, most of us are just concerned with getting the story done and out. Though I am more of a writer than an editor, as a writer I have to do both. Skulljuggler has helped me edit a lot of my stuff and she’s broken it down into four parts, book edits, chapter edits, scene edits and line edits. (Be sure to check out her companion blog on the topic.)
Book edits are just like they sound. They are the easiest edits and the hardest ones. You read the whole book and you think about it what the book needs and if you’ve gotten across what you wanted to get across and if you have all the scenes you need or if you have more scenes than you need. If you know exactly what kind of story you have in mind, then this part can be easy. If you’re not sure what you want to do exactly, now is the time to start thinking about it but you don’t and probably shouldn’t make a definite ironclad decision right there and then. The hard thing with book edits is getting hung up on phrasing or sentence structure and you need to learn to not pay attention. No, seriously. Don’t. Worrying about the nitty gritty stuff like that will come later. Right now, you’re just looking at the story as a whole.
Chapter edits and scene edits are pretty much the same as book edits but here there’s an extra step added. In chapter and scene edits you actually get right in there and revise, again, not for sentence structure, but so that the story fits with what you want. Here is also where you add chapters or scenes where you think you need them. Not sure if you do or not? Add it anyway. You can take away chapters/scenes here, too but don’t delete them. You can always use that material later, and if you change your mind, a deleted chapter is just going to cause massive amounts of frustration.
This kind of editing can also be the most time draining because adding or changing scenes/chapters can add a ripple effect. For example, you have your character do something really cool in this new scene, but this really cool thing majorly affects the way other scenes flow so you end up having to change them too. The ripple goes backwards as well as forwards so often you have to change the beginning of your narrative as well which just causes more ripples and between one breath and another, you’ve got an almost completely different story than you started with. This can be good or bad but at this stage, don’t worry about it.
Also, though I’ve clumped these two stages together remember to take them one at a time. First look at the chapter and see if there is anything that needs to be fixed and then fix it scene by scene. Another word of advice, in relation to the ripple, is that don’t try to stop the ripple. What I mean is, don’t try to force your story back onto the path that it was in before. Try to take all the implications of what changed and go with it, even though a lot may change from what you’d originally written.
Finally, there are line edits. Line edits are more than just fixing grammar/spelling mistakes and awkward sentence structures. Here is where you thread in lines of your theme, where you perfect character voice. This is where you fine tune every sentence and phrase so that your book is the best that it can be, you say exactly what you want to say in the best way you know how to say it. This can be the most fun out of all the editing stages because by this time you know your character and plot really well. This is the place you can play with words and just have fun.
So line editing is done. The last i is dotted, the last t is crossed. Now what? Now you go right back to book editing, or global editing as Skulljuggler calls it. This is to make sure you have your book exactly how you want it. You may find that, yay, you do! In which case it’s time to ship it out to perspective agents/publishers/what-have-you. You may find out that you still need to fix some stuff and then you go right back into chapter/scene and line edits. There is a real danger here, though of it becoming an endless cycle of editing. Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and let go and work on something else. It’ll be okay, no really. Unless you want to keep writing the same book forever at some point you have to say, this is it. When you’re finally done, take a deep breath, congratulate yourself and start right in on something else. With luck you’ll get an agent and get to go right back into editing.