Once I have written the story, the work begins. Editing. I edit for StoryShopUSA and also take on freelance editing clients, so editing is a huge part of what I do, and I enjoy it immensely. Editing my own work is not as easy as editing other people’s; however, I try to be as ruthless with my own manuscripts as I am with anyone else’s, in spite of my emotional attachment to my stories.
The first part of editing is writing the second and third drafts. At this stage, I’m looking for story continuity and character development, adding and deleting scenes, and fixing the big things. This is often the point at which I choose a title for the work, as well.
I don’t often start a work knowing the title; it suggests itself as the story progresses. Rose got its title long after the first draft was complete. War had its title from the beginning. Fire stared me in the face for several editing passes before I clued in that the title should be the gimmick of the series—duh! Promise wasn’t assured until I published. The Curse of Caledon was titled from the beginning. Guardians of Caledon (Book Six) had a title from the second chapter.
Once I’m satisfied with the story itself, it’s time to focus on the finer details. Now I will watch for passive language and eliminate as much of it as possible. I look for overuse of character names within dialogue, and for how my speech tags are working. I like to read the story aloud to make sure that the words flow cohesively and realistically, and aren’t awkward as they roll off the tongue.
I continue to look for plot holes and inconsistencies within the story and fix them, even tiny ones. For example, at one point in Myrhiadh’s War, I described how sound was spilling out the open door of the Brass Rebel Pub. I explained how Myrhiadh peered through the window and heard Sam’s challenge to darts. Then she turned around and opened the door to go inside. A few paragraphs had passed since I had mentioned that the door was open, but this was a critical fix. The setting being flawless is just as important as the mechanics of the English or the character development.
Character development is critical. I don’t want a character to do something so unpredictable that it makes zero sense to the reader. The main characters must start in one place and finish in another, and follow a believable path to get there. Ciara starts her story as an uncertain character who doesn’t like making decisions. She is forced to take over the rule of Caledon when Kerrion falls ill, but only comes into her own when she defends her sister from the Mystics. Here we see a Ciara we have never seen before, but we believe her reaction because of her tremendous love for Mya, which drives her to confront the Archmystic. From this moment, she grows into herself until she becomes competent at ruling and everything that goes with it, including circumventing the law.
Once the book has endured a couple of editing passes, it’s time to send it to my Beta Readers. I have four Betas who tackle the story at various stages of writing and editing. One gets the book as soon as the first draft is done, and gets every draft after that. She is my primary “research” checker. She catches historical inaccuracies that jar her, or words that seem out of place, or characters that don’t ring true. My second Beta gets the story at about the third draft. She is my copy editor: she catches mechanical errors and makes suggestions for story improvements. My third Beta is my husband. He is my logical, never-gets-lost-in-the-story-just-points-out-all-the-mistakes reader. He notices if a character is flaky or unbelievable, and he picks up on discrepancies in the setting and storyline. All three of those Betas might be asked to read the story more than once. My final Beta gets the book just before it’s ready to go to print. She reads it and lets me know how she likes it. She comments on twists that surprised her, things she liked about the book, things she didn’t like, and gives me the confidence boost I need to launch the book out into the world.
But just because the book has been to my final Beta reader doesn’t mean I’m done editing. At this point, I feed the book through Grammarly, the app I use to help me catch mistakes, one last time. (Usually, by this time, the manuscript has been through Grammarly at least once already, sometimes more.) I triple-check historical accuracy. At this point in the editing game, a pitcher of lemonade exited The Rose of Caledon (lemons and sugar were too expensive for peasants to drink,) and I extracted a grandfather clock from Myrhiadh’s War (they weren’t invented until about 1680.) Rarely do major changes happen at this stage, but Myrhiadh’s mother, Molly, did not become almost-blind until two days before the book went to press; an unusually significant last-minute change.
The most frustrating thing about editing is that it’s really never done. I could do pass after pass on each book and still find things to tweak and improve. At some point, I have to decide that the story is finished and release it, hopefully with very few mistakes that will bug me when I read it after publication, and even fewer that will bother readers!