Furry Writers' Guild Forum

What are the best ways for editing longer works?

So I have been struggling with rough draft edits on a piece for a considerable amount of time now. I originally intended the piece to be a short story, but the first ten thousand words came and I was not even half way through. Since then I have been working on expanding the story through edits because 30,000 words feels awkward. While I can complete edits on a short story in an hour or so, I cannot seem to visualize the story well enough to conceptualize what needs to be added where. I tried laying out my story in “chapters,” but that was just a pile of words.

How does everyone else like to edit their first draft for longer works?

I really wish I had the set up to allow for a giant board to illustrate an outline so I can keep visual track of the story.

I want to know this, too. I have an unedited Thing from 2012 that I can’t get to grips with at all.

Do you feel it’s too early to let someone else take a look? I want to do a second draft before I make an outside party suffer through the thing, but I’m floundering a bit on what needs changing/adding.

I do want to have someone look at it. I had a few friends look over the first draft when I first finished it five years ago (then I went to graduate school, I was totally not slacking, I swear), but I really did not get any constructive feedback. The best I got out of that was some of the background characters were one-dimensional and I am trying to illustrate gender/class/familial relationships so that all motives fall into a gray area to help produce two (main) potential readings of the story. As I have expanded, though, I have found that I do not see the “big picture” anymore, so I constantly worry about whether the portion I’m working on will still fit when I finish.

I recently gave the unfinished 1.5 draft (reluctantly) to a friend who want to read some of my stuff, but haven’t heard anything yet. I am just trying to wrench my way through it now, without additional guiding feedback.

You, my friend, should drop by the chat every once in a while. Just saying.

I fear I really don’t understand the question. I’m currently finishing up editing a five-book series. The process is exactly the same as editing an ultra-short, except it takes much longer.

In my case, I put the work aside for about six months if possible in order that it not be “fresh” in my mind when I sit down to edit. (Otherwise one tends to not to recognize the errors-- why this is the case is beyond my ken, but it’s so regardless.) Then I choose a nice comfy place and, preferably use a different device and sit in a different location than when I wrote the item originally. (If you own a Kindle-type reader, sending it to that can do wonders.) I then go through the manuscript as many times as it takes before I feel it reads perfectly. As I get older it gets easier. On my first novel this was either seventeen or nineteen passes-- I lost count. But that’s becasue what I was really doing was learning how to edit, and I persisted because I knew it. Now I’m down to three to five passes when working by myself, and since my publisher recently hired a paid editor (yay!) and I’m up to twenty-five books or so worth of experience, I’m down to two passes plus going over the editor’s cut. Either way I know it’s as it’s going to get by then, which is still never quite perfect-- at a certain point the remaining errors are invisible no matter how many times the editor and I go over them, and that’s that. (I don’t claim to be a very good editor, by the way, just an enthusiastic one. We all have our weaknesses, and this is one of mine.) While I strive to improve the process, I’m painfully aware that my manuscripts are always going to be less than perfect. Feedback from other readers helps too, but in the end I personally find that, typos excepted, 80% or more of the time I stick with my own judgment or else, if a real problem is present, fix it a different way than what was suggested.

And that’s it, as far as it goes. What to cut, what to change and why are topics requiring much longer and more detailed answers. Perhaps I fail to understand your question more specifically becasue I never use an outline?

Sorry if I wasn’t clear Rabbit, its fine.

I’m after methods of editing/rewriting that very first “finished” draft, before it is even sent to beta readers or an editor. Right now I have to be at a computer with a large enough screen that I can have two documents side by side and I physically “rewrite” the whole thing. This helps me clear up continuity errors, weird sentences/paragraphs/scenes, and expand areas that need expanding. I just feel that I am inefficient and never feel accomplished. For example, today I spend the better part on 2500 words of which only 1000 needed a fair bit of jiggering. Now I have to expand, either a little or a lot, and still managed to have it flow into the next portion. That’s why I like the idea of a visual outline with all the characters and plot points spread out so I can post things in between and what not. Gives me more to think about rather than the current box of 1000 words or how ever many I am working with.

We clearly operate so totally differently as writers that I fear I can’t help you. I almost invariably write daily 1-2k word segments of my rough draft while half-exhausted and slumped over a table in a 24-hour eatery, go over them once with bleary eyes, then post the result to the Transformation Story Archive Mailing List and Furry Lit before it’s five minutes old. The people there seem to find it adequately readable as-is and forgive me my typos considering how much they’re paying for the material. I avoid continuity errors through having a good memory and writing so fast that I can always keep the entire book/series in mind-- if I had to outline my stuff I’d quit writing entirely because that’s way too much work, as well as too limiting for me. If I do find that I need to change something, either I go back and alter my manuscript and then proceed without informing anyone of the change, which works on small stuff because the average reader is paying less attention than I am and only a handful ever notice, or in the event that it’s a major change-- very rare; I’ve only had to do this two or three times in over twenty books-- I’ll simply admit to my readers in a special note that I’ve made a mistake in the writing process, that Jane didn’t actually kill Joe, and that they should read from this point accordingly.

I can’t speak for places like InkBunny or other similar forums, as I don’t use them. But so long as the characterization and plot are inherently right and the work interesting TSA and Furry-Lit people are very forgiving of typos, etc, and their feedback has been invaluable to my growth as a writer. In fact, I’d have gotten exactly nowhere without them and try to keep that in mind at all times.

Do you never intend to break it into chapters at all, Camio, or are you just not finding that helpful right now? I have Scrivener, which can help give an overview of the structure, with a summary of each chapter and lots of space for making notes. I work out what needs to be added, and check what’s happening in each chapter, plus how long it is, to work out where the new stuff needs to go.

I have actually not worked in chapters for awhile because my projects always start out as short stories. I separated this one along temporal shifts, but that honestly hasn’t proven helpful. I will check Scrivener out.

I started out in comics. Comics are a lot of one damn thing after another and knowing when to stop is usually more dictated by pre-established page counts and deadlines. Story arcs within story arcs in a never ending circle are great for comics.

Not so great with stories and novels.

I don’t have strong advice for editing long works except you have to decide what you love about this story. Be it the characters, the theme, the universe, the struggle, or just that you like torturing your creations. Then decide what that says or what you want to say with it, and then start paring away the fat, build framing and dig a well of commonality.

Kill some darlings. Play with the bodies.

This is very old fashioned, but have you considered printing out the story?

That may allow you to physically manipulate the text in such a way that you can visualize the whole more clearly.

The longer a work I’m writing, the more I find I need a physical copy to edit. But every writer’s process is different…

People often twitch when structure gets brought up; I think it’s easy to conflate the “formula” of story arcs analytically with formulaic writing, especially when coupled with blanket pronouncements like “all stories are about problems.” Writers are natural contrarians and we try to come up with counter-examples and arguments as to why it’s just so limiting and confining to look at stories that way. But there’s a real advantage of looking at a longer story’s structure, and I can’t help but think about it when you talk about trying to visualize your story and figure out where you need to add things.

This is the classic three-act structure, but the second act is twice as long as the other two and has a midpoint. Which means it’s really four parts and we insist on pretending it’s three because Aristotle or something.

[ol][li]Catalyst -> dramatic turn[/li]
[li]Rising tension -> mid-point[/li]
[li]Rising tension -> dramatic turn[/li]
[li]Final crisis -> resolution[/li][/ol]

Okay, so: this is helpful because I know that there’s going to be three “turns” which shift the focus of the action in some way–a dramatic reveal, a huge shakeup in the protagonist’s life, whatever–and I know that they appear roughly every quarter mark.If I know the scenes I’ve written and the ones I have in mind, I can drop most of them into each quarter. If I have nineteen scenes, which I’ll mark with “X”, and dropping them in gives me something that looks like this:

[ol][li]X X X X X X X[/li]
[li]X X X X[/li]
[li]X X [/li]
[li]X X X X X[/li][/ol]

…and I have another “X” over here which goes into the middle somewhere. I think. This is not far off from the kind of thing I often end up with at first (or second or…) try.

The hard part is filling those things in; the best way for me is usually to work backward from an important scene I already know, especially if it’s one of the turning point scenes or the climax. Stuff needs to happen before I get there to set that scene up, and that need may suggest those earlier scenes. Since there’s always at least two dramatic arcs in a longer work–the overall arc that drives the plot and the main character arc that expresses the theme–I know I need to have scenes that advance both, ideally together (even if only one has precedence in a given scene).

I used to work primarily in hard copy. Up until ten years ago my first drafts were almost always written by hand or typewriter. Somehow after four years of undergraduate and a year of graduate studies I find that working directly on the computer is better for me now. Although I still do handwritten notes at times. I have found I can only work off physical copies if the story is short enough (<10,000 words, both my undergraduate thesis and graduate dissertation were around that in word count). I had my story currently at 30k printed out and it was just too much for me to handle, covered an entire table. -_-

I have been helping a friend with his classwork and he is taking a play-writing course and he has to write all his one-acts (more one-scene) in that kind of format. He has to fill out a whole outline sheet. I hate it, he hates it, but I actually think this might help me with me conceptual edits of what I should add or take away.

I guess the question I have, is that are you trying to finish the story, or add more to the parts that already exist?

Personally, I always try to finish a story before I go back and make any major changes to it. I feel that if you spend too much time trying to rewrite before it is finished, you’ll never finished. Further, there is such a thing as ‘over editing’.

I would say to finish the story, and see what it’s like once you finish it. Don’t feel that you have to go back and add to it to make in longer, the goal is to finish, so you can start the next one.

Not everyone is cut out for long works. I know writers whose goal it is to work their way up to 100,000 words. Everything they do seems to conclude at 20 or 30K, and that’s the most they can concentrate on at once. If you’re struggling to do longer works, consider that it’s not something all writers are just able to do. It takes practice, pushing your limits, and developing the ability to hold an entire story in your mind at once.

I’m the author of three 300,000-word stories thus far (unpublished as of yet). It wasn’t intentional; my ideas are just too big. I kinda started off writing longer works and had to teach myself how to be more organized. I’ve had to work on telling shorter stories, without them growing into full novels, or even series! This doesn’t make me better, just different.

The education system puts too much emphasis on structure and technique. They have to, since they can’t grade creativity. Ignore them. Really, all you have to do is dive in and do it. Try things. Learn from others, but ultimately everyone finds what works for him or her. Practice doing what you want, and keep going even when it doesn’t feel like it’s working. Be prepared to fail, but you will learn from mistakes. Also, if you haven’t done so already, I do not recommend writing your favorite idea first. Odds are your first couple attempts will fail, and you do not want to spoil your best idea too early.

As for feedback, don’t expect any. Most readers cannot tell you what you want to know (does this make sense? is this character annoying? what do you think it means? are the visuals vivid enough?). Even after the work is published, you’re not likely to get much useful feedback along these lines. Most people know what they like and don’t like, but they do not know how to articulate it. That’s why you’re a writer and they’re not :slight_smile: Write until you are satisfied with what you’ve done, then take any feedback you get as a gentle nudge to stop doing this or try doing more of that.

Feedback from editors is the most useful, I think, because editors (should!) know what writers need to hear. When you’re ready, start submitting stories for publication. Eventually some editor will tell you some things, and though it will hurt, it will make you a better writer.

And from a writer’s perspective, I recommend breaking your story up into chapters of some kind. Writing is about flow and creativity. Editing is about molding that flow into a structure other people can understand. Thinking about the story in blocks will help during the editing process. Readers also like chapter breaks because it gives them places to pause without feeling they’re stopping in the middle of something.

Have you read Stephen King’s “On Writing?” If not, I suggest you do, even if you’ve never read a Stephen King story. He recommends “don’t think, just write!” Plow through the first draft, wait a few months, then go back and read your own work and see how well you did. Editing is comparing what you wanted to write with what you actually wrote, and bringing the two closer together.

For me, my longer works grind to a half after the first 20-30k words in the first draft. Then I go back over the beginning, edit it, make sure it’s right, and finish the rest. Getting the foundation of a story correct is paramount. You don’t want to build an entire novel inside a plothole. Doing this has saved me countless rewrites in my later works.

Hope some if this is useful.