For several years, I knew nothing about editing. I wrote something, then did what I called “editing.” I read it through and fixed grammatical errors. Then I read it again aloud, and fixed awkward phrasing. Then I would ask one or two trusted readers to read it, and make changes based on their feedback. This is what I called editing. This is what I did with Divided Heart a year ago. And I thought it was done.
Last October I took an online Urban Fantasy workshop. Jeanne C. Stein, author of the Anna Strong Vampire Chronicles series (highly recommended!) led the workshop. I learned a lot about urban fantasy, and about writing in general from this workshop. Jeanne gave fabulous individual attention, and is a wonderful person. Several of the members wanted to keep in contact after it ended and form a critique group. I took the lead, gathered names and e-mail addresses of those who wanted to participate, started a private Yahoo group for us, and moderate the online critique group. Because November was National Novel Writing Month, and December is crazy for most people with the holidays, we started in January. Each week someone sends a passage of their novel, and everyone else critiques it.
I have learned so much from this group. I learned that I knew nothing about editing. From this invaluable group’s feedback I have begun to learn how to edit. I know I have much, much more to learn. But in the three submissions I have done so far, I have cut several chapters. Some of these chapters were very well written, and even got good feedback. I realized they weren’t necessary to the story, however, so they had to go.
I have cut beloved characters. Art was the crazy uncle-figure to my main character. He was fun. He was the comedic relief in the novel. But he (and his wife) made the storyline convoluted, and were only there for my own satisfaction. So Art had to go. I was sad to cut him out of the novel, but it makes more sense this way, and is better for it. Maybe he’ll show up in later novels, or in some other form entirely.
Divided Heart is written from my main character’s point of view, first person. Another thing I discovered from my critique group is that I use “I” far too much. But it’s first person, I thought. How can I not use “I?” But after playing around with some passages, I realized it is very possible to cut back the use of the word “I.” Of course it can’t be cut out entirely, but I have improved upon the chapters I have edited so far by reducing its usage. Combining thoughts and sentences is one method I have used.
Another big thing I am learning is how to break up paragraphs. I knew you started a new paragraph with a new speaker. But if Character A is speaking, then Character B makes a motion in response, then Character A continues speaking, that should be three paragraphs. This makes for some very short paragraphs, maybe only half a line, or a few words. But that is proper form, and something I need to work on.
I know I have a lot more to learn about editing, but already I can feel how much better my novel is because of this critique group. I am very thankful to be part of it, and thankful to the members for everything I have learned from them so far. There are some wonderful stories that I’m certain will be published someday, and I feel privileged to be one of the first reader of these stories.
I will continue to work on editing Divided Heart. The sequel is on hold for the time being. Part of me is sad for this, the other part thankful that once I get back to it I will be able to make it even better. I’m also considering taking Holly Lisle’s online class “How to Revise Your Novel.” Someday I definitely will; I’m just not sure I have the time to properly devote to it right now. We’ll see, and if I do, I will of course keep you updated of my progress with it. But even if I don’t, I will continue to learn how to edit by reading articles online, and from my wonderful online critique group.