So there I sat, thick binder in my lap, pen in hand, ready to edit, when it occurred to me that I had no idea what to do. I started anyway, fixing a few grammar problems here and there, realizing that certain sentences could be phrased more clearly. And about halfway through the first chapter, I stopped. Even I could tell that this haphazard method of editing was not going to result in the masterpiece I was hoping for.
Then I remembered an interview Writer Unboxed had posted with Dave King, co-author of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. The second part of the interview addressed specific techniques for editing that I found interesting- but at the time, I was very skeptical. Rules for editing? I thought I should just be able to edit by instinct.
But with the manuscript actually in my hands, I was desperate for some guidelines, something that would focus all the energy I was throwing into this task. To my surprise, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers was exactly what I was looking for. My second draft of chapter one was much, much better than the rough draft. Some of the ideas I found most useful:
* Watch out for narrative summary- both too much and too little. To my disgust, I found that I had my main character washing dishes for two pages while she thought about something. It was surprisingly easy to work what she was thinking about into a different scene using dialogue.
* Beats. The pauses between words where the character thinks or moves. They're wonderful when well used, but as I discovered, you can easily obscure good dialogue with them. I had two pages of dialogue where every time a character spoke, there was a beat afterward.
* More on beats- what kind of beats are you using? Are they generic or do they help show who your character is? I found that I'd been falling back on generic beats as a kind of writing crutch- after all, it's easier that way. (Of course, that was part of my problem- I didn't really know who my character was, so I couldn't come up with unique beats. More on that later.)
But what I found most useful was something Dave said in the interview with Writer Unboxed:
"...if you’re applying any of these techniques mechanically, then you’re not really writing. Your story has to be a living being, growing and changing according to its own internal spirit. It’s that story that I try to help writers find."
It was surprisingly easy to lose the perspective of the larger story and get absorbed in making sure that I'd eliminated all the -ly adverbs, etc. I need to remember that I'm the writer- it's up to me to decide if my story needs a few -ly adverbs sprinkled in. The guidelines are just there to make sure the story shines through.