You’ve poured your heart and soul into this draft, and you can’t imagine how you’re going to tear it apart and reassemble it during edits. Staring at a manuscript full of red ink or comments in track-changes can be intimidating. Having been through this a few times now, I feel your pain. I still have a moment before I dig in when I can’t imagine how I’ll fix what’s broken with my story. But I’ve come up with a tried and true process I now use to tackle my edits. My method is by no means the only way, but it may get you thinking about how to approach yours.
Process the Comments and Suggestions
When you first hear feedback about your manuscript, it’s tempting to become defensive. Please argue with your editor and beta readers in your head, not for real. Remember, you asked them to do a job, and that job was to help you see things about your manuscript you can’t. Allow some time for their comments to settle, and then consider these points:
- Your intention and a reader’s perception may be different. If they aren’t interpreting a character or a scene the way you intended, it’s worth taking another look.
- Pay attention to things you hear more than once. If more than one person is thinking it, there’s probably something to their response.
- If it’s bothering you already, and someone else points it out, fix it!
- Take what resonates. Leave what doesn’t. At the end of the day, this is your story. But, here’s my general rule: your editor is probably right!
Check out this post I wrote a few months ago with more detail on dealing with editor and beta reader feedback: Get the Most From Beta Readers.
Now that you’ve come to terms with the fact that your manuscript needs work, you need a plan.
Tackle Big Picture Plot Changes
I like to identify those bigger plot angles that didn’t quite work and fix them first. Often this will have a trickle-down effect. I’ll then need to trace the plot thread throughout the story and make adjustments. But once I have that fixed, I know the infrastructure is right and I can go from there. This is also the time I think about increasing tension and stakes. You can read a few tips on that here: Bring on the Nail Biting.
Follow Each Character’s Arc
Once I’m satisfied that the action and infrastructure of my story works well, I focus on the characters. In this next round, I work with their reactions, relationships, and inner thinking. Readers connect to our story because they care about the characters. They need to be invested in them. To be interesting, the characters can’t remain static. They’re impacted by what’s happening to them. Readers need to feel their pain, suffer their losses, celebrate their joys, and experience the changes right along with the characters. In this round of edits, I follow each character through the story, and try to add more emotional depth, color, and life to them.
Read Through Chapter by Chapter
I call this the finessing stage. Once the plot and characters have all been sorted, another once over read through will help smooth things out, locate inconsistencies, and give you a chance to see how the changes you’ve made integrate into the story as a whole. Your eyes shouldn’t be the only pair on the manuscript for this read through either. Someone who isn’t so close to the story is still likely to pick up on things you may have missed.
Receiving constructive feedback on your manuscript is hard, and editing is a process which sometimes requires as much work as drafting. But this is when and where you take the bones of your story and turn them into a polished work, ready for the world. Go forth and edit!