I’m in self-editing mode again. While trying to tie up the first half of the Greystone series with a nice ribbon, I’ve been staring at the same passages for weeks asking questions on top of questions. In my search for answers I realized that there are specific areas I tend to look at when looking over my work.
Five areas to question when self-editing
- Perspective – I tend to stick with a third-person limited perspective and only follow one character’s train of thought per chapter. Because of this I am constantly questioning the choice of that character on a chapter by chapter basis. Does this moment work best following Loren or Soriya? Should it come from Soriya because she is more emotional in this moment or should it be Loren because of his more methodical thinking? Sometimes I’ll play with it both ways to see what works best but usually I’ll know before I start – either through an action in the chapter or a line of dialogue – the best angle to approach the scene.
- Setting – Why here? Why now? There is a scene in The Medusa Coin I circle back to when it comes to setting. Soriya is on the roof of the Rath Building and she summons Loren for a conversation. He hates heights and she does this anyway. It’s a moment of control for her at a time when she has none and it was important to have that piece in the background of their discussion. The setting for each scene should help build the action, build the image of the world in the reader’s mind. Question each choice to find the best option available that makes sense for the narrative and realize why it is the best choice.
- Tension – Is there enough? Does it filter in at the right beat or does it come too late? Does the scene start too early and needs tightening to punctuate that tension? Conflict and drama are key here. I like banter. When I write a Ruiz/Loren chapter there is always banter between them. It works for them. But any scene with Mathers involved? There’s no playing around. It’s anger times ten right at the start and it gets worse as the scene plays out. Knowing the narrative, knowing the direction of the conversation before you set words to the page allows you to play with the timing, the flow of the dialogue – all leading to a natural explosion of conflict between characters. Hold off too long or spring it too quickly and the reader will catch it.
- Advancing the Plot – Why is this moment necessary? Do we learn something new? Is there another way to tell this moment or wrap it with some other event to tighten the pace of the narrative? Each beat requires purpose. If Loren finishes his shift and heads to a diner for some eggs there better be a reason behind showing it to the reader. The diner is a haven for a local drug lord involved in one of his current cases maybe? A girl he likes works there? The victim ate there recently and ended up decking his waitress for poor service? Plot based or centered on character (or hopefully both), there has to be a reason for the scene to exist. If not? Fold it into another narrative beat. He doesn’t go to the diner alone, Ruiz is there too and the two talk about the case only to meet the waitress the victim decked right before the end. That way he doesn’t have to catch Ruiz up in the next scene, both beats are right there for the reader and that advances the story to the next action.
- Narration – This is the most difficult for me and can be connected with the questions pertaining to perspective. It typically boils down to one thing for me – What is the mental state of the perspective character at this exact moment? Where are they in their overall arc for the novel? Are they reeling from a recent loss? Are they cold or too warm, pissed or calm? Action, tension, and setting all play a role in this. Each feeds into the mental state of the character that will drive the action for the next narrative beat.
If you ask me I will tell you the truth when it comes to self-editing. I don’t like to do it. At all. It is painstaking and the questions never truly end.
Does it help the work? Of course it does. It is the most important step in the process and should never be skipped.
Question every choice you made. Defend those you can without a doubt. When doubt does come into play? Realize it and make a change. Play with different outcomes, different situations or dynamics. Switch the perspective.
Make choices and question those.
Eventually you’ll hit that sweet spot and hit the send button to your favorite readers. Eventually.
Thanks for reading.