The “one and a half pass” editing pass

The day this post goes live I’m collecting the last of my reader feedback for Unintended Consequences. That means Monday, June 3, 2019, I am starting what will, hopefully, be my last pass on the book before the whole thing gets submitted to the ‘big’ editors for publication. It’s time to give the whole manuscript one big once-over using everything I’ve learned, just to make sure it’s ready.

I’ve said it before, one of the best things you can do to develop as a writer is to read about writing.  A while back I read Steven King’s On Writing and learned something important….

One of the most helpful (to me at least!) things in that book is the simple statement that when Steven edits, he makes notes on themes. When I read that. I realized I should do the same thing. It would help in longitudinal (through story) editing. I tried it, and my system’s grown from there.

This new and evolving system has really helped me pull the book together. Since I’ve developed the “one and a half pass” editing pass I honestly get more done each time I go through a manuscript.

Why a “one and a half pass” pass.

Well, that’s because the first pass isn’t really a complete pass. The first time through, I might fix little things: typos, little bits of formatting, etc. But I’m spending a lot more time marking the bigger stuff I need to work on and making notes. What this does for me is it helps focus on the themes important to the book (and the ones that need to be edited out). It also helps identify problems in continuity within the book (and between books if you’re doing a series…) and gives me time to think about those big fixes and insight about how to resolve them in the context of the whole book.

So, the “first” pass isn’t really a complete edit. It’s a list of what I need to work on in the edit. The second pass begins armed with the notes I’ve made and helps me fix the things that need to be fixed, drop the things that need to go away, and focus on the story as a whole.

That “second” pass is really a complete editing pass, but I couldn’t do it without the first ‘partial’ pass.

Why not just make notes and edit everything in one pass? Because, that results in lots of little mucking about with things that will change again (possibly back to the way they were in the first place!). The point of the first “half” pass is to find the stuff that needs attention in the big picture of the story. If I’m giving up a bunch of time just focusing on the section I’m in, I miss some big stuff.

When I come back on that second pass I can fix the stuff I need to with an improved understanding of how it meshes with the rest of the work.

Is it really that simple?

Umm… We’re talking about a manuscript over 50,000 words long (73,571 words for this specific manuscript at this specific point…) simple isn’t the first word I would use to describe any effective editing process for a document of that size.

The idea is really that simple: make notes about themes and the editing to be done, then go back and do the rest of the work. But, the practice can (and does) become more complex.

There are tools to be assembled. There is a mindset to be developed (and possibly habits to be broken). You have to figure out how to adapt the process to the way you work, and the manuscript you’re working on.

Tools?

Well, we’re talking about making notes. So, you need a way to make notes. That could be the comment feature in Microsoft Word. It could be a feature in Scrivener. It could be a separate document on your computer. Or, it could be an actual, physical notebook. Myself, I go with the actual notebook because sometimes I like to work and think away from my computer.

You also need tools and a system for marking within a text. Again, this could be a software solution or physical tools, but you need a way of working that makes sense to you (and any co-authors and editors working with you).

I use a ‘dead tree’ edition of the manuscript and a collection of colored pens (yep, the weird colored ones you can’t use on official, legal documents). The colors help me recognize at a glance what the notes I’ve made refer to. Usually my color system goes something like this:

  • Blue: actual edits to the text (fixing typos and immediate edits). It’s old school classical editor stuff (though in the old days it would be a blue pencil…)
  • Black: notes on themes and general notes on stuff to be worked on in the second pass (this color gets used more in the notebook than in the manuscript)
  • Purple: Voice issues. Honestly, if I feel like there’s a problem with the voice in a section, I put a big purple circle around it. That way when I come back later I can figure out the right way to do the voice in view of the whole story.
  • Red: Continuity stuff. Red ink helps me make note of things that differ or shift between one section and another. Before I developed this technique, there were times the calendar and time of day started to feel more like suggestions than facts. And, that’s saying nothing of who did what to whom issues…
  • Green and other colors: I add other colors when necessary to reflect issues and needs within a specific project. For instance, in Unintended Consequences there are several points where texts and online chats are used for character communication. I used green to mark things that should have been in my text/online style but weren’t.

The tools I use (and the ones you develop for yourself) should make that “second” pass easier and more effective. When you get it right, a “one and a half pass” pass can easily get more done than three or four passes doing the “just focus on this chapter” method.

Summing up…

It’s really about productivity and improving your story (both interesting and readable/salable). Yes, the “one and a half pass” pass takes more work than a “single” pass. But, because you can look at the whole work with the help of your editing notes, you can get a lot more done in a pass than you could otherwise.

Nobody said this stuff was easy. The truth is writing takes work.

This method is a way I’ve found to make that work easier and more efficient.

And today I’m sharing it with you dear reader. Use it if you will. Adapt it to your own needs and process. And, I’ll see you next post.

(As usual, if you have something to say, leave a comment. Thanks)

Hear what they’re saying

Two weeks ago I said Unintended Consequences was in the hands of some teen readers. Well, we’ve got the first reports back and I have to say I’m happy, and I learned a thing or two.

One of my teens is a very avid reader, and claims he can usually guess how the story will end. He didn’t see this one coming. I won’t say the ‘twist’ got him, because there is no intended twist. Instead, we have a natural flow of events that doesn’t come out quite the way he expected. That’s both fair play and a surprise ending!

Possibly the best part of the review was that he wanted to see the second one already (which is sitting on my desk in slightly edited first draft form).  I’ll get it to him when I’ve got this one further down the road and that one is ready for people to see it.

Initially, I was just interested in feedback on the story. While I agree with Steven King and prefer to fix spelling/grammar issues when I find them, I wasn’t looking for feedback on grammar and spelling from the teens. But, they’re giving me some and its giving me something to think about.

My readers picked up on grammar and punctuation differences between sections, and could tie those sections to the correct point of view character. They’re telling me that my characters, and their reader experiences with those characters, are distinct. After a chapter or two they can tell who’s speaking/experiencing the action with no section header to tell them.

This is good. But, they also told me that some of the punctuation/grammar use for one character was annoying. Which is good, because the character is supposed to be annoying. But, it’s also a warning sign. I have to walk a balance. If the annoying punctuation/grammar helps make the character distinct and adds to the feel of the character, that’s good. But, if the annoyance is so great that the reader stops reading, that’s a problem. If the grammar and punctuation are annoying enough to drive the reader away, my stuff isn’t getting read.

There’s some good there, but I have to be aware and walk the balance.

Listening to reader feedback can tell you a lot. But, you have to put the work in and really see what they’re telling you.

The good stuff we want to hear.

The bad stuff (if given and received constructively) can be helpful.

The unexpected feedback leads us to new learning and discoveries.

If we’re not hearing new information, of finding new ways to apply that information, we’re not growing as writers. And, growing is how we get better.

Listen to your readers. Learn from them and become better.

As always, if you have any feedback, responses, or arguments for me, leave a comment.

Be successful dear reader, and I’ll see you next post

More reading and writing…

I’d like to thank the people who liked and responded to last week’s post about reading and writing. Since the post went up I’ve had a couple of interesting discussions on the subject. So, I’m adding a little bit more this week.

I mentioned I was finishing up Steven King’s On Writing. I’m not quite sure what comes next in that line (I’m thinking maybe the how to create an online class stuff my wife asked me to look at…). I’m also reading Glen Cook’s Garret for Hire and I’m about to start a book on how we got the King James Version of the Bible (Hey, um, even those among us who aren’t religious might be interested in the origins of a book that’s managed to stay on the market for a few hundred years…).

On the writing side off the house I’m finishing up a book on ‘Beach’ glass that’s due out by the end of the year, and I’m working on a novella about love and magic… (And there’s that story I’m supposed to submit for the Writer’s Digest short story contest, and…)

So, dear reader, I’ve told you what I’m doing… What are you reading and writing?

If you want to share leave a comment. And, I’ll see you next post.