The First Edit: Plot Problems


In editing, there seems to be two main ways to do it. The first is Holly Lisle’s One Pass Revision method. Editing this way, everything gets fixed in one pass. I’ve had a look at this method before, but I haven’t really tried it yet. The other way to edit is to do it in multiple passes, fixing different problems in each pass. This is the way that I currently edit. I’m still learning a lot about what to edit in the different passes, but what I always focus on fixing first is the problems with the plot. Anything from the villain’s weak plan, to impossibly ridiculous situations gets marked up and fixed in this round.

The reason I like to edit plot first is because it simply doesn’t make sense to edit dialogue and description when the overall story is wrong. It’s like sewing lace and buttons on a dress that’s been made up crooked. The details are pretty, but you just can’t get away from the mismatched sleeves. The first pass of editing for me, is all about making sense of the bunch of rabbit trails that is my plot. I have dead ends, plot holes, and a maze of writing you could lose a Minotaur in. So, in the first read-through, I like to check through the plot, making sure that everything makes sense. Usually there are plenty of things that don’t, and that’s when my battered, messy notebook comes out.

My notebooks are always messy. They’re filled with illegible scrawls as I thrash out the whys and hows of my plot. I don’t have to be neat and that helps me to think more freely. In this stage, I find it very useful to think about character first. I like to spend time getting to know my main character better, now that I have an idea of what she's like, and working out why she's the one to take up the quest against the evil. I also find it helpful to consider the villain and why they’re doing what they’re doing. I find the plot holes and brainstorm ideas to fill them and smooth over the plot. This is the point when I often need to brainstorm with another person to fix the big problems too. Sometimes you just need that second brain working on the problems and sparking new ideas.

The rewriting in this stage can be enormous, depending on how clean the first draft is. For me, the beginning is always massively rewritten. Generally I rewrite my beginnings several times, trying to get it right, as they’re not my strong point. Then there are scenes to be cut out, moved around, or completely rewritten. Big revelations might need to be revealed at other times. Depending on how well I’ve managed to plan the book, and how messy the first draft was to begin with, this first pass sometimes takes two rounds instead of one. But I’ve found it’s better to take it slower and think things through better. The result is a solid plot that will be worth all the beautiful dialogue and evocative description I can give it.

What do you like to cover in your first pass of editing? Have you ever tried the one pass method? Do you write clean first drafts, or are yours messy like mine? What is the best piece of editing advice you’ve heard?

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  1. This is great advise. Thank you for giving it! I have never tried the one pass method. I will have to look into it.
    I must admit, my first drafts are pretty messy. Made worse by the fact that I change my mind about most things half way through the novel and the beginning and end don't match up!

    1. I know what you mean about messy first drafts. A lot of my first drafts I write without a plan, and they change completely from beginning to end. That's part of the reason I haven't tried the one pass revision method yet, because I've only just found out what my book is meant to be like. Good luck with the one pass method though. If it works, you'll have to let me know. I'd love to hear how it works out.

    2. I will let you know, but I think I will do it after I have finished my next novel. While I'm writing this novel I am trying to take notes on what I want to change so that the editing goes easier!

    3. That is a great idea. It's so hard to remember what you wanted to change sometimes, isn't it? Even when I make notes when starting to edit I forget a lot of things. That sounds like a really great way of doing things. I'll have to try that for my novel in the July editing of Camp NaNo.


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