April 7, 2010

Figuring out how to edit a novel: making lists

I have been writing: mostly about physics though,  but I still have been trying to keep up the work on the side. I feel like I've fallen out of the writing mode quite a bit since the pressure from the PhD can be felt intensely as I spent most of the holidays working on a report for my boss. I sat in little bohemian cafés with my new MacBook doing equations in LaTeX... not quite the cliché I guess.

However I decided - enough is enough - and it's now time to work on the novel. I printed out the 75,000 monster and looked at it terrified to read it for fear of it being shit. I read it, and of course, like all first drafts it was shit. At least I didn't lose myself in any delusions of being awesome and patting myself on the back for having written the great Anglo-Hungarian novel of the 21st century (although I could have, since there's not many of those around). I think the fact I have learned so much over the last 6 months has helped me keep a realistic perspective on my writing, so instead of believing what I want I can look at the manuscript and go "this is shit, but has potential - what can I do to make it less shit".

First, I read the whole thing while making notes of things which:
 a) immediately annoys me - changing point of view frequently being one of the main offenders
 b) what actually works - I have to say the premise of the novel and the possible character development is very interesting and could work very well, but I just need to figure out how to make it good. Having a good premise is not enough but it's a good start.
 c) what could be changed - there could be a scene which has potential but something doesn't quite work so to think about what changes would improve it.

I then sat down and summarised the novel chapter by chapter. I opened up a document in open-office and went through the manuscript marking where the chapters should be and proceeded to summarise them. This not only gives me a quick overview of the novel plot, but can help me do some plot edits and I can see in which order things come. Alas at the moment it's a non-linear mess which doesn't quite work and needs to be reorganised but I wouldn't have seen that had I not made a summary.

I then went through the summary and highlighted in green what stays, red what goes and yellow as to maybe go or just change.

I made some separate lists such as what works, what doesn't work, what should I do or include to make the plot more interesting and then some more specific lists to do with certain aspects of the plot.

So far I have a lot of lists, lot of ideas and too little time. I am trying to figure out the next stage. Maybe I'll copy paste the current summary and plan the plot and subplots around the points I made. Will it work? Who knows, but will see how it turns out.

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