Last night, I took to my Thursday night workshop a chapter I’d written a few days ago, something I’d had little time to think about after writing. It’s enormously helpful to bring unpolished work in. When you do, you get big comments, very useful for filling in what you need to do after you’ve pushed through to the end of a very rough first draft. That would include comments like: the character doesn’t react to this provocation and really, he should. Or: Perhaps you should move this moment of revelation to the end of the scene, when he is alone, rather than in the company of someone he’d never reveal himself to. That sort of thing.
Because I used to bring in chapters that were already thoroughly worked over, I am accustomed to a different kind of feedback, more micro-editing: this word is confusing, this line might work better earlier in the paragraph.
Which brings me to the subject of editing. My fellow workshop writers have been most helpful when they address the larger issues of a piece of writing. The other things, the word used twice in a paragraph, the unintentional rhyme, I suspect I’d catch anyway on a re-reading. But because there is a bit of turnover among the participants, few of them (maybe only four) have seen my story from the beginning. And so they do not have a sense of the whole, and do not know if what I am writing makes sense in light of that larger whole.
So, that’s the first thing, come November, when I begin editing, I’ll need to do. I’ve never done this before, but I suppose what you’d do is read the whole thing again with an eye to how the story should be shaped, where there is building up and revelation and resolution. I imagine you’d want to scribble down what happens in each scene and figure out if that’s where those events should occur.
That scribbled list would then be your guide in re-shaping and re-arranging and also, while you’re at it, continuity fixing (the hero cannot be bald in the first half of the book and have a healthy head of hair in the end), and maybe the addition of a little foreshadowing you forgot to do because you didn’t know what was going to happen. After that, you’d want to fix the glaringly bad sentences, straighten out the grammar and spelling and collapse on the couch, a wet washcloth pressed to your forehead, but with one eye trained on the kitchen, for the moment the huge chocolate cake arrives — the one with all the sprinkles on it, the one that’s been prepared by people who really, really, really want you to stop typing on your computer and play Parcheesi.
Having never revised a novel before, I actually have no way of knowing if what I’ve described will work or if it’s foolish in the extreme. It’s just my best guess. One thing is certain though: I’ll be glad to have a novel to edit. Which is to say, I’m hoping I’ll get through to the end in a few days — maybe not day ten, but quite close to that.