“All was well.”
- J.K. Rowling | (The final sentence in the Harry Potter series.)
And, indeed, I imagine all was well with J.K. Rowling as she settled on those final words, those ten little letters, last in line behind the several million letters that spelled out the story about a boy, a scar, how he got it, and what it meant.
Work like hers does not happen by accident.
Letters don’t just fall into place, and ideas — no matter how magical — don’t just tumble, fully formed, beautiful, captivating, onto the page. At the end, all is well. In the beginning? An idea. Then, a first word, then many more words, until words fade into story.
But what about in between? What happens, if not magic, between the first word and the final sentence, to make something special out of mere words, something logical and coherent out of ideas, something empathetic and captivating about characters?
I don’t know yet. Whatever technical skill is involved, though, I’m inclined to believe that patience and determination are the yeast that make the whole thing rise into something great.
Before my long hiatus (spent in the unseasonally warm and disappointingly un-snowy Minneapolis, Minnesota), I promised a post about editing. I thought it only fitting to start talking about this overwhelming process with a little bit of inspiration: even J.K. Rowling had to start somewhere, with a single word. Everyone is a beginner at some point, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Some beginners quit, and some beginners end up writing seven Harry Potter books.
I’m a beginner. Specifically, I’m a beginner who is determined to learn how to do this thing, to do it well, and to end up more toward the second category (and definitely far away from the first). This is my latest post on what I’m learning, and as I warned in my pre-hiatus post, it may be a long one. After almost two weeks of not posting, though (Not a trend I intend to keep up, by the way. That was just due to Minneapolis.), I don’t feel too bad about the length.
Editing a novel? It’s a little (okay, a LOT) overwhelming, to say the least. I thought I was more prepared to tackle this part of the project, but as it turns out, I was only somewhat prepared. Though I’ve read loads about what to look for while editing, and have even done a great deal of actually looking for, and finding, those things to change, I noticed a problem. How, exactly, was I supposed to go about changing things?
After making pages of color-coded notes for each scene, I wasn’t quite sure where to begin with them: do I start chronologically? Or, with major issues and plot changes? Do I switch the scene order first and then start with the changes? I had stellar ideas about what actually needed changing, but was clueless when it came to physically making those changes.
Index cards. After staring at the various iterations of my notes for a while, I finally figured it out: a stack of 336 pages of black on white is not the easiest thing to navigate. I needed something tangible, an outline I could hold, a deck of scene cards. At a glance, each scene needed to be as recognizable as aces or spades; one look at the whole hand, and I’d know in an instant the layout of that section.
Here’s what I’m doing, step-by-step, to begin physical editing work. I’ll start with the cards, and move on from there.
- INDEX CARDS. | One card = one scene. Title of the scene goes on the front, in bold black. On the back, I wrote the scene number and listed the pages on which it currently appears, for easy reference.
- SECTIONS. | I read through the deck of index cards, scene title by scene title. I grouped them into logical sections of varying lengths, each one ending in a climax of some sort. This project currently has nine sections.
- TO-DO CARDS. | For each of my nine sections, I created “TO-DO” cards. They are hot pink, and I placed them at the beginning of each section. Each one is flagged with a post-it flag, so I can easily flip between sections.
- POST-ITS. | On the back of each “TO-DO” card, there are three small post-it notes. From left to right, there is a pink, a green, and an orange stuck to each “TO-DO” card. Starting with Section One and ending with Section Nine, I evaluated each section’s major issues. On the pink post-its, I made notes regarding those issues: which scenes need to be moved/cut, where new scenes need to be written, what problems need to be dealt with first when dealing with that section. On the green post-its, I made notes on plot and continuity issues. On the orange post-its, I made notes about pacing, language, and other things that need general smoothing-out.
- FEELING PREPARED. | Dividing the novel into sections, and figuring out what needed work within those sections, helped me feel more prepared to start physically editing. My novel in deck-of-cards format helped me make notes about specific preparations I need to take in order to make major changes. I feel confident that I can go chronologically now, because I’ve planted notes for myself wherever later-in-the-book changes need to occur.
- MARK THE PAGES. | Starting with Section One, I completely obliterated my pages. They already had red pen on them; this time, I went in with pink and orange. Red, I used to mark general observations; now, pink marks specific changes to make, while orange is for thoughts and other ideas.
- MAKE THE CHANGES. | After marking up Section One, I will make the actual changes on my computer. This is where I am right now; I finished marking the pages right before my trip, and plan to start making the changes on Monday.
- RINSE + REPEAT. | My plan, obviously, is to work my way through all nine sections. I never intended for what I’m working on to be a final edit, so I’m sure I’ll have to go back once I’m done and tweak some things. However, I think it will be much better after this pass.
So, there you go. I’ll let you breathe, or eat, or sleep, or theorize about LOST now. Just thought I’d share what I’m doing with you guys, because for all the what to look for when editing posts I’ve come across, there haven’t been too many that deal with the order in which to work those changes in. As always, I reserve the right to humbly change my process, should it become mind-numbingly terrible.
For now, though, all is well.