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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Condensed Editing for the Busy Author

This is what my editing looks like right now.

No red pen on manuscript. No long nights frying my eyeballs as I try to cheat and edit on screen. No rewrites at all.

If this doesn't look like editing to you, well, you're almost right.

This is pre-editing.

In this case, this is pre-editing mixed with re-reading my unfinished novel so I can write the conclusion after a three month hiatus.

The worksheet isn't one you can copy and print directly unless your characters have the same names as mine, but I'll break down the components for you so that you can make your own worksheet if you want to try this on your next round of edits.

Step 1: Heading, Title and Characters

Start with the basics on top.

Title (revision number) - - - - Chapter Number

Then comes the pretty box list:
Character -Description - Mood

In the first incarnation of this idea I used Clothing rather than Description, only to find that I really don't describe the clothing in detail. I use mood because my I want to track emotional arcs. I haven't used it much, so it might get dropped in the next incarnations.

Step 2: Tracking Scenery
The second box on the left has:
Setting -- Description--- Found --- Mood

My current WIP pivots around a the discovery of a mutilated corpse named Jane Doe. Since my characters are trying to solve the mystery of her torture and death I need to keep track of what clues were found where.

If I have a chapter without a clue, I have a problem.

Likewise, I only allotted three space for scenes. A chapter might start in the car, move to the office, and end in the morgue. Any more than that and the chapter is probably too busy.

Again, mood is there so I can track my character's emotional progress. A section for POV if you change POV characters often wouldn't be amiss.

Step 3: Major Plot Points

I complete this section after I've read the chapter, and I try to be honest. The questions are:
Major Conflict? -- What keeps this scene moving (MC is going to lose her job. Aliens have invaded the city. Ect...)

Major Twist? -- How does the POV character's expectation and situation change from the beginning of the chapter to the end of the chapter? (MC was going to work, but now her bookstore boss has turned the Corner Bookstore into a strip joint. MC was accepting an award for proving their is no life off Earth when aliens ruined the ceremony. Ect...)

Honesty is key. There are chapters that I love, but that don't have conflict. There are witty one-liners, cute phrases, and awesome action sequences, but the characters are static.

The worst chapters are the ones where nothing is done to move the story forward. Remember that. Everything the characters do does not need to happen on screen. Let them brush their teeth offstage and find the suspicious footprint while the reader is present.

Also remember that you aren't cutting anything yet. This is a pre-edit. It's okay to admit the chapter is flawed. You can make plans to fix it later.

Step 4: Personal Questions
This is the part you can't copy and paste from me. I tailored my questions specifically for this novel. for example, question one is: Sam's relationship with Joe is______________ .

Unless your characters are named Sam and Joe, you'll have a problem. Here are the generic questions to answer after you've read the chapter:

Protagonist's relationship with Starting Love Interest is: (this is how I'm tracking the emotional arc for the underlying romance)

Protagonist is working on:
(FMC is working on multiple case so I need to track where she is)

Mentor/Father-figure/Boss is: (This Secondary Character becomes an antagonist I need to know where he is.)

A clue/plot item for the main plot is: (Murder mystery = clues.)

Secondary character/Secondary Love Interest is working on: (Part-time antagonist, but a hero at the end, this character needs close watching to make everything fall in place.)

Protagonist's relationship to Secondary Love Interest/Secondary Character of Some Importance is: (This is another emotional arc for the characters.)

In the background the Antagonist is _________ and they are: (My antagonist changes over-time as politics and murder split the group apart.)

Step 5: Sensory Input

This is easy, I just left a space for sensory details at the bottom of the page. If a character mentions it hasn't rained in three weeks and the ground is bone dry, I note that. Notes about smells, sounds, and other sensory input I use to build a scene can be repeated later on to tie scenes together.

Doing this gives me a quick reference so I don't say it's raining in chapter 2, and then the ground is bone dry three days later in chapter 3.

Step 6: Promises, Problems, and Plot Builders

This column takes up the entire right hand side of the page for me, and requires a little editing on your manuscript when you print it out.

First, when you go to print your manuscript make sure you add page numbers. I the past I've done this starting at one on every page, but that means you need to code your editing notes with page number and line number.

I've found it's much easier to keep the line numbers continuous. An unfinished novel with 47,000 words clocks in with 3300 lines. If you don't know how to add line numbers check my older post HERE.

Now that you have the manuscript ready to go, the rest is fill-in-the-blank.

Problems - I make a star in the margin, list the line number, and then list the problem.
i.e. * - 651 - Sam checks her gun, but later states guns are not issued to her division

Promises - This includes any tech, political problems, or world-building that needs to be pulled from the background and used regularly.
i.e. 83 - Sam's car has a built-in phone and the car slows down when the phone is in use

Plot Points - Things I need to remember for later chapters. This gives me a quick reference. For the chapters that have no conflict or poor pacing this also reminds me what I need to salvage before I scrap a chapter.
i.e. key -230 - Mac says, "Someone might love her." - Love is Mac's motivation for pursuing the case.

This worksheet doesn't replace editing. It isn't a magic wand to fix your manuscript over night (trust me - if I find a magic wand I'll let you know!). The chapter worksheets let you see the big picture. Which chapters are flat? Where did the pacing die? What plot points did you introduce early in the book that were never resolved in the end?

This is a quick reference for characters when you start building your character bible (name - weight- eye color). This is a jumping off point for tackling major revision so you don't get bogged down in minutia.

Good luck editing!


  1. Thanks for the great tips, Liana. I'll keep them in mind.

    In order to show appreciation for the good work you're doing on your blog and encourage you to continue, I've nominated you for the versatile blogger award.
    See it at this link:


    Pass it on and keep doing a good job.

  2. Thanks for sharing! I'll be brainstorming how to adapt and use your worksheet for my current WIP. I still have lots of thousands of words to write, though. Good luck with your ending!

  3. Kristie - I still have a good 50k that I need to write, but I couldn't remember what I already had. Reading back through I'm finding clues I forgot to incorporate, plot lines and idea I dropped, all sorts of stuff!

    I'm actually glad I took the break an can go back now to read. I'm hoping this will make the ending match the beginning better than I usually manage.

  4. I'm told Kristie Cook will be blogging about this post Wednesday. I'm curious to see what she puts up!


  5. Thanks, Liana. This is a great system and it is always so helpful to see how other people go through the editing process. Trying to get all the details straight is so difficult and complicated!

  6. This is VERY cool and I love editing spreadsheet-type things. :D Definitely going to make my own. Thanks!

  7. This is very well-thought out. I am not much of a planner, but I can see where this would come in handy to easily spot things when the actual editing takes place. Thanks for sharing!

  8. This is a really great way to stay organized. I'll definitely keep this in mind!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse