The Desperate Art of Editing and Revision

I have just finished the first edit on my 1934 historical crime fiction. Recently, someone asked me what was involved in editing. Caught off guard, I provided a cursory response that seemed to satisfy him. Then I got to thinking: What IS involved?

Every book is different in terms of structure and, as such, might call for a different approach. I am definitely not the type of writer who has a cookie cutter approach to the craft. I am more of a pantser as a writer and, at least initially, the same in editing.

This first “round”, if you will, was largely a smoothing process, determining if there were speed bumps that slowed the pace down. I look for grammatical errors, poor description, in exact staging, dialogue that is too modern (keeping in mind this is my first historical piece), and logic errors. Mind you, this is a read-through a week after completion of the first draft.

There were cuts but mostly additions. I get through the first draft with the goal of completing the story. Consequently, there was an increase of approximately 2500 words. I found a scene in which I was referencing North and South and confusing myself after stating which location was in which direction. So, I stopped, drew a stick figure map on a scrap piece of paper, and cleared up the confusion.

For now, I realize I have not clarified the sense of time in the overall work despite making a few corrections. The next edit will pay attention to the time of year and the passage of time. Despite my lack of overt description, I do need more sensory details. This is not quite noir but rather hard-boiled. I will need to incorporate that kind of essence while staying true to the time period.

Even though I can rattle off a few books and movies that can give me a better point of reference (Bonnie and Clyde, High Sierra, anything by Jim Thompson), I am going to resist reading something else or watching something unless I feel I have no captured the mood and tone I am looking for.

I guess the guy who asked me the question originally might ask “How do you know when you’re done?” That’s the frustration. You either always think you’re done or never think you’re done. Both are debilitating because you want to move on to the next piece. At some point, you have to trust your instincts. Unless you get too desperate.

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