06 April, 2011

To Edit or Not to Edit...

...that is the question. Having received most of my reader reports now, I have started to analyse what they had to say about my novel, The Crosser of the Worlds. The first thing I've learned is that different people interpret questions differently! To some a "favourite character" is the one they liked most, to others it is the one they thought written the best. To some the lowest point for the main character, Kit, is when he is acting most stupidly, to others it is the point where they felt most sympathy for him. But these different interpretations have actually been really helpful as they have highlighted things which I might never have noticed.

Perhaps my biggest revelation is that it is always worth getting more than one or two people to read your drafts! This helps weed out personal taste from actual issues that need addressing. One reader found the young girl in the book a bit irritating, but she was the favourite character of two of my readers. At least one reader didn't particular like the swashbuckling sword-fighters on one of my worlds, again, another absolutely loved them. Some readers focussed on the practical ("how could a deep wound have healed enough to have formed a scar in only two weeks?"), others were more emotional ("it brought actual tears to my eyes"). One small scene that one reader wanted me to change back to how it was written in the original draft, was the one scene that another reader (who had also read the original draft) didn't want me to touch at all.

You might think that all this would make editing a bit of a nightmare. But actually, this way I get the best of both worlds: I won't end up changing something that doesn't need changing just because it happens to not be to the taste of one person, but also I know that if two or more people mention the same thing then it really is an issue I can't sweep under the carpet. Every reader so far has caused me to add something to my list of potential edits and every one has also mentioned something different that they liked about the book that gives me the confidence to carry on with it. Sure, I could be hurt that my favourite character is nobody else's, but actually it's great that nearly every "goody" is somebody's favourite as it means I must have got something right about them!

So I now have before me an ever-growing list of edits to make before I send this draft off to the Writer's Workshop for some professional advice. But, having made six other people read the book in the last month, the first thing I should probably do is read it myself...


  1. Getting numerous revision suggestions from people can be a real headache sometimes. I endured three years of workshop classes for fiction, and I finally agree with this common saying:

    If everyone has a different suggestion or take on one single issue, don't listen to any of them and go with your own gut. If everyone is telling you to change the same thing, you should listen.

    Regardless, the opinions and different reads people have on a draft are important and they break you outside of yourself. Just don't forget that you are the best person to decide what is right for your characters and plot.

  2. Thanks Andy :) That was the conclusion I was coming to. I think people's opinions on the book have been most helpful in helping me re-think certain bits rather than giving me a list of "must-changes".

  3. I can see from the way you speak that this has been a useful exercise. There is definitely danger in only getting feedback from one person, asn you've made me think a lot about my own approach. I have only let my fiance see my most recent work, and I know I would benefit from others' feedback. The most productive editing happened for me when I had my workshop class, with classmates and the tutor giving feedback.
    You are right that it helps to sift through what may be personal taste.
    But, Kath (the tutor) used to say all the time that at the end of the day, you are the writer, so if there's something you really don't agree with, leave it. It's all about using your own judgement, and I think you learn a lot about yourself as a writer from it.
    Nari X

  4. Have any of your advisers mentioned that 90+ thousand is unusually long for the 8-12 market? Harry Potter and the like are very much exceptions rather than the rule, and I can't help wondering whether you might be jeopardising your chances...

  5. billyblogger/Martyn - welcome! Thanks for dropping in. I was really worried about the word count so I asked for advice on that matter from the author Sam Mills, courtesey of the Writer's Workshop. Her opinion was that if the sample chapters are good enough to want to read on then they'll read on, if they're not, they won't! And after that, the matter of whether it's too long or not will depend on whether everything in it is necessary. So, having been through a vicious edit already, I think I will wait and see what she says about this draft before I do a slash and burn so if she thinks it does drag I can at least cut the right things!

    Thanks Nari :) I've ended up not editing nearly as much as I thought I would after the feedback because I didn't agree with some of my readers. A lot of the questions I asked them were comprehension, to see if they had understood the plot and the background to it etc. That's where readers are at their best - you can't pretend you've written clearly if none of your readers can tell you what the main motivation for an event in your novel is, however much you want to!xx

  6. Hello again Chloe. Given the cross-section of feedback you've received and your own tenacity I can't see anything but good coming from your editing.
    If I had one small piece of advice, which is only right since I mainly write short stories... would be to edit, then leave it to one side for a week or two, as hard as that might be. You wouldn't need more outside feedback then on a re-read to confirm your new version.
    Right my friend, I'm off to sort out the synopsis email for you.
    Take care and keep plugging away.

  7. I think you're right Tom. I think for a whole novel though the time period needs to be a lot longer. When I wrote the original draft of my novel at the start of last year, I only gave it 6 weeks before writing the next draft and that just isn't long enough to feel confident in making any big changes - you are still too attached to it!

    I didn't start writing this latest draft until 6 months after I finished the last one and therefore it was much easier to see what needed to be done.


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