Old news: I am editing my first novel. (Kinda) new news: it’s a pain in the you-know-what!
The thing is, it could have been less painful had I take time to do an outline. But noooo! Back in 2010, yours truly was a pantster. (Quick definition: a pantster is someone who writes without an outline.)
Now that I am editing Novel Numero Uno, karma comes kicking into my front door. I had some critiques for the first 10 chapters out of the 60 I wrote and I considered my first 10 “the good one.” At least, the plot was tight and I did not have so many fixes and corrections on them. Chapters 11 to 15 were OK as well but after that was a slippery slope.
Let’s see: I ended up cutting out 3 chapters full of dialog that did not lead to anywhere, then shortened another 3 to an episode. I also shortened 1 episode to a page. The list went on. Being a pantster means one thing: I get to write what I write. It’s an exploration where everyday, I set foot forward to write whatever I think the story needs. As a result, there are details I wrote a few pages ago only to be repeated later and again and again. I guess at that time, the detail was fixated in my mind and the only way for me to expunge it is to write it down at random places repeatedly.
Therefore, it is frustrating to edit a pantster novel. My former writing group only did critiques once in a month and I guess people already forgot what they read one month earlier. Now that I get to edit my own writing, I realize it is good to have a post-writing outline.
I did an Excel spreadsheet with a summary and notes for each chapter. About 10 chapters down, I saw things very clearly:
1. Pacing: if 3 chapters down and I still talk about the same thing, the story hasn’t moved. It’s time to condense things down and move on to the next big thing.
2. Event sequence: once you do a post-writing outline, it is very easy to see what’s out of sequence. Of course, the back stories are interesting but do they add anything to the story or do they deviate from the main story line?
3. Building up suspense: there are actions that lead to the big climax and it’s the writer’s duty to tighten them up like a drum. I found out that while I am good at building suspense, it does not lead to the big O that I want. Therefore, in this leg of the race, I am ramping things up even more.
4. Planting seeds: I planted things along the way. A little bit of back story here and there, a hint of surprise hidden carefully on page 15, things like that. But some of the things I planted did not carry through, especially this one detail that I made such a big deal about. During this rewrite, I dig them all up and plant them properly again.
I highly encourage pantsters out there to do a post-writing outline for editing. You will find out a lot of gems as well as faults along the way. The post-writing outline is a way to sort things all out and tighten up your plots. At this point, I would not worry too much about grammar and syntax errors. That is for another round of editing.