This is how I edit all my short stories and how I am slowly transitioning my long fiction writing process (which right now is just get the words on the page and worry about everything else later).
- Brain dump / discovery writing / getting the scene out of my head and onto the page
- No forced descriptions
- If they come, great. But if they don’t, don’t stop writing.
- Don’t get caught up in the minutia
- Don’t embellish the dialogue
- Only write “said” or “asked”
- Add better tags / descriptors during the developmental and polishing phases
- Get to the end before you start re-writing
- Don’t go back and edit for continuity, keep writing until you get to the end
In this draft there are no chapters, only scenes. Chapters come later.
I’ve had to train myself to not stop writing until I get to the end. I still do this–to my detriment–in my long fiction but for my short fiction I wait and make a list of all the changes I need to make or new plot elements I need to add earlier in the draft and then go back and add those in the second draft.
This is the re-write draft where I go back to the beginning and make all the plot changes I discovered during the first draft.
- Identify and fill plot holes
- Try writing content for place holder ideas
- Place holder ideas are key words that I’ve written into the manuscript that I know don’t work but I had to put something there to keep writing. Now that the story has a complete beginning, middle, and end, I can afford to take the time to really brainstorm for the right details.
- Shift scenes around as needed
- Identify where there are jumps in point of view and either remove / rewrite loose POV threads or make a note for a future chapter break
- Look for places to deepen the details, add placeholder ideas if they don’t come just yet
- Add sensory descriptions
- Add emotions and thoughts
- Add worldbuilding elements to make the setting and environment of the situation richer
In this draft I still don’t have chapters but my scenes are developing more muscle and gooey stuff.
This and the third drafts are my favorite part of the process because I can go back behind myself and fix things. Dive deeper into my world and really explore what the story is supposed to be.
- Print out a copy of the second draft
- Make handwritten notes
- Read it aloud
- Address all remaining placeholder ideas and in-text notes
- Research and double-check everything I’m uncertain about
- Tighten up dialogue and fix dialogue tags
- Tighten up blocking and physical movements of the characters
- Check the pacing
- Move narrative paragraphs out of the action
- Smooth out and evenly distribute info-dumps
- Separate scenes into chapters
Since I write science fiction and fantasy, I can make up my own rules about most things. But I don’t want to spit out a random concrete fact (like the temperature of the sun, for example) and get it wrong. Always do your research.
When a story is long enough to need chapters, I organize them by character POV. I normally write in 3rd person limited and while some POV jumping is okay, I try to avoid it because I don’t want to confuse you.
Up until this point I’ve done all my writing in the Notes app on my iPad and Macbook. But for organizing the chapters, I use dabblewriter.com.
This is the self-developmental editing phase.
- Check continuity
- Character appearance
- Setting elements
- Magic system details
- All plot holes filled
- Polish the sentences / vocabulary
- Use this opportunity to enhance any existing tension and make sure the stakes are as high as they can be
- Make sure the characters are being as authentic and honest as possible
This is the polishing phase! The final draft!
- Run the manuscript through ProWritingAid (I know lots of people use Grammarly but I always found it clunky and never really liked the interface)
- Edit grammar, sentence structure, and punctuation as needed
- Print out the manuscript and read it aloud THREE times
- Make handwritten notes
- Add / make changes from handwritten notes
- Slurp everything through ProWritingAid again
- Format for editor
I cannot stress enough how important it is to read your writing out loud. One of the biggest indicators I have for if something is “finished” or not is: can I read it without barfing. If not, I need to go back and work on it some more.
I developed this process over a three year period of trial and error. Some of the writers and resources that helped me figure out the best drafting and editing systems for my writing style are:
- Christie Stratos: editor, writing coach, and owner of Proof Positive
- Steff Green: author, podcaster, and developer of the Writing Your Skeleton Draft course*
- Tara East: author and YouTuber
*Steff Green’s course is the only non-academic writing course I’ve ever tried, because I am skeptical and distrustful. While Green’s course was not the Holy Grail of writing for me personally, I did get a lot out of her explaining her own process.