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Naomi Kritzer @NaomiKritzer
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This is a good point, and I have a whole lot of editing advice and my husband is making dinner, so hey, pull up a chair if you're interested.
At the basic level, here are things to look for and fix when you're editing.

1. Does the plot basically make sense? When you re-read, are there moments that the characters forget to try some absolutely obvious solution, like calling someone on the phone or locking the door?
2. Are the characters basically portrayed consistently? Does anyone forget that they're a medical doctor or rocket scientist? If someone is supposed to be sympathetic, do they basically seem sympathetic?
If a character is supposed to be flawed but still likeable, did you overdo the flaws so now they're just an asshole? Maybe take out that scene where they kick the puppy.
3. Do the logistics in the story more or less hang together? If the character gets no sleep for 48 hours, are they tired, on meth, superhuman? If there are flowers blooming, are they in season? If someone gets on a bus, do they remember to get off again?
(Back in a bit.)
4. Were there subplots you introduced and then dropped? If a character gives a detailed explanation of something that was going to matter before you had a better idea, take out the detailed explanation.
On the other hand, sometimes you realize a subplot would bring a whole new dimension to the story if only you properly braid it through.
One of the really magical things about writing is that sometimes, that throwaway bit that didn't mean anything when you put it there turns out to be the key that holds everything together. I think of those moments as gifts from the muse.
Editing isn't necessarily "make it Not Suck," sometimes it's "polish up the really brilliant bits and shine the light there so that everyone can see them sparkle."
5. If you're reading back through your story and it fundamentally feels like it's not working, like there's something missing, questions that aren't being answered in a way that's satisfying, ask yourself whether you're avoiding an answer that frightens you.
Or, you know, an answer that you just want to AVOID. Maybe because it's a cliche, or a trope you hate, and yet it's the only thing that makes sense there; maybe because you're convinced the story will be less marketable.
I don't have a clear answer for you because sometimes the answer is, yeah, it makes sense but you still need to avoid it, frankly, but other times it's the door you need to open to let the real story in.
6. Think about theme. Almost all my stories are about something. There's a central idea holding things together. Sometimes I know the theme when I sit down; other times I don't figure it out until I'm editing.
But if you have a theme, something you're saying, think about whether you're saying it. Also, if one of your characters articulates it directly, take that bit out so your readers won't feel like they're being hit over the head.
But you might be able to put the theme in focus in some way, and that will probably result in a better story.
7. Think about whether you're protecting your characters from hard decisions and painful situations. Think about whether the stakes are too low. Or at least, scaled properly to the rest of the story.
8. Is there character change? If your main character is unchanged from beginning to end, consider whether you centered your story on the wrong person.
(Stepping afk again, back later.)
The first story I sold professionally, I originally wrote it from a different character's POV. I was trying to write a story about failure, and after getting critiqued by my writer's group I realized that the central problem was that the character failed due to his weaknesses...
...and it would be a lot more interesting if he failed because of his strengths. Also, I picked a POV character who would actually experience conflict and change, vs. "I am secure in my world view, and at the end, I am CONFIRMED in my world view!"
9. Re-assess the beginning. Does it start in the right place? Not too much backstory/exposition, not so "in medias res" that the audience neither knows nor cares why things are suddenly blowing up?
More often it's the first problem: you've got a bunch of stuff that's not really the story yet. (Especially with a short story, you don't want to spend an excessively long time setting things up.)
10. Re-assess the ending. Is it satisfying? Does it feel like an arc is concluded? If you made a promise to your audience, did you deliver?
(@BBolander had a recent story out called "The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat" and that story makes a very clear promise right in the title which, not to spoil things too badly, IS DELIVERED UPON.)
There are a lot of ways to make promises to your reader, but there are certain openings that tell people, "this is a very specific type of story."
"Once upon a time" = a fairy tale, and that means it can follow its own weird logic but should probably end with a lot of people getting what they deserve, good or bad. (Does not have to end with Happily Ever After.)
Anyway, if you discover a mismatch between the opening and the ending -- maybe you thought you were writing a fairy tale but you really aren't hitting the fairy tale beats -- you can rewrite the beginning as well as the ending.
(And I'm not saying you can't start a weird postmodernist story with Once Upon a Time, just, you know, know what you're doing. If you're going to yank the rug out from your reader, do it on purpose.)
A lot of writers struggle with endings. When I'm struggling with an ending, I tend to think about my theme, what my story is about, in a larger sense, and see if that helps.
Like, if your theme is, "small voices and efforts still matter," and the bulk of your story is about a person trying and failing to accomplish some large goal, the ending might involve them accomplishing a small goal.
And also having some feelings about it, and depending on your character it might be "aha! I can make a difference in small ways!" or it might be deep frustration that they can ONLY make that small bit of difference.
11. If you're happy with your ending, go back through the story and look for ways to poke in a little bit of foreshadowing to make the ending, when it comes, feel like everything's just clicked into place.
Like, if it's a story about small actions making a difference, you could add a moment or two where someone's small efforts make a difference to your viewpoint character without The Moral Here necessarily sinking in.
12. If you're editing a novel rather than a short story, some novel-specific things to think about. First, pacing. The first time I wrote a novel, the first section was super choppy, with very short jumpy scenes, because I was pacing it like a short story.
If you're a first-time novelist, you probably got better as you went. I literally re-wrote the first section of my first novel more or less from scratch, re-joining the original draft with Eliana and Giula leaving the conservatory together.
Second, length. You're very unlikely to sell a 300,000-word novel to a commercial publisher. Self-publishing is its own world and I'm just not sure, although my gut sense is that's still too long.
If it's 300,000 words, break it into a trilogy and turn that first 100,000 words into Book One. Or, if you have pages and pages of people packing and unpacking hats ,for example, cut ruthlessly.
It's a lot harder to track timelines and continuity in a novel than in an short story. But make sure that if it's Monday one day, it's not Saturday the next morning, and if it's snowing on Monday it's not 80 degrees on Saturday without people taking some sort of note.
(You can have weather swings like that in Minnesota but people NOTICE when that happens.)
Xena, Warrior Princess could have a full moon every single night but you probably cannot get away with it; someone will notice.
13. Oh, another thing to do in the editing stage is some fact-checking, although ideally you didn't hinge a whole plot on whether a it's possible to survive Ebola without checking to make sure that it's possible to survive Ebola.
(It is, in fact, possible to survive Ebola, if you're wondering, but there are diseases with a 100% fatality rate.)
14. It's hard to read for this (it's one of the things that's super useful about a writer's group or critique buddy) but you want to look for the stuff that somehow didn't quite make it out of your head and onto the page.
Like, why DID that character respond to the text by jumping into her car and heading directly to that person's house? In your head, there was an excellent reason, but on the page, she just WENT with no explanation.
These are almost always easy to fix with like a single line of explanation, but they can be hard to spot.
I'm running out of steam but I bet as soon as I go do something else I'll think of something to add here, so I might be back.
14. Thought of one! Sensory details. How do things smell? Is the light a little too bright to be comfortable? What is the viewpoint character hearing in the background? If you can, choose details that shine a light on the theme.
Also, feelings. Emotions, physical sensations. Some writers always get the sensory stuff in the first draft; I tend to just coast right past it the first time.
In terms of tying it to theme: if it's a story about small things making a difference, you could focus on the feelings and sensations of a bunch of small things. A rock in the character's shoe. The smell of flowers someone else is carrying home. Etc.
(I'm using this theme as an example because I keep seeing that joke that goes, "if you think one person's voice is too small to make a difference, you've never spent the night in a tent with a single mosquito.")
Since @MagentaMN nagged me to turn this into a blog post, here, a blog post, complete with my rant about a badly-written musical I left out of the Twitter thread.…
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