Editing Exercise

ColGray

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I joined a Jane Friedman workshop yesterday after a friend recommended her (I thought it was very good) and one of the novel editing exercises she uses/suggested was new to me and I thought I'd share.

The exercise is intended for full, complete manuscripts and focuses on the question of, Does the story start too late?

  1. Find a new reader and send them pages 50-70 (single POV) or 50-100 (multi-POV)
  2. The Reader lists out:
    1. What I know -- worldbuilding, characteristics, critical info/conceits, etc.
      1. This is your list of things to cut from the first 50 pages. The reader gets this info from the story without explicit call outs and you can streamline the narrative.
    2. What I Wish I Knew -- things that don't make sense, descriptions they wish they had, etc.
      1. This is your list of things to first confirm you have in the first 50 pages, and things you should absolutely keep in those pages
I thought it was a really inciteful exercise and not one I'd previously run across.
 
Interesting idea, I quite like it. I'm not sure how it addresses "Does the story start too late?" but that's fine.
 
Interesting idea, I quite like it. I'm not sure how it addresses "Does the story start too late?" but that's fine.
If the reader, having only read pages 50-70, can enumerate things you define, explain or belabor in the first 50 pages, you can cut them from the first 50 pages, or simply rely on the fact that your readers are picking up on these items without a need to be explicit about them.
 
If the reader, having only read pages 50-70, can enumerate things you define, explain or belabor in the first 50 pages, you can cut them from the first 50 pages, or simply rely on the fact that your readers are picking up on these items without a need to be explicit about them.
Sure, but how does this change where the story should begin, rather than what should be included where?

(Also, does "Does the story start too late?" mean "Does the novel start too early?")
 
I'm a fan of Friedman's also. Her series on editing a novel in 30 days was invaluable to me, especially once I exchanged the word "days" for the word "steps" and removed the unrealistic (for me) time pressure.
 
Sure, but how does this change where the story should begin, rather than what should be included where?
That's why she sells the course :p Kidding!

I think the idea is,
  1. Determine what is needed and not needed
    1. This list can be long or short, but either way, it's a roadmap.
    2. I get the feeling she assumes, (though experience) that the list of things to remove is significant
  2. Edit out what can be removed
    1. This reduces page count and tightens the entry into the story/moves the action up
  3. Examine the opening
    1. Does it start with backstory or action? If backstory, edit more.
    2. Another of her sayings I liked: Manuscripts start with backstory, books start with action.
    3. Ask the Passover Question: What is special about WHEN the story opens? Why is THIS dark and stormy night important, versus any other?
    4. Does the opening SUCK-- is it Simple, Unexpected, Concrete and Kickoff the story?
      1. If yes, it's good, hooky action and you can move on
      2. If no, it might be action, but it might not be engaging, or it might be backstory, in which case, see item 3.1
She had another bit about the 1st page and what it needs to do and while I agree with her points, it's a bit, Save the Cat, and focused on non-SF/F. Her statement was that a first page needs to establish
  1. Voice
  2. A protagonist with whom we want to spend time
    1. sub-point for why unrelated red-shirt prologues are bad
  3. Rules and Themes
    1. What's the book really about, AKA, Guy With A Problem
  4. The Quest
    1. What's the person setting out to do.
 
(Also, does "Does the story start too late?" mean "Does the novel start too early?")
Shoot, sorry, I forgot to answer this. It means the first ## pages are backstory and the action, the actual story, starts around page 40. Basically, do you have ## pages of lead in and backstory? Great: cut them!
 
Sure, but how does this change where the story should begin, rather than what should be included where?

(Also, does "Does the story start too late?" mean "Does the novel start too early?")
It sounds like a good way to make aspiring writers recognize the big info dump they inevitably include at the start for what it is!
 
I like this:
However, it seems to me like a normal part of the process.
Write all the way to the end and then clean up the insides and if I remember correctly, I did change up the beginning of the story a bit after I had everything worked out. And then spent a number of times going through things to reduce redundancy and irrelevance.
 
Agreed -- I just like it because it's a way to identify issues that you (the author) may be blind to because you wrote it.
 

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