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Life: Some Editing Required

Posted by Priscilla on June 21, 2013

I’ve bent over a manuscript, pencil in hand, laptop on lap, every day for the last two weeks. The pressure is on, for I received a request for a full manuscript and the call to deliver suddenly revealed flaws in my novel. The manuscript needed editing.

I thought I edited every time I changed words, rearranged paragraphs, and tightened the prose. Now, I know that I was merely rearranging the proverbial Titanic deck chairs. My eyes are opened to the need to restructure the story and change the characters. So I’m throwing out chapters, writing new scenes, deleting characters, and, in the process, transforming the plot. I am scared, but also wildly excited as I see the results of adventurous editing.

I’ve leaned over a life, altering everything from hairstyles to jobs, glasses to friends for more years than I care to count. Is that the kind of editing life requires? I think not.


Superficial changes keep the story the same. If my story insists that the other shoe will always drop, all the outward adjustments in the world will not affect that theme. If my story takes me from rejection to loneliness, nothing new--not jobs, not friends, not looks, not even goals--will free me from the cycle I’ve written for myself.

What’s a girl to do?

I go for the deep, painful edit every time. This is how I choose to embrace life’s edit:

  1. I accept with thankfulness every change imposed on me from the outside. Whether I suffer loss or gain, I give thanks. I give thanks for death in my family, for “unwanted” births, for the sudden appearance of a foster baby and for the emptiness when that baby leaves. I give thanks for rejection and for acceptance, for sickness and for health.
  2. I say, “May this change transform me.” I ask that the outer change always effect an inner change. I don’t want to be the same person next year that I am today.

What does this mean for the writer?

Writers create lives. When you invent characters, you give them names, put them in relationships, and watch those relationships cause change.  That’s what makes a story.  But sometimes the story doesn’t work. Characters are flat, story is confused, or plot doesn’t resolve. When that happens, it’s time for the writer to go for the deep, painful edit.

 1.  Look first at your own life.

Have you been refusing to accept the growth that only comes through change? Through trial? What would it look like for you to accept the adventurous edit?

 2.  Look next at your characters.

What transformation do you allow them? Are outer changes reflected in inner conversions?

With whom are they in relationship? Where is the tension in their relationship?

Which ones can you delete? Perhaps a character that has no connection to your own internal growth has no business being in the story.

 3.  Look finally at story and plot.

Does movement occur?

Story must move from cause to effect continually. If there is not an inciting incident that precedes every single scene, perhaps you should delete the scene.

Plots move either from an unideal world to an ideal world or from an ideal to an unideal. Have you gotten where you want to go?


What do you think?



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