Editing layer by layer

Editing a completed manuscript (or a section of your work in progress, depending on your creative process) can seem a daunting task. But, as with so many things in life, breaking it down into smaller steps can make it feel much more doable.

A good way to approach editing is to think in layers. Visualise these as beautiful and connected – but also distinct. It’s best to start with the foundational aspects of your narrative: the plot and structure. So your first task is to review your text just with this in mind. This is the time to put on your ‘logical glasses’ and inspect your work with a forensic eye. Are events character-driven, do they link together and show cause and effect? Is anything too convenient or random, making it too easy for your protagonist to achieve their aims? Does it all make sense?

Then it’s time to swap to a fresh lens and consider, one by one, aspects such as pace, tension, drama, point of view, atmosphere, setting and description. This is also a good time to review your cast: is every character absolutely necessary or could one or two be ditched? Does each character feel real and rounded, fresh and original, and does s/he speak and act as him or herself all the way through? Could you deepen the emotional story that’s woven into the action?

At the self-editing stage, it’s brilliant to involve trusted beta readers who can help you with creative decisions that might be niggling away at you, such as name choices for people and places, or the way a particular symbol or visual image surfaces and resurfaces throughout the whole story.

After all this hard work, you definitely deserve a treat. I believe that celebrating each step – or layer – of the editing process can help sustain confidence and motivation. With a slice of layer cake, of course…