Editing and Over-Editing

Meg and Jon’s story is coming along nicely. After winding up the tension between them by making their conflict nearly impossible to solve, it has made the few moments when they overcome it and start falling in love that much more satisfying. I’ve written nearly half of the manuscript and the full story has come together more fully in the synopsis. I’m going to submit the partial manuscript tomorrow. I think.

The question is always when to stop editing. I tend to edit when I run out of steam with writing. Every few days I need to take a step back from producing word count to make sure I’m still on track and wait for the next scene to take shape. Those are the times I edit.

I love editing my work. I’ll admit I love reading my work. I figure that’s ok to admit, since I write what I’d like to read. Sometimes I get trigger happy with my Ctrl+x. Usually that’s for the best (I have over 10,000 words in my ‘deleted bits’ file for this WIP). Sometimes I work and re-work the same paragraph too many times and it becomes stilted and awkward. And very occasionally I find a typo or a misspelling that has been there so long it has learned how to avoid my sensors.

Editing for style is enjoyable, but editing for substance is a fabulous challenge. I’m pitching Meg and Jon to the Harlequin Romance line, which has specific requirements and a clear format. It also has a word limit of 50,000, which isn’t much in the context of a novel. It requires a clear idea of who the characters are and what motivates them and it requires that the conflicts and motivations make sense immediately. That is more of a challenge than one thinks.

A novel usually starts with an idea, a bit of writing, some planning, a bit more writing, etc etc. But writing to a format requires a lot more planning. I wrote the bits and pieces I had of Meg and Jon’s story years ago (when they had entirely different names!) with nothing much in mind except that I had the idea and they started speaking to each other. In preparation for this pitch, I’ve had to analyse what makes them attracted to each other and what makes that attraction impossible to act on. Then I’ve had to make sure that it’s understandable to readers. This is basic stuff for the Harlequin/Mills and Boon editors, but it has been a revelation to this story.

When I first wrote it, Meg’s ex-boyfriend was a footballer. He just was. I’m not even sure why, anymore. I wove that into the conflict originally – she’s so sick of being associated with professional sport. But after spending a couple of weeks analysing Meg’s issues of conflict, I had a sudden revelation that it would make more sense if her ex was not a footballer, but a powerful and well-connected businessman who was her perfect partner on paper.

I knew I was onto something when I discovered that changing this seemingly big part of her internal conflict actually didn’t lead to many changes in the synopsis. It made the synopsis easier to write. Sometimes I miss the footballer ex-boyfriend, but this makes a lot more sense and I’m happy to sacrifice him on the altar of clarity.

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