Editing: Some Secrets Need Telling
The funny thing about writing a book and getting it published is that after you finish actually writing the book, the next thing you do is... rewrite the book.
Yes, I am talking about edits!
Being my first published book, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect with the whole editing process. Sure, I’d heard about this scary thing called an edit letter—presented by your amazing editor, this is the thing that highlights all the tweaks and changes that will help make your book the very best it can be. But editing, in my experience, had consisted of writing university papers that were hastily passed around to friends for a second look before you left your grades up to the fates.
Editing a book is totally not like that.
Editing a book is like... taking a little part of your soul, leaving it on display for other people to peruse, then taking it back, all poked and prodded and marked up, while trying to decide how you really feel about it.
Editing a book is hard. Full stop.
The initial reaction to your first edit letter is something like: What do you mean it’s not perfect? Let’s run some spell check over it and call it a day.
At least it was for me. Then you read the edit letter again. You digest it some more. Let it settle. And you finally realize that this perfect story is not quite so perfect and could probably due with some fine-tuning. Maybe even some stuffing for all those plot holes you left lying around.
Now, in all honesty, my first edit letter was less scary than I was prepared for. One of the big things I had to work on during this first round was word count. My manuscript was on the shorter side, which left lots of room to explore and expand. I reworked plot details. I added and expanded scenes. I let the characters run away with their words, really getting into the heart of what the story wanted to be.
This edit was actually a lot of fun. After having my manuscript on pause for so long, it almost felt like I was getting to write my own B-roll footage. Then I pressed submit for the second time and waited as my new words were thrown into the universe for their initial judgement!
Part of these edits also included retitling the book to The Dark In-Between. Laying the original title to rest made the edits easier somehow. It was like I was giving the story permission to be something different. Something more than its predecessor. This gave me the confidence to look at entire sections of the book and just say, no, you do not belong, something that would have totally freaked me out before as I screamed Words! My precious, hard-won, agonized over words.
Then edit letter number two arrived and it was a different beast altogether. Now I had the word length, so I needed to tackle bigger ideas like motivations, goals, world-building, and sorting out the magic system that existed.
My brain was a tangled mess with these edits. I had to sit back and really think some things through before even touching my laptop. I plotted on the chalkboard wall in my living room. I talked with friends and family. I wrote dozens and dozens of sticky notes, leaving them all over my apartment, which I had to try to decipher at a later date. (Pro-tip: number these suckers!)
One of the biggest challenges I had was blending Casey’s new paranormal secret with her everyday world. Keeping the secret from one of her best friends and potential romantic interest was causing all sorts of havoc in the book. Why can’t you two just make up and help each other? Why are you always arguing in every scene? Why is someone always storming away angry? So much miscommunication! There was this relationship between them that I was supposed to be developing, but I couldn’t because of this secret.
Then there was a note in the edit letter. Five little words: Why doesn’t she tell him?
Well, no, I thought, because that would change EVERYTHING! That would fast forward the book by chapters. That would include this character in scenes he wasn’t even a part of before. That would… that would… what if she did tell him? What if the secret was out?
As I mulled this over, new scenes started to appear in my head. Conversations began happening. Lines of dialogue started chirping in my ears. And then it just felt right. It was my yes, of course moment. The why-didn’t-I-think-of-that experience where you are simultaneously frustrated at how blind you’ve been but also so excited about the potential. So, I changed it. Letting characters enter into the story with this newfound knowledge fleshed out scenes and added some needed levity to an otherwise heavy subject.
Before the edits, Casey was running around on this journey, virtually alone. Everyone was kept away by the giant secret she was keeping. But giving up the secret to one very important character in particular allowed the book to grow into something better than before.
So, moral of this editing journey is that in order to give your characters room to grow and change, sometimes you have to spill the tea and let them in on the drama. Then you can sit back and watch it all fall apart for a bit, before stitching the pieces back together. Because sometimes, the secret’s in the telling.