The Read-Through

This week I began the editing process for my portal fantasy novel that I have so far called Maggie, who is the main character of the story. (Side note: I hate naming my projects. I sit on a titling committee at work, and then I have all sorts of opinions about what other people should call their books. But my own novels? I only hope that if I’m lucky enough to publish them, my publisher will have a fantastic committee that titles all my books for me.)

I start my editing process with a complete read-through of the novel. I allow myself to take notes, both in the margins of the draft itself and in a separate Word file, but I don’t let myself make any changes yet. (Okay, maybe I fix typos and misspellings.) I’m trying to get a sense for the book as a whole. It’s not a judgment-free zone, as I’m evaluating each scene and character and thinking about how to make them better, but I’m trying to stay in observation mode instead of action mode.

I’d read significant portions of the book before, because I drafted the first ~50,000 words during the first year of my PhD program, and then I came back and completed the manuscript in 2017, at which time I read everything I had drafted previously. I first had the idea for this book on a spring break trip in 2007, so the characters and plot are very familiar to me at this point. I’m also quite attached to this project because it’s my first adult book—not in the sense that it’s “for adults only,” but it’s the first book where I felt psychologically and emotionally mature when I started drafting it, and it’s my first book that deals with adult relationships and dilemmas and issues.

Reading all the way through the manuscript was an uneven experience, because the manuscript itself is uneven. I’ve always liked the first hundred pages or so; the inciting incident brings so much tension and emotion and drama, and the narrative is full of possibilities. Of course, the prose is all overwritten (I was in grad school, on a steady diet of Great Literature at that point), though that’s fairly easy to fix. But Act II is a hot mess and needs a lot of structural work, although there are isolated scenes and conversations that are very strong. And honestly the climax of the book doesn’t work on a plot level or a world-consistency level. But the denouement is great, and the ending makes me happy.

There’s a lot of work to be done, and I’ve been making a fresh outline that not only includes the plot points in each chapter but charts the progression of Maggie’s character arc and includes major areas for revision. I’m feeling fairly confident that I’ll at least move the manuscript in a positive direction; however, I haven’t had any beta readers work through the novel yet, so I feel a bit like I’m going in blind without a second or third or fourth pair of eyes.

It’s one of those “edge of the diving board” moments. I think I’ll feel better about the whole editing process once I actually start digging into chapter one.

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