Saturday, January 5, 2013

Devil in the Details: Editing for Content - Christine Fonseca

Devil in the Details: Editing for Content
“When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.” 
Stephen King, On Writing
Writing is a many layered process, one that involves the freedom of your creative brain, and the diligence of your inner editor. For me this usually means drafting as fast and furious as I can, paying little attention to the details of what I write. I start with a loose outline of the major plot points and then draft. I call this my zero-draft just to give myself permission for it to suck. Royally. Once the words and scenes are on the page, the real writing begins.

And for me, this is the start of the editing process.

There are many types of editing - editing for content, in which I am looking at structure and form, as well as plot and character development, and editing for grammar, syntax, repetitions and the like. Both types of editing are important steps in the writing process. Both contribute greatly to the story as a whole. Both are required before ever considering publication.

And I do both before I let anyone read my work – editor, critique partner, anyone.

This post focuses on the part of editing I enjoy the most – content editing. In particular, I wanted to focus on my process for discovering plot holes, character issues and the general big picture.
Steven King’s quote above really speaks to my process of editing. After word vomiting 50,000 words to the page or so, I have to spend a little time focusing on the big picture before I tackle each individual chapter. To do this, I use the structure of Blake Snyder’s beats from Save the Cat and combine it with a graphic organizer that helps me look at the big picture.

Graphic Organizer Example 1

Take a look at the example of my graphic organizer from my recent YA thriller, Transcend. Here you’ll notice that I took the original mess of a ms and “plotted” it out on the form using Snyder’s beats, my chapters and a way to reorganize things.  The chapter headings enable me to look at my pacing, the chapter summaries enable me to move things around and the revised chapters enable me to have a game plan to help me when it comes to the actual revisions I need to write.

I discovered a longtime ago that I am a very visual person, and this process enables me to “see” the forest and discover plot holes easily. Using the same form, I can see the character arcs and include specific info on any character I need to “see”.

So, where do I begin?

First, I take the mess of a zero draft and chart it on the organizer. This gives me a critical look at the current state of my plot, my character arcs, etc. Then I rearrange scenes, figure out what needs developing, and make a game plan. Finally, it’s on the actual rewrite. I start on chapter one and work through it sequentially until I have finished a new draft. This is my “real” first draft.

After waiting a day or two, doing nothing related to this novel, I come back and repeat the process. Sometimes I can do one or two passes and be happy. With Transcend, I probably did this a hundred times as I could never get the ending right until version 4 or 5.

Regardless of how long it takes me, I will keep working through the beats and this chart until I have a product I am happy with. Then it is on to the grammar and such, most of which I have actually taken care of during the first few passes. After that, my beta readers and critique partners get their turn to slash it apart, assuming I have time with whatever deadline I am working through. I do one more pass with the input of my readers before sending it off to be slashed by my editor. And then I wait for her notes and more revisions.

Writing is a process, one not to be rushed. Given the tight deadlines I have worked under, this may mean I have to force that initial draft out faster in order to give myself time to edit. But the editing is what is important. It is where the actual story comes to light.

I’ll leave you with one last quote that sums up the importance of editing and revising:

“You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what's burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.” 
Arthur Plotnik

Take time to edit with care and find the fire of your story. Your readers will be glad you did.

Critically acclaimed nonfiction and YA author Christine Fonseca is dedicated to helping children of all ages find their voice in the world. Her titles include the YA Gothic Romance Lacrimosa, the YA thriller, Transcend, parenting guide, Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students, and the anticipated book for teen girls, The Girl Guide, releasing in Spring 2013.When she’s not writing or developing programs to support children with exceptional needs, she can be found spending time with her family, sipping too many skinny vanilla lattes at her favorite coffee house or playing around on Facebook and Twitter. For more information about Christine Fonseca or her books, visit her website –


Lacrimosa - Amazon; B&N; Books a Million
Libera Me - Amazon; B&N; Books a Million
Transcend - Amazon; B&N; Books a Million
Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students - Amazon; B&N; Books a Million
101 Success Secrets for Gifted Kids - Amazon; B&N; Books a Million
The Girl Guide (available for pre-order) - Amazon; B&N; Books a Million


Kell Andrews said...

I am impressed and inspired. Great advice, Christine.

Angelica R. Jackson said...

I have to chart after drafting too--it helps so much to see it objectively. The very detailed outline I did before drafting is actually saving me some time with charting, since it's already been done in a different format.

Katrina L. Lantz said...

I love that Plotnik quote! It has been so interesting to read about your very professional process. I admire your structure and discipline, two things I mean to work on this year. Thank you for the beats link! Can't wait to check it out to see if it'll help my process, too!

Christine Fonseca said...

Thanks guys - I am so used to this chart now, that I can't imagine the revision process without it!

Katrina L. Lantz said...

I'm not familiar with graphic organizers. Is it a PC program or an app or something?

Christine Fonseca said...

Graphic organizers is just an educational term for anything that helps give a visual to the writing process - the structure. If you google it, you'll see a million different types of charts, etc. For me, combining the beats with a chart works. For others, they may like an "idea bubble" or something similar. I think the trick is finding what works for you are doing it over and over...

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Thank you! I'm learning so much this weekend! :)

Theresa Milstein said...

Wonderful advice. Thank you! Save the Cat was such a helpful book. Glad to know it works for you too.

Unknown said...

This article is definitely Saved to Pocket! Love the quotes too, and seeing a concrete process for revising. Thanks!

JeffO said...

A very interesting approach you use. Thanks for sharing!