Tips for Writers: The Final Edit

'Fool for Hire' by Matthew LeJunePhoto by Matthew LeJune

Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, short or long, you’re going to edit your work multiple times.

Writing is like clay modelling. First, you slap a big blob of ideas, facts and feelings onto your table (computer screen). Then you begin pulling away chunks, moving them to other spots, or throwing them back into the clay bin (story ideas file?).

The first draft is your blob, but even it needs structure. To switch metaphors, you can’t find your way through the forest without a trail map. So, if you’re writing long form (novel, screenplay, biography), create a good outline first.

The second draft is about major changes. You’ll likely spend hours on just a few pages, moving, deleting, and re-writing paragraphs, or even whole scenes. The third draft gets more into detail: phrasing, getting character’s voices and mannerisms right, etc.

But the final draft is the real make-or-break stage, and in some ways the most agonizing. Why? Because for the first time, and more and more with each read-through, you’ll begin to get a sense of how it flows. This is when you’ll discover whole paragraphs or even pages that interrupt the story’s narrative momentum—what the reader experiences—and these will need to go, or at least be altered.

And it will hurt.

Here are three key elements you’ll need to focus on:

  1. Is it clean and clear of clutter (nice alliteration, eh)? Or does it break the flow? This may mean cutting some genius phrases and sentences but, as Mr. Spock taught us, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
  2. Is it emotionally engaging? Does it make the reader want to stay up past midnight?
  3. Does it contribute to the narrative drive? The reader needs to sense that every paragraph belongs there. And why. They may appreciate the pretty trees, but they came for the forest, remember?

My current novel, from my screenplay for the movie Healing River, originally had a two-page flashback I was particularly fond of. In it, our protagonist began stalking the teenager who killed her son. “It’s just you and me, buddy,” she told her SUV. “You have to help me find Michael’s killer.” And then she recalled when, at her son’s insistence, she and her husband had bought the 4-wheel-drive vehicle so they could have off-road adventures.

I wrote a lovely scene about the three of them huddling together, snowed-in in the woods, singing goofy songs—their final outing as a family before her husband died. And now the last of that little family, her son, was gone. How befitting, she decided, that the SUV Michael loved should be her partner in tracking down his killer.

The essence was right. But the novel, like the SUV, went off-road at that point, and had to be trimmed. A lot. That hurt. A lot. Still, the two paragraphs I condensed those two pages to in the final draft serve the story better–they contribute to the narrative momentum. So keep reminding yourself…

“The needs of the many.”

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Humor, Movies, Writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

50 Responses to Tips for Writers: The Final Edit

  1. It also helps to save each deleted bit of genius in an idea file and tell yourself you will use it to create another wonderful story.

    Liked by 7 people

  2. Working on my third blob, looking forward to the sculpting stage!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Oh dear, I need to start editing. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I’ll admit that I delete about half of what I write and then rewrite that half. Takes a long time to write 500 words that way.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Pingback: ReBlogging ‘Tips for Writers: The Final Edit’ – Link Below | Relationship Insights by Yernasia Quorelios

  6. Dora says:

    Great advice, Mitch. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. So helpful, Mitch. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great advice. It’s always better and cleaner after the final process. It’s helpful to have some good editor friends who will be honest and precise with the scalpel.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Half a Soul says:

    Good, clear advice! I’m currently struggling with more “blob” content popping into my head (and therefore my draft) because I’m procrastinating, therefore “justifying” taking more time deciding on which new blobs and prior changes make the new final draft. Writing is fun.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Uncoffined says:

    Thanks for the advice. it’s very helpful for an inexperienced writer

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Linda Lee/Lady Quixote says:

    Great advice, Mitch. I’m still working on my first blah blah blah blob.

    I like a little alliteration now and then, too. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  12. M.B. Henry says:

    Yes it definitely hurts cutting that stuff out 😦 😦 I feel your pain!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. My latest reminder as I’m editing is “Sometimes less is more.” So helpful for the loquacious!!! Now I’ll add yours to that and see if I can exert some deeper constraints on myself! But oh, it can hurt…yes!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Thanks! Excellent advice!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I love having a good example with the advice.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Lisa Beth says:

    Thank you Mitch, excellent points to think upon and remember.
    Have a good weekend! 🍁🍂

    Liked by 2 people

  17. I wonder, Mitch. Do these writing principles apply for a 500 word blog post as much as a 50,000 word novel?

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Tim Harlow says:

    Thanks for great tips. I will use your ideas and try to remember the”flow”. I also liked your point about would the narrative compell the reader to stay up past midnight. This is a great yardstick. Thanks so much, Mitch.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. murisopsis says:

    And that is precisely why I prefer poetry to novels!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Staci Troilo says:

    I’m always delighted to read pro-editing posts. Too many people think that’s a step they can skip. As a reader, I notice when they do. As an editor, I appreciate a writer extolling the virtues of a final pass.

    Best wishes with your latest work.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. I can relate to fondness for a certain story. It feels like cutting it will make your whole piece bleed. :/

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Dalo 2013 says:

    Thank you for this post of wisdom ~ crafting something special from the ‘blob’ that flows from the mind 🙂 Super post, brings the mind back from dreaming of the finished product to the actual process itself. Excellent, and best to your creativity process 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Mary Sweeney says:

    I wish Bill was here to read this and finish his book. He was working on his testimony chapter, and he rewrote it more times that I could count. Thankfully, he did finish it…. I think.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Rosy Mathew says:

    Thanks for these great tips. In the beginning of this year, I was stuck in somewhat of a writer’s block. I am slowly getting back into my writer’s mode. It feels great spring back into motion. Will definitely take your tips into account. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Sounds to me like very sound advice, Mitch. Thanks for taking the time to give it. Bob Rubin

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Erica/Erika says:

    Nice to meet you, Mitch. I see we have friends in common. I began to read some of your interesting, informative, fun posts and an hour later I am still reading your posts. I have presently pressed pause (nice alliteration, eh?) on blogging, and I will return when the time is right. You have lured me in today. Thank you for sharing many gems. I look forward to reading more. Erica

    Liked by 1 person

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