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Sometimes editing is messy. Above is part of the reconstructed outline of Memento Mori that resulted from my meeting with the editor. Maps and lists, all jumbled together.

This will post several days after the fact, but at the time I’m writing this, I am recently returned home after a nice long meeting with the editor. I had a week to absorb her edits and form my own questions before doing this. I’m glad I did.

My original draft was nowhere near query-ready, and I knew it. But as I took time to really mull over the edits I’d been handed, it dawned on me that correcting one set of issues would expose – or create – another set of problems, mostly in the realm of plot inconsistencies. Characters needed to be repositioned. Key items placed in different locales. Pivotal conversations broken up across two or three scenes, while other single encounters will now coincide with one another.

It wasn’t until I sat down with the editor that I realized that the “secondary problems” were not really problems at all. They were opportunities; and if I handle them correctly they will lead my manuscript to a MUCH better place.

Fortunately my editor was there to walk me through the practical side of how to make that happen.

In so many words, she told me I had an original story, and that all the necessary components and characters needed to tell that story were there. The problem was that the story dragged out over too many locations, with too many detours that didn’t entirely make sense.

It’s not that the detours were totally useless. Far from it.

Each one contributed something important to the story.

But they were still just that: detours. Movement that required the reader to “travel” twice the distance for half the action and plot reveals.

Her point was that if I rearranged the events in a way that upped the pacing, thus placing all the “big reveals” much closer together, I would not only have a much tighter story but it would take the narrative from being merely fascinating to a real page-turner.

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I used this chart to track my writing progress. I’ve learned I must first get the full idea out on paper, and to brook no delays. All those extra words? They weren’t useless. They got me where I needed to go, and taught me what my story is NOT.

We spent three hours at a coffeeshop, with notebook paper and pen, and drew up a new outline for Memento Mori.

Detours were eliminated. So were two secondary characters of whom I was rather fond. One truly original plot twist (I thought) was rendered irrelevant. But the by the end I found myself staring at the game plan we’d drawn up and thinking: Yes. It was supposed to be this all along. It was always there, I just couldn’t get it the last league by myself.

I went home. Thought things through some more. The next day during my lunch break, I eliminated all the fluff and detours.

Result: I cut out 25,000 words – roughly 1/5 of the entire book.

Then I took a good hard look at what was left. During my dinner break, I rearranged those chunks into the new narrative order. I watched the manuscript become tighter and more polished before my eyes – even its chopped-up state. Plot twists grew more intense. Eliminated characters made existing ones stronger. Relocated items found more unusual and unexpected homes. Character motivations suddenly made so much more sense.

Bottom Line: I am incredibly excited about where this manuscript is going.

Will it be easy to get it there? Heck no. I’ve got a ton of rewriting ahead of me. All these floating chunks must be fused together somehow into a seamless narrative. Right now it more resembles a country road riddled with potholes and cracks, and at least two missing bridges. But now the story flows in the direction it was meant to go.

And now the real work begins…

What about your critique experience? Did it make you a stronger writer? Or was your editorial experience quite different? Share in the comments!

And always – thanks for reading!

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