In 2020, I was awarded the Anne Edgeworth Fellowship to develop my manuscript, The Selkie Curse. The fellowship is generously funding a manuscript assessment and a mentorship. Along with the funds and my project work, those who win the fellowship are expected to undertake some community outreach. This post is the third in a series that I will be writing over the next few months about the process of structural editing. I hope to share my progress as well as any insights I uncover into the challenging task of editing my own novel.
About The Selkie Curse: Elsa and her mother, Queen Tiari, are at war with the Fisherman Kingdom. The young king of the Fishermen blames Queen Tiari for his father’s death, and he is set to destroy Tiari’s queendom. It is up to Elsa, and her best friend Aada, to find a way to end the war and save their home.
In the two months since my last post, I focused on the scenes of my novel and getting the manuscript ready for my editor to assess. My first task was to finish moving, deleting and adding scenes as I said I would in my last post. This took quite a bit longer than I expected, but in the end, I managed to add an extra ten thousand words to the manuscript to boost it to my desired word count of 90,000 words. I also cut quite a few words to sharpen up the prose and make sure the text was consistent with my new outline.
Ensuring that changes in one scene, or crucial plot point, are carried through the entire manuscript was an immense challenge. The zoomed-out view of the manuscript won’t highlight where there are references to events that no longer happen or characters that don’t exist. After completing my first pass of the manuscript, I had to do multiple additional rounds to check that I wasn’t going to leave my reader very confused with a redundant reference. In these next passes, I also noticed silly mistakes such as a character’s eye colour changing or a convenient note to myself to find some information later ([solution goes here]).
After this work, I was ready to look at the scenes themselves. The process of reviewing a scene was similar to how I approached the manuscript as a whole. I broke it down into mini-acts. I checked the pacing and setting. I ensured that all the scenes had a clear purpose, whether to drive the main narrative forward, or to reveal something about a character. A scene that was just world-building needed to be merged into another with action.
Finally, I had to prepare the manuscript for my editor. A manuscript assessment is a high-level report on the key elements of a novel such as plot, conflict and character, so the prose doesn’t have to be perfect. But I wanted to save my editor some headaches. I did a quick last pass of the manuscript to fix grammar, spelling and any obvious mistakes. Even though I put lots of effort into this structural edit, there were a few issues I was aware of that still existed (for example, the prose not being as polished as I would have liked). So, I also prepared a letter to my editor for them to look at after their first read.
With everything as ready as it was going to be, I emailed my editor the manuscript and the letter. I should receive my report at the end of April, at which point I will have another round of edits to go. Unless my editor thinks it is perfect as is! In the meantime, while I await my manuscript’s return, I will turn my attention to some other writing projects.
My key insights from the last few weeks:
- Keeping a record of your changes makes it easier to check for consistency. Only look for a handful of things each read through so you don’t miss something.
- Interrogate your scenes. Do they work internally and externally?
- No matter how many passes of revision you do, it won’t feel like enough. Have a deadline (such as someone waiting on your words) so you know when to stop and take a break.