How You Write Determines How You Edit

Although I didn’t finish my YA mystery until December, I’ve been editing for months. Whenever my inspiration for writing my first draft failed to catch fire, I’d work on editing what I’d written so far. After working with my novel for so long, I understand how you write determines how you edit. Below are a few key insights into my writing style that helps me edit.

I write dialogue first.

In the first draft of a scene, my main concern is getting down the purpose of it. Since I write mysteries, the purpose is usually for my detective to gain information–a clue, an insight, or a conclusion. Sometimes a scene has a dual purpose, such uncovering a clue and developing a couple of characters. Most of the time these purposes are accomplished through dialogue, so the bare bones of my first draft are characters talking to each other.

When I go back to edit, I need to flesh out the scene with:

  • Descriptions for setting
  • Determining if it’s clear who is talking when.
  • Vivid action tags that reveal something about the character who’s talking
  • Thoughts of my main character.

I overwrite dialogue.

Since I write dialogue first, I tend to over explain. My family can tell you that’s a habit not confined to my writing. When I review a scene, I almost always cut down the dialogue. That’s helpful to know since I’ll add the other components I listed above.

I plot too much.

As my word count rose in A Shadow on the Snow, so did my anxiety as I realized I had shoved in too many characters with too many subplots. Once I knew my ending, I went back and edited out characters who weren’t necessary. I also simplified or eliminated the motivations of several minor characters. Not only did that lower my word count, it also allowed the necessary characters to become more important and complex.

What kind of a writer are you? Do you overwrite? Or do you write the bare minimum of a story and then beef it up during the editing process? I’d love to know what your writing style is and how it determines your editing style.

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