Michille: First-Pass Editing

I completed the first draft of my current project which is a contemporary romance based on Sophocles’ Antigone (without the live burial and triple suicide). I started knowing I would need a minimum of 16 scenes, but it grew to 27 scenes and 28,000 words. Obviously, some of the scenes are short as the average is just over 1,000 words per scene. Because I am writing scenes that represent various elements/components of fiction through time, some of the scenes don’t need to have much in them. For example, Stasimon Four (scene 18) is the chorus giving three mythical stories that could explain Antigone’s motivation so that scene is only 500 words whereas scene 24 combines three elements including the climax so that scene is about 2,500 words. Now it’s time for the first pass of edits. I figure there will be at least two more passes after this one so I’m not feeling pressure to fix everything (and I’m still figuring out parts of the story) – that pressure will come with the deadline when they’re still not all fixed.

I have collected several tips, tricks, cheat sheets, and checklists that are helpful. Justine’s post from Tuesday, which you can find here, is an excellent reminder for another thing I have to make sure is on the page: GMC. A problem I see in making all the scenes conform to modern fiction standards/expectations is that some of the scenes from Sophocles’ Antigone don’t have conflict. Most of those are the Stasimons (like the one I referenced above). They are the “dear reader” moments in Greek tragedy – the point in the play when the chorus tells the audience the backstory, the hidden motivation for the characters actions, ties the action to similar actions, or points out the anagorisis or hartia. In the words of R. W. B. Burton, it is the “traditional element in Greek tragedy [that] strikes modern taste as its strangest and least intelligible feature” (Arnott, 1989).

What do I consider first pass editing? The first thing I did was read the whole thing start to finish without attempting to fix anything. I made very brief notes on things that jumped out at me so that I didn’t lose any of the threads of the story. Now I am going scene by scene and “fixing” them. Here are some of the things I consider when I’m editing at this phase. The first thing I look at is a list of questions that came from the McDaniel classes. These can be found here. Here are some other things I use:

  • Desmond Morris’s Stages of Intimacy (good post about this on Jenny Hansen’s blog found here).
  • Conflict boxes from the Writewell Academy 103 Conflict Workbook (which unfortunately I couldn’t find this on the net to share).
  • Pixar Story Rules (googling with get you these).
  • Martha Alderson’s 7 Essential Elements of Scene (Jane Friedman has a good post found here).
  • Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat (here’s that website).

I don’t use all of these on every scene, but if I read it and there is a glaring error that one of these can help me with, I pull it out and apply it to that scene. Do you have edit reminders that you use? How many edit passes do you usually give a story before you are finished with it?

7 thoughts on “Michille: First-Pass Editing

  1. (-: Exciting news!

    I wonder if during the chorus scenes, you could have the chorus fight with each other about the points . . . . I don’t know who’ve you’ve designated as the chorus, but for example, the checker club in the diner often seems to act as a Greek chorus in some stories. Bunch of old guys gassing about the action . . . .

    There’s also Do the Right Thing, which if I remember right has a lot of Greek tragedy elements. The disk jockey from the radio station comments on a lot of the action (no conflict, just info), and there were three guys who also commented (sitting on the sidewalk). I think those were used very effectively. They seemed like natural parts of the neighborhood, but there was definitely something elevated about the way they saw things but didn’t take part in them. The three guys definitely had grumbling (and possibly conflict?) going on.

    • I’ve done a couple different things with the chorus scenes. The chorus is the city council in my story, but you’ve nailed the problem as it relates to expectations in popular fiction – it’s “the disk jockey from the radio station [who] comments on a lot of the action (no conflict, just info)”, etc. No conflict, just info. When I look at all the things a scene is supposed to be/have, that’s not it. The scenes are still in there because it’s an MLA project first and a novel second. I’ve been able to fix a couple of them, but the purpose and the content of at least two of them kind of tie my hands (pun intended) because they don’t lend themselves to re-interpretation that involves things like GMC and character growth.

  2. I’m fascinated by this project. When you’re ready for a beta reader, please keep me in mind. (Although I know zilch about Greek tragedy, so I’m probably not the best candidate.)

  3. I also find this so interesting. There have been so many reimaginings of fairy tales, this modernization of Antigone seems more complicated but also grittier. Can’t wait to see what you do with it! And on the upside, no snakes for hair, right?

    • No snakes, except the human kind. In recreating tyranny in a sleepy little town, I went with corruption. I talked to the local sheriff about what the most lucrative crimes are in this area and how one, again, in this area would launder money. He said heroine and human trafficking for crimes. When I talked to Pam Regis about the project (since she is my advisor), she really liked the darkness of that. I don’t usually write stuff like that, but it was surprisingly easy to find out how one would go about it. Did you know, if a sexual trafficker doesn’t want a drugged up prostitute, they drive nails in their feet and pull them out so that the person can’t walk, therefore they are captive and some customers prefer them not drugged. Hideous. By the way, can I just say how intimidating it is to have one of the foremost romance scholars In The World as my advisor?

      • Nails in the feet. I’d say that’s unbelievable, but I believe it. And let me just say that if you’re intimidated, you’re holding up very well!

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