How to edit a manuscript

July 22, 2021

I wrote Return to Desiree Bay in 2014. Back then the working title was House of the Week. I had planned to structure the novel in the same way as the classic romcom movie When Harry Met Sally.

The idea was to intersperse vignettes throughout the main narrative. My main character was a real estate reporter. The cameo characters in the vignettes were homeowners talking about what their homes meant to them.

After I completed the first draft, I tidied it up a bit and gave it to a professional editor for a structural edit (cheaper than a full edit). She told me the vignettes and epilogue didn’t work.

A couple of years later, I dragged the ms out again and gave it to my youngest daughter to read. By this time, I’d ditched the vignettes but left in the epilogue. I loved that epilogue. I saw sheer brilliance in every word on the page.

But my daughter thought differently. She told me the epilogue did nothing to enhance the story. Why have it there? That was two people telling me to let the epilogue go. A professional editor and an invested reader. With a heavy heart, I hit delete. Gone. All that work down the drain.

I then entered the ms in several contests run by the Romance Writers of Australia (RWA). Always, without fail, one of the judges would suggest that I start the story further into the book when the main character Skye Summerhayes arrives back home in Desiree Bay.

Sooner or later, it has to be done. Don’t hesitate – press delete.

I clung like a mollusc to a sea shelf, determined to keep my first three chapters which I had spent hours and hours and hours crafting to what I thought was perfection. I was suctioned to those chapters where the action took place in Sydney before Skye returned home to Desiree Bay.

Earlier this year, I sacrificed the first chapter and reshuffled the other two, not ready to give them up. I entered yet another contest and received sage advice from one of the three judges. She told me to get rid of the back story/inciting incident (in the second chapter). She told me to start in the present and dilute the backstory to ‘a few sentences’.

This is the part where I should tear my hair out. Instead, I throw out the second chapter.

It’s hard to kill your darlings but sometimes it has to be done. Deep down inside I knew those words – thousands and thousands of them – were destined for the tip.

‘So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye.’

Comments

Lewis Chandler

Don’t forget. They knocked back Harry Potter and The Beatles.

The Rolling STones were an instant success btw.

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July 23, 2021 at 9:37 am

AJ Blythe

It is so hard to hit delete. Especially when blood, sweat and tears have been shed over the pages. But if it makes for a stronger story… Can’t wait to see this one out there!

July 24, 2021 at 9:05 am

agh67y

Just finished reading ‘Return to Desiree Bay’. I found it engrossing – and a great story – more than a romance. Probably the only bits I could have skipped over were the paragraphs describing real estate – and I am a regular reader of real estate pages! Excellent read – I am about to recommend it to my friends who love romance.

April 24, 2022 at 8:03 am

    lovelettertotheplanet

    Thank you for your feedback. I’m stoked that you enjoyed the book. I kind of agree with you about the real estate references but it was a case of me being the editor and, after having ripped out the first three chapters and an epilogue, I couldn’t bear to take out anything else! Thanks again. I really appreciate it.

    April 24, 2022 at 7:32 pm

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