Creative Writing Workshop: Breaking Down Content Edits

hot-type-911122-mI’m in the middle of a first draft edit, so editing is definitely on my mind. Because of that, I got to thinking about content edits today, and all that is involved in editing a troubled draft. (Believe me, every first draft is troubled in its way.)

As I go through my novel, I realize that I’m skipping over some things in order to come back to them. And I think that’s okay. I think that’s the most sanity-stabilizing approach I could take right now.

You see, content edits are tough stuff. They are intricate and complex. One ripple could set off major waves in a different scene (or even scenes).  And I can’t handle all of that all at once.

The good thing is, I don’t have to.

I realized, as I was trying to plan out this post, that you can break content edits down categorically. And you can go about them taking one type at a time (if you want).


  • These edits involve making the world of your story a little more real. You flesh out setting and character description how you want them. You explain things that might not be obvious at first glance about how your world works. You explain characters’ actions in a way that really makes the choices make sense. That kind of thing.
  • Backstory. Fooling around with backstory is a large part of my plot development editing.
  • These edits can be crazy difficult for me (and I imagine I’m not alone there). It’s one thing to realize, “I don’t get why this character is saying this.” It’s another to figure out how to work around the issue. How do I make his or her reasoning plain? Do I need to cut the whole portion of dialogue? How do I make up for what necessary info would have to be cut along with the problem stuff?


  • I consider plot tweaks changes that are more minor than plot development edits, but that have similar effects: they make things more cohesive all the way around.
  • You can “tweak” a line of dialogue so that it sounds more like the character’s voice, or it stays more on target to the topic of conversation.
  • You can “tweak” things such as character placement. Maybe your character is leaning against the wall and then suddenly standing in the middle of the room or sitting in a chair. (Oops!)
  • For me, the hard part about plot tweaks is figuring out that I need to make a quick but significant change. That can be easy to overlook. (YEA for beta readers!) Yesterday I mentioned I will need to do at least one more read-through of this novel, after this round of edits. I will need to catch all the tweaks I missed making the first time (plus the errors I edited in.)


  • Sometimes you have to add to a subplot.
  • Heck, sometimes you have to add a subplot, in its totality. That’s been my situation in every novel I’ve written, I think. Perhaps because I don’t plan everything out ahead of time.
  • With my current WIP, I’m dealing with two new subplots…. And it’s going to be trouble (:-P) Trouble in a fun way. (I love seeing how much each day of editing improves the story from what it was before.)

I’m not trying to handle all these things at once. I’m just taking it one day at a time. When I don’t have the energy to edit something particularly difficult, I pass on it and move on to something I feel more inclined to tackle.

Eventually, I’ll get to everything. Weird that this approach is so different from how I usually do things….. I’m not complaining, though, because so far it’s working. 🙂

We all have to deal with these edits…. Is there a kind of edit that you particularly like, or maybe dislike? Why is that?

If you enjoyed this post, you can sign up to follow my blog by email at the top right of the page. You might also be interested in these related posts:

  1. Content Edits versus Flow Edits
  2. Approaching a Chaotic First Draft
  3. The Best Things About the Worst Part of Writing
  4. What to Consider Before You Make Cuts

30 responses to “Creative Writing Workshop: Breaking Down Content Edits

  1. Thanks for another great post, Victoria! I like how you break down content edits into three types. I think I’m finished with my plot development edits and my plot additions. Those were done when I wrote my second and third drafts. Now I’m working on the plot tweaks, based on notes I took while writing the third draft. I’m so excited to be plot-tweaking, because at this stage I can see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. It shouldn’t be long before I’m ready to find beta readers! If you’re ever looking for a topic to write about, I would love to hear what you have to say about finding beta readers.

    • Thanks for the post suggestion! And man, it’s AMAZING when you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Just amazing 😛 Glad you’re there. 🙂

      I can say offhand I think the World Literary Cafe has a forum for writers to match up as beta readers. That could be a place to start. Also Facebook groups…. there are some nice critique groups on Facebook.

  2. Hi Victoria,
    great post, I frequently break my early draft edits down to “type edits” dealing with one thing at a time. It keeps my mind focussed and if at the same time I spot something else, I make a note of it in the trusted notebook and plan to come back to it later. I can’t handle more than 1 or 2 types of things at a time (must be my gender! lol)

    • Haha! I’m an awful multitasker too(in the sense of doing multiple things at once. Getting multiple things done each by its own deadline by working on thing at a time is more my style.)

      It’s not usually a good idea for anyone to try to handle too many kinds of edits at once, I think. I’m, at the moment, just making what information I have that will stay consistent and more logical before I go and add the subplots I need to add… That will be crazy but I’m looking forward to it 🙂

  3. Reblogged this on Cat Lumb: The Struggle to be a Writer and commented:
    I know just what this feels like, and am struggling to define my own approach, but it seems like Victoria Grefer knows what she’s talking about! Great editing advice for how to tackle the plot side of things…might have to consider this myself!

  4. Reblogged this on Library of Erana and commented:
    Interesting and useful. Editing can be tricky and in some cases quite soul destroying but it is important for a great book. Content editing makes for a book with strong plot and characters, and a well-built world. At least it should do.

  5. Thanks for sharing this breakdown, Victoria. So many new authors believe editing consists of cleaning up punctuation and grammar, but as you point out, there is so much more to it. Content edits can feel overwhelming, but if approached systematically as you’ve pointed out, the end result will be a far superior manuscript.

    • thanks, Candace! It’s nice to have an editor back me up 🙂 You’re right: it’s all about organization and process, whatever kind of a process works for each individual writer.

  6. This is a really useful framework! I’ve written one novel, and when it came to editing, it was a really big mess. I just went through from the beginning and tried to fix everything at once—this is a much better way to break it down and think about it.

    • I’m glad you liked the post! I think you’ve got to break it down in some way or other…. I approached my very first novel the same way you did and learned by, er, experience 🙂

  7. This is a great post to bookmark!!!! Thanks for the concise look at the types of editing. I have stages to my edits as well after a first draft. During the first draft, I would have written some notes on what might change. One type of editing I do right away is what I call my “intuitive” edit. Whatever aspects pop into my mind get addressed right off the bat. This is usually something that bugged me during the draft phase that I will now address. For example, dialect inconsistencies and other dialogue issues; descriptions that need revision; etc. Once those are out of the way, I decide on characters–whether they’re all necessary, or need to go. That’s a bigger issue, one involving subplots. Time to read through the story again. I make more notes as I go, concentrating on a character I either want to keep or cut. If I decide to beef up that character’s role or cut it, that’s all I will focus on in my read through. Once that’s done, I move on to the next issue in my notes. Only after I’ve addressed the issues in my notes am I then ready to address the book as a whole. This is a deeper edit now, where I start at the first chapter and work my way through.

    • I LOVE what you say about intuitive edits!!! I do the same thing: I make notes right away about those things and focus in on them during my read-through, to take paragraph specific notes.

      Glad you enjoyed the post so much! 🙂 I hadn’t brought up intuitive edits at all, so thanks for sharing!

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  9. SERIOUSLY- You are always channeling my writers pain. I’m going through this exact same thing myself! I’m content editing and it’s painful. I’m questioning every character, drawing maps and floor plans, figuring out why they asked that question in their botany class, and wondering why I served cucumbers for breakfast.

    Ugh! It hurts my head! 😉

    • Cucumbers make the BEST breakfast though! 😉 Don’t you know that? hehehe…..

      Yeah, it’s BRUTAL. Brutal on my end. Just started the second half and it’s way less coherent than the first half. This is going to be painful. But at least we’re in it together!

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  12. I like your three categories. I try to keep them separate, like you said, to keep it bearable.

  13. I usually don’t mind editing, as that’s where I see the story really come together. My problem is that I just don’t have time to really do it justice at the moment. 😦 Not to mention the current MS is just damn long, lol But I’ll get it done. 🙂 Thx for the post!

    • I definitely think seeing the manuscript come together and improve from day to day, pass to pass, is my favorite thing about editing. It’s tough going but I can see the results, and I definitely LOVE that 🙂 It’s important to focus on the positive now and then. Thanks, Dyane!

      • We have to look on the bright side. 🙂 There’s way too much negativity out there just waiting to stall our efforts. Great post, Victoria.

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  15. Good luck with all those edits. You should do well because you have a system to tackle each aspect, one at a time.

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