How I Write: Macro editing, Me, and Light bulbs

(Check out Ansha’s blog for a list of participating writers!)

I have to be honest. It took me a long time to understand macro editing. I mean, it’s so much easier to line edit. It’s very concrete to look through my writing for weak verbs, over-used words, weak chapter endings, typos…etc.

I’d read phrases like adding emotion, inner and outer conflict, three-act structure, goal/motivation, pacing – and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. At some point, a light bulb flickered on inside my brain – and I got it.

As I just started macro editing, I’m going to share what I’ve done so far.

1. I let my story sit for 6 weeks while beta readers took a look. Then I read it and took brief notes of obvious stuff that needed rewriting. I also added smiley faces for parts I liked.

2. I wrote a few drafts of a query letter and the synopsis to be revised later. This helps with plot holes.

3. I wrote a new beginning with a stronger hook to tie in to my story goal.

Story Structure

4. I wrote a one-line description for each scene. I separated my scenes into the three-act structure. I took Alexandra Sokoloff’s wisdom to heart. I checked to make sure I had opening tension introducing the story goal. I checked for the Act II midpoint climax or big twist. I checked for increasing tension up through the climax. Her blog is a must read.

5. I plugged my story into the nine point grid I read about on query tracker.

At this point, I know parts need to be rewritten. Sentences cry out to be beefed up and rewritten. But I’m not doing anything yet.

 6. And this next step is new for me. I have a 4×6 index card for each scene. And here’s what’s on them.

  •  mc’s goal
  • action taken
  • opposing force
  • Outer (point of change)
  • Inner (point of change that corresponds to the outer)
  • Suggestions: (Here I write down suggestions for what I’m missing)

And so far, a lot of my scenes are missing the inner conflict, which means the emotion is weak. Geez!

This is where I’m at now. I do know the next few steps I’ll take.

7. Rewrite the big scenes that need to be changed.

8. Rewrite according to the index cards.

9. Rewrite according to my notes from my read through.

And there you have it – my long learning curve with macro editing. Is there anything I missed? What works for you? And I hope I’m not the only one who once thought revisions meant line editing. (Feel free to lie to make me feel better.)

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15 Responses to How I Write: Macro editing, Me, and Light bulbs

  1. Robert Guthrie August 4, 2010 at 8:47 am #

    For me, reader feedback is invaluable. Then setting the manuscript aside for a few weeks to clear the way for my intuition to do its work.

  2. Kris August 4, 2010 at 11:58 am #

    I knew you’d have better/deeper suggestions than I would–great post! Awesome insight to the process.

  3. patti August 4, 2010 at 12:28 pm #

    Girl, you are amazing! Could you give a lesson???


    I start with a hook. Then expand into a paragraph. Then a short synopsis. Then LOOOONG. Then a basic outline of general scenes.

    Then I send to scythe-wielding agent Natasha, who puts so much red on the thing that I’m sure she REALLY does have a weapon on her desk. Sigh. It’s comforting (though a bit mean) to know that the poor story has suffered critical injuries as well as my poor psyche.

    Listen to me?!!! This surely does not answer your question. But I feel SO MUCH BETTER!!!

    Blessings, dear one.

  4. Ansha Kotyk August 4, 2010 at 12:59 pm #

    I am definitely going to try out the index cards with my original mss. It sounds like just what that thing needs!
    I have to say when it comes to macroediting I understood the concept and how to look at the story in a macroediting context, but I have to say it’s taken a great deal of push to get my brain to actually DO the tasks of slashing and cutting in bigger ways than microediting. But I think I’m pushing down my fear of changing what I’ve worked on. You have to continually push past your comfort zone when it comes to being a writer. (I noticed my excessive use of the word PUSH here… I think I’m trying to tell myself something!)

  5. Laura Marcella August 4, 2010 at 2:04 pm #

    I really like the index card idea. I have a ton leftover from my college days. I can really put them to good use to aid my writing career! Thanks for sharing your revision process!

  6. Patti Nielson August 4, 2010 at 3:12 pm #

    Wow, that’s amazing. I need to copy this post and put it on my computer as I’m editing my book.

    Love that you put smiley faces at the parts you like.

  7. Karen B. Schwartz August 4, 2010 at 4:10 pm #

    Hi Laura, I met you at the NE SCBWI conference. Anyway, just wanted to share Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting you’ll Ever Need helped me a lot in terms of understanding scenes and what each one must accomplish. It helps with storyboarding the plot (using index cards) in the beginning and in revision stage.

  8. Jennifer Shirk August 4, 2010 at 6:24 pm #

    Wow, what a great breakdown of what you do. I wish I was as organized!!
    I didn’t know abut that story grid on query tracker. Will check out that link.

  9. Creepy Query Girl August 4, 2010 at 7:12 pm #

    wow. I actually feel like my strengths are with macro editing. I’ve always been able to see the big picture and makes sure the pacing and emotion is what it needs to be. I try and have a mini conflict every chapter or two and keep the tension between characters where it needs to be. My biggest problem is the line editing. I’d love to know how you do that. Have you already covered it?

  10. Paul August 4, 2010 at 10:14 pm #

    I really connected with this post since I do many of the same things. I particularly liked super imposing the three act structure onto my story. That really helped it to take shape.

    I really liked your ideas about the outer and inner points of change for the MC in each scene. I’m going to check that out with my current WIP at some point. Thanks!

  11. Tina Lee August 5, 2010 at 2:24 am #

    Yes, this all makes sense. And I think I really related to what you said about finally seeing it–the macro needs of a novel. I was all micro for so long I am finally seeing the light–and in a lot of ways it is more important. Oh, I will use this post too!

    • Laura August 5, 2010 at 2:31 am #

      Thanks for commenting everyone! I was in Boston for the day to do some research and spend my anniversary with my husband! I’ll be sure to get to all your blogs!!!

  12. Tatiana Caldwell August 5, 2010 at 12:27 pm #

    I keep hearing so much about this 9 point grid. I really MUST look into it this week!

  13. Lydia K August 6, 2010 at 12:54 am #

    I think this editing process could really work for me. I’m going to bookmark this for later.
    Thank you for sharing your wisdom!


  1. How I Write: How to grow in craft between novels. – Laura Pauling - August 18, 2010

    […] couple chapters on scenes and micro tension that made it worth it. In fact, one chapter steered my revision process in a completetly new […]

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