Editing the Ego Out of Your Work, Part 2

My first draft is a brain dump, empty of anything other than action, more of an outline of events than a story. I don't care how it looks; I just want to barf my ideas onto paper. Most of the time, I grit my teeth and close my eyes, cringing at every horrible word I've spewed, reminding myself I can fix it later.

If I think about how terrible it is, I'll never finish.

Different authors have different methods of editing. For me, the process is like adding layers or shading. The first draft is a rough sketch, then I add the shading with sensations (sight, sound, smells, texture) to make the world real.

In this passage below, I originally said that Jadon stood at the top of a cliff. Nothing about her emotions, what she saw, how she felt. It was the beginning of a new chapter, and even though I had painted the scene in the previous chapter, I needed to reinsert the reader into the scene.

Adding the "sensation" layer gave me an opportunity for some character development. Jadon had just shot someone point blank. By describing the scene through her eyes, it took on a whole new dimension.

Standing at the top of the precipice, Jadon looked down at the men milling about on the quarry floor, at the body lying lifeless by her own hand. She pictured herself falling to the bottom, her arms spread wide. Then she would be free, her memories wiped clean.

In this passage, Jadon and Lelea are tracking down a stowaway on their stolen spaceship. Lelea moves down one passage while her sister takes another. Written in Lelea's perspective, the story originally focused on Lelea's movements--walking down the hall. In trying to add the sight, sounds, and smells, this is what it became:

Jadon disappears around the corner, her boots clinking on the metal floor. Click, click, clack, click. Click, click, clack, click. I raise my gun and step in the opposite direction, matching Jadon's rhythm. Click, click, clack, click. Signs, directions, rules, patriotic slogans, and pictures of the General fill the walls. I put my hand on my father’s face as I pass. Would you have loved me if I hadn’t been broken?

Likely not. You don’t love Jadon either.

But I’d rather have my brokenness than your love.

Here's a section that had absolutely no scene description when I started. Ahern walks up, and they start talking and looking for the intruder. What a missed opportunity!

Alone, I tremble.

People, memories of things I never experienced, trudge down the halls, in a continuous flow away from the cockpit. Weary lines streak their gray faces. Empty eyes stare out from ragged souls. I shiver as one of the cold figures pass through me.

From the posters on the wall, my father’s smiling face cheers them on to their duties, which they race about to achieve like faithful dogs, wagging their tails, even as the master raises a gun to shoot them. I want to scream at them, shake them, tell them the truth. You are the army’s slaves. The ones I vow to rescue.

But you don’t really exist. I have imagined you. My waking dream.

Everytime your characters enter a room, turn a corner, or fall through a trapdoor, take the opportunity to add sensation. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What do you see?
  2. What colors are there?
  3. How much light is there?
  4. What do you smell?
  5. What do you feel?
  6. Is it warm or cold?
  7. What is the weather like?
  8. What does the wind feel like, smell like, taste like?
  9. What do you hear?
  10. How does the POV feel about these sensations?


  1. Hi Rita,

    Thanks for the reminder. I DO try to add dimension to my scenes, but I'm glad I'm not the only one who has to remind myself to do that.

    For better or worse, I've decided to post a draft of my story onto my message board. If nothing else, it'll allow me to keep one copy that's not handwritten and while semi hidden is still easier to find.


  2. Actually, it's very common for writers to go in and add setting on rewrite. The rough draft is a rough draft for a reason. I add a bit here and there, but the first rewrite is all about setting and not much else.

    Great post Rita and great tips. Very helpful.

  3. Hi Rene;

    So re-writes are for 'fleshing out' the scenery around the characters, where, in the first draft, you were concentrating on what the characters were doing, more than what time of the day or year it was...unless it was immediately relevant to the story?

    If that's what you're saying, then YAAAAY! Because, like your physical eye, your mental/creative eye can only be in one place at a time, too. The rest is 'post production'.


I love your comments.