Five Things I’ve Learned Line-Editing “Butterfly of Night”

Five Things I’ve Learned Line-Editing “Butterfly of Night”

I’m currently line-editing Butterfly of Night, a novel about a screwed-up teenage assassin and her poor life choices. In June and July, I did a major plot rewrite with some big changes, and this month I’m rewriting the whole thing again for style, continuity, and because it’s too long and I need to cut as many words as possible.

(I’ve cut 2411 words so far. I’m aiming for 5k overall, but I’m not sure how I’m going to get there.)

A screenshot from earlier on in the process.

My goal at the end of this is to enter it into Pitch Wars, a mentoring programme. I entered a much earlier draft of this book two years ago but wasn’t selected, but I’m hoping the improvements will make a difference. Also, last time I found out about Pitch Wars about three days before the deadline, so my query etc was super rushed. I’m hoping I can write a better one this year.

I want to enter Pitch Wars because I know this book isn’t good enough yet. It has potential, and it’s a WHOLE lot better than it was four years or even six months ago, but the opportunity to work with a mentor to improve it sounds like a dream, as I feel I might have reached the limit of what I can do alone.

During the line-editing process (which has been much faster than the plot-editing process), I’ve learned a few things about my own writing style and process. Partly it’s because writing faster means I notice the phrases I like to overuse, whereas they slipped under the radar because of the large breaks I took while doing the bigger edit.

Here are five of the biggest:

1. Apparently I hate description.

This isn’t true of all my books, at all, but it’s definitely true of this one. It’s like 80% dialogue, and as a result I have no idea what most of my characters look like. One has brown hair and glasses. Another has glasses, but his hair isn’t mentioned. The protagonist has straight eyebrows and defined cheekbones but the rest? A mystery. Possibly she has dark hair.

One of my betas once got through the whole book convinced a character was ginger. He’s not. But it’s not like I ever said otherwise.

2. Everyone looks at each other, all the time.

In all these dialogue scenes, I’ve observed a trend: everyone’s always looking at each other. They’ll look from one character to another. They’ll glance. Occasionally they’ll stare; they’ll also watch, regard, and consider.

So I guess we know my characters have eyes, even if we don’t know what colour they are.

3. So much hesitation.

My number one way to break up chunks of dialogue: “She hesitates.” I haven’t run a search to see how often I’ve used the word, but it seems to come up several times every conversation. I’m trying to change some to descriptions of what those characters do while hesitating, but it’s hard to do that without adding words.

And the main reason my protagonist hesitates? “She’s not sure what she’s trying to tell them.” “She doesn’t have words for what she’s trying to say.” “She struggles to organise her muddled thoughts.” All of these are valid: she’s traumatised and emotionally stunted, of course she’s bad at talking about her feelings! But damn, I need to find new ways of phrasing it.

4. I love short sentences. And starting with conjunctions. Fragments, too.

It makes sense for this book. It’s got a kind of sparse, screenplay feel (EXCEPT FOR THE TOTAL LACK OF VISUAL INFO), and short sentences help with that. But it gets pretty tiring to read after a while, so I’ve been trying to combine them where possible/effective, to keep it varied.

This has led to an overuse of semicolons and em dashes, though. Both sexy pieces of punctuation (my personal opinion is, however, that semicolons are sexier, and I have Camille Desmoulins on my side), but moderation is needed.

5. The “kill your darlings” advice is, sadly, true.

I keep finding lines that I LOVE, but which just don’t fit given the plot changes. I tried to keep them in the plot edit, but they feel glaringly unnatural, having been shoehorned into a place they no longer fit. So I’m learning to let them go. Each is mourned and then cut out, safe in the knowledge that I have multiple other drafts where they continue to exist.

I also had to cut some entire scenes during the big edit, and I fear I’m going to have to do the same again this time. I have fewer to choose from now, and since they survived the last round of cutting, I’m somewhat attached to them. So the prospect is scaring me.

I’ve mainly been concentrating on stylistic edits, but I’ve also fixed a handful of continuity errors, and some bits of dialogue that reflected the old plot better than the new one in terms of character motivations and loyalties. I’ve been trying to answer a few of my beta readers’ questions (what language are these characters speaking? Where/what is this city it’s set in?) and flesh out issues of worldbuilding, which is challenging to do while still cutting words. The other problem is that most of these questions I know the answers to, but hadn’t included in the first place because I couldn’t figure out how to do so without infodumping.

But I think I’ve struck a decent balance, and even managed to drop in a few answers to questions they didn’t ask but might have done, so I’m feeling pretty pleased with that.

The city of Espera, badly drawn. I needed to know where the boroughs were. 

I’m more than halfway through the book now, and I’m hoping I can finish it with enough time to do another quick pass and some minor edits before the Pitch Wars submission window of August 27th-29th, as well as write a query and synopsis and polish my first few pages to within an inch of their life.

It’s going to be tough, especially with work, and with my hands being fairly high on the pain scale. But I feel fairly confident I can get there.

Less confident, however, that I can cut as many words as I need to…

My latest book review is of Phantom by Leo Hunt, which came out yesterday! I mostly liked it a lot — I had a couple of problems with it, but I’d still recommend it.

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3 thoughts on “Five Things I’ve Learned Line-Editing “Butterfly of Night”

  1. I need this book on mY SHELF is all I can say. So fingers crossed that the pitch war gods pick it!! 😭💛Also editing is strangely satisfying as well as intensely painful, right?! I love seeing things take shape in shiny order but it’s also like my brain is melting out my ears when I do it. (Speaking if which…I should honestly be editing something right now AND YET…no. 😂)

    1. Editing is like bookstagram… It takes way longer than it should and is intensely frustrating in the process, but in the end you get something awesome out of it. Even if you’re still not 100% happy with it…

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