Every writer has had a shitty first draft they thought was perfect and I’m no exception. I’m openly admitting it. I was under the impression my first draft of the Hunt murder story was better than it was and after discovering that even my basic editing techniques were not even applied to this finished first draft I went into depression for about month while I was re-editing it like crazy. It was crap. Friends told me to not be so hard on myself, but I was because I’m a perfectionist.
As one friend mentioned not long ago, the Hunt family tragedy has always spoken to me, since my first glimpse of the Hunt daughters front-page photo to several other times and in other several ways, including experiencing a ghostly visitation in a vacant hospital.
This hard re-edit of this draft turned blood red after I was finished with the pages this time around. Now all my editing techniques of making sure I don’t repeat words in the same sentence, editing out the majority of my “that’s”, cutting adverbs, along with other edits are now consistent. I did not realize how many times I used “however” in my writing.
Other editing included downsizing sections including talking about the early forensics to not leave a reader overwhelmed. While there has been controversy over me adding the murder of the Lamb County sheriff in 1937, it’s always been important in relation to the Hunt murders, because of the fatal bullets from both cases. This chapter is now edited down to still present the jest of the story and why it’s important in relation to the Hunt murders.
Another important item I discovered during this hard re-edit was sections could be edited out completely because it did not further the story along. In the end I cut the manuscript down from 333 pages to 313 pages. Additionally, moving story items to other chapters was needed to keep the flow of the story moving forward.
Plus, I’ve ensured to identify all the characters by their first names and not just their initials. Court documents and newspapers were the worst back then at only including the first initials of people they referenced. Thank goodness I learned detective techniques on how to navigate sites like Find a Grave or Family Search.
I’ve always seen this book with the photographs going with each chapter – not placed in the middle like so many historical nonfiction books where a reader has to flip back and forth from the photos to the chapter they’re reading. With this hard re-edit I noticed photo gaps needing to be filled.
Yes – I’ve learned a few hard lessons from this crappy first draft I’ll never forget for my future writing.
Lesson One: Don’t assume your first draft is perfect, especially when you are taking a massive amount of historical information to condense it into a story.
Lesson Two: Editing and more editing will always make your manuscript better.
Lesson Three: Editing makes sure you’re consistent with the character names.
Lesson Four: The “Search” option in MS Word is the best quick tool you can use to help with Lesson Three.
Lesson Five: Editing helps you go back and fill in gaps you really thought were filled.
Lesson Six: Your title always evolves. I may not stick with Unanswered Justice, but go with something completely different based on a friend’s feedback. After you do a hard re-edit, you may find within your manuscript the solid book title you feel comfortable with and reflects the tone of the story.
So now go edit and don’t take your first draft for granted! I’m off to do round two of editing and photographic travels.
Photograph – © Christena Stephens Photography
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