S01E06: How To Edit The Big Stuff

This transcript has been adjusted to correct minor mistakes and provide you with the most up-to-date addresses for all the referenced links…

Hello, and welcome to Season 1 Episode 6 of The Writer’s Everything.

Today we’re going to be having a continuation of season 1 Episode 5’s discussion on the editing process. Last week we talked about the small details that need your attention, and this week we’re going to be talking about how to edit the big details.

Before we get into this, though, I’d like to just briefly thank you all for listening… And remind you that in this day and age, ratings and reviews are what make or break a podcast. So if you like this podcast, please consider taking two minutes to leave a quick rating and review to tell the world what you think of it.


Ok. So now, let’s go over the writing term of the week. This week’s term is “character needs”.

Character Needs

To have a satisfying character arc, and thus a satisfying story, you need to authentically transition your character from their wants to their needs.

I’ve already defined a character arc in Season 1 Episode 5 of tWE, as well as episode 1, for some odd reason that probably comes down to a lack of organization on my part.

But basically, your character will begin the story in pursuit of their wants. Their wants are usually selfish desires, and the character believes that these desires are essential to having a fulfilling and happy life. Over the course of the story, however, most characters will come to realize that the opposite is true.

The events of the story help the character to learn what it is that will actually give their life meaning and fulfillment. This is what we call the character’s needs. 

Character needs are generally much more selfless in nature when compared to character wants. They are noble and altruistic, and they confirm to what we as a society consider to be the best aspects of our emotional and intellectual potential.

In Shrek, the titular protagonist starts his character arc with the simple desire to be left alone. He doesn’t want any social interactions, and he doesn’t want any responsibilities. Over the course of the film, however, he comes to develop multiple relationships, and he realizes by the end that his character needs are, in fact, the opposite of his wants. His needs involve having close friendships and letting people in.

Generally, the only time a character arc won’t end with the character identifying and beginning to pursue their needs is when the arc is a negative one, wherein the character is worse-off at the end than he was at the beginning.

What types of needs have the characters of your stories come to appreciate? Let me know on Twitter @QJ_author, or share your story on my website at TheWritersEverything.org/transcripts.

How To Edit The Big Stuff

So in last week’s episode, we looked at the two most important small details to address when editing your novel. If you haven’t listened to it yet, feel free to check it out in season 1 Episode 5. This week, we’re going to be looking at the big picture issues that you’ll need to take care of in your novel. These are the classic “can’t see the forest through the trees” problems that we need to take a big step back in order to identify.

Most writers dread the term “edit”. They had so much fun writing their story and sculpting their plot, and now they want to be done with it. But let’s be honest. Writing is only half the battle… Wait, no. Writing is much less than half the battle. Maybe it’s like a tenth of the battle.

As happy as it would make all of us to not have to go through with the editing process, this is the step that refines our story from a lump of coal to a sparkling, perfectly cut diamond.

The problem is that in our writing culture, we’ve been trained to fully embrace the creative process, to develop stories with twists and explosions and first kisses. Editing, unfortunately, is an entirely different process, and it requires an entirely different way of looking at your work.

Last week we talked about addressing the small details in your story. So this week, we’re going to be addressing the two big-picture goals that you need to have when editing your novel.

Of course, there’s more to editing a novel than these four things. But writing a novel is like drawing a portrait. You start off with a quick, lightly penciled outline. Your next step should be, not shading the upper lip and drawing each strand of hair, but fleshing out your quick sketch with more details. You have to make sure that your “drawing” is taking the right shape, and once it’s in the form you want it, then you can address the myriad of other objectives, such as fact checking, grammatical errors, and typos


Unrealistic Character Motivations

The first big picture goal you need to address is Unrealistic character motivations.

Characters are the driving force of your novel. Their decisions and actions are the reason you have a plot. Characters are also what connects your readers with your stories. We may not have first-hand knowledge of wizardry, but we no doubt know what it’s like to try to live up to the expectations of others, or fill the shoes that were left behind by our parents. We may not have first-hand experience in interstellar dog-fights, but we may know what it’s like to aspire to a greater, more meaningful life.

That’s why it’s so important to have solid character motivations. If your characters are unmotivated, then your readers aren’t going to connect with them. They’re not going to care whether Bob can save his job, his marriage, or the orphanage, if he doesn’t have the slightest interest in achieving those goals.

We have to make it clear what our characters want and why they want it. We have to understand what’s most important to them, and once we do, then we’re invested. When Luke Skywalker’s aunt and uncle were killed in Star Wars IV: A New Hope, we already knew that he dreamed of leaving Tatooine behind and becoming ‘a Jedi like his father.’ Because of that, we’re eager to see what he does next in the pursuit of that goal.

On the other hand, when Hester Shaw attempts to assassinate Thaddeus Valentine in Mortal Engines, it’s utterly meaningless to us. We don’t know what her beef with him is, why she wants him dead, or what she will accomplish by killing him. We have no reason to root for her to either succeed or to fail.

 Even more egregious than this are the instances where a character performs an action without having any real reason whatsoever to do so.  In such cases, the reason is transferred from the character’s motivation to the author’s motivation. They did it because the story needed them to do it.

In Batman and Robin, why did Mr. Freeze tell Batman that he’d ‘kill him next time’ when he had him in his clutches and could have easily ended his life then and there, accomplish all of his goals, and save his wife? Because then the story wouldn’t have happened.

All authors need to make sure that their characters are properly motivated, and that their motivations make sense. More experienced authors discover ways to weave character motivation into the story so that they are intrinsically linked. As you learn to pay attention to character motivations and adjust them as needed, you’ll find that your novel instantly becomes more compelling and interesting.


Identifying The Theme

The second big-picture objective that you need to address when editing is theme. Now, I know, I know. “Theme” may be a five-letter word, but to many authors, well… it might as well be one short.

It’s too complex. No, not just that. It’s too complicated. It’s needlessly complicated. You don’t want to have to think about the themes in your novel when you could be focusing on more compelling things, like adding in exciting action sequences and killer plot twists.

Just as with character motivation, however, you’ll find that theme connects our readers to the story. Theme resonates with them, and having a solid theme developed is a sure way to keep them interested.

While you may accidentally stumble upon certain themes while writing your novel, the best themes are planned out and developed just as well as the plot and the character motivations are. After all, the more work you put into developing the themes of your work, the more there will be for your readers to discover.

Don’t Be Afraid

My greatest suggestion when it comes to editing your novel is: don’t feel like you’re guaranteed to suffer through the entire process. And definitely don’t be afraid of editing. With just a few simple steps, and a little perseverance, you can craft your simple first draft into a fantastic, thoroughly developed manuscript.


What has been your best, or worst, experience with editing? Let me on Twitter @QJ_author, or at TheWritersEverything.org/transcripts.

Character Development Question

Now it’s time for this week’s character development question, which is:

What was the spirit behind the character’s nicknames?

In season 1 Episode 5, we briefly touched on the concept on nicknames, and a couple of the different reasons for their existence, such as the way they can serve as terms of endearment or simply as abbreviations. But there are other reasons why characters are given nicknames, and sometimes those reasons aren’t so wholesome.

In fact, rather than being given to a character out of a place of love, many nicknames are used, especially by bullies, to make fun of characters, such as four eyes, lard, etc.

In The Big Bang Theory, the astronauts that Howard worked with in NASA never took him seriously. So instead of giving him a cool nickname, as was their tradition, they chose to nickname him Fruit Loops, thanks to his grandmother’s unfortunately timed interruption of his video chat with them.

In Get Smart, Max’s fellow agents at CONTROL choose to give him nicknames such as Maxi Pad, due to their extreme dislike of him.

In Hey Arnold!, Helga attempts to hide her obsession for Arnold by addressing him with the insulting nickname of ‘Football Head’.

Writing Prompt of the Week

And finally, we’re going to have our writing prompt of the week. This week’s prompt is to write xxx. Let your imagination run wild, and be sure to share your resulting work with me on Twitter @QJ_Author.


Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode of The Writer’s Everything podcast. If you’d like to read a transcript of this episode, you can find it at TheWritersEverything.org/transcripts. If you’d like to listen to future episodes, be sure to subscribe on whatever platform you’re currently listening on, and be sure to give it a rating while you’re at it to let me know what you think of the podcast. The Writer’s Everything is also available as a free downloadable magazine. If you’d like to read it, simply go to TheWritersEverything.org/magazine, and download the issue of your choice. If you’d like access to exclusive bonus content, such as my list and review of the top Character Name Generators on the web, you can go to TheWritersEverything.org/newsletter. If you’d like to support the podcast, you can do so at Patreon.com/QJMartin. For your convenience, all the referenced links will also be in the show notes.

Listen to more of Season 1 of tWE.

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