An effective editing technique when it comes to editing for content/plot is to ask questions. Seems simple, right? But many authors and beta readers don’t do this enough. By applying this technique, you can find plot hots and inconsistencies, you can also make sure you are addressing every concept which is mentioned (even the little details), and ensure your characters are acting consistently and realistically (rather than just for the sake of the plot point you need).
Here’s how it works…
Editor/Beta Reader/Self-Editing: As you read, write down or use comments in MS Word to ask questions, even if you think they are obvious or probably are answered later.
Applying Edits: If the question is answered later, think about the timing of when it gets answered (too late? too soon? just right?). If it doesn’t get answered, then go back into your manuscript and answer it. OR, if it’s a question that won’t be answered until a later book in the series, make note of that so you are sure to answer it later down the line.
In the end, every question that could be posed should have an answer of some sort.
Here’s an example from a recent beta read we performed which the author gave us permission to use.
Read the excerpt and try to ask questions. Below the excerpt is a list of questions that could have been asked during reading.
We had the author read through the questions and apply edits to the section. Questions which, after edits, get answered during the passage are crossed out. She left notes on the remaining questions.
Read the Excerpt:
Tala stood in the small room off the main foyer of the chapel where she was shortly to wed the leader of the Banes pack of werewolves—a man recently considered her enemy. Outwardly she projected her usual calm, collected self. Inside, nerves and doubts pummeled her. She’d bitten her lipstick off countless times, a sure sign of her agitation.
“All set?” Her wedding coordinator popped her head into the room to ask.
“Great. As soon as everyone is seated, we’ll begin.” The woman disappeared in a flurry of movement. As a hummingbird shifter, she didn’t sit still well, Tala had learned over the last few months.
Needing a moment of peace, even if temporary, Tala turned her attention to the view. The small Rocky Mountain chapel nestled on top of a large rock base, built of the same granite as the rock, almost as though it had been placed there since the beginning of time. Below, a small, creek-fed lake reflected the starry sky and the spire of the chapel.
Such a setting was perfect for this event as werewolves preferred to surround themselves with nature. After the wedding ceremony both Marrok’s and Tala’s families and friends would follow them into the wooded mountainside for the mating ceremony illuminated by the full moon, with a reception afterwards at a nearby hotel. That was, if they didn’t all kill each other first.
“No bloodshed.” She whispered the prayer to any gods listening.
“What’d you say?” Her sister’s voice broke into her plea.
Tala winced. Damn werewolf hearing. “Nothing.”
The Banes and Canis packs had been locked in a bloody feud for ages. Once upon a time, they’d been the same pack. But a battle for alpha between brothers had torn the original pack into two, one taking the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains as their territory, the other taking the western slopes.
This mating would reunite the two packs for the first time, and, by some miracle, end the fighting. Centuries of blood and death, finally over. Her entire goal for wanting to be Alpha in the first place—to establish a peace too long denied. At least, that was the plan. Not everyone agreed.
A glance over her shoulder showed her sister still peering through a cracked doorway into the chapel beyond.
“Shyla,” she hissed. “Get away from the door.”
In response, Shyla wiggled her provocative backside, covered in a pale turquoise bridesmaid gown which matched the beading on Tala’s wedding dress, and continued to report on the scene in the sanctuary. “Marrok looks amazing in a tux. You lucky girl. Come see.”
“No, thank you.” Tala left the window and sat, her hands folded primly in her lap.
Shyla glanced over her shoulder. “Tala Canis, aren’t you even the least bit interested in your future husband?”
Tala lifted a shoulder in a shrug. “I’ve seen him.”
Shyla shook her head, returning to her perusal of the guests. “I’d be all over that man if I were you,” she muttered. “I’m surprised your wolf isn’t dry humping him every second of the day.”
“Shyla! Someone might hear you,” she rebuked her sister.
Mate, the beast caged inside her rumbled.
No. Means to an end. She and her wolf had been having this debate ever since they’d gotten their first whiff of the alpha of the Banes pack. Sandalwood and rum. If she were less self-controlled, Tala could get drunk on his scent alone.
Truth be told, she wasn’t nearly as uninterested in her husband of convenience as she made out, but she refused to give her perplexing desire any serious weight given their situation.
When a werewolf mated, pheromones were released, igniting lust not only in the couple, but in anyone near them. The more powerful the werewolf, the more pheromones released. In this case she and Marrok were both the ruling alphas of their packs. The first time two alpha werewolves had mated in the history of their kind—female alphas were rare. Consequently, pheromones hung heavy in the air, a sweet perfume of heady need, regardless of the fact that this marriage wasn’t a love match.
Shyla backed up as the door opened unexpectedly. Sandalio, one of the oldest wolves in their pack, entered.
He ignored Shyla and walked straight to where Tala sat. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”
She remained calm in the face of what she recognized as a veiled threat. “I do. And I hope you know what will happen if your support isn’t total.”
Two could play at the threats game, only hers wasn’t as subtle. She wouldn’t mind kicking the old man out on his ear. He was a pain in her butt.
Sandalio narrowed his eyes, but bowed his head in acknowledgement. “My…felicitations on this most joyous occasion.”
She exchanged a long suffering look with Shyla as he left.
“He’s going to cause problems,” Shyla warned as she resumed her position at the door observing the other room.
“I know.” Tala would deal with Sandalio when he made his move. Until then, she had bigger problems.
She hoped like hell the scheme of uniting the two packs through marriage would end the fighting. Otherwise, she was about to bind herself to a stranger, an enemy, no less, for nothing. If their wolves bonded as well—and, given her wolf’s possessive behavior already, that was a distinct possibility—their mating would become permanent. She stood the chance of losing her pack, and possibly her life, for the attempt. Many in her pack were fuming about the idea already.
Mate, her wolf purred again, content with what they were about to do. Eager even.
The hussy would’ve already claimed Marrok’s wolf if they’d let them loose together. She practically rolled over anytime Marrok was near, panting with lust, pushing Tala’s own need even higher. Tala would be glad when this ceremony was over and the overwhelming cloud of insta-lust started to dissipate.
“Who’s the hottie standing up with Marrok?” Shyla asked.
They’d each opted to have only one person stand up with them. She’d asked her sister, but Marrok didn’t have any siblings. “Castor Dioskouri—a Greek demigod.”
“That explains why every single female in there can’t peel her eyes off him. Which god made him?”
“I’m not sure actually.”
“Huh. Is he single?”
“Don’t bother. He’s here with—”
“The blond in the backless navy dress? Yeah. He hasn’t unglued his eyes from her since she arrived.”
Tala knew the blond. “Leia’s just his Executive Assistant.”
Shyla hooted. “Do you really believe that’s all she is to him?”
“No. But she’s a nymph…” Nymphs had an uncanny ability to resist gods and demigods when they wished. Leia certainly appeared to wish it.
Shyla flicked a glance over her shoulder. “The one you told me about?”
“Is she going to help?”
Factions in both packs were staunchly, if quietly, against this mating. Centuries of hate ran deep and would not be buried in an instant. If they could manage to fulfill an age-old prophesy, or fake it, maybe the tides might turn their way.
All werewolves knew of the foretelling that two alphas—a male and a female—would unite their people in peace. The sign would be a display of nature as had never been witnessed before.
Why is she marrying her enemy?
They’ve only been engaged a few months? Why so fast? (Author: Decided that this was obvious enough in the marriage of convenience and trying to avoid bloodshed comments.)
What is the purpose of combining feuding packs?
Why would Tala take the personal risk? (Author: Somewhat answered in the “ending the bloodshed” in this chapter but also answered in more depth later in the book.)
Why is a Greek god Marrok’s best man? (Author: Answered later. Addressed in-depth in another book)
Why would Leia help Tala and Marrok? And what do you mean by help? (Author: Answered later. Addressed in-depth in another book.)
What Did You Catch?
Did you have other questions we missed? Is this something you already apply in your own writing or might like to try? What other techniques work for you?