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  • Nikky Lee

Editing my 13-year-old self: Secrets of Magic (c.2002)

Sometimes it’s nice to look back and see how far we’ve come. And what better way to do that than to revisit some old projects? Writers often say it’s best to give a manuscript a breather before cycling back to edit it. Well, this one’s had 17 years in the drawer. I’m ready to be utterly ruthless.

But first, let's turn back the clock to 2002 to give some context.

Secrets of Magic was the first piece of fiction I willingly wrote. Sure, I’d done the odd short story for an English class, but I tend to think of those as written under duress. This was the first* story I undertook of my own free will, starting it one summer's afternoon on my grandmother’s lounge room floor. A few months later, I finished it, with the word count coming in at just over 80,000 words.

I was thirteen.

Side note: It was also the quickest I've ever drafted a novel. Current me is quite envious.

For a writing exercise, I've decided to revisit my very first chapter of Secrets of Magic with my critiquing hat on. In it, I've highlighted some of the common writing problems I've learned how to address for stronger, better storytelling.

*I should clarify, this is the earliest version of Secrets of Magic I have on file. If memory serves, one of my grandmothers gave this version a light edit (very light, I still found loads of errors).


Some screen highlights

Editing the opening of my first manuscript

13-year-old me: "What do you mean show, don't tell? I wrote "furiously". I've shown he's furious."

Current me: "No. That's telling. Instead of saying "furiously", try to describe the feeling without stating it outright—grinding teeth, clenched fists, maybe some snarky internal dialogue, that sort of thing."

Editing the first chapter my first manuscript

13-year-old me: "But I have to tell the reader what my character looks like!"

Current me: "Yes, but you don't have to do it all at once in one enormous paragraph. Also, instead of telling the reader about his appearance, think about ways to show it."

13-year-old me: "Did I do anything right?"

Current me (slightly surprised): "Actually you did. You established a lot in those pages. And you got the story down—that's the main thing."

13-year-old me: "I guess there's that."


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