Editing. You can hate it or love it, but once you finish your novel, you have to do it. There is no escape. If you want your precious novel to be suitable for even family to read, then you need to edit it, and if you want to publish your novel, then a huge amount of editing is needed. My writing buddy, Gemma Fitz, is about to start editing her novel, and I am dedicating this post to her. Good luck to Gemma and everyone else who is editing a novel!
Though editing can be a long and detailed process, here is a brief overview of the basic steps to polishing up your first draft before you move onto the rest of the publishing process. There are plenty of different ways to edit a novel, but most methods cover these bases. This particular order and method is the way that works best for me– your method may end up significantly different.
The first few steps of editing should be done alone– when no one else has read your novel. I know it is really tempting to send your first draft off to friends and family, but do not allow yourself to be coerced into sharing before your novel is ready. Just turn to your friends and, in the words of Old Bilbo, say, “It’s not ready yet!” (“Ready for what?” “Reading!”)
Before you hear other people’s opinions, you should have a clear idea of what you want your novel to say. Do not let other people dilute your creativity before you have a clear picture of your novel. Of course, your family and friends will be begging to read your novel, but they will have to wait. These following steps should be taken alone.
- Take a break: Most authors suggest taking at least a month (and as much as four) before you start editing your novel. Don’t read your story or even think about it. This way you will have a fresh start and can look at your work objectively. You will also be more likely to catch errors the longer you wait.
- Read through your novel
- Don’t try to edit anything right now– just read as fast as you can, so you can get a general overview of your novel. This is so you remember that you had one scene between two minor characters or one small battle. I cannot tell you how many times I forgot that I wrote certain scenes or characters in my novel. You cannot edit effectively unless you remember your whole story. 😉
- Edit the plot:
- Fill out a plot chart/beat sheet (I would highly recommend Blake Snyder’s beat sheet. Here is a link to an article that explains the beat sheet, and here is a link to a novel which follows it well.)
- Make a scene list and write what beat each scene achieves
- Editing major plot holes, delete the useless scenes, and add in the scenes which are needed. If you are missing a beat, add a scene that achieves the beat. If you have a scene that does not move your plot along and does not help achieve a beat, then delete it.
- Look for:
- Scenes that are doing nothing for your novel (Delete them! Please!)
- Plot holes. Is there something that doesn’t make sense?
- Foreshadowing something that never came to pass. Did you have an idea and then forgot to finish writing it?
- Add in foreshadowing of your other plot twists, too, now
- Edit the characters:
- Fill out/revise character charts and fill out character arcs (Here is a link to how I like to write my character form and here is a great link on how to write a character arc.)
- Add, delete, or fix scenes so that your characters’ distinct personalities comes through and the character arcs are whole and complete
- Look for:
- Changes in your original plans for your characters
- Inconsistencies in characters
- Underdeveloped characters
- Watch for quirks (do you have them?)
- Rewrite your novel, focusing on rhetoric and clarity
- Before you start rewriting, you need to have a solid idea of your own writing style. I find that I have a better idea of my writing style when I finish my book rather than at the beginning. If you still are not sure of your writing style, then take a break and experiment with different styles. Once you find one that you like, you can start editing again. (Should I write a blog post on this, by the way? You guys keep asking about this in the Open Pen critiques.)
- Rewrite sentence, paragraphs, and scenes to make your writing more powerful and effective
- A little note: I know these steps are tedious, but I know that my writing needs it. (Maybe yours does not, but that if for your to decide.) Any writer who is still developing their writing style probably needs to take this step (especially, if you are a teen writer.) My writing gets really sloppy, and I have to rewrite much of my novel to maintain a writing style that I am satisfied with.
- Look for:
- Too much repetition
- Ineffective and childish writing
- Bad metaphors (or lack of metaphors)
- Confusing sentences (If you have to reread a sentence, then you need to rewrite it)
- Edit for grammar and spelling
- This is mostly self explanatory. Read over your novel and correct spelling and grammar.
- Read a grammar book: I would recommend Strunk and White’s Elements of Style
- Print our your novel and edit with a red pen. It takes a lot of ink, but you will catch a lot more errors this way.
The next part of editing is where you send your work off to friends and incorporate their feedback. In the writing world, these friends and family are called beta-readers. This is just a brief overview of beta-readers. If you would like to learn more, here are a few posts about finding the best beta-readers and what to ask them.
- Find the right type of beta-readers
- Your family might not be the best choice. Of course, you probably can’t keep your novel from them any longer, but that doesn’t mean that you have to focus on their feedback. Sure, let your parents read your novel, but unless they are your target audience or experienced in reading/writing, you don’t need to pay that much attention to what they say.
- Find a beta-reader that will tell you how great your story is. You just wrote a novel, and you deserve some encouragement. So take some time and send your novel to friends and family– they will boost your pride in your work. Take it here, so when you receive tough feedback, you will not think that you are a terrible writer.
- Trade novels with another (or several other) writers in your genre. Other writers will find things that you had glossed over. They will look at the technical aspects of your writing. Also as you critique your friend’s novel, you will discover things that you need to work on as well.
- Find a beta-reader who is in your targeted audience. This way you know exactly what your audience thinks of your novel. Who were their favorite characters? What parts lagged? This reader should be able to tell you.
- Find a beta-reader who will focus on grammar, spelling, and clarity. Find a friend or adult who is great at grammar and spelling– maybe someone who wants to be an editor. These type of beta-readers are indispensable. Trust me.
- Evaluate the feedback
- Remember your readers’ biases. Your mother is inclined to love your work. Your writer friend is going to pick apart the small pieces that actually may not matter. Your target audience reader will not know how to fix the problems– just that they see a problem, etc.
- If you get contradicting feedbacking, do not worry. Think about the biases, and if you still do not know who to believe, then do whatever you want to do.
- Edit your novel according to the feedback
- Personally, I like to edit my novel after each beta-reader gives me their feedback, but you can wait until you have a ton of feedback from multiple beta-readers and deal with it all at once. I only suggest that you wait till you have finished adding in all of your beta-readers’ editing before you send your novel to your proofreader friend. That way they check for spelling and grammar in the final draft.
I hope this post has given you a general overview of editing your novel. If you have any questions about how I personally go about editing my novel, I would love to answer them. Good luck, and remember: editing is all about murdering your darlings.