How to Edit Your Novel (Part 1)

You know me.

I love creating a series of blogs that I then have to beat myself to continue (they will all get finished, I promise you!) But this is one that sits close to my heart at the moment because I am in the final throes of editing my second novel (read: first decent novel), The Red Prince.

Look at the slightly awkward cover art I created for it. SEE? THAT IS HOW COMMITTED I AM.

The Red Prince Cover 2.jpg

When I “finished” my first draft (and there’s a reason for the inverted quotations, you’ll see in a moment) – I was delighted. Over the moon. Esctatic.

And then the real work began.

Because the first draft is simply you telling yourself the story. It’s not quite the polished level of awesomeness it needs to be in order to tell your readers what the devil is going on.

But when you’ve got a 100,000-word behemoth sitting on your Scrivener, staring at you, where on earth do you start?

Now, remember, this is just part one. There will be a part two, a part three and possibly (but hopefully not) a part four.

fashion art coffee macbook pro

1. Take a break from your work

Get outside. Remember that yellow thing in the sky? Go and look at it (not directly, mind). Go for a walk. Play video games. See your friends.

Do anything – just don’t pick up your manuscript for at least 2 weeks, and preferably for a month.

Why? You need to leave a gap between the creative side of your mind going to sleep and the editing side of your mind waking up.

You’re about to go from free-wheeling and word-loving writer to ruthless editor. So let your creative self have some time off. Their work is done.

For now.

2. Do an initial read-through

Read your work as if you’re a reader. Print it, if that makes it easier, or stick it on your Kindle/e-reader/iPad. Tattoo it onto your body if you’re so inclined, but read it somewhere that’s not your working manuscript.

As you’re reading, ask yourself questions:

  • Do I know where we are in each scene?
  • Do I know what the conflict is?
  • Are they moving quickly enough?
  • Am I bored at any point?
  • Does anything sound repetitive?
  • Does any of the dialogue jump from one topic to the next?

You can jot down little notes as they come to you, (e.g. ‘check language is consistent between chapters 2 and 3’ or ‘make sure you don’t over-choreograph your scenes’) but don’t start attacking your manuscript yet.

3. Print your manuscript

Now this might sound barbaric and cave-man, but bear with me. When it’s printed, you can order it into neat little chapter piles. And that’s a super quick and easy way to see where you’ve got chapters that are too long, and chapters that are too short.

It also helps you if you want to move some of your scenes around at a later stage.

4. Start making line edits

When your work is printed, the typos and spelling mistakes will leap at you from the page, whereas reading it on the computer your eyes will gloss over missed words and your brain will add them in. E.g. the sentence:

They waited for the ship to dock at shipyard.

There’s a missing word here. Did you spot it?

Because I definitely didn’t the first thousand times I read that line…

5. Make a note of bigger edits, and try and put them into categories

I have a few for mine, e.g:

  • Character development
  • Plot points
  • Foreshadowing
  • Language/Linguistics
  • Historical accuracy

When you hit upon something that isn’t sitting right, stick it in the relevant file. At this point, it’s important you keep moving forward so don’t track back and sit with your file just yet. Make your way through the second read like this.

6. Highlight paragraphs that need re-writing

You’ll know the ones I mean when you read them. There’ll be something in them that doesn’t sit right, or perhaps you’ve repeated yourself halfway down the page. Highlight them, make a note of them. But don’t dive in just yet.

That’s all coming in part two…

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