Edit Your Novel in Three Easy Steps

Crazy hill of San Francisco

You’ve finished your first draft. Congratulations! Now it’s time to step back for a few weeks and free your mind. After you’ve taken a break, it’s time to start editing.

Editing can be tough. It requires a different mindset from the free-flowing approach many writers use with their first draft. But don’t worry. Follow the three steps outlined in this article and your novel will soon be polished and ready to send to an editor or agent.

Think of your novel as a 3-level house. The bottom layer, or foundation, consists of your basic storyline. The next layer consists of the scenes you’ve used to tell the story. The top layer consists of the sentences you chose to bring the scene to life.

Story –> Scenes –> Sentences

To create a strong novel you need to work from the bottom up. First, you evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your story, next you consider the scenes. Only after you have revised your story and scene choices should you fiddle with individual sentences and paragraphs. Using this method, you avoid working on a specific section only to decide that the whole scene needs to be deleted!

Now let’s look at each step in detail. The first task is to ensure you have told a strong story. Brainstorm a list of questions to help you evaluate your narrative. Some questions to consider include:

  • Does your main character have a goal that drives him/her through the story?
  • Is the external barrier that prevents the main character from reaching his/her goal substantial enough to carry the book?
  • Is the book set in the correct physical location? The right time period? At the right time of year?

Once you are satisfied with the arc of your story, you need to analyze each individual scene to make it as strong as possible. Again, list the important elements a scene should include and evaluate your writing. Some issues to consider include:

  • Does the point-of-view character have an objective during this scene that is relevant to their story goal?
  • Is there a good mix of narrative, dialogue, and introspection?
  • Can the reader feel the emotions of the characters? Are the emotions believable?

When you are satisfied with your story and scene structure, it is time to work at the sentence and paragraph level. Here’s where you refine your word choices and sentence structure to make your writing as strong as it can be. Make a list of the criteria your writing should meet. For example:

  • Do you vary your sentence length and avoid prolonged sections with sentences of the same length?
  • Do you avoid repetition of the same word or phrase?
  • Do you minimize adverbs and other weak words like ‘was/were’, ‘have/had’, ‘feel/felt’, etc?

Once you’ve completed the third pass through your manuscript, you can be confident you’ve considered all of the important elements.

Good luck with your editing. It’s the key to turning ‘first draft’ into ‘fabulous’.

Nina Davies

Founder at AutoCrit.com
Nina Davies is the founder of AutoCrit.com, a fabulous website for writers, chosen as one of the Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers!

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