Tips for Editing Your Fiction Novel

Editing can be an intimidating process. After months or years of slaving over your novel, going back through it again (at least for me) can be debilitating. I think the hardest part of writing is that you learn so much through the process of a draft that by the time you are done and go back to view the beginning, it can be unsatisfying. Not because the novel was unfinished, but because I’ve come to realize it is only a small percentage of the work that lay ahead in the wild dream of publication.

So here I am carefully editing like one would analyze a game of Jenga. There are parts that are poor and plot points that need to be removed. The key is knowing which ones to remove. If I kill one which zigzags through my story like a stray bottle rocket, I lose the continuity of the others. And if these unnecessary plot points are not cleanly removed, they will sit like a resplendent spiral staircase to nowhere. Oh the joy!

To get through this editing crucible I’ve developed a plan. Though it has been a slower process than I expected, I am gaining traction. 402px-Jenga_distorted I hope these tips will assist in editing more efficiently to help you get through the rewriting blues.

  1. Write a list of your plot points. Find out which ones are maintained through the book and which ones you no longer need and cut them out. If needed, sprinkle them in so they stay fresh in the readers mind.
  2. Look at each chapter and make sure it is necessary.  A beautiful snowy vale or slow walk on the beach has to mean something, it cannot a spectacularly scene of literary drivel and not advance the plot.
  3. If you have not already done so make a list of characters and be sure they behave how you intended them to behave. Keep them in character. Don’t have the villain help someone up or notice a sunset, unless that fits, etc.

Now, you have three large chunks evaluated: Plot, Chapters, Characters. So,

  1. Review each paragraph. Make sure they can be understood by themselves. Especially watch the pronouns in scenes where multiple characters appear.
  2. Examine your work for repetitive phrases. See if you have said “Oh my!” a hundred times. Or perhaps you use Verily, or the same descriptions, rewrite or cut them out.
  3. Grammar. I left this for last – intentionally. If I focus on this as I edit I loose… well – focus. I’m not an accomplished multi-tasker. It is best for me to print off my chapters, double spaced, and find a quiet place to read them aloud. I take my time to try and catch any and every mistake. Also, if it is helpful, keep a grammar book nearby. The book will help with coma usage, which or that, and other common misuses.

Lastly, don’t worry about font or page numbers. Most of the technical things are left to the publisher’s discretion. Also, you’ll just end up reformatting anyway because each agent/publisher/acquisitions editor will have their own submissions process and guidelines.

Keep Writing.



4 thoughts on “Tips for Editing Your Fiction Novel

  1. This is an excellent set of tips. I especially like that you focus on your plot points first and the grammar last. Too often have I seen people work on the grammar and finer English issues of parts that ultimately get cut because they didn’t work with the rest of the story.

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