Now the Work Begins: Editing a Novel

 Ignore your finished novel for at least a month to distance yourself from the manuscript. I know it’s your baby, your masterpiece, but after some time elapses, your emotions will subside a little allowing the eyes and mind of an editor to take over. Passion is required to get the story down and the editing phase, if performed with a critical eye, will result in an exciting novel you’ll be able to submit.

  • Run spell-check and grammar check. These editing buddies will not catch everything, but start with them and go from there.
  • Hit “Find” and run a search for words ending in ly. I’ve seen numerous submission guidelines asking authors to check their use of words ending in ly.

Example/No: The extremely extravagantly lit ballroom was too bright.

Improved: The extravagantly lit ballroom was too bright.

Better: An overabundance of dazzling chandeliers sparkled with intensity almost blinding me.

  • Hit “Find” and run a search for that, because this word can be overused.

Example/No: “Isn’t it enough that I show up every Sunday to help you?”  

Better: “Isn’t it enough I show up every Sunday to help you?”

Example/No: This is the dollhouse that Steve made.

Better: This is the dollhouse Steve made.

  • Hit “Find” and run a search for just and really since these words make appearances in manuscripts too often.

Example/No: This is just a really terrible salad.

Improved: This is a terrible salad.

Better: This limp salad is too warm and reeks like it came from a garbage dump.

  • Read with a critical eye making sure you’ve used they’re, their, and there correctly.

Example/No: They’re is a black dog guarding the warehouse and he is scary. (they’re = they are)

Yes: There is a black dog guarding the warehouse and he is scary.

Example/No: The policemen told me there motorcycles are parked out back, but their missing.

Yes: The policemen told me their motorcycles are parked out back, but they’re missing.

Do you want more of an explanation? Check out they’re, their, and there.

  • Comma Usage: Oh! Where do I begin? I think I’ll leave this one to Professor Pamela Braden of West Virginia University, Parkersburg, WV. This is a tough topic, so I’ll visit Professor Braden’s page when in doubt.
  • Sentence structure and length needs to vary so readers do not get bored. Visit Purdue Online Writing Lab for examples. Also visit Dr. Grammar for helpful tips with word usage.
  • Character Development: Is your protagonist likeable? Will your readers turn every page hoping this character sees the light, beats the odds, and/or has accomplished the task set before him, or her? This does not mean your protagonist must be perfect. Flawed characters are more believable and it’s thrilling to see a character evolve throughout a novel. Take time to create main characters that are three-dimensional. Give them a unique appearance, habits, expose their likes and dislikes, let their dreams and nightmares help shape their personality; use any means possible to let your readers into their minds. Do your readers know what motivates your protagonist? By the same token…do your readers know why the antagonist is so hateful? Has this character suffered? Check out what Susan Williams Beckhorn has to say about three-dimensional characters. Make sure to read #6, Show, Don’t Tell!
  • Check your manuscript to find any sequential mishaps with times, dates, and events. If you’re writing a science fiction novel that hops back and forth between time periods, then this is vital to the story. It’s easy to get times, dates, and events confused when passion for the story has complete control over your brain.
  • Dialogue: “How hard could this be?” Guy Hogan answers this question. Always remember, great dialogue moves the story forward. It’s especially fun to write dialogue for characters who speak with a certain amount of “attitude.” Too many dialogue tags can slow down the flow of a story, so be careful. If you take time to listen how people speak to one another, you’ll be surprised. Make notes, observe, and realize people do not constantly say the other person’s name during a conversation.
  •  Unnecessary Words: Take out words, paragraphs, and pages if they do not add to the story and move it forward. This is difficult to do, but it will tighten up the plot making the action and dialogue move along faster.
  • Head-hopping/Point-of-View Violations: I prefer to keep one point-of-view per scene, meaning I only allow one character’s point-of-view to be realized per scene. I’ve read various opinions about this topic and editors disagree, but since so many submission guidelines ask authors not to have point-of-view violations, I stay on the safe side.
  • Is there enough tension, or curiosity, at the end of every chapter to entice your readers to the next chapter? If not, add conflict, increase danger, introduce another problem, but keep your readers interested.

 These tips will get you started. If you know of a helpful tip for editing a novel, share it by leaving a comment. Thanks for visiting!

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4 thoughts on “Now the Work Begins: Editing a Novel

  1. I appreciate you putting me on to the overuse of “that.” I always worry about “was,” but I can see how “that” might get out of control too!

    Also, add the word “very” in with “just” and “really.” Maybe that’s only a word of choice out here in the west. For the most part, I think any adjective is stronger without some kind of qualifier.

    Great advise! Thanks for compiling this list. Would you consider letting me link to this or guest-posting on my blog?

  2. Lyn:
    Hi! It’s great to see you visiting. 🙂
    You are correct about the overuse of “just.” That’s a good one to add to this list.
    For sure, using adjectives can be tricky. Doing research for editing tips made me appreciate the knowledge of highly-skilled editors. They have a tough job, indeed.

    (Feel free to use the post any way you like! Thanks for sharing it with others.)

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