You’ve written a novel. Do you need an editor? You may well do, at some stage. However, when you’ve just completed your novel, you can and should edit your novel yourself.
- The main part of the story is still in your head (this always happens, what you think is on the page, is rarely on the page);
- Only you know the story, so you’re the only one who can work out conflicts and emotions;
- You need to slash away the over-writing and weeds…
In short, you need to form a mass of words into a novel, and only you can do that.
Edit your novel: does your novel need editing?
Only new authors believe that their novel doesn’t need editing. All novels need editing. It’s very hard to keep all the strands of your novel: plot, subplots, character development, setting, conflict, etc. in your head while you’re writing. No one can do it. So, as we said above — the main part of your story is still in your head.
That’s why you edit, to develop your story into a polished novel.
Relax — editing is huge fun. You’ve done the hard part — you’ve written a novel, kudos. 🙂
Editing your first novel can seem challenging. Here’s the best advice I’ve received on editing, from a very popular novelist. He writes great books. He suggested: get started, and trust your instincts. Don’t be afraid to cut — you’re making space for something better.
Let’s look at some tips which will make your novel reader-worthy.
1. Write something else, so you can read like a reader
After you finish your novel, write something else. You need to clear this novel from your mind, so that you can approach it as a reader would.
Get some distance: write another novel, or a couple of short stories before editing
Your biggest challenge with editing your own writing is that it’s your writing. It’s hard to separate what you think about what you’ve written, from what’s actually on the page. In fact, it’s just about impossible.
Why not start your next novel?
Take a break first. Go away for a few days. Touch base with your friends. Read. Then start your next book.
If you can, it’s ideal to leave three months before you look at your novel again. Can’t stand to wait that long? Leave it alone for three weeks.
2. Clear the clutter: be merciless because you’re making your novel better
You’ve had a break, and you’re looking at your novel, wondering how to get started on your edit.
Read the novel first. Just read it — preferably on an iPad, or your phone. You want to get away from looking on your novel as the author. Don’t make notes yet.
I use Scrivener’s Compile to convert my novel to MOBI (Kindle format.) Then I use Amazon’s Send to Kindle utility, so I can read it on my iPad.
Once you’ve finished your read-through, make some notes. What sections lagged? Where did you lose interest? Do you like your main characters? Why? (If you’re new to writing novels, make your main characters relatable, and likable, if at all possible.. Yes, you could create an anti-hero, but this is challenging.)
Now it’s time to slash away the undergrowth. Duplicate your novel’s file, and work on the duplicate — rename it. Go through the novel, and cut ruthlessly. Be merciless. You want to see what you have.
Have you created scenes (showing, rather than telling)?
If you haven’t created enough scenes, make notes on how you can convert parts of your narrative (telling) into scenes (showing.) It’s essential that you do this — your reader wants to experience your novel.
3. Add humor: you can lighten up even the darkest novel, and make it more appealing to readers
You’ve slashed. You’ve written new scenes.
Your novel is in much better shape, and you’re proud. Kudos to you… This is very hard to do. Even attempting it makes you brave, and lifts you into the ranks of professional authors. Their concern is always the reader’s experience, and now it’s yours, too.
Next, read through your scenes. Assess your characters. Can you make one of them quirky? Aim to leaven your scenes with a little humor.
4. Enhance your BOOM! scenes: make them powerful for readers
Some of your scenes are what I call “boom!” scenes. These are the big scenes, the turning points of your novel. They’re the scenes where everything changes. Your heroine discovers that her best friend or partner betrayed her. Or in a mystery, the sleuth interrogates the prime suspect.
The high points of your novel are always shown in scenes, and of those 60 or more scenes, three scenes will be paramount.
Decide which scenes are boomers, and enhance them. Make them more powerful. Add more sense details: what’s the point of view character touching, tasting, hearing? Thinking?
5. Check your timeline: readers DO notice
I’ve messed up a timeline. Luckily, my editor caught the mistakes, but it was embarrassing. It would have been a lot worse if readers had caught the errors. It’s easy to make mistakes with your novel’s timeline. Your character has a 14 month pregnancy. He arrives in London three days before he left… Ideally, create a timeline while you’re writing your first draft.
No timeline? Create it now. I use Excel, and a calendar. I list my scenes, and list the dates of the scenes.
Sadly, no novel is perfect, and neither are novel edits
A few months ago, a friend called me to tell me that readers had pointed out several typos in her recently published novel. She was miffed. She hadn’t spotted the typos, and neither had her editor, copyeditor, or proofreader.
You won’t edit your novel perfectly. Do your best. Most importantly, give yourself a hug for doing the edit. You’ve learned a lot, and you’ve made your novel reader-worthy.
Are you a writer who hates outlines? I did too, until I realize that the inability to outline was crippling my writing career in many different ways.More info →
Updated: September 23, 2017