Writing Your Novel: Become Your Best First Editor

Writing Your Novel: Become Your Best First Editor

We’ve received some questions about editing ebooks, specifically editing Kindle novels, so let’s look at some editing tips. These tips will help with writing your novel, whether it’s your first novel, or your tenth.

Editing can be huge fun, when you approach it in the right way.

Before we get started, think about where you are in your writing journey. If you’re a new author, you’ll need a developmental editor, as well as a line editor — and a copy editor too.

Developmental editors help you with your story, and the structure of your novel. A line editor helps you with communication: making sure that your words mean what you want them to mean. A copy editor is basically a proof reader.

Here’s an informative article on line editing and copy editing.

If you’re worried that all this editing is going to cost you a small fortune… yes, it may well do. It may cause you untold aggravation, too. However, it’s the job of every editor you hire to make your book better.

A student asked me when you stopped needing editors. The short answer is: when you can edit your work better than developmental and line editors, because you know more than most professional editors. Even then, you’ll still need a proofreader/ copy editor.

How to edit your own writing

Here are some tips to help you to edit with confidence.

1. 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.

That’s why you need to clear your mind, and focus on writing something else. Give yourself at least a month before you read your novel. A week’s enough for a short story.

Regarding editing short stories. Just whip them off to beta readers, to get their impressions of your stories — there’s no point in developmental editing with a short story. You want to know your readers’ emotional reactions, and also their questions about the story, and characters.

2. On your first reading, just read, then make notes

Your fingers will ache to edit, but don’t, on your first reading. Try to read your novel as if you’re just a reader, hard as that is.

Don’t edit. Don’t make notes.

Leave your novel for a day, then make notes:

  • Does your main character change? You must have a character arc. Fiction is about change in your main character, or characters, if you have two characters who are equally important;
  • Where’s the emotion? What did you feel while you were reading?
  • Obvious plot holes: have you left out important scenes? List them.

3. Slash and burn: wipe out the waffle

This may be impossible for you to do, if it’s your first or second novel. Do your best anyway.

Delete sentences, scenes, and even entire chapters, which are boring. If they bore you, they’ll bore readers, and they need to go.

Your watchwords: boring and confusing. If it’s boring or confusing, delete it. Stick your deletions into another file. Call it “Later” or whatever. You’ll never look at it again, but it will comfort you to know that it’s there.

Don’t worry if you’re chopping out huge chunks of text. That’s a good thing. You can add everything you need, later. For now, just focus on weeding your novel’s garden.

4. Build up the bones: the character arcs, and the steps to answering the story question

Every lead character in a novel has an arc; that is, the character changes. If your heroine in a novel starts the novel terrified of fire, she’ll face her fear by the end of the novel and will save someone from fire.

If your hero in a crime novel is a burned out drunk, by the end of the novel he’s solved the murder and redeems himself.

You also need to ask and answer the story question by the end of your novel. Genre is a big clue to the story question. In a romance it’s simple: will the couple achieve their happily ever after? In a murder mystery, it’s: will the murderer be discovered, and brought to justice?

Your character arcs, and the story question, go hand in hand. I’m not a huge fan of complex plotting systems; they lead to predictable novels. I prefer my own system — Hot Plots — which concentrates on character arcs and the story question. Get them right, and you’ll achieve an excellent plot, without cudgeling your brain; your plot develops organically.

5. Scene by scene: ensure that something happens in every scene

Every scene you write must have a purpose. Here’s more on writing scenes. We said:

Discovering your big scenes helps if you dislike plotting

There are ways to make plotting simple and fun. You can let your plot grow organically, if you list your big scenes before you start writing. Then work out the stepping-stone scenes you need to move from one big scene to another.

Here’s a vital tip. If you remember it, your readers will LOVE your novels: focus on your scenes. Do the very best you can in each scene; inevitably then, you’ll write a good book.

Your next step: get beta readers

Once you’ve accomplished the five steps, send your novel off to your beta readers. Yes, you can read through it first of course, to eliminate blatant typos and anything you can easily correct.

Tell your betas to ignore typos which remain. You’ll get your novel proofed when you’re done. For now, you simply want your beta’s emotional reactions, and any areas of the novel which they found confusing.

Have fun… 🙂

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Master Fiction Writing: Craft A Novel in 31 Days

Master Fiction Writing: Craft A Novel in 31 Days

Series: Selling Writer Strategies, Book 4
Genre: Writing
Tag: writing fiction
You want to write a novel. Perhaps you can't get started. Or maybe you got started, and then you stopped.You need a plan, broken down into easy steps. This program began as a 30-day challenge which I organized for readers in 2010. Hundreds of writers joined the challenge and completed it. They wrote novels. More info →
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Angela Booth is a copywriter, author published by major publishers, and writing teacher. She offers many guides, courses and classes to help writers to enhance their skills at her online store. She also provides inspiration and motivation for writers on her writing blogs. Angela has been writing successfully since the late 1970s, and was online in the 1980s, long before the birth of the Web. Her novels and business books have been widely published.