The most popular posts on this blog are about writing fiction. I’m thrilled about that, because I started out my writing career as a novelist. I wouldn’t give up my stable of copywriting clients for anything, but fiction is huge fun. What’s not to like about making up stories? Editing fiction is challenging, however.
Let’s look at how we can make it easier and less stressful.
A digression… editing is something an author does. Yes, there are editors you can hire: developmental editors, substantive editors, copyeditors — the list is long. However, before you hire anyone else, you must edit your own novel. Then you can pass it on to another editor if you wish.
You are your own best first editor. Only you know what you’re writing, and only your name is on the cover.
End digression. 🙂
Writing fiction made easy: first draft, edit, final polish and PUBLISH
Believe it or not, editing is EASY… If you separate your writing into several tasks/ phases:
- First draft;
- Final draft/ polish;
Editing is just as important as drafting your novel. I’ve long talked about the writing/ drafting phase of writing a novel as “making mud” — you can do whatever you like in this phase. All that concerns you at this stage is your creativity. It’s VITAL to keep your left-brain editor out of the writing phase. Editing comes later.
Consider what goes into making a movie.
The movie’s shot. The actors do many takes of their scenes. The director shoots many scenes, more than he needs. He knows that some scenes won’t be in the final cut. When the shoot is over, the movie’s cutting and editing phase begins. Editing usually takes longer than the shoot.
Similarly with your novel. You can only edit what you have. So it’s best that you allow yourself total freedom in your first draft. Ignore your inner editor. He’s just a pest in this phase.
To repeat, EDIT LATER… 🙂
Let’s look at some editing tips.
1. Time solves everything: before you edit, write another novel
I’m totally serious.
Before you edit novel number 1, write novel number 2.
The longer you can leave your novel before you start editing, the better. You want to clear your mind of that novel completely. Your aim is to read it as a reader would. This is impossible, of course, but do your best.
So, write another novel NOW.
2. Back to novel 1: read it, and decide what it’s about (in a sentence)
Here’s an excellent article on editing your novel:
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.
Once you’ve read your novel again (with any luck, it should feel unfamiliar to you), make notes.
Next, write a one sentence summary, stating what your novel’s about in a nutshell:
- A burned out drunk detective tracks a serial killer when the killer targets his family;
- A socially-awkward female surgeon exposes deadly corruption in a big city hospital;
- A newly-widowed lawyer discovers her late husband’s secrets; her daughter is kidnapped to prevent her revealing them.
Your one-sentence summary is essential. Please create it before you do anything else — you can’t edit without this sentence.
Once you have your sentence, you can carve your novel out of your first draft.
3. Cut, cut, cut, then outline your novel, and write, write, write
You’ve got your sentence. Notice that in your sentence, you described your main character with an adjective or two? You need to show (not tell) that your main character is a “socially-awkward female surgeon” or whatever in your scenes. Show her operating on a patient, and show her being socially-awkward. You MUST show your characters being who they are.
Read one-star reviews on Amazon. When reviewers talk about “thin” characters, and authors who label their characters as “strong” when really they’re TSL (too stupid to live), this is what reviewers mean. The authors didn’t bother showing their characters’ personalities.
PLEASE (I’m begging you) don’t skip these kinds of scenes: readers will forgive you anything, if you write great characters. Moreover, your novels will sell.
You show in scenes. Make sure that you create a character who can execute your plot. For example, your surgeon might be horrible with people, but she’s strong enough to handle corrupt hospital administrators — SHOW that.
Your aim in this phase of writing your novel is to carve away everything which doesn’t support your summary sentence. Be ruthless. 🙂
When you’ve finished cutting, outline your scenes.
You’ll be able to spot holes. Write fresh scenes and narrative to fill in those holes.
Read your outline again, to make sure that your plot makes sense, and as this article suggests, check your timeline.
When you’re editing your fiction, you’re shaping and building your story
Everyone hates cutting when they’re editing their first draft. I hate it too… but it must be done if you want your novel to sell. Check your one-sentence summary, and delete everything that doesn’t relate directly to it. You can keep your deletions in a “Junk” file, if it makes you feel better.
Have fun, and take heart. Once you develop your write/ write something else/ edit workflow for writing your novels, not only will you write better novels, writing them will be easier too.
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