Editing a Novel – AKA What Did I Just Get Myself Into?

Computer key - WTFEditing is quite the process.  Either that, or I’m brutally critical of my own work. Seeing as how Rising is my first, completed, full-length novel, the editing process is different in many ways from what I’m used to.  First off, I can’t just sit down and re-read the entire story in one sitting like I can an article, blog post or short story.  Well, I guess I could… but my kids might get really irate after a few meals were skipped.  Second, those common little errors that I tend toward no matter how much fiction I write become Really Big Things when wading through 70,000 words.

So here are a few lessons I’ve learned from this vastly different exercise.  You might want to read some of these before you go off an write a novel.  I know that I have several take-aways from this experience that will, hopefully, convince my future self to write with a tad more discipline in some areas.

1. First and Foremost, Correctly Punctuate and Capitalize Dialogue!

Seriously, I have 250 manuscript pages of “Oh. My. God. Am I really that sloppy?!”  If you are unsure of how to properly format dialogue in a fictional work, check out a style manual, or just go here.  Commit these rules to memory. Practice them. Write it properly the first time.  Don’t be like me!  Not that every single line of dialogue is wrong.  That would actually be easier.  No, it’s just when I was really on a roll, I’d miss-capitalize, or put a comma instead of a period. It’s here and there, which means going over one specific aspect of my manuscript with a fine-tooth comb. I’m going through and fixing as I edit, but I could have saved myself a lot of time by just being more diligent about proper dialogue format.

I’m putting this one up there in the number one spot of “things to make sure I do differently in the future,” because when it’s a short story, you don’t really think much about fixing the few instances where it’s wrong.  However, in a longer work, it becomes a behemoth task, and you really start feeling like an idiot, and you question your own ability to communicate in your primary language.

2. Kill Your Babies – And Replace Them With Warriorsediting

And by babies, I mean adverbs and instances of passive voice.  I’m not of the mindset that adverbs are inherently evil, but they should be used sparingly.  If you’ve put an adverb into a sentence, you probably have something very specific in mind.  It’s like you’re describing an entire scene, with emotional response, but you’re trying to use one word.  Same thing goes for passive voice.  An example… Chapter 3 started with this sentence:

Light rain began to fall as I opened the car door.

It now reads:

The slightest whisper of rain dampened the air as I opened the car door, and I marveled at the Pacific Northwest weather. Nowhere else can it rain without actually raining, and still manage to flatten the hair and the spirit all at once.

The first establishes that it’s raining. The second provides descriptive narrative regarding what “light rain” really means, and also further demonstrates the MC’s dislike for the region she’s in, which is integral to the plot.

Don’t be afraid to add bold narrative around a weak descriptor or passive sentence. It will read stronger. I promise. And going forward, if I have a thought, I want to try and put it out there in its entirety, rather than going for the lazy-adverb or passive approach.  However, sometimes the thought doesn’t fully materialize until later.  That’s ok, too!  If it comes down to it, and you’re stuck on exactly what you want to say, slip that adverb in there and just know that when you edit, you’ll have to kill that baby!

3. Don’t Resist Writing New Scenes

You think you’re done.  You’re not. There will be that point where you realize you need a backhoe to fill in a plot hole, and it might entail writing a whole new chapter. Write that new chapter.  Just do it.  You’ll be glad you did.

4. Don’t Fret Over Cutting Entire Sections

I dropped the prologue of my novel entirely.  Starting off without the backstory necessitates establishment of the character history through dialogue and reflection.  The end result is better character development, including stronger interaction between the two main characters.

I’m not going to say that cutting 3,000 words is easy. Not by any stretch. It was painful. I think I even went through a brief period of mourning for those lost words.  But what I found was that, while the words were lost, the idea was not.  In fact, the idea in those 3000 words became an unfolding mystery in which the reader learns deeply about the characters.  It makes the characters more tangible, and allows for emotional attachment.  So while it kind of felt like severing a limb at first, the end result was the sprouting of wings.

5. Don’t Throw Anything Away!

That cut prologue is still sitting in my slush bin.  So is the epilogue I wrote half-way through the writing process. It’ll never get used. It’s ok.  It established a mood and a character development path that became central to the second half of the novel.  I can go back and re-read those sections if I need to.

Before you start editing, make a whole new copy of your novel! Yes, I’m bolding that statement, because it’s that important.  Just in case you edit yourself into a corner, you want to be able to go back to your prior revisions and see what was there before.

Editing is a process. It’s laborious, and sometimes tedious.  But the end goal is to produce something you’ll be proud to put out into the world.  We all know that first drafts suck.  The more you plunk away at it, the better it will get, and the happier you’ll be.  So get out there, and edit that novel!

4 thoughts on “Editing a Novel – AKA What Did I Just Get Myself Into?

  1. This is a great post! I’m still far away from a novel, but I’ll take as much advice as I can get and think a lot of if will help me with short story writing as well.

    I can identify with laboring over sentences and agree that sometimes in a first draft, you just need to write the crappy sentence and move on with the story.

    Best of luck, and I look forward to hearing what else you learn in this process.

    In my corner of the world, I am working on a short story for the NYC writing contest. Historical fiction, a gambling debt, and a journalist. I spent a lot of time researching (and discarding) different historical eras before I started the story, but now I’m off and writing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had a million and ten reasons why I didn’t sign up for the short story challenge. Now that it’s started, I’m kicking myself! Oh well, just going to have to do the next one. Best of luck! Send me a link to whatever you write! Not sure I’ll be able to get in the forum with my account.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It sounds like you are really busy with your novel, but maybe it would have been a refreshing break?

        Historical has been interesting. I stumbled upon something in my research that I definitely wanted to include in the story, but locked me into a time frame that threw off some other things. I won’t say historical has been the hardest genre I’ve gotten, but it’s taken the most prep. I’m glad we have 8 days for the first round.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I love adverbs, passive voice et alia; therefore, I will not be deterred by any attempted censorship and taste dictatorship from using them religiously and deliberately.


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