Six Tasks for a Thorough Edit of your Novel

For the last couple of weekends, I’ve spent time editing my present WIP Salmonweird. I finished the first draft at the end of November and decided to put it aside until after Christmas and New Year to clear my mind and come back to it with a fresh head. I’m now some 2/3 of the way through the edit.

how to edit your novel effectively
Copyright MG Mason 2017

Although the text has not gone through significant changes, I have noticed areas for improvement in almost every chapter. Here are the six types of change you need to make to your novel when editing.

Spelin, Grammer and Punktuation

Problems in the text are the most obvious thing to look for when editing. Spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, punctuation errors and even syntax will creep in everywhere. It’s one of the most pervasive and the one you will miss most often. The reason is that you see what your eyes expect to see. When editing as you go, you chop and change sentences and sometimes forget to remove words. A simple example of this is “He looked glared at him over his shoulder.” Looked may have been in there originally but you forget to remove it.

Internal Consistency

This requires you to go over your novel with a fine-toothed comb. This is easier when editing than when writing because the former process is much quicker; details remain in your mind. A simple example of a lack of consistency is having a character explain something to another character twice – you’ve forgotten that they already know those facts but act as though it is something new to them.

Don’t Use More Words Than Are Quite Obviously Very Necessary. It’s Highly Superfluous To Write More Words Than You Need

Brevity. Trust me, you need it. Overwriting may feel big and clever, but it’s not. Readers hate word bloat. They hate feeling bogged down in words that the plot fails to move forward. I once heard some advice that if you eliminated almost every instant of “very” and “just”, your text will flow much quicker. In short, don’t use 20 words if five will suffice.

Character Nuances

When writing the first draft, you’re probably focused on the meat – the story. Your first or main edit should enhance every necessary character, giving them depth. In this present Salmonweird edit, I’ve added a little more to several characters, most notably the killer but a few others too. Supporting characters will be little more than bare bones, but to make the story, the subplot and characters deserve enhancement.

Scene / Chapter Necessity

Every event, scene and chapter should be relevant to the story. Don’t be afraid to remove entire chapters if they add nothing to the story. If you notice, then your reader will certainly notice and their reviews will punish you for it. Similarly, don’t focus on the tiniest details. One of the hardest things to do is to write somebody opening a door and crossing a room. You don’t need to explain how they turn the handle, push open the door and close it behind them. The reader’s imagination will fill in those gaps.

Fact Check

Ideally, you should be doing this when you write the first draft. You can get away with some things in the name of artistic license and I did so with Salmonweird by inventing a whole village on the south Cornish coast. However, when I explained where it is geographically, I made sure that the real places around the village were consistent. You must ensure you check basic facts. If you’re writing historical fiction, you will certainly need to check, double-check and triple check your facts. A knowledgeable audience will punish you for it.

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3 thoughts on “Six Tasks for a Thorough Edit of your Novel

  1. Great advice! I learned these the hard way in high school when I started sharing my work. No one complained, but little by little it started to annoy ME and I learned what wasn’t necessary to include.

    A funny irony (at your expense, don’t kill me) is that this post is about thorough edits but there are a lot of typos. Either that or I’m finally hallucinating from lack of sleep.

    1. Some of my typos are deliberate. Thanks for the heads up though, maybe grammarly missed them; I will check 🙂

      EDIT: Hmm, I did make a couple of non-deliberate mistakes that Grammarly failed to pick up. Thanks for noticing!

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