The process of editing a novel is a continual one. If you’ve been following the path I laid out here, you have done the following:
- Read through the first draft
- Performed a light edit
- Created a chronology
- Edited as you read
- Created an information guide
- Created a new roadmap for revision
- Added and revised scenes
- Edited with an eye towards continuity
- Had someone read and review your novel
At this point, based on the reviewer’s feedback and your own feelings about your novel’s progress, you will probably want to repeat some or all of these steps. For example, based on the critique given to you by your reader you can now reread your novel (step one). You can evaluate the novel in light of the feedback you were given. I recommend reading the whole novel first though, before acting on their feedback. You may find that you like things the way they are.
Once you have reread the novel, you can go through the process in order, or skip to the parts that you think apply to your second draft. You won’t, for example, want to create a new information guide from scratch but you may want to update that guide as you read through what you have. You may not feel you need to go through several steps before adding or revising a scene, and that is fine. After one person has critiqued your work, you may feel as if you are ready to face a workshop or writer’s group and get more perspectives. The process is up to you. These articles are only guideposts.
Good luck revising your novels! If anyone makes it to the point at which they are ready to submit their novel to publishers, let me know. If enough of you get there, I’ll start writing about the submissions process.
After you have finished editing and polishing the draft of your novel, you are going to want to get some initial feedback. This is for a number of reasons:
- A fresh perspective can often catch errors and problems that you can no longer see after looking at your novel for so long.
- It helps to you to identify what another readers pick up on in your novel. Quite often, they will identify conflicts or themes that you may not have intended, or miss ones that you did intend.
- The publication process is filled with criticism and revision. You need to get used to having other people judge your work.
I recommend finding one person to read through your novel first. This is because groups (such as writing workshops) can be a little overwhelming, so you might want to get some of the kinks worked out of your draft before you take on a larger audience. There are several things you should consider when choosing the first person to read your novel.
- Do you respect the person’s opinion when it comes to fiction?
- Do you believe that the person will give you an honest assessment of your novel?
- Does that person have the time and the patience to serve as your first critic?
- Can you accept criticism from that person without taking it personally?
Once you find a person to critique your novel for you, it is a good idea to give them some guidance regarding the type if feedback you are seeking. You don’t just want them to tell you whether they liked it or didn’t like it. You’ll want some feedback that you can apply to the editing and revision process. There are plenty of questions that you can ask, and in many cases it will depend on what you have written and what you wanted to accomplish. That said, here are some basic questions that you may want to consider.
- What do you believe the major themes of the novel are?
- Did anything occur that pulled you out of the narrative or seemed unrealistic?
- Did you identify with any particular characters and if so, why?
- Did the ending feel logical or earned?
- Are there any points at which you became confused about what was happening?
- Were there any points at which you became bored and wanted more to happen?
- Did any part of the novel make you particularly happy, sad or angry?
As I said, your questions may vary. These are just a few samples to get you started. Also, it is your choice whether or not to give them your questions before or after they read the novel. I would lean towards giving the questions to the person beforehand, so they know what is expected of them. Giving them the questions first, however, will influence the way that they read your novel. They will have specific issues in mind that may cause them to look harder for things that they (and future readers) would otherwise not notice or be concerned about.
Just as you needed to edit your first draft, you will need to edit your novel again after you have added and revised scenes. In most ways, your editing will be similar to earlier efforts, but at this point you are looking to make your draft as polished as possible. You will be showing it to someone else soon, and you will want them to see your best effort.
You will want to do the following:
- Save a copy of the draft before you start editing. You should keep a copy of your draft after every major step, just in case you need to go back and review your changes.
- Work your way through the novel checking for obvious errors such as spelling, grammar, and typos.
- Keep your information guide handy and make sure that your novel uses terms and other details consistently. Don’t hesitate to add new details to the information guide.
- Read your work aloud to ensure that it reads smoothly. If you can’t easily say your sentence, chances are there’s something wrong it.
- Take notes as you read. If there are additional scenes to be added or altered, you can do so and then return to the overall editing process.
- Don’t be afraid to try new things such as moving a scene to an earlier or later point.
As you make these edits, however, try to be very conscious of continuity.
- Revise your chronology to reflect any new, altered, deleted or moved scenes.
- Check the details to make sure that information is learned or actions are taken when they should be. For example, If character A and character C have a fight one page 58, you may need to explain why they are getting along perfectly on page 86.
- Make sure that the novel’s tone and writing style remain consistent.
- Beyond just the details. Read with an eye toward how the novel flows from scene to scene. Are there changes that seem abrupt or confusing? Not every transition needs to be smooth and obvious, but if there is an abrupt change, be prepared for the reader to be disoriented. Readers will often try to fill in the blanks when there is an significant gap, and their assumptions may not be the same as yours.
- Now that your novel is nearly finished, you can really concentrate on your opening scenes to make sure they are as good as they can be. At this point, you may find that your are providing far too much information in the beginning or starting before the action has really begun. Remember, you will want your first page to shine. It sets up everything that is to come.
Next time we will cover letting other people read and review your work.
When you begin adding and revising scenes for your novel, the process is a little different than writing a first draft. Your goals are different because at this point, you are filling in missing information and working within the constraints of what already exists. Your characters, tone and plot have already been set, and you are now either expanding on what you have or looking to make serious changes to one or more of those elements.
Here are some tips for writing new and revised scenes for your novel:
- Take the time to read the surrounding text. If you are adding a scene, read the previous and following scenes again so that you can refresh your memory about what happened and get a feel for the writing style you have been using.
- Don’t get too caught up in exposition. When adding scenes that bridge gaps in time or plot, you can often find yourself focusing more on moving the story forward than on writing a good scene. Remember that each scene must stand on its own.
- Keep a backup of each draft. Sometimes when you are revising, you make changes or deletions that you later regret. Its good to have an older version to refer back to.
- Be patient. Creating the perfect new scene in the middle of a novel is no easy task. You won’t always get it right, or even close to right, on the first try. Don’t be afraid to start over if you don’t like the way the scene is going.
- Pay attention to your notes and to your information guide. It can be easy to forget what your goals are when you are in the middle of a revision. Take the time to get yourself back on track.
- Think about the ramifications of your revisions. If your rewrite changes the motivations of a character, for example, make sure that the other scenes in the novel reflect that different motivation.
- Consider revisions that are dedicated to a specific purpose, such as improving dialog, expanding descriptions or strengthening relationships.
At this point, you are ready to perform a comprehensive reevaluation of your novel. Until now, the draft of your novel has been too rough for clear evaluation. Distractions such as grammar, spelling and chronology make it difficult to honestly evaluate your work. If you’ve been following the steps, you should have a relatively clean and readable copy of your first draft and plenty of notes. You should be able to read through the draft now with a more objective eye toward your long-term goals. You can face the more daunting questions such as:
- Does the story make sense and is it believable?
- What are the major themes, and do any of them need to be changed?
- How is the overall tone of my novel and is it consistent?
- What plot problems need to be solved?
- Are there characters that need to be added, changed or eliminated?
- Is the focus of the novel on the right characters and plot points?
This is the point at which you can begin to make the comprehensive changes that either get you closer to your original goals, or help you achieve new goals. Once you are clear about what your goals are, you need to create a plan for achieving those goals. As part of that plan you should be prepared to create a revised plot outline. Your new plot outline should be based on the chronology you created earlier. The new outline, however, will serve as a roadmap toward achieving your new goals. At minimum, it should include the following.
- Planned new scenes
- Planned revisions of old scenes
- Scenes to be eliminated
It may also include other revision elements such as:
- New or revised characters
- Eliminated characters
- Changes to settings
- Changes to tone or themes
- New plot points
Once you have a roadmap, you can start a comprehensive revision of your novel. In the next article I’ll cover writing new scenes and revising old scenes.