The Blog of John Hewitt

Editing your novel with an eye toward continuity

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.