Finding someone to read your novel’s draft

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.

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.

Adding and revising scenes in your novel

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.

Creating a new roadmap for your novel

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.

Sample information guide for your novel

This is a brief example of an information guide. There are no hard and fast rules for information guides, so feel free to customize this to fit your needs.

Spelling and Usage

This is a place to put down any special words or jargon that the characters use.


OCD: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
D&D: Short for Dungeons and Dragons, a game played by many of the older characters when they were teenagers.


Detachment Disorder: A feeling of emotional distance from one’s life. This term is coined by Roland August. It is not a real-life name for a disorder.
Nevendad: Short for Never Ending Adventures. A fictionalized online game that combines elements of World of WarcraftSecond Life and FaceBook.


This usually works better graphically than in print, but here is a brief way to do it in print.

Chelsea August: Daughter of Anne August. Believes she is daughter of Roland August but her biological father is Henry Jarvis. Sister of Jake August. Models for Don Hau. Patient of Dr. Sharon Thewes, therapist. No close friends.

Mike Cove: Unmarried but living with Ella Aufran. Friends with Roland August, Anne August, Larry Parris, Henry Jarvis, Marisol Rivera.


This is a great place to record minor characters and give them brief descriptions

Marisol Rivera: Waitress at BD’s on 22nd Street. 24 years old. Five feet two inches tall. Black curly hair. Brown eyes. Dresses in black. Smokes clove cigarettes and wears too much mascara. Part-time college student studying art. Often drinks at the bar with Mike Cove after her shift is finished.

Dr. Sharon Thewes: 48 years old. Psychologist to Chelsea August. Teaches part-time at the community college in addition to maintaining her own practice. Dresses somewhat formally, preferring pantsuits in browns and grays. Believes in encouraging patients to find their own answers. Non-smoker, light drinker. Divorced.

This is a good place to track names and nicknames. Spelling and Usage can also be used for this.

Roland August (Called Rollie by wife and friends, Roland by colleagues, Dad by his children)

Jake August (Always called Jake, never by real name, Jacob)


You can use maps and other graphics in this section.

Street Names:

Wilmot Road
Speedway Boulevard
22nd Street

Place Names:

BD’s on 22nd (Sometimes called “VD’s”)
River Walk (Blanket term for Rillito River Park and Pantano River Park)
Park Place (Formerly called Park Mall)
Stone Fountain Meditation Center

Plot Points

This can be very detailed or bare bones, but it should reflect the chronology that you have created. Here are the first few scenes for my novel.

  1. Errol Jarvis attempts suicide
  2. Anne August sees Henry Jarvis after 22 years
  3. Henry and Anne rescue Errol
  4. Henry moves in with Errol
  5. Chelsea August has first modeling job
  6. Henry eats dinner at Anne and Roland August’s
  7. Henry meets Chelsea and suspects she is his daughter
  8. Mike Cove goes to work at BD’s, sees Henry
  9. Henry meets up with Larry Parris
  10. Roland visits a therapist