The Best Way to Edit a Novel

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There is no one way to approach writing or editing a novel except to say that the more you write and read over what you’ve written as you go along the better the prose will be and the less you will have to edit later on. Your publisher has read your novel and throws a thick package containing 400 pages of words on your desk and says, ‘ready for editing’, and you have a huge task ahead. You have gone through the process of developing the plot and the characters, choosing a setting, choosing a first or third person point of view, structuring the story so that you have a beginning, a middle section and an end and now have to attend to the final bits you have to include or delete.

  • To edit a novel once it is done, take a break from it for a week, work on something else, and come back to it with fresh eyes; sort of like cleaning the palette between wines so that one can better see and appreciate its contents. This will immediately tell the writer what is lacking, what needs to be better explained, and what he has to throw out no matter how delightful. Sometimes a writer has to kill off certain passages and sentences as it just does not add anything to the story and is there purely because the writer likes it. This is called killing off your darlings. The writer will also see instantly what works in the story and what does not. Getting the story in one reading also tells you whether the structure works and what should be cut out and what kept. Editing a novel does not just mean making corrections; sometimes huge blocks of text are added, moved or removed resulting in a restructuring of part of the story.

  • Use a tracking device so that the editor can see in red what has to be amended, included, or removed.

  • Ask a friend who loves books to read the draft and comment on what she thinks of the characters, the plot, the structure of the story – and ask her if she would change anything.

  • Don’t edit when you are tired; you need a sharp brain to proofread and edit your work.

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