6 Steps for Your Final Edit

how to edit a novelLast week, Lisa covered the big picture edit to take your manuscript from first draft to second draft. But now you’re ready for the final pass before you send your novel off to an agent, editor, or publisher. Here are the seven steps you need to take to make sure your story is ready to go.

(1) Look at Every Scene and Ask, “Did I Wimp Out?”

The scene might be structurally fine, it works, but your instincts tell you that something is off. You copped out when writing it. You know this scene could be better if you wrote it differently, but that different, better way involves a lot more work.

A “wimp out” scene can happen during the first draft when we’re focused on making our word goals or we’re tired or we’ve lost sight of the overall flow of the plot.

Don’t be fooled into thinking a scene isn’t a “wimp out” scene because it has conflict either. It might very well have conflict, but it doesn’t have enough conflict or it doesn’t have the most effective conflict.

In our novel, we have a scene where Zerynthia, our main female character, goes to the temple to worship, only to discover that the altar to the deity she’d worshipped her whole life had been replaced by a shrine to another goddess. It worked as a scene, but on second read-through, Lisa and I agreed it was fluffy. I rewrote it to show not only the emotional effect on Zerynthia, but also the dark, disturbing aspects of this new goddess and her worshippers.

(2) Check for POV Mistakes

POV mistakes sneak in when we’re trying to convey information. If your character doesn’t see it, think it, feel it, taste it, touch it, or smell it, you can’t describe it. (For more on POV, check out our posts Problems with Point of View and 5 Tips for Writing Deep POV.)

In the first draft of chapter 2, we wrote about Zerynthia, “She pushed against the familiar binding constricting her breasts, her hair in a warrior’s tail down her back.”

But why would Zerynthia be thinking about her hair in a warrior’s tail down her back? We’d meant it as her doing a check list, but it wasn’t coming across that way to readers.

We changed it to “She pushed against the familiar binding constricting her breasts, and tightened the tie fastening her hair in a warrior’s tail down her back.” A small change, but it erased the POV violation.

A second aspect of POV is to consider the speech patterns and word choices of each character. Would he use that word? Would he say it that way? Our characters are not us, and we need to be careful to be true to their voice when we’re in their POV.

For example, if a character speaks in short choppy sentences, a scene written in their POV shouldn’t have long, flowing sentences that pile phrase upon phrase. Scenes in their POV don’t need to replicate exactly the character’s speech patterns, but there does need to be a sense of consistency.

(3) First Lines and Last Lines

I’m sure you know the first line of your novel needs to grab your reader and pull them in. But each chapter needs to do the same thing to a smaller degree.

In her post this Monday, Kristen Lamb wrote “Never leave a place to put a bookmark.” The end of a chapter is the logical place for someone to set your book aside until later. Use your last line and first line to push them over that potential rut so they can’t slide in a bookmark.

Copy and paste all the first and last lines in your novel into a Word document and look at them isolated from the context. Would they make it so that you couldn’t put the book down?

(4) Eliminate Weasel Words

Weasel words are slimy and slippery and lack all value. If you can cut a word from a sentence and the meaning doesn’t change, get rid of it. (Word’s “Find” feature works great for this.)

  • that
  • really
  • great
  • just
  • a lot
  • interesting
  • wonderful
  • very
  • sure
  • often
  • usually
  • many
  • most

(5) Kill the Clichés

ClicheSite.com provides a listing of 2100 cliches, euphemisms, and figures of speech you need to murder. Unless you’re using them in a character’s speech as a way to define that character, find a fresher way to say it.

(6) White Space

Zoom out to about 50% (so that you can see two pages at a time) and scroll through your book looking for big blocks of text or areas where there’s too much white space.

Big blocks of text are a hint at slow spots, and too much white space in a row indicates you might be skimping on the description/setting or internal dialogue.

Fiction is about balance. If your novel runs at a harried pace the entire time, eventually your reader will feel the same as if they’re listening to a speech where the speaker is shouting the whole time. That’s no more effective than a speaker who’s always talking in a monotone. Vary your pace to keep them interested.

What last minute check do you just have to make before you send your “baby” off into the world?

Marcy

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

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14 comments on “6 Steps for Your Final Edit

  1. I do a “to be” check and after I read it outloud — I note repetitive words. Have I used favorite or the term nursing home too many times? I look for ways to rewrite those references.

  2. Oh man, I need to go through with a fine toothed comb and check for white spaces (not blocks of text, cause I hate description and love dialogue) and POV problems (I’m a reforming head-hopper). Thanks for the post to remind me!

  3. Thanks for this… I’m working on revisions to my WIP now and already getting bogged down. I feel like I’ve been working on it for so long, it’s hard to know what it needs anymore. This will help me look at a few things in particular!

  4. # 3 is something I never thought of doing, excellent idea. I read Kristen Lamb’s bookmark chapter endings too and it’s made me read through my chapters for those peaceful resting places just right for a bookmark. Sadly I’ve found a couple and will be changing them with all haste!

    I quite enjoy editing, the “Find” feature in Word works like magic when it comes to chopping out the dead wood!

  5. I just thought of something else worth mentioning in regard to those Weasel Words. Word users can set up the auto correct feature so when you type in a certain word it will change it something else immediately. So when your Weasel Words are typed out Word can swiftly change them to something appropriate like “UH-OH! WEASEL WORD ALERT!” Thus prompting you to give more thought to what you’re writing.

  6. Pingback: Tips on how to wrestle your draft into shape « Angela Quarles

  7. Pingback: Friday FaBOOolousness –MarvelOoous Mashups in the New Year | Tiffany A White's Ooo Factor

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