As writers, the edit of our manuscripts can be both our best friends and our worst enemies. Whether we enjoy it or not, it’s necessary. There is no 100% perfect way to edit a novel, only the way that works best for us individually.
I tend to do my edits in three stages. After completing my WIP, I do a read through that primarily involves adding in where the work needs it, taking out where it doesn’t, and making sure the book itself makes sense (so basically, a content edit). I try as well as I can to look at the manuscript like a reader. The second time through, I look more closely for grammatical errors, smaller inconsistencies, redundancy in words, etc. Then the third time through is to catch anything at all that I missed. The edits don’t necessarily end here. Sometimes I’ll go back to my manuscripts months down the road or after someone else has read it and given me feedback. But that’s the initial process.
Sounds pretty simple and fairly general, right? But there’s so much more to editing. I can’t say what will work best for you, but I can give you some tips I’ve heard or use that might assist in editing your own WIP. You can even use a checklist of sorts to mark as you go if that’s what helps you edit.
Set aside a character sketch or timeline. If you’re reading through your book and tend to forget certain attributes you’ve given you characters, you will have something nearby to refer to. Same with the timeline. In some of my stories, I need to have events fall within a certain amount of time but I can’t tell if they do without going through each chapter to see how much time has passed. With a timeline, I can make sure I’m on track.
Find your favorite words (or the ones you like to use a lot) and make them disappear. Redundancy is a no-no. Lots of us have words we like or use a lot because they fit a certain aspect of the story really well. We have to locate them and tone it down. My favorites are "just" and "like" and "was". Not to mention adverbs :) Those are just lovely.
If you’re not sure which words you tend to overuse, try this website by Christopher Park or this one at the Write Words website (which has a frequent phrase counter as well). Using these, you can tell how many times you use a certain word or phrase. You can enter the entire text of your WIP and it will list the number of times the most common words are used. Names appear a lot and “the” “he” “she”, but then we get to “was” and others that I could definitely use less of.
Read your manuscript out loud. This will help with flow, redundancy issues, and wording.
Give yourself space. If editing is getting overwhelming, take a step back. Read something else. It will enable you to return to your WIP with a better perspective.
Do your editing in stages. Don’t look for every mistake all at once. Go through one time for content. Then another for vocabulary and overuse of certain words, etc. Then another for whatever else you like to check for.
Break down the book by scenes. Briefly jot down each scene or go more in-depth if you want (setting aside each scene). Then analyze it. If it’s not progressing the plot of the book, maybe it’s a scene that needs to be revised.
Less is More. (We all know how bad I am at that—see how long this post is?) Yep, that familiar phrase. Check where your manuscript can be tightened up. It might take several times through your manuscript to get to this point, but make a point to do this particular task on one of your read throughs.
Now, content editing is more difficult. Does the introduction of your manuscript have a hook? Does it draw the reader in? Does the work flow? Is there a satisfying and consistent conclusion?
This is where, when you feel like your work is polished well from your point of view, it helps to have another set of eyes. Most often we’re too close to our own work to see the bigger picture. If you don’t already have a critique group or someone who you trust and has a good eye for writing to look at your manuscript for you, then it would be beneficial.
Here are just a few of the things I use to edit my own novels. What are other things you do when you get to the editing stage?