I just finished my first novel! The feeling is indescribable. Do you have any advice on editing, big or small?
Congratulations on joining THE ENDTIMES CLUB.
Editing is basically the place the novels become novels — it’s impossible to overstate how the rough draft is only 10% of the process. Here is a pie chart demonstrating the overall gist. It’s messed up because I aggressively and deliberately misunderstand math at all times and also because I traced a ramekin full of discarded date pits on my desk for the outside, but you get the idea.
What I’m trying to say is: be prepared to spend the same amount of time editing as writing.
GET CRITIQUE PARTNERS
This is the first step to editing. You need outside eyes. You don’t know if you have written the story you intended to tell until readers tell you that you’ve succeeded. A story is not complete until it has an audience.
You can find some here.
BIG PICTURE EDITS
It’s important to do your edits in the right order: there’s no point focusing on word choice when you don’t know if you’re going to keep a scene or not. What you’re looking for in big picture edits are
• pacing (is it taking you forever to get to your inciting incident? Are you leaping into breathless action so fast that the reader doesn’t have time to get emotionally invested? Is the general shape correct — do your stakes both emotional and physical slowly ratchet up til the climax?)
• clarity (do we know what the point of the book is? Do we understand who the main character is? Do we understand the stakes of the magic or the mystery or love story, etc?)
• momentum (are your scenes stacked in the correct order, or do you move backwards in stakes or have two scenes that essentially do the same thing?)
• consistency of character (are your characters consistent and inevitable? can we predict their behavior enough to be shocked if they do something out of character for once?)
• correctness of cast (do you have two characters who do the same thing in the plot? do you need to delete or add POVs or characters to your cast?)
• simplicity of execution (does the reader understand where they are in the plot? can they guess they are halfway through when they are halfway through, etc.?)
Title a document “outtakes.doc” and throw stuff that’s not working into it. You can always come back to them if you need them, but it’s often easier to see what you’re doing with the chaff removed.
Line edits are when you stop having to move big chunks around and can start fixing things within your newly edited shape. That is when you can start looking at adjusting pacing, tone, and momentum on a line level. Example:
Original sentence: The box rolled out of the truck and hit the ground.
Speed things up: Wham. The box, dropped. Tssss. Glass, exploded.
Slow things down: She snatched at air, and felt the whisper of the box sliding against her fingertips. The sound of the bottles exploding on the pavement echoed down the alley.
Ground us: Everything changed the moment that box hit the asphalt.
Tell us about a character: Ten years before, she’d been watching a box fall from through her mother’s hands in just this way. MORE ANECDOTE HERE
This is the part where you actually fix typos and continuity errors, and it’s the least important part of editing. This is where you can enlist a non-bookish friend to feel useful, because the less invested you are in the book, the easier they are to spot.
You could write entire books about revision — someone probably has — but this might be a start.