Why You Should Edit Your Novel Backwards Plus Other Possibly Insane Yet Effective Editing Tricks

Why You Should Edit Your Novel Backwards Plus Other Possibly Insane Yet Effective Editing Tricks

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I recently finished a major revision of a novel I’ve been working on since 2015. You read that right. I’ve spent almost three years with this novel, in which I’ve gone to hell and back. And trust me when I say that is not an exaggeration. I used several editing strategies with this novel that I’ve never used before and I’m convinced it has made me a better writer and editor. After 10 years of writing and working on multiple manuscripts here is my best editing advice:

Revise the manuscript backwards. Meaning, if you have thirty chapters in your book start editing Chapter 30 first, then Chapter 29, and on down. I don’t know why I’d never tried this before, but it is my new favorite technique. You see things going backwards that you don’t see when editing in a linear fashion.

Color code the thing if need be. Again, this is something I’d never tried before. My writing mentor said there wasn’t enough body language in my book. So what did I do? I printed the thing out and highlighted all the body language in orange. If there was no orange on a page or the color didn’t appear for several pages I looked at where I could add body language in. This was painful–VERY painful–but man did it work!

Map out chapters in Excel. Chapter length wasn’t something I took a serious look at before. I tracked the length of chapters in Excel as well as charted characters’ feelings to make sure they were changing. If there were too many or too few pages between chapters I looked at where an alternate break could be made.

What about you? What unique editing techniques have you tried? Share in the comments.

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P.S. I also wanted to share that I have an agent 🙂 I’ll write a longer blog post about how I did it, but I’m happy to say I’m now represented by Penny Moore of Aevitas Creative Management.

How to make sure your manuscript is in great shape before sending it to an editor

How to make sure your manuscript is in great shape before sending it to an editor

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One of the things that terrified me about self-publishing was working with an editor. Even though I was confident enough in my novel to go about publishing it independently I was still worried the editor would have some harsh words for me when it came time to read his evaluation of my manuscript. As I waited for my editorial letter I was sure it was going to say I should abandon the idea of publishing my novel and quit writing altogether. I was afraid it would say my story was stupid, filled with ridiculous characters and shoddy writing. Instead, my editor said, “The story world feels real, like it’s inhabited by real people instead of shallow caricatures…you don’t tell us what a character is feeling, you show us the symptoms of that significance or those emotions.”

Though there were loads of grammatical corrections, in terms of rewrites the changes I had to make were very minor and could be accomplished in an hour or two. I think the reason the letter was so complimentary was because of my relentless editing and vetting of my manuscript.

To ensure a smooth reception of your own manuscript, I suggest following the steps below:

-Self-edit as much as possible. This translates to: read the damn thing as much as you can without going crazy. I read my manuscript probably 12 or 15 times before I took it to an editor. I did specific searches in Word for show vs. tell, re-read the first and last sentences of each chapter, and changed the font a few times which let me see my manuscript with fresh eyes. I discovered something I wanted to change with every single read.

-Start writing something else. I got a good chunk of another novel completed while editing One Night. Even though I loved the characters in One Night it got trying at times, spending so much time with them. To get a break I started a new manuscript. Taking some time away from One Night also allowed me to look at the novel with fresh eyes when I came back to it.

-Employ the use of beta readers at different stages of the editing process. I used beta readers after I finished a first draft and again after I finished the third draft. It can be hard to find good beta readers—i.e. ones that are actually helpful—but they are a must if you want to improve your manuscript. Whether you send the entire thing to beta readers or a partial manuscript it will help you immensely. They will catch things you yourself don’t see. There are many people out there willing to beta read for free so I suggest you save yourself some money and recruit people who are happy to devote their time at no charge.

-Read your manuscript out loud. This is really a companion to step number one, but since it involves reading aloud I wanted to add it separately. Reading your manuscript out loud makes you aware of awkward phrases you can’t catch when you read the pages in your head.

-Have professionals vet your novel. Before I decided to publish One Night, I tried to get it traditionally published. In fact, I urge all of you who are thinking about self-publishing to try the traditional route first. I queried agents for nine months. The reason I decided to go ahead and publish One Night myself was because of the high request rate I had for the full manuscript. Without this I would’ve been hesitant. Moreover, the reasons for rejection were all over the board and subjective. If agents had rejected One Night for the same reason over and over I would have thought major changes were needed, but since they varied greatly in their reasoning and complimented my writing and the characters I knew I was onto something.

I wish you the best of luck as you work with an editor on your manuscript and hope you find these tips useful.

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How to edit your novel

How to edit your novel

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Every writer has a different editing process, but over the years I’ve figured out what mine looks like and wanted to share it with you in case it helps you with your writing. There’s more than one way to edit a novel, but this is what works for me.

After I complete a first draft these are the steps I take to get it to what I consider a finished state:

  1. I do an initial read-through. In this stage I read everything on the computer and fix any glaring issues: grammatical errors, plot holes, add/delete scenes. Etc
  2. I add details/description. I have a tendency to underwrite on the first draft – leave out what someone looks like, what the setting looks like, etc. On this draft I add those details in.
  3. I print out the book and read it again. The whole time I am in these stages I am also developmental editing. Are there enough obstacles for the character? Are they changing enough?  Is the pacing ok?  Some writers do this as a separate edit but it’s always in the back on my mind as I’m editing.
  4. I edit for show vs. tell. Using this checklist usually catches all the culprits.
  5. I do another edit for the first and last sentences of each chapter. Those should be as compelling as possible and make the reader want to read more.
  6. Assuming I am satisfied at this point I show parts or all of the book to at least three beta readers or critique partners.
  7. I make edits if people are commenting on the same issue and/or I agree with their suggestions.
  8. I print the book out and read it to my dog. Usually there are errors that crop up when hearing the book out loud.
  9. I change the font of the manuscript, print it out, and read it again.
  10. I show the book to three different test readers than before.
  11. I make edits as I see fit based on their comments.
  12. I read the book on my Kindle. I feel like this is the only real way to mimic a reader’s experience. If anything jumps out at me I fix it in the manuscript.

As you can see, if you can’t find something to love on the fifth, tenth or twelfth read of your novel, perhaps you should move on to another project. Also, keep in mind all of this happens before the book goes to a professional editor.

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Interested in having me speak to your writing or school group to cover more techniques? Go here for more info.

 

The Complete Novel Editing Checklist (aka Why You Have to Love Your Novel)

The Complete Novel Editing Checklist (aka Why You Have to Love Your Novel)

writing-goals

Every writer has a different editing process, but over the years I’ve figured out what mine looks like and wanted to share it with you all in case it helps you with your writing. There’s more than one way to edit a novel, but this is what works for me.

After I finish a first draft these are the steps I take to get it to what I consider a finished state:

  1. I do an initial read-through. In this stage I read everything on the computer and fix any glaring issues: grammatical errors, plot holes, add/delete scenes. Etc. I add details/description. I have a tendency to underwrite on the first draft – leave out what someone looks like, what the setting looks like, etc. On this draft I add those details in.
  2. I print out the book and read it again. The whole time I am in these stages I am also developmental editing. Are there enough obstacles for the character? Are they changing enough and/or are they remaining consistent when they need to be (i.e. staying in character)?  Is the pacing ok?  Some writers do this as a separate edit but it’s always in the back on my mind as I’m editing.
  3. I edit for show vs. tell. Using this checklist usually catches all the culprits.
  4. I do another edit for the first and last sentences of each chapter. Those should be as compelling as possible and make the reader want to read more.
  5. Assuming I am satisfied at this point I show parts or all of the book to at least three beta readers or critique partners.
  6. I make edits if people are commenting on the same issue and/or I agree with their suggestions.
  7. I print the book out and read it to my dog. Usually there are errors that crop up when hearing the book read out loud.
  8. I change the font of the manuscript, print it out, and read it again.
  9. I show the book to three different test readers than before.
  10. I make edits as I see fit based on their comments.
  11. I read the book on my Kindle. I feel like this is the only real way to mimic a reader’s experience. If anything jumps out at me I fix it in the manuscript.

You can see why the alternate title of this post is “Why You Have to Love Your Novel.”  If you can’t find something to love on the fifth, tenth or twelfth read through perhaps you should move on to another project.

If you have any editing tips for me I’d love for you to share in the comments section.

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How to see your manuscript with fresh eyes

How to see your manuscript with fresh eyes

Sometimes it’s hard to look at a manuscript that you’ve been staring at for months with fresh eyes.  There are passages you gloss over because you’ve read it a million times and your brain just fills in the gaps.  In order to see your manuscript in a new way and take it to the next level try these tactics:

  1. This one’s obvious, but step away from the manuscript for a while. It will be hard since all you want to do is get it out into the world, but taking a month long break from it, or even two weeks really does help.
  1. Change the font of your manuscript. I don’t know where I picked this up, but it works.  Spelling errors or other parts that are off will jump out at you if you change the font.
  1. Write a few pages from a different point of view or a different tense. It will make you see things you didn’t before.
  1. Write a piece of backstory that isn’t in the book. This might reveal parts of your characters’ motivations or lead to other improvements in your manuscript.
  1. Read the book out loud to your dog (or yourself or whoever will listen). If you stumble or reword parts as you read fix those areas in your manuscript.

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How to make a novel longer

How to make a novel longer

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I wish I had the problem that some writers have of writing way too much and having to cut a ton of words out of my manuscript. I’m good at not including dead weight in the first place and have the opposite problem: sometimes I write too little.  If you’re like me and need help expanding your novel here are some suggestions.

-Add more details. What does the house look like? How does it smell?  What does it sound like?  Adding details where appropriate will beef up your novel.

-Add or expand on minor characters. How can you make the main character’s world more real? In earlier drafts of my novel One Night, Thompson my MC had no memorable co-workers. They were names without much personality. To make his work world more believable and entertaining I added a cast of quirky co-workers with their own issues/sub plots.

-Flashbacks. Where appropriate that is.  Unless this is a time travel story you don’t want a million flashbacks.  Readers care about what’s happening right now.  But flashbacks can be used to a reveal a character’s motivation and give insight into their choices.

-Vary sentence length.  Longer sentences interspersed with shorter ones can draw a story out and give the reader variety.

-Blow it out. If something major just happened let your character react to it, fully.  How are they feeling?  What are they thinking?  What is their next move?

-Add scenes if need be.  Does your main character grow and change too fast?  Add scenes.  Is the plot moving too quickly?  Add scenes. Of course they can’t be random and must serve the greater point of the novel.

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Remove these words from your manuscript

Remove these words from your manuscript

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Or, as I like to call it, Advanced Show Don’t Tell.

It will be difficult to eradicate every instance of these words from your manuscript, but you’ll find if you do a search on them (two or three times) you can eliminate a high percentage of them and provide stronger description of what’s happening on the page.

  • feel
  • felt
  • think
  • thought
  • LY words
  • ING words
  • smile – a lot of times words like smile and laugh are implied by dialogue or action and don’t need to be included
  • laugh
  • grin
  • frown
  • gaze
  • stare
  • very
  • seem
  • really
  • great
  • looked
  • swear words – usually there is a better way to describe a character’s emotion through action

Reduce the frequency of the above words and you’ll find your manuscript to be 100% stronger.

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