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Editing Your Novel: Where to Begin

Take a Break
So, you’ve finished the first draft of your novel - now what? LEAVE IT ALONE. Ahem. I mean, put your manuscript away and don’t look at it for a while. You need to take a break from it and look at it with fresh eyes. There’s no standard time, so just go back to it when you feel ready. When I finished the first draft of my book, I didn’t look at it for a couple of weeks. I thought about it from time to time, but distracted myself with reading and catching up on a few TV shows. It sounds like a break up, but don’t worry, you’ll be reunited and it’ll be amazing.

It may help to read it as if you’ve never read it before. So having the break will make some parts seem brand new to you, which will allow you to interpret how new readers will see your work.

Set a Goal
It may seem scary to set a goal and you may not want to rush it because ‘it’ll be ready when it’s ready, OK??’, but setting a time limit will give you something to aim for, so the process doesn’t drag out with you not doing much. But how long? A month? Three months? A year? Be realistic. It won’t take a week, and five years may be a bit long, but then again, if it’s not ready, it’s not ready.

It doesn’t have to be a goal for the whole novel, it might be for you to finish a draft or how long until a trusted friend edits it for you. Once you start editing, you’ll know roughly how long you’ll need. You’ll be more aware of how far you have to go with each draft you finish.

Where do I even start?
I wish there was a check list for editing. It would be good to know that by draft ten your book will be ready to submit, but unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. I think the best thing to go on is your gut instinct - the ‘you’ll know when you know’.

I like to think of editing as an upside down triangle: start on the big stuff and work down to the smaller details.

So, when you go back to your manuscript sort out the biggest things first. That’s plot and character development. There’s no point fixing all the spelling and grammatical mistakes first, only to delete large chunks of finely edited text when you change the plot around.

Plot Questions
Here are some questions to ask yourself when focusing on plot:
- Is everything wrapped up that needs to be?
- Is everything in your book relevant to the outcome?
- Is there a narrative arc?
- Have you left enough open for the next book (if it has a sequel)?

Character Development Questions
Here are some questions to ask yourself when focusing on character development:
- Do you know all you need to know about your characters so they feel like a real person?
- Do your characters act like themselves all the way through?
- How do your characters change over the course of the story?
- What are your character’s relationships like with other characters?

Small Things to Look For
Once the big stuff is tackled to can go through with a fine tooth comb and fix smaller things, like:
- Paragraph length
- Sentence length
- Wordiness
- Word use
- Word order
- Spelling
- Grammar

Quick Tips
- Show don’t tell.
- Go through many times - you’ll see different things each read through.
- Looking at one thing at a time can help you focus – maybe edit something different each draft.
- Cut stuff you don’t need - be ruthless.
- Constancy: details, character relationships, plot, tense usage – readers will notice inconsistency straight away.
- Printing off and editing by hand can allow you to see things you didn’t before – will use a lot of paper though!
- Read it out loud when you’re done – it’ll sound different to how you’re reading it in your head, trust me.
- Get other people to read your novel before sending it off - they’ll see things you didn’t.


Love grows (A Tribute to Legend of korra)
Artist credits: denimcatfish