Tips to Use During the Editing Stage
So you’ve finished your novel. Congratulations. Now comes the hard part: revision/editing time, or more widely known as “I hate this stage.” We all wish to type THE END and then just sub it out there. But, um, no. That’s the wrong way to do it. You’ve spent enough time sweating out scenes, building your characters, now you need to check and recheck for any booboos and inconsistencies sprinkled throughout. And trust me, I’m sure you’ll find something.
What exactly am I talking about when I say “inconsistencies”? Well, let’s say you begin with the main character’s name as Tom but by the middle you decided that’s not strong enough for him so you change it to Brandon–how confusing will it be to your reader to suddenly see that Tom disappeared from the novel and suddenly this Brandon dude shows up. Mistakes are allowed in the first and even a second draft, but after that you need to pull it together and look for errors way closer. The last thing you want is for customers, your readers, to find typos and start talking about them in reviews. Yep, not the best thing to happen. You risk losing potential fans.
So what should you look for when going over your manuscript? I guess the first thing would be catching those inconsistent booboos I mention above, like names changing, or inconsistent date stamps, wrong seasons, etc. A lot of the times when I’m writing, I use generic names/terms like MC for main character if I haven’t figured out his or her name yet, so while going over the second or whatever draft, I pay close attention to catch these generic names I’ve given.
Now this next part hurts…a lot…deleting full scenes. Yeah, I know…BIG ouch but it’s necessary at times. Scenes are there to help push the plot forward, to help build suspense, to help get the characters personalities out there. However, if a scene involves nothing more than my mom’s everyday “How are you feeling?” conversation, cut, remove, chop. You’ll need to answer this question: How does it help improve and push the story forward, or show my character’s growth/quest? If it doesn’t, I repeat: cut, remove, chop.
Another area to pay close attention to is your character’s growth. What do I mean? Let’s take for example a story that involves a police officer shooting an innocent victim-or so he believes at the time until evidence surfaces that proves he made the right choice. In the beginning, however, he has no clue, feels his judgment was wrong. This must impact him in some way. Is he fearful to go back out on the field? Does he feel as though his peers are judging him? Is he moody to the point his family wants nothing to do with him? Something must have snapped, now your job is to show readers how he changes back to the cop he was as the book progresses, building his self-esteem, showing his cop instincts never leaving him, pushing forward to find the truth.
Once going over the umpteenth time, one area to look at is if you’ve given enough ‘OMG’ moments, in other words…risk factors for your character to overcome. This is where his character shines through while taking action to defeat and be victorious. For example: a mother (widow) of four falls in love but eventually finds out this man was partially responsible for her husband’s death, how will she overcome this? Did he keep this secret on purpose, waiting for the right time to explain what happened? Or perhaps he had no clue who she was in the beginning? Readers love to be pulled into hurdles because that motivates them to turn the pages and discover the ‘what’s going to happen’ answer.
This next area shouldn’t be a surprise…yet many skim through edits and miss essential errors. For example, I was editing a short story for someone and the season began with winter. Nothing wrong with that. But once I turned the page, the character was at the beach, in a bikini. What’s the big deal you may ask, it can be winter in many places and warm weather wins always. So true, but in this instance the book was in a fictional place where snow and ice was predominant, no warm spots anywhere. This happens when you don’t map out your books like I do. No biggie since this will or rather should be caught during one of the editing stages.
Something else I’ve noticed in many submissions I’ve read over the years—the entire novel is packed with action, suspense, then you come to the climax and here comes either this newly discovered super power or person to help save the day. BIG no-no. Readers want to see how your main character will overcome, not this stranger who decides to make a cameo appearance. The whole point of adding tension/suspense is to pull the reader into the character’s plight and to find out how he/she will overcome. Don’t disappoint them with a quick resolution because you just wanted to hurry and finish the book already.
A quick tip for the editing stage: as you begin reading the second and third and all the consecutive drafts, when you come upon a phrase you feel you repeat way too much, do a FIND for that word/phrase then highlight them all in one swoop. This way, as you’re reading and you see the word clustered close together, reword.
Make sure to have a character profile doc to check for inconsistencies in character descriptions. Don’t switch eye colors midway. This is especially important when you’re writing a series.
Now I’ll end with a few questions I ask myself with every manuscript I complete. The answers help to further explore the story and tighten it up:
- Did I start the story off with an inciting incident that will affect my main character?
- Have I offered enough tension and high points to keep a reader’s interest?
- Did I sprinkle enough foreshadows?
- Is the resolution satisfying at the end of the climax?
- Did I begin the climax about a quarter into the novel, more or less?
- Is an epilogue necessary in this particular story?
And that’s it for this post. Drop me a note and let me know if you’ve used any of the above suggestions, if they were helpful, or even suggest another trick I may have forgotten.
Until next time,