editing your novel

A while back I was having a dry week and asked for some ideas for blog posts. Kelly sent one to my Facebook page about editing or how much editing is enough editing? Not a week later, there were two excellent posts on the subject of editing by Jessica Faust (Good Enough is Never Enough) at Bookends and by Jodi Meadows (I’ll Show You Why You’re So Much More Than Good Enough).

I can’t really improve on either of these posts; however, I can tell you how I intend to edit my novel and when I will feel I have edited enough.

When I was at a conference back in April, I had the opportunity to hear Sharyn McCrumb speak to the North Carolina Writers’ Network. I’m paraphrasing very loosely here, but in essence, she said that you should become a writer if you loved writing your high school English papers. She is absolutely right, because while the catharsis of writing the first draft is what appeals to many writers, it is the editing process that separates the wheat from the chaff.

I am currently working through my middle draft, editing and rewriting my final chapters to bring them in line with the changes I’ve made in the first half of the book. As I write each chapter, I submit it to my OWW critique group and they suggest either overall edits to clarify the story or line-edits. When I have all my critiques in, I make the necessary changes.

I have gone to the expense of having my first chapter professionally critiqued using the N.C. Writers’ Network critiquing service. Hopefully, this critique will show me the weak areas in my writing. While I don’t have the results of that critique yet, I do intend to use the comments to evaluate the rest of my manuscript for any repetitive errors I’ve made.

When I’ve finished this middle draft, I will go through the entire book two more times. The first time I will read for edits, clarifying or cutting words. The second time, I will read for character and plot.

I have asked three people if they would serve as what I call my “cold readers.” Two of these people have never seen the manuscript before and will be reading it as if they purchased it at the bookstore. I have a list of questions that I’d like for them to use in evaluating the manuscript.

I’ll want to know for example: Are the characters and their reactions to the circumstances and events believable? Does the novel move smoothly from one event to another to build the tension toward the climax? Once the climax has been achieved, does the catharsis come too soon or not soon enough? Were there any questions in the readers’ minds that were not answered in the book? I’m sure I’ll think of more, but all I really want is a general overview of the novel.

Of course, it will take my readers some time to read the whole novel from beginning to end, and this will give me some much needed time away from the manuscript. While they’re reading, I’m going to start writing the second novel in the series. When I have all the results in from my cold readers, I’m going to evaluate and make changes based on their comments.

Finally, I will go through the novel one last time for a fine line-edit. I will look at every paragraph to make sure there is a clear transition from one paragraph to the next. I will look at every sentence to make certain that sentence is grammatically correct. Then and only then will I feel that my novel is ready for the query process.

Will all this editing suck the life out of my “voice” and my characters? I don’t think so. I don’t believe you can over-edit a novel, and I’ve certainly read quite a few books that have been under-edited.

I’ve included a few links below to some great online articles about editing. Meanwhile, you tell me: when will you feel that the editing process is complete on your novel?

Links:

All Good Writing is Rewriting by Peder Hill

Editing Made Easy by Lee Masterson

Eight Ways to Tighten Your Prose by Michele R. Bardsley

Great Books Aren’t Written, They’re Mutilated and Pieced Back Together in Groundbreaking Intensive Surgery by S.W. Vaughn

copyright 2009 Teresa Frohock

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About T. Frohock

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9 Responses to editing your novel

  1. horrorible says:

    Great post. Good for someone like me who is just now scratching the surface of the writing gauntlet. I have questioned traditional editing and grammatical rules from time to time. There was a great post a couple of days ago that addressed the use of the English language correctly when writing. I’m educated; I like to think I’ve got a brain cell or two. Somebody out there much more learned than myself might want to bust my head with a fence post, but it seems to me there are no rules in writing–only guidelines. The editing process for me is about who I’m trying to deliver to in the language they use–structured or more often unstructured. I hope I’m on the right track. Thanks for the lesson and links.

  2. horrorible says:

    One more thing–would you mind if I place your site on my blogroll?

    • Teresa says:

      Hello, Horrorible and welcome to helluo librorum!

      I would not mind if you placed my blog in your blogroll at all.

      In response to your other post: there are some novels that don’t follow the conventional grammar rules and even novels that break every rule of “how to write a novel.” However, from what I’ve been able to understand from agents, editors, and those in the publishing industry is that those groundbreaking novels weren’t the author’s first novel.

      I’ll give you an example from one I’ve recently read and that is Ken Bruen’s Once Were Cops. Bruen’s early novels were very standard, except for their standout characters and Bruen’s most excellent storytelling abilities. Once Were Cops is written entirely with hanging paragraphs and the entire novel is like one sucker-punch to the brain after another. It’s not conventional in terms of formatting or storytelling, but it rocks. Absolutely.

      So I guess what I’m saying is that most writers pay their dues with more conventional novels, then when the time is right, burst out of the gate with something special.

      Of course, some folks have managed to do that with their first novel, and you just might be one of those people. 😉 I don’t take anything for granted anymore.

      Have a great week, and I hope you’ll be back.
      Teresa

  3. jenniferneri says:

    Great post, Teresa! I always admire how organized you are!
    It’s great that you have readers to rely on!
    My re-drafting to date has been endless. Perhaps setting such outlines for myself is worthwhile.

    • Teresa says:

      Hello Lawrence and Jennifer! I’m always delighted to “see” both of you. 😉

      Lawrence: I would love to ship mine out to a professional editor, but I’m afraid it might prove a little cost prohibitive for me at this point. I remain open to the possibility and I would love to know if you find the experience worthwhile.

      Jennifer: I had to draw a line in the sand for myself or I would be editing from here until kingdom come. I am so anal about editing I’ve been known to edit my comments on other people’s blogs. Now that’s sick!

      Teresa

  4. lawrenceez says:

    Hi,this is a good article. I particularly enjoy the editing process. My first novel is with a professional editor at the moment, I’ve put the second (completed) to a side for a while and am working on the first 17,00 words of the third.

  5. immortaldiva says:

    Hi, Teresa.
    Fantastic subject. Wow, how appropriate to link our penchant (or masochistic tendencies) for rewriting…to our enjoyment of writing English papers. He he he. I do have this sick sense of joy in my rewriting process. I think a few things come into play.

    One, I love my characters in my first book. So, spending additional time with them is a treat. 🙂

    Two, I think the rewrite/polish phase is never-ending. I can finish a scene and love it. A month later with fresh eyes, I seem to find new and better ways of using the details in the scene (from dialogue to POV, etc).

    Three, critique partners are ALWAYS coming up with things I totally missed. (Sigh)

    And guess what today is…it’s 2-for-Tuesday! Yep, I get to rewrite two chapters for the price of one.

    Lynda Gail Alfano

    • Teresa says:

      Re: 2-for-Tuesday: If I can every finish rewriting this bloody chapter 7, you’ll see me skipping around flinging roses! Sometimes I’m like Jonathan and feel like I can’t get the words out fast enough, and at other times I feel like I’m crawling through the rewrites.

      I’m like you, though, in that I’m always so pleased with the finished product. Or as finished as I’ll let it be, anyway. 😉

      Thanks for stopping by!
      Teresa

  6. James Babb says:

    I believe writing is an art, although I cannot draw a stick-figure!
    Anyway, I have trouble leaving my work alone. Fix one thing…put away for a few days…pick it up and have the urge to redo it again.
    I’ve seen artist do this with paintings. They keep diddling with it, until its ruined.
    Thanks for the information.

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