Tuesday, 1 January 2013

How to Edit a Novel

After months of procrastination, I’ve finally decided to get back to editing my 100,000 word draft of what may one day become a legitimate novel. In honour of this venture, I’m writing a post on how I’ve been going about editing so far. The title is probably a misnomer, since I haven’t done enough to be sure if this is a definitive way to edit. I’ve also only covered how I’m going from draft one to draft two, which is very broad editing, rather than nit-picking prose. I figured I’d write down what I’ve done  anyway, in the hope that it will help someone out there to edit their own novel.

1. Read your novel
This step is deeply unnerving. It may make you cringe a lot. On the other hand, you’ll also hopefully discover your favourite parts of your novel, and remember what you like about it, in order to know what to keep. I also got my sister and a friend to read it and highlight the parts which they would be very sad if I deleted. I wrote a post a while ago about how I felt like in editing I was getting rid of all my favourite parts of the novel, so I thought this was a very important step to do. I also often feel like authors don’t realise what makes their work amazing, and so I think it’s good to get feedback on what you’re doing right before you change it.

2. List your scenes
This helps to get everything straight in your head, and to organise things on paper. I did it in an Excel spreadsheet under these headings:

  • Scene number
  • POV
  • Setting
  • Plot points (this one is good for pinpointing scenes that have no plot points, so you know to change them later)
  • Characters (I gave each character their own column, so I could tick of what scenes they were in, and make it easier to sort the spreadsheet and do step three)

3. Streamline your plot
I did this first of all by writing out the plot, as simply as I could, from the perspective of each of the main characters, not including anything which didn’t have an effect later on in the book. Doing it separately by character probably isn’t necessary for everyone, but I was writing a novel which was based on who knew what, and when, and it was getting horrendously inconsistent. It’s also handy for making sure your characters all have motivation.
After that, I wove together all my streamlined character-plots into one logical, coherent plot.

4. Write a new scene list
This step is pretty self explanatory. I modified my scene list to include the new scenes I needed to make the plot make sense, cut the old ones that weren’t relevant, and modified which needed modification. I was pretty harsh with cutting at this point, only keeping scenes in my list which were absolutely necessary. I think I came out with about a third of the scenes I originally had, but I’ve been adding more scenes in as I go along. At this step, though, I wanted it to be as clear and concise as possible.

5. Open a blank document
Copy in the scenes from your first draft that just need a bit of tweaking. Write in the new scenes that you need. These are the difficult part, on which I offer no advice. Good luck.


  1. Step three sounds like a great idea - but I think my brain would explode!

    1. My brain did explode a little. But it was a helpful step! Only problem is it doesn't stop at step three - I have to keep going back and refining my plot again and again because the more I edit, the more plot holes I discover...

  2. Hey, you got 100,000 words. That's a legitimate novel. That's how I see it at least.

    I've started writing out scenes too. Excel is great to keep track of stuff. I keep my list of characters there. And also the words that my characters tend to use, to help with voice. And when I get into the nit-picky editing, the list of words I need to check for that we're supposed to avoid or clean up. (Like my problem with overusing that.)

    So I can't remember if you've said, but what is your novel? Adult or YA? And what genre? With 100,000 words, do you feel you'll be cutting a lot or does a 100,000 word novel fit into the genre?

    1. My novel is... YA I-don't-even-know-what-genre. It started out intended to be a historical fantasy, but then I got rid of the fantasy element, so right now it's a vaguely-alternate-Victorian historical spy novel about boarding school boys? It's very hard to say. =) I really need to work on a good synopsis.