Epiphanies in Writing, Part 2: Editing your Novel

I don’t want to rehash what you’ve heard and discovered for yourself as a writer: “Most of writing is rewriting”; “Show don’t Tell”; “Use spell check”; “Let it cool off before you start to edit.” All good stuff.

Personally, I love editing. It’s a chance to play with words, accessorize my paragraphs and  paint word pictures.

Here are some tangible exercises I do to edit a manuscript.

Editing a Novel

  1. Read it out loud. And while you’re at it …

I’ve  heard over and over to read my manuscript out loud and I will catch awkward sentences and  more. Well, it’s true. But I want to present an idea. I admit, I haven’t done this yet, but while you’re reading it out loud, record yourself. Use the recordings to make an audio version of your self-published book. This is probably easier said than done, but I’m going to try it.  Boom, multi-tasking.

2. Know when to show and when to tell

You’ve probably heard “show don’t tell,” as if telling (exposition) should never be used. As you edit, you should be asking yourself should I be showing at this point of the story or should I be telling?

If you need a refresher on show don’t tell, check this out.

Telling is the background information the reader needs to know. The problem with telling is the action of the story stops. When the writer describes something or sets up the scene, the reader may get bored.

Sometimes telling has to be used. The key is to keep the exposition short and entertaining. When possible, incorporation the background information into dialogue or flashbacks.

Here are some examples of effective telling (exposition).

So as you edit, look for those sentences that may be drawn out into scenes–especially when they are important to the story. Ask yourself, “Would this be more interesting if I dramatized this?” If the answer is yes, then rewrite the sentence or paragraph as a scene with action, dialogue, inner monologue and sensory detail.

3. The Red Line Method

At some point, the writer needs to just go line by line through his manuscript. The writer should ask, “Can I do something to make this sentence or paragraph more effective? Am I using the same word over and over?”

I use the red-line method. I don’t know why, but psychologically, it makes it easier to focus on one sentence and paragraph at a time.

Read more about the red-line method.

4. Filter words

At some point in the editing process, I search for filter words. Look for forms of the following :

See, hear, think, touch, wonder, realize, watch, look, seem, feel, can, decide, sound see

When you find one of these, take them out or challenge yourself to find a more vivid way to show what is happening.

Take them out:

With filter word “think”: Bandonn thought Durso looked tired.

Without filter word: Durso looked tired.

Or rewrite the sentence:

With filter word “look”: She looked heartbroken with her eyes tearing and lips quivering.

Without filter word: Her eyes teared up and her lips quivered. Her heart was broken.

Read more about filter words.

5. Lose one line

Novelist James V. Smith mentioned an editing technique he uses. He tries to eliminate and rewrite a paragraph until it is one less line. So, a paragraph of five lines is whittled down to four lines. He says he doesn’t know why it makes his writing better, but I believe tighter writing makes it easier for readers.

Do What Works for You

These are some of the unconventional methods I use in the editing process. Maybe you’d like to adopt some of them? Let me know how it goes.

Coming up for Epiphanies on Writing:

View my Consortium SF Series at Amazon.



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