What’s the difference between the books that make the New York Times Bestsellers list and the books that do not? More often than not it comes down to editing and the writer’s ability to critique their own work. A story that sings is one that has been fine tuned to amp up tension, produce characters readers will fall in love with, create an irresistible narrative and engaging setting.
Easy enough, right?
Perhaps for some. For many writers, especially those just starting out, editing can be a harrowing and at times grueling process. The notion that a writer sits down and pounds out a perfect draft the first time through is misleading at best. Several drafts may be required to shape your story into a gem, as detailed here.
Regardless of how many drafts your novel requires, effective editing should include the following:
Authors are often blind to problems that a less familiar eye can instantly recognize. The ability for authors’ to assess their work objectively and make the necessary revisions and cuts is a critical component of effective editing. Click here to learn how to become an objective editor.
Include the five senses:
To place a reader in a scene or setting, it is not enough to describe what the scene looks like. To really immerse readers, they need to know how bark felt against skin, what the rose smelled like, how the rushing river sounded and the bitter olives tasted. Let the reader experience what the characters experience through sensory details. Click here to for tips on using the five senses in writing.
Perform a read-through:
Reading your draft at a slow and careful pace, even aloud, is one of the most effective and critical editing tools. Conducting a read-through isn’t just about spotting problems. It’s also about evaluating your novel’s plot and scenes in terms of
- Plot originality, predictability, complexity, logicality/consistency, pacing;
- A satisfying beginning and end;
- Characters – their motivations and relevance to the plot.
Review sentence structure:
Keep the narrative fresh by reviewing and refining sentence structure to ensure writing makes sense and does not bog the flow of the story down. This includes:
- Eliminating unnecessary words and information
- Keep paragraphs short, three to four sentences, to get to your point quickly and succinctly.
- Reduce sentences to essential points: well-defined subject, strong verb, and object.
- Avoid overuse of subordinate clauses
- Use adverbs and adjectives sparingly and when necessary
Make sure language is active, not passive:
Passive voice sentences often use more words, can be vague, and can lead to a tangle of prepositional phrases. The active voice makes your writing stronger, more direct, and more active. Click here for tips on writing active voice.
Remember the attention you give your manuscript in the critique phase can take your story from good to bestseller material. Editing can be frustrating, but when done right, can provide results that will amaze not only your readers, but you as well. Like anything else, editing is a skill that develops through practice. Keep at it and not only will your editing skills improve, but your writing as well. A win-win situation if there ever was one!