Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Chris Eboch on Editing Your Novel after #NaNoWriMo

author Chris Eboch at workshop
Did you do National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)? If so, congratulations! Whether or not you actually made it to 50,000 words, hopefully you have a start on a new novel. Even if you did complete a draft, you have work ahead. I’m sure you know you shouldn’t submit or self publish an early draft. The next step is editing, which some people love and some people dread. Planning your editing can make it less of a chore. Here’s an excerpt on editing from You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers.

The Big Picture

Wading through hundreds of novel pages trying to identify every problem at once is intimidating and hardly effective. The best self-editors break the editorial process into steps. They also develop practices that allow them to step back from the manuscript and see it as a whole.

furry critique partnerEditor Jodie Renner recommends putting your story away for a few weeks after your first complete draft. During that time, share it with a critique group or beta readers. (Beta readers give feedback on an unpublished draft. They are not necessarily writers, so they give a reader’s opinion.) Ask your advisors to look only at the big picture: “where they felt excited, confused, curious, delighted, scared, worried, bored, etc.,” Renner says. During your writing break, you can also read books, articles, or blog posts to brush up on your craft techniques.

Then collect the feedback and make notes, asking for clarification as needed. Consider moving everyone’s comments onto a single manuscript for simplicity. This also allows you to see where several people have made similar comments, and to choose which suggestions you will follow. At this point, you are only making notes, not trying to implement changes.

Advanced PlottingIn my book Advanced Plotting, I suggest making a chapter by chapter outline of your manuscript so you can see what you have without the distraction of details. For each scene or chapter, note the primary action, important subplots, and the mood or emotions. By getting this overview of your novel down to a few pages, you can go through it quickly looking for trouble spots. You can compare your outline to The Hero’s Journey or scriptwriting three-act structure to see if those guidelines inspire any changes. (You Can Write for Children and Advanced Plotting both have more information on three act structure.)

As you review your scenes, pay attention to anything that slows the story. Where do you introduce the main conflict? Can you eliminate your opening chapter(s) and start later? Do you have long passages of back story or explanation that aren’t necessary? Does each scene have conflict? Are there scenes out of order or repetitive scenes that could be cut? Make notes on where you need to add new scenes, delete or condense boring scenes, or move scenes.
editing note cards 
Colored highlighter pens (or the highlight function on a computer) can help you track everything from point of view changes to clues in a mystery to thematic elements. Highlight subplots and important secondary characters to make sure they are used throughout the manuscript in an appropriate way. Cut or combine minor characters who aren’t necessary.

Using Your Notes
Once you have an overview of the changes you want, revise the manuscript for these big picture items: issues such as plot, structure, characterization, point of view, and pacing. Renner recommends you then reread the entire manuscript, still focusing on the big picture. Depending on the extent of your changes, you may want to repeat this process several times.

editing example
During this stage of editing, consider market requirements if you plan to submit the work to publishers. Is your word count within an appropriate range for the genre? Are you targeting a publisher that has specific requirements? If you’re writing a romance, will the characters’ arcs and happy ending satisfy those fans? If you have an epic fantasy, is the world building strong and fresh? If your thriller runs too long, can it be broken into multiple books, or can you eliminate minor characters and subplots?

Once you’ve done all you can, you may want to hire an editor. You could also send the manuscript to new beta readers or critique partners. People who have not read the manuscript before might be better at identifying how things are working now. (See my posts on Critiques at my “Write like a Pro!” blog for topics such as making the most of a critique group, using family and friends, and hiring a professional editor.)

Editing Tips:
  • Don’t try to edit everything at once. Make several passes, looking for different problems. Start big, then focus in on details.
  • Try writing a one- or two-sentence synopsis. Define your goal. Do you want to produce an action-packed thriller? A laugh-out-loud book that will appeal to preteen boys? A richly detailed historical novel about a character’s internal journey? Identifying your goal can help you make decisions about what to cut and what to keep.
  • Next make a scene list, describing what each scene does.
  • Do you need to make major changes to the plot, characters, setting, or theme (fiction) or the focus of the topic (nonfiction)?
  • Does each scene fulfill the synopsis goal? How does it advance plot, reveal character, or both?
  • Does each scene build and lead to the next? Are any redundant? If you cut the scene, would you lose anything? Can any secondary characters be combined or eliminated?
  • Does anything need to be added or moved? Do you have a length limit or target?
  • Can you increase the complications, so that at each step, more is at stake, there’s greater risk or a better reward? If each scene has the same level of risk and consequence, the pacing is flat and the middle sags.
  • Check for accuracy. Are your facts correct? Are your characters and setting consistent?
  • Does each scene follow a logical order?
  • Is your point of view consistent?
  • Do you have dynamic language: Strong, active verbs? A variety of sentence lengths (but mostly short and to the point)? No clich├ęs? Do you use multiple senses (sight, sound, taste, smell, touch)?
  • Finally, edit for spelling and punctuation.

(For detailed editing questions, see my Plot Outline Exercise. It’s in my book Advanced Plotting or available for download on my website.)

What are your favorite resources for editing advice? Here are some I like or that other writers have recommended.

You Can Write for Children coverEditing Resources:
Advanced Plotting, by Chris Eboch
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King
Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power – An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction, by Jodie Renner
Manuscript Makeover, by Elizabeth Lyon
Novel Metamorphosis, by Darcy Pattison
Revision & Self-Editing, by James Scott Bell
Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us, by Jessica Page Morrell

Need a holiday present for a writer in your life – or for yourself? Improve your craft next year with Advanced Plotting or You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. Learn more at or Chris’s Amazon page.

Author Chris Eboch with The Eyes of Pharaoh novel
Chris Eboch writes fiction and nonfiction for all ages, with 30+ traditionally published books for children. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; Bandits Peak, a survival story, and the Haunted series, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Learn more at or her Amazon page.

Chris also writes novels of suspense and romance for adults under the name Kris Bock; read excerpts at

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic! I appreciate the step-by-step approach, and the list of editing resources.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!