Friday, May 4, 2012

Tips to Self-Edit a Novel

For most of us, writing a novel is easy. You have the story and it’s only a matter of pounding away at the keyboard until the story magically enfolds on the pages. Right?


Getting the story onto the computer with a word processing program is the easy part. In previous posts I discussed the YWriter5 program, which is still free and I stand by my recommendation for first-time authors to attempt to use this program to plan their novel. The program has been updated and currently it is truly editing-friendly as well. 

It allows you to break down your novel in a series of scenes and chapters, which you can export to MS Word or other program for editing. After you’re finished editing the selected chapter, you simply import the chapter back into YWriter5 and viola, everything is together again.

But, a program alone will not help you edit your work to such a fashion that you can submit to a publisher. You’ll need to work really hard before any publisher would look at your work. If you’re anything like me, editing your novel could take longer than writing the damn thing. I searched the internet for tips and advise on how to hone those sorely lacking skills in self-editing and there is a myriad of information available.

I listed only the ones I found most useful.

Tips on How to Self-Edit Your Novel

The Fiction Doctor – Cindy Davis

She lists a total of ten tips on how to improve your writing with fairly detailed examples of how to fix the problem in your writing. They are:-

1. Show don’t tell – our old favourite and one that causes the most headaches to all writers. What does it mean? How do you know when to tell and when to show? Is show always better? I found the explanation given on the website quite helpful as it contains examples of what she means.

2. Avoid Overuse of Pronouns – this speaks for itself, but check out Cindy’s example if you’re unsure.

3. Don’t Intrude as Author -  I think most of us are guilty of this at some point. It goes without saying that authors shouldn’t underestimate the reader’s intelligence. If you are in the character’s head, don’t tell your reader this over and over again.

4. Less is more – don’t explain everything to death. If it doesn’t really matter where the book case is in room, don’t explain this.

5. Don’t over-describe your character – it speaks for itself. Give just enough information that the reader can form a mental picture of your character. As Cindy’s explains, these descriptions are static and slows down the narrative.

6. Limit the amount of background you give on a character – rather drivel it through the novel in small pieces.

7. Keep your point of view steady – nothing frustrates a reader more than to try figure out from whose perspective the story is told. While head-hopping can make for interesting reading, if done badly, it can alienate the reader pretty quick.

8.  Use the best word to describe the action – walking carefully could be substituted with tiptoed, being nervous could be substituted with fidgeting, biting the lip, etc.

9. Avoid using passive voice – we all heard this before. It slows the action and is one of the pet peeves of editors at publishing houses. Take a look at Cindy’s examples, they’re quite insightful if you have problems with this.

10. Make sure the dialogue in your novel sounds like your characters and not yourself- this is a mayor point in writing realistic dialogue. Keep the dialogue true to the character you portray otherwise it might come across as stifled and forced.

Other points I found helpful when editing is to check for repetitive words.  I use MS Word’s find function to highlight pronouns – you’d be amazed at how many you can eliminate in this way. You can also upload a section of your work to the Autocrit – program where it will give you the word-usage. YWriter5 has a function where it will tell you the word usage in a scene. The problem with seeing it only in one scene is that using the word once in a scene seems fine, until you remember that you have fifty or a hundred scenes all using the same word.

Watch out for problem words. These words are usually words you can delete without making a difference to the sentence. Words like down, around, away, back, almost, already, nearly, really, actually, quite, wanted to, started to, began to, tried to.

Another wonderful resource for writers is Bob Mayer’s 70 Solutions to Common Writing Mistakes.  You can obtain a copy of this by subscribing to the Writer’s Digest Newsletter. You could also do worse than check out their archive of articles on writing. In particular the articles pertaining to revision.

If you are stuck, the internet provides loads of useful information on writing and revising. Advise on actual editing your novel, however, seems a little harder to find. So, please share if you find a useful resource for self-editing your novel.


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