Drafting and Editing a Novel

Writing the first draft of a novel to completion is a magnificent achievement, but getting the novel up to scratch before submitting it to a publisher is vital. This is where the editing process comes in.

Fiction Writing Tips on Submitting a Novel to Publishers

The temptation to send a novel to an agent or publisher before it is ready will not do the novel justice and will waste time, postage and increase the likelihood of the author receiving a standard rejection letter. To avoid this from happening, the author must draft, redraft and edit the novel until it is word perfect. But where does the author start?
  Creative Writing Prompts

The raw material of the first draft of a novel forms the foundations from which the crafting, perfecting and polishing can happen. The following procedures might help the author perfect the novel.

Gaining some space from the novel before redrafting will help gain an objective view. After a month or so, de-clutter several days from duties in order to read the novel. Have a notebook handy to jot any points that need addressing. The objective is not to pull the novel to pieces, but to establish flaws. This is important, for if they are not picked up, the flaws will remain in the novel. Break down the evaluation into three main areas:

Fictional Character Development

Consider the following pointers:

  • Do any of the characters stand idly by doing nothing? Odd as this may seem, such characters do sneak into stories and remain invisible. If so, consider combining two characters or cutting out.
  • Watch out for stereotypes. A character conceived too easily may well have been sourced from a forgotten movie or book.
  • Are any of the characters a convenience for the plot, for instance, simply to relay a message or ensure a character is at a particular place? If so, consider a more unusual way of creating the plot twist.
  • Do they instil curiosity in the reader?
  • Do they possess a life of their own or are they easily manipulated like putty?
  • Do their desires fuel the plot?

The Plot Structure of the Novel

  • Does the opening of the story grab the reader?
  • Are any scenes superfluous and would the novel suffer if it were cut out?
  • Do any of the plot twists appear contrived or predictable?
  • Does the pace of the story become sluggish at any point?
  • Does a particular climax occur without sufficient build-up?
  • Are any events in the novel too incredible?
  • Does the story compel the reader to turn every page?

Editing Tips for Writing a Novel

  • Are there too many paragraphs of heavy description and profuse adjectives?
  • Are any of the phrases hackneyed and overused?
  • Does the story "tell" and not "show" as in passive writing? For instance, instead is saying the protagonist was afraid, describing the sensations of fear.
  • Do the words flow? Reading it aloud might give the answer.
  • Are the right words used? Check out the thesaurus for alternatives.
  • The obvious often gets overlooked. Look out for typos, grammatical errors and presentation.

Editorial Consultancy

Once the novel has been completed, it might be a good idea to seek feedback from a trusted party. However, the evaluation of close friends or family members might not be sufficiently objective. Editorial services are available for a fee, usually in increments of the depth of evaluation sought. Opinions will differ. In the end, the decision to take action remains with the author. More often than not, when an informed view has been obtained, gut instinct wins.

Writing Your First Novel

Guides on how to write a novel will never quite touch the experience of actually writing a novel. The writer will inevitably grow more particular with the standard of their work and this is good. Some authors redraft their novels several times before they send their work to publishers and even then, wonder if they could have improved it some more. There comes a time however, when it is wise to know when to stop. Knowing one has reached a personal best in writing before submitting the novel is a reassuring feeling, and banishes any self-doubt of "what-if."

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© Rachel Shirley 2010