10 ways I edit my novels after writing a first draft
As I edit my latest story, I am given to considering my process. It’s one I’ve used for decades. Does it seem extensive to you? I suppose I could tweet out on Twitter a poll to query followers what they think about this process. But, I normally go through the following steps to work through my stories.
First off, let me say that I write short, meaning my novels are far shorter in word count upon completing a first draft. Technically, you might say these drafts aren’t truly “first drafts” but “pre-first drafts.” You’d be correct too because after my 10-step editing process, I usually end up building the story to twice its original word-count.
How I edit
- I delete silly writing mistakes
- I try to find and fix grammar errors
- I use the ‘find’ function in word to search out and limit my most-used-words
- I correct the uses of their, there, and they’re; to, too, and two; then and than; and, here and hear
- I shorten run-on sentences
- I simplify correctly-written complex sentences
- I cut minimizing words, and overwriting (What? We thought you said you write short? –See explanation below)
- I build on characterization
- I add setting
- I swap out common words for more detailed words that add a emotive quality for the reader
After going through my editing process, I then send my MS to an independent editor to find things I missed. This is a critical step. Please don’t rely on your own judgment to edit your own work.
Okay, item #7 states, “I cut my overwriting,” after I explained that I write short. It seems a dichotomy, right? But #7 is not an error. My example below bests explains the dichotomy. These are straight out of my latest, nearly-edited novel.
Writing – Editing Examples
Original: But that’s how law enforcement was, sometimes.
Edited: That’s how law enforcement was.
We don’t need the transitional, conjuction “but” used at the beginning of this sentence, and we certainly don’t need to minimize the sentence by ending it with “sometimes.”
Original: The why’s about their criminality—the psychology of it.
Edited: The why’s about criminality–the psychology.
I’ve chosen to add formatting to the sentence to set off the word “why’s” and to cut out “of it,” which seems dangling to me.
Original: He’d enjoyed studying psychology in the required classes attending UW-Tacoma for his criminal justice degree.
Edited: He’d enjoyed studying psychology for his criminal justice degree.
Wow. What can I say here? Well, I know. I had been doing research on required classes to obtain a degree in criminal justice. The edited version shows how much you don’t need to get the same information across but with fewer, unnecessary words.
There you have it. Ten steps that will help you hone your fiction to be more accurate, quick-paced, and interesting. It’s a lot but I like to consider my readers and what they deserve from me as a writer.
Read more on editing from previous posts