Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Last week I wrote about the first draft of a novel, and the work you then need to do before submitting it.

One good piece of advice I’ve read is to do nothing for a week or so. Catch up on all the housework you’ve been ignoring, go pull up some weeds from the garden, treat yourself to a lunch or dinner with friends – whatever will keep you away from your novel for a while. You’re never going to be completely objective about it, but after a break from the intensity of creating it, you can come back to it with fresh eyes.

What Next? You may already know where there are weaknesses in structure or characterisation, so the first thing is to get these right. Sometimes you need to incorporate an extra scene, or change one you’ve already written. I’ve also had to layer in (naturally and unobtrusively!) more details about a secondary character who ended up playing a larger part in the story than I’d first anticipated.
Another good piece of advice is to print it out, chapter by chapter, since the ‘technical’ errors (punctuation and spacing etc) and typos are often easier to spot on a printed page, rather than on your computer screen. Read it out loud too. This can often highlight awkward sentences and show where your word flow can be improved.

Watch out for inconsistencies and continuity errors. Have the hero’s eyes changed from blue to brown? Did the heroine arrive at work in the morning and half an hour later go off for dinner with the hero? In my current WIP, I know I’m going to have to double-check whether I’ve put the heroine’s ‘office’ at college on the first or second floor as I think I’ve changed its location half way through.

It’s so easy to miss very obvious errors. Here’s a paragraph from a best-selling author, (who shan’t be named but you may be able to guess!):
A voice spoke, chillingly close. "Do not move." On his hands and knees, the curator froze, turning his head slowly. Only fifteen feet away, outside the sealed gate, the mountainous silhouette of his attacker stared through the iron bars.
Spot the errors? Fifteen feet away is chillingly close? Can you freeze and turn your head slowly at the same time? How can a mountainous silhouette stare? These are the kinds of thing that ought to jump out at you as you re-read your work.

The next step is to look at your style. Check for clichés and find a different way to express them. Look at your spelling and sentence structure. Do you have a series of sentences starting with ‘She’ or ‘He’? Re-write them and vary the start of each sentence.

Delete unnecessary dialogue tags and/or too many synonyms for ‘said’. The word ‘said’ is hardly noticed by a reader, whereas a plethora of synonyms like retorted, exclaimed, gasped, muttered, ordered etc etc can distract reader from what the characters are actually saying. Find action verbs instead of using adverbs. ‘She said nervously’ can be replaced with an action like lacing and unlacing her fingers. Look for the times when you can show, not tell.

Get rid of redundant actions too. You know the kind of thing (Ana wrote about this on Monday). I just took my own advice and changed: Her phone rang again and she picked it up, then pursed her lips when she saw the name on the screen. Of course she had to pick it up to see the name. So and she picked it up has been deleted.

Be aware of over-used words and phrases. You probably already know the ones you use too much. In Word you can use ‘edit’ and then ‘find’ to hunt for them and change them.

The editing process can be time-consuming, but it’s worth the effort. There is plenty of other advice in books and on websites about editing, so I’ll end with one last point. Don’t over-edit! Know when to stop ‘tweaking’ otherwise you’ll never have that final manuscript ready for submission.


  1. Hey, Paula,

    So proud of you for finishing NaNo!! Can't wait to read this one.

    Great blog post.

  2. All good editing directives, Paula, especially the printing out to read part. I've never read aloud. Too self-conscious. I should probably try.

  3. Great advice, Paula. I've heard about putting it down and letting it stew for a while too. Another thing I do is use highlighters of different colors for different sections. It helps me to see if I've stuffed too much into one section of the book, etc. Also helps me with the continuity and POV. Great post!

  4. Congrats on Nano and great ideas. My big problem is in copy editing. I get so caught up in reading the story, I don't see things like unclosed quotation marks etc. I have started reading paragraphs backward and aloud. It helps.

  5. My advice: do not even look at your NaNo manuscript for a month. Write something else, anything else. Forget that you've just penned a masterpiece and go on with your life.
    If you do that, a month from now you will see what is good and what is bad about your rough draft.
    Three years ago, I wrote an 84K book and did what I just recommended. When I went back, I expected to see a total disaster. Instead, I saw the makings of a really good novel, one that will be released in eBook format by Muse in January. Probably one of the two best books I've written and I have ten published at the moment, and four more on the way.
    One week is not sufficient time for you to forget the battle of getting the words on the page. Trust me, the time away will be well worth it. Cheers,
    Pat Dale

  6. Thanks, Toni - but it could be some time before the NaNo story is ready for anyone to read! I have a lot of work still to do with it.

  7. Ana, I've read parts of mine aloud - maybe a paragraph which I felt didn't 'feel' right, but never read the whole novel out loud. Maybe I'll try it with the next one.

  8. Jen, I'm intrigued about he highlighting as I'm not sure what you mean by different sections. Do explain :-)

  9. Cynthia, thanks for visiting. Speech marks and periods are so easy to miss. Reading paragraphs backwards sounds intriguing though!

  10. Pat, thanks for visiting and also for your advice. I've now gone back to my pre-NaNo WIP, so it probably will be well over a month before I look at the NaNo story again.
    Congrats on your forthcoming release, and best of luck with all your others.

  11. Okay, keeping in mind I tend to go overboard sometimes, here is an example. For my current WIP, I'm telling a story within a story. I wanted to make sure that a) the smaller story was spaced correctly throughout the manuscript--didn't want it all bunched in the beginning or all at the end and b) I'm trying to have the smaller story illustrate larger points -- so when the villain in the small story does something, I want something similar to be occurring in the main story. Therefore, I went through the entire manuscript and highlighted the smaller story in purple. Made it easier to find and to see where exactly it was. I also wanted to make sure that the daughter was fully developed, so I highlighted her in pink. Made it easy to find her (without doing a search for her name) and also easy to make sure that if I started out saying she was seven, she was actually seven throughout the story (similar to issues with eye color, etc.). In the past, when I had difficulty with keeping POV consistent, I did the same thing. Her POV was pink; his was blue. Highlighted the whole story to make sure that I wasn't changing colors in the middle of a scene. Does this make sense?

  12. Wow, Jen, that's an amazing system, I am well impressed. I never thought of doing something like that but I can see how useful it could be. Thanks!

  13. It's only amazing if you don't over-do it. Otherwise, you run out of colors and your pages look like a rainbow threw up on them (to quote my daughter).

    I also find little post it notes help (kind of like tabs) so you can easily page through to find the exact thing you're looking for. But again, don't overdo it.

    I'm still trying to learn that one.

  14. Like your daughter's description of a rainbow throwing up!
    I sometimes highlight 'iffy' paragraphs on the screen and places where I know I need to add something more, but I'm assuming you do a print-out of your whole book?

  15. Yeah, I have to do it at least once. I hate killing all the trees, but there's only so much editing I can do onscreen. I need to be able to spread things out on a table, make notes in the margins and not have to think about "how do I do this" in Word or whatever. Plus, there's something very cool about printing out an entire manuscript, seeing how thick it is and knowing that I wrote it. :) Now I just need the office supply store to make more than 6 different color highlighters! Although if you use the highlight feature on Word, you can technically have as many colors as you want.

  16. Great advice, Paula.

    Another thing I've heard is to read the story backwards (last page to first page) or read all the odd pages and then all the even pages. This helps to spot errors and you don't get caught up in the flow of the story.

  17. The backwards advice is fascinating, Debra, as is the odd and even pages. I can see how that could work to help you spot the errors without, as you say, only thinking of the storyline.

  18. I've heard Debra's advice as well when I took a copy editing class. Definitely works, but hard to do.

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  20. Congrats on Nano Paula, I don't know about you but I find it a wondeful way of concentrating the mind and making one focus!

    Some great advice here. One I must try and adopt is to print out the MS - I love reading on screen and find it easy to just make amendments and corrections that way - but as you say, things tend to jump out more easily from the written page.

    Thanks again Paula