I Am Editing…

Sometimes I feel as if I spend more time editing than writing although of course editing is writing, and equally important a process in the journey.

But as novelists, what should we do when we are editing? What should we be looking for? What needs to change?

Here are my top tips for editing the Rosanna Ley way.

  1. Print it out – it’s so much easier to spot repetitions, over-long paragraphs, breaks in flow etc when you read it on the actual page. And quite fun to scribble all over it…
  2. 5 Ws. Read one scene at a time and at the end of each scene ask yourself – does it cover the 5 Ws (where/ who/ when/ what/ why). In each scene the reader should know where the action is taking place, who is involved – and how they are developing as a character –  when it’s happening, what is going on – in terms of plot – and some sense of character motivation.
  3. Balance. Also at scene end check the writing is balanced. For example: have you included massive chunks of description and forgotten about internal thought and dialogue? Have you included lots of explanation but not kept the scene active? Worst of all have you bored your reader to tears..?
  4. Continuity – if James has blue eyes in Chapter 1 does he still have blue eyes at chapter 40? Have you written something early on which you have entirely forgotten about during the later chapters? (Easily done).
  5. Narrative Time – does this make sense? Is it chronological and if not, why not? Are the right things happening in the right season at the right time of day? How much time has passed since the previous scene and how have you signalled this to the reader? Give each scene a time of day and a date to check on time passing. It is key to authenticity which allows your reader to suspend their disbelief and stay in the world of your novel.
  6. Structure – are the chapters and scenes in the right place? Have you considered your points of tension and where they occur? Does your story sag in the middle and if so, what can you do about it?
  7. Lay-out – Have you left the right gaps in the right places, presented each chapter in the same way, used italics consistently…? This is a point of professionalism which your editor will appreciate.
  8. Fine-tuning – do the sentences flow? Are there too many adjectives? Repetitions? Favourite words that you have used again and again and again… Are there any clunky phrases or ‘darlings’ which need to be cut? (For ‘darlings’ read expressions/words /phrases/ images which you love and which are terribly clever but may not fit in with the narrative and are there for the wrong reasons). Check punctuation and grammar too.
  9. Reading Aloud – nothing will alert you to all the pitfalls above as effectively as reading aloud. To yourself or to a patient friend…
  10. Get Feedback – it’s important though to ask the right person. A helpful friend who might also be a reader of your book is perfect but he/she must be honest and constructive rather than congratulatory or destructive. (Family members are probably best avoided for this task). Listen to the feedback, consider it and then decide whether or not to take it on board. It’s your novel, after all…

P.S Editing is a time-consuming and absorbing task, which is why this is my first post since last November…


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