Editing can be one of the most frustrating parts of the writing process for authors. Often times, it’s easy to skim over your own work, knowing that it needs help, or maybe just that it needs something, but you’re not sure what or where to start. Adding structure or a plan to the editing process can make a huge difference. I find that the best way to structure your editing is by making it into a 3-step process.
First, start by editing your story. This is when it’s time to read your novel, while trying to refrain on nitpicking your sentences, paragraphs, grammar etc. You need to evaluate the story as a whole. Are there any really slow or even irrelevant scenes or parts that need cut? Are you missing anything? Are there gaps in the plot or storyline? Is anything confusing? It’s hard to see these things if you’re not evaluating the story as a whole and instead jump to going through the story page by page, paragraph by paragraph.
Other important questions to ask (which should have already been asked and addressed before you even started writing) are: Does your main character have a goal that drives them through the story? Is the barrier which interferes with the character meeting their goal strong enough to move the plot forward? Did you establish a setting, place, and time?
It may seem like the story evaluation step should come last, after the author has made finer edit, but I think this is where people make a mistake, because once you have, what you consider, a polished novel, it’s much harder to chop or rewrite scenes that are slow or irrelevant in the first place. You also may be less apt to even recognize them because you’ve just spent a ton of energy on fixing and editing said boring chapters. Furthermore, if you recognize holes in the plot, you just spent a ton of time working on a story, which doesn’t cut-it.
Once you’re satisfied with the overall story and structure, it’s time to evaluate the individual scenes. You need to examine whether the point-of-view character has a goal or something driving each scene that is in some way relevant to their story goal. Each scene should be moving the story forward. You need to consider whether there is a good mix of narrative, dialogue, and don’t forget about the much-needed sequels. Can the reader feel the emotions of the characters? Is the character believable? Also, don’t forget that there should be at least some tension and/or suspense in each scene if you want to keep the reader interested; you want them reading with anticipation. (I talk a little about what creates tension and suspense, here).
Lastly, you need to edit in detail, by sentence and paragraph. You already have a great story, now you just need to make it shine. This is time to edit word choices, grammar, and structure. Good writing has a variation of length and complexity to the sentences. Do you have any repeated phrases or words?
This is time to make sure you are showing and not telling. Instead of saying: “She heard a loud crack of thunder in the distance.” Say: “The crack of thunder in the distance pierced her ears. The strength of the storm, rumbled through her body, with a ferocity unmatched by anything but the power of nature.”–or something like that. To further this point, look at your adverb use, other useless words, and “ly” words: have/had, was/were, feel/feeling/felt, that, here/heard, it/there, just, etc. You should not use too many of these. Chances are a lot of them can be cut and will make your writing more powerful as a result.
Once you’ve done all of these things, and you’ve done them successfully, you should have a well polished manuscript. Keep in mind though, it can be hard to find your own mistakes, so if you can’t afford a copyeditor, then you should at least have a Beta reader or someone who’s good at picking up spelling and grammar errors to read over your book once you’re finished with the editing process.