How To Give Your Novel A Strong Edit

Okay, so we’re talking about editing again.  Last time I discussed the technique of the Epic EditBut that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. 

Since I am currently at the first edit stage of my newly rewritten manuscript “Dark Hart”, I thought this would be a good time to talk about editing again.

Banner how to give your novel a strong edit, close up of a typewriter

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Editing = seeing just how badly you write

Editing is where you take that manuscript you have lovingly but agonisingly been working on for months/years… and you bleed all over it with red ink at every badly chosen word, gaping plot hole, undeveloped character and grinding sentence.

Or at least… you should.

While I am writing this post because I am once again in Edit Phase myself, I am also writing it in a hopes to remind new writers to please PLEASE for the love of all that is dark and chocolatey… please edit your work!!!

I cannot read another “book” that has been churned out without seeing any edits, or just “one or two” quick edits.

I want to continue to support Indie authors and every time someone drops their unedited manuscript to be self-published, they make me pause before I buy a book by an unknown author.

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Not everyone will like your book

But there might be a lot more who do if you edit it!  You could be losing potential fans who just can’t get through your novel due to the poor or lack of editing.

“The first draft of anything is shit” ~Ernest Hemmingway

“The second and third draft isn’t always great either!” ~Me!

Seriously, if you want to be a professional writer then you have to put the same effort into editing as you do into writing.

Writing is the fun part (I know it doesn’t always seem that way, but it is).  Editing is not often fun but just as necessary.

Yes, it may mean you have to do some big-ass re-writes but that is what it takes to be a writer.

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The Edit Phase

As I’ve mentioned before, I write in scenes not, chapters and then piece them together INTO chapters.

This is done very loosely either in the planning phase (not often) or in the writing phase (mostly).

i) The questions

While I’m writing, I try not to get bogged down with anything that slows my writing.  Instead, I add questions to the bottom of each scene as and when something comes up.

These can be all sorts of things that I need to answer:

  • is it day or night in this scene?
  • Is it raining?
  • What colour are Kevin’s eyes?
  • How did the knife get into the drawer?
  • Would the eyes of the victim be cloudy if that person had drowned?

This way I can get the meat of the story down while my flow is… well… flowing, but I don’t forget these issues need addressing.

During my first edit, I attempt to answer these questions so that in my first rewrite I can get them into the story.

ii) wordage

While writing, I sometimes notice I have used the same adjective or verb twice (or more) within the same sentence or paragraph.  I always find these to be quite grating when read through.

However, rather than stop and try and find a more appropriate word, I just highlight both in bold and continue.

Again this doesn’t break my flow but it’s something to catch my attention in the edit.

This also goes for POV, if I find myself jumping POVs in a single scene, I leave it as is but just note (POV) beside the offending area so I can fix it in re-write.

The first edit I do is Structural, the second is a Copyedit (proof-read) and the third is a line edit.

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Types of Edits

i) Structural

Structural Edits are the most intense and time-consuming of edits.  Since they are also the most expensive when you get them done professionally, it’s worth doing this yourself first before you contact a professional.


This is where you check the plot to make sure it makes sense and is believable.  Is it convoluted and confusing or maybe even too simple.  Are there holes?  Have some questions been accidentally left unanswered?


Have you developed your characters well?  Not just your main characters but secondary ones as well.  Do they fit their personalities?  Are they described well enough to be pictured without being overly described?


How is the pace of the story?  Are there areas that are slow?  Is something moving too fast?  Does everything happen at the beginning with nothing happening in the middle?


Have you been consistent in your POV.  (seriously, this seems to be my biggest flaw at the moment, I keep jumping between heads in one scene).  Is it clear whose POV you are in at each chapter/scene?


Does your dialogue sound real?  Does it fit with each character’s voice?  Have you made it hard to understand by adding in some accent that you’ve tried to write?  Does it all work to move the plot?

These are definitely things that need to be addressed in a Structural Edit and it is why the Structural Edit should be done first.

ii) Copy edit

A copy edit is when the text is checked for errors such as spelling, punctuation, grammar, terminology, ambiguous words and formatting.  It is also used to check for consistencies, for example, with hyphenations or capitalisations.

During a copy edit, this is also a good time to make sure you fact check data.  In fiction, this is just making sure things you have written are correct.

So, for example, if you are describing a horse, you make sure the words you used to describe its saddle are accurate.

iii) Line edit

This is when you go line by line through the manuscript to make sure what you have written is clear, fluid and communicates the relevant sense and information clearly to the readers. It is also when erroneous words are targeted.  Sometimes as writers we add in extra words that are unhelpful or unnecessary.

Line edits target run-on sentences, repeating information that has already been given, areas of both narration and dialogue that can be trimmed and tightened.

Paragraphs that don’t read well, include ambiguity or tonal shifts that can leave the reader confused.

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My Tips on Editing

First Edit

I believe every writer should do at least three edits themselves – and the above types are a definite.  This is before you give it to a CP or BR.  (Though my Alpha Reader will get mine after a Structural edit as he is invaluable at spotting things I’ve missed when it comes to plot holes).

Second Edit

After you’ve finished writing the first draft, leave it for a few days.  You need time away from your ms otherwise you won’t notice errors the same.

Third Edit

As the title of this post attends, the pen is your friend.  Don’t do all your editing on screen.  You will miss things!  Print out your manuscript and go through it on paper.

When I do this I make sure the font is readable but not unnecessarily massive.  So I print it at Arial 10.  Double spacing.  This helps you see errors better and gives you space to make quick edit notes.

I also use narrow margins and set my printer to fast draft where it prints using less ink but is barely noticeable (except when it comes to making my cartridges last!).   My printer prints single-sided but that works for me (see below).

Tip: if you are dyslexic, print on pale yellow or blue paper, it apparently helps when reading.

Next, I get a red pen (always use a colour different than your printed manuscript) and start editing.  If I have longer, more detailed notes, I put a number by the area and then write on the back of the paper with all my notes.

I try and fix all the big issues, make sure my characters are developed and everything that should be is consistent.

When editing dialogue, read it out loud.  You will notice instantly if it doesn’t sound right.

I then type up those changes into my on-screen manuscript and leave it again for another few days.

Then I repeat with the copy edit and again with the line edit.

After the initial three, I usually do another 2 – 3 passes just to try and catch anything I’ve missed.

But remember – Always take breaks between edits.

Do you have any tips and tricks for editing? 

Share your Thoughts image.

~ ☆ ~ ☆ ~ ☆ ~

Well, I had better get back to actually doing my edits.  I hope you all have fun with your own edits and don’t forget to share your wisdom or maybe even your horror stories of edits, in the comments below!

Happy writing

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14 thoughts on “How To Give Your Novel A Strong Edit

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  5. Mark

    This is my first time, and I can already tell dialogue’s gonna be one of the most painstaking parts when it gets to editing. I have characters whose wording sounds too much the same (not personality, that’s pretty down pat already) when 3 of them in particular are supposed to have a regional accent as they came from places elsewhere.

    That’s going to take some manual planning to figure out how to make everyone different.

    1. Hi Mark, firstly, let me apologise for the delay in replying to this comment. I got a flurry of activity on my blog that pushed it down before I had replied.

      Dialogue can be hard, especially trying to keep each character sounding distinctly different.

      The best technique for dealing with dialogue is to read it outloud. (preferably in a room alone… not in the middle of the street… so people don’t stare at you) :p

      It really helps to notice when it gets clunky or whether it sounds like what a character sound actually say.

      I still have some cringing moments when I read dialogue I’ve written and end up thinking “that sounds so at odds with her character”

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  8. Andrew Kopecky

    Everything I write gets two or three “makeovers” at least. For me, the real writing craft starts once I am revising and editing the first and second and third drafts. Clean writing that is not terribly good writing is, in my opinion, better than decent writing (skill-wise) that hasn’t been cleaned up. Hemingway himself wrote some passages more than a dozen times, on a typewriter! I’m with you, I agree: Please, people, read over your writing and make it the very best you can!!

    1. Exactly! Well edited is definitely better than just decent writing with no editing. Not to mention, editing, makes you a better writer. 😀 Thanks for the comment

      1. Andrew Kopecky

        Ari, your blog is very, very useful, for me and for a young writer I am nurturing these days (and every day), my 14-year-old daughter. At school in her English class her teacher has all of the kids writing Nanowrimo stories for the entire month of November. My daughter has a very sharp sense of humor and she is putting it into her Nano story. But she has no experience with editing. Your blog will be useful to her with her story and all through her school days. I am glad I have met you (virtually) and have found out about your website.

  9. Great advice! It is a sad fact where I live that self-publishing goes hand in hand with the lack of proper editing. In fact self publishing is largely seen as an easy way for the business to make some (much needed) money out of people’s ambitions. What is more disturbing is the decline of standards in professional editing as well, a result of financial difficulties.

    1. Exactly! I am glad I’m not the only one who sees it. What a shame that something like self-publishing, which in a way is a great idea for allowing people to take control of their work, as a downside allows sub-standard work to flood the market.

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