How to Edit My Book
A lot of authors who say “I want to know how to edit my book” think there must be some system all the great authors use for editing, when the reality is each author is different. For example, I have my own unique set of frequent writing flaws, so I have my own way to edit my book. You’ll need to come up with a system of self-editing that’s tailored to your own writing needs.
Instead of telling you how to edit your novel, I’m going to give you tips on how to create your own system of editing.
Create Your Own Editing System
1. Refer to your past – What are frequent critiques you get when you share your manuscript with your friends who critique your work? Or if you have work published, what were some of the criticisms in the reviews? Look at the patterns. Do they say the characters are flat? Do they say the story was unbelievable?
My biggest criticism from reviews for The Torah Codes is that I didn’t do my research, so some of my facts were incorrect. (Double-barrel shotguns don’t have pump action? Six shooters don’t have a safety? Who knew?)
2. Examine your storyline’s pacing – Look at the past stories you’ve written. Create an index card for each scene writing down in one sentence or phrase what happens in the scene. Then figure out where Act 1 starts and ends, where Act 2 starts and ends, and where Act 3 starts and ends. Layout the cards in four columns: Act 1, Act 2 part 1, Act 2 part 2, and Act 3 (Act 2 is twice as long as the other acts). Typically, Act 1 will be a bit shorter than the other columns, but overall, the columns should be roughly the same length. If you often notice that one column is twice as long as another, you may need to regularly rework the pacing of your storylines. If your columns are regularly about the same length, you don’t need to check your pacing when editing your novel.
Since I’m a plotter and not a pantser — I outline the full story first instead of writing from the seat of my pants — I put my story on index cards before I write. That way, I make sure the flow of the storyline follows Aristotle’s story line. You can see more about plotting via index cards here.
3. Check characters – If your characters are typically flat and not as well-developed as your readers want, you’ve probably noticed regular feedback from your readers in that respect. That means you’ll need to make character development part of your editing process.
While my plotting skills are well-crafted before I write, my character development is not. I’ve added character development as part of the set of tasks I need to do when editing.
4. Setting – When you write your first draft, do you spend a lot of time describing the setting or do you quickly mention the spot to get to the heart of the scene? I’m the latter, so I need to go to the beginning of each scene and rewrite the openings so that the settings have more character.
5. Dialogue – In my mind, dialogue is so important that I recommend you incorporate editing dialogue in your editing process no matter how good your dialogue is. Even in first draft format, my dialogue is great. I’m also very humble. But to me dialogue is such valuable real estate, it’s vital to make it the best you can. Why have a character say, “I’m hungry,” when you can have them say, “If I don’t get some food in my stomach soon, people near me will die”? Make editing your dialogue a regular part of your process.
6. Overused words – What words do you overuse? For me, I tend to start sentences with “and.” And it’s not even necessary. So discover your overused words and punctuation, and remove or replace them. Make that part of your editing process.
Not sure which words you overuse? Go to tagcrowd.com, cut and paste your manuscript into the website, and take a look at the biggest words. Those biggest words represent the words you use most. You’ll notice that the words are “it” and “that” and other common words. To exclude those words you’d expect to see frequently, add them in the “Don’t show these words” section of the website.
Here’s a tag cloud of The Torah Codes. I seem to write the word “looked” a lot. Not as bad as writing “flatulent” a lot.
7. Overused sentence structure – I’ve read writers that, in the middle of a sentence, would break up the sentence. Reading that structure, when done over and over again, is frustrating. I have the problem of making consecutive sentences start out with the protagonist as the subject. He did this. He did that. He did the other thing. So now I know to go through my manuscript and rework those sentences. What overused sentence structures do you use?
My Personal Editing Process
- Look at all the characters, determine their fears, goals, motivations, conflicts, and picture them as someone I know personally.
- Read the full work and make changes here and there for whatever I think stands out and needs fixing.
- Afterwards, address my overused sentence structures. As I find and fix repetitive structures of “He did this,” and “He did that,” I make a note of topics that I need to double-check to make sure the facts are straight.
- Confirm the facts and make any needed changes.
- Redo the dialogue.
- Rewrite the beginnings of every scene to make the settings vivid.
- Find and fix all the sentences that start with “and.”
- Read the entire book aloud to catch typos and grammar errors.
Having an editing system in place helps make the idea of editing my book much less daunting.
When you’re done coming up with a system on how to edit your book, you can crank out your manuscript into a finely tuned novel and voila! Your book is ready to be edited by your friends!
Book marketing mentor, Ezra Barany is the author of the award-winning bestseller, The Torah Codes. Contact Ezra now to begin the conversation on how he can help you. You can connect with Ezra via Facebook, Twitter, contact him through this blog, or by email: EZRA at THETORAHCODES dot COM.