Editing Your Novel with Fresh Eyes

Ian DennisThis is a guest post by Ian Dennis. Ian loves writing, is a dragon fanatic, and won’t talk to you if you say anything bad about BBC’s Sherlock. When he’s not writing. he’s usually on his Pinterest boards, his facebook page, or tumblr. He also tries to run Dragons With Typewriters, a blog that likes to rant about how hard world building is, tries to help people write better, and reviews books every so often. It usually has new posts twice a week, unless Ian neglects it, in which case it stops posting new things and pouts in a corner.

Editing is the hardest part of writing.

It’s where the magic happens. It’s when you fill in plot holes and flesh out your characters. It’s where you spell check and plot check and grammar check and check all the other things that make a good story good.

At its most basic level, editing requires you to be able to examine your novel with fresh eyes. It will probably come as no surprise to you when I say that this is usually incredibly difficult. You’ve gone over your story several times in your head, no doubt, and you’ve probably read and reread your various scenes as you’ve written them.

I struggle with this a lot. Fortunately, I’ve compiled a set of methods that I use to ‘resee’ my novel when I’m editing it.

Read your novel aloud.

This is my least favorite part of editing. It makes me feel awkward and weird, and I’ve never found a way to minimize that feeling.

However, it is incredibly effective. You never know exactly how nerdy a piece sounds until you try to read it aloud. It also makes it much easier to find typos and those pesky run-on sentences, as it forces you to listen to what you wrote.

Show your novel to a friend. Or six. And your mother.

You can learn a lot about your work by your friends’ reactions to it. Some friends, of course, wouldn’t say a bad word about your work if you held them over a fire. Other friends, though, can be almost painfully honest.

For instance, I once had a very good friend who told me that they were unable to read past the first page of my novel. The reason? I failed to put enough emotion into my characters.

Ouch. On the bright side, my characters are much more emotional now. In the good way, I mean. And it was a flaw in the work that I’d never have been able to find by myself.

Trade your work with a fellow writer.

Like the above, this requires showing your work to other people. It’s a little different, though. You may not know the person that you’re showing your work to, and you’ll often be editing their work in exchange. There are many ways to get in contact with other authors, from joining clubs to participating on forums. Myself, I tend to use resources on the internet- such as forums and writer’s websites- to get my stuff reviewed.

Honestly? It’s not a bad method. Sometimes, people leave really helpful reviews. However, you do want to be careful- some people will only give your work a passing glance and a “It was great!” remark, and other people will be trolls and leave a “OH MUH MER GAWD, THIS WUS HOHRBLE, HATEHATE SNARKSNARK”.

Believe neither the go-panderers or the trolls. Take care of yourself and your work, okay?

Read it backwards

No, I don’t mean reading each word backwards ekil siht. I mean, start by reading the last paragraph and editing it by itself, without looking at what’s above it. Then you go up to the next to last paragraph, and onwards. What this does is it allows you to turn your novel backwards and see it from a completely different angle than you did before.

This isn’t necessarily going to help you develop your characters or round out your plot. It is incredibly good for making your prose shine. And as a reader of self- published books, let me tell you, good prose is really underrated.

Take a break. In fact, take two.

I am a firm believer that there should be at least two breaks during your novel writing period; one after you finish the first draft and one after your first edit. You should probably take a break between the second and third edits too. The length of time you break for is up to you. I personally think a couple weeks are more than good enough, but I’ve heard of writers taking up to a year away from their drafts.

You, of course, should follow your own discretion on this.

Print it out and mark it up

Seriously. Do it. Write all over your novel. Don’t just fix typos, either- question your work. Write notes in the margins. Make a note whenever you find something that you really like, and whenever you see something that- come to think of it- is kind of stupid. Engage with it.

This is actually my favorite method for a couple of reasons. First of all, it gives you a chance to really get hands on with your work in a way that computers don’t allow. There’s something thrilling about being able to physically touch and change your work.

Second of all, when you’re on the computer the screen has a habit of causing your eyes to glaze over things that would be blaringly obvious if they were on paper, from typos to missing words to entire chunks of plotline.

If you follow these methods, I can’t promise that your novel will be the next best seller- or even very good. That, sadly, is completely up to you. Remember: a large part of editing well lies in your ability to admit when, where, and how you’ve screwed up your plot or characters, and how willing you are to fix your mistakes.

However, if you’re willing to do that- and believe me, it’s hard- then I do think that the above tips will be very helpful in helping you edit your work properly. Remember to experiment too. These are hardly the only ways to ‘resee’ your novel- these are just my personal favorites. Find what works for you.

How about you? What do you do to resee your novel? Do you use any of the above tricks, or do you have different methods that you use to get your editing done?