Editing Your Rough Draft

Firstly, I’d like to apologize for not posting in a while. I’ve been working very hard between school and my previous WIP, which is my big announcement:

I recently finished my latest novel, MAGE. I

After the celebrating, there’s the lingering question what next? A very large part of writing is simply getting the words down on the page, putting the ideas that have consumed you into a format where you can share them, finishing the novel. There is an immense sense of satisfaction after finishing a novel. I’ve only finished two, and I had to coast on the memory of the first one for years before I was finally able to finish another one. When I finished my first book, I had this idea that I was done. I could publish now. Looking back on my rough draft of WAKE UP CALL, I actually cringe reading through half of it.

Finishing a novel means you have a rough draft. t took me about six months to write it and as a complete rough draft it was 131k words. That’s a lot of raw material. Pages upon pages of raw emotion and ideas and characters that were only half formed when I started it. The tricky part is pulling it all together into something marvelous, something other people will want to read and publish and cry over when their favourite characters die and their OTPs don’t end up together.

However, there’s a very well known fact that not very many people enjoy editing. I am currently struggling to edit MAGE so that I can even begin to look at places I might send it to and work on a better query letter. Here are some tips to make editing seem less of a daunting task than it is.

Before you start editing, consider what might seem like the obvious facts about your book. They can be more difficult to answer than you thought. What genre is your book? What is the message you’re trying to get across? Are there other books your book reminds you of?

An early outline of MAGE.

An early outline of MAGE.

Also, before you start editing, remember that you might need a break. You’ve spent a long time on this novel, and you might need some distance. Go read that book that just came out. Make a cup of tea (or coffee, but I’m a tea person). Take a walk. Your novel will still be waiting when you come back, and you might be surprised by what you find. If you get stuck while you’re editing, consider looking at your novel in a different format. Print it out. Work on it on the computer. Rewrite a scene. Change the font.

Outline. This might seem contradicting since I’ve actually said that I don’t believe in having a firm outline when writing. That’s when you’re writing the first draft. Once you’re editing your rough draft, I think it’s very important to outline your book. Go through and make a list of the chapters in your books, and the large events that happen within those chapters. Take note on the interactions that seems small but foreshadow later events. Every scene should have a purpose, and this is an easy way to look at each of your scenes and consider how they contribute to the book as a whole.

Adverbs and Language. Adverbs are death. They are often and easy way of getting out of describing the situation. Don’t tell me the man looked creepy, show me the look in his eyes and his crooked smile and the strange stains on his overlarge jacket. Show me his limp and describe the way his voice sounds. It’s easy to fall into a similar trap with adjectives. Long sentences are not always better. Make sure your narrative fits the flow of what your character would notice, especially when writing in first person.

Common Phrases. Look for ways you repeatedly describe things. Habits are okay, especially if they emphasis a past event that is still painful for the character. But don’t constantly describe smiles or emotions the same way. Don’t mention the blush rising or her cheeks growing hot EVERY time someone is embarrassed. Check for repetitive phrases, especially if you regularly use them to describe different characters. Also look for simple grammar mistakes. Less than or fewer ? More than or over? It’s or its? (Less than and more than are used for things you can’t count, and only use it’s for contractions, not possessives.)

Dialogue Tags. I have issues with this sometimes. Unlike others, I love using words other than “said.” I think it’s okay to tell me your character yelled or cried or repeating or asking. Again, be sure you’re not to repetitive or overly excessive with trying to be creative. The biggest problem is using actions. Laughed, spit, snarled are not dialogue tags, they’re actions. It’s perfectly fine to include these actions, but don’t make them the tag.

Characters. You can argue that it’s the plot that moves the story along, but for me I’m always more interested in the characters than the events. I want to see how the characters react to events, and how they react to each other. Make sure your characters are realistic. I often figure out my characters while I write, so I’m having to go back and make sure what they do in the beginning of my novel matches with the type of person I eventually decided they were. Know your characters inside and out. Make their actions and movements and speech unique to them. However, I despise character charts, probably because I’ve gotten tired of having to pick a favourite colour and jewelry piece for every one of them. Instead, come up with back stories. Write about the time your character fell off a bike when (s)he was five, or how his/her grandmother was the only one there to teach him/her. Write about their first times in new locations. Write about their house, or their siblings. Write about their lack of siblings. These events are all what have led up to the character in your story, and all of them are important. Write fanfiction between your characters. Write impossible scenes that will never happen (this works as well when you’re stuck in the middle of a WIP), just to know how the character would react if they were in that situation.

Talk to Other Writers. Get critiques from other writers. Your friends and family might carry you through completing the rough draft, but unless they are a professional editor (and even perhaps then), they are not the write person to help you figure out which scenes to cut and which to keep, or how to change them. Find a community of other writers who can help you do those things. The internet is an excellent place to do this. Remember, though, that you don’t have to make every edit they suggest. The story is still yours, and ultimately you know it best.

Don’t be Negative. If you get to where all you can see are the flaws in your story, take a break. Constantly remind yourself why you started writing this in the first place, why it means so much to your. This is your piece of art, and it might take a while, but the end result will be stunning.