How To Edit A Novel Manuscript – Writing a book is more than just sitting down, writing a thousand words and sending it off to print (or self-publish). Before you share it with readers or publishers, you need to learn how to transcribe, edit, and shape your manuscript to make it the best version of you. Although you’ll be working with a professional editor, this part of the editing process is something every writer should do on their own.
Having this free list handy can help you review this article. Without further ado, let’s get started! Here is the step-by-step process for editing a book:
How To Edit A Novel Manuscript
Writing a first draft is a purely creative act. Editing, on the other hand, is an analytical problem-solving process where you slowly work through those block drafts until you have something you’re proud of. Here are some tips on how to enter this editorial state:
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It’s a common fact that you should put your manuscript on hold for a few days before you start editing it. Neil Gaiman said, “When it’s done, put it down until you can read it with fresh eyes. When you’re ready, pick it up and read it like you’ve never read it before.’
Imagine an artist painting a landscape. They don’t start by painstakingly shading a small tree – they start by outlining mountains and rivers. This is the approach you should take when editing a book yourself. You’ll go through several rounds of editing to address different elements of your writing, so don’t worry about getting every sentence perfect before moving on.
Writers often hear the advice “kill your lover,” which means you should cut out all the beautiful passages that don’t add to the bigger picture. Again, don’t worry: you can always save your “deleted scenes” if you have access to them later. Remember: if you write something great, you can write it again – so take your time.
If your plot is flawless, your structure is strong, and your characters are connected and developed in satisfying ways, then you’re halfway there. With this in mind, the first phase of your editing will answer these general questions.
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A plot consists of interconnected plot events, each leading to a different plot point. At the most basic level, your plot should just connect in a logical order with some kind of climax. It should also convey what the storyline promises (for example, a detective novel should really involve some detectives).
Pro tip: Write a 1-sentence summary of each scene on separate cards and pin them to the cork board. Once your plot is laid out in front of you, it’s easier to move scenes around (or cut them entirely).
During this editing section, don’t worry if you feel like you’re losing the plot (!) – you’ll always have guides in the form of a story structure.
Although the plot of this book can be whatever you want, the story structure is not that flexible. Most of these stories follow the same pattern:
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The character is in the “normal world” until something forces him out of his comfort zone and in order to pursue a goal he must achieve or face the consequences.
Whether you plan your book according to a three-act structure, a character’s journey, or another narrative framework, you should be able to condense your story into one sentence using the following formula:
A cynical nightclub owner must do whatever it takes to help his ex-love and her husband escape Casablanca or risk the French resistance.
To make sure your book follows the basic principles of storytelling, check out our in-depth guide to story structure and choose a framework that works for you.
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Your book doesn’t have to follow any particular structure – after all, storytelling isn’t a hard science. However, you may find these structures useful for identifying missing or misplaced “story beats” that may be critical to solving your story’s narrative problems.
If you want to delve deeper into narrative structure, sign up for our free three-act structure course. brand
In many ways, the story is about how the characters react to events or situations. How does a kind, romantic orphan react to a secret inheritance? How does the Spider react when her pig friend is sentenced to slaughter?
In an interesting way) certain things need to be set: a primary goal, strengths that can help them achieve that goal, and weaknesses that hold them back.
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Then there are antagonists and minor characters. While they also need to have rich, relatable inner lives, they need to contribute to the main character’s story for your book to be successful. If they don’t help, hinder, or illustrate your main characters in any way, you may need to edit some scenes, add new ones, or remove characters entirely.
For more help, check out our guide to creating a character profile and free character development course. 3. Listen to your story
The next step is to give your book texture and meaning by focusing on conflicts and themes.
The conflict should escalate over the course of the story. As the story progresses, the obstacles that stand in the way of the protagonist’s goal must become more and more insurmountable. The villain towers over the detective; the romantic hero’s sense of self-doubt becomes acute.
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When editing, make sure that your main conflicts – whatever they are – build steadily towards the climax. This tension will not only allow your readers to see your story moving forward, but it will also raise the stakes, allowing your big conclusion to carry even more weight.
Although many authors do not begin writing with literary themes, they often find that these themes emerge as they transcribe. No matter how niche and unusual the conflict of the main character, it should be based on something universal – this is the theme.
If your book is about the fear of aging, the naysayers are probably plastic surgeons. Perhaps you could focus on the theme of natural decay in your description – or use a ticking clock as an illustration. Anything that subconsciously makes your topic more receptive to readers can and should be planted at this stage.
Now that the skeleton of your book is perfectly aligned and the flesh is starting to stick to the bones, it’s time to zoom in and start working on the details.
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Scene-by-scene editing follows. Here you will make sure that every scene contributes to the story and contains fascinating details. You may have made some edits to the light scenes in the service, but now is the time to check that each scene serves its purpose – if not, change or cut it. Let’s break it down into three parts:
If you’re new to story editing, editing scenes and chapters should come naturally. This is where you look at your scenes, especially the important ones (like introductions, exciting events, and climaxes), and try to make them more cohesive and engaging for the reader.
As you probably know, this editing phase is all about getting down to the details. Don’t be afraid to “micro-manage” your scenes: crop, adjust and move them around until you get it right.
Also, make sure you don’t go too slow (which will annoy the reader) or too fast (which will confuse them). Ask beta readers to check it out if you’re not sure about pacing—it’s a particularly difficult mistake to diagnose in your own writing, so a fresh pair of eyes will help.
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It’s time for everyone’s favorite part of the story: the dialogue. Of course, just because dialogue is fun to write doesn’t mean it’s easy to do well. If you need to clear something up, we’ve got a comprehensive conversation guide here, but if you’re up for a deep edit, read on!
Some dialogue issues, such as excessive use of dialogue idioms, are easily fixed. Others, like giving each character a unique voice, can be more difficult to handle. If you don’t have much conversational experience, why not sign up for our free natural conversational writing course?
There are two more elements here that you might not think are related: prose and perspective. We group them together because stories are often told from the point of view of specific characters, which of course affects the prose style. This is also one of the last stages of editing, as many of these issues will be fixed or improved along the way! Although this section is mostly secure, it’s worth checking just in case.
Again, if you’ve made it this far, most of these problems have probably resolved themselves. But there are still some moments that are easy to miss, like clarifying when your POV role changes and arranging blobs of purple prose. So even if you think you’re doing it right, take some time to find these things.
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