Eleven Rules For Editing Fiction

So you’ve nailed down the 11 Rules for Writing Fiction. You’ve finished your novel. You feel good. INVINCIBLE. But then… what’s that? A typo? A cliché?!

Crap, you realise. The hard work has only just begun.

Welcome to the world of editing.

No, come back! Don’t run away screaming! Editing is fun. It’s like scrubbing off the dirt from your novel’s little face. You know how good it feels when you scrub your kitchen until all the surfaces are sparkly? That’s what editing is like.

But where do you start? Here’s some suggestions on what to look out for….

11 Rules For Editing Fiction

  1. Read critically.
    Take a break from your novel and come back to it with fresh eyes. Read it critically. Find out where things don’t work and what you need to change. Take notes.

  2. Plan.
    You don’t want to edit the story any more than you have to. Look over your notes, and if needed write a new outline. How will you better demonstrate the character’s development? Where will you plant clues about the killer’s identity? Know what needs to be changed and how, before you start rewriting.

  3. Leave line editing for last.
    The story’s basic structure comes first; leave the details for last. Focus on fixing plot holes first, on re-ordering scenes, fixing timelines–the big stuff. Don’t waste time on making a sentence sound perfect, when you don’t even know whether that scene will survive the rewrite.

  4. CUT! (aka Know When To Start)
    Get rid of that prologue. Heck, get rid of the first two chapters. Cut straight to the action–the readers don’t need long passages introducing the protagonist, the protagonist’s family and the protagonist’s collection of rocks. Neither do they need weather reports or waking-up-in-bed starts. Speaking of which…

  5. Avoid bedtimes.
    Don’t abuse waking and sleeping. If that’s how you do all your scene breaks, something’s wrong — even if your protagonist is narcoleptic. Finishing a scene with someone drifting off to sleep is often anti-climatic, starting with them waking in bed is dull, and you can only believably wake up from a nightmare so many times.

  6. Avoid cliché.
    Both in your scenes and in your language. Pay special attention to similes and metaphors–as black as night, as cold as death, a bird in the hand… To make your story sound original and fresh, get rid of anything your reader will recognise.

  7. Delete unnecessary words.
    Make your writing as tight as possible. Often-overused offenders are: seem, suddenly, just, even, really, feel, almost, slightly, and directional words (up/down/in/out). Treat adverbs with caution. Cut as many as possible.

  8. Get an outside opinion.
    Have other people read it. Develop a thick skin. Listen to all of their advice and thank them for it. Compile their feedback, and see what they all agree on.

  9. Read it aloud.
    Listen to the rhythm. Does it sound right?

  10. Love what you do.
    Don’t despair. Editing can be disheartening, but it’s not all bad. And hey, even if it is, that’s why you’re editing!

  11. Finally…
    Share your wisdom — what’s your eleventh editing rule?

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8 thoughts on “Eleven Rules For Editing Fiction

  1. Ha! This should have been titled “Eleven Rules For Editing Fiction (unless you’re JK Rowling)”.

    My favourite rules are “remove any line with an exclamation point or more than one adjective” and “avoid novelty and enigma” – remember that one completely blank page idea that you ripped off from Tristram Shandy or House of Leaves or something? That only works if your first name is James and your last name is Joyce, and probably you had been drinking when you thought of that…

  2. My eleventh rule has served me well. It is the following: gnash your teeth until you’ve run out time to edit more than a single word, then use the remainder of the time to agonize over which word to change.

  3. Pingback: Clock Rewinders #17 – Once Upon A Time

  4. Pingback: My Top 9 Writing Posts | A.M. Harte

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