40 Tips For Editing Your Novel

One of Guild of Dreams’ most popular posts is My favourite proofreading tips from by Scott. Our readers are working hard on their books, proofreading, editing, and revising. Here is a master list of 40 Editing tips, some original and some gathered from around the web. Some suggestions will naturally follow others, and some are different ways of accomplishing the same thing.

The Number One Editing Tip

1. Step away for a while. (Stephen King recommends this in On Writing, and many other authors see the wisdom in getting away from your work for some time.)

Reading Your Manuscript

2. Read it out loud. Your eyes glance over typos and misspellings, but when you read it out loud, you’re forced to slow down and put a voice to what you’ve written.

3. Have someone else read it to you. Employ a friend or significant other or writing partner.

4. Or use a program to read it out for you. Get some text-to-speech software on your computer or eReader to read it for you while you follow along in your word processor.

5. Change the font. Sometimes, just changing the font can change the way you look at it.

6. Set your word document up as a real book. Work with your word processor to make your pages 8×5 and side by side, with page numbers and the whole shebang.

7. Or read it on your eReader or phone. It’s now an ebook, not a draft you’ve been working on in Word or Scrivener for ages.

8. Read through it once, not making any edits but instead making comments. Write these down or use your comments feature.

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The Big Picture

9. Look at the big picture first: what did you see when you read through it about the pacing, the plot, what you learned about the characters? Was the ending satisfying? Did you know enough about the main characters?

10. You should also look at it in chunks: does the beginning draw the reader in and make the conflict clear? Does the middle move the plot along in a way where the conflict builds on each other? Is the ending satisfying and leave the readers wanting more of your writing, whether for this series or for another one?

11. One recommendation from the book Now Write, a collection of writing exercises edited by Sherry Ellis, is to look at the novel seven times, examining the manuscript for something different each time:

  • Character
  • Conflict
  • Setting
  • Voice and POV
  • Plot and Structure
  • Language
  • Symbol

Scenes

12. When going through a scene, use different colored highlighters to underline how much you use different elements. For example, yellow for description, pink for dialogue, blue for emotion, orange for conflict. This way, you can see when a scene might need more or less of something. (Adapted from Margie Lawson’s writing classes.)

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13. Look at your novel’s scenes, on post-it notes or 3×5 cards. See if you can cut any scenes, combine them, or rearrange them. (Adapted from What If? by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter)

14. Look at each scene and ask:

  • Does the scene belong in the book?
  • Is this scene a story in miniature?
  • What is the conflict of this scene?
  • Does the scene contain elements that no longer fit the story?
  • Is the scene well-written?
  • Does the scene fit logically in time and space?
  • Is your scene full of weak words?
  • Is the word-count right?

From Holly Lisle’s amazing One-Pass Manuscript Revision. Visit for in-depth explanations of the above questions.

15. Engage all five senses in a scene. Some authors try to engage at least two per page: what is the main character seeing, smelling, hearing, feeling, or tasting?

Dialogue & Character

16. Read your dialogue out loud with someone else.

17. Study dialogue and make sure you have a balance of body language, emotion, and tags with the dialogue.

18. Remember that the most interesting dialogue is when something isn’t said.

19. Summarize dialogue where you can.

20. Reveal the majority of your main characters’ personalities in the first half of the book. Don’t surprise the reader at the end of the book with a new talent that will save the day.

21. Be sure to give the reader at least one or two distinguishing physical characteristics about every major and secondary character you introduce. Authors know what their characters look like, but do the readers? Mention them again later, but not excessively.

Sentences & Words

22. Be sure your adjectives and adverbs enhance your nouns and verbs. Use strong verbs when you can instead of an adverb and a weak verb. (From What If? by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter)

23. Cut unnecessary “that”s. Many ‘thats’ in relative clauses you don’t need. Example: I knew that he would be there.

24. Cut unnecessary “started to” constructions unless your character is going to be interrupted. I began to walk down the road becomes I walked down the road.

25. Look for POV filtering and cut it unless totally necessary. She felt sweat break out on her forehead is stronger as Sweat broke out on her forehead. 

26. Cut unnecessary filler words: just, very, only, merely, said.

27. Change “There was” constructions into phrases with stronger verbs. There was a painting on the wall can become A painting hung on the wall.

28. Make sure your sentence constructions are varied. Underline how many sentences start “She [verbed]”. You can use adverb phrases at the beginning (“After taking a shower”), or make your subjects inanimate objects, as long as it fits with the verb (“His voice was tense”).

29. Eliminate unnecessary “was [verb]ing” phrases. He was standing in the room can easily become He stood in the room.

Getting Feedback

3o. Join a local writers group or a critique website where you can get feedback in chunks.

31. Search writers forums for beta readers. Be willing to do swaps, so you can help the person who’s helping you.

32. When looking for a beta reader to read your entire novel, start with the first chapter. You may find that the two of you don’t match, and you don’t want to commit to an entire novel without knowing for sure.

33. Get as many opinions as you can. People will have different opinions, and the key is finding which feedback is consistent.

34. When interpreting the feedback, ask yourself which is personal preference (your beta reader doesn’t like love triangles so she wants you to get rid of it) and which is objective advice (your beta reader sees that your main character leads on the boys in the love triangle and they don’t even care or notice). You won’t be able to please everyone’s reading preferences, but there are other issues you can fix.

35. Make a list of issues you can agree with and consider how to fix them. Not enough backstory about your villain? Consider where exactly you can put that backstory. Having a plan can help with actually doing it.

36. When searching for a professional editor, know the different kinds of editing and which kind(s) you need. Content/developmental edits focus on the story, characters, plot, and pacing. Copy/line edits focus on the writing, mechanics, and sentence structure. Proofreaders give the manuscript one last read for typos, misspellings, and wrong words.

37. When hiring a professional editor, get a free sample first. Same as the beta readers: you want to be sure your styles fit. Get samples from a variety of editors and see which style you like the most. Which gave you the most in-depth editing for the investment they’re asking?

38. Make sure the editor is open to follow-up questions. You don’t want to harass them for weeks after their job is finished, but you may need clarification. Some editors offer a second pass for free.

39. Don’t be overwhelmed by revisions after getting feedback. Make a list of the changes you need to make, another list of how to make them, then take the time to make them. You can do it!

Proofreading

40. See my tips during the beginning of the list about reading in different formats and views and check out Scott’s favorite proofreading tips.

Do you guys have any other tips? Let us know in the comments!

Emily Ann Ward is the author of Finding Fiona, Le Garde series, and The Protectors series. One of her first stories featured a young girl whose doll came to life. The rest is history. Aside from writing, she loves traveling and she’s the managing editor of the Rush line for Entranced Publishing. Currently, she lives in Oregon with her husband Chris and their cats. Visit her website at http://emilyannward.com

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