In honor of #NaNoEdMo (National Novel Editing Month), I'm sharing some advice from You Can Write for Children: A Guide to Writing Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. Two weeks ago I offered advice on “big picture” editing. Last week I covered Fine Tuning. Here are some final quick tips on editing to help you through NaNoEdMo.
Don’t try to edit everything at once. Make several passes, looking for different problems. Start big, then focus in on details.
Try writing a one- or two-sentence synopsis. Define your goal. Do you want to produce an action-packed thriller? A laugh-out-loud book that will appeal to preteen boys? A richly detailed historical novel about a character’s internal journey? Identifying your goal can help you make decisions about what to cut and what to keep.
- Next make a scene list, describing what each scene does.
- Do you need to make major changes to the plot, characters, setting, or theme (fiction) or the focus of the topic (nonfiction)?
- Does each scene fulfill the synopsis goal? How does it advance plot, reveal character, or both?
- Does each scene build and lead to the next? Are any redundant? If you cut the scene, would you lose anything? Can any secondary characters be combined or eliminated?
- Does anything need to be added or moved? Do you have a length limit or target?
- Can you increase the complications, so that at each step, more is at stake, there’s greater risk or a better reward? If each scene has the same level of risk and consequence, the pacing is flat and the middle sags.
- Check for accuracy. Are your facts correct? Are your characters and setting consistent?
- Does each scene (in fiction) or paragraph (in nonfiction) follow a logical order and stick to the topic?
- Is your point of view consistent?
- Do you have dynamic language: Strong, active verbs? A variety of sentence lengths (but mostly short and to the point)? No clichés? Do you use multiple senses (sight, sound, taste, smell, touch)?
- Finally, edit for spelling and punctuation.
(For detailed editing questions, see my Plot Outline Exercise. It’s in my book Advanced Plotting or available as a free Word download on my website.)
For each detail, ask:
- Does it make the story more believable?
- Does it help readers picture or understand a character or place better?
- Does it answer questions that readers might want answered?
- Does it distract from the action?
- Could it be removed without confusing readers or weakening the story?
- For illustrated work, could the description be replaced by illustrations?
Use more details for unusual/unfamiliar settings. Try using multiple senses: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and the feeling of touch. Especially in picture books, use senses other than sight, which can be shown through the illustrations.
Advanced Plotting, by Chris Eboch
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King
Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power – An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction, by Jodie Renner
Manuscript Makeover, by Elizabeth Lyon
Novel Metamorphosis, by Darcy Pattison
Revision & Self-Editing, by James Scott Bell
Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us, by Jessica Page Morrell
I haven’t tried this, but the “Hemingway App” is designed to identify overly long or complicated sentences, so it might be helpful in learning to simplify your work for younger audiences:
Grammarly is a free app that claims to find more errors than Microsoft Word’s spelling and grammar check option, including words that are spelled correctly but used incorrectly:
Resources for Writers, by editor Jodie Renner, list several of her editing books as well as blog posts on various writing topics.
The Plot Outline Exercise from Advanced Plotting helps you analyze your plot for trouble spots. (It’s available as a free Word download on my website, in the left-hand column of this page.)
Middle grade author Janice Hardy’s Fiction University blog has great posts on many writing craft topics.
Author and writing teacher Jordan McCollum offers downloadable free writing guides on topics such as character arcs and deep point of view.
In “A Bad Case of Revisionitis,” Literary agent Natalie M. Lakosil discusses when to stop revising.
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You can get the extended version of this essay, and a lot more, in You Can Write for Children: A Guide to Writing Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. Order for Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback. Advanced Plotting also has advice on editing novels.
Chris Eboch writes fiction and nonfiction for all ages, with over 30 traditionally published books for children. Learn more at www.chriseboch.com or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog. Sign up for Chris’s Workshop Newsletter for classes and critique offers.
Chris also writes novels of suspense and romance for adults under the name Kris Bock; read excerpts at www.krisbock.com.