Editing Fiction: 3 Easy Ways To Get Started

Do you wish editing fiction could be easier?

Perhaps you have a NaNoWriMo novel (or several NaNoWriMo novels) on your hard drive and can’t get inspired to start the edit. One of my students faced this situation; here’s the simple process which helped her to get started on the editing process.

Editing fiction: the process needn’t take forever

Over time, you’ll develop your own editing process—it may well become your favorite activity. What’s not to like? Your novel is done. Now it’s time get it ready for readers to enjoy.

Here’s how to get started.

1. Editing fiction starts with a quick read-through (no editing allowed yet)

You’ve completed your novel. Take a few days off if you like. You’ve been working hard. However, set a date for beginning your edit. If you don’t, you’ll put it off and the process will become a real bugbear in your mind. There’s no need for that.

Once your “begin the edit!” day rolls around, read your novel from go to whoa—you’re now a reader, rather than a writer.

Avoid making corrections and rewriting—otherwise you’ll get all tangled in your words. You just want an overview of your story.

After the read-through, some authors like to do a reverse outline. Outline what you have, scene by scene.

Now it’s time to find your story question.

2. Your story question: what is it?

Your story question is vital because:

It keeps readers reading. Readers know how important his goal is to your main character, so they want to know whether he’ll win through.

In commercial fiction, your story question is related to genre; it’s the goal of your plot.

Some examples…

• In a romance, the story question is whether your hero and heroine will have their happy ending.

• In a mystery, it’s whether your sleuth solves the mystery/ discovers the murderer.

• In a thriller, it’s whether your hero will save the world.

Identify the story question and make sure it’s on the page; it’s the central pillar of your novel.

Next, write a one-sentence summary of your plot.

State what your novel’s about in a nutshell:

• A burned out drunk detective tracks a serial killer when the killer targets his family;

• A socially-awkward female surgeon exposes deadly corruption in a big city hospital;

• A newly-widowed lawyer discovers her late husband’s secrets; her daughter is kidnapped to prevent her revealing them.

With your story question identified, it’s time to cull the herd of characters you don’t need.

3. Out they go… Cull the herd of your novel’s characters

Vital tip: readers hate repetition with a passion.

They hate repetition in everything, whether it’s characters, situations, or words.

Therefore, every character who’s too similar to another character damages your novel. Perhaps you’re writing a romance, and your main female character has two confidantes. One sidekick is ample. Cull the second. You should find this easy to do, but it might take a little tinkering.

Every character you keep must have a reason for their existence, so when you make a list of your characters, ask yourself why is he here? about each one.

You may dislike removing characters; I do. However, it’s necessary.

Editing fiction: just do it

After you’ve found your story question and have removed characters, it’s time to get started editing each of your scenes, and the narrative which links them.

If you’re a new author, editing your words can be painful. Be brave. I promise that once you get started and see your novel taking shape, you’ll become inspired and the process will be fun.


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This program teaches you no-fail plotting: you can plot a novel in an hour.


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