When sitting down to edit your newly penned manuscript, I think one of the most important things to do is break it down piece by piece. The second most important thing is to get off the computer. Most of us are tactile and visual learners, and you can apply those concepts to editing your behemoth of a novel.
Step One: Print a hard copy.
I don’t print the entire book all at once for one reason: It overwhelms me. Have you seen a stack of 350 pages? It’s THICK.
Instead, I chunk my novel into three discernable parts, and in fact, this also helps me identify the breaks between the acts. That’s right. I went all deep on you there. But I look at my story and I identify the break into Act 2. Then I only print Act 1, and move on to step two.
Step Two: Review what the purpose is of those pages.
For Act 1, this is usually character identification, relationships that are already established, introduction to new characters,
introduction to the conflict, and gearing up to get into the meat of the story where conflicts have to be solved and villains have to be blocking the main character at every turn.
I read this first chunk of printed material with a pen in hand. It’s tactile. Interactive. Visual. I can “see” things on printed paper I can’t see on the computer screen. I can move things more easily (drawing arrows makes me happy). I can write new scenes in spots that are lacking. I can make notes in the margins for things that might fix a problem or for a plotline that
And I do it all by hand, on paper.
Step Three: Repeat steps one and two for your remaining two sections.
Print a section, identify what is supposed to happen in those pages, and edit by hand with those goals in mind.
I can read and do a preliminary edit on my whole manuscript in about three days. As I’m entering changes from the hardcopy to the computer, I transfer and take notes. Sometimes I do this in a notebook, and sometimes I put them right in my document in a comment bubble
But no matter what, on your zero draft read-through, you’ll get new ideas and ways to fix things that aren’t working. I don’t worry about fixing those things right away. I just make notes of them.
I then save that draft as version 1, with an idea of the bigger picture of my novel.
Step Four: Use your notes to do specific editing passes. Think like Shrek—in layers.
Maybe you need to strengthen your MC’s likeability (version 2). Maybe you need to reinforce the setting (version 3). Maybe your world-building is weak (version 4). Maybe your sensory details are not-so-sensory (version 5). Whatever the problem, complete an entire manuscript edit to improve that specific area.
Breaking your manuscript down into manageable pieces (Act 1, Act 2, Act 3) and working through layers of edits (characters, setting, plot, emotion, visual details, etc.) will help you look at your 75,000 words without fear.
Now go edit that book!
Elana Johnson’s debut novel, Possession, published by Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster), is available now everywhere books are sold. The second book in the series, Surrender, is due out June 5, 2012. Her popular ebook, From the Query to the Call, is also available for download. School teacher by day, Query Ninja by night, you can find her online at her personal blog or Twitter. She also co-founded the Query
Tracker blog, and contributes to the League
of Extraordinary Writers, and organizes WriteOnCon. Elana is represented by Michelle Andelman of Regal