You’ve completed a draft, and now it’s time to self-edit. But, where on Earth do you start? Let’s chat through what these (because there’s more than one self-edit coming your way, dear writing friend) self-edits look like.

Draft 1 (aka the word vomit draft) self-edit:

You had this beautiful story idea, one that you really loved. So, you slaved over your computer for days, and you produced a novel. Congrats (for real because it’s hard work to write a novel)! But now that you look at it, it’s a mess. A big ole’ wordy mess. And that is perfectly okay. Draft one edits are meant for big, gaping plot holes and other major content issues. As you work over this draft look for these things:

  • Did you make any promises to your reader that you didn’t keep? Did you tell your reader you were going to have a dragon war, and then you didn’t? If so, fix it 🙂
  • Do your characters behave in a consistent manner? One that makes sense with the person you’ve written them to be? Who’s our hero? Do we know what they want? Do they know what they want? Does your bad guy do his job? Do your supporting cast members have ideas and wants of their own? How do they deal with their own secondary life problems?
  • Does your story problem make sense/does your story problem carry enough weight to warrant an entire book? Does your character know what their problem is? You laugh, but I’ve read more than one book (and maybe written one or two myself) were there story problem wasn’t clear/didn’t make sense/did have enough tension to carry a storyline.
  • Are there any major details that don’t line up with the setting/names of things/etc? Because now’s your chance to fix them.
  • Did you get lost in the middle? Aka the sagging middle is infamous for a reason. Did your story lose its steam in the middle? No worries, no is your chance to tighten your story elements and revamp.
  • Are there any scenes/characters/plot points/chapters that just need to go? Listen, I know they were good in your novel daydreams, but if they aren’t pulling their weight, they’ve got to go. Who knows, maybe they’ll end up in a different book. Novel scraps are my favorite story starters.
  • Take an extra look at the opening chapter. Is it interesting? Is it the true start of your protagonist’s story, or should we cut it and start a bit later? Remember we only need a little to understand the main character’s normal. We showed up to be entertained, so don’t drag us on too long.
  • Is there one novel-writing technique that you rely on? Listen, we all have them. That one technique that we love because we’re good at it, but we need to use all the writing tools we’ve got in our tool box. Take a look and see how many times you’ve used the same tricks. What other techniques can you use instead?
  • POV (point of view). Who is telling the story? Is it consistent?
  • Tense. Which tense are you using? Are there any hiccups where you swapped present for the past?
  • Genre tropes, did you use any? Did you over use them? Underuse them? Readers have certain expectations when they pick up a book in their desired genre. That doesn’t mean you have to follow some prescribed storyline, but you should give the people what they want (a good story with some familiar tropes).

Draft 2 (aka the I-think-I’ve-got-a-handle-on-this-story-now draft) self-edit:

You’ve tidied the major messy bits, rearranged the furniture, and now you’re ready to look at things like:

  • How’s that writing voice? Consistent? If should be, so let’s tighten and chop where we need to chop.
  • Did you read it out loud? If you’d rather plug your beloved novel into a free reader and listen to it, go for it. Either way, this thing needs to be read out loud. That way we can fix the wonky bits and catch some of those typos.
  • Please just use “said.” No, but really. Just use said. It’s a great word. It’s a lovely, humble word that often goes ignored and really should be your best friend. We all love a good “replied,” or “shouted,” but at the end of the day, “said” it the word to lean on. It’s reliable like that.
  • But can you just show me? Sometimes, readers need to be told things. But, most of the time, it’s so much better if you just show me. Dialogue is a great shower. Can you tell me via dialogue? If you can, then do it!
  • Let’s talk about your hooks. You know, those things you use to pull your reader in, to keep them turning the pages. How are they doing? Does every chapter end on a cliff hanger because that’s going to lose its appeal sooner or later. Let’s tidy up those chapter beginnings and endings.
  • While we’re at it, how are those transitions? Y’all. Transitions are more than dollar store ducktape holding your plot together. They need to be smooth so that we don’t notice we’ve started another chapter way past our bedtime. Double-check they connective tissue you’ve got going on.
  • Cut every extra THAT you can find. Trust me. There are so, so, so many. Sigh.
  • Tackle that dialogue. Is it moving the story along? Are the characters just chatting because they have nothing better to do? Can you spice up what they are and are not saying?
  • Is your story too predictable? Can you spice any scenes up? Basically, just call this self-edit the spice-it-up-and-trim-the-fat edit.
  • Has another human read this? Maybe they should. A good beta reader is a treasure. One that every writer needs. Find another human to take a look at this thing. See what they say.

Draft 3+ (aka the line edit drafts) self-edit:

We’ve tackled the big stuff. Look at you go. You’re fabulous. We’ve even tackled some of the smaller stuff. You’re really awesome. Now let’s tackle those line edits.

  • Can you say it in fewer words? You can? Great. Do it. Keep trimming until your story is a lean, mean story-telling machine.
  • We’ve all got those words/descriptions we overuse. Find yours and say it differently. Say it better.
  • How are those sentence lengths? Are they all the same? Remember generally long sentences drag pacing down, down, down. While short sentences speed things us. Either way, let’s vary those sentence lengths.
  • Don’t know which punctuation/tense/spelling/etc to use? It’s/its or they’re/their/there. Look it up, and have a stab at it. Then send it off to a professional. We know these things.
  • Is it cliche? A couple are expected but don’t go overboard with cliches, metaphors, similes, etc.
  • Word choice. Remember that alongside every word is a connotation, or what kind of emotion we associate with it. Did you use a negative word in a positive sentence?
  • Adverbs/adjectives. A little goes a long way. Do you have any extras to cut?
  • How many exclamation points are too many? These were meant to be used (in novels) sparingly. You could probably cut a few.
  • 1 space after the period.
  • Save those SAT words for the next time you take the SAT. We know you’re clever, but keep those words approachable. No need to be fancy here.

Have any fun ways you organize your draft edits? Tell us about it in the comments below! Happy writing.

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