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Writing a Novel: Top 10 Editing Tips

Editing a novel can be a daunting task, but there are some tips that will help you, as Sofia Ashdown shares with us today.

Top 10 Editing TipsOther than correcting spelling and grammar mistakes, it can be difficult to decide how to focus your energy in the right places to improve your manuscript.

In this article, there are ten tips to help hone your focus and provide some actionable steps to knock your novel into shape.

1. Identify theme or message

What drove you to commit to writing a book? What is the purpose of your story? What is the truth you are trying to share with the world?

These might seem like big, broad questions, but the answers provide the invisible backdrop to your book. If you aren’t entirely sure what the theme or purpose of your story is, then it’s likely that your reader won’t be either.

Understanding the story’s core will provide a lens in which to view your characters and scenes during the developmental editing stage.

Don’t be frightened by this step; ‘theme’ doesn’t have to mean a ‘moral’ or something uniquely profound. It can be as simple as ‘justice and vengeance are two sides of the same coin’ or ‘the bonds of family and friends are ultimately the only things worth pursuing.’

Maybe you want to explore an emotion such as rage, or the consequences of acting on unconscious beliefs. Whatever the theme, ensure your book as a whole answers the question you implicitly proposed in the beginning. Talking of beginnings…

2. Focus on the beginning

starting lineThe first line sets the tone for the rest of your book. Rework it. Test out alternatives. Make sure it hooks the reader into your unique world and shows them what to expect.

As an example, compare the draft version of 1984’s opening line:
‘It was a cold day in early April, and a million radios were striking thirteen.’

With the version that went to print:
‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’

Can you see how a small tweak makes such a dramatic impact? Remember what I said about implicitly proposing a question to be answered by the end of the book?

In one short line, Orwell has managed to convey something fundamentally wrong with the world he is about to plunge the reader into, and by the end of 1984, we understand what that is.

One of my favorite sayings is: ‘the end is in the beginning and the beginning is in the end.’ Review your beginnings and ends to see how well they tie together.

3. Identify core conflict and reveal it through action

You had big plans for your book and there’s so much in your head to somehow make real on paper. Trying to cram everything you want to say into the story will slow it down and choke the plot.

Keep in mind your theme or core message as you examine each scene, highlighting the crucial plot elements and gearing your efforts to revealing it through the actions, reactions and thoughts of your characters. Cut away anything that is weighing the plot down or isn’t pushing your protagonist to grow and adapt.

4. Avoid head hopping

rabbitPick a point of view and stick with it. New writers tend to forget who is narrating each scene, chopping and changing between characters. This is known as ‘head hopping’ and can be very distracting, and usually means that the writer hasn’t decided who the reader should care about most.

The key is consistency – if you want to be an ‘omniscient narrator’ abide by your own rules. It’s usually a better idea to stick to either first person or third person limited, which means writing from one character’s viewpoint per scene or chapter.

That’s not to say you can’t have multiple points-of-view throughout the book, however, just be clear and consistent.

Another common mistake is to describe something happening when the character in question couldn’t see it from their point of view. For example, John is gazing out of the window when Jane walks into the office, yet he knows she is blonde before he even looks at her. Glitches like this destroy credibility.

5. Seed the background to your characters’ fatal flaws

No one is perfect, not even fictional characters. Having said that, the flaws they have should make sense and should be seeded throughout the book.

That goes for the antagonists too. There’s nothing more disappointing than when a bad guy fails against the hero because of some sudden, previously unknown flaw. Every thought, action, and reaction must be informed by your characters’ personal history and beliefs.

6. Give your characters quirks

Humans are complicated creatures and although your characters aren’t actually real (well, not in this universe) the reader needs to empathize with them as if they were flesh and blood. To do this, make your characters distinct from each other, with their own quirks and foibles.

Think about:

  • Mannerisms
  • Style of dress
  • Physical imperfections
  • Props (e.g., Indiana Jones’s whip)
  • Nervous tics
  • Unconscious habits such as whistling or pen clicking

7. Vary descriptions using other senses

Lotus flowerPeople tend to favor one sense over the other, and for most of us, that’s the visual processing system. Writers are no different! But neglecting smell, touch, taste, and sound can flatten scenes. [Note from Joanna: for tips on writing using the 5 senses and beyond, check out this recent post.]

Consider how these different types of smell can have such a dramatic impact on your environment, comfort levels, and memories:

  • Perfume
  • Body odor
  • Freshly cut grass
  • Decay and death
  • Floral smells
  • Cleaning fluid
  • Animal smells

Think about the emotions these scents and odors would trigger in your characters. Can you see how broadening your range of descriptive devices can increase the reality of your settings?

8. Cut clichés

Clichés are so last y—century. Every word, phrase, and sentence should have an impact, but clichés dull the effect because readers have become numb to these hackneyed expressions.

The only exception to this is within dialogue; clichés can reveal the mindset and cultural background of your characters. Don’t overdo it though.

9. Maddening multiple metaphors

Metaphors are wonderful and add richness to your writing, but it’s easy to mix them together and lose the precise meaning – or use more than one in the same paragraph.

If this happens often, you’re probably trying to describe too much. Pick the essential point of the scene or paragraph and focus on that and cut the rest.

10. Keep raising the stakes

bigstock-chess-pieces-conflictConflict is at the heart of storytelling. No one wants to read a story where literally everything is perfect and nothing ever happens. What would be the point?

Make sure you vary the stakes at key plot points to maintain the reader’s interest and keep your characters challenged enough to grow and develop.

However, starting out with extremely high stakes in order to hook a reader in can backfire because everything that happens afterward can feel like an anti-climax. Pace yourself and turn up the dial of conflict as your plot develops to reach a satisfying conclusion.

After implementing the steps outlined above, your book should have an intriguing opening, a fast-moving, compelling plot, believable characterization, and enriching descriptions.

That’s not to say that you will have picked up on every issue within your manuscript. Objectively is very difficult when you are emotionally invested in your own work. Which leads me to your bonus tip:

Stop editing. Let someone else do it!

There’s only so much you can do alone. For those on a tight budget, this might mean handing your book to a trusted beta reader. For others, sending it to a professional editor is their best bet.

[Note from Joanna: for a curated list of book editors, click here.]

At the very least, by taking the time to really analyze your work, you’ll learn more about your unique writing style and develop a greater awareness of your own quirks and foibles. That can only be a good thing.

Will you apply these tips when editing your next novel? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Sofia AshdownSofia Ashdown is the author of the Descendants of Thor Trilogy and Urban Fairy Tales, and a freelance editor specialising in fantasy, YA and New Adult fiction. She is currently studying for her MA in Creative Writing and busily plotting her next novel. Learn more about her author journey at and her editing services at Editing For Indie Authors.

If you want to learn more about self-editing, sign-up for a free, 3-day course delivered straight to your inbox.

[Rabbit photo courtesy Sandy Millar and Unsplash.]

This story originally appeared on The Creative Penn

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How to Succeed with Our Childrens Reading

We, as parents, all struggle in one way or another when it comes to our children. We often find ourselves clueless as to how to get them to do the things that they need to do. Reading is no exception. We struggle to find the line between pushing them too much or not enough. More times than not we thrust the job off on the child’s teacher, after all educating our kids is what they get paid to do. However, it is not solely their responsibility, we have our part in the process.

Here are a few pointers when we find ourselves frustratingly grasping at straws:

Don’t Push them Too Hard

Again, the struggle to find that line between too much and not enough can be daunting. We can fail our children when we fall on either side of this line. And that line is thin. A few things we should avoid are:

Expecting Them to be Like Oher Children- Your oldest son will not learn like the youngest. Your daughter will not learn at the same pace as their brother or sister. Your child will not learn as quickly as the neighbor’s kid. It is unfair to compare your kids to any other kid, especially within their earshot. This is not only harmful to the learning process it can be detrimental to your child’s self-esteem. Don’t do it. Ever.

Moving to a New Reading Level Before They are Ready- Just because your child’s entire class is on Reading Level O and your child is still on Level N is no reason to force them into Level O. Yes, there is a time to do so, but if they are struggling to master Level N, then they will struggle even more with the next level. You will know when they are ready. This is something that you should work on with your child’s teacher. They can often see what they are having trouble with that you may not.

If laziness is an issue and not comprehension, then that needs to be addressed as well. Again, working with your child’s teacher is your best bet to come up with a solution that both of you can use with your child.

Punishing for Missing the Mark- There is no benefit to punish a child for not reaching certain levels. Even if a child is lazy, making reading a chore is not going to help the issue. Rather than punishing them, reward them for every effort. Even if the goal reached is small. If they read only ten more words than before or get 2 points higher than the last time, then that must be rewarded. Rewarded and praised. There is nothing more motivating than verbally communicating praise for any accomplishment.

Make Sure You Push Them Enough

In contrast to pushing too hard, there are times when we fail to push enough. Today, everyone is afraid of offending anyone. This has now, unfortunately, carried over into how we deal with our kids. We are nervous about hurting their feelings. We are afraid they won’t be our friend. We are scared they may give up altogether. First, sometimes feelings must be hurt to make a change. Second, you are NOT their friend; you are their parent. And third, we cannot fear the unknown. If they do want to give up, you can cross that bridge when you come to it. But for now, their success is worth the risk.

Don’t Give in Too Easy- When your child says, “It’s too hard,” don’t give in and tell them they can stop. First, discover why they find it too hard. What do they not understand? Is it because their favorite show is coming on in twenty minutes or is there a real issue that is keeping them from comprehending what is before them.

Many internal issues can prevent a child from successful reading. Too many to get into this blog. I have addressed them in previous blogs. In summary, your child could have vision difficulties, attention struggles, or learning disabilities that have not been diagnosed yet. This is why it is good to probe to find out why your child finds reading too hard. Again, talk with a teacher to compare notes. And consult a doctor if necessary.

Keep Up with Reading Assignments- Speaking of communication with your child’s teacher, your child’s teacher will be one of the key people when it comes to your child learning to read. Your child has weekly assignments to complete, and they are most often written in a Homework Notebook that is with them. You know, the one item that at Meet the Teacher Night that you were wondering why they need $12? It’s for that notebook.

Every night it is crucial that you check that book and follow up to make sure your child is keeping up with the required assignments. Most often when a child is getting left behind, it is because a parent is not checking that book to make sure their child is completing assignments. Your child is not going to offer up information that they have homework, especially when that show is coming on soon. We need to ask.

Read with Our Children- If you are not reading to, or with, your child, not only are you hurting their progress, you are missing out on an incredible opportunity of quality time with your child. Reading time is bonding time. The books you read with your child today will be etched in their memories. They will draw back on them when they are older and have kids of their own.

I know your day is busy. Mine is too, and it never seems like there are enough hours in the day. Just because we as parents are busy, doesn’t mean that we can push that off on our kids. They are important and raising them is our primary job. Those fifteen minutes will be rewarding. Not only for their abilities but to your bond with your child. You can worry about bills, deadlines, and the car the other twenty-three hours and forty-five minutes of the day. Your child needs your time and attention.


Never Make Assumptions

It’s Not the Teachers Job- Your child’s teacher is just a part of the reading cycle. They are there to educate; your child is there to do, you are there to reinforce. If there is a breakdown in any one of these tenants, then your child will fall behind. Don’t assume your teacher will do all the work. Do not blame them when a child gets a poor grade or cannot get beyond a reading level if you are not doing your job of supporting them in what they are doing. The worst thing you can do is to contradict your child’s teacher or to tell them something is not important. Always support and reinforce. The two of you working together will ensure your child’s success.

They May Not Understand- It is also important to ask questions. Sometimes a child will be afraid to admit that they do not know something. Ask questions about what they read. Questions like: Who is the main character? What are they doing?  Not only can you ask direct questions, ask open-ended questions that will get them talking about the story. Why do you think the character did that? How would you feel in that situation? Open-ended questions get their minds working and helps them with communication.

They May Not Do What They Say- We all have gone through it. We ask if they read for the night and they tell us they have. You may find this hard to believe, but children are not always truthful, especially when that program starts in five minutes. Don’t assume. I’m not saying always to doubt their truthfulness. I am saying to trust them, but always verify it through seeing their homework notebook. OR you can ask questions about what they read. That will be the telltale sign of whether they did their work or not.


Final Thoughts

Your child can be successful at reading. However, we need to make sure we are doing our job as parents. It is not anyone’s fault when our child struggles. Blame only makes things worse, on everyone. It is best to get down to why there is a struggle. Make sure we are on the same page with our child’s teacher. Ensure we are walking that line between too much and not enough. It is okay to mess up. It is a learning experience for you, as well as your child. Find what works and stick with it. Rewards are a good thing, punishments only hinder. Don’t give in to complaints to quickly and push enough to get them motivated.

Finally, a good dose of prayer is always a good thing. I can honestly say that if you are not daily praying for your children, then you are missing out on a tremendous blessing. Not only for them but for yourself. When lifting someone up in prayer, you are creating a deeper bond with them in your heart. Pray for their abilities. Pray for the struggles they may be having. Most of all pray for your patience and understanding in how to work with your child on their road to reading success.