Last time I talked about editing I gave you 5 great tips to get started. Today, I give you 5 more to round out your editing skills! From inconsistencies to dialogue, these are methods to help improve your novel during this crucial phase of writing. If you are a beginner writer who has finished their first draft or simply wants to tackle editing, this is for you!
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1. Check Your Tenses and Other Inconsistencies
A writer’s first draft is filled with inconsistencies and mistakes. It doesn’t matter which writer, as even professional writers have great editors that make their work publishable.
The most common problem I come across when editing is different tenses. While there are a host of other inconsistencies, from plot holes to varying spellings of names and objects, imperfect tenses rear their ugly head the most. It’s a problem that is understandable, as in conversation we tend to mix them up and still get our point across.
It’s also one of the toughest problems to spot if you are not looking for it.
Mixing up the tenses can be easy to spot, such as a sentence set in the present followed by one set in the past tense. Yet, most of the time it is so small and mundane that it flies under the radar. The sentence sounds right, but there is that one word that is out of place, which is something any half-decent publisher will spot.
You can avoid this mistake in your writing by simply settling into using present tense in dialogue and making the narration past tense. It’s the most common way to write, it fits every story. That’s why so many writers equate writing a story to telling friends about an event that happened.
You are doing your best to make a story exciting and coherent, so you are not about to jumble it up.
2. Improving Sections
Of course, sometimes there isn’t a problem with your writing, but a scene doesn’t have that much impact. It reads okay, and it continues the story, but its level of quality doesn’t fit the writing before and after it.
That is when you stop and take the time to improve that section of writing. You either add a paragraph or remove a paragraph. Perhaps even rewrite it completely.
These inconsistencies in quality are commonplace. A writer can’t be expected to write every sequence while operating at a hundred percent. I know from experience that there are some days when some writing needs to get done, but my mind or heart is elsewhere. It shows in my work, but I have to continue writing.
While it certainly helps my progress, I understand that parts of that writing need to be revised. The style might be compromised or it breaks the feeling that previous writing created.
Honestly, this is one of the most fun bits of editing that one can encounter. A small section where most of the work is done. You have all the plot points laid out, you have a vague idea of what you want for that scene and you know that it doesn’t require that much time and effort to improve it.
3. Adding Details and Cutting Them Out
Sections of writing can be spoiled by either too much attention to detail or not enough. A segment of writing can lack the details that paint a good picture of the scene or too many details that it breaks the pacing with unnecessary fluff.
It’s another area that simple editing can fix with ease!
Let’s say the scene is great, but it isn’t clear where the characters are or what they are doing. It feels like floating dialogue before the next scene transpires. With the addition of a few sentences that correctly set the scene that you envision, the reader now has a great idea of what you have in mind.
If there are characters involved, these smaller details can also be used to underline their personality.
However, these details can also be a problem if they are used too often. Let’s say the scene is great, but the details describing the scene are far too many for the reader to sit through. Again, this problem is easily rectified by cutting some lines out or simplifying them.
Whenever I am editing, this is one of my biggest problems. I will come across scenes that go by too quickly, the scene isn't set as well as I would like. I find this particularly bothersome if I am writing a slower scene or novel and the pacing is blisteringly fast as if I am writing an action scene. Since it’s such a common problem, I have to take the time to improve these scenes quite often.
4. Dialogue Revisions
Dialogue revisions require a few things from the editor.
When editing dialogue, one must consider the character’s personality, the emotions of the character, the scene elements themselves, and basic logic. It’s very easy to write dialogue without much thought and what you end up with is narration with quotation marks. It’s an issue that will not just take away from your characters, but take away from your story as well.
Again, this can turn into another section that needs improving.
Dialogue is a great method to break up the narration and that effect remains even with lackluster dialogue, but it’s also a great opportunity to give your character some attention. This is a tip directed at beginner writers who tend to skip past their dialogue when editing, more concerned with the bulk of their story.
Don’t underestimate the value of dialogue when editing. Such revisions can make a scene not just better, but it can make it memorable as well.
Methods for writing better dialogue include reading it aloud and even acting it out. Doing so will tell you if a dialogue sounds natural and where the pauses are in the scene. These pauses can be used to add details to the scene and explain what is happening as they speak. You can also rectify dialogue that feels too bland for some characters or too exciting for others. You don’t want your protagonist breaking character when the situation doesn’t call for it!
These two steps may make you feel like you are acting in a play more than editing, but they are the most effective methods for writing dialogue.
5. Take the Time to Just Read
Of course, nothing beats the highlight of editing and that is the reading of your work. You encounter writing you haven’t seen for a while, sometimes a very long while. A lot of scenes might appear fresh to you, different from what you remember.
That leaves you with the decision to start editing right away or take the time to read your book from beginning to end.
If you have such a great grip on your novel, then jumping into editing isn’t a bad idea. Yet, most writers can benefit from taking the time to read their work before going into editing. You will get a better idea of why certain scenes are the way they are and you can also take note of the grander issues that the reader might notice.
When you focus on one specific problem at a time, you close your mind to the bigger picture. You might have details in your story that your past self placed there for a reason. So, removing it might affect future chapters. Better still, you might have forgotten to call back to it in later chapters and you can later in your editing.
If there is one piece of advice that I recommend you take from this post it is this; read your novel before you start editing.
BONUS: Ask a Friend to Read Your Work
I will keep this point brief because I included it in my last post on editing, but it’s pretty much become a staple for me to talk about it.
Second opinions are a big part of the editing process for any great writer. Writers have a set mentality after enough time, which is great for establishing a clear style of writing. Yet, there are shortfalls, which is why most successful writers have someone who can provide a second perspective on their writing.
That additional perspective helps correct problems that are hard to notice.
Whether it be a friend, family member, or another writer, take their advice with a grain of salt. Some changes you will be happy to make and think nothing of, but others you will hesitate or ignore. That is fine. Your gut will tell you what elements you want to keep just as they are.
I have always found the editing process to be a lot less taxing than the writing process. The process is a lot faster, which is also good for my mentality as I feel I am making a lot of progress quickly.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear from my students when I started teaching that the experience was much the same for them when they were editing. The only issues they encounter are ones concerning the quality of their work. That’s why I talk about getting a second opinion once again.
Another perspective can make a world of difference. It can not only improve your writing, but it can boost your confidence as well. If you are looking for that other perspective, talk with a friend or family member. If you want professional feedback, then I recommend checking out my Writer’s Workshop. In the Novelist Tier, I help you write your novel by giving you feedback on your work.
If you have edited your work before, or are currently editing a story, what do you find is the biggest issue you encounter? Let me know in the comments below!
Thank you for reading and as always,
Good day, goodnight and happy writing!