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Edit Your Novel In Three Steps

Today’s publishing industry is cut-throat and difficult to break into. A good editing plan can make the difference between ‘sold’ and ‘shelved’.

The best way to edit your novel is to think of it as a pyramid. The foundation consists of your basic storyline. The next layer consists of the scenes you’ve used to tell the story. The top layer consists of the sentences you chose to bring the scene to life.

Story –> Scenes –> Sentences

To create a strong novel you need to work from the bottom up. First you evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your story, next you consider the scenes. Only after you have revised your story and scene choices should you fiddle with individual sentences and paragraphs. Using this method you avoid working on a specific section only to decide that the whole scene needs to be deleted!

The first step is to ensure you have a strong story to tell.

Brainstorm a list of questions to help you evaluate your narrative. Some questions to consider include:

– Does your main character have a goal that drives him/her through the story?

– Is the external barrier that prevents the main character from reaching his/her goal substantial enough to carry the book?

– Is the book set in the correct physical location? The right time period? At the right time of year?

Second Step – Scene

Once you are satisfied with the arc of your story, you need to analyze each individual scene to make it as strong as possible. Again, list the important elements a scene should include and evaluate your writing. Some issues to consider include:

– Does the point-of-view character have an objective during this scene that is relevant to their story goal?

– Is there a good mix of narrative, dialogue, and introspection?

– Can the reader feel the emotions of the characters? Are the emotions believable?

Third Step – Sentences

When you are satisfied with your story and scene structure, it is time to work at the sentence and paragraph level. Here’s where you refine your word choices and sentence structure to make your writing as strong as it can be. Make a list of the criteria your writing should meet. For example:

– Do you vary your sentence length and avoid prolonged sections with sentences of the same length?

– Do you avoid repetition of the same word or phrase?

– Do you minimize adverbs and other weak words like ‘was/were’, ‘have/had’, ‘feel/felt’, etc?

Once you’ve completed the third pass through your manuscript, you can be confident you’ve considered all of the important elements. Your novel is ready to submit!


Nina Davies
Originally from Australia, Nina Davies has lived on three different continents and visited over thirty countries. Her working career has been just as varied, ranging from waitress to research scientist to software geek. Now she is very happy to be living in the Pacific Northwest, writing when she can steal a moment away from a busy life. Nina is also the founder of AutoCrit.com, a fabulous website for writers chosen as one of the Writer's Digest 101 best Websites for Writers

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