By now, you should have a rough draft of your story. It may need a lot of work, which is to be expected. That’s what this chapter is all about: How to edit a novel first draft. Use the suggestions below to edit your story and fine tune your style. Let’s get right to it.
Firstly, I want you to take heart. If you find paragraphs or even chapters that you end up moving, deleting or rewriting large chunks of content. That just means that you’re growing as a writer – it’s a good thing!
Let’s look at the different elements you need to consider as part of your editing process.
How to Edit a Novel First Draft: Opening Line
The first thing someone will read when they open your book, is your opening line – the first sentence in your book – and then, the rest of the first page. That’s your opportunity to make an impression – particularly in a biography or fiction. There’s no formula for this, other than that it must create intrigue. It must leave the reader with so many questions that they just HAVE to keep on reading.
Look at these examples and see which you like most:
- Rain rhythmically showered on the roof when she woke up. Today, she would have to make a decision that will change her life.
- She came to a life changing decision on that cold, rainy morning.
- Nobody arrived at the rock concert, except for an old man in a dirty coat, who’s coughs added bass to the solo guitar intro.
- There was only a single concert goer, a dirty old man who was sick, because he was coughing as the guitar played.
- Her heart pounded aloud as she shot upright in her bed, startled awake from a strange dream by the creaking of the wooden stairs.
- She was fast asleep. She subconsciously heard the stairs creak and jump upright in bed. Her heart pounded loudly.
If you’re honest, you’ll agree that, most often, the shorter sentences have the most impact. Here are some more tips for your opening sentence.
- If possible, start with power words (avoid The, One day, Once upon a time, It, There, etc.)
- Don’t give away anything. Just the vaguest, yet intriguing information. Don’t explain what caused the creaking of the stairs. Don’t explain that the band sucks, and that the old man was one member’s long-lost grandfather. Don’t even give it away anywhere on page 1.
- Keep them reading.
How to Edit a Novel First Draft: Show, Don’t Tell
The ability to show a story, rather than telling it, is what sets best-selling authors apart from mediocre writers. If you’re not sure what I mean, I recommend that you read a few books by James Patterson or Lisa Scottoline. You’ll notice that they both have short, fast-paced chapters, and it is written in a page-turning style. It’s as though they are constantly dropping bombs on you, and when you’re not going “Oh, shit!”, you’re thinking “Oh, my word. I have no idea what’s happening. What’s this got to do with the rest of the story?” and you just keep on reading. You can’t get enough.
I recently picked up a book to read, because the back page intrigued me. However, I couldn’t get past the first page, because it was so stunted. There was no intrigue at all, and the writer was most definitely telling, rather than showing. Here are some examples of sentences you should not use:
- It was a cold and rainy day.
Instead, say: The cold, miserable weather matched her demeanour this morning.
- She was crying.
Instead, say: Teardrops mixed with rain as she made her way home.
- He decided that he was going to go to her apartment.
Instead, say: He slammed the door behind him. He had to get to her apartment before she made a decision he would live to regret.
- She was tired.
Instead, say: Raising teenagers is not for the faint-hearted, and by 8pm, she could barely see through her puffy, panda-like eyes. With a stifled yawn, she packed away the last of the dishes.
- She killed her husband because he snored all night. She was tired, and him wearing his ugly jersey was the last straw.
Instead, say: His wife completely lost her mind as she watched him pull the torn, stained, turquoise jersey over his head again. Not only did his insistence that it was green drive her insane – nor the fact that he insisted on wearing it -, but it reflected poorly on her as a wife, and that’s what pushed her over the edge. After another night of no sleep due to his snoring, she could just about summon the energy to lift the shovel to shoulder-height as she stood behind the man she loved beyond infinity.
That last paragraph would make a great end to your first page or paragraph. Did she, or didn’t she? You’ll have to wait for the novel to become available to find out. At this point I should probably point out that it was merely an example inspired (mostly) by fictional fantasy and not by true events (yet). 😉
How to Edit a Novel First Draft: Style
Every writer has his or her own distinctive style and that would not only determine how you write, but also which readers you are drawn to. While it is good to emulate your favorite authors’ habits and discipline, it is important to develop your own style.
Your writing style will determine how you combine words to create images, moods and meaning. It is fascinating how every person rearranges the 26 letters of the alphabet in such a unique way that they establish their own unique way of arranging sentences and creating figurative language.
Now that you know how to edit a novel first draft, the best way to ensure that your style remains consistent throughout your book, is to write in your own voice. Need an expert opinion? Get hold of the Editing Queen.